Tag Archives: ale

Quick Quaff: Innis & Gunn Highland Cask, Spiced Rum Finish & Winter Beer 2011

Fans of the oak-aged beers produced by Scotland’s Innis & Gunn are numerous in Canada – so numerous, in fact, that the flagship I&G brew is reportedly the best selling bottled UK import beer in the country. This success has not escaped the notice of Dougal Sharp and his team, who have blessed their Canadian customers with an array of unique I&G variations over the past few years, including an annual Canada Day edition brewed especially for us.

Not quite so exclusive, but still somewhat limited, are the three beers pictured above and reviewed below: the latest instalment in I&G’s occasional Highland Cask series (this one aged in casks that previously held an 18 year old whisky from an unnamed distillery); an expression finished in oak that’s been infused with spiced rum; and the 2011 edition of their annual Winter Beer strong ale. Here’s what I thought of ’em:

Innis & Gunn Highland Cask
Much like Mr. Beaumont, I wasn’t a massive fan of the 2010 version of this brand, as the overwhelming notes of caramel and butterscotch made it tough to get through a bottle without my teeth starting to hurt. This year, though, they got it right: The caramel is there but more subdued, and joined by vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and hints of dried fig and the faintest wisp of peat smoke. The finish is medium-dry and slightly herbal, with enough warmth to remind that it’s a 7.1% beer.

Innis & Gunn Spiced Rum Finish
I’ve enjoyed quite a few bottles of the regular Rum Cask that’s available year round, but this Spiced Rum variation didn’t really grab me. The typical I&G components of vanilla, toffee and oak are there, and as it warms, some nice golden sugar and tingly spice notes develop in the finish. But while the overall impression is pleasant, I was hoping for a big punch of rum, and ended up finding more of a light tap.

Innis & Gunn Winter Beer 2011
My tasting notes on I&G’s Winter Beer 2010 include mentions of cherry, bourbon, raisins and maple. This year, I’m hard pressed to find any of those elements in evidence – instead, vanilla-like oak and dark toffee come through right from the get-go, leaving room for little else in the aroma. The flavour is a bit more complex – some dark dried fruit here, some Christmas cake spice there – but the toffee and oak are still the prominent characteristics. Quite enjoyable, although it finishes quicker that I’d like, and could also use a bit more heft in the body to cross over from good to great.

All three of these beers are available at select LCBO locations in Ontario, the Highland Cask in single bottles packaged in presentation boxes (LCBO 271585 – $4.95/330 mL bottle ), and the other two in a special gift pack that also includes a bottle of I&G Original and an attractive branded glass (LCBO 254342 – $14.95/3×341 mL bottle ). For availability info elsewhere, check with your local retailer.

Quick Quaff: Newcastle Werewolf & Newcastle Winter IPA

Like many drinkers of better beer who came of age a couple of decades ago, one of the first imports I tried was Newcastle Brown Ale. It was never a top choice for me – if I was drinking a dark beer from overseas, it was usually Guinness. But back in the days when the local microbrew scene was still fledgling and decent imports were few and far between, I had no problem downing a pint of two of Newkie in places where it was available.

While I don’t often see it on tap in these parts anymore, Newcastle Brown is still one of the top import brands down in the US. It makes sense that parent company Heineken would want to use that brand recognition to try and grab a bit more of the market, so I wasn’t surprised when I received a PR pitch a few weeks ago regarding the Newcastle Limited Edition series, a set of four seasonal beers – Summer Ale, Werewolf, Winter IPA and Founders’ Ale – that are being brewed in the UK especially for the American market.

In keeping with the season, samples of Werewolf and Winter IPA were provided, and while I tried them and jotted some notes soon after arrival, various factors have kept me away from the ol’ blog for a while. So with apologies for my tardiness, here are a few thoughts on the pair:

Newcastle Werewolf is described in the promotional bumpf as a “formidable beast”, suggesting that something big and bold is being contained by the bottle. Mention of “a bite of bitterness” that’s “long, deep and lingering” raise even more anticipation. Sadly, though, aside from it having the promised “blood red” colour, it’s a pretty straightforward darkish ale. The aroma has toasted malt, a bit of chocolate, and not much else, while the flavour augments those two notes with some dark cherry and perhaps a smidge more hops than typically expected from the style, but not approaching anything I’d describe as “lingering”. It’s a respectable enough brew, but one that ultimately isn’t really worthy of its name.

