Palate Practice

tasting with intention

Tag: craft beer

The Return of the Beer Advent Calendar

I thought about it. I hemmed and hawed and wondered if it was worth going there again. And in the end I realized that, yes, I did want to go through it again. For all its ups and downs, it was a good time.

 

And so, I present to you –

 

Beer Advent Calendar 2016

 

That’s right, folks, we’re doing it again! Advent Calendar part two: electric boogaloo. Also known as ‘an excuse to enjoy new beers while also getting into the holiday spirit’.

This time around I put a bit more thought into building the list of beers to include. I’m a little IPA-ed out so I focused more on stouts and porters this year – more malt and less hops was the driving factor for this year’s group. As with last year (and my regular beer consumption) I focused mostly on Ontario craft beers, with some special guest stars from countries whose beers I quite enjoy (England, Belgium) and some beers I picked up on some recent travels to New York State.

 

So, without further ado, here is this year’s list.

 

blondesandpaleales

 

Forked River, Riptide Rye Pale Ale

Great Lakes Brewery, Karma Citra IPA

Muskoka Brewery, Mad Tom IPA

Nickel Brook, Wet Hop Pale Ale

Brimstone Brewing, Enlightenment Blonde Ale*

 

vegbeers

 

Royal City, Autumn Ale*

Grand River Brewing, Highballer Pumpkin Ale

 

englishalesandextraflavours

 

Great Lakes Brewery, Pompous Ass English Pale Ale

Nickel Brook, Equilibrium ESB*

Muskoka Brewery, Winterweiss

Side Launch, Dark Lager

Royal City Brewing, Smoked Honey Lager

 

stoutsandporters

 

Forked River, Full City Coffee Porter

Collective Arts, Stranger Than Fiction Porter*

Mayan Chocolate Chipotle*

Sawdust City, Skinny Dippin’ Stout*

Maclean’s Ales, Luck & Charm Stout

 

internationalbeers

 

Wychwood Brewery, Hobgoblin Ale

Wychwood Brewery, Bah Humbug Christmas Cheer Ale

Brasserie Dupont, Bons Voeux Belgian Tripel Blonde*

 

americanbeers

 

Resurgence Brewing Co, Sponge Candy Stout*

Blue Moon Brewing Company, Harvest Pumpkin Ale

New Belgium, Pumpkick Spiced Seasonal Ale

Southern Tier Brewing Company, Live Citrusy Session Pale Ale

Brooklyn Brewery, Brooklyn Lager

 

Beer Notes and Stray Thoughts

  • The starred beers are ones I’ve never tried before.
  • The Mayan Chocolate Chipotle is another international inclusion (from England) but I didn’t realize that until after I’d taken photos, so it gets lumped in with the other stouts and porters.
  • Royal City Brewery is one of my favourite craft breweries, and is run by a guy I went to university with. If you see their stuff in the LCBO or find yourself in the Guelph area I highly recommend checking them out.
  • I anchored some specific beers on the more special days (Christmas Eve and Day, December 21st, weekend days) and then filled in the gaps, making sure not to have two similar beers on back to back days. The idea is to keep comparison low so I enjoy everything as much as possible.
  • Despite putting it together myself I don’t remember which beer is on which day, with a couple of notable exceptions.
  • Sadly, while writing this post I had a beer casualty. I was woken up by a loud bang one night to discover that the top of the can holding the Resurgence Sponge Candy Stout has blown clear off, leaving beer oozing over my floor. Sad, just judging by how it smelled as I cleaned it up (BAD) I think I dodged a bullet there.
  • So, instead of the Resurgence stout I added Unibroue’s Grande Reserve 17 from Quebec.
  • As with last year I’ll be posting what I get each day on Twitter, and invite you to follow along if you’re interested. I’ll also be checking in on Untappd.

 

adventcalendar2016

 

How are you getting into the holiday spirit?

 

 

Beer Advent Calendar Check-In

Now that I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labour, it’s time to check-in on how my beer advent calendar is going!

 

beeradventcalendar2

Lookin’ good, beers. Lookin’ good.

