Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Quest for a Sessionable IPA

There have been reams of text (both hardcopy and electronic) written about "sessionable" beers.  Some of that comes with negative connotations of people pounding back craft beers without appreciation for the craftsmanship.  For me personally, I'm looking for something that I can have a few of, usually during a hockey game or out on the patio without feeling done in by the end of the evening or next morning.  I like mid-to-high ABV IPAs like everyone else but something with a great hop profile but lower alcohol is what I'm looking for.  Some pale ales strike that balance but not consistently and many are ramped up ABV as well.

To this end my goal over the spring and summer is to try every ISA and lower ABV (below 5%) IPA I can get my hands on.  Some brief tasting notes are below and I would love to hear of any other ones out there I've missed.

Phillips Bottle Rocket - This was my first entry to the ISA category.  To me I found this one like a lighter version of a typical Phillips IPA but with a reduction in the "grassy" aspect of the hops.

Muskoka Detour - Definitely my favorite Canadian entry.  Very cirtrusy throughout without the big malt that I find in Mad Tom or Twice as Mad Tom.

Central City ISA - The first one was quite good but as I worked through the case became less and less enamored.

Grizzly Paw Rundlestone - I think this one was on me as it's more of an English ale than an IPA.  It was drinkable but definitely more bready than the hops I was hoping for.

Stone GoTo IPA - This is one beer that gets it 100% right.  Fantastic citrus flavor up front and a light body that doesn't feel thin.

Founders All Day IPA - Another fantastic beer that I'd heard about for ages and finally got to try in London England of all places.  Great citrus up front but a little thinner in the middle than I anticipated.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pumpkin Beers: The Aftermath

Except for our American friends, Thanksgiving/harvest has come and gone and along with that the desire for pumpkin beers.  This year more than ever they hit the shelves early as "beer season creep" continues to grow.  I held out as long as I could on principle but eventually gave in and started trying every pumpkin beer I could get my hands on.  Draft, bottle, local, import, it didn't matter to me.  My goal this year was to find the best pumpkin beer.

The challenging issue with pumpkin beers is they are very subjective.  I tend to like mine closer to a pumpkin pie flavour with good nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove characteristics highlighting the pumpkin.  Others tend to feel that falls more towards a spiced ale than a pumpkin beer and want a more authentic pumpkin flavour.  I tried ones that fell into both of those sides of the spectrum.  The final list was:

- Tree Jumping Jack
- Granville Island The Pumpkining
- Elysian Night Owl
- Muskoka Harvest Ale
- Fernie Pumpkin Head
- Howe Sound Pumpkineater
- Alley Kat Pumpkin Pie
- Rogue Pumpkin Patch
- Phillips Crooked Tooth

My favorite overall out of the batch was probably the Elysian Night Owl due to it's fantastic spice character.  Rogue's Pumpkin Patch was a close second.  I didn't try this beer until mid-November. It took a while to hit shelves (especially in Canada) due to their use of Rogue Farm pumpkins as part of the brewing process.  For beers that trended closer to pumpkin flavour I would probably go with Tree's Jumping Jack.

I look forward to going through the whole process again next year and hopefully my resolve will be a little bit stronger to hold out until at LEAST October before having fall beers.  If only there were as many Christmas seasonals to choose from!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Steam Whistle Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest is fantastic.  It's like St. Patrick's Day for us German folk.  It's got great beer, massive steins, fattening German food and all the lederhosen you could ask for.  In the spirit of the occasion, Steam Whistle is hosting their first ever cross-country Oktoberfest tour this year and their Calgary stop will be held at the Commonwealth Bar on Saturday October 5th.  Details are here.

Steam Whistle has been kind enough to give me two Golden tickets for the party which includes entry, line bypass, and a one litre stein to fill to the brim with delicious beer.  Unlike Willy Wonka's Golden tickets, you won't have to drink to the bottom of a store-full of Steam Whistle, nor will you have to hang out with a creepy guy in a top hat.  Anyone who tweets me with the hashtag #steamwhistleoktoberfest or responds in the comments of this post before Wednesday will be put into a draw for these tickets.  Draw will be made Wednesday night. 

If you can't make the event you can also grab yourself a Steam Whistle Oktoberfest pack at Sobeys liquor stores in Alberta for a limited time.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Craft Beer and Crazy Additives

When I first started getting into craft beer the additions were pretty normal.  Things like coffee, cherries, honey, other assorted fruit were all par for the course.  That is no longer the case as brewers stretch the limits of taste and the public's judgement.  Here are some of the more interesting ones I've heard of or tried in my tastings:

Jalapenos/Chili Peppers - I've tried many variations of this type of infusion and some hit the mark and others miss completely.  The best I've had are ones that lean towards a stout or a porter but Rogue has a Chipotle Ale that is more in line with an Amber that is also quite nice.