And speaking of misnomers; Anyone expecting a full-bore craft-style India Pale Ale from Newcastle Winter IPA will be setting themselves up for disappointment, as its is more in line with mainstream UK IPAs like Wells Eagle and Caledonian Deuchars. Using those brews as a comparison point, Winter IPA performs well, throwing off burnt toffee and biscuit on the malt side, and even-handed hop notes that are somewhat tea-like with a backing grassiness. There’s also a slight mineral tang around the edges, and a soft and slightly creamy mouthfeel to hold it all together. Like its lycanthropian cousin, it’s not a showstopper, but it might just twig a few Newcastle Brown drinkers to the fact that there are more beer styles out there that are worth exploring.

Blonde on Blonde – Keith’s Ambrosia Blonde vs. Rickard’s Blonde

While it’s unlikely that either company would freely admit to it, it’s easy to get the impression that Labatt and Molson have been shadowing each other with their respective Keith’s and Rickard’s brands in the last few years, leading to a pair of pseudo-craft portfolios that are strikingly similar in their line-ups.

The latest parallel between the two is the recent and nearly simultaneous launches of Keith’s Ambrosia Blonde and Rickard’s Blonde. While there are some differences between the two – the Keith’s is an ale while the Rickard’s is a lager; the former is a limited Brewmaster Series release while the latter appears to be a new year-round product – the similar names and the arrival of promo samples of both within a week or so of each other made it impossible to resist doing a head-to-head review of the pair.

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Quick Quaff: Cameron’s Oak-Aged Series – American Whiskey Barrel

Cameron’s Brewing has never really been what you might call an overly adventurous brewery. Yeah, they’ve put out some experimental one-offs for their monthly Cask Nights at the brewery and the odd special event, but their main efforts over the years have been focused on a line-up of four beers that are solid enough, but not exactly envelope-pushing.

Given that history, it made sense that some eyebrows were raised when it was announced last November that former Molson marketing executive Bill Coleman had joined Cameron’s as co-owner and president. Exciting or not, Cameron’s is still a well-respected craft brewery, and there was some concern that Coleman was a guy with big brewery ideas who was swooping in to take away the few interesting things that were happening at Cameron’s in favour of the bottom line.

Thankfully, though, that hasn’t seemed to be the case. If anything, it looks like Coleman might be encouraging the brewers to get more creative, assuming this new beer – a 7.4% ale aged in a Jack Daniel’s cask and released in a limited edition of 150 bottles – is any indication.

Out of the bottle, the beer instantly grabs some attention with its rich and slightly hazy chestnut-mahogany body capped with a moderate sized off-white head. On the nose, it’s big without being aggressive, with notes of whiskey, vanilla, wood, caramel malt and cocoa all nicely balanced. The flavour holds just what the aroma suggests – a well-integrated blend of mellow sippin’ whiskey and a strong and smooth malty ale – with a hint of sour wood and subtle hops in the finish.

My only real complaint is that the palate is a little light, and should the series continue, I’d be interested to see a fuller bodied beer being used in a future installment. But that’s a minor quibble over an otherwise fine brew that is hopefully a sign of more good and interesting things come from the brewery under Coleman’s watch.

Cameron’s Oak-Aged Series – American Whiskey Barrel is available now at the Cameron’s Brewery store in Oakville, priced at $12.95 per 750 ml bottle.

Going Rogue: The LCBO Rogue Brewery Feature

As much as I appreciate that the LCBO’s periodic series of brewery features has been bringing in some great beers that Ontario drinkers might not see otherwise, I really wish the agency were a bit more organized in terms of release dates and distribution so that customers have a clearer indication of where and when the beers will be available.

Case in point: The current release featuring a half dozen selections from Oregon’s Rogue Brewery was originally announced as being due in stores in late June, so I’ve been sitting on my notes from the early May media tasting, and was planning on posting something a bit closer to the release date. Then I got word that they’d be coming at the end of May, and got ready to write something sooner – until I head that it was back to late June, and held off again.