 

Beers I’ve Opened So Far

I was a bit worried when I made the calendar that I’d remember what beer I put on which day and ruin the surprise as a result. I’m very happy to say that for once my faulty memory has done me a solid and I promptly forgot almost all the beer assignments. I’ve opened 14 beers so far.

  • Muskoka Detour
  • Muskoka Cream Ale
  • Left Field Eephus
  • Shillow Beer Co. Bitter Waitress Black IPA
  • Amsterdam Boneshaker
  • Creemore Altbier
  • Side Launch Dark Lager
  • Brickworks Cider Batch 1904
  • Sawdust City Lone Pine IPA
  • Mill St Vanilla Porter
  • Black Creek Brewery Pumpkin Ale
  • Granville Island Winter Ale
  • Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin
  • Kensington Brewery Fish Eye

 

Beers I’ve Yet to Open

  • Double Trouble French Press Vanilla Porter
  • Hockley Dark Ale
  • Mill St Tankhouse
  • Side Launch Pale Ale
  • Great Lakes Brewery Pompous Ass English Pale Ale
  • Nickel Brook Cause & Effect Blonde Ale
  • Grand River Brewing Highballer Pumpkin Ale
  • Wychwood Brewery Bah Humbug Christmas Ale
  • Innis & Gunn Rum Finish
  • Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale
  • Erdinger Dunkel

 

Clearly many great beers still left to enjoy! On reflection I’m happy that I decided to front load the month with lighter beers and most of the IPAs, leaving the latter half to be a smorgasbord of browns, darks, porters and winter warmers. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas winter!

 

Thoughts On the Process and Experience So Far

Overall I am enjoying this an incredible amount! Both Cori and Adam (friends featured in the building post) agree with me that this was a great idea and should obviously be a new tradition. We all also appreciated that we didn’t remember which beer went on which day, which meant getting a great surprise each day. I think in future years I’d eventually like to create reusable bags that are a bit more permanent and festive, but I think this first attempt was still a clear triumph.

 

beeradventcalendar1

 
If you’re interested, you can follow me on Instagram and Untappd, where I’m sharing each beer day by day.

 

Getting Into the Holiday Season with a Craft Beer Advent Calendar

A few weeks ago I came across an old blog post about what options us Ontario folk have if we’re looking to buy a beer advent calendar. In short: none. It turns out that the LCBO can’t stock beer in packages of more than six bottles because of an agreement with The Beer Store and, for some reason, The Beer Store doesn’t seem interested in creating and selling an advent calendar for its beer-loving public. Disappointing.

So this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and make a beer advent calendar of my very own. (I feel the need to own my Christmas love by acknowledging that this will be one of three advent calendars I’ll enjoy this year, having already bought a chocolate one and a tea one.)

 

Ready to rock!

Ready to rock!

 

Together with my friends Cori and Adam I paid one of the larger LCBOs in the city a visit to pick out the 24 beers that would make up the calendar. It was great having these two along for the adventure – not only did it make the assembly much more enjoyable, but I also felt way less sheepish about buying so much beer in one go since they were doing the same thing.

 

LCBO

Do you think we have enough?

 

LCBO

Adam and Cori, so excited to be beer shopping with me.

 

Since I love craft beer, and since there is so much great craft beer in this neck of the woods, I aimed to have as much Ontario craft beer in the calendar as possible. I also wanted to include as many wintery beers as possible – stouts, dark lagers, winter ales, spiced ales, that sort of thing. I was ready for the possibility of a slim pickings kind of beer-choosing situation, but as it turns out, it wasn’t difficult filling the calendar at all. I easily found 24 beers to include, plus a 25th ‘bonus beer’ to enjoy on Christmas day.

 

AND SO IT BEGINS

AND SO IT BEGINS

 

The Final Tally

The final cost was about what I expected at $72.25. There were more expensive beers that I want to try but in the name of keeping things from getting out of hand I aimed to keep the cost per beer below $5. Together with the $2.20 cost of 100 brown sandwich bags we all used to mask our purchases I’d say this was a fairly affordable way to enjoy the holiday season – and all the delicious beers it entails – especially when I consider that I would be buying beer throughout the month anyway. This is just pre-buying, really.

