Tag Archives: lambic

A Shot with a Beer Back: Century Reserve 21 Year Old & Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that things being late is pretty much par for the course. So just as with my previous week of tandem whisky and beer reviews, the one intended to posted on Friday was, uh, not. I’m sure no-one but me noticed, but for the sake of completeness, here it is now…

Century Reserve 21 Year Old
(LCBO 231704 – $48.95/750 mL)

This 100% corn whisky is one of a multitude of spirits and liqueurs produced by Highwood Distillers in Calgary, and while some of their brands are aimed at the mid- to low-end of the market, this is one of their more premium bottlings, and it’s gotten a fair bit of acclaim from critics and aficionados of Canadian whisky. And after tasting it myself, I’d say that the praise is well deserved. Showing a light, bright golden hue, it has a soft aroma of butterscotch, pepper, citrus, honey and toasted wood. The flavour opens with a good hit of citrus – notably lemon peel – with some pepper behind, followed by notes of butterscotch and toffee that build toward a sweet middle, and then subtle finish where the pepper comes back into play. A very good whisky that’s quite different from the Crown Royal Cask No. 16 that I reviewed earlier, but at a similar level of quality for less than half the price.

Lindemans Gueuze Cuvée René
(LCBO 224824 – $6.45/375 mL)

It’s going to be a month or so until this one appears on the shelves along with its companion, Lindemans Kriek Lambic (LCBO 224816 – $5.95/375 mL), but it’s been so long since we’ve had a proper gueuze at the LCBO that I couldn’t resist reviewing it now. Traditionally an unflavoured and unsweetened blend of both old and new lambics, much of the gueuze available today has been sweetened to appeal to a wider range of drinkers, but Cuvée René is the real deal. It’s crisp and tart and funky, with notes of barnyard and lemon and musty leather coming through in both the aroma and flavour. While quite noticeable, the sour tartness isn’t overpowering, which makes this brew a good introduction to traditional gueuze for those who may be unfamiliar with the style. And while more seasoned drinkers may consider it inferior to the beers of such venerable gueuze producers as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen, the odds of us seeing any of their bottles on LCBO shelves any time soon is probably pretty damn low, so let’s be at least somewhat thankful that we’ll soon be able to get this one.

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 Session #6: Fruit Beer

OK, here’s the thing: When I selected fruit beer as the theme for this month’s instalment of The Session (that beer-blog round-up thingie that a bunch of us do on the first Friday of every month, and that I’m hosting for August), I did so in anticipation of the pending arrival of Liefmans Kriekbier as part of the LCBO‘s summer beers promotion. I loved this beer when I first tried it a couple of years ago, and was looking forward to downing a couple of bottles to see if it’s as good as I remembered, and to write about it for The Session.

However, the beer – along with its non-fruited counterpart, Liefmans Goudenband – never showed, leaving me at a bit of a loss as to what beer I would write about it. After all, as my fellow Ontarian Stephen Beaumont mentions in one of his contributions to the Session, there are very few fruit beers produced up here, and only a couple of imported examples on our LCBO and Beer Store shelves. But I guess the beer gods were smiling on me, as I managed to get my hands on three new fruit beers in the past week, giving me a lot to write about after all.

The first was a beer that came in as a part of the now Liefmans-free LCBO release: Chapeau Banana Lambic from Belgium’s Brouwerij De Troch. The Chapeau line-up consists mainly of highly sweetened and strangely flavoured lambics, and my past experiences with other Chapeau beers like Exotic (pineapple) and Mirabelle (plum) had been, shall we say, less than stellar. But in the case of the Banana, I was surprisingly not offended by it. In fact, I kinda liked it, and even picked it as my Beer of the Week over on Taste T.O. this week. Here’s a bit of what I wrote about it there:

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.

That being said, beers like this are still closer in style to coolers and other alcopops than good quality fruit beers. Which is quite the opposite of the second one I tried thanks to my pal Paul bringing it to a tasting night: Oud Beersel Oude Kriek from the respected Belgian lambic producers Brouwerij F. Boon. This hazy ruby-rose coloured brew is a much more traditional fruit lambic, with the expected funky and musty aroma with notes of sour cherry, wood, old books and mouldy cheese. (Yeah, I know, it doesn’t sound that appealing when I write it, but believe me, it was.) After the aggressive aroma, the flavour was actually a bit of a let down – it was good, very dry and tart with a strong cherry character, but a bit milder than the aroma let on. Still, it’s a classic example of the kriek lambic style, and provided a great contrast to the Chapeau sugarbomb that I drank the night before.

Moving from the Old World to the New, my third fruit beer of the week came to me courtesy of import agents Roland + Russell who dropped off a package of a few of their new offerings for me to sample. It actually contained two fruit beers, but I only had a chance to sample one of them: Southern Tier Raspberry Wheat Ale from Lakewood, NY. While I’m usually underwhelmed by fruit flavoured versions of North American wheat beers, I’d enjoyed pretty much every Southern Tier beer I’d tried before this one, so I had fairly high hopes. Unfortunately, it followed the pattern of it’s style: light golden-yellow colour; lots of fruit and faint malt on the nose; thin, spritzy body; and a mild, lightly fruited flavour. It was certainly refreshing, especially during the nasty heat wave that we’re currently experiencing in Toronto, and I’d take it over the Chapeau Banana any day of the week. But I guess I just expected a bit more oomph from a Southern Tier beer.