Cucumbers - This is the first time I've heard of cucumbers being used in a beer.  They've been used in cocktails for quite some time (both as a garnish and an ingredient).  A number of US breweries have given this a go (Cigar City, Magic Hat, etc.) and just recently Village Brewing in Calgary has come out with a Cucumber Farmhouse Ale that I've heard good things about but have not had a chance to try.

Coffee (from animal poop!) - I've actually had one of these and I can say with 100% certainty that it is delicious.  Mikkeller's Beer Geek Brunch Weasel contains coffee from the civet, which is a small, weasel-like mammal.  The way the coffee comes to be is that the civet consumes the coffee berries, they get digested and come out the other end.  The beans are washed, roasted and sold for an exorbitant amount of money.  Does that make it better than what you get at Starbucks?  I'm not sure but the beer itself is fantastic and does actually pair well with breakfast (or brunch).  A newcomer to this style is a Japanese brewery, Sankt Gallen, who is using coffee from Thai elephant poop to brew a chocolate stout.  The coffee from those elephants goes for $500 a pound and is some of the priciest coffee in the world.

Brewer parts - let me be clear, as far as I know no brewers are cutting off digits or ears and dropping them into the brew kettle.  That said, there are two notable beers out there that have "special" additives from brewers themselves.  Rogue recently came out with a beer called Beard Beer.  This particular beer contained yeast that was extracted from head brewer John Maier’s beard.  Dogfish had a Chicha beer (Peruvian) in 2010 which required the grain (purple maize) for the beer to be moistened in the chicha maker's mouths in order to break down the starches into sugars for brewing.  So to break that down, the beer you would be drinking contains ingredients that have been chewed by your brewer and then spit out for use in the beer. 
purple maize is milled, moistened in the chicha-makers mouths - See more at:

What's the weirdest ingredient you've ever heard of being added to a craft beer?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Half Pints Tap Takeover at National

I was lucky enough to head out of the house during the week (two small children usually makes that difficult) and get down to National for the Half Pints takeover on March 21st.  This was my first visit to National so it was interesting to see what it was like. I really liked the communal seating style and the general arrangement.  We were sitting against the wall farthest from the bar and that is the ONLY place where there are TVs.  The TVs show sports or the "train"-type schedule with beer.  It was almost impossible to see the game from where we were sitting and the menu was close to unreadable.  There are printed menus at the tables but I'll get to why this was a problem for us.  The food was outstanding, even if the portions were a little small.  I had a prime rib sandwich with fries and both were delicious and made me want more.  Our server was pleasant although the noise level in the place caused me to have to repeat my order more than once.

My other beef is that many of my beers (except for my flight) came served in frosted glasses.  For me this is a big no-no in a craft beer place who should know that the colder you make craft beer, the more nuances you lose.  I talked to another person who was there and they said one of their party also received frosted glasses but for ciders, not beer. 

On to the beers:

Lil Scrapper - I've had this one in the bottle many many times but it really is exceptional on tap.  For me the hops really came forward and were snappier and more citrus forward than I normally get out of the bottle. 

Deschutes Hop Henge - I'm not going to review this one as I'm not 100% sure this was what I got.  When we went to order it an hour later we were told the keg had been tapped earlier the same day.  Whether that meant I got the last pint or whether I was served a mystery beer I'm not sure.

Dry Hopped Bulldog Amber - I like the Bulldog as a beer but got absolutely no additional hops in here at all.  Solid beer but was looking for the dry hopped addition.

Hogshead Red IPA - Really glad to try something from these guys.  Nice amber/red color with a great hop finish.  There is something different in the middle that I couldn't put my finger on but my companion suggested a metallic taste that I often get with English IPAs.  Definitely would drink this if I could get my hands on it regularly in Calgary.

Le Temps Noir - Just as good, if not better on tap as in the bottle.  Just a solid beer that oozes that vanilla flavor it picks up from the bourbon barrels.  What a fantastic beer to end with.

Also had the opportunity to meet Nicole, co-owner of Half Pints.  She was great to talk to and I would have loved the chance to chat more about the brewery and their beers but another time.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Hawaii Update!

I've been sucking at the updates but here's to hoping it's better in the new year....which we're already in.  Anyway...