 

Here’s a list of the beers that made their way into my calendar.

 

The Lighter Ones

Brickwords Cider Nickel Brook Brewery Muskoka Brewery

 

  • Brickworks Ciderhouse Batch:1904 Dry Cider
  • Nickel Brook Cause & Effect Blonde Ale
  • Muskoka Cream Ale

 

The Pumpkin Ales

Black Creek Brewery Grand River Brewing

 

  • Black Creek Brewery Pumpkin Ale
  • Grand River Brewing Highballer Pumpkin Ale

 

The Christmas and Winter Ales

Samuel Smith Wychwood Innis & Gunn Granville Island

 

  • Samuel Smith’s Winter Welcome Ale
  • Wychwood Brewery Bah Humbug Christmas Ale
  • Innis & Gunn Rum Finish (not technically Christmas or winter, I know, but it still feels fancy)
  • Granville Island Lions Winter Ale

 

The IPAs

Side Launch Muskoka Brewery Kensington Brewing Sawdust City Amsterdam

 

  • Side Launch Pale Ale
  • Muskoka Detour
  • Kensington Brewery Fish Eye Pale Ale
  • Sawdust City Lone Pine IPA
  • Amsterdam Boneshaker

 

The Dark and Brown Ales

Dark Ales Brown Ales

 

  • Wychwood Brewery Hobgoblin Extra Strong Ale
  • Erdinger Dunkel
  • Creemore Altbier
  • Side Launch Dark Lager
  • Shillow Beer Co. Bitter Waitress Black IPA
  • Hockley Dark Ale
  • Left Field Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale
  • Mill Street Tankhouse Ale
  • Great Lakes Brewery Pompous Ass English Pale Ale

 

The Porters

I’m sad to say I missed getting a shot of the last two beers, vanilla porters from Mill Street and Double Trouble. You’ll have to wait until I get them in my calendar to see them!

 

Building the Calendar

There was much debate between Cori, Adam and I over whether to purposely assign each beer to a specific day, or to randomly assign beers ourselves, or to go one step further and to have someone else randomly assign the beers. In the end I went with a hybrid situation. I planned out the beers I wanted to have on Christmas Day as well as December 1st and 21st and then began randomly putting beers into bags, trying not to remember which one went with which day. There were also a few beers that Adam and/or Cori also bought, so we assigned some of those beers to the same day so that we could check in with each other with our opinions as the month progressed.

 

Building advent calendar is serious business.

Building advent calendar is serious business.

 

All in all, only six of 25 beers are from outside Ontario, and only five from outside Canada. The special guest star countries are Scotland (Innis & Gunn), England (Samuel Smith and the two Wychwoods) and Germany (Erdinger).

 

beer advent calendar

Voila!

 

beer advent calendar

I’ll see YOU in December 😉

 

The only downside is that now I have to wait until December to enjoy these beers! My impatient self is not pleased with having to wait.

 

I’ll be posting what I get each day on Instagram and checking in the beers on Untappd – follow me there to join me as I taste my way through December.

 

Beer advent calendars - Meg approved!

Beer advent calendars – Meg approved!

 

How are you getting ready for the holidays?

 

Catching Up Over Beers

A couple days ago I met up with my friend Rory at the new location of one of the best bars for craft beer in the city. It was great to catch up and, as always, great to sample some new brews.

For the first round Rory had a sour beer that I would never have considered (sour beers and I don’t get along) so I opted for a flight of four beers. I found it slightly odd that my flight was arranged in the order I named the beers – usually a flight is structured so that you go from lightest to heaviest in flavour so that your palate has the best chance of enjoying each beer. Rory and I also agreed that lighter coloured beers (lagers, pilsners, IPAs, etc.) should be drunk before darker coloured beers (stouts and imperials, etc.). So even though my flight was arranged out of order in it’s wooden block, the list below is the order in which I drank them.

