Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anchor Steam Christmas Ale 2009

Anchor Christmas Ale 2009

I am a little late with this brief note on a great holiday beer, but there is still some of it floating around the market and it's worth picking up to drag out your festivities for a few more days! Anchor is a pioneer in the U.S. microbrew scene, making its first beer (Anchor Steam) in 1896. However, in my opinion it is Anchor's Christmas Ale that is their true paean to craft brewing. This is a special beer that sees a change in recipe every year and carries with it significant aging potential. They also change their label every year, but consistently keep the hand drawn tree as the basis. This year the tree was based on San Francisco's famous Monterey Cypress near where the Panhandle meets Golden Gate Park. The 2009 ale is the 35th edition of Anchor's Christmas Beer.

This year the recipe is a darker sweeter style (as opposed to last year's piney version), with a nose filled with spice, cloves, and a hint of forest nettles. The palate returns some pine, but also plenty of clove, cinnamon and nutmeg, rendering this a distinctly Christmas beer rather than simply a dark winter ale. I love the mouthfeel and balance of this beer even more, and it is very drinkable at a modest 5.5% ABV. In fact, I would say this is the best and most drinkable Christmas beer I've yet had (with Taylor Crossing's Christmas Cake Ale poured at Caskival this year in second place). The only thing better is some of the older renditions of this same beer.

$17.50 / 6 pack at BCLDB and private liquor stores (Viti, Brewery Creek, etc.)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Great Divide Brewing Company Hibernation Ale


On my recent trip down to Seattle I picked up a bunch of winter and Christmas beers from some of the very excellent U.S. microbrews available south of the border. Here we have a very interesting hybrid style ale from Great Divide of Denver, Colorado, a great brewing city and state.

This is an awesome winter ale. I would describe its flavours like a hybrid between an imperial stout and a barley wine, but dialed back a notch. In other words, the alcohol is lower (8.7%), the texture less viscous - but, the flavours are all still really intense and warming. I loved the notes of caramel, smoke, cigar, bitter chocolate and spices. I also love how Great Divide takes pairing beer and food so seriously that they print suggestions on the side of their bottle, such as: romano, aged hard Dutch cow's milk cheese (gouda), grilled beef tenderloin, and apple crisp with ginger ice cream. Yum? Yum.

You can get this in six packs down in the U.S. for a very reasonable price and it kicks the ass out of any of the B.C. brewed winter beers that are actually bottled up here. And, that's the sad thing about living in B.C. for a beer lover. But you cannot blame the brewers entirely. When I was at the recent Dix winter Caskival (an awesome event) I tasted several excellent B.C. brewed winter beers, and one absolutely outstanding one (The Christmas Cake Ale from Taylor's Crossing). This was bittersweet, though, because none of the really good beers are bottled.

I'm trying to figure out the reasons for this right now and maybe some CAMRA members or brewers could leave a comment if they read this. But, from what I can tell there are two main factors. 1. The expense of bottling, particularly when the brewers work at Mark Anthony Brew Pubs with no bottling facilities; and 2. the perception that B.C. lacks beer culture and beer understanding and so would not buy these beers. Sure, B.C. is still miles behind the great U.S. beer states like California and Washington where it is not frowned upon to be a beer snob and a food snob all in one (oh and wine snobs are allowed to join in the beer snob fun too). BUT, given the recent evidence of a growing CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) movement in the province and the efforts of great beer stores like Brewery Creek, Firefly and Viti, there is certainly a market for better B.C. brewed beer (made with care and dedication), and there is no reason why B.C. could not eventually take on Quebec for the title to best Canadian Beer Province. Why do the French have to have all the fun? Let alone those pesky Americans! A request to B.C. brewers: please, please, start bottling your special one-off beers. Doing so will completely change the face of the B.C. beer scene.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$2 / bottle in Seattle (i.e. $12/6 pack) - try and get that price in B.C. for a great beer (thanks insane 117% BCLDB markup)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

De Proef Signature Ale with Port Brewing


A beer from the brewmaster's collaboration series, this ale was a joint effort between Dirk Naudis of De Proef and Tomme Arthur from Lost Abbey/Port Brewing. Both of these guys are lauded in the craft beer community, and the idea of a collaboration between them on a crazy hybrid Belgian and American wild ale is pretty exciting. I've had and written up the second beer in this series made by De Proef and Jason Perkins of Allagash. It was awesome. This confirms the trend.

This is a one off brew, and a great hybrid style with a nose of banana, malts, and nice sugar and fruit esters. The palate was fantastic with banana, some floral notes, slight hops, and underlying herbs. This is very Belgian like in some ways, but has a fresh hops characteristic that is unlike most Belgians. This is totally different from the Allagash version, and had nice earthy funky notes underlying the palate that come from the wild brettanomyces yeast. But, don't let the hint of funk scare you off - this is very balanced and not as volatile as some of the crazier wild ales. Big and flavourful, and yet very unique. 8.5% ABV. This is a great brew, and I'm greatly looking forward to the next offering, a collaboration between De Proef and Bell's brewing.

$15 USD at Healthy Spirits

Friday, December 4, 2009

North Coast Old Rasputin 12th Anniversary Russian Imperial Stout


In an exciting development, I am writing up this beer procured not on a trip to the United States, but rather on a trip two blocks away from my work at a local beer speciality shop. That's right, a true blue bourbon barrel aged stout has made it across the border and into our stores. I've been ranting about the beauty of wood aged beers ever since I lived down in California where such things are not strange oddities but much loved companions. If the recent shipment of this rare beer from North Coast is any indication, we may be able to begin moderate rejoicing here in British Columbia.

Not only is this a proper wood aged stout, it's an absolutely fantastic one, made using the standard Old Rasputin IRS, an outstanding 'standard' version of the style, as the base. The Old Rasputin has been available in this market for at least a year, and that was exciting enough in itself for BC beer lovers. The 12th anniversary, however, takes the joy to the next level.

This beer smells like goodness: vanilla, biscuit, nuts - all very clear bourbon notes. However, you can also smell the nice roasty elements of the malt through all this. And, unlike some beers made in this style, the Old Rasputin 12th Anniversary is balanced and does not hide the stout beneath the wood. The palate is out of this world yummy: hazlenuts, candied almonds, vanilla, biscuits, and roasted coffee and dark chocolate from the malts. While this will definitely get better with age, it's also drinking great right now and is smooth and creamy and hides its 11% booze very well. An impeccably balanced beer and one of the best barrel aged stouts I've had the fortune of tasting.

The one downside here is the price of this beer in this market which is more than double what you would pay for this in the U.S. - of course due to the high markups and taxes from our ludicrous liquor distribution and regulation system. However, even at the crazy inflated price, this beer is a must buy for any beer lover in the province. Get it for a christmas gift if you have to, but do yourself a favour and drink this beer. There is a reason I'm giving it my highest rating.

$26 at Viti and Brewery Creek

NB: I have to apologize for all the superlatives, but this is truly both an exciting beer and an exciting moment for the BC craft beer community. I plan to help support this movement by attending tomorrow's Winter Caskival at DIX in downtown Vancouver. I hope some of you can join me.

Driftwood Sartori "Wet Hopped" Harvest I.P.A.


Today I stopped by the 100th cask rotation at the Alibi Room here in Vancouver for a special selection of BC microbrewed beers. The place was hopping and filled with both beer geeks and beer industry, including many of the brewers themselves. There were quite a few one off beers being poured, but the one that really stood out to me was this unique "wet hopped" India Pale Ale from BC's newest brewery Driftwood.

"Wet hops" refers to the fact that this beer is brewed with fresh hops transported (while in water) directly from the hop farm to the brewery. Typically hops are dried before they are shipped and then added to the liquid product of the mash. Using fresh hops is uncommon, and adds a unique aromatic quality to the beer.

This particular I.P.A. had tons of flowers, fresh citrus and subtle forest notes. The cask made it very smooth drinking, but did not dull the punch of the hops. The hops were perfectly in balance and the IBU's present but in check. I'm not sure how to describe this beer any better, but I can say that I think this is by far the best I.P.A. I've had from British Columbia and I think it can compete with some of the best examples from the U.S. This beer is a superb accomplishment for such a young microbrewing industry, and if it is a sign of things to come, then the B.C. beer scene is about to get a heck of a lot more exciting.

$6/pint - bottles no longer available, but hopefully will appear again next year.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Brouwerji Fonteinen Doesjel Old Lambic in Oak 2006


This Gueze Lambic is from the legendary Fonteinen of Belgium, who have become even more legendary after a warehouse fire destroyed their entire stock about a year ago. As a result, their beer prices shot up and the beers themselves became rare specialty commodities that collectors now prize highly.

Lucky for me, the last time I was in San Francisco, I stopped by Healthy Spirits, an awesome beer store in the Castro district, and found a bottle of this taunting me with its simple beauty. So yes, like any faithful beer geek I picked up a bottle.

I opened this a few months later, and found it to be one of the best Geuze style lambics I have had the fortune to taste. The nose has the classic notes of must, funk, damp cellar, oak, wood, and some dried fruits. This is very expressive aromatically and has crazy nuances that newer Geuzes just don't reveal.

