Tag Archives: pilsner

Quick Quaff: Samuel Adams Noble Pils

Back in 2003, I attended a fantastic event presented by Sleeman to promote the fact that they had recently taken over distribution rights for Samuel Adams beers in Canada. For just 20 bucks, attendees were given ample servings of four standard Sam Adams beers, including the flagship Boston Lager, along with understandably less generous samples of the brewery’s legendary big beers: Triple Bock, Millennium and Utopias. The implied message seemed to be that Sleeman had big plans for the brand, and we could look forward to seeing more Sam Adams beers on at stores and bars in Ontario soon.

Sadly, that implication ended up being a misinterpretation, as all we saw on the shelves in the next few years was Boston Lager and fleeting appearances by Sam Adams Summer Ale. But last year, Sam Adams severed ties with Sleeman and joined forces with Moosehead, a partnership which has led to more Sam Adams beers being released in Canada, including the infamous Utopias as well as some of their less expensive and more accessible seasonal beers.

The latest arrival is the Samuel Adams Noble Pils (LCBO 239525 – $13.55/6×355 mL), which I’ve been enjoying the hell out of since it hit LCBO shelves a few weeks ago. Pouring a vibrant yellow-gold with a thick and fluffy snow white head, it has a gorgeous aroma of honey, floral hops, a bit of citrus and caramel. On the palate, it’s crisp and clean, providing a perfect backdrop to the delicious and well-balanced flavour that features sufficiently sweet malt intertwining with those beautiful hops, which bring in notes of herbs, pine, pepper and grapefruit.

For a long time, I’ve considered Victory Prima Pils to be my favourite Pilsner brewed in North America, but every bottle of Noble Pils that I finish brings me closer to reconsidering that opinion. I may just have to have another (few) to be sure…

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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Urpiner Ležiak Svetlý

Due to the unique (or in less politically correct terms, fucked up) nature of alcohol legislation in Ontario, there are several different ways for beer to enter the marketplace. There are two retail chains – the government-owned LCBO, and the Molson & Labatt owned Beer Store – but getting on the shelves of the former requires approval by the powers-that-be, while listings at the latter are quite expensive.

Because of the time, money and/or red tape involved in getting beers into the province’s retail market, much of the beer imported into Ontario, especially from smaller breweries, is sold straight to bars, restaurants and individuals by import agents via the LCBO’s Private Order and Consignment programs. The result of this is a larger selection of beers being available than store stock suggests, but beer hunters often have to be intrepid to track them down, especially the lesser known beers that are brought in for specific ethnic communities, and that end up at bars and restaurants that aren’t necessarily known for having varied beer selections.

urpinerIt helps, of course, when the importers do some outreach to try and spread the word about their goods. An example of this is an email I received a few weeks ago from James Tubaro of Oxford Imports, an agency that usually deals with wine, but that recently started carrying Urpiner Ležiak Svetlý, a pilsner from Slovakia’s Banskobystricky Brewery. He dropped off a few bottles for me soon after, and while drinking the final one tonight, I thought I should share some thoughts on it.

My main thought is that it’s a pretty nice beer, comparable to many of the European pilsners that are easily available at the LCBO. It has a beautiful golden colour and a snow white head, and an aroma that’s a touch too sweet for the style, but with a nice bready character and a herbal hop edge. The flavour is very pleasant – fresh bread, some toasted grain, a hint of honey, and very nice, lingering herbal hops in the finish. Again, it’s a bit on the sweet side for a pils, but still a nice little brew.

Tubaro tells me that he’s submitted the beer to the LCBO for retail consideration, so perhaps it will some day join Golden Pheasant on the shelves to make a grand total of two Slovakian beers easily available to Ontario drinkers. For now, though, he’s got it in a number of bars and restaurants around Toronto. So be alert, beer hunters.

(PS: For those who are curious, the “12%” on the label isn’t the alcohol percentage. It represents 12° on the Plato scale, a measurement that I don’t completely understand, but which seems to be commonly used by Eastern European breweries. As far as ABV goes, it’s a perfectly reasonable 5%.)

