Tag Archives: Belgian ale

This Week on Taste T.O.: The Beers of MicroBrasserie Charlevoix

In order to start giving this blog some semblance of regular content, I’m going to try and post a link to my column on Taste T.O. each week. If I’m on the ball (which I am this week, surprisingly), I can even write it up and schedule it at the same time as I schedule the Taste T.O. post so they’ll go up simultaneously. Mmmmm, technology!

This week, it’s a review round-up of nine beers from MicroBrasserie Charlevoix that were launched in Ontario this past weekend via the fine folks at HMH Negotiants import agents.

(Note to non-Canadian readers: Yes, beer from Quebec – or any other Canadian province – needs to be “imported” in order to be sold in Ontario. It’s all very silly.)

In addition to the beers brought in by HMH for the launch, I also recently had the chance to try Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Brut, a limited edition beer created in the Champenoise style; i.e. with champagne yeast used for fermentation, and the traditional steps of “remuage” and “dégorgement” following. The result is a sparkling and effervescent golden ale with a very complex character, combining aromas and flavours of sweet fruit (notably peach and lychee), florals (rose and lavender), mild spice and yeast, and mellow herbal hops. Really nice stuff, and one of the better examples I’ve tried of this still rare beer style.

More Stuff I've Written Elsewhere

The Summer 2010 issue of TAPS Magazine is out now, and you can read a bit more about it (including details of both a format and subtitle change) over at Canadian Beer News (aka the blog that I actually post at more than once a every few weeks). Over here, I’ll just mention that it includes the 11th installment of my “Beer Styles 101” feature column, this one focused on Belgian-Style Ales.

This will likely be my final column in the series as well. While it would be nice to hit an even dozen, the 11 styles I’ve featured so far – Pilsner, Dunkel & Schwarzbier, Hefeweizen, Porter, Barley Wine, Pale Ale & Bitter, Belgian Witbier, Stout, IPA, Fruit Beer & Belgian-Style Ales – encompass the vast majority of the craft beers brewed in Canada. And since half the point of the column is to mention Canadian-brewed beers in the style being discussed, it would be tough to get a full feature out of any remaining style.

(You may also notice that only a few of the styles in the list above are linked to earlier posts that reprint the articles. That’s something I really should rectify, so I’ll try and get the rest of them posted here soon.)

In the meantime – here are the beer reviews & articles I’ve written for Taste T.O. since my last round-up at the end of March.

July 13: Hockley Black & Tan and Headstrong Black & Tan
July 6: Samuel Smith Organic Raspberry Ale
July 1: Read Local, Drink Local – Article about an initiative of the Ontario Media Development Corporation to pair the books shortlisted for the Trillium Book Awards with Ontario beers and wines.
June 29: Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse & Schneider-Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse
June 22: Ölvisholt Brugghús Skjálfti
June 15: Drinking for Politics & Pleasure at Ontario Craft Beer Week – Preview of the first OCBW.
June 8: Mill Street Lemon Tea Beer
June 1: Third Time’s The Charm For The Brewers Plate – Re-cap of the third annual Brewers Plate local beer & food event.
May 25: The Beers Of Summer – Preview of the LCBO’s Summer beer promotion.
May 18: Brewers Plate 2010: Bigger & Beerier Than Before – Preview of the Brewers Plate.
May 11: Quaffing Local Beer at Queen’s Park -Re-cap of a craft beer event at Queen’s Park, hosted by Steve Peters, the Speaker of the House.

(There were no posts in April or early May due to Taste T.O. being on a publishing hiatus.)

How Much Is Too Much?

cantillon_zwanzeEarlier this evening, I visited beerbistro, and I purchased and drank the beer in the photograph that accompanies this post. It was Cantillon Zwanze 2008, a limited edition lambic from the renowned Belgian brewery that was made with rhubarb.

Like every other Cantillon beer I’ve had, it was excellent, full of tart and funky goodness, with an interesting hint of rhubarb in the finish. A perfect beer to enjoy on a warm early summer evening.

Oh, and it cost me $25 (+ tax and tip) for a 375 ml bottle, which I believe is the most I’ve ever spent on a single serving of beer.

I’m sure there are a lot of people – including many craft beer drinkers – who will think me crazy for dropping so much on a single beer. Hell, for the money I spent on the Zwanze, I could’ve had three pints of something or other at beerbistro, or even more at someplace a little more down market.

