The “I HATE YOUR THANKSGIVING!!!!” Edition Of Thursday Beery News Notes

I am the sad Canadian. I hate the week when Thanksgiving comes around late every November. It is the one holiday Canadians don’t get to participate in any way, even through analogy. Face it. Our early October Thanksgiving  is the least fun combo that vague residual churchiness and storage squash could muster up. And, yes, we have bonus days off like Boxing Day and Easter Monday – but what do we do with them as a culture? Nothing. Today to the south, Americans seem to plan to get hammered to cope with dodgy distant cousins while setting off exploding turkeys launched from vats of hot oil.  And not one of them in any way took seriously the advice on what beer to pair with their family festive feasts. I want a US Thanksgiving, too. Until that day, I am a sad Canadian.

That being said, Josh the Owner of Spearhead has spoken of one of the few things we have… or rather should have… that Americans can’t have…  but, in fact, he ain’t getting his hands on it at all:

Hey it’s been over a month since you opened. I made an order @ 6:45 AM on October 17. Still has not arrived. How do you ever expect to shut down an illegal market with such poor customer service?

You know what they say: Hayters gonna hayte.*

Early afternoon update: How did I miss this? Look at this fabulously transparent statement from the Beer Sisters on what working in what they call the beer sommelier gig looks like. No dubious claims to being independent and certainly not journalists. An excellent measure against which others should be measured.

While the US has had a truly horrible run of natural and man-made disasters to cope with, this call from Sierra Nevada to respond to the wildfires in its part of California stresses the need to respond to crisis by supporting the actual neighbourhood as you can:

“Although Chico and the Sierra Nevada brewery were spared, the Camp Fire has devastated neighboring communities where many of our friends, families and employees live,” said Sierra Nevada founder and owner, Ken Grossman. “This community has supported us for 38 years and we’re going to do everything we can to support them back.”

Speaking of fire, the maltsters Muntons tweeted out informative information about a fire at their premises that should be trotted out and thrown at anyone lost for words who blames Twitter as a communications platform:

Local Fire Services arrived quickly at the scene with 8 Fire appliances and a high-level access platform… Muntons have a robust Business Continuity system in place that has been tested annually and proven very effective… For further information please contact: Nigel Davies, Technical and Sustainability Director…

Speaking of the simplicity of malting barley for drink, I’ve been reading a bit in the southern media about the horrible prospect of jacked up prices for craft beer but up here in the true north strong and free that all adds up to good news according to the Western Producer:

Looking ahead to 2020, Watts showed data forecasting relatively steady beer production in the United States compared to 2015, with craft beer rising from 29.1 million hectolitres to 39.0 million, while non-craft beer declines from 194.5 million to 183.9 million hectolitres. However, due to the increased malt usage in craft beer production, the total U.S. malt demand will grow from 2.014 million tonnes in 2015 to 2.211 million tonnes in 2020.

Money, money, money. Speaking of prices getting all jacked up, one should note that GIBCS 2018 is not for keeping… apparently:

…a fellow beer writer who tasted this beer with me, said he wishes there was more of the soft, Tootsie Roll-esque flavors that have characterized past versions. Again, this is total nitpicking. This beer is better than 90 percent of the bourbon barrel-aged stouts other breweries are putting out.

Hmm. Spot the suspicious things with that assertion. Speaking of which, Gary Gilman places the singular success of Belgian beer this week in the lap of the now long late Mr J:

Stella Artois is of course today a growing force in the premium international lager segment, so Unibex was right in a sense, but that growth came in the wake of the romance Jackson created for Belgian beer. Without that groundwork, Belgium would be one of a number of European countries vying for sales internationally and likely well behind Germany, Denmark, and Holland with no cachet, moreover, attached to its beers.

I can’t buy it. Aside from the fact of the continuation duration of his particular death, the general fiction of the few founders in the micro/craft tale – and the necessity of the GWH – is how we would have to believe that no one else would have noticed… whatever. In this case, it requires us to believe that no one would have noticed the indigenous beer culture at any time during the 40 years since Belgium’s brewing.** Not happening. Romance? Nope – it’s been big beer driven, moolah motivated and, frankly, much of the export expansion came just far too late along the timeline for the Jacksonian touch of the hem: “…exports to the USA have risen tremendously from a mere 2 million litres in 2005 to over 130 million litres in 2009.” Stella! Stella!!!