So now that I’ve got my own post out of the way, it’s time for me to put on the hosting hat for this month and compile a round-up of the posts that all of my fellow Sessioners have published today (in most cases, in a much more timely manner than yours truly). I’ll get that together over the next day or two, allowing any stragglers to get in on the action before posting the final tally. If you have a contribution to be included, drop me a line or comment on this post.

We've Got The Funk

Work has been kicking my ass lately, so posts here have been few and far between. This should soon change – at least temporarily – as I’m heading down to New York City next week for a course, and I plan to spend my evenings doing some beer-hunting with daily reports to follow.

But in the meantime, I thought I’d give a quick mention about a tasting that I had with the usual crew a couple of weeks ago, where we sampled the wares of two of the most unique breweries on earth: Cantillon and Jolly Pumpkin.

Cantillon are a family-owned concern in Brussels, Belgium that has been brewing traditional lambics for over 100 years. They’re one of the few breweries still producing true, unadultrated lambics and as such they’ve become renowned amongst beer connoisseurs. Their beers are admittedly an aquired taste, as they are remarkably tart and dry, with strong flavours that get tagged with names like “funk” and “barnyard” and “horse-blanket”. Yeah, they may not sound very appealing, but once you get a taste for ’em, there’s really nothing like ’em.

As for Jolly Pumpkin, they’re a much newer brewery that started up a few years ago in Dexter, Michigan. Unlike a lot of craft breweries that start out with a couple of popular styles – like pale ale or pilsner or stout – before starting on the weird shit, these guys went straight to the weird shit and never looked back. According to their website, they specialize in “open fermentation, oak barrel aging, and bottle conditioning”, but that only begins to describe the wonderful and wacky beers that they produce. They only comperable brewery I can think of is Fantome, a Belgian farmhouse brewery that offers a similarly eclectic line-up of beers, many of which fall into the nebulous bière de garde category.

Along with a few other things, we managed to make it through eight of the nine pictured bottles. I didn’t take notes on all of them as I’d tasted & reviewed a few of them before, but my thoughts on all of them, whether reviewed at this tasting or previously, can be found on their RateBeer pages linked here:

Jolly Pumpkin Luciernaga (The Firefly) Belgian Ale
Jolly Pumpkin Bière de Mars Bière de Garde
Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza Bière de Garde
Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca Witbier
Jolly Pumpkin La Roja Bière de Garde
Cantillon Saint Lamvinus Fruit (Grape) Lambic
Cantillon Lou Pepe Framboise Fruit (Raspberry) Lambic
Cantillon Iris Lambic

A Bushel of Fruit Beers – Part 1: LCBO Summer 2006 Seasonal Release

This article was originally written in July 2006 for the now-defunct food and drink website Gremolata. It was re-published here in September 2011, but back-dated to appear in the blog archives close to its original publication date.

Fruit beers have it pretty rough. Ask a mainstream beer drinker what they think of them, and if they’re not completely baffled and/or disgusted by the concept, they might be reminded of Twist Shandy, the horrible lemon-flavoured beer cooler that Labatt produced in the 80s and 90s. Ask a beer geek for their opinion and they’ll often dismiss them as tarted up gimmick beers made for people who don’t really like beer, or as something to keep their girlfriend/wife happy at their favourite beer bar while they themselves drink a big Imperial Stout or uber-hoppy Double IPA. (I should mention before going any further that my wife calls me a “girlie man” when I drink fruit beers, and counts St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout and Great Divide Oak-Aged Yeti Imperial Stout amongst her most favourite things ever, so don’t believe the stereotypes!)

It’s unfortunate that such animosity and attitude exists on both sides of the beer-drinking spectrum, as there are a multitude of fruit-based beers being brewed around the world, and not all of them are of the sickeningly sweet alco-pop variety. In fact, serious beer aficionados hold some of them in very high regard, such as Quelque Chose, a strong cherry beer from Quebec’s Unibroue <> that is meant to be served heated, and Raspberry Eisbock, a 10.6% elixir brewed in Michigan by Kuhnhenn Brewing that currently sits at number 10 on the hit parade on RateBeer.com.

If you’re interested in exploring fruit beers, the first thing to know is that the addition of fruit flavour to beer can be accomplished in one of two ways: fruit can be added during the fermentation process, or fruit juice or extract can be added to the beer after it has been fermented. As you might expect, the former method is generally considered to produce a higher quality result, but it’s also much more difficult as the fruit sugars add an extra level of complexity to the already volatile fermentation process. So the majority of fruit beers use the second method, which usually results in a sweeter and less complex end product. As noted in a recent blog post on the topic by Toronto beer scribe Stephen Beaumont, there are some quite palatable examples of beers made using the juice/extract method, and they often appeal to drinkers who are used to heavily sweetened wine- and spirit-based coolers. But it’s the fruit beers produced using the full-fermentation process that tend to receive the most plaudits from hardcore beer geeks.

