Tag Archives: ale

Quick Quaff: Alexander Keith’s Tartan Ale

Did you know that today is Tartan Day in Canada? Neither did I until I got an email last week from Adam Grant at The Monks Table, a great pub and restaurant in midtown Toronto, announcing that April 6th is officially recognized as Tartan Day – a day to celebrate Canada’s Scottish/Celtic heritage – and that he’d be holding a week of events at the pub to mark the occassion. And with some Googling, I found a bit more about it.

Unfortunately, my schedule this week is making it unlikely that I’ll be able to make it up for any of the events, so as a consolation prize, I toasted the day with a bottle of Alexander Keith’s Tartan Ale, the latest in the Keith’s Brewmaster Series of limited edition brews. Some may remember my joking complaint a few weeks back about not receiving a press sample of this beer when every other beer blogger in town got one, and thanks to the magic/creepiness of the Internet, a rep from the PR company contacted me the next day to apologetically rectify the situation.

My comment wasn’t intended to be bait for a freebee – I was being more self-depreciating than self-promoting – but I did want to give it a try, so I accepted the offer. And of course, given the large number of opinions that have already been offered , it’s hard to say much that hasn’t already been said, especially since my impressions are similar to many already expressed.

To wit: Pouring a deep and clear reddish-gold with a large white head, it has a respectable appearance, and an equally respectable – if somewhat muted – aroma of sweet caramel and barley candy. The caramel predominates the flavour as well, with supporting notes of maple and orange, and a suggestion of peat smoke that builds a bit as the beer warms. The finish is short, but noticeably hopped, leaving a final impression of a beer that is a well made step-up from most of the Keith’s/Labatt line-up, but which isn’t really interesting enough to inspire me to purchase or open another.

Quick Quaff: Okanagan Spring Pale Ale

Way, way back in the days when the number of Canadian beer bloggers could be counted on one hand, it was pretty easy to write about a new (or even old) beer with some confidence that you’d be the only person doing so. Nowadays, though, there are so many of us – and so many breweries and PR companies sending samples to most of us – that my RSS feed of Canuck beer blogs can be a bit of an echo chamber at times.

Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, a bunch of us in Ontario were sent six-packs of Okanagan Spring Pale Ale, a BC beer that has been available on tap here for a couple of years, but is new to the LCBO. I’ve made a point to try and avoid reading the reviews that have followed in hopes of giving an untainted opinion, so I’ll be curious to go back and see what the rest of the guys thought.

First, I don’t often mention packaging when writing up reviews, but I have to compliment whoever designed the branding for this beer. The label is particularly nice, with striking iconography and a unique layout that has text and graphics going every which way without looking too busy or cluttered. With such an impressive introduction, it’s just too bad that the beer itself isn’t nearly as inspired or innovative.

That’s not to say that there’s anything particularly wrong with it: from its bright copper colour , to its clean aroma and flavour that bring together notes of toasted grain, fruity malt and cut-grass hops, to its soft and crisp mouthfeel, it’s a perfectly pleasant beer. I had no problem drinking all six, with a few of them accompanying meals such as pizza and roti and doing a decent job of it.

What they didn’t do, however, was leave any sort of impression behind. While drinking, I’d think “yeah, this beer is all right” – and a few minutes after finishing, I’d barely remember what it looked, smelled or tasted like. Even now, just moments after polishing off the last bottle, I’m already having a hard time recalling anything about it that would make me want another.

And needless to say, that isn’t a good state to leave a beer drinker in when you’re hoping to get them to buy more of your product.

A Shot with a Beer Back: Compass Box Spice Tree & Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor

Each weekday last week, I was planning on 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 Spring 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Due to various factors, I was unable to get Friday’s post done in time, so here it is now…

Compass Box Spice Tree (LCBO 220806 – $67.25/700 mL)

If you know whisky, you’re probably aware of the stir that Compass Box and its founder/whiskymaker John Glaser has caused in the whisky world in the last decade or so. Even as a casual whisky drinker, I’ve been aware of the cult-like status that Glaser has developed for his products, as well as the controversy that some of them have caused. (Google “John Glaser” and “Scotch Whisky Association”  together to get a taste of the latter.) In simple terms, Glaser obtains whiskies from various distilleries, combines them, and then matures the blends in different woods to create artisanal blended whiskies that are ranked as high as premium single malts by many aficionados. Spice Tree is one of Glaser’s Signature Series whiskies, and the appropriateness of the name comes clear from the moment it’s poured, as big notes of clove and ginger come forward, with supporting notes of cinnamon, vanilla and orange peel. Ginger dominates the palate as well, with toasted oak, vanilla and cinnamon behind, along with a developing hint of nutmeg, and a whiff of wood smoke.

Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor (LCBO 211284 – $3.10/330 mL)

Just as the whiskies of Compass Box are considered unorthodox, so too can Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor be looked at as a bit of an oddity, and a product of a modern and experimental beer culture. For years, the ales of Belgium have been known to emphasize aromas and flavours produced primarily by malt and yeast, with hops playing a backing role. But more recently, as the hops-forward beers favoured by many American breweries have started filtering back to the Old World, some brewers there have been cutting loose and beefing up the hops in their recipes. Hopsinjoor is one of those beers, brewed using four strains of hops, each added at a different point in the brewing process to bring out their aromas and flavours to full effect. It pours a beautiful golden colour with a vague haze and a huge cap of rocky white foam. Forcing their way through the head are rich aromas of peppery yeast, fruits like pineapple and orange, some lemon zest, and a slightly medicinal pine-like note. The body is quite active, giving a crisp and effervescent mouthfeel that cleanses the palate and lets the hops shine through in the flavour, with notes of grapefruit, pine sap and cut grass, along with hints of banana and pineapple, and a bit of pepper in the finish.

A Shot with a Beer Back: The Famous Grouse Gold Reserve & Tree Hop Head Double IPA

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 Spring 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today’s picks are a blended whisky that surprises, and a hotly anticipated beer that lives up to the hype.

The Famous Grouse Gold Reserve (LCBO 220764 – $39.95/750 mL)

At first glance, including a less-than-$40 blended whisky in a line-up that features primarily higher-end single malts seems like an odd move on the part of the LCBO. But just as the standard Famous Grouse is one of the best entry-level blended Scotches available, the Gold Reserve is a fantastic mid-level blend that rivals some single malts in complexity and quality. It offers a nice balance of flavours, with fruit (especially apricot) and spice off the top, peated grain and sherry wood in the middle, and smooth caramel notes in the finish. A really great whisky, and an amazing value.

Tree Brewing Hop Head Double IPA (LCBO 209346 – $5.35/650 mL)

As one of the first American-style Double IPAs to ever be widely available in Ontario, the anticipation among Ontario beer geeks for the arrival of this beer was such that it’s been selling out almost instantly as it hits the shelves, which means it might be hard to track down. But if you do manage to get a bottle, you won’t be disappointed – assuming you’re looking for some red-hot hop action, of course. Reddish copper with a thick and creamy off-white head, it throws off a delicious aroma of pine resin and candied citrus peel, with caramel malt notes playing second banana. In the flavour, the malt comes forward a bit more, giving some balance to the big hops that sing out with pine, spruce and grapefruit. The full body gets a little syrupy as it warms, but not to the point of being cloying. Fantastic stuff, and if you want to see how it stacks up against a great Double IPA from south of the border, grab some Southern Tier Gemini (LCBO 211425 – $9.00/650 mL bottle) which is also part of the Spring release.

Quick Quaff: Garrison Blackberry Wheat

Garrison Blackberry Wheat isn’t exactly the most seasonal beer to be drinking on a cool evening in March – quite literally out-of-season, in fact, as it’s only available from the brewery in May through September, and this bottle was sent along with a few other east coast brews as an Xmas present by my brother-in-law in Halifax. So I can’t even be sure exactly when it was brewed and bottled, aside from knowing that it’s at least six months old. Not promising, especially for a 4.6% abv beer.

It still seems to be in good shape, though, with an inviting aroma of slightly tart blackberries and toasted grain malt coming off of the golden body and large white head. It’s light and crisp on the tongue, and malt and berry notes come together in the flavour to evoke something close to blackberry pie, with a hint of orange and herbs joining in the subtly hopped finish.

Definitely one of the better non-lambic fruit beers I’ve tried, and hopefully I can convince my bro-in-law to send me a few in the summer when they’re even fresher and more suited to the weather.