Teaching Druggists What To Drink

Earlier this year, I got an email out of the blue from an editor at the specialty publications group of Rogers Publishing, asking if I’d be interested in writing an article for a magazine called newpharmacist, a lifestyle magazine for pharmacists. At first I thought that maybe he had me confused with some other Greg Clow who actually has some knowledge about pharmaceuticals beyond being prescribed them once in a while, but it ended up that the mag features a regular drinks column, and they wanted to focus the article for the summer issue on beer. Or more specifically, non-macro beer that’s especially suited to warm weather.

(On a slightly ironic side-note: Rogers’ co-publisher on the magazine is Apotex, the pharmaceutical company owned by Berry Sherman, who also happens to be the money man behind Steelback Brewery.)

Since the magazine (which came out last month, I think) is only distributed to Canadian pharmacists, and since I suspect very few of my readers fall into that category, I thought I’d post it here. It’s aimed primarily at an audience that likely doesn’t know much about beer beyond the big names, so it’ll probably be a bit basic for most of y’all. But hey, at least it’s content, which is something that has been all too rare around here lately…

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TAPS Magazine – New(ish) Issue & Old(ish) Column

As I was finishing up my contributions to the upcoming Summer issue of TAPS magazine last week, it occurred to me that I’d completely forgotten to post a mention here back when the Spring issue came out back in early May.

So, here’s the mention: The Spring issue of TAPS magazine came out in early May. A bit later than planned, but in the right season at least. And while it’s still not perfect, it was a marked improvement over the Winter issue. The layout is less busy, are there are more contributors from across the country so it’s less Ontario-centric. I’m still not a fan of the corny bar jokes that are sprinkled throughout as filler, and I think the order of the features still needs some tweaking, but all in all, it’s continuing to move in the right direction.

While I’m on the topic of TAPS – as I mentioned previously, my main contribution to the mag is a series of articles on different beer styles, presented under the horribly unoriginal title of Beer Styles 101 (a title I came up with myself, by the way, so don’t go blaming anyone else for it). Hopefully, most of my pitifully small blog readership will be buying copies of the magazine to read my scintillating words in print, but for those who have some sort of aversion to paper, I’m going to start reprinting each column here as following issue comes out.

Since the Spring issue is out now, here’s my column from the Winter issue…

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Mixed Pack From Pennsylvania

A few weeks ago, through an odd series of events, I found myself in possession of a mixed case of beer from Pennsylvania. I’d tried a fair number of PA beers before, from breweries like Victory, Sly Fox and Weyerbacher, but this specially assembled collection contained an assortment from three breweries that I wasn’t very familiar with: Church Brew Works, Erie Brewing and Yard’s Brewing.

As is usually the case with these things, the beers ranged from quite good to not-so-much, and I thought I’d share quick round-up of my thoughts on the 11 new beers I tried.

Church Brew Works


I’ve long wanted to visit the Church Brew Works brewpub, which is fittingly located in a former church in Pittsburgh, mainly because the photos I’ve seen of the place look absolutely stunning, but also because I’ve been curious about their beer line-up since I had a chance to try their Oatmeal Stout on tap at Cole’s in Buffalo a couple of years ago. So I was happy to find these four bottles in the package, although unfortunately, most of them ended up letting me down.

Pious Monk Dunkel is the best of the four, having a perfectly on-style clear brown-amber colour with a small head, and mild but inviting aroma of toasted malt, bread and tobacco leaf. The flavour is mild as well, but also good, with hints of coffee, smoke, toasted malt, and a short but pleasant bitter finish. Simple, but well made and satisfying.

A bit less impressive is the Pipe Organ Pale Ale. It looks nice, with a sunset copper-gold colour and a small white head. But the aroma is odd, holding a faint caramel note that was overwhelmed by overripe (i.e. slightly rotten) fruit and something sharp that I can’t quite place. The body is moderately carbonated with a medium mouthfeel that gets a bit sticky as it warms, and the flavour is as suggested by the aroma – caramel malt, pungent fruit, and that sharp edge – followed by a moderately bittered finish. This is puzzling beer that I suspect might’ve been mildly infected, but not in a familiar sort of way.