The palate had citrus, dried apricot, wood, forest, and pine needles all mashed together in a very robust, and yet low alcohol, potion of goodness. The beer was smooth, slightly off-dry and had great complexity. In the end, it confirmed the legend - a rare and singular offering. If you ever see one of these beers pick it up immediately, you will not be disappointed.

$15 / 375ml at Healthy Spirits

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brooklyn Brewing Black Chocolate Stout 06-07


I'm not sure that I've ever written up what is perhaps not only my favourite go to stout, but also one of the best balanced and most ageable stouts out there. Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout is actually not brewed with chocolate, but rather with copious amounts of chocolate malts. One can certainly taste and smell all levels of dark chocolate in this wonderfully made beer. Further, as part of an ongoing debate on twitter about chocolate and wine, I want to come out on my blog to say that in my opinion no alcohol pairs better with chocolate than stouts. The huge range of stouts is versatile and able to pair with the huge range of chocolate styles, which is precisely what I did with this amazing stout that I aged for 3 years before consuming.

The nose on the stout has vanilla, caramel, loads of chocolate and heavy roasted coffee. The palate is ridiculously smooth after 3 years in the bottle, and tasted like cigar, caramel, sugar, wood, dark roasted coffee and bitter cacao. These high alcohol stouts really only show their full potential when stored away for at least a year, many improving well beyond that. For me, big imperial stouts are the perfect dessert drink, much more so than sweet wines. 10% ABV.

$2.75/375ml at BCLDB (for the current release 08-09)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Brasserie d'Ecaussinnes La Penneffoise


British Columbia has recently begun to improve its selection of craft beers, which is nice to see. However, most of them are merely solid but not overly exciting examples of a particular style. Perhaps I was spoiled by spending 5 months embroiled in California's thriving micro-brew culture, but my exposure to fine beers in the U.S. changed my perception of what is truly great.

This is all the more reason why I think this Belgian 'prune' beer is super. It has a level of complexity and experimentation that you rarely find in the BC market, and, well, it's just really darn tasty. Being a fruit beer, some might expect this to be based on a weisse style or on the lambic style. It's not really either of those - instead being a hybrid between a belgian strong ale and a wild ale.The nose on this is fantastic: similar to a geueze lambic or a beer made with brettanomyces yeast, this also has a nice wet forest/cellar smell while pushing subtle belgian fruit esters forward. The prune aromas is subtle but present.

Best of all, this beer is not made with added sugar or in a sickly fruity sweet style. You can still taste the prune and the fruit, but the beer actually finishes dry and wonderful. There is a degree of complex malting going on here that is similar to what Allagash or Lost Abbey do with their beers and something you don't taste very much in BC. This is very full and robust while being light and creamy in the mouth. The 8% ABV is completely unnoticeable. I'm sipping on this right now and thinking "I love this beer". If you want to taste a real beer in Vancouver, do not pass this by.

Excellent and Highly Recommended Value
$15 / 750ml at Viti

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Shmaltz Brewing Coney Island Human Blockhead

I've written about the diversity of lager before, and the unfortunate dominance of mass market beer in the lager department. Shmaltz Brewing is taking the challenge, though, with their Coney Island line of lagers in a myriad of styles. Unfortunately, this particular iteration did not work for me and felt quite unbalanced compared to the basic Coney Island Lager or the Albino Python.


This poured a very dark cloudy reddish-brown with a big 1.5" head: not at all reminiscent of your standard macro-lager. The nose was perhaps a bit too malty, though, and that sweetness persisted on the palate with cherries, banana, rootbeer, brown sugar and spice. This beer is like an overly-happy person who seems great at first glance but begins to wear on you at an exponential rate. The beer is pretty tasty on the first sip, but loses its charm with a few more. It's too bad, but I still highly recommend Shmaltz' other lager offerings.

$9/22oz @ Brewery Creek

Southern Tier Hopsun Summer Wheat Ale

It's somewhat ironic that this review finally made it up on the site one day after Vancouver's first major rain storm of the fall/winter doldrums. So, if you'll excuse my seasonal anachronism I'll tell you that I was expecting a lot more from this wheat beer from New York.

The nose on this hybrid style was big and hoppy with notes of Belgian fruit esters, and unfortunately a weird cardboard edge. The dry hops continued on the palate, with hints of pine needles. But, the hops really make this beer unbalanced for some reason and the cardboard taste persisted over two bottles, making me wonder if the entire shipment to Vancouver was off. This is simple but not really that summery - which perhaps is appropriate for this tardy review.

$4/333ml @ Brewery Creek

Monday, August 24, 2009

North Coast Pranqster

Made in a Belgian blonde ale style, this very well crafted beer has become my new standby blonde. Pouring with a murky and yeasty colour, this beer has a pleasant deep straw colour and a small but persistent head. The nose has apple, banana, tropical fruits and cream, while the palate is filled with tropical fruits and is rich and full with an opulent creamy texture. This is a flavourful blonde ale with more richness than is standard from Belgium, and some interesting herbal bitterness on the finish. A highly drinkable beer, the Pranqster is food friendly for simple French or Belgian inspired fare.

Very Good
$10 / 4 pack of 333ml bottles at BCLDB (more at private stores)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Oud Beersel Oud Geuze

Lambic is a kind of belgian beer made in a style with which most people are likely to be unfamiliar. Sour and tart on the palate, and often with funky, even bready, flavours, lambics can be an acquired taste for beer drinkers. However, these days sour beers inspired by the traditional Belgian lambics are becoming all the rage in the US microbrewing scene and have precipitated a wave of impressive beers from the likes of Russian River, Lost Abbey, etc.

However, even with all the excellent sours being made in the US, it is nice to go back to the source and try a traditional blended unflavoured geuze lambic (made from aged and young lambic and no added fruit). Further, given BC's severe lack of microbrews and interesting beers, it is nice to see a properly made (i.e. sour) gueze lambic on the shelves in the province.

This particular lambic had a nose with bread, funk, green apple, dry lager yeast, lemon and spice. The palate is sour, but also balanced with funky earth, must, bread and a ton of yeast flavours (kind of like rising bread smell). While not for all, this is a beer that anyone with an adventurous palate should taste and it is certainly an excellent authentic version of the Belgian lambic. And, as an added bonus, it pairs brilliantly with stilton cheese.

$9/375ml at Viti or Brewery Creek

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Shmaltz Brewing Coney Island Lager

With the recent spate of fall-like weather in Vancouver, a lager may be the last thing on your mind right now. For the beer geek, the lager has become emblematic of big corporate beer and its quest to dominate the realm of flavour with bland swill. Fortunately, both the weather monger and the corporate beer hater have something to appreciate in this micro-brew from New York. Shmaltz brewing, also producers of the HeBrew series, uses the Coney Island label to exclusively release lagers. Contrary to popular belief in the beer geek world, lagers are not de facto flavourless and boring. In fact, lagers constitute quite a large category of beers unto themselves, similarly to ales, and the style should not be written off quickly. Lagers are traditionally made in spring and cold-stored over the summer months and come in various styles including Helles, Bock, Marzen and Pilsner. Further, lager can range from dark and malty, to hoppy, to light and dry, the lattermost being the dominant style in the US macro-brewing market.

This particular lager is on the darker and maltier side of the scale, with a nose of sweet malts, fruit, bread, sugar, banana bread and candy apple. Interestingly, the palate is almost Belgian-like and has an incredibly full bodied texture and really highlights the bready elements of the beer. Despite its massiveness, I also enjoyed some slight floral notes on the palate and its very clean dry finish, which also happens to make it outstanding for pairing with fuller bodied spicy foods. I suggest trying this beer with some East Indian cuisine or a spicy sausage, and I hope that any beer afficionado is willing to give this beer a try in order to revitalize the unfairly demonized world of the lager.

Very Good+
$9 / 22oz at Brewery Creek

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Russian River Brew Pub

So after all the festivities of #WBC09 Graham, Sean and I decided to hit up Russian River Brewing before heading back to San Francisco. And, as the saying goes it takes a lot of good beer to make a good wine. If all beer were as good as Russian River, well we might never get to the wine. Here are two video reviews of two fantastic sour beers brewed right in Sonoma. Cheers!

P.S. Thanks to Sean of Vinifico for providing the video equipment and editing these videos.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pelican Pub and Brewery MacPelican's Scotch Style Ale

With our arcane alcohol importing laws in BC it is an exciting event to see a new brewery on the shelves. Oregon's Pelican Brewery has recently arrived in Vancouver with 3-4 offerings. I had heard good things when I was living in California but never had the chance to try anything from Pelican, until now.

The colour on this scotch ale is a golden brown, which is metaphorically suggestive of the malty nose with its great notes of honey and walnuts. On the palate this has great balance for a scotch ale (many of which can be too sweet), and has a nice creamy texture for smooth drinking. When sipping I noticed flavours that remind me of lager yeasts along with nuts and honey. Easy drinking and food friendly, but also simple. Enjoyable but not mind blowing.

Very Good
$8 / 22oz Bomber at Brewery Creek

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre

Having tried and very much enjoyed the super version of this beer (Raison D'Extra) I was looking forward to seeing how the regular version faired. Happily I can say it did quite well in both drinkability and pairability, two essential categories for a great beer.