Quick Quaff: Alexander Keith’s Harvest Ale

My biggest weakness as a blogger has always been my habit of writing so-called “blessays” – i.e. long posts that take a lot more time to write than I usually have to spare. The result has been a blog that is often neglected for days or weeks at a time, while the backlog of things I want to write about – and beers that I intend to review – keeps getting bigger and bigger.

In an attempt to avoid this trap in the future, this post inaugurates a new and hopefully regular series called “Quick Quaff,” where I’ll be posting fairly short tasting notes on beer (and occasionally spirits) that I’m drinking. And somewhat fittingly, I’m starting with a beer that I meant to review when it was sent to me a few months back, but didn’t get around to due to the various personal matters that had me out of commission for a while…

Released last October in limited quantities, Alexander Keith’s Harvest Ale is the first in a new “Brewmaster’s Series” of smaller batch beers that seem aimed at giving the Keith’s brand a bit more of a craft beer cachet. (The second brew in the series, Tartan Ale, was just released recently, with reviews popping up here, there and everywhere – I’m guessing the lack of a sample being offered to me can likely be chalked up to my delay in writing about the Harvest Ale, which is perfectly understandable, as if I were Labatt‘s PR company, I’d probably hesitate in sending more beer to a deadbeat blogger like myself…)

My initial impressions of this beer are good – it pours a really gorgeous mahogany colour with a thin tan cap, and the aroma is appealing, with notes of caramel and cherry candy (I almost wrote “cherry cough drops,” but it’s not quite so medicinal). The body could do with a bit more heft, but it’s still adequate to carry the flavour, which follows on the aroma with some caramel and dark cherry, joined by a faint nuttiness, a suggestion of cocoa, and a moderate bitterness in the finish that doesn’t quite balance the sweetness, but comes pretty close.

In the end, it’s undeniably a fairly mainstream product, with the aromas and flavours being more restrained than they might be in a similar beer from a small craft brewery. But for a brewery the size of Keith’s/Labatt, it was an admirable and generally successful experiment, and one that has me really curious to try the Tartan Ale.

This Week on Taste T.O.: Wellington Silver Wheat Ale

While my “Beer of the Week” column on Taste T.O. usually features positive reviews of beers that I like – or occasionally, so-so reviews of beers that I can at least appreciate to some degree even if I don’t love them – it’s rare that I post a completely negative review.

But that’s what you’ll find there this week, as I have nothing good to say about Wellington Silver Wheat Ale, a complete mess of a beer that is made even worse by the fact that it was made to celebrate Wellington Brewery‘s 25th anniversary.

Most breweries take such milestones as an opportunity to create something really big and special and flavourful, but Wellington decided instead to go in the opposite direction, releasing a pale and light North American style wheat ale – and one afflicted with a multitude of flaws to boot.

Click here to share my pain, anger and disappointment.

This Week on Taste T.O.: Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew

My weekly column for Taste T.O. went up a little while ago, featuring a review of Hitachino Nest Real Ginger Brew.

As the review notes, I nearly gave up on this beer after having two pretty awful samples a couple of months ago. But good buzz about it once it showed up as a late arrival in the LCBO’s Summer seasonal beer release convinced me to give it another shot, and I had a much more positive experience.

And speaking of seasonal beer releases – very nice looking lists have been announced for the LCBO’s upcoming Autumn Ales and Hallowe’en Beers promotions. Combined with the Dieu du Ciel! brewery spotlight release launching next week, it looks like it’s going to be a happy (and expensive) couple of months for Ontario beer geeks…

Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask

This is one in a ridiculously infrequent series of posts reviewing various beers from Innis & Gunn. Previous installments have featured reviews of I&G Original and Rum Cask editions.

It’s Canada Day here in, well, Canada, and it seems like as good a time as any to revive this long-delayed review series to take a quick look at their Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask edition – if only because seeing the disgustingly prolific output of local beer blogging newcomers like Chris at Toronto Beer Blog and Jordan at St. John’s Wort has me feeling as guilty as ever about so often neglecting this poor little blog of mine.

Canadians reading this may know the story of why a Scottish brewery saw fit to create a beer that celebrates Canada Day, but for those who don’t, here’s the scoop: Canada – especially Ontario – has been a hugely successful market for Innis & Gunn, with their Original being the top-selling bottled UK beer at the LCBO in Ontario, and other editions of the brand also doing extremely well.