So, why did I buy it? Well, a friend mentioned on a private chat forum today that he’d tried it, and since I love Cantillon beers and really like rhubarb, I decided to treat myself and splurge a little. (The fact that I came into a bit of extra money this week kinda helped me make my decision as well…)

And, was it worth it? Tonight, yes, it was. I thoroughly enjoyed the 45 minutes or so I spent drinking the beer, and given it’s scarcity, I felt the price was justified. Beerbistro is probably the only place in Canada, and perhaps in all of North America, to have Zwanze in stock. When I think what a wine of similar quality and rarity would cost in a restaurant, $25 almost seems like a bargain.

I’m curious to know what other people think, though. Is $25 (or more) ever a justifiable price for a bottle of beer, no matter how rare it might be? Does the “just imagine what a comparable wine would cost!” argument hold any weight, or is it a just a way for suckers to justify things to themselves when they drop too much money on a beer? And like the subject line above says, how much is too much when to comes to the price of beer?

Any thoughts?

(PS: While I was sorely tempted, I didn’t steal the glass. While I’m not a regular at beerbistro, I’m there often enough and know enough of the staff that it would’ve made my next visit a bit awkward. Plus, stealing is bad, ‘mkay? But man, that’s a cool glass, isn’t it?)

The Return of Unibroue

(Sorta creepy photo borrowed from evilloop.com)

The title of this post is a bit misleading, as Unibroue never actually went anywhere. But for the last couple of years, their presence was on the wane in Ontario. Their products were being delisted from retail outlets, and while Blanche de Chambly was still a popular draught choice at various in-the-know establishments, most of their other beers had all but disappeared. Quite simply, it seemed that parent company Sleeman (and their parent company, Sapporo) were more interested in expanding the Unibroue brands in the US market than in Ontario, which is somewhat understandable, given the relative size of that market.

Recently, though, there’s been a definite push to re-establish Unibroue in Ontario. 750 ml bottles of several of their beers are now back on LCBO shelves, and a couple of events have taken place in Toronto recently that show they’re serious about getting back to business.

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LCBO: Let's Censor Bunnies, OK?

gc_easter_censored.jpgLike most government-run liquor boards, Ontario’s LCBO has their fair share of rules and regulations that producers and agents have to follow in order to get their products into the system. Some of them have at least a semblance of logic, such as ensuring that the alcohol percentage on the label matches that of the liquid in the bottle, but a lot of them elicit an incredulous “WTF?” reaction from me, and presumably many other people.

For example, there is a policy that any graphics that might be appealing to children are not allowed to appear on the packaging of alcoholic beverages in Ontario. Now, I find this policy to be pretty ridiculous, which is how I feel about most overly restrictive laws and policies of the “Who will think of the CHILDREN???” sort. But if I put myself into the nanny state mindset for just a moment, I suppose I can see the reasoning of such a policy when it comes to products that are sold at LCBO retail outlets, since they might purchased and brought in the homes of irresponsible parents who leave their liquor in a place accessible to their kids.

What I absolutely cannot understand, however, is why this same policy applies to products that are not in LCBO stores, and are only available via consignment orders directly from import agents. The vast majority of these products – such as the Gouden Carolus Easter Beer pictured here – are sold to the bar and restaurant trade, where they should never be accessible to anyone under the age of 19. Yet the LCBOverlords ordered that the label on every bottle of this beer had to be defaced with a sticker before they were shipped out to the handful of establishments that ordered it via import agents Roland + Russell.

(By the way – if you’re curious to see the offending image that needed to be censored, just click on the photo.)

Anyway, government red tape and label defacement aside, I suppose we should at least be happy that Gouden Carolus Easter Beer is available to Ontarians at all. It’s one of the few Easter beers brewed anywhere (according to RateBeer, there are barely two dozen beers in the world with the word “Easter” in their name), and given the generally high quality of the Gouden Carolus line-up, it’s bound to be a good one.

I’ve actually got a bottle courtesy of R+R, but it’s set aside to share with some friends at a beer tasting later this week (none of which are children, I promise!), and my review will pop up on RateBeer soon afterwards. In the meantime, Happy Easter!

Powerful Beer on a Powerless Night

I had a fun – and partly odd – time this past Tuesday night as I hit two different beer-centric happenings.

First stop was beerbistro, where they were celebrating the tapping of several Koningshoeven beers which were appearing on draught for the first time ever in Canada. (In fact, I believe this may have been the first time any Trappist beers have been available on draught in Canada.) The original plan was to feature five Koningshoeven (aka La Trappe) brews on tap – Blond, Dubbel, Tripel, Quadrupel and Witte – but shipping problems meant that only the latter three made it in time for the big night, so the Blond & Dubbel were there in the more commonly available bottled form. Still, it was a rare treat to get even the three, so no one was complaining.