This poured a cloudy raisin brown with a fairly small head. While the aromas were subdued I did get soft malts and sweet sugar on the nose. Made with beet sugar and raisins, this beer is really quite unique flavour wise with cigar, tobacco, malts, and touches of raisin and beet on the finish. This was a smooth and full ale with some interesting components that actually came together quite well. Further, this was a great treat with cod, and complimented the fish's richness well. A true food ale.

Very Good+
$5/333ml at Brewery Creek (and other private stores)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Green Flash West Coast IPA

Green Flash is an extremely solid San Diego based brewer that has recently entered the BC market with some of their well crafted year round offerings. However, given the dearth of quality beer in Vancouver Green Flash always seems to disappear quickly from the city's best beer stores. Lucky for me, I got one of four six packs of the West Coast IPA from Brewery Creek a few weeks ago.

This is a very west coast IPA in style: extremely dry with pretty much no residual sweetness or maltiness. The nose had pine, grapefruit and a nice floral element. The pine continued heavily on the palate, with the addition of crisp bitter citrus rind. Without much malt to balance out the hops, this is for hop-heads who love a dry-hopped style. Nonetheless, Green Flash does not go over the top like some brewers that tend to create hop extract rather than beer. And, the beautiful clean and crisp finish makes this ideal for the summer.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$17 / 6-pack at Brewery Creek

Saturday, June 27, 2009

North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout

Stout - isn't it summer? You wouldn't know that given the last week of weather here in Vancouver. Hence, I pulled out and revisited an old favourite from California brewer North Coast (maker of other tasty beers such as Brother Thelonious).

Pouring with an awesome thick head, the nose on this was classic toasty caramel and heavy roast coffee. The palate expands on this and is very deep and intense: fresh coffee grounds, ash and cigar punctuate the viscous texture. Each flavour also manages to keep in balance with the others and the alcohol (at 9% abv) is not overly noticeable - a feature that will smooth even more with the proper aging. In the end, this is a very well made Russian Imperial Stout and a perfect standby for cold summer evenings.

Very Good+
$4/333ml at Brewery Creek, Viti, Liberty

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Caracole Troublette

Summer often demands wheat beer, but wheat beer in Canada can also often be disappointing or overly simple. I got this Belgian wheat ale on recommendation, and while not spectacular, it steps up to the plate as a good summer standard.

With a mellow and simple nose and palate this Belgian white ale had pineapple, orange, fennel, and soda pop. Light and smooth, this goes down easy at 5.5% abv. Maybe lacking a little depth and freshness (not sure how old this bottle is), I still recommend it for a basic summer beer that far surpasses the likes of BC brewed wheat ales.

Very Good
$4.50/333ml at Brewery Creek

Friday, June 12, 2009

Brooklyn Brewing Local 1

Brooklyn is one of those breweries that has helped spread the word about micro brewed beer. They have pretty good market penetration with their basic beers, which are all above average for the style. However, it is their specialty beers that really show their prowess.

The Local 1 is made in a Belgian Strong Blond Ale style and pours with a huge head. Proper carbonation can be hard to come by, but this is balanced just right and the bubbles add freshness to a pretty high alcohol brew. The nose has lots of Belgian Trippel notes - fruity esters, some rootbeer and cream. The palate has plenty of baking spice, licorice and candy floss. This is smooth and robust summer drinking, even at around 9% alcohol.

Very Good+
$15 / 750ml at Brewery Creek

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dogfish Head India Brown Ale

Dogfish Head are surprisingly consistent in quality across their huge selection of microbrewed beer. The India Brown Ale is somewhat of a hybrid between a creamy English style ale and a malty strong ale. Brewed with brown sugar, this has a significant texture that is smooth and viscous.

On the palate, the caramel and brown sugar flavours from the malts develop into a smoky and slightly bitter herbal finish. This is quite a robust beer at 7.2% ABV, but is balanced enough to go with many foods. I could see this with a pot pie or some sort of stew. And, a few days after drinking this I find myself repeatedly craving more. Always a good sign.

Very Good+
$5/375ml at Brewery Creek

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dogfish Head Red & White

This was an old bottle I had been storing for about a year: spoils from the Seattle International Beer Festival. Without comparison to a non-aged version it is hard to say what the effect was, but I can attest that this was very balanced for such high alcohol, which I find a common occurrence when you age such beers for about a year.

The spicy nose gave way to malted spice, bread, cake, orange peel, caramel sauce and maybe correander on the palate. Complex and well balanced, this went down super easily on a hot summer day. This was perhaps due to the distinct juicyness which suggested freshly pressed cherries and strawberries - a factor likely the result of the added pinot noir juice. The finish is refined and malty without being too sweet. Excellent stuff. 10% ABV.

Very Good+
Around $15-20 USD I think.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Deschutes Mirror Mirror 2009

Here we have a highly anticipated beer from Deschutes (of Bend, Oregon) in the same series as The Abyss, an extremely well respected barrel aged Imperial Stout. This, on the other hand, is a barrel aged barley wine - a suped up version of the Mirror Pond ale.

There is almost a Belgian element to the nose with solid fruit esters, candy and cherry. Upon first tasting this I realized that Deschutes' recommendation to age the beer for at least one year was warranted - while carbonated it was clear the yeast had yet to fully activate. But, unlike the Angel's Share, I have no doubt that this will have perfect carbonation in a year.

The palate here is really fantastic with raisins, caramel, wood, white chocolate and some grain flavours. This is very smooth and balanced and has a wonderful creamy texture. Even with all its flavour, this does not go over the top nor is it boozy. This puts it well ahead of the Angel's Share, and I think it will end up being a better beer.

Excellent to Excellent+ (esp. with age)

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Lost Abbey Angel's Share 2008 (Brandy Barrel)

Angel's share is somewhat of a specimen. Only available via mailing lists until this year, and now only in limited quantities at a few lucky beer stores. There is also a bit of a tumultuous story with the 2008, with reports of early bottling and unactivated yeast creating low carbonation levels. I was lucky enough to get 3 bottles of this stuff, one of which was put to the test through a preliminary assessment. The next two will be consumed at yearly intervals.

I can certainly attest that the carbonation tales are true: the yeast has either not had enough time to fully activate or there was some problem in bottling these. Nonetheless, this is still a good beer. The nose offers vanilla, chocolate, figs, raisins and a healthy dose of brandy.

The palate has loads of stewed fig, chocolate, port-like dark fruits, and a heavy brandy flavour. The alcohol is extremely noticeable at 13% abv - but as with many high gravity beers this should mellow with time. A challenging beer to consider this early, but thus far I have had better beer for a lot less money. Then again, if you drank a great Hermitage too young you might have a similar notion. Time shall tell.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$34 at Ledger's Liquors

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Russian River Beatification Batch 3

Another experimental beer from California - this time a cross between a lambic and a wild ale. This is one sour puppy with an apple heavy nose and a palate with pineapple, a touch of vanilla, lime and lemon. This is woody and very clean and has great layering - but man does it make you pucker. For me that's fantastic, others may be put off by the sourness, even though it is by no means out of balance. Another extremely drinkable beer with a reasonable ABV (around 6%), this is creamy with some obvious lactic notes. Love it.

$23/750ml at City Beer

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Lost Abbey Saint's Devotion

I spent the last few days in California with a good friend of mine formerly of Vancouver and now of Chicago. Fortunately, he is also a beer afficionado so it was time to open some goodies I had been saving. Lost Abbey's Saint's Devotion is a wild version of their standard Devotion ale, spontaneously fermented with Brettanomyces yeast. The only way to detect the difference is the brown vs. green label: clearly a sign of the 'leetness' of this beer. I was lucky enough to pick up this rare beer at the Lost Abbey night at Toronado during SF beer week.

A yeast-tactic nose that smells like baking bread already promised some rambunctiously funky times ahead. The palate was certainly wild with lots of funky bread, must and apple notes. The bitter finish was slightly out of balance and less smooth than some of the other wild ale offerings we sampled during the week; however, this is an eminently drinkable beer with a clean and sharp palate. Air certainly helps to mellow this beer and warmth brings out the full complexity of flavour and balances the 'wildness' with the rest of the beer. 6.25% ABV.

Very Good+
$20 at Toronado

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Greatest Beer in the World?

Today was a momentous day - the day I say goodbye to 10 years of post-secondary education and hello to my new Juris Doctor degree: yes, law school is now complete. As with any such momentous occasion, celebration must be extended over many days. This, given I just finished an exam a few hours ago, is my amuse bouche.

Westvleteren is considered by many to be not only the greatest Trappist brewery in the world, but also the producer of two of the world's best beers: Westvleteren 8 and 12. For those not in the know, Trappist breweries were traditionally operated by monks who use the proceeds to support their ascetic existence. Many of the Trappist breweries are now contracted commercial operations. Westvleteren, however, remains true to its origins. As such, one can only obtain the beer at the monestary on select days. Furthermore, the monks brew a limited amount of beer with no plans to expand. They make enough money to meet their needs and that's that. Accordingly, Westvleteren beers are extremely hard to come by and are perhaps some of the rarest in the world. Lucky for me I got my hands on two bottles of glorious monk's brew.