So as a way of saying thank you, they tracked down some Canadian whisky barrels and produced a limited run of Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask to be released exclusively in Canada in time for last year’s Canada Day. Here’s what I thought about the 2009 edition when I reviewed for Taste T.O. last June:

With a ruby-brown colour and a small off-white head, it looks great in the glass, and smells quite nice as well, with notes of dried fruit, spice, maple, and mellow rye whiskey. The flavour is quite fruity off the top, with raisin and orange accompanied by maple and toffee, all balanced by a peppery rye whiskey character to end.

The beer was brought back this year in a 2010 edition, and while I haven’t had a full bottle of the new version yet, I did get the chance to have a small sample a couple of weeks ago, and found it quite similar to last year’s. The main difference I noted was that the flavour seemed a bit rounder and softer, with the peppery rye notes moved a bit into the background.

Still very good, though, and worthy of a place in the rotation for Canada Day beer drinking even despite its foreign pedigree. After all, if you go back far enough, most of us (or our ancestors) came from somewhere else, and that mix of cultures is one of the reasons this is such a great country. Happy Canada Day!

Innis & Gunn Rum Cask

This is one in an occasional series of posts reviewing various beers from Innis & Gunn. For the previous post in the series, covering Innis & Gunn Original, click here.

When I wrote my first in this series of Innis & Gunn reviews back in mid-October, I didn’t expect that I’d be posting them on such a glacial schedule. But as is usual for this blog, it’s taking me longer than hoped due to the thousand-and-one other things to which I’ve got myself committed. (Which reminds me that it’s been ages since I last posted a round-up to my beer-related posts on Taste T.O. – I really should get around to that sometime as well…)

Anyway, in the nearly two months between then and now, one of those “other things” that I was lucky enough to do was  attend a dinner presented by the secretive underground dining club Charlie’s Burgers that featured Innis & Gunn beers paired with food prepared by Jonathan Gushue and Victor DeGuzman, the Executive Chef and Executive Sous Chef respectively at Langdon Hall, one of the top restaurants in North America. The food was absolutely stellar, one of the most memorable meals I’ve had in my life, and I was especially impressed by the pairings given that the chefs admitted that they’d never done a beer dinner before. While not every match was absolutely perfect, most were excellent, and there were no train-wrecks.

With so many great dishes and solid pairings to choose from, it was hard to pick a favourite. The poached Colville Bay oysters paired with I&G IPA was a surprisingly solid match, and the pure decadence of the Atlantic lobster in hand-churned butter with pig cheek and foie gras torchon would’ve blown me away even if the beer on the side, I&G Original, hadn’t been such a good accompaniment.

Since it was a multi-course tasting menu, there was no traditional “main” course for the dinner, but the final course before dessert was an outstanding elk tenderloin served with smoked tongue (better than it sounds!) and several sides, all paired with Innis & Gunn Rum Cask. It was a great match, and while the bottle I had at home a few weeks later wasn’t paired with such an exciting dish – just a couple of pieces of good chocolate – it was still enjoyable.

I&G Rum Cask  is currently available in Ontario as part of the I&G “Connoisseur’s Oak Collection” holiday gift pack along with bottles of I&G Original and IPA and a nice branded glass. It’s apparently slightly different from the version that was available in single bottles last December, but my impressions were so close to what I wrote about the 2008 version on Taste T.O. that I might as well quote myself:

It has a much darker reddish hue than [I&G Original], and a deeper and richer aroatma with strong notes of spice, rum and sweet toffee. Rum also comes through prominently in the flavour, along with sweet malt and a bit of oak, and a mild spiciness in the finish. It’s a warm and flavourful beer that could be enjoyed with many desserts and sweets, or just on its own as a pleasant nightcap.

My only criticism, which is the same one I’ve lodged against other I&G beers, is that the fairly light body doesn’t quite hold up to the flavour, although I’m sure that my strong appreciation for the barrel-aged imperial stouts and barley wines that are becoming more and more common in the US craft brewing scene may be influencing my opinion in that matter. To others, it may seem just right. Either way, it’s a tasty winter treat.

Next up: I&G Triple Matured. Watch for it sooner than two months from now, hopefully…