Category Archives: The Session

The Session: Joining The Cult

Given that BB&B is one of the most infrequently updated beer blogs on the whole damn internet – plus the fact that people apparently aren’t reading beer blogs anymore, anyway – I doubt that there are (m)any people out there waiting with the bated breath for me to post here more regularly. But that’s still my plan for the next month or so, when one of my major time commitments is on a break, giving me some free time to do a bit of writing here.

(I briefly had a brilliant/ridiculous idea that I would try to do at least one post a day for the month of April, but since I missed April 1st, that’s been set aside. Plus I stupidly hit “Save Draft” rather than “Publish” when I finished this post last night, so I missed April 2nd as well…)

To kick off what I hope will be a productive and regenerative month for this blog, it seems fitting to contribute to The Session, the monthly beer blogger hootenanny that I was all gung-ho about for the first year or so, but which I haven’t participated in for quite some time. This month’s theme, as chosen by Sean at Beer Search Party, is “Cult Beers”, inspired by brews like Dark Lord and Kate The Great that people will travel for hundreds of miles and line up for hours to obtain.

Specifically, the questions to be answered are:

What beer have you tasted recently (say, the last six months or so) that is worthy of their own day in the media sun?

And to add a little extra to it, how does “great” expectations affect your beer drinking enjoyment?

AND If you have attended one of these release parties, stories and anecdotes of your experience will be welcomed too.

My choice would be a beer that may seem somewhat unremarkable to many, as it’s in a style that is a dime a dozen in the US craft beer scene, but up here in hop-deprived Ontario, it was joyously welcomed by beer geeks when first launched a few months ago.

The beer is Ten Bitter Years, a 10th anniversary beer from Black Oak Brewery that they’ve refused to tag to a particular style themselves, but which many consider to be a Double IPA. When I wrote it up for Taste T.O. back in January, I described it as follows:

[T]he “Bitter” part of the Ten Bitter Years name is there for good reason. This becomes obvious almost immediately after the slightly hazy golden-amber liquid is poured and placed down, as huge aromas of grapefruit and orange peel spring forth from the glass, along with hints of pine and tropical fruit. All of these come through powerfully in the flavour as well, with grapefruit in particular taking the lead position. A suggestion of balance is provided by some fleeting notes of caramel, but honestly, with this beer, it’s all about the hops.

Again, for those who have easy access to the beers of Stone or Avery or the multitude of other American breweries that worship at the altar of the hops, Ten Bitter Years might elicit a bit of a “meh”. But in this province, where it’s only been in the last couple of years that our brewers have started to dropping the hopbombs, and usually only as ultra-limited one-offs for special events and such, having a beer of this sort more widely available has been a pure joy.

It hasn’t been TOO widely available, though, which is why I would consider it worthy of “cult” status. Problems with Black Oak’s bottling line made it look like it would be limited to cask and keg distribution exclusively, which meant that each time it popped up at a different bar, word would spread quickly, and the tap would soon run out. But then it recently came out that bottles would be offered after all, inspiring so many queries about when exactly they’d be available that Black Oak owner Ken Woods posted an April Fool’s Day announcement on local craft beer forum The Bar Towel indicating that the bottles sold out near instantly when they went on sale at the brewery.

(Or at least it appeared to be an April Fool’s Joke – Ken has yet to return to the forum to confirm one way or another, so maybe there really was a mini-Dark Lord Day out in Etobicoke that I missed out on…)

So – is Black Oak Ten Bitter Years cult-worthy? Probably depends on how you define the term. But whether it is or not, it’s still a landmark beer in Ontario’s craft brewing scene. So in that regard, it deserves as much attention and as many accolades as it can get.

The Session #15: How It Started

It seems to have become a tradition for me to post my contributions to The Session a day or two late. (Or in the case of last month, not at all – which is too bad, since the topic was an interesting one that I would’ve liked to have tackled if I had the time.)