Westvleteren 8

Made in a dubbel style, this is really unlike any dubbel I've ever tasted. With a small but persistent head, this pours a cloudy dark brown in the glass. The nose is really spicy with some subtle fruit ester notes like plum and fig. Tasting this is quite unlike any other beer really - it's as if my Belgian dubbel jumped into bed with a wet temperate forest and produced a love child. The palate is slightly medicinal, has lots of spice and herbs, and finishes with a decent but very unique hop kick of grass and earth. I also got bread notes here, likely from the yeast. This beer is not at all sweet like many other Belgian beers, instead treading the line between subtle malt sweetness and the bitter complexity of multiple hop profiles. The finish here is disturbing in its length, which I measured at around 2-3 minutes. But, that's what hops can do. The booze is also very nicely integrated. In the end this has a sense of balance, restraint and provides the drinker with a profoundly refreshing dryness unheard of in Belgian dubbels. Just as the monk's would like it.


Westvleteren 12

The granddaddy of all Quadrupels and considered by many to be the best beer in the world. Unfortunately for me, my bottle had some carbonation issues which ensured less aromatics due to a dissipated head. Nonetheless, this was just as unique as its less alcoholic brethren. The beer poured a malty burnt caramel brown in the glass - almost like liquified caramelized sugar. The nose had dates, raisins and caramel and promised more depth and intensity than the 8. Accordingly, this beer is distinctly sweeter than the 8 but still a lot less sweet than many Quadrupels with its very full palate of raisins, dates, figs and caramel. This also had a moderate hop finish - less hoppy than the 8 - that added forest, mushroom, leaves and dirt. I am not sure why my bottle had so little carbonation, but overall this beer has a great fullness and completeness to the flavours, which is quite uncommon. There really is so much going on in this beer you can't grasp it all in only one bottle. Very good stuff, I only wish I got the fully carbonated experience.


In conclusion, what is so great about the Westy beers is their balance and their incredibly unique flavour profile. I've never tasted hops like this in a Belgian style beer and everything is put together with perfection as no element overwhelms the other. Many Quads and Dubbels rely so much on sweet malts and fruity yeasts that they lose a little complexity and completeness. That is not the case with these beers, which have every feature of the brewing process in perfect harmony: malt, hops and yeast as a choir rather than a rambling crowd. Are they the best beers in the world? I don't know - at least not for my palate. Are they incredibly unique and worth trying? Absolutely. A great treat for this great occasion.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stone Vertical Epic 07

Pouring with a moderate head, the colour on this beer is a cloudy molten yellow. Made in a belgian strong ale style. With a lot of spice, citrus, pineapple, banana and other tropical fruit on the nose, this smells fantastic and is amazingly layered. The palate was full bodied (I think about 9% abv), and yet smooth and creamy. I tasted the same flavours as on the nose, but think it is worth noting the very long lingering finish. Also, the flavour layering on the palate is really subtley integrated and the beer is exceptionally easy to drink. A fantastic effort.

$7/22oz at Ledger's Liquors

Stone Vertical Epic 08

Perhaps needing more age, this was made in a hoppier more American style than the 07. THe colour is straw-like and much lighter than the 07. The nose has a pleasant combination of floral and herbal hops and Belgian yeast aromas. The palate was quite a bit heftier than the 07, despite the colour difference, but it was also less complex and layered and the finish not as long (but I find this comes with age). While enjoyable, this just lacked the elegance of the 07, although in a year I bet this will be a very different beer.

Very Good to Very Good+
$6.50/22oz at Ledger's Liquors

Stone 12th Anniversary Bitter Chocolate Oatmeal Stout

With the hops shortage in 2008, Stone was forced to innovate to provide bitterness to its beers. They did that here by adding a lot of bitter chocolate, which as any beer afficionado knows, is the perfect pairing for stout.

The colour on this very high alcohol oatmeal stout (9% again) was very dark brown and pretty much opaque. The nose had plenty of chocolate, with some cherry, fig and coffee as well. There was a detectable note of alcohol lingering behind all those aromas. The palate was creamy and highly roasted. I suspect a lot of chocolate malts were used in this beast. With lots of mocha flavours, this beer does not taste overly alcoholic, despite noticeable traces. Essentially this is a very flavourful beer that does not yet have a lot of complexity but is certainly great for the price. Not to mention that paired with dark chocolate, this is just hedonistically loveable.

Very Good (will improve with age)
$6/22oz at Ledger's Liquors

Monk's Cafe Flemish Sour Ale

I love me a good sour ale, and the Flemish style is a great twist on the classics - one that is a good entry into sours generally with its balance of sour and slightly sweet. It's unfortunate that crappy sugared lambics have created a bad reputation for the sour genre, adding a cooler-style veneer to a drink that many have no idea was originally sour. While not a lambic, the Flemish sour has been given a similarly bad rap with the Duchesse du Borgogne, which is carmelly sweet.

This beer on the other hand is made in the traditional style started by Rodenbach. With not much head (1 inch that dissipates fast), this beer has a nose with lots of cherry, strawberry, and a little balsamic. The palate is light and fluffy in texture and has a great concentration of fruit in the mid-palate - lots of cherries and strawberries and a little forest underbrush. The finish is short, but the flavour is robust and the price is right. Highly recommended as an intro to the world of sour ale.

Very Good+
$3/11.2oz at Ledger's Liquors

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Russian River Redemption

It seems I'm on a bit of a beer run these days - I suppose leading up to American Craft Beer Week next week: a Congressionally declared event no less!

This particular beer is one of Russian River's basic offerings, although it doesn't quite live up to their other great everyday beers such as Pliny the Elder or Damnation. This is a Belgian blonde style ale that is actually a bit more lager-like than I expected. It tastes like citrus fruits and bread, with a little apple to round it out. There is a small hop kick and some herbs on the back end too.

This is very simple, but well made, well carbonated and good with food. My rating below reflects my attempt to be 'objective', although if I relied entirely on personal preference I would rate this lower since it's not so much my style.

Very Good
$8 / 750ml at Ledger's Liquors

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

De Proef Flemish Primitive Wild Ale Batch #1 "Pig Nun"

Adorned with some Hieronymus Bosch monstrosities, this ferral beer is made in a unique style of brewing created in Belgium where wild native yeasts are used to "spontaneously ferment" the beer, which here seems to have started out as a blonde strong ale. Each batch is nicknamed after one of the strange creatures on its label - in this case a pig wearing a nun's habit.

I think this particular bottle, which I acquired at a Toronado cellar sale, had lost a little integrity in the cork as it came out a little too easily and the carbonation wasn't quite what I had hoped, thus giving the beer a significantly smaller head than expected. Nevertheless, all the classic blonde ale character was in the nose with lemon, sweet malts, and licorice root. The palate was where all the wildness came out, which was lesser than I expected, but still fantastic: bread, grains, biscuits, and a touch of funk gave the citrus and root flavours a real kick. Amazingly, despite the high alcohol (9%) this was very drinkable and clearly could be a great session beer (other than getting you hammered quickly).

The finish was very dry, and as the beer warmed it developed and changed its flavour profile with some pretty interesting funky and farm-like elements that are hard to describe. This is a chameleon on the palate and should be experienced by anyone who takes beer seriously. An outstanding creation. I can't wait to try some of the more recent batches with (hopefully) better carbonation than my bottle.Note: De Proef also makes some great collaborative wild ales with American Brewers in its "signature series".

$15 at Toronado Cellar Sale

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Brew Dog Paradox Port Dundas Imperial Stout

Aged in port barrels. I found this very soft on the nose and somewhat closed. There were some strange metallic notes coupled with dried dark fruits (probably from the port barrels). The palate was broader with raisin, chocolate, caramel, and plenty of cigar and tobacco. Again, this was very smooth for a 10% beer, but I found it a bit one dimensional and less interesting than the Speyside. I also didn't get a lot of port characteristics on the palate. Maybe these would expand with age, but as of now this was a bit simple. However, as with the Speyside this paired amazingly with chocolate.

Very Good
$10 USD

Brew Dog Paradox Speyside Imperial Stout

Aged in whisky barrels. Sitting at 10% abv, the nose on this was very chocolatey and inviting with hints of whisky vanilla coming through. The palate was very smooth, with no noticeable alcohol and plenty of bitter chocolate, vanilla and herbs. This almost tasted like a 'cream soda' beer and was quite refined in taste, even with the candied elements. I appreciate that the booze was dialed back in the flavour (probably due to the barrel aging), but also how it gave thickness and body to the beer. The barrel aging is quite subtle and far less intense than some of the extreme barrel aged stouts from the US. And, as a bonus, this is a great pairing with chocolate.

Very Good+
$10 USD

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Russian River Damnation 23

Damnation 23 is essentially an oak chip aged version of Damnation, made every 23 batches. While oak chips in wine can produce some incredibly disgusting results, in the hands of a deft brewer, oak chips can add a subtlety, complexity and creaminess to a beer that is really quite exceptional. Luckily Russian River brewer Vinnie Cilurzo knows how to make beer and balance all the important elements.