Here’s what I had, along with my thoughts on each.

 

Bar Hop flight

Beer!

 

Great Lakes Brewery – Thrust IPA

American IPA, 6.5%

GLB Thrust

 

I tried this one mainly because a new batch has recently been released from GLB and I’ve noticed that people tend to go a bit crazy for it every time. It’s a solid beer with great body and a nice flavour. One tip though – you will probably want to stay away from this one if you’re not a hops person. It’s not the most burn-your-face-off I’ve ever had, but it’s certainly not a mellow beer by any means.

 

Side Launch – Mountain Lager

Munich Helles, 4.7%

Side Launch Mountain Lager

 

I didn’t like this one much. I found it watery and bland, with just a hint of breadiness that didn’t show up until the finish. Pretty boring, sadly. If you’re determined to drink Side Launch I’d stick with their main three beers – a wheat, a pale ale and a dark ale.

 

Great Lakes Brewery & Bar Hop – Someone Else’s Problem

American IPA, 7.2%

Bar Hop Full Flight

Someone Else’s Problem is the lighter on in the backgorund.

 

Another slightly disappointing choice. Usually I love anything GLB brews but this one left me unenthused. It isn’t a bad beer, by any stretch, I was just hoping for a bit more of a punch in the flavour department. I drank this one with the food I’d ordered (cassoulet, yummmmmm) and it went down really easily, so it has that going for it at least. Another plus – you really can’t tell how high the alcohol content is by tasting it.

 

Bar Hop Cassoulet

Mmmmmm beans and meat and duck fat…

 

Sawdust City & Bar Hop – The Blood of Cthulhu

Imperial Stout, 9.5%

Sawdust Bar Hop imperial stout

 

Ok, first of all, what the hell kind of name is that?? Neither Rory nor I could pronounce this beer’s name until our waitress kindly told us. In case you were wondering, it’s coo-thoo. The Blood of COO-THOO. So there you go.

Unfortunately figuring out how to pronounce the name is the only good thing I can say about this beer. For an imperial it was incredibly thin. And worse, the sour cherry and raspberry it was brewed with made the finish tasted like Robitussin – yuck. So unfortunate, as I was really hoping for a solid imperial for dessert.

 

Despite the high alcohol content of the last two beers Rory and I were still thirsty after our pints. We both ordered one more before calling it a night.

 

County Durham Brewing – Red Dragon

Red Ale, 5%

County Durham Red Dragon

 

This was a solid beer, though not one that would really get me going, sadly. It had some hoppiness as well as a creaminess, which didn’t do it for me. I’m not generally a fan of creaminess in beers, unless we’re talking about a simple and solid cream ale, like the one from Muskoka. This beer was a welcome reprieve from the imperial debacle, but I probably wouldn’t order it again.

 

You can follow me on Untappd to see my ratings and comments on these and other beers.

Have you tried any new beers lately? What did you think?

Adventures in the LCBO – volume 2

I picked up some things at my local LCBO this week and, of course, wanted to share it with you. Here’s what I got.

Porto 6 2012 Red Blend

Porta6

Let’s hope I like the wine as much as I like the label.

 

I saw this one recommended by someone in my Twitter feed, though I can’t for the life of me find where exactly. I generally like Portuguese wines and the price was right so I picked it up. I opened it last night and, unfortunately, was disappointed. It tasted like it was trying to pack too much flavour in, it was too tannic for me. A shame, really, but you can’t win ‘em all. At least I’m only out $13.

 

Kaiken 2013 Malbec Reserva

Kaiken

Simple, yet beautiful.

 

This one is much more of a sure bet. I’ve had Kaiken Malbecs before and always enjoyed them. I started following the winery on Twitter a few days ago and have been craving their wine ever since. This is a big, warm wine that goes great with the colder weather we’re starting to get. If you’re looking for something new I definitely recommend taking a chance on Kaiken.

 

Great Lakes Brewery Audrey Hopburn Belgian IPA

GLBAudreyHopburn

I see what you did there, GLB.