Haven't been around here lately to try anything new and exciting.  I've seen a couple tweets from Sherbrooke Liquor and Willow Park about cool things coming in (most notably for me RED RACER IPA) and there have been some really cool events around town.  I haven't been able to go to a lot of them being so far in the south (which no craft beer place has rectified) but CRAFT has had launches for Red Racer and Brew Dog, National had a launch for Phillips, and Beer Revolution had their awesome IPA festival.  I was fortunate enough to head down for that one and finally got to try Mikkeller's 1000 IBU on tap which was great.

Just got back from a two week vacation in Kona HI which was great.  The weather was considerably better than our last trip to Hawaii two years ago when we went to Kauai.  Kona is probably the driest area out of the islands so we had sunny hot weather for almost every day we were there.  As for beer, we decided that our house beer was going to be Sierra Nevada's Torpedo.  It was available at Costco for $24.99 for a 24.  To let that sink in, I can't even buy Lucky Lager here in Calgary for that cheap.  There were other liquor stores around the island and I stopped at Kona Wine and Spirits and Lighthouse Liquors in Hawi.  Both of these had some unique brews that I picked up including Ballast Point's Victory at Sea and Deschutes' The Dissident.  Victory at Sea was a great Imperial Porter that had fantastic coffee notes and a great balance.  The Dissident was one of the best sour beers that I've had in awhile.  Not mouth puckering but enough to know it was there yet still let the original ale characteristics shine through along with the red wine.  I found prices on a lot of stuff to be a little high if you were straying outside of a grocery store but pretty typical for Hawaii.  We were able to get Red Chair from Deschutes, for example, for $9 a six-pack but the Victory at Sea was over $12.

I really wish I could give a report on Kona Brewing but sadly we got there late on our last day on the island and the wait was just going to be too long.  Additionally they had not ONE IPA on tap which was really frustrating.  We did get to go to Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea though and I highly recommend it.  Not only do they have a stellar IPA (Overboard IPA) and great red ale (Red Giant) but their mexican food might have been my favorite that I tried.  Definitely worth the short(ish) drive from Kona.  If you do want to sit outside though bring a parka.  It was +30C when we left Kona and was 18C in Waimea. 

As far as going out to drink we pretty much stuck to one place: Humpys Ale House.  This place is definitely geared towards craft beer drinkers.  Fantastic beers on tap (my favorites: Anderson Valley Heelch O'Hops, aforementioned Big Island Overboard IPA, and the always tasty Rogue Old Crustacean barleywine).  The view is stellar, situated right on Alii Drive and looking onto the ocean.  We spent a few nights here having a pint and watching the sunset.  Food is pretty tasty as well and their poke stack is one of the best I have tried.

If anyone else has any recommendations on places to drink craft beer on the big island, let me know in the comments or on Twitter @calgarycoder.  Cheers!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Vegas Surprises

It's been a long time since I was in Vegas (4 years to be exact) so I was really looking forward to heading back for a conference.  The last time I was in Vegas it was nearly impossible to find good craft beer on the strip.  When I did go to the one place that was supposed to have a good selection (Monte Carlo) they were closed or tapped out. 

This year was completely different.  Not only did I find great beer but I found it in multiple venues.  Everything from brewpubs to restaurants to bottle shops.  My favorite restaurant was The Yardhouse which is at the south end of the Strip.  They had a ton of great beers available and drinking Green Flash IPA from a massive glass just tastes better.  Uinta's Dubhe Imperial Black IPA was a very nice finish after a meal as well.

Most convenience stores on the strip had at least one selection for a walking pop.  This usually ended up being the Coronado Brewing Company's Islander IPA.  If  I really lucked out there were Hop Stoopids and one or two other choices that could be had.

As far as bottle shops, the Whole Foods at the south end of the strip had a great selection.  I could have easily spent $400 on beer for the room with gems like Rogue's XS IPA (in the cermaic bottles!), Mikkeller's Beer Geek Brunch (Weasel), and a ton of other seasonals.  The other great place was Lee's Discount Liquor which again was south of the strip.  They had a fantastic selection of beer and other spirits with prices being comparable to other places in Vegas.

My favorite beer this time around though was a local beer brewed by Tanaya Creek Brewery.  They had a Monsoon IPA that clocked in at 8.5% ABV.  It was a nice refreshing hoppy brew which made walking the Strip (and the aching feet that followed) more enjoyable.

All in all I had a fantastic time in Sin City and look forward to seeing what has happened with craft beer the next time I'm back (hopefully it won't take 4 years!).