Thunderhop Double IPA seemed promising – for this hophead, it’s hard to go wrong with an 8% double IPA – but it’s ultimately a disappointment. As with the Pipe Organ, it looks nice in the glass – golden-amber with a moderate white head – but the overwhelming aroma of citric hops with a pineapple juice background is too much even for me. The flavour is equally unbalanced, with strong, acidic hops that have very little malt to back them up. I’m totally cool with hop-bombs as long as beer has a strong backbone for the hops to play against. In this case, the beer is just too thin and flabby, leaving the sharp hops with nothing to hang on.

Finally, the real stinker of the bunch is Celestial Gold. I got nervous when I saw the very pale gold colour with a small white head that disappeared quickly. And my fears were proven to be well-founded by the grainy malt aroma with a slight vegetal note, the thin body with heavy carbonation, and the flavour that starts sweet before being overtaken by an unpleasant overcooked vegetable undertone, and an unbalanced bitterness in the finish. Supposedly a German-style Pilsner, but it seemed to me to be a simple mainstream lager, and a poorly made one at that.

Erie Brewing


Like the Celestial Gold, Erie’s Presque Isle Pilsner is a pretty lacklustre take on the style, with a very light golden golden colour, a small white head, and an aroma of light malt, subtle hops, and an unpleasant note of cooked corn that builds as it warms up. Thankfully, the corn doesn’t come though in the flavour, but there not much else there either. The best I can say is that it finishes clean, with some mild Saaz notes, but it’s not much of a pilsner.

Mad Anthony’s APA is a good step up from the lager. It pours a clear golden-orange with a small but persistent snow white head, and the aroma is pleasant and balanced, with fresh-smelling malt and some slightly citric hops. The flavour is nice, following on the aroma with a good balance of sweet malt and tangy hops, and a good finish. The body is a bit thin, but the crispness makes it an enjoyable quaffer.

From there, things take a bit of a dip with the Railbender Ale. The appearance is OK, with a clear light copper colour and a small white head. The aroma is a fairly bland combination of malt and tobacco leaves, with a slight sharpness building as it warms. The flavour starts with sweet malt, slightly sugary off the top, developing some caramel notes in the middle, and a moderately hopped finish with some alcohol warmth. Not bad, not great, just – meh.

Yard’s Brewing


These looked to be the most interesting beers in the collection, and given the generally average to poor showing made by the other two breweries, I was hoping they’d prove to be the best ones as well. I was especially glad to see the Saison, a style that I’m a big fan of, and thankfully, it ended up being a pretty solid example. I was a bit worried by the very light, clear gold appearance, but the aroma has enough orange, coriander, and herb notes to keep me interested. The body is light and crisp, and the flavour is decent – a bit light off the top, but some pleasant candi sugar and spice notes come through in the middle, and the herbal hops wrap it up nicely.

The Presidential ales intrigued me as well, with the promise of old-tyme recipes bringing to mind the Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection that came out a couple of years ago. In fact, looking back at my tasting notes for the George Washington Porter in that Sam Adams collection, there seems to be a fair bit of similarity between it and Yard’s General Washington Tavern Porter. The Yard’s brew is ruby-brown with a small off-white head, and has a very roasty and malty aroma with some hints of chocolate, burnt toffee and molasses. The flavour is excellent, very full and toasty off the top, with molasses and toffee sweetness coming in quick, followed by an interesting plum-like tartness. Very nice.

As for the Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, it couldn’t be more different from the Traditional Honey Ginger Ale that represented the third president in the Sam Adams pack. In fact, it comes across as a fairly modern US strong ale. Not that I’d complaining, of course. The appearance is a slightly hazy golden-amber with a small head, and the aroma of pine and grapefruit with hints of caramel and toast is solid. So is the flavour, with vibrant and fresh hops taking the lead in the flavour, but allowing enough caramel malt to come though for balance.

Finally, the Yard’s IPA was another winner for me. Not the most unique or exciting IPA around, but still a good one, with the aroma having a good balance of sweet caramel and citrus, and the flavour being well-balanced and enjoyable, with a sweet beginning, and a pleasing hop bite in the finish.