So in that spirit, here is my delayed answer to the following question as posed by this month’s hosts, Boak & Bailey:

We’d like you to write about the moment when you saw the light. At what point did you realise you were a beer lover / geek / enthusiast? What beer(s) triggered the conversion? Did someone help you along your way, or did you come to it yourself?

In short; how did you get into good beer?

Continue reading

The Session #13: Organic Beer

session-logo-med.jpgIt’s the first Friday of the month, which means that I should be drinking an organic beer – since that’s the theme of this month’s Session as chosen by Chris O’Brien over at Beer Activist – and then writing a post about it.

But I’m not.

It’s not that I’m anti-organic. My wife and I actually eat a fair bit of organic food – although like at least of one the other folks contributing this month, organic certification isn’t always as important to us as is getting our food from local (where possible) and sustainable sources. Especially considering that national organic standards for Canada are still being phased in, so the certification and labelling standards currently being used up here are a bit of a mish-mash.

Still, the idea of organic beers interests me, and I like to try them when I come across them, but in Ontario, that doesn’t happen very often. As I’ve lamented innumerable times in the past, the selection of out-of-province craft beers at the LCBO is pitiful, and very few Ontario breweries have made the move to using organic ingredients. The only purely organic beer (i.e. all organic ingredients, including organic hops imported from New Zealand) that is widely available in the province is Mill Street Organic Lager, which is a decent mainstream pale lager, but hardly worthy of a spotlight post, IMO.

Beyond that, the only other locally available options that come to mind are the Cream Ale, Dark Ale and Hefe-Weissbier from Muskoka Brewery, all of which were re-labelled as “organic, premium & pure” a couple of years ago (although like many “organic” beers, I believe that they use organic malts but non-organic hops). All three of them are nice enough beers, but I generally try to find something new and different for the Sessions.

And then a couple of weeks ago, things looked like they might work out nicely when Steve Beauchesne from Beau’s Brewery out near Ottawa mentioned on Bar Towel that he’d be coming to Toronto on Wed. March 5th, and would be happy to bring along some beer for anyone who would like to meet up with him. Their flagship brand, Lug Tread Lagered Ale, is a double rarity in Ontario: it’s a Kölsch, and it’s also organic (aside from the hops). I’ve tried it a couple of times before, and it’s a solid and sessionable beer.

What really got my attention, however, was Beau’s new seasonal: Bog Water Dirty Brown Ale, a unique brew made with organic malt, spring water, and wild bog myrtle (or sweet gale), essentially making it a 100% organic beer. A perfect choice for the Session, and perfect timing as well.

But it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess, as I came down with a brutal flu that has had me holed up at home and avoiding beer in favour of juice and tea for the whole week. I’m feeling slightly better today, but still far from 100%, so it’ll likely be another day or two before I’ll be ready to crack a beer of any sort, organic or not.

There is a happy ending, though, as Steve still brought some beer for me and passed it along to Troy of the Great Canadian Pubs & Beer blog, so assuming he doesn’t drink it on me, I should be able to give it a try soon enough.

In the meantime, Chris has a round-up of today’s Session posts over on his blog, and I’ve got a pot of tea (organic, even!) in the kitchen with my name on it…

The Session #12: Barley Wine

session-logo-med.jpgHow sad is this: I’m so late getting my post up for this month’s Session that not only did I miss the wrap-up post, but I also missed the post-wrap-up post. I guess this means that I don’t have to go into any great detail about the barley wine style in general, since several others have already a good job of it.

Instead, I’ll get right to the specific beer I choose, which was Legacy Ale from Buckerfield’s Brewery, the brewpub at Swans Hotel in Victoria, BC. I wish I could say that I tried it at the pub in person, but sadly, I’ve yet to visit what I’ve heard it one of the most beautiful and beer-friendly cities in Canada. Instead, I enjoyed a bottle that was kindly passed on to me by Troy of the Great Canadian Pubs blog – who incidentally hopes to finally join in on the Session fun next month.