And then the beers suddenly started hitting the shelves a week or so ago, and are already selling out in some locations, which makes this post a little less timely than I’d hoped.

There are still bottles of most of them out there, though, so here are a few quick thoughts on each to help you decide whether they’re worth the hunt…

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Quick Quaff: Muskoka Mad Tom IPA

This past week’s launch of Muskoka Brewery‘s Mad Tom IPA ($12.95/6×355 ml at The Beer Store) was one of the most anticipated Ontario beer releases in recent memory, and while only one other local beer blogger seems to have gotten a review up, you can expect that to change pretty quickly. You can also expect that most of those reviews will be positive, as Mad Tom gives Ontario beer drinkers something that’s been sorely missing from our retail shelves: a locally-brewed version of a well-hopped American-style IPA.

That’s not to say that no Ontario brewery has crafted a beer in this style before. It’s just that all of them – such as Black Oak Ten Bitter Years, Flying Monkeys Smash Bomb and assorted experiments from Great Lakes – have been draught/cask-only or for sale in bottles exclusively at the brewery.

In fact, the only comparable Ontario-brewed beer with wide retail distribution at the moment is Great Lakes Crazy Canuck Pale Ale, which hit the LCBO in cans around the same time that Mad Tom was released at The Beer Store (with LCBO availability to follow soon). Both beers are fantastic, but it’s Mad Tom that I’m giving props to today.

Pouring a shining golden-orange with an ample white head, the beer throws off the aromas you’d expect from a beer dry-hopped with Chinook and Centennial – i.e. citrus and pine, with some tropical fruit cocktail playing a small supporting role. In the flavour, the malt makes a valiant effort to show itself, offering some nice hints of caramel and biscuit off the top, but it can’t hold back the hops, which punch through with tons of grapefruit, lemon zest and pineapple, a smidge of pine resin, and an odd but not unpleasant suggestion of pepsin (à la Beemans Gum).

Well done, Muskoka – you’ve earned Mad Tom a regular spot in my fridge for the summer, and I imagine the fridges of a lot of other folks as well.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Bond & Southern Tier 2xIPA

Each weekday this week, I’ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBO’s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today I’ve got a pair from south of the border – one of them from a bit further south than the other…

Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Bond
(LCBO 230813 – $34.95/750 mL)

As the ‘e’ in ‘Whiskey’ suggests, Rittenhouse is created in the tradition of classic American rye whiskies – specifically, in the Monongahela/Pennsylvania style – while the “100 Bond” designation indicates that it’s a 100 proof (50% alc) spirit that’s been “bottled in bond“. All of this old-tymey stuff might smack a bit of gimmickry, but Rittenhouse is actually a really solid whiskey that has had a lot of success throughout the US, no doubt due to the trend towards better quality cocktail spirits. And while I imagine it to make an impeccable Manhattan, it’s quite fine on its own as well, with a dark amber hue that resembles that of well-aged lacquered furniture, and a myriad of aroma and flavour notes including pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, brown sugar, honey and marmalade. Too bad the LCBO stock is already dwindling.

Southern Tier 2xIPA
(LCBO 224220 – $2.95/355 mL)

Speaking of dwindling stock – while this beer hasn’t hit the shelves yet (it’s due next week), it’s bound to be snapped up quickly when it does, given the combination of Southern Tier’s strong reputation from previous LCBO appearances by some of their other brands, and the general scarcity of highly hopped beers in Ontario. Anyone familiar with big American-style IPAs will find just what the expect here – i.e. a huge hit of citrus (especially grapefruit) with backing notes of pineapple, peach and pine resin, supported by enough caramel-accented malt to keep the harsh edges of the bitterness in check. And just as the Rittenhouse above is quite smooth for a 50% whiskey, so too is the 2xIPA a very easy drinker considering that it weighs in at 8.2%. Consume the two in tandem, and you’ll probably want to make sure you’ve got no big plans in the morning…

A Shot with a Beer Back: Crown Royal Cask No. 16 & Celt Golden Crafted Ale

Since today is Victoria Day – aka Canada’s unofficial first day of summer – it seemed fitting to review some of the beers in the LCBO’s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. And since the format seemed to be popular when I did it a couple of months ago with the Spring release, I’ll be pairing them up with notes on a few of the newest additions to the LCBO’s Whisky Shop premium whisky program. Here’s the first duo, with another pair to follow each day this week.