I love this speedy 1983 BBC guide to speedy home brewing.  Notice how it ends with a simple “yum”?  It gave me nostalgic pause. And there was an interesting juxtaposition with that to be observed, drawing both from this ying to this other yang. I don’t know why in particular it struck me other than the first being the small mutual affirmation pool while the other was a powerful personal kick against construct. Which persuades you more? And do either give more pleasure than the happy man of 1983 enjoyed?

Finally, as the next few weeks drag on, each day shortening before the winter equinox, remember to lay off the sauce – as at least one Scottish medical man recommends:

He said: “We now have new evidence that the weather, and in particular the temperature and amount of sunlight that we are exposed to, has a strong influence on how much alcohol we consume. Furthermore this weather-related alcohol consumption is directly linked to our chances of developing the most dangerous form of liver disease – cirrhosis – which can ultimately end in liver failure and death.”

Death! I understand that is even worse than Stella.

Another week has passed. Soon it will be December – but before then we get to gather as a nation and watch the Grey Cup this Sunday. Bet just knowing there is three-down football to the north ruins many a US Thanksgiving dinner. Don’t let it. Be yourselves. And check out Boak and Bailey this Saturday where no doubt they will have an update on the UK’s plans for Grey Cup celebrations.

*For years I have wandered this earth waiting for the right moment to use that particular Dad joke. Notice I did not write “Hayter’s gonna hayte” as that would be rude.
**Whatever that in fact means.

 

Beer Cocktails: A Glass Of Port And One Of Stout

I have had my doubts about beer cocktails ever since I heard the term. I don’t trust that the attempt to create a new niche – and then, of course, the jostling to become guru of that niche – bodes well for actual experience being foisted upon us all. Plus, I am of an age that does not find me in bars watching however much I like them. I have to rely on my own wits. Any that usually keeps me from experimenting too much.

Yet, there is something about port and stout that I like. The “ye olde” nature of it perhaps? I have certainly had a love of ports as well as Spanish sherries, Hungarian tokays and other “sticky” wines that actually predates my love of good beer. These are the drinks of childhood holidays, ex-pats comforting themselves with rich tastes of trade and empire. I came across the concept five years ago and have been tinkering with blends since at least 2008 and, while I approve, I have not found myself converted.

Until today. I realized my problem might be the requirement of blending in the glass. Sure, you might say, that is what a “cocktail” is but, if we are honest, is not the shot and chaser a cocktail, too? And, frankly, is it not even more guru-tastic to use more than one piece of glassware to create the effect? Hands up everyone who agrees. There. It is settled.

Today, I poured a glass of Feist Colheita 1998 port and a pint of Grand River’s Russian Gun Imperial Stout. Both share a rich dryness when tasted in succession that I think would blend well in the same glass. But they also have so many complimentary tastes when tasted separately which are drowned when put together. The lingering dry cocoa licorice of the strong stout is washed by the heady tannin berry of the port. Both have a hint of chalkiness, too. Each are fine drinks in their own right. Together, a partnership.

So, first big news of 2012? It’s OK to use two glasses. Good old double fisting is now surely guru approved. Second big news? If you have a stash it’s now time to get the cabinet, too. Your own little gin palace tucked in a corner of the dining room.

Scotland: Paradox Islay #004, BrewDog, Aberdeenshire

bdpi1What a mess. I hadn’t realized the label was made of hard card stock stuck on with two-sided sticky tape. I might take it down to the lab and get James’ near teen DNA off of it. Bottle 131 of 200. By opening it, I probably just threw away the 100 bucks I could get from some guy in Kansas on eBay. Sent as a sample by the brewery when they were but boys a few years back. I decided to open it after watching a little Horatio Hornblower that was accompanied by a Bourbn County stout. No doubt you have known that moment, too.