One thing that I like about barley wines is that a lot of them have a back story, whether it be a name taken from an historical figure, or a connection to some event or other that they were originally brewed for. Legacy Ale continues that tradition, as it was brewed in 2006 as a tribute to Michael Williams, a wealthy philanthropist who oversaw the redevelopment of a derelict area of Victoria – an area that includes the Swans/Buckerfield’s building – and who left an estate after his passing in 2000 that continues to support area, as well as the arts and marine science studies at the University of Victoria.

legacy_ale.jpgFrom the sounds of it, Williams left a pretty big legacy, so it’s fitting that he be remembered by a pretty big beer. It pours a very attractive ruby-orange with a small head that disappears quickly. The robust aroma has notes of sweet caramel malt, rum-soaked raisins, orange zest, and a warm and mellow hint of hops. The body is full and rich, and the flavour follows pretty closely on the aroma, starting quite smooth and sweet with dried fruit and caramel notes, and moving into a long, warm finish that reminds you this is an 11% ale. Over a year on from the December, 2006 bottling date, it’s in fine shape, although I’m sure if I had another couple of bottles to stash away, they’d fare well for at least a few more years, if not longer.

Thanks to Troy for this much appreciated treat, and to Jon at The Brew Site for hosting The Session this month. Chris over at Beer Activist is hosting next month’s instalment, and if you read his blog with any regularity, you won’t be surprised to know that the theme will be organic beers. That’s a segment of the beer market that is quite under-represented in Ontario, so I’ll have to keep an eye out during my trip to Montreal next weekend to see if I can find a suitable brew or two.

A Slightly Delayed Session

Due to the fact that I’m seemingly unable to read a calendar, I didn’t get my post for this month’s Session done on time, and I likely won’t have a chance to drink and write about the beer I’m planning on covering until some point over the weekend. So watch for my late contribution to appear in the next couple of days.

The Session #11: Doppelbocks

session-logo-med.jpgIn case it hasn’t been made obvious by my tendency to post event reviews and other things kinda late at times, I can be a bit of a procrastinator. I’m especially prone to putting things off when I need to write about something that I’m not overly familiar with.

Hence, my day-late post for this month’s Session, which was given the theme of doppelbocks by host Jay Wilson at Brewvana. Having had very few examples of the doppelbock style over the years, I don’t have the same memory and impression of them as I do for most other styles. Mention stout or witbier or IPA, and I can instantly see and smell and taste them in my mind. Mention doppelbock, and… well, I just remember the following:

  1. They’re strong and malty lagers.
  2. Most of them have names that end with ‘-ator’ in honour of the original doppelbock, the monk-brewed Salvator. (Hey, that would make “Procrastinator” a great name for a doppelbock! Someone should get on that. Oh, wait… never mind.)

One thing I do know from my stats on RateBeer is that I seem to really like doppelbocks when I have them. Of the eighteen I’ve tried, I’ve rated fifteen of ’em 3.5 or higher out of 5, which is quite a high proportion.

Salvator was, fittingly enough, the first doppelbock I tried. It was back in December, 2002 when the LCBO brought it in as a seasonal release. They’ve since added it to their general list, so I’m sure I’ve had it a few times since then, but I honestly have no recollection of what it’s like aside from the vague “strong and malty” descriptor. I planned to pick up a bottle to refresh my memory for this Session, but it’s currently out of stock at all of my local LCBOs, so I’ll have to go by the notes from my original tasting, which aren’t especially helpful:

Dark copper-amber with a frothy head that disappears quickly. Aroma of sweet malt and dark caramel. Initial sweet flavour gives way to bitter dirt and warm alcohol. The booziness becomes more prominent as the beer warms up. Not entirely unpleasant, but not ass-kicking either.