Crown Royal Cask No. 16
(LCBO 64337 – $99.95/750 mL)

Named for the origin number of the Congac oak casks from the Limousin forest in France that are used to age this premium blend of more than 50 whiskies before it’s bottled, Cask No. 16 comes from the higher end of the Crown Royal range – only Crown Royal XR (Extra Rare) is more spendy. Hints of the Congac-infused wood come through in the aroma, along with plenty of fruit (peach, apricot, sweet orange), toffee, toasted nuts, and suggestions of leather and cinnamon. The flavour shows more of the Congac and fruit – taking on almost a fruit cocktail character – but this is still a Canadian whisky at heart, as evidenced by the notes of rye, vanilla, oak, and black & white pepper. While you can feel free to mix it with Coke or Canada Dry if you’d like, it would really be a waste, as this is a whisky more suited for sipping neat.

Celt Golden Crafted Ale
(LCBO 224600 – $3.45/500 mL)

There are a slew of UK golden/blond ales in this release (the others are listed below), and while the Celt wasn’t my favourite, I chose it to review over the others due to the uniqueness of it being a beer from Wales, which I believe is a first for the LCBO. The body, as the name suggests, has a golden-orange hue under a small white head. The aroma is intriguing – there’s the expected grass/hay maltiness, and some leafy hops, but also something around the edge that reminds me of lychee, as well as hints of candied citrus peel. The flavour is a bit more standard for the style – lightly roasted and moderately sweet malt, balanced by hops that are a herbal and a bit earthy. Mild citrus and a wisp of licorice come through in the end. It’s a very nice summer quaffer, as are the other golden ales in the release: Dark Star Sunburst (LCBO 223818 – $3.45/500 mL), Badger Golden Champion (LCBO 244632 – $3.50/500 mL), and Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew (LCBO 676858 – $3.50/500 mL) – the latter brewed with and tasting pleasantly of honey, just as the name suggests.

Quick Quaff: Hop City Mr. Huff Persuasion Pilsner & Happy Hour Ale

Say what you will about Moosehead and their beers – and lord knows I’ve said some not-so-positive things about them in the past – but one thing you can’t say about them is that they don’t know how to throw a party. From their small afternoon media scrums to big evening blowouts, every Moosehead event I’ve attended has been a great time, even if I haven’t always been a fan of the beers being presented.

This reputation continued with last Thursday’s launch party for Mr. Huff Persuasion Pilsner, the awkwardly named new release from Hop City, a small Moosehead subsidiary that operates out of the former Cool Brewing facility in Brampton. Held at 99 Sudbury, a swank events space in downtown Toronto, the bash also did double duty as an after-party for Moosehead’s annual sales meeting, which meant that the company big-wigs were on hand along with a few hundred other folks. In the main space, a DJ and cover band got the party mood going, while endless pints of all four Hop City beers kept attendees well lubricated.

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It’s the Time of the Saison for Drinking

While the analogy is far from perfect, I look at saison in sort of the same way that Miles in the film Sideways looks at his beloved pinot noir. It’s a style I love, and part of that love is rooted in the fact that it’s a bit of an underdog, rarely seen and often under-appreciated.

It’s also a style that historically wasn’t really a style at all, but rather a name used to describe a variety of ales brewed for the workers at farms throughout Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region. In more recent times, Saison Dupont has come to be considered a standard bearer of the style – deservedly so, as it’s a fantastic beer – and the result has been a bit more predictability in terms of what you can expect from a beer that is tagged with the saison descriptor. Even so, it still remains a fairly flexible style, ranging from elegant examples with sweet and floral characteristics to more rustic versions that are tart and funky and at times almost lambic-like.

Saisons aren’t seen in Ontario often, in either domestic or imported form. Saison Dupont has made a couple of brief appearances at the LCBO, and Black Oak makes a nice one every summer, but otherwise, it takes trips, trades or travelling friends to get your hands on some.

The trio of saisons pictured above have all come to me via friends and colleagues over the past year or so, and after storing them in the stash for a while, I’ve cracked into all three of them recently. Here’s what I thought of them…

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