As promised, it is all Islay on the nose, the beloved smoky low Islands Scots whisky. Land of my fathers. Because the stout sat in a barrel of the 1968. My mother’s cousin-in-law was a canny and, for the Clyde, stylish post-war whisky broker in the southwest so I am sure he would approve. He certainly would recognize it. Deep deep mahogany under mocha rim and froth. Aroma of the malt but in the mouth it is sharp. At first, a hammer of old Dutch man’s licorice with all the salt that goes along with seaweedy Islay – then something like a stout with something like a whisky. It isn’t really anything like “balanced” and I wonder, honestly, if it is more of an artifact than a beer. Dry and a little like something I would call harsh but on the lovely side of harsh. Descriptors like “whopping”, “foolish” and “two by four to the head” come to mind. Planky. Sae halp ma bob. That is all I can say.

One sole BAer went mad for this early Holy Grail like example of experimental 21st century UK brewing.

Vermont: Odd Notion Fall ’09, Magic Hat, SoBurl

If Google is anything to go by – and it might well turn out to be – then I have clearly had a fair number of beers by Magic Hat. Like the buttery goodness. Like the quirky branding. Like the experimentations. This beer is one of there recent Odd Notions and I am told it is a stout, which it is, but was not told to expect smoked malt. It’s like a black thick stout with about 10% rauchbier added. Quite yummy stuff. Pours deep dark with a thin deep brown rim. Fine mocha foam verging on the burgundy tinged. It gives scents of cream, dark plum as well as a little roastiness. These continue in the swish with cocoa, earthiness, smoke, date, and a whack of other dark favours all in a reasonably big body which is also moreish. Quite the nicest stout I have had in a while.

Three bottles in each mixed 12-pack this autumnal season. Best of their special brews which I have had yet. Plenty of BAer love though they call it a Belgian dark unlike the brewery.

Scotland: Paradox Springbank, BrewDog, Fraserburgh

1208“It smells like the granary when it’s filled.” I think that is what I was told but it makes sense.

It pours – imagine – rather deep brownish and has a rich mocha froth and foam. The nose in delightful. Fig and chocolate, milk and bread crust. Like a rich child’s breakfast in 1710. The mouth expands with both smooth and whisky sharp. Not Lowland, Campbelltown. Barely a “hodge yer whisht” from the land of my forefathers off the far eastern side of Arran. An amazing swishy mouthful of softness, grain, roast and shadow of burn. Batch 17 in the Paradox series. “Awfy braw” were Oor Wullie asked.

BAers don’t do subtle. The lips tingle from the water of life.

Denmark: Beer Geek Breakfast, Mikkeller, København

It’s been a tough old day. I was in a suit and tie until 11:30 pm yesterday. Nothing could be worse. Then, Paul and I are all pointy fingers over war and, over at Stan’s, otherwise seemingly sensible people are going absolutely handbags over the meaning of art. Well, at least you can’t suggest I am sweating the small stuff.

So I need a moment. For myself. Just me and a 7.5% Scandinavian oatmeal stout. I was given this as a sample from the kind people at Roland and Russell. They represent Mikkeller here in Ontario as well as a number of other snazzy brewers. There have been others from Mikkeller care of RR. But I stuck the Santa’s Little Helper 2008 in the deeper depths of the stash. And I think I’ve had a Jackie Brown and an IPA as well – but I took no notes. Put the blame on me. Or blame it on Fridays after work when I just want something astounding and Nordic but, as you know, one can only reread ones Thor comics so many times. Or (Note: warning) blame it on the rain for what it’s worth. But the fact is that they went down the cake hole and the delicacy of the experience has been lost to the generations of mankind who shall follow. I noted not. The authors of those biographical masters theses will be right some grumpy when they find out.

“Buh’wuzziylie?” you ask. A bit of the smell of a double cream sherry on the popping of the cap. Once poured, the scent is all mocha. The head is a long lasting brown cream foam. Browner than beige or mocha. Real brown. In the mouth, not the heaviest strong stout I have had but pretty damn smooth. Silky oat and roasty dark chocolate. Then things come in quick succession: mint hop, chalk, licking a rock, unsweet licorice and a bunch of other things in a jumble. The finish is long and shape shifting, too. Plenty of texture as well. Dusty dry cocoa, cream yeast, even slight hop astringency. Lots going on. Triff’.

