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.