Another notable doppelbock is Ayinger Celebrator, which is the highest rated in the style and the #60 beer overall on RateBeer. I tried it back in November, 2005, when it was in the RB Top 50, and like Salvator, I don’t really remember it. But based on my notes, I didn’t seem to think quite as highly of it as most:

Dark ruby-brown with a small tan head. Aroma is rich and quite malty, with some dark fruit notes (especially grape). Body is pleasant, wth a mellow mouthfeel. Flavour is toasty and moderately bitter – nice, but seemed rather simple. Definitely a very good beer, but I find it hard to think of it as being worthy of the Top 50.

The one doppelbock that I do recall pretty clearly Fish Tale Detonator, which I shared with one of my tasting buddies just last week. It struck us both as a pretty unique take on the style, and one that we both enjoyed greatly, as my notes suggest:

Deep ruby-brown colour with a small tan head. Aroma is fantastic – sweet and roasty malt and big, herbal hops. Medium bodied. Flavour follows on the aroma – delicious maltiness up front, followed by a really nice hit of hops that linger through the dry finish. Reading the other ratings below, I feel like we got an extra-hopped bottle or something, as the hops were really out in front. No complaints, though, as it made this beer stand out. Nice!

So, there ya go. Not the most informative post I’ve written, but again, doppelbocks just don’t seem to resonate with me despite my apparent enjoyment of them. I’ll have to check the Session round-up to see of some of the other folks had more illuminating, in-depth thoughts to share.

At least it gave me a chance to use that Procrastinator joke.

The Session #10: Winter Beers

session-logo-med.jpgIt’s the first Friday of the month, and therefore time for another Session, when beer bloggers far and wide all make a post about a particular beer style or topic. This month, we’re being hosted by tedo at Barley Vine, and he selected Winter Beers as the topic. A bit obvious? Maybe, but still enjoyable.

That being said – work and life and other things mean that I just don’t have the time to write a full post today. So I’m going to take the lazy way out, and link to a couple of winter beer I’ve recently written for my Beer Of The Week column over on Taste T.O.: Wychwood Bah Humbug and Great Lakes Winter Ale.

(My columns through until the end of the year, and perhaps into January, will likely feature several more seasonal brews, so keep an eye on the site – or the handy “Greg’s Taste T.O. Posts” RSS widget to the right of your screen – to catch those each Tuesday.)

Sorry for the lame-ass contribution. Check out Barley Vine for a round-up of all of this month’s Session posts sometime in the next couple of days – I’m sure that most of them will be more interesting than this one.

The Session #9: Beer and Music

session-logo-med.jpgYou’d think that someone who writes a blog that is (at least ostensibly) dedicated to beer, music and food would have to problem coming up with something to write for this month’s instalment of The Session. The topic of Beer & Music as chosen by brewer and blogger Tomme Arthur (Pizza Port & The Lost Abbey) should be a perfect fit for the Beer and Beats parts of Beer, Beats & Bites.

Strangely, though, I’ve been having a really tough time coming up with something to fill today’s post. I mean, I’ve been a music fan for even longer than I’ve been a beer fan, and I spent many years writing about music, hosting a radio show, DJing at various events and parties, and accumulating a fairly large and wide ranging music collection. But despite the countless evenings I spent in loud clubs listening to pounding tunes while pounding back a few, I just haven’t been able to come up with a specific event or aspect from my own life that has enough of a beer/music connection going on to be interesting enough for a blog post. (Which, considering how uninteresting most blog posts are, is pretty pathetic.)

The best I’ve been able to come up with is the time about 15 years ago when a friend and I were at some show or other at The Rivoli, a club on Queen Street West here in Toronto where I spent a lot of time in my wayward youth. Back then, while I drank slightly better than average beer (usually local micro-lagers like Red Baron, Formosa Springs or Upper Canada), I wasn’t really up to snuff on more esoteric brews. Ontario’s craft beer scene was still in it’s infancy, and interesting imports were few and far between, so it wasn’t like I had much of an opportunity to try new things.