BAers know the love.

Stouts: John By Imperial Stout, Scotch Irish Brewing, Ontario

jbis1This is a great new stout from the Scotch Irish Brewing branch of Heritage, the eastern Ontario makers of a very good IPA and a solid, if only seasonal, porter. There is much talk about this one over at the Bar Towel, the province’s beer fan forum, with a little discussion of whether a 6.7% beer can be called an Imperial stout.

Does it matter? Not really. The labels and gradations of beer are as fluid as what is in the glass and what is in this glass is a full bore stout with plenty of the hallmarks of the style. The brew is deep and dark with a narrow brown edge showing when held up against the light. The tan head fades to a thin rim. In the mouth there is a mass of Dutch salty licorice over dark chocolate with some toast and prune treacle, if such a thing exists, underneath. It is all infused with the minty hop that opens up in the finish.

I think this is an excellent example how big need not mean skull-splittingly strong and that Imperial stout can mean grand and not just alcohol ridden. Seven BAers give firm support.

Stouts: The Week Of Ten Stouts

I’ve written about plenty of stouts before but never a collection this big: imperial stouts, imperial extra double stout and just plain stouts, from four US states as well as Quebec, England and Australia. Stout has experienced a great diversification in its sub-styles through the explosion of craft brewing over the last few years. In his 1977 edition of The World Guide to Beer Michael Jackson generally describes three: bitter stout, milk or sweet stout and Russian or imperial stout. By 1995, Michael Lewis in his book Stout describes how to brew six different styles: west coast, Irish draught, dry, sweet, Caribbean and imperial.

Beyond these, I can think of two traditional styles including oatmeal and Baltic, though the second is a quibble with English made stout for the Russian export trade. In addition, just in the selection gathered above we have stouts with raspberry, coffee and chocolate added as well as stout stored in oak. Heck, just one brewer in Maine alone makes six different stouts. There has to be more…oh yes – oyster stout.

Stout’s roasted profile clearly gives craft brewers a great starting point to play with as they deem fit. My only problem is where to begin.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout 2006/2007: This is my third vintage of this brew from The Brooklyn Brewery. Darkest brown plummy oil thick ale with mocha rim and foam. Dry burnt toast scrapings, dry bakers chocolate and licorice. Fruit? Date and a touch of plum. A very well hidden 10.5%, almost 2% higher than in 2004/2005. Light cream yeast, slight chalkiness. Unlike last year’s take, French roast coffee and the ciggie ashtray effect did not spring to mind. I have another bottle in the stash and may have more to say. Some BAer unhappiness with this year’s model. Certainly a gentle imperial stout even at this strength.

Le Coq Imperial Extra Double Stout: Not imperial stout. Not double imperial stout. No, this is extra double imperial stout. Vintage 2001, this beer is made in England by Harvey and Son under license to a board of trustees and an Estonian brewery. The story packs the label so I won’t repeat the tale. Darkest brown, syrupy still ale with the thinnest of mocha film of a head that is gone in about five seconds. Nose is acidic and rich sherry. In the mouth licorice and beef gravy. Something ox-tail soup about it – gotta tell it like it is. Also plenty of blackened toast under the fatty richness. Smoke, too, and minty hop. Another sipper noted “marmite and oxo cubes.” Tangy and bone dry chocolate in the finish. Beer to soak a prime rib roast of beef in. Serious dissension amongst the BA set as a full 19% say no way. I would save the next bottle I found for a rib eye steak.

The Czar Imperial Stout: The 2005 brewing from Avery Brewing of Colorado, my first by them. After the condensed consumée above, a bit of a break even at 11.03%. Deep mahogany ale with rich mocha cream rich foam and rim. Apple butter and black rum on the nose. A walloping woo of deep and sticky pumpernickel malt, big and rich with plenty of fruit on the mouth, mostly pear and date – a very attractive combination I haven’t thought of before…now I’m thinking more about pie than stout. The yeast is creamy but the water may be a little hard, as I have found with some Colorado beer. On the finish there is a bit of telltale mineral cloy. Some spice way back there, curryish like cumin as much as anise. Really nice. And not just due to the lack of oxo cube references. A brave brewer to pass up the oxo cube notes. Some BAers debate the lack of the dry burnt toast scrapings. But they are outvoted 24 to 1. A good beer.

