Eephus, Bricks And Mortar – Left Field, Toronto

imageIs it just me or are samples you don’t ask for different? A wee giftie. A few brewers still send me stuff like these two beers from Toronto’s Left Field Brewery. I don’t hunt them out anymore and get so few these days it hardly matters. That’s what I tell myself. I still pure, right? Let’s be honest. Years ago, though recent enough to have been in this house, two separate UPS vans met face to face on the street where we live. They laughed over how they were sick of dropping of stuff at my place. Each driver had a box packed with various beers sent by gracious and keen distributors anxious for approval, when once this blog was the sort of place read, I am told, by the staff of the New York Times Food and Drink section. Now? Let’s stick with that word – different.

I still get samples I don’t write about. Some free beer is still just that Heineken Light sent in a cheap beach cooler with a 57 cent AM/FM radio built into the side. Or it’s an oddly foul crap craft that should never have been made. In an embossed bottle made so badly that the extra trim cuts you, leaving you will bloody palm. That was a great one. Beer from Left Field are nothing like that. With Game 4 between the Cubs and the Tribe on, they certainly fit the evening’s entertainment given the brewery’s baseball themed branding. The neck label is shaped like home plate. The names are usually linked to the game.

Not so with Bricks and Morter, a special release coffee porter. The back of the expensively presented painted bottle describes it as a tribute to the history of their neighbourhood’s brick trade. The coffee is from a nearby roaster, added during the final stage of extraction. I am told. The beer pours a deep cola with a thick, mocha coloured head.  One the nose, sweet dark coffee. In the mouth, a thick ale – bitter dark coffee made more so with a dose of twiggy hop. A small nod to licorice and eucalyptus. There is husky, rough texture to the beer that works, accentuating the espresso. The result is a 6% dark ale full of flavour that comes across as a light version of an imperial stout.

Eephus is an old friend. When I drink it I feel like I am cheating on The Whale, CBW’s flagship brown ale. I like brown ales.  Two years and a season ago in June 2014, I was out with Ron and Jordan on a rare trip to Toronto. The evening struggling to understand what good beer meant in that place at that time was well capped with Grizzly Beer, a solid comforting thoughtful brown ale at Bellwoods. Eephus was Left Field’s first beer and one that signaled good things. This bottle, like its sibling above, displays a fresh powdery texture that conveys goodness, thickness. A touch lighter at 5.5% there is no adjunct between you and the ale, unless you consider oats a novel ingredient. It’s flaked oats and not oat malt, by the way. Only a partial fermentable, a body builder that gives a silky touch. I will say that the hop profile is a bit more flowery, a bit more bitter than I recall from earlier happy sessions but it sits well in this incarnation.

An Eephus, in case you are wondering, is a slow looping trick pitch rarely trotted out, meant to throw off a batter. “Spaceman” Bill Lee would use when he was an Expo or a Red Sox.

I Have A Dream – A Dream About 1790s Porter

 

Bpewterporteroak and Bailey have posted about Ron‘s stock ale brewed with Goose Island, Brewery Yard. I asked which malt was used in the comments and learned it was Maris Otter, a variety introduced later than the era being emulated. Which is normal as very little older malt is actually available.

But that is changing. As Ed noted, work is being done to reintroduce the heritage English hop Farnham Whitebine. A year ago, apparently the first batch of the pale ale using malt made from Chevallier barley was made. Chevallier was introduced in the 1820s and became a key malt barley strain in the Victorian era. It’s return is a blessing for those who now want to explore the beers of over a century ago.

But I am greedy. I want more now. I want my Battledore barley based porter. As we pass from this era of amazeballs murk – just as we’ve long since passed the era of X-Treme heavy metal themed big bombs – I hope and pray we are moving into a time when at least rare strains of hop and barley become more and more available so we might know what the beers of our forefolk were really like. And so we might one day actually have a true double double.