My arrival was later than expected, and the bar area was rammed solid with a mixture of the usual after-work drinks crowd and the Trappist-thirsty beer geek contingent. Luckily, I reached the bar just as Stephen Beaumont was getting up from his stool to do a ceremonial ribbon-cutting with a rep from the brewery who had flown over for the event, so I generously offered to save his seat for him and got myself a glass of the Witte, the one beer of the five that I’d not tried before. You can check my notes on RateBeer for my full thoughts on the beer – I’ll just say here that it’s a really solid witbier, and having it on draught made it even better.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long, so I wasn’t able to sample any of the others, but I hope to make it back to try the Tripel and Quad before the kegs run dry. I was also unable to stay for the celebratory dinner, with each course paired with one of the Koningshoeven beers, but I’m sure that chef Brian Morin and his crew knocked it out of the park as they usually do with their themed dinners.

My other destination for the evening was the Mill Street Brewpub, where they were holding a semi-private event celebrating their Brewery of the Year honour awarded at the recent Canadian Brewing Awards. The mile or so walk from beerbistro to the pub was a strange one, as there was a scattered power outage that caused some blocks to be darkened while others were fine. A few minutes before I reached the Distillery District complex where the pub is located, my wife called to let me know that the whole District was in darkness, and the staff at the pub was scrambling to serve up what they could by candlelight.

Luckily, the lights came back on literally the moment that I arrived (I tried to take responsibility for the miraculous occurrence, but Sheryl was having none of it…), and we snagged a prime seat before the crowd swooped in. Fellow beer blogger Troy Burtch joined us with his lovely fiancée Jessica, as did TAPS Magazine editor Karla Dudley. The open bar tempted me to work through a few Mill Street favourites, but the cask-conditioned IPA that I started with was in such good shape that I just stuck with it for the rest of the night.

Pub staff were making the rounds with a seemingly endless assortment of hors d’oeuvres, most of which were palate-pleasing, although the flavour combo on the maple & pesto chicken wings was a bit odd. Local musical legend Big Rude Jake provided some great entertainment for a crowd that was sadly more interested in watching the Leafs lose to the Habs (again) on the big screens. Mill Street co-founder Steve Abrams came by to chat at some point, as did C’est What‘s colourful owner George Milbrandt who was wearing an equally colourful scarf.

As Troy says over on his blog, “It was a good night celebrating Mill Street’s award won because of dedication, hard work and fantastic products”. Not much I can add to that, really, except to offer the Mill Streeters further congratulations on the well-deserved win.

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.

Christmas in October with Het Anker


A while back, the fine folks at Roland + Russell importers set me up with bottles of a few of their newest offerings. Amongst them were two brews from Het Anker, the Belgian brewery better known for their main brand name, Gouden Carolus. Since I had a third Het Anker beer on hand at the time, and had recently sampled a fourth at a tasting session, so a rating round-up seemed to be in order.

Gouden Carolus Christmas
I’d tried this strong spiced ale a couple of times before, but I had no complaints about drinking it again. It pours a dark, hazy mahogany with a small mocha head. Big aroma that is sweet, spicy and herbal with some dried fruit notes. The flavour is quite sweet as well, with notes of cherry, pineapple, cinnamon, clove, dark malt and brown sugar. A great winter warmer – I almost wish I’d saved it to drink closer to Christmas. Almost.

Anker Boscoulis
One of the few non-Carolus beers from the brewery, this fruit beer has a slightly hazy ruby-amber colour with a good sized white head. The aroma is jammy, with tons of sweet berry notes, and some yeastiness lurking behind, and the mouthfeel is sticky. The flavour is sweet at first – very, VERY sweet – almost like liquid jam. But as it warms up, some tart and yeasty notes develop in the finish to help take the edge off. Still too much on the sweet side for my personal taste, but better than a lot of fruit beers I’ve tried.

Gouden Carolus Classic
A very fitting name for this one, as it truly is a classic example of a strong Belgian ale. Looks great in the glass – reddish-brown with a good sized off-white head. The aroma is warm, rich and sweet, with notes of malt, dried fruit and dark sugar. Smooth, full mouthfeel, and a big flavour of fruity malt, a bit of chocolate, some spicy yeast, and a slightly boozy finish. Lovely!

Gouden Carolus Ambrio
This lesser-known Carolus has a lighter colour, body and alcohol level than the Classic, but it’s still a decent Belgian strong. It has a clear amber colour with a short white head, and the aroma is warm and sweet, with notes of caramel and rye whiskey. Medium bodied, with a sweet, yeasty, warm and peppery flavour. Probably the least complex of all the Carolus beers I’ve tried, but still very good.