 

Oh, Great Lakes Brewery. I love you so much, I just can’t help myself. This little beauty is a Belgian-style India Pale Ale. It’s a bit more mellow than other IPAs out there, with a hoppiness that’s more middle-of-the-road than burn-your-face-off. GLB makes great beer and I’m sure this one will be no different. If you like IPAs or Belgian-style beers you should pick this one up.

 

Left Field Brewery Eephus Oatmeal Brown Ale

LeftFieldEephus

Take me out to the ball game…

 

Allow me to introduce you to Left Field Brewery! Left Field is a relatively new brewery based in Toronto. It’s adorably baseball themed, hence the name Eephus, which baseball fans might recognize as the name of a type of pitch. This beer is a lovely little oatmeal brown ale, and is the only Left Field beer available in the LCBO. It’s a mellow beer – creamy and malty and would be lovely to curl up with on the couch. If you’re looking for an easy and approachable brew you should get to know Eephus.

As always, you can follow me on Vivino or Untappd to see what I think of my new purchases.

Tasting My Way Through the Beau’s Oktoberfest Mixpack

I’ll be honest with you, I love Beau’s Brewery. Like, LOVE them.

Beau’s is a great Ontario craft brewery. They’re one of the bigger craft breweries in the province in terms of market share and brand recognition and, like most craft breweries I know of, put out great short-term beers in addition to their flagship beer, Lug Tread, and their seasonals.

They also have a huge Oktoberfest celebration every year at their brewery in Vankleek Hill with tons of music, beer, and general good times. I WILL go one year! I can’t go this year because I’m doing social media for a new food and film festival, which you should totally come to if you’re in Toronto October 4-6 (how’s that for a shameless plug?).

Every year Beau’s polls their fans to decide on the four beers that should be included in their annual Oktoberfest mixpack.

 

BeausOktoberfestMixpack

Can we talk about the artwork for a second? Always awesome.

 

This Year’s Beers

Just like with wine, one of my favourite things to do is try new beer, so trying out the Oktoberfest mixpack is something I look forward to every fall. I saw it in the shop this past week and couldn’t wait to take it home and try each beer.

So – let’s get tasting!

 

BeausBoghopper

Up first, Boghopper, in all it’s caramel-coloured glory.

Boghopper

Dunkelhopfenweiss, 6.3% alcohol

The description calls this one a “dark and hazy wheat beer with an amped up hop presence”. It’s got a lovely caramel colour and that thickly opaque unfiltered look. The nose is sweet and malty, all warm and inviting. The flavour was earthy and spicy, with a clean, almost sharp finish. The hops are definitely there, and might be a turn off if you’re hops-averse, but I’ve had my fair share of super intense IPAs so this was completely fine by my palate.

 

BeausGose

The slightly blurry (my bad!) Gose.

… And Boom Gose the Dynamite

Gose, 4.6% alcohol

This one is another hazy wheat beer, but the hops have been switched out in favour of brewing an old German style called Gose. There’s a saltiness that exemplifies this style of beer, and I definitely get that when the beer hits the front part of my tongue. I didn’t know what to expect with this beer – I haven’t had many goses and so was a bit wary. But it’s got a brininess that I really enjoy.

 

BeausHatersGonnaHate

So clear you can see right through it!

Haters Gonna Hate

Kölsch Bock, 8% alcohol

Can we just talk about the look of this beer for a minute? That golden hue! That clarity! Be still my beer-loving heart!

The brewery says this one is an extra-strong version of their flagship beer, Lug Tread. And is it ever! At 8% alcohol this beer isn’t messing around. The nose is is surprisingly, well, tropical! I smelled mango more than anything else. Flavour is smooth and round with a nice cleanness and a satisfying breadiness that I love in a good beer. It’s also more on the sweet/smooth malty of things, as opposed to the sharp/pungent hoppiness you get from other, more aggressive beers.

 

BeausPumpkin

Orangey pumpkin-y goodness YUMMMMM.