The Damnation 23 smells a lot like a Belgian tripel, but is rounder and fuller on the palate, with an almost lactic quality to the beer. Pouring a moderately browned yellow, this had lots of herbs, citrus, cream and vanilla when tasted. There is really an amazing mouthfeel here, and the lactic qualities introduced by the oak chips give the beer an outstanding ability to pair with smoky BBQ flavour. A great way to make a trippel, and as with all Russian River beers, the carbonation is just about perfect.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$13/22oz at City Beer

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

De Dolle Brouwers Special Extra Export Stout

Speaking of beer, I'm in the mood to write a beer review, and this fascinating Belgian style stout, brewed at the behest of the Shelton Brothers Importers, is a great beer to write about. Strictly speaking this isn't a traditional Belgian style of beer, but was invented for the English market and re-invented for the US market. It's a remarkable combination of styles and De Dolle does a fantastic job here.

At 9% ABV this did not give off any overly alcoholic aromas or flavours. Rather this was metallic, herbal, and yeasty at the same time as having qualities similar to an oatmeal stout: roastedness and bitter chocolate and malts. The Belgian yeast strain used for this beer is clearly very good as the yeast elements are deep and complex. I also got candied fruits and raisins, but the bitter chocolate provided a great balance to those Belgian-like components. This is nicely carbonated and drinks great from around 54 degrees to 64 degrees. This is a wonderful and unique melding of styles and definitely the best Belgian style stout I've yet had.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$9/12oz at Healthy Spirits (SF)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Jolly Pumpkin Madrugada Obscura Dark Dawn Stout

One does not usually see a sour stout, so I was pretty excited to try this extremely dense brew. The first sip of this is very exciting - incredibly robust, deep and flavourful and yet unique. The sourness adds a simply wonderful edge to the otherwise dark roasty flavours of chocolate and coffee. The sourness cuts the heavyness that can weight down many stouts, and the much higher than average carbonation adds a great mouthfeel to this superbly crafted stout. A beer for the jaded palate.

$15 USD

Jolly Pumpkin La Roja

A perennial favourite of mine, La Roja is a flemish style red ale, but aged in oak. This is spicier and more hopppy than most Flemish ales, and distinctly on the woody over the fruity side of things. The nose is very rich, and the beer itself has great structured. As I mentioned, this is not at all sweet tasting and offers currants, lime and lemon zest with some secondary spice notes. This is a very tasty beer and pairs very well with chiles and Mexican food generally.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$10/22oz USD

Jolly Pumpkin Fuego del Otono

A fall/winter seasonal beer this is, brewed with chestnuts and spices. The nose is very much like an amber ale and is quite subtle. I didn't get any spices until the palate, which was mostly fruity with some twigs and dried indian spices like mustard seed and correander. The beer was on the bitter side, but still quite drinkable. In the end, though, this just is not as good as most of Jolly P's offerings.

Very Good
$15/22oz USD

Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca

I think wheat ales and sour flavours go absolutely fantastic together, and this is no exception. Very wit-like on the nose with spice, pepper and yeast, this is light on the palate and extremely refreshing. Correander, orange and lemon give this a tart and yet alive feeling on the palate. Smooth and balanced, this is a superb sour wit.

$12/22oz USD

Jolly Pumpkin Bam Noire Dark Farmhouse Ale

Very Belgian yeasty on the nose with banana, malts and caramel, this is distinctly in a dark farmhouse style, almost like a Belgian brown ale. Very sour on the palate, this has moderate bitterness and a nice mouthfeel. The smoky finish is pleasant. Overall a solid beer.

Very Good to Very Good+
$12/22oz USD

Dogfish Head Raison D'Extra

This is an extreme version of Dogfish Head's Raisin D'etre, a beer brewed with, yes, raisins. I've had both versions and am happy to report this is the better of the two. Almost like a barley wine, this is malty and sweet on the nose. The palate is distinctly raisin-y, but that adds quite a nice layer to the barley wine style body, with its strong alcohol. Well balanced, the alcohol is not dominating, even as it adds body. On a really basic level I enjoy this beer tremendously.

$9 USD

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rogue Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale

This is certainly a unique brew. If you ever wondered what a cross between a Japanese extra-dry beer and an American medium malt ale tasted like, this is for you. While I wouldn't call this astonishing, it certainly has a crispness that I really appreciate as highly food friendly, especially for sushi and sashimi, while also possessing a deeper complexity than standard Japanese beer. The malts bring more depth of flavour to the uber dry soba, and overall the combination produces a nicely balanced beer. Recommended with the appropriate food, but less so as a sipper.

Very Good
$8 at Liberty

Rodenbach Grand Cru

Having had the Rodenbach red ale a couple weeks ago at City Beer, I had to try this very rare Grand Cru from them - same beer but aged in oak. And, wow was it good. Like the red ale, but with more complexity, roundness and balance. Aged in oak for 8 months, the palate was very smooth and full with apple, pomegranate, dragon fruit, and blueberry. Awesome!

Excellent to Excellent+
$12 a bottle

Russian River Damnation

Russian River is a sonoma brewery making a very nice quality range of distinctive and yet flavourful beer. The Damnation is in the style of a Belgian Wit, and had a great not-too-sweet palate of spices like cloves and pepper. Drinking very smoothly, this is a good Belgian for those who don't love Belgian sweet malts, but enjoy the yeastyness.

Very Good+
$3/pint at Happyhour (normally $4) at Toronados (San Francisco)
$8/22oz at the store

Port Brewing Older Viscocity Ale 2008

Old Viscosity is a super intense dark stout. Older viscosity is Old Viscosity aged in Bourbon barrells. mmmmm. Wow, what a great beer: vanilla, caramella, brown sugar/molasses on the palate - but less creamy and vanilla-intense than the Goose Island I reviewed earlier. There is also a very interesting herbaciousness on the thick and syrupy palate. At 12% abv, you've got to drink this slowly. But why would you want to do anything other than peacefully enjoy a sip here and there of this magnificently intense brew.

$20/bottle at Toronados (San Francisco)

Lindemans Cuvee Rene Gueuze Lambic

Gueuze lambic is a sour beer blended from aged and young lambic. Many people's familiarty with lambic will be with sweet fruity concoctions that taste nothing like beer. This particular lambic, as with any self-respecting lambic, is sour and a litte bretty. Here we had quite a yeasty complexion and a woody odour. However, disappointingly the malts used must have been cheap or crappy quality because this has an aftertaste similar to a commercial lager. Despite having layers of wood, earth and forest floor, the finish is frankly very unflattering. While certainly overall much better than a commercial beer, I have been fortunate to have many much better lambics.

$10/750ml at Whole Foods (San Francisco)

Heather Ale Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale

This is another of Heather Ale's traditional Scottish ales brewed with various alternatives to hops. The Scottish were not too fond of English brewing laws and decided to supplement their traditional alternatives to hops despite English laws to the contrary. Despite being just generally cool for their disobedience, the Scottish also create some pretty unique flavours with their hop alternatives.

For this particular beer, Elderberry is used instead of hops and produces quite a nice floral/fruity aroma. The beer is slightly smoky with moderately roasted malt flavours. There is a slight bitternes, but a lot less to traditional hops and it compliments the floralness nicely. This ale is a very unique combination of light and dark flavours and I think it's very tasty. Nevertheless, it might be a bit strange for some people and it was definitely too expensive where I got it. But if you are adventerous, like dark beers, and can find this for a better price than me, definitely give this one a whirl.

Very Good
$6 at Liberty

Heatherale Alba Scots Pine Ale

This is the second beer I tried from the Scottish ale sampler I bought from Liberty. This is a nicely coloured amber ale with a really nice pine and cedar fragrance in every sip and is very refreshing. Short, but smooth malty finish. Easy drinking and coming in at a surprising 7.5% alcohol for the lightness of the ale.

Very Good
$6 at Liberty

McEewan's Scotch Ale

On the trend of Scottish ale, this dark and strong ale is made in the malt-liquor style, meaning it is kind of cidery and sweet with a big dose of alcohol (8%). The ale consists of strong apple cider and molasses flavours built over a great deal of heat from the alcohol. It finishes with a slight bitterness that helps to temper the malt flavours. Overall this is pretty nice, although it is too sweet for my tastes. Ultimately I think it is over-priced for what it is and that there are much better beers available for the same price.

$16.99/6-pack at BCLDB

Young's Double Chocolate Stout

I hadn't had this in a while but felt like a stout tonight so I picked one up from my local BC liquor store. I forgot how tasty this was. Moderate roasted malts coupled with a nice creamy chocolatey flavour. The texture is great and this is very easy and very tasty drinking. Highly recommended as an every day tasty stout.

Very Good
$3.25 at BCLDB

Phillips "The Hammer" Imperial Stout

The first time I tried this beer I had it at room temperature, which tends to bring out the flavours a bit more in this style. It was very dark, chocolately, very roasted charcol-like flavours and also reasonably bitter. It wasn't my favourite Imperial Stout since I felt it lacked complexity and depth in the finish, despite being pretty well balanced.

However, when I drank another couple ounces of this cold it was quite a bit tastier and smoother, as the bitterness was tempered and the balance accentuated. So, while not a favourite of mine in this style, I think it might be a great place for someone new to heavier beers to start, given it is far more balanced and less alcoholic than many.Everybody raise a glass to getting better!

$7/650ml at Private Stores

Fuller's Vintage Ale 2007

I generally like Fuller's ales, and so when I saw this limited edition vintage ale at the local BC liquor store I was excited to give it a try. These are bottle fermeted and supposedly age well; however, I found this beer to be overly alcoholic and not balanced very well. Maybe with time the intense alcohol flavour will mellow, but this was very dissapointing and very overpriced.