Beer of the Week – Chapeau Banana

This article was originally written in July 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

Once a rarity in Ontario, fruit beers have become more common and more popular in recent years, thanks in part to the LCBO’s summer beer promotions which generally spotlight several different fruit-flavoured offerings. These limited releases, as well as those fruit beers that can be found on shelves year round, usually feature such traditional flavours as raspberry (Framboise), cherry (Kriek) and peach (Pêche).

However, these seasonal releases have also featured strange brews that have elicited a hearty “what the HELL??!?” reaction from local beer aficionados. Past years have brought us several remarkably sweet beers from Florisgaarden, a low-alcohol flavoured beer line-up brewed by Belgium’s Brouwerij Huyghe. More recently, our benevolent provincial alcohol overlords have started carrying selections from Chapeau, an imprint used by another Belgian brewery, Brouwerij De Troch, for a series of fruit lambics that range from the traditional to the downright bizarre.

The Chapeau beer featured in this summer’s beer promotion, Chapeau Banana (LCBO 37853, $2.25/250 mL) most definitely falls into the latter category. Although oddly enough, it’s not the first banana-flavoured beer I’ve tried. That honour goes to Wells Banana Bread, a golden ale from England’s Wells & Youngs Brewery that smelled and tasted so much like it’s namesake loaf that it was uncanny, and frankly, a little frightening.

Chapeau Banana, however, is another thing entirely. This is partly because lambics are a unique style of beer created by using a spontaneous fermentation method where the brewing vessels are left open to the wild yeast and bacteria that are distinctive to the area of Belgium where they’re traditionally brewed. This imparts them with a one-of-a-kind flavour that is described as tart, funky and “barnyardy”. The addition of fruit to lambic is common, with sugar often added as well to take some of the edge off, but Chapeau/De Troch goes well beyond the usual Framboise, Kriek and Pêche options and brews with some very strange and unexpected fruits. Like banana.

Surprisingly, though, it kind of works. The aroma is a combination of those marshmellow banana candies I used to like as a kid (yeah, you know the ones I mean), mixed with a slight lambic funkiness. (My wife also found notes of strawberry, melon and kiwi.) The body is sticky, and not very refreshing, which is a common fault in sweetened fruit beers (or any overly sweetened drink, for that matter). The flavour is quite sweet off the top, although it tastes more like real banana than the candyish aroma suggests, and there’s a pleasant tartness peeking through in the finish.

So it’s not a complete disaster, but I’m still not quite sure I see the point of this beer and others like it. It’s too sweet to be refreshing on a hot day, and too weak at 3.5% to have serious appeal to the crowd who like to pound back high octane coolers and alcopops. But the LCBO keeps stocking a couple of examples of the style each summer, so there must be someone buying them, if only for the novelty value. The curious and the candy-addicted alike can find bottles now at select LCBO outlets.

The Session #2: Dubbels

Another Session, and another last minute post from yours truly. This month, we’re doing dubbels. Which means that I should probably start by confessing that I’m a bit of a spaz when it comes to Belgian ales.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. Like most beer geeks, some of my favourite beers come from Belgium, or are brewed in the Belgian style. It’s just that I have a hard time keeping track of what characteristics differentiate the various Belgian sub-styles from each other. So when Alan announced his pick for the second edition of The Session was dubbels, I was at a bit of a loss, and had to check RateBeer to see which beers were actually in that style.

Another factor was figuring out which dubbels are actually available in Ontario, since we’re at the mercy of a government owned liquor monopoly here. As I mentioned in my last post, the only dubbels we can get here on a regular basis are Leffe Brune and Chimay Premiere (Rouge). Both of them are decent enough beers, but I was hoping for something a bit more unique for this Session.

But then I noticed something interesting: According to RateBeer (as well as Beer Advocate), Tickle Brain Ale from the UK brewery Burton Bridge is considered a dubbel. And it just so happened that I had one bottle of Tickle Brain left in my stash from a private order that a few of us got in on last year. A nice stroke of luck.

According to the label, “Tickle Brain” was a Tudor name for strong drink, so it fits this 8% beer well. It has a nice, rich ruby colour with a slight haze from the bottle conditioning. The aroma is big and sweet, lots of malt and caramel and dark fruit, and some sharper spicy notes coming through as it warms. More of the same in the flavour – caramel, brown sugar, dark fruit and berries, and an alcohol warmth that comes on a bit strong, but which is appreciated on this unseasonably cold Good Friday night. It’s not an everyday beer to be sure, but it’s nice to have around for those times that you want something a little stronger to savour. Too bad that this is my last bottle.

Thanks to Alan for picking a style that led to me getting a bit of an education. I’m already looking forward to next month.