Raspberry Imperial Stout: from Weyerbacher of Pennsylvania. First impression – chocolate raspberry cheesecake in a bottle. The nose is full of fruit and comes across something like a ruby port – ok, maybe if the other nostril was deeply in embrace with a roasty toasty stout. In the mouth lots of true and zippy raspberry up front, then dry chocolate and mocha roasty stout then a far lighter finish than I would have expected. The minty hops open up nicely as the berry recedes. The brewer says this is an 8% which either means I am having a lot of heavy ale lately or this is a well hidden level of strength. 4% of BAers are not happy, citing plenty of stuff which proves again some people do not like most pretty fine beers.

Imperial Stout: from Schoune of the Quebec side of the south tip of the inter-provincial border with Quebec. Deep dark ale under a fine creamy tan head. Surprisingly good stout from a largely Belgian-style brewery. Dry roasty with a decent chalky background. Nice licorice-plummy notes in the middle. Finish has dry chocolate and minty hops. Nicely hidden 8.5% if the BAers are correct – a only two raters and they disagree. I like it. Sort of a dry Baltic style stout with all that licorice. Certainly the best Canadian take on an imperial stout I have tried…or seen for that matter.

Jah*va: An imperial coffee stout for day six of the week of stout. Have I mentioned I love Southern Tier? Every one I have of theirs speaks to their passion for quality craft beer. Brewed on 22 November 2005, this beer has Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee in the brew. Did I mention I know a man who knows the man who owns the Blue Mountain? It is the colour of a glass of molasses with a dark espresso foam head. A thick explosion of mouth-coating minted coffee with a tightly pack layering of fine graininess, like you get from a French press coffee pot. No plum, no fig, not dates. Just coffee, dry cocoa, a nod to mint (even with the 125 IBUs) with a thick creamy yeast. OK, maybe a date square thing in there with the sweetness, fruit and rich sweet grain. Top notch with a whopping 12% strength. Wow. Check out the brewery’s one page website. The BAers all love it. Fabulous.

Extra bonus side-by-side intermission: I found my last Brooklyn Chocolate Stout before the last of the Jah*va was gone. In a battle of the NY state imperial stouts, the BCS is decidedly lighter in the mouth, especially at the outset. The BSC head is the colour of maple walnut ice cream, the Jah*va’s is like milk chocolate. On the nose, Jah*va is pungent while BCS is quiet – as one would expect given they are hallmarks of each brewery’s style. In fact, for a 10.6% compared to a 12%, the difference is remarkable. But both are lovely.

Finger Lakes Stout: from the Ithaca Beer Co.’s winter mixed 12 box. I must like this because I seem to only have 3 oz left even though I just started the review. Light tan fine foamy rim over deep chestnut ale. After all the heavyweights above, a relief. Dutch licorice nose and as well as in the mouth along with a nice creamy, nutty, slightly sweet and slightly soured stout with a good but not overwhelming level of dry roastiness in the second half of the swallow. Some minty hop as is only right and proper. The brewery says it has 6.8% and there is a bit of uncertainty with the BAers as it is called, perhaps, Anniversary Stout there but not on the bottle.

Heresy: Imperial Stout aged in oak from Weyerbacher of Pennsylvania. The brewery says:

This incredibly intriguing Imperial Stout is made by aging our Old Heathen in some very famous Oak barrels that were used for aging bourbon! What do we have when we are done?

Entirely fine cream mocha head over deepest brown garnet tinged ale. The smell of coffee ice cream. Chocolate mocha ale with plenty of fruitiness: black cherry and vanilla. And the whiskey, a nod…a nod-ette. But it is there. Reminds me of Rogue Chocolate Stout with a bit more oomph. Decidedly smooth and rich but also with a fine grained texture in the mouthfeel. Not overly heavy, cream yeast. Very good. Whiskey, roasted malt and cream in the finish – a dark cream crowdie. 5% of BAers need their neck bolts tightened.