Ontario: Robust Porter, Great Lakes, Etobicoke

I was handed this beer at last week‘s beer event. I just would like to mention that this is one of the best Ontario-made beers I have ever had. Part of their Project X series, it’s on limited release and, sadly, limited production. Too bad. Thick sheeting mocha cream head over deep dark ale. Thick aroma, too. Cocoa and mint. Pumpernickel and cream. If I had thought of a beer future back in the 90s, it might have been this. Before hop mania. Before sour. When malt and roast reigned. This has it. Masses of dark malt with dry roast coffee as well as sticky date and raisin notes all carried along with a rich light sour even yogurty yeastiness. It is heavy. In the best sense. As heavy as you wished your coffee in the morning could be.

I think I recall Troy telling me as he passed the bottle that this was named after Burt Reynolds. Can’t recall why.

England: Coffee Porter, Meantime, London

I must have picked this up at Finger Lake Beverage last February. Lovely new web site. $3.50 USD with as cheery a small bottle as ever there was. Well, to be fair, the 375 ml cork top from Girardin is pretty damn fine but this is swell as well.

Gorgeous. Dark mahogany beer under a tan cream thick lacing head. Subdued nose with an oddly enhanced twigged hop statement over roast but a weird inversion occurs on the first sip. Excellent coffee meets a hint of double cream with dark chocolate wave followed by a nicely balanced mild astringency cutting it all ending in a very pleasant herbal stuff. All this in one wee bottle. Lovely.

BAers have the hots. And, best of all, Roland + Russell have announced that they are bringing the brewer’s stock to me, here in Ontario. It is all working out, this thing called life…

Porter 2006, Burton Bridge Brewery, Burton-Upon-Trent

Time. For the most part beer’s enemy is time, specially for a beer with only 4.5%. But in 2000, as I’ve mentioned a few times, I clearly remember having a Burton Bridge Porter that was overwhelmingly bitter and pleasantly foul due no doubt to its utter mishandling and disregard. Some time ago I resolved to recreate the effect through the powers of experiment and stuck away two bottles for aging. Tonight, I pop the older of the two, this one carrying a best before date of December 2006 to see what is what.

Findings? The bottle pops with a merry pffftt! and gives off a little of the aroma of an East India sherry. The cream head quickly dissipates to a floating froth. In the mouth, the beer is more watery than a fresh bottle but pleasant enough though sadly not soured. There is a Orval quality to the bittering hops, lacy and lavender-ish, with some residual milk chocolate but none of the roasti-toastiness.

Verdict? Pretty much an entire waste of the effort which went into this experiment except for the fact that it really cost me nothing in terms of time, money or energy. It is somewhat impressive that it was so stable as to be more than drinkable. I am, however, not that impressed with stability as a general thing.

Porter Season: Black Irish Plain Porter, Scotch Irish, Ontario

Greg beat me to this review but only because he is in the heart of LCBO-land, Toronto, and it takes some beers weeks to make the two hour trip east. The nuttiness of that is compounded by the fact that beer is brewed by Scotch Irish Brewing (now aka Heritage Brewing) of Carleton Place to the east of me – but centralized authority must have it’s way, you know.

This beer is dandy. The kind of beer that I do not expect to be made by Canadians – an accusation which makes depresses when I make it. But this is confident, a good example of a style, honest in that it is what it says it is and tasty. Sister to the excellent if recently slightly subdued Sgt. Major IPA, this beer pours a deep blackened brown with a light mocha rim and foam. On the sniff, there is cream, dry cocoa and espresso. In the mouth there is more dry cocoa, coffee, plum, date and plenty of drying but not astringent hopping on a reasonable soft water background. At 4.5%, it is moreish and sessionable. Two bucks a stubbie at the government store. Good doggie.

Quick Note: St. Peter’s Old Style Porter

This beer from St. Peter’s is a ruby brown ale under an oddly ivory head. I’ve never seen an ivory head: tan plus hints of green-grey. This is old style, like Burton Bridge porter: barley candy plus molasses with lime and green hops. The yeast is sour cream or soured milk or something in between. Yet all well balanced.

Is this the holy grail? A 1750s porter? Likely not sour enough but colonial US farmers drank diluted vinegar so go figure.