Weiss O’Lantern

Pumpkin Weiss, 5.6% alcohol

Mmmmmmm, pumpkin beers. Seriously, is there anything better? (hint: the correct answer is ‘no! pumpkin beers are the best!’) The colour is a bit darker than Haters Gonna Hate (don’t you just love these titles?), and strikes me as just a bit more pumpkin-y than the others, all orangey and autumnal. This guy is another wheat beer but this time the brew is spiced with pumpkin-y things – clove, ginger, cinnamon, a bit of orange. The nose is super creamy with a bit of spice, just like a pumpkin pie – no, seriously! And the flavour is more of the same deliciousness – creamy, pumpkin-y and with just enough spice. But! It’s pretty clean and crisp tasting, it doesn’t have quite the big breadiness I tasted in Haters Gonna Hate – I wonder if alcohol volume has something to do with it? One last tidbit – apparently is more than 350lbs in a batch of Wiess O’Lantern. Holy pumpkin!!

 

Thoughts on the Mixpack as a Whole

  • I like that the Beau’s chose four beers that were quite different from each other. There was no bottle that I had where I thought ‘I’ve just had this’. Even though three out of four were wheat beers (!) they all had their own thing going on. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
  • The only drawback is that these beers only show up in the mixpack. I really wish I could get these on their own.
  • Only getting to try one bottle of each is a bit of a tease, I’m going to have to keep an eye out in case I can get my hands on another mixpack.

Beer – Cross-training for Your Palate

I’ve been up to something these last two weeks. The work week ends, I find myself with some spare time, and my feet make their way to – gasp – craft beer events!

Between a cask beer festival a couple weeks ago and a great event called Brewer’s Backyard this past weekend, I have had the pleasure of sampling some delicious brews lately.

Lovely day for a beer festival.

Lovely day for a beer festival.

I know what you’re thinking – I thought this was a wine blog! And of course you’re right – but as the title suggests it’s also about tasting with intention and giving your palate some valuable practice, and Ontario craft beers are certainly worthy of that.

It’s a great time to drink beer in Ontario. There are so many breweries doing so many interesting things – from using unconventional ingredients to using ancient recipes to collaborating with each other to create new things entirely. It seems like every time I go to the liquor store there are more offerings to try. Seems a bit like the wine industry, doesn’t it?

image

This one was delightfully malty with great body.

I tasted a healthy number of beers over the last two weekends. Here are a few I especially enjoyed.

 

Duke of Ghent – Royal City Brewery

This was an English golden ale brewed with Belgian yeast. It was a little biscuity, and the Belgian yeast helped it taste a bit like other Belgian ales you’d find in the shop. It had great body and a solid, confident flavour. If you come across this beer (or any Royal City brews, really) I highly recommend.

 

Continuity Baltic Porter – StoneHammer Brewery

I can’t remember ever having the pleasure of sampling a Baltic Porter until last weekend, when I realized what I’d been missing – pure deliciousness! Baltic Porters (named for the fact that they were first brewed in the Baltics) are usually fairly high in alcohol and bridge the gap between more common British-style Porters and Russian Imperial Stouts – meaning that Baltic Porters are usually dark and opaque in colour, and strike a balance between the mellow chocolatey notes of the former and the sweet tang of the latter. I found this particular beer in keeping with that balance, and loved the way the tanginess added dimension to the sweetness.

 

Brakeman’s Session Ale – Junction Craft Brewing

I will be honest, I am not usually a fan of session ales. They’re built to be mild, so that you can drink a few in one go (hence the name ‘session’) but it’s exactly that mildness that leaves me a little bored. Not so with the Brakeman’s. Yes, it’s more mild than an IPA or a Porter, but this one still had great body which kept things interesting. And, as an added bonus, you can find this one in the LCBO.

 

So many beers, so little time...

So many beers, so little time…

All of the beers I tasted at these two events were interesting, complex, and made by thoughtful, intelligent brewers. There are so many beers you can bring the same sense of intention and adventure to that we’ve talked about with wine. Next time you crack open a bottle try and tease out some of the different smells and flavours going on.

 

Are you a beer lover like me? What are some of your favourites?

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