So, while I can’t make a complete assessment based on three or four beers from each brewery, the edge definitely goes to Yard’s based on my limited sampling, followed by Erie in second place, and Church Brew Works well in the rear. And putting them all up against the other PA breweries, none of them come close to most of what I’ve tried from Victory and Weyerbacher. But still, it’s nice to get a taste of the local brews from other places. Hopefully, I’ll get to try more of what the state has to offer, maybe as part of a future Philly Beer Week.

Beers of the Last Few Weeks

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted links to my Beer of the Week column over on Taste T.O., so here are the last few:

harveysporter.jpgHarvey’s 1859 Porter – “…an extremely satisfying beer that is perfect for this time of year, with a robust but not overpowering flavour that pairs well with such hearty autumn fare as shepherd’s pie and beef stew.” (full review)

OCB Discovery Pack – “…even though this isn’t my personal dream team of brews, the OCB Discovery Pack is still a step in the right direction for the province’s burgeoning craft beer industry.” (full review)

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale – “…brewed with real pumpkin, and there’s hints of it in the aroma and flavour, although the sweet malt and spice notes are more prominent. Nutmeg and ginger are especially obvious, and the finish has a nice hit of slightly tongue-numbing cloves to compliment the mild hops.” (full review)

Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted – “…quite a hoppy beer by British standards. After pouring a clear and bright yellow-gold, it instantly reveals a fresh aroma of herbal hops with hints of lemon zest.” (full review)

Fullers 1845 – “…sweet and treacly, malty and warm, with an underpinning of yeast and citrus.” (full review)

urquell.jpgPilsner Urquell – “…may no longer be the only Pilsner in the world, and it may not even the best one. […] But it’s still the original, and still very deserving of it’s well-earned reputation.” (full review)

Deuchars IPA and Belhaven Twisted Thistle – “[Deuchars is] not a bad beer, but it’s not really an IPA […] Twisted Thistle is similar to a lot of the IPAs being brewed on the west coast of North America, albeit more subdued in both alcohol and flavour…” (full review)

Burton Porter – “…a [porter] that is quite different from the roasty, stout-like versions that are common from many North American craft brewers.” (full review)

Scotch-Irish Black Irish Plain Porter – “…roasty and slightly sweet malt notes off the top, followed by bitter cocoa, coffee and licorice, and finishing with a slightly lactic sourness.” (full review)

Happy Anniversary to a True Original

urquell.jpgTomorrow is Thanksgiving here in Canada, and I also took Friday off work, so I’m taking a bit of time this 4-day weekend to catch up on some blog reading. One thing I’ve just come across is Stephen Beaumont’s post to On The House last Monday where he mentions that October 4th (or maybe 5th) marked the 165th anniversary of the classic Czech lager Pilsner Urquell.

Here’s Stephen’s condensed version of the origin of the beer with the name that translates to “original source”:

Prior to the development of Pilsner Urquell in the town of Plzen in 1842, all beer consumed world-wide was dark in color. New malting techniques that yielded a golden hued grain, however, made it possible for an imported Bavarian brewer by the name of Josef Groll to develop a beer both light in color and crystal clear. (Beer from the Middle Ages is thought to have been quite murky, which made it hardly attractive in the new transparent crystal drinking vessels that had begun to appear.) That beer, still brewed as Pilsner Urquell, became spiritual father to all the golden lagers that followed, from Bitburger to Stella to Budweiser to Victory Prima Pils.

What Stephen doesn’t mention is why Josef Groll was brought to Plzen in the first place. Quite simply, the citizens of Plzen were pissed off about the poor quality of the dark, murky ale that was available to them, and they started dumping barrels of it in the town square to make their point. This lead the town leaders to build a new brewery, and then hire Groll to create a new beer for them using the lagering methods that had recently been refined by Bavarian brewers.

While his beer was an instant hit, Groll himself was reportedly quite difficult to deal with, and when his contract with the city expired in 1845, it was not renewed. He returned to Vilshofen, the town where he was born, and soon took over his father’s brewery. He remained in the same town until his death in 1887, which fittingly took place while drinking a beer in his local pub, Wolferstetter Keller.