There are a number of fruit beers available at the LCBO and Beer Store, some of them on a year round basis, and some as part of the LCBO’s current summer beer promotion. While most of them fall on the sweeter side of the flavour spectrum, there are a couple that show a bit more character and complexity. Since most of them are available in single bottles, you can easily grab a bunch and have a tasting with a few friends to find your favourites.

In this post, I’ll cover the fruit beers in the current LCBO seasonal release, while my next post will look at those that are available in Ontario on a regular basis.

Belhaven Blueberry ($3.10/500 mL, 4.8% abv, LCBO 676866)
I’m a sucker for blueberries, so I was really looking forward to this one, doubly so since I’ve enjoyed some of the other beers I’ve tried from Scotland’s Belhaven Brewery. Given their strength in producing traditional ales, I was surprised to find that the base beer used here is a rather pale Pilsner-style lager with not a lot of character. As a result, the predominating characteristic of this one is the blueberry flavour, which was quite fresh and natural tasting in the first bottle I tried, but a bit stale in one that sat in the fridge for a couple of weeks. It’s somewhat one-dimensional, but crisp and refreshing, making it a decent hot weather patio beer.

Floris Ninkeberry  ($2.65/330 mL, 3% abv, LCBO 479154)
The Floris line of flavoured wheat beers from Belgium’s Brouwerij Huyghe is infamous among beer lovers, with the Chocolat version having the dubious distinction of once being ranked the worst beer in the world on RateBeer. Thankfully, the Ninkeberry variation isn’t quite so awful, but it’s nothing to write home about either. It pours a nice orange-gold colour, with a good sized white head. The aroma and flavour are both chock full of sweet peach, mango and non-classifiable berry notes. When the beer is cold, it’s not bad, but as it warms, it starts to feel like you’re drinking a liquid Life Saver. It’s rumoured that this is intended to be a beer for children, which would definitely explain both the low alcohol and the candy-like qualities.

Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew ($3.50/500 mL, 5% abv, LCBO 676858)
OK, it’s not exactly a fruit beer, but it’s flavoured and on the sweet side, so I thought it would be worthwhile to include on this list. As it comes from Fuller’s, the same UK brewery responsible for the fantastic London Pride and London Porter, I was expecting a fair bit from this beer, and I wasn’t disappointed. The colour is a clear, bright honey-golden, and it has a mild, fresh aroma of honey, hay and earthy malt. The body is light and crisp, and the flavour is simple but fresh and pleasant, with notes of biscuity malt, honey sweetness, and a subtly hopped finish. While it’s not my favourite of the bunch, it’s certainly the most quaffable, and would be a fine session beer for a mild summer’s evening.

Liefmans Frambozenbier ($4.95/375 mL, 4.5% abv, LCBO 439984)
While it’s brewed using the juice-added method, this raspberry beer from Belgium’s Huisbrouwerij Liefmans rivals the complexity and quality of many fully fermented fruit beers. There are two main reasons for this: they use the juice of whole fresh raspberries pressed just before mixing, and the base beer is their renowned Flemish Sour Ale, Liefmans Goudenband. The result is a beer that has the aroma and flavour of fresh, tart raspberry compote, backed up with some oak and earthy malt, and a lingering sour finish. (If you’d like to compare it to the unflavoured version, there are still a few bottles of Goudenband kicking around from the LCBO’s spring beer promotion.)

St. Louis Premium Kriek ($tba/4 x 250 mL, 3.2% abv, LCBO 676890)
At the time of writing, this cherry beer from Belgium’s Brouwerij Van Honsebrouck had yet to appear on store shelves, or even in the LCBO’s online inventory. While I try to keep an open mind, my expectations for this one are low due to the poor quality of St. Louis Gueuze and the fact that it will be sold in cans, a package that is suitable for many styles of beer but not a traditional Kriek, suggesting that this will likely be of the sweetened variety.

In closing I should mention that if flavoured beers just aren’t you’re thing, there are two other beers in the summer promotion that you may find more to your liking. Christoffel Blond ($2.30/300 mL, 6.0% abv, LCBO 696955)  is a golden-hued Pilsner from Bierbrouwerij St. Christoffel of The Netherlands that has a spicy, herbal hoppiness that makes it fantastic for steaming mussels and to drink with them once they’re done, of course. Goldings Summer Hop Ale <> ($3.30/500 mL, 4.7% abv, LCBO 676874)  from Britain’s Shepherd Neame  is a light golden ale with some soft floral notes, but it’s unfortunately been packaged in clear bottles, making it prone to skunkiness thanks to the open shelves and harsh lighting at most LCBO outlets. So if you’re going to get some Goldings, I highly recommend that you grab the bottles from an unopened case if at all possible.

Next post – Fruit Beers, Part Two: The year-round selection.