$6.99 at BCLDB

J. W. Lees Harvest Ale Lagavulin Casks 2005

This beer defies a few preconceptions about what beer should be. Firstly, it is bottle conditioned and aged. Secondly, it is aged in Scotch barrels from Lagavulin. This is unlike any beer that a non-aficionado will have ever tasted.

The nose is very rich, very malty and caramelly. But this belies what lies underneath the barley wine-like nose. That is, when you take a sip you are confronted with intense scotch smokyness, a bit of peat, and a smooth and incredibly complex brew. While malty, this is more like drinking a cross between beer and scotch than anything else. Perhaps a bit too sweet for some (who should then consider Ola Dubh beer), but undeniably unique, complex, and a paradigm-shifter.

Excellent to Excellent+
$14/375ml at City Beer

De Hemel Nieuw Ligt Grand Cru 2003

Another paradigm killer, but even more profound than the J.W. Lees. This beer is also officially billed as a Barley Wine, but it couldn't be further from the basic formula than it is. A dark brown, cloudy colour in the glass, the nose brought out a holy *#$(* moment when it mimicked a high quality Sauternes with its profound candied pear, apple, and grapefruit notes.

The palate was, simply put, insanely complex and deep. Layers and layers of honey, grapefruit, pear, and nuts. This is a bastard child of Sauternes and posseses an incredible balance of acidity and sweetness. Pretty much not only the best Barley Wine I've ever had, but maybe the best beer I've ever had. Who would have thought a 6 year old beer could kill it so well.

$10 at the Toronado beer sale (totally unavailable now)

Mikkeller Black

This beer defies description. And it defies your palate too, at every step. No one would ever think this were beer if you never told them - it's that unique. With a smell that overwhelms with soy sauce and chocolate fondue reduced with fine spirits this gets ever bigger and weirder in the mouth. Pouring jet black, this is huge as hell, atom dense, and has the intensity of a pure shot of espresso, but a bigger more engulfing mouthfeel. Sweet up front with lots and lots and lots of malts, the finish is astringent and bitter. Finishes with a scotchy smokyness. Some will definitely like that component, though. Really a love it or hate it drink, this pretty much makes evaluation impossible. A paradox of a beer. And the kicker? This is 17.5% ABV. This will ruin your liver.

$20/12oz at City Beer

Mikkeller Black Hole

I suppose one should call this a stout, but Mikkeller does not do much by the books. Apparently this is their attempt at reproducing Alesmith's famed Speedway Stout, which I have not been fortunate enough to try yet (although there is some hope). Nonetheless, this is an awesome super flavourful chocolate and coffee bean mash up. The malts are deep and complex, and the palate is thick and viscous. A subtle tinge of caramel or toffee glides through the dessert like palate. This beer has an incredible robustness, depth and balance. And it is the best I've had from Mikkeller. Pair this with rich meats and you will be in heaven, or at least lost in a gravitational abyss.

Excellent to Excellent+
$13/375ml at City Beer (San Francisco)

Mikkeller Big Worse Barley Wine

It seems as though the Scandanavians are becoming a mini-powerhouse in the world of craft brewing. Mikkeller, which I believe is Danish, has built a pretty solid reputation for themselves here in the US with an embrace of the extreme beer style that has provided the reputation of such vaunted brewers as Dogfish Head, Hair of the Dog, etc.

This particular barley wine is made on the more traditional malty-side, with quite an intense malty thickness to the palate. Luckily this is coupled with a nice crisp dry finish that rounds out the structure to a relatively balanced equilibrium. With orange peel and general fruit cake notes in the palate, despite being 12% ABV this is smooth, balanced and drinks very well, albeit you'll want to keep this at a sipping pace. Not the best barley wine I've had, but a very good example, and tasty enough to prompt me to indulge in future brews by Mikkeller.

Very Good to Very Good+
$12 for 375ml bottle at City Beer (San Francisco)

Dieu du Ciel Rosee D'Hibiscus

A pink semi-sour beer brewed with Hibiscus. Sour, floral and nutty I found the malts to be a bit weird. Up front it is a pretty decent beer and drinks easily. Furthermore, it has a nice acidity and drinks somewhat like a white wine (I recommend sour beers for Sauvignon Blanc lovers) However, the finish was all disjointed and, honestly, boring. Nice try, but not so much.

$5 at Brewery Creek

Dieu du Ciel Peche Mortel

For those who don't speak French - this beer can be translated as "mortal sin", and is a very rich and intense coffee stout with heavily roasted malts. Very robust on the palate, with chocolate and dark roasted coffee, this was very smooth and lingered pleasantly in the mouth. Not too bitter or too sweet, this surpasses many Imperial style stouts by its better balance. A great winter warmer.

$5 at Brewery Creek

Dieu du Ciel Route D'Epices

Spice route - an awesome spiced beer. Pepper for sure, but also cloves, nutmeg and other exotic spices in a medium-dark ale. Medium bodied, but packs a brilliant spicey and layered punch in the mid-palate. A fantastic spiced beer - perhaps the best in the style I have tasted.

$5 at Brewery Creek

Unibroue 17

I have lost my taste for Canadian beer as of late. Once getting my hands on quality American and Belgian microbrews, it became difficult to appreciate their usually lesser-made Canadian cousins. This beer, however, is an exception. Made in a style similar to a Belgian Quadrupel, this 10% abv dark belgian-style ale is brought to us by Unibroue on the occasion of its 17th Birthday.

I tasted sweet foral and root notes on this, much like many Belgian-style dark beers. However, the complexity of the flavours was deeper than usual and the beer much better balanced than many. The alcohol level also did not detract from the subtlety of the flavours, was not readily apparent, but was also not just masked by sweetness. I had this with a wonderful mango curry lamb sausage: a fantastic combination.

Very Good+

$8 at BCLDB Signature stores

Avery The Beast Grand Cru, Batch 4 2008

In one word: Massive. 16.3% abv. This is malty, thick, syrupy with deep flavours of caramel, brown sugar, cigar, tobacco and popcorn. Incredibly deep and full, this is surprisingly well balanced. A remarkable beer in its own right, and certainly unique.

Very Good+
$11/12oz at City Beer

Avery Samael Oak Aged Ale Batch 3, April 2007

This smells like heavily buttered popcorn, likely due to the heavy oak aging. This is a mind boggler - unique, woody, buttery as hell, but tasty despite its incredibly intense oakyness. For some reason the intense oak works a lot better than with wine. Drinkable, despite its very high alcohol at 15%, this will get bourbon lovers into beer. You can't call this 'nuanced', but you can certainly call it ball busting, and utterly singular. I commend Avery for their daring-do.

Very Good+ to Excellent
$9/12oz at Liquid Bottleworks

Avery Mephistopheles Stout Batch #3 November 2007

A crazy big beer at 16% ABV. That said, don't discount this as overly alcoholic. Rather, this has the proper amount of age to smooth that out to perfect levels. The nose here is like a vanilla caramel sunday. Chocolate and vanilla are quite evident on the palate, but surprisingly there is an edge of minerals and metal, which is quite unique and does not clash with the sweeter flavours. Caramel arises again on the finish. This is very very tasty, but I wouldn't call it utterly complex. That said, there is layering of flavour that exposes itself as the beer warms up, and this is certainly one of the best Imperial Stouts I've had. This is the best of the three Avery beers I've sampled, and that is no small feat.

$9/12oz at Liquid Bottleworks

Ommegang Three Philosophers 2008

Ommegang are a bit hit and miss for me - but this is probably their most solid beer I've had to date. A Quadrupel in style, but fused lightly with cherries, this has a lot of complexity and density for an average priced bottle of microbrewed beer.

The nose was very nice and quite expressive - traditional heavy malts coupled with distinctive belgian yeast (banana, root beer, etc.) However, the cherries are not just a gimmick, but add a dimension of complexity that brings out more complexity in the malt profile. The palate continues the promise of the nose, with a great smoothness despite the high ABV at 9.8%. Yet, there is also a drawn back bitter component that keeps this from being one of those overly sweet Quads. They must have kept the Ph low enough so the cherries wouldn't make this too sweet. And, to cap it all off, this has a tremendously long finish for a beer.

$10/750ml at Various US Stores

Telegraph Winter Ale

Here we have a very solid California beer maker who has yet to dissapoint me. This beer is a left over from the 'winter' season, with a very spiced character of orange, cinamon, nut meg and a little pine. This is very balanced and smooth with beautiful carbonation. The spicing is done perfectly, which is actually quite a difficult feat as many lesser winter or xmas ales can attest to. Complex, unique, and a perfect seasonal treat - when that time comes around again!

Very Good+
$8/650ml at CityBeer

Green Flash Grand Cru 2008

Yet another San Diego brewer who I think does a really fantastic job with Belgian style ales (and you can get their stuff in Vancouver). This Grand Cru is basically made in a quadrupel style similar to St. Bernardus. This has a sweet banana malt nose with raisins and chocolate. Deep and robust on the palate, this is well carbonated but not over carbonated (Belgian beer drinkers should know what I mean).