Getting back to the beer itself: There are those who have been drinking longer than me who claim that Pilsner Urquell is no longer the beer it once was. Now owned by international giant SABMiller, the beer is no longer fermented in the traditional oak vessels but rather in modern stainless steel, a change that was made roughly 15 years ago. Production of the beer has also been expanded by brewing some in another SABMiller-owned facility in Poland.

Moves like this have angered purists, but to me, what’s important is whether or not the beer is any good. And to my palate, Pilsner Urquell is still a benchmark beer. Having never tried it before the move to steel fermentation tanks, I have no idea how today’s beer compares to the oak-fermented version, but it’s still one of my favourite lagers.

And the fact that something like 90% of the beer consumed in the world today is trying to emulate it (albeit, most of it doing so very poorly) must count for something, mustn’t it?

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.

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Beer & BBQ: Two Great Tastes That Taste Great Together

As I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past, I was a pescetarian until a few months ago. I had been so for a number of years, not because I have a problem with animals dying for human consumption per se, but because I have a lot of issues with the factory farming industry that produces most of the meat consumed in North America. (OK, there was also the fact that my wife dropped meat from her diet before I did and stopped cooking it for us, and since I’m a lousy cook, it seemed easiest just to give it up as well.)

Earlier this year, however, I decided to start eating meat again for a number of reasons. I won’t go into all of them here, but I will admit that at least some of it was due to me quite simply having cravings for meat more and more often. I nearly caved a couple of times, and then finally fell off the wagon when I was given the opportunity to attend a Brooklyn Brewing dinner at beerbistro back in February where the menu featured many delicious meaty courses.

Since then, I’ve been eating meat on an occasional basis, most often at dinners or events that I’m invited to attend via Taste T.O. or Bar Towel. One of the most recent of these was a lunch earlier this week at Steam Whistle Brewery featuring the succulent creations of Canada’s reigning Grand BBQ Champions, Team Cedar Grilling. Consisting of Steve Adams, Daryl Maybanks and Mike Adams, the Team Cedar trio are a non-profit team who depend on sponsorship to defray their travel and equipment costs (although the $6500 they won a couple of weeks ago probably helps as well – congrats, guys!). Hence their partnership with Steam Whistle who not only hosted this little media get-together, but who also have their beer featured in several of the Team’s recipes.

Held on Steam Whistle’s sunny patio just south of the CN Tower, the lunch started with Cedar Planked Garlic Shrimp with Asiago Gratin served to us right off the planks. There were also an array of salads available, but as we started spooning them on to our plates, one of the guys shouted over that we’d better not eat too much as there was a lot more to come from the grill.

Like, for example, their award winning Parrot Sticks. These are chicken wings that are stretched to their full length and skewered, resulting in a sort of wing-meets-kebab thing that looks kinda funny but tastes damn good, especially when dipped in the accompanying Steam Whistle Chicken Sauce.

Of course, what we really wanted to try were the ribs, and when they finally made it off the grill, they didn’t disappoint. Prepared using the team’s Steam Whistle BBQ Sauce recipe, they were juicy and tender and bone-sucking good. So good, in fact, that they made the Pulled Pork Sandwiches that followed almost anti-climatic. Which is too bad, because the meat itself was possibly the best pulled pork I’ve ever had, it was just let down a bit by the doughy supermarket style bun it was served on and the odd inclusion of cole slaw on the sandwich. Still, I ended up finishing it even though my stomach was threatening to explode from the previous courses and the couple of beers I’d already put back.

Speaking of the beer – as you’d expect, Steam Whistle Pilsner was the only beer option. This beer/brewery gets a lot of flak from the beer geek community due to the fact that it’s a fairly simple, straight-forward, crowd-pleasing lager. But I’ve defended them in the past, and will continue to do so now. Sure, it’s a simple beer, but it’s also a very well-made and refreshing one, and if you drink it cool and fresh – such as the less-than-a-week-old bottles we were served to us at the brewery – it’s a perfect accompaniment to eating some killer BBQ on a warm patio.

For those in Toronto, Team Cedar Grilling will be appearing at the Fort York BBQ Championships on Sept. 14-16. If you’re a fan of the swine and the smoke, you should definitely plan to be there.