Stone Brewing, San Diego, California

Two devils for two snowman
 

Two more from Stone Brewing of San Diego: Double Bastard Ale and Smoked Porter. A couple of months ago, I reviewed Arrogant Bastard here and Ruination IPA here.

The Double Bastard poured deep tea in colour with a beige head. It has the richness of Arrogant Bastard simplictor with something more of the hop whallop of Ruination. It is hot with massive malty flavours of tobacco, leather ballglove, apple butter and fig. Heavy body. At 10% alcohol it ought to whallop but it is a well blanketed bat that strikes. Comfort then good night. Here is what the advocation is saying.

The Smoked Porter was deep garnet, its rich smokiness not overwhelming and not really much in the finish. Below the molassesy deep malt there was some surprisingly fresh grape juiciness, then cola, then dates all laced with the reek. At 5.9% is is one of the more modest Stone brews. Not one of the BA’ers has a bad word to say about it. I think I had a pint of this on tap when I was in Vancouver in 1998 at The Whip, one of the nation’s finer spots, with my pal Robyn on a Saturday afternoon before we retired to Granville Island Market for rhubarb pie. Maybe these happy happy men who teach a beer class at UBC are occassional Whiperonians.

Quick Note: Labatt Porter

labportWhile on the road, I chanced by a depanneur near the pulp mills in downtown Hull and found an artifact, Labatt Porter. This beer is a vestige of an earlier style of Canadian beer which died away as lagers came on to the scene. Old lumberjack taverns up the Outaouais may still have old sign for porter painted on their outside brick walls. Ten years ago Molsons still produced a competing beer under the brand Champlain Porter. Now only this one is left and likely has one of its few remaining bases of popularity, such as it is, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. It is really a sweet milk stout. It is chocolatey, lactose sweet, a bit like a richer cola with low carbination and the aroma of new baked bread and caramel. It is not hoppy like the Sleeman Fine Porter or roasty like Cooperstown Benchwarmer. Not profound but comforting. Probably the best tasting beer for style Labatt still brews – which is not a great compliment. It may be gone itself in another decade. Click on the photo for a better view.

New York: Variety 12- Pack, Cooperstown Brewing, Milford

Another big buy from my trip a few weeks ago to the Party Source in Syracuse, NY. The case of this happy vista upon cracking the cardboard. Cooperstown Brewing is not actually in Cooperstown but is a proud cornerstone of the Milford, New York business community.

Like the Smuttynose case review posted ten days ago, I will work through the varieties included in this combo pack and give my impression of what the brewery is up to. One preliminary point, however. In this pack there are twelve bottles of six types as opposed to the four types. For me this takes out the “what do you think opportunity” – I don’t mind sharing a third but I think two bottles separated by a couple of days helps me think about whether I like a brew or not. Also, without having had one, drop the “golden ale”. Maybe once I have popped them, I will feel differently but to me that sounds like a pale ale that can’t work itself up to call itself even that. Plus, having sneaked one each of the stout and porter already, I know you could drop the stout. The porter is a real winner but the stout is not. You are trying to win me over with these mixed cases, so my advice is play your best cards.

I will review all six ales – and they are all ales which is a plus from the get go – as I pop ’em.

Golden Ale: I am not sure whether I have to retract what I wrote above, now a few days ago, but I am also not minding this light ale. That is what it really is at 4.3%. The brewery says:”Nine Man” is a golden ale, brewed from English pale and crystal malts, and with torrified wheat. It is bittered with Cascade and Cluster hops and finished with Cascade hops. “Nine Man Ale” was first brewed as a summer seasonal beer in 1996. It was kegged the first season but not bottled until the opening of the baseball season in April 1997.

– Original Gravity 1.045 / Final Gravity 1.012 /4.3% abv.