Surprisingly layered, I picked up tropical fruits like banana and coconut, as well as chocolate and a subtle leafyness. I think that leafyness, which adds a touch of bitterness, actually makes this quite a deep and complex beer that otherwise would be overwhelmed with sweet malt flavour. Between the Rochefort 10 and the St. Bernardus in terms of style and quality. 9.1% abv.

$8/650ml at City Beer

Ballast Point Seamonster Stout

One of the myriad of top notch San Diego craft brewer, Ballast Point has built a reputation for this little Imperial Stout. High carbonation for a stout, with roasted chocolate malts, coffee, and a bitter creamyness. This is also a fairly sweet sout - sort of like a chocolate sunday with bitter coffee beans crumbled on top. Enjoyable, but for me, a bit unbalanced between sweetness and bitterness. I would prefer either a rich heavy roasted dark style or a sweeter style buoyed by some oak aging.

Very Good to Very Good+
$8/650ml Bottle at City Beer (San Francisco)

Lost Abbey Serpents Stout

don't blog about beer too often, mostly due to the fact I used to consume a lot more wine than beer. Being in the US, however, has provided me with access to an incredible array of microbrews and so I've been tasting through quite a bit of fantastic stuff. This often happens at some great beer joints in town, which I have blogged about before. A few choice selections made it home, however, with high hopes.

Lost Abbey is a pretty fantastic California brewery that specializes in Belgian ales. Their sister brewery, Port brewing, focuses on american styles. This particular beer, however, is billed as a Belgian style stout. I love Belgians and I love stout - so I had to pick this up. This is their first release of the beer as a winter seasonal.

Sitting at a heavy 11% abv, this is rich and malty, with a sweetness more in the Belgian style than in a traditional sweet stout like Guiness. The roasted malts give this a hint of bitterness and make it fairly robust. The carbonation is taken up a notch - likely due to the Belgian influence - and this adds a good crispness and layers the flavours well. In the end this is very solid, and one of the better stouts out there, even if I was expecting something a little more interesting.

Very Good to Very Good+
$11/650ml at City Beer (San Francisco)

Seattle International Beer Festival 2008

This weekend was host to one of the best festivals I have had the pleasure of attending. And fortunately for me, it was filled not only with a large number of beer swigging nerds, but also a huge range of exceptional and rare beers from around the world. I believe there were over 150 beers, and I probably managed to taste a third of those. So many beers in so little time meant it was difficult to rate each exactly. Thus we separated the beers into three categories: 1. those we liked; 2. those about which we held a neutral opinion, and; 3. those we disliked. These are the collaberative notes of myself and friends.

Those We Liked

Old Stock 2008 - North Coast - California - Barley Wine - 12.5%Notes: smooth and well balanced between hops and sweetness. Another winner from North Coast. Beer Advocate rating: 4.12.

Old Crustacean 2008 - Rogue - Oregon - Barley Wine - 11.5%Notes: a bitter but flavourful brew. Maybe slightly over-hopped, but still packs a flavour punch. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.02

Harvest Ale (Lagavulin) - J.W. Lees - Manchester, England - Barley Wine - 11.5%Notes: Firstly, this was only available for about 1 hour at the festival. Luckily I managed to snag a taste, and boy was it worth it. First of all, this is nothing like barley wine. Rather, this is like drinking a cross between beer and scotch. Poured out of a wooden cask, this beer was aged in lagavulin scotch barrels, which gave it a smoky, sweet and caramelly flavour highly reminiscent of a very good scotch. This was my beer of the show. I picked up a 300ml bottle (not the same as cask poured, but hey) at a specialty store in Seattle for $14!!! Probably the only beer I'd pay that much for. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.03.

BB10 Barley - Maracalagonis - Italy - Barley Wine - 10.0%Notes: Yet another barley, this rare beer sailed over from Italy for the show. This was good, and not too sweet, but not my favourite Barley Wine of the show. No beer advocate rating.

Malheur Dark Brut - De Landtsheer - Belgium - Bière Brut - 12.0%
Notes: A decent micro-bubbly wine somewhat similar to Deus. However, while spritely and fruity, this certainly isn't worth the $30 a bottle they ask for it. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.08

Abbaye de Saint Bon-Chien - BFM - Switzerland - Bière de Garde - 11.0%
Notes: An oaky sour beer. You have to like the style in order to like this stuff, and I felt the La Folie (reviewed later) was a better sour beer. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.29.
Aventinus Weizen-Eisbock - Schneider - Germany - Bock - 12.0%
Notes: I very much like Aventinus, but had never tasted their Eisbock before. While not rare per-se, bocks are only made a certain time of year in Germany and so it was a pleasure to taste this not so easy to find and highly rated beer. Very banana heavy, this was sweetish and floral, but very well balanced. I would buy this for a special occasion given its $7 a 12oz bottle price tag. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.12.

Palo Santo Marron - Dogfish Head -Delaware - Brown Ale - 12.0%
Notes: One of the special pours of the festival and only available on a single day. This was a fantastic brown ale. Balanced, unique (brown sugar, caramelized flavours), but balanced between maltiness and hops. Just a tinge of sweetness. One of my top 5 of the show. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.21.

Ruination Ale - Stone - California - Double IPA - 7.7%
Notes: Despite being a double IPA, this was not over the top, which was the downfall of many of the extreme beers poured at the fest. Floral, foresty and perfectly hopped. An excellent brew and one to try even if you don't like IPA! Beer Advocate Rating: 4.29

XX Imperial Porter - Deschutes - Oregon - Imperial Porter - 10.3%
Notes: A quality full bodied porter with good roasted malt flavours and moderate hops. You can taste the bigness and alcohol in this beer, which can be a bit intense, though still enjoyable. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.28.

Top Sail (Bourbon Aged) - Full Sail - Oregon - Imperial Porter -9.9%
Notes: One of the best porters at the show, while strong this was very very tasty and balanced better than the XX from Deschutes. The imperial makes porter more full bodied, roasted and flavourful than regular porter. This is an excellent example of the 'genre'. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.20

Pêche Mortel - Dieu du Ciel - Montreal, Quebec - Imperial Stout - 9.5%
Notes: A coffee based stout that was full flavoured, intense, balanced, and all 'round plain great. Tasted subtle coffee and tobacco notes. One of my top 5 beers of the show. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.48.

Ola Dubh 30 Yr - Harviestoun - Scotland - Old Ale - 8.0%
Notes: Another super rare cask beer available for only 2 hours at the show. This one was aged in 30 year old scotch barrels and was dark, peaty and cigar-like. Less like scotch than the Harvest ale, this was still a very flavourful and unique brew. Another top 5 of the show. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.34.

La Folie - New Belgium - Fort Collins, Colorado - Red Ale - 6.0%
Notes: Crazy sour. Probably the sourest beer I've ever had. But, despite this, it had fantastic oaky and woody flavours that gave it a lot of character. Further, it was great for the heat and cut the palate perfectly after all the super-hopped beers. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.38.

Old Chub - Oskar Blues - Colorado - Scotch Ale - 8.0%
Notes: Considered by some the best Scottish ale around, I don't understand the hype. While good, this was standard Scottish ale made well. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.08.Pek & Veren (Tar and Feathers) - De Molen - Netherlands - Stout - 8.0%
Notes: A very good and unique Dutch stout. This just missed out on my top 5 list with its slightly sour but classic dark strong malt flavours and moderated alcohol. This is rare stuff and has no Beer Advocate rating.

Angel's Share - Lost Abbey - California - Strong Ale - 11.5%
Notes: This was perhaps the rarest beer of all at the festival. Only a few bottles were available and we only managed to get some after sweet talking one of the head beer police dudes running the show. You can only get this beer if you are on the Lost Abbey mailing list, and there is a wait list to get on that. I tasted caramel, oak, vanilla, and layers of complexity developing as you drink this fruity masterpiece. I found this to be structured over the full range from nose to mid-palate and finish - awesome stuff. This was my number 2 beer of the show, and thus fills the last spot in the top 5 of the show. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.55.

Double Bastard - Stone - California - Strong Ale - 10.0%
Notes: Very nicely done with a super creamy texture and great mouthfeel. The hops are insanely intense, however, and this may not be for everyone. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.32.

Oaked Arrogant Bastard - Stone - California - Strong Ale - 7.2%
Notes: Much more balanced than the double bastard, this was hoppy and floral with just a tinge of oakyness. The oak was used well here to add complexity to the hops by balancing out the bitterness. This is worth seeking out. Beer Advocate Rating 4.22.

Oro de Calabaza - Jolly Pumpkin - Michigan - Strong Ale (Gold) - 8.0%
Notes: Jolly Pumpkin is doing good things. A balanced ale that tastes different from most of what you get out there. I found this hard to describe so I would seek it out and try it yourself. Beer Advocate Rating 4.16.

Curieux - Allagash - Portland, Oregon - Tripel - 11.0%
Notes: Wow, a bloody good tripel. One of the best Belgian style beers at the show with coconut flavours coupled with a classic Belgian yeast nose. Strong and good. Beer Advocate Rating 4.16.

The Neutral Beers

Hop 15 - Lost Abbey - California - Double IPA - 9.7%
Notes: Not too hopped, but also a bit standard. Next! Beer Advocate Rating 4.33.