This night, however, after downing a few of whatever I was normally drinking at that time, I noticed a beer I’d never seen before on the top row of the beer fridge behind the bar, alongside the usual imports. The bottle was oddly shaped, like the old stubbies that Canadian beer used to come in, but with a weird ripple on the neck. The plain white label with slightly Teutonic red lettering stood out next to the garishly coloured, over-designed labels that most of the macros had at the time. And the name – Duvel – just seemed, well, a bit scary. Which was mighty appealing to a couple of black-leather-jacket-wearing, spiky-brushcut-sporting, industrial-music-listening guys as ourselves.

Plus, when we asked to have a look at a bottle, we saw it was 8.5%! Fuckin’ right!!

(Did I mention that I was young when this happened?)

So, we ordered a couple, inwardly gasped a little when we found out that they were 7 bucks each (that’s, like, almost two regular beers!), and then wandered back into the crowd, glad to have found a different, unique and slightly evil-looking beer to match what we thought to be our different, unique and slightly evil-looking appearance.

(Except that we were in a room with about 100 other people who looked pretty much the same as we did, but again – young!)

Of course, not knowing any better, we drank them straight out of the bottle, taking no care to avoid the yeast, and frankly, not even noticing much about the flavour aside from it being a bit stronger than our usual stuff. But it was one of many steps towards my current beer obsession. One that I might not have taken if I wasn’t out catching some live music.

Yeah, OK, it’s a tenuous link at best. Like I said, I had a tough time with this one. Hopefully, next month will find me a little more inspired. Until then, why don’t you go and read the rest of this month’s entries which should be compiled and catalogued soon at Tomme’s blog, Brewer’s Log.

The Session #8: Beer and Food

session-logo-med.jpgI’m sure my tens of readers will be happy to know that I’m still alive. I’ve just been even more busy and/or disorganised than ever these past few weeks. Hence the continuing lack of posts.

I couldn’t miss a Session, though. If I did, they might take away my membership in the sooper-seekrit beer bloggers cabal or something.

The theme of this month’s edition – as chosen by the poetically-inclined Captain Hops at Beer Haiku Daily – is Beer and Food, which gives me the incentive to finally get around to posting about an interesting tasting I hosted a couple of weeks ago in a somewhat unlikely location.

Continue reading

The Session #7: The Brew Zoo

session-logo-med.jpgYou know the drill by now: First Friday of the month, beer bloggers, The Session, blah blah blah. This month, we’re being hosted by Rick at Lyke 2 Drink, and he instructed us to go on the hunt for beers that have animals in the name and/or pictured on the label.

As I lamented back when the theme was announced, the selection of animal-related beers here in Ontario is quite pitiful. Aside from the dogs that appear on a few Scotch-Irish tap handles and the Monkey Brown Ale at Burlington’s Pepperwood Bistro brewpub, I can’t think of any Ontario-made beers fitting the theme. And on the import side of things, due to the fact that the LCBO and Beer Store carry S.F.A. in the way of decent American micros, the critter selection is limited to such craptacular lagers as Kingfisher and Tusker. Bleh.

stoudtsfatdog.jpgI was seriously considering take a pass on this month’s Session, until I was sorting through my stash the other day and found a beer that I’d completely forgotten I had on hand: Stoudt’s Fat Dog Stout. One of my favourite animals, one of my favourite styles, and a beer that I hadn’t tried before. The animal gods must be smiling upon me.

In the glass, it’s has a dark ruby-black colour with a small tan head, just like a good stout should. The aroma is big and robust, with lots of roast malt, coffee, anise, and alcohol. It has a thick, rich mouthfeel, and the flavour is sweet to start, with molasses and dark fruit; some bittersweet chocolate, cherry and espresso in the middle; and bitter finish with some slightly charred & sour notes.

I’m hitting the bottom of the glass as I write this (no, not first thing on a Friday morning – I’m actually prepared this month and got this written and scheduled in advance!), and the 9% alc has certainly crept up on me. Such a friendly looking dog on the label, but he’ll bite you on the ass if you’re not careful.

Speaking of dogs, mine are wanting to be let out, so I should be off. Thanks for the fun theme, Rick. Woof.