There is more body in this than a supposedly full-bodied Canadian macro-ale like Labatt 50. The hop selection and timing provides a good edge to the brew without florals or fruity flavour – maybe a wee lemon rind thing. The crystal malt gives it a slight nutty tone as well. Nothing remarkable except that at that moderate alcohol level, it does not come across as any kind of compromise. The beer advocatonians are a little restless with a 19% thumbs down rating. Here is one unhappy soul’s tale:Found this to be a decent, quaffable light ale. It has a pleasant medium gold appearance with a slight head. The aroma has hints of mown grass with some hints of Saaz hops. Tart, slightly fruity flavor. At the end, find it to be a bit clingy and starchy on the aftertaste.That reviewer rated it 2.9 out of 5. What do you want from a light ale?!?! But that is it! It is not called a light ale or even a lite one but a golden one. By not admitting what it is, has Cooperstown lost a market? Perhaps. For now, I say leave three of these in the box…maybe as a summer seasonal.

Pride of Milford: Strong Ale. The brewery says 7.7% which is about 2.2% higher than I would have guessed from the mouthfeel. It is rich but not Belgian fruity, more restrained like a low-end barley wine. The excellent Lew Bryson in his excellent, nay, seminal New York Breweries (1st ed. 2003 Stackpole Books) calls it at page 166:…a big beer that showcases the beautiful character of the Yorkshire [Ringwood] yeast. It’s malty, cookie-sweet and touched by fruity esters and Ringwood nuttiness that I love…I would agree with everything but the “cookie-sweet” unless we are talking ginger snap or milk lunch. I think this is actually moderately rich and dry – think amontillado or oloroso rather than fino if we were taking sherry which we are not but I thought I would say it anyway. The brewery says:

“Pride of Milford” is a very special ale with a tapestry of complex flavors and aromas. It is brewed with five malts and fermented with the Ringwood yeast at a higher temperature which gives this beer a uniqueness all its own. “Pride” has a distinctive reddish copper color. It is strong and rich beer. When “Pride” was first brewed in December 1999, many thought the flavor and aromas of this beer had fruit overtones. No fruit or adjunct flavoring is added to this beer. The unique flavor comes from our special brewing process.

It is not particularly pungent and has a soft mouthfeel, which would make it quite sneaky if one faced an afternoon at a cottage in winter with a fridgefull. Which raises the question of why this would be included in a case in July. I say include three of these in the case in winter replaced by the Golden Ale in the summer. I think beerish advocates would agree.

Strike Out Stout: The head fizzed like a Coke as it was poured and dissolved away within ten seconds. A nice flavour with chocolate and dry darker malts but subdued, a lighter bodied stout. An oxymoron. Fades in the mouth leaving a cocoa-chalky feel then just a little sour tang. The brewery is kinder to itself:

“Strike Out” is brewed with 6 malts including a balanced portion of chocolate and crystal malts. It is also brewed with 5% flaked oats for a velvet-like mouth feel. English pale, Munich and black malt, plus roasted barley round out the malt bill. Considerably lower in alcohol than both Benchwarmer Porter and Old Slugger Pale Ale, “Strike Out” is a well-rounded stout, opaque black in color with a roasted palate.

        People looking for a stout will be disappointed, especially with the 4.6% but also the crystal malt, quite off style, even for an oatmeal stout. Consider these

two great oatmeal stouts

         easily accessible to someone in the east end of Lake Ontario region. Both have richness. Strike Out does not. It should be reformulated with some body added or it should be called a dark ale, a lesser style. The yeast is a bit sour, too. Not really on for the style. I think I have made a stout like this and not been that proud of it.

One unhappy beer advocate

       captures my thoughts:

Almost black. Big Huge fizzy brown head. Good retention. Head forms craters as it dissintegrates. This beer appears to be very charged up by its appearance. Coffee bean, soap and leather are present on the nose. There’s something wrong with this beer. (Actually, many things.) Mouthfeel is way too carbonated. I get so damn much gas in every gulp that a burp is always the aftermath. The taste is astringent. Husky. Tannin like. Soapy. Stale. No stout qualities to speak of. I haven’t dumped a beer in months, but I just don’t feel like burping 20 times by the time I finish this one.

      So ditch this beer, Cooperstown. I think I am going to like the porter better from the recollection of the first. Leave this one out of the variety case to make some room of the seasonal.