Imperial Stout - Nøgne Ø - Norway - Imperial Stout - 9.0%
Notes: I had high hopes for this but left feeling underwhelmed. Smoky and flavourful, this wasn't bad but also wasn't great. Beer Advocate Rating 4.20.

Cuvée de Noël - St. Feuillien - Belgium - Strong Ale (Dark) - 9.0%
Notes: Standard Christmas Beer. Boring. Beer Advocate Rating: 4.08.

Wit - St. Bernardus - Belgium - Wit - 5.5%
Notes: A decent wit with some complexity, but 2 out of 3 of us found this plain and boring. Beer Advocate Rating 4.03.

Those We Disliked

Old Ruffian - Great Divide - Colorado - Barley Wine - 11.0%
Notes: Great Divide had a poor showing at this show for some reason. I usually like these guys, but everything at the fest was way too hoppy. Yuk. Beer Advocate Rating 4.33.

Olde Gnarlywine - Lagunitas - California - Barley Wine - 9.7%
Notes: The opposite end of the spectrum. Just way too sweet. Unless you like your beers sugary, stay away. Beer Advocate Rating 4.12.

Asam Bock - Weltenburger - Germany - Bock - 6.9%
Notes: Generic and thin. Tastes like all bocks taste. Beer Advocate Rating 4.10.

Morimoto Imperial Pilsner - Rogue - Oregon - Imperial Pilsner - 8.7%
Notes: Tastes like a urinal cake. Beer Advocate Rating 4.12.

Yeti (Oak Aged) - Great Divide - Colorado - Imperial Stout - 9.5%
Notes: Nasty nasty hops. Which sucks since I remember liking this a lot. Maybe this batch was made poorly. Beer Advocate Rating 4.32.

Ten-FIDY - Oskar Blues - Colorado - Imperial Stout - 10.0%
Notes: Why people like Oskar Blues is beyond me. This was medicinal and sickly syrupy. Really really gross. Beer Advocate Rating 4.31.

Malheur 12 - De Landtsheer - Belgium - Quadrupel - 12.0%
Notes: A bad quadrupel? Strange but true. Just too sweet. Had a hint of maple, but I recommend sticking to the standards. Beer Advocate Rating 4.15.

Judgment Day - Lost Abbey - California - Quadrupel - 10.5%
Notes: Another quadrupel that was just too sweet. Unfortunate. Beer Advocate Rating 3.90.

And that ends the round up of 2 days of beer festing down in Seattle. We also hit the Elysian Brew Pub while there, but that will be the subject of a subsequent post. I highly recommend making the trip to Seattle if you are at all into beer. Cheers!

Port Brewing Old Viscosity Ale

10% ABV. This was aged in bourbon barrels and certainly brought vanillan action to the table. Thick, rich and deeply malty this strong port was a phenomenal example of how chocolatey richness can be brough by proper brewing rather than added chocolate.


Shmaltz Brewing Company Coney Island Albino Python

This spiced lager was lemony and very clove-like. A unique and successful take on lager that brings the unfortunately popular style into the realm of properly brewed beer.


North Coast Brewing 2008 Old Stock Ale

A properly made malty Barley Wine. The slight hops is well done but not overwhelming, which makes this eminently drinkable. Nothing exceptional to bring it to the next level, but very solid and very enjoyable.

Very Good+
$? (Bought in US)

Elysian Perseus Porter

This is one hell of a beer. Balanced and subtle with low alcohol levels for a porter (5.4% abv), this porter has an abundance of robust dark beer malty flavours without being over the top, unbalanced, or overly bitter. It's texture is fantastic and every sip suggests the next. This is hands down one of the best porters I've ever had.

$7/bottle at Brewery Creek

Elysian Dragonstooth Stout

This heady stout is dark and broody, creamy and delicious. It has great depth and concentration but wicked balance. This comes in around 7% abv, but you don't feel the alcohol as this is quite an easy drinking stout. Rarely do I taste stout of this level. Good job Elysian!

$7/bottle at Brewery Creek

Rogue Chocolate Stout

I've reviewed this beer before, and it certainly is tasty. However, next to the Elysians it doesn't quite hold up as well as it used to. Yet, this is still chocolate malty goodness in a glass with a beautiful silky texture. So, while not as subtle and well integrated as the Elysian, it's still a very tasty brew.

Very Good+
$8/bottle at Brewery Creek

Rogue Mocha Porter

The mocha porter is slightly bitter, but still reasonably balanced. It is fairly roasty and toasty with the malts, and has a nice length on the finish. The texture is creamy, but overall this beer lacks the complexity of the Elysian Perseus Porter and the sheer smooth chocolatey intensity of its brother the Chocolate Stout. So, while still a decent beer, this is my least favourite of the four.
Very Good
$8/bottle at Brewery Creek

Rodenbach Belgian Flemmish Red Ale

Classic balanced tartness with rich fermented raisins and apricots coming trough. This has a great mouthfeel With a very nice balance, this is the sort of beer that a wine geek will love: 25% aged in oak casks, 75% fresh beer.

$5 a bottle at City Beer (San Francisco)

Goose Island Beer Company Bourbon County Brand Stout 2008

This is a seriously serious stout, smashing in with 13% abv that demands slow sipping. However, this is one killer Bourbon-intense dark as night brew, with a super-intense nose of rich vanilla and oak. The palate expands to include tobacco and tar notes that make this a perfect after-dinner beer that will probably go well with cigars. Amazingly, this is drinking well now and is very smooth and silky in the mouth. A wonderful beer. Stout lovers will be blown away.

$6 a bottle at City Beer (San Francisco)

Binchoise Biere Speciale Belge

A little trip down to Brewery Creek beer and wine store on main street brought forth a bunch of beer that I have not seen elsewhere in Vancouver. I will have a special updated Pacific Northwest Beer tasting note within a week or so, but I thought I'd start off the reviews with this little Belgian beer from Binchoise. Now I've had many from Binchoise, including their tasty Speciale Noel ale, but I've never seen this anywhere before. As seems to be the trend in Vancouver, the beers the BCLDB doesn't carry are so much tastier! This was a great find.

The Biere Speciale Belge is very floral and slightly metalic in taste. It also has a strangely pleasant sea-shore like odour that is extremely subtle but also a nice level of complexity. This is a smooth and easy drinking Belgian and comes in at only 5% ABV. A tasty, although expensive, way to froth up the evenining.

Very Good+
$5 at Brewery Creek

Abbaye D'Aulne Triple Brune Special Brown Ale

This is a dark triple ale - and I think that's maybe what gives this its unique character and style. The Abbaye D'Aulne is a moderately sweet brown ale at 9% abv with slightly metalic floral aromas (although in a good way, at least for me). It's not as great as the Koningshoeven, but it is great for a basic brown ale - it's smooth and not overly carbonated - so it's easier drinking than many Belgians. I feel like this will be a love it/hate it type of brew since its flavour profile is pretty unique. But, for me, something unique and complex is usually what I'm looking for, so I find this to be quite a nice beer.

Very Good+
$10 / 750ml Bottle in Seattle

Koningshoeven Quadrupel Trappist Ale

I am a big fan of heavy-duty belgian style ales, especially those that are dark and have a high alcohol content. This Quadrupel, at 10% alcohol, pretty much fits that ideal and is a fantastic bottle of beer. Quadrupel refers to the number of times the beer has been fermented, so you can imagine that after 4 fermentations it's hard to keep the alcohol very low. Also, it is interesting to note that Dubbels and Quadrupels are generally dark beers while trippels are light. As far as I know there is no real reason for this - but maybe I am missing out on some nuance of belgian beer crafting. Koningshoeven is here clearly working in the tradition of great beers like St. Bernardus abt. 12 and Rochefort 10, and I think they did so pretty successfully while not quite reaching the level of those two beauties.

As with most heavier Belgians the Koningshoeven is quite carbonated, which may be to some people's distate as it forces you to sip rather than gulp the beer (which is a pretty good idea given it is 10% abv) unless you want to fill your belly with a lot of air :). There are excellent root flavours, vanilla, and a little spicy herbalness to the palate. The finish is quite nice and of a decent length (given this is beer after all). Overall I'm pretty impressed with this and it will definitely be added to my rotation of top heavy Belgian ales.

$6 / 280ml bottle in BC - ($10 for 750ml in California)

Binchoise Speciale Noel 2007

I always love the Christmas season, despite the horrid experience of law exams, for all the festiveness and especially for all the seasonal beers. I've always found Binchoise to produce good quality but not outstanding beers, but this special christmas beer is the best of theirs I've had. It's made in the Belgian Strong Beer style but it adds a nice layer of floral notes and a tempered mild fruitiness while staying away from the over-sweetness of lesser Belgians. I definitely recommend a taste if you can find any!

Very Good+
$3.25/bottle at BCLDB; $4-$5 at private stores

Gulden Draak 2007

The perennial Christmas favourite. While you can get this at other times of the year, Christmas brings a new batch of the frosty white bottle and nice low prices at the LDB (a good 30-40% lower than private as per usual). A darker Belgian Strong Ale that is probably the best of its kind you will find in BC. As I like to tell my friends: the all white bottle is already cool, but the golden liquid inside fills the belly with glee.

Very Good+ to Excellent (can be variable)
$3.25/bottle at BCLDB; $5+ at private stores

Monday, April 20, 2009