Imperial Stout: From Smuttynose of New Hampshire. Light milk chocolate head over medium dark black brown ale. On the snozz, minty hop, espresso and milk chocolate. The first sip is full of licorice and milk chocolate. Some plum and date back there with plenty of roasted malts. Dark chocolate, chalk and molasses finish. Brewed 15 March 2006:

Charles added 44 lbs of Cascade, split evenly between two batches, or about half a pound per barrel. We then transferred the beer onto seventy-eight pounds of an even mixture of Centennial and Columbus whole flowers, about one pound per barrel. The beer is a little top heavy in terms of the hopping but it seems to be smoothing out a bit as it’s aging. I’d give it six months or so, if you can wait that long.Dandy and big and smooth now nine or ten months later.

Best Extra Stout: From Coopers of Australia. Last of the ten. What a marathon. Cola coloured ale under mocha foam and rim. A soft stout with licorice up drink followed by an interestingly discordant move to toast scrape bunt barley with a reasonably rich mouthfeel – very nice and even a real ale sludge at the bottom. Hops are mainly mint but a bit of citrus in there as well. A very easy drinking stout. 6.3% and called a Foreign Stout over at the BA where 4% say no.

So another great exercise in compare and contrast. The best? Hard to say but Jav*ah was pretty darn nice.

Gritty McDuff’s, Portland and Freeport, Maine, USA

Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub, Portland
 

I got to visit both the Portland and Freeport locations of the oldest brewpub in Maine within 24 hours. I am glad to say the brew in each is fine even if the setting of the Freeport pub is a bit rough. It is a bit like drinking in an old storage shed though – to be very fair – it is clearly a summer spot and dropping in during a late winter snow storm did not show it to its best. I liked the food in both spots.

 

 

 

 

If I was in Freeport again I probably would stop in for a stout but if you are heading to visit just one, go to Portland. In each you can see bench seating which is fairly common in New England and Atlantic Canada but less so as you move west. Superb. Their use of rolled raw barley creates a creamy mouthfeel that out strips Guinness anyday. It is like melted ice cream…ok…it reminds me of melted ice cream with a pin-fine nitro beige head above black malt roasty double devon. It is exceptional.

 

 

 

 

I also tried the Scotch Ale in the Freeport location and was similarly impressed. I sometime wonder about the style and whether you can put anything in it you want as long as it has less hops and a black malt roughness. This offering has an orangey hue as well as that flavour in the mouth – a nod to Scotch seville marmadade? The fruitiness is counteracted with the rough black malt, subdued green hop and a slight smokey feel. With an additional tangy edge, the overall effect is slightly Belgian and slightly Scots. Very nice and at 6.3% a wee methodical ale worth deconstructing over an afternoon’s sip.

So definitely worth the visit for the ales, Portland for the ales and the location. Gritty’s also bottles its own – or at least has it contract brewed somewhere – which you can pick up pretty much anywhere in southern Maine. I think I brought a quart of Black Fly home for further study. Below are some shots from the Freeport location which you can click on for a larger view.

Stouts: Fresh Draught Stout, Maine Coast Brewing, USA

This is a smooth cream stout that goes off in a direction that I just don’t quite get. A beige ring over really dark black ale. It has chocolate, licorice and roast barley notes but also a somewhat odd Mennonite apple butter thing in the middle. Not unpleasant but really big and malty like you might expect in an imperial stout but this brew has none of the whallop one of those packs. If it was called porter I would not be surprised either but it still wouldn’t be right. Am I a stylistic prude?

Neat to see these guys brew six different stouts…but none called Fresh Draught Stout. Maybe its the Black Irish Stout as one beer advocate notes that it has an “agreeably lithe fruitiness of a vaguely pruneish nature emerges mid palate and lends a blurred bitter cocoa dusted dark fruit contrast.” Wheee-yew! And I thought I was a ripe little adjective squeezer.

From Baaah Haaabaaah, State O’Maine. Something like $5.65 US a half gallon at RSVP Liquors in Portland Maine.