Old Slugger Pale Ale: If there are two words that are bad in beer they are “Mt.” and “Hood”. Some call them spicy. Others, like me, rough and dirty, like a little bit of bark in every sip. I didn’t know what was so odd about this brew until I saw those two words – then I knew. Al Korzonas in his text Homebrewing – Vol. 1 (Sheaf & Vine, 1997) writes:

Another recently released American-grown cousin of Hallertauer Mittlefrüh. It is spicy (cinnamon), resiny and slightly sweet. It is recommended for any German or American lager. It is quite close to the Hallettaur Mittlefrüh in character, perhaps a little spicier. I recommend against using this hop for beers in which you want dominant bitterness – in a recent experiment I found its bitterness to be slightly abrasive when used in a recipe where the bitterness strongly dominated the malt.

      Not good news for a pale ale – that fairly malty, fairly bitter style.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an ambitious brew – ringwood yeast and its sour, woodsy thing; three very different hops, Mt. Hood as well as twiggy Fuggles and citrusy Cascade; as well as four barley malts including two types of crystal. For all that work there is an absence of finesse, the balance that makes all that flavour pull together. What would help? There is butterscotch but it is sitting there in a gap that needs to be filled up with biscuit. Again with the body…Cooperstown is just making them too light for the amount of flavour they want you to take in. Like the stout, it leaves you with an impression that it is thinner than it ought to be. Also like the stout, the head disappeared fast. The beer advocates give at a fairly low average for a micro.

Back Yard India Pale Ale: The head sustains longer than the stout or the pale ale. This is a good sign. The first taste is of vegetative rather than herbal hops. Clover sweet. There is a rough malt grain edge but is works in this one. This beer would go well with rich earthy flavours like ox-tail soup, parsley potato soup or roast squash. You know what I saying. I know you do. Maybe it is just that the ringwood challenge has been met with this one. A full three ales in the variety pack year round.

Interestingly, the unhappy beer advocates are talking about gushing bottles, cloudy ale and high burposity. These comments all go to problems at the brewery. My bottle was nothing like this, fairly still and balanced. So be prepared for bottle variation. The brewery says something very interesting:

English pale barley malt is predominant in this beer with just a small amount of crystal malt. It is well bittered with Cluster and Cascade hops and finished with a mix of local hop and larger amounts of Fuggle hop.The southeast zone of the leather-stocking region in New York (west of the Syracuse-Binghampton corridor south-west of Albany) was a hop growing area before the west was truly won and a local hop is a good hop if it is a heritage variety as this claim might be taken to imply. All in all, I am very happy with this beer. No Flower Power IPA from Ithaca but a worthy if less brassy neighbour. Redemption in the case.

Benchwarmer Porter: Comfort beer and, again like the IPA, a worthy placement in the case. The head is rocky and tan. The mouthfeel is full and full of mocha and fresh picked unsweetened black current. A beer fit for the Ringwood, but porter usually is. I used to make Ringwood pumpkin porter in my homebrewing days…but less about me, more about the brew. The brewery says:More than 4% chocolate malt, which is the most similar to the brown malts of the early 1700’s, gives “Benchwarmer” its dry coffee-like finish. It is fermented with the Ringwood yeast which is an excellent yeast for the brewing of porters.I am buying it but are the beer advocates? 43 reviews all all positive. One says:

Big foamy head and very dark color, but not opaque. Lots of hops for a porter, and they work well in drying out a slightly chewy mouthfeel, as well as imparting nice hints of herbs and dry leaves. Very tasty underlying flavors of espresso, dry molasses and earth. The finish is dry, with the coffee/espresso flavors lingering with a touch of alcohol. Really complex on tap.

Many reviewers taste some smoke which I did not get at all. Oh, well. Such is life. Very decent porter.

So all in all this is an ok variety pack but I now know what I will buy in a six and what I will not. Some concern for production quality but when they do well they do well. Nothing life changing but they are thinking and they are achieving – two things I have to remember to get around to from time to time Work on the stout and the pale ale, mix up the case to go with four styles not six and you are going to be ok.