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January Beer Club

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Just in the nick of time. This was scheduled for earlier in the month but got delayed due to snow and other such things. But we persevered, and Beer club marched on. For the unawares, beer club is a gathering of beer minded folks from my work, who get together once a month at a local BYOB for beverages and fun.

January Beer Club 2014
(Click for larger version)

For the sake of posterity, some thoughts on each beer are below. As per usual, these are off the cuff responses with no formal notes, so they're basically useless for you, but I'm including them anyway because why should I care what you think of my drunken recollections of these beers? In order of drinking (and not in the order pictured above, and there are definitely a couple beers not pictured at all because I took the picture early and didn't feel like updating it later and why are you so confrontational about this, it's just a thing, and fine, you want to fight about it? Let's do this thing. Or not. Whatever. What were we talking about?)

  • Stone Double Bastard - Probably not the best beer to start off a tasting with, but it worked just fine, and it was as good as I remember. Which is to say, it's good, but not mind blowing. B+
  • Unibroue Éphémère - This is not as apple-flavored as I remember, though that character is still fully present in the beer, which is a pretty solid Belgian Wit style affair and would make a great summer beer.
  • Boxcar CarKnocker IPA - The uber local (i.e. within a couple miles of my house) brewery's take on a standard IPA, it's decent, but not quite as good as their original (kinda, sorta Belgian style) IPA. B-
  • DC Brau The Corruption - A beer I reviewed in more detail just yesterday.
  • Bell's Midwestern Pale Ale - A fine offering, but perhaps sampled too late in the the night, as it sorta suffered in comparison to the other IPAs. B-
  • Boxcar Belgian Tripel - One of uber-local Boxcar's best beers, it's still a pretty straightforward Belgian style tripel. Along those lines, it's pretty good. Not a top tier effort, but quite nice. B+
  • Element Brewing Dark Element - A rather nice India Black Ale (or whatever you want to call that hoppy stout style), this sucker had just a hint of roast, a nice malt backbone, and plenty of dank, piney, resinous hops. One of the best of the night. A-
  • Ken's Homebrewed Hybrid Thingy - A sorta beer/wine/mead hybrid, this was made with some barley, copious amounts of honey, and muscat grapes. This is some crazy Dogfish-head style shit, but it actually worked pretty darn well. Clocking in at around 10% ABV, this thing didn't feel like it at all, making it dangerously easy to drink. B
  • Kaedrin Bomb and Grapnel (Blend) - This is the version that contains a blend of straight RIS and Bourbon Oaked RIS. It turned out pretty darn well, though the oak character is a bit muted here. I don't know that I'd be able to pick it out blind, but regardless, it turned out pretty well and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Look for a triple feature (with all the variants) soon. I'll give it a B+ for now, though it could easily be higher.
  • Spring House Satan's Bake Sale Mint Chocolate Chip Stout - One of my contributions, this was a fascinating sorta Girl Scout Thin Mint beer. Not sure if I would have reacted so positively if I drank the whole thing by myself, but it's a perfect beer for the setting. The mint chocolate chip character comes through strong, but not in an overpowering way. Very nice, and I enjoyed muchly. B+
  • Boulevard and Sierra Nevada Terra Incognita - A whiskey barrel aged beer that shows off that character pretty well. I still think that stouts and barleywines work better on that front, but this was certainly a fine effort. B
And that just about covers it. Good times had by all, and I'm already looking forward to the next installment (which should be sooner, rather than later... hopefully!)

Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel

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I used to be that guy. The I don't like dark beers kinda putz. This concept of "dark" eventually collapsed when I discovered that a lot of Belgian dark beers tasted nothing like their roasted brethren in the stout and porter family, and I really grew to love them. But I still clung to this notion of kinda hating roasty stouts and porters. You can even see this in the early days of the blog, but then I discovered the joys of the imperial stout and its sibling, the bourbon barrel aged stout. Still, I tend to waver on beers that have a really sharp, bitter roasted flavor... and beers that have a really strong coffee component.

I don't drink coffee regularly. I'll have maybe a cup or two a year. I don't necessarily dislike it, and truth be told, I love the smell of coffee, but in general, I find some coffee flavors a bit of a turnoff in beer. What I'm beginning to figure out, though, is that what I really don't like is that roasty, toasty, burnt character that a lot of beers cultivate in an overpowering and dominant sense. I've been on a bit of an unintentional coffee beer kick lately, and I think I'm beginning to get a taste for it. Sure, I tend to prefer rich, chewy, caramel, chocolate, vanilla, oak, and bourbon in my stouts, but I'm finding that coffee makes for an interesting change of pace. And not everyone uses the bitterest, most burnt malt/coffee as Founders does in their Breakfast Stout (a beer I've never particularly jived with). These flavors are much more interesting to me when they're not dominant.

I am wondering how much of this change is just my evolving palate, and how much is just that I'm drinking really good beer. Take Péché Mortel, another top 50 baller brewed by those goofy French Canadians at Diu Du Ciel... A bottle conditioned imperial stout "brewed with real, fair-trade coffee", truly a beer after a Libertarian's heart. Is this something I would have enjoyed just as much two years ago? Or have I just drank enough that I'm starting to appreciate the subtle nuances of flavor that differentiate this from the throngs of mere mortal beers? Will I ever get to the point where I don't include the "It's good... for a coffee beer" proviso when praising these things?

Does it really matter if I don't? The answer is a clear "no", because who really gives a pidoddle what I like or don't? Still, during the course of my beer-drinking tenure, I've found myself acquiring tastes for things I never thought I'd love. The more I think I learn about beer, the more I realize that what I don't know is growing at an even faster pace. I don't want to become complacent, so I like to try things outside of my comfort zone, like coffee beers. I suppose there's only one way to find out:

Dieu Du Ciel Peche Mortel

Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel - Pours a deep, dark brown color, almost black, with half a finger of tan head. Smells of coffee, a small amount of roast, something sugary, like molasses, maybe some caramel. Taste features a more prominent roast character than the nose would imply, lots of coffee too, but nothing overwhelming. There's a balancing hop bitterness in the finish, maybe some pine flavor from those hops too. Mouthfeel is medium bodied, a light richness, well carbonated but smooth, a little warming booze too. Overall, a great coffee-based imperial stout. I'm not a big coffee person, but it works really well here. For a coffee beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz) Drank out of a snifter on 1/5/13. Can't really decipher the notched label dating thing, but there's a 4 involved.

A few years ago, I probably would have hated this. As it stands now, I really enjoyed it even if it didn't blow me away. And I'd actually like to try it again, so there is that. I've got a couple more coffee infused beers on the horizon as well, including a few more top 100 beers, so keep your eyes peeled for reviews.

Holiday Beer Roundup

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Holiday beer season is my favorites, but I've been slacking a bit this year, so let's catch up with a few of these suckers that I had in the leadup to Christmas. It turns out that most of these beers were shelf turds (meaning, they've clearly been sitting on the shelf, unsold, for a while), but I'm a big tent kinda guy, so I liberated these beer from their boring shelfish lives and put them to work, fulfilling their intended purpose. Things are also looking pretty international here, but again - big tent. We're like that here at Kaedrin. Let's get this holiday party started:

Baladin Noel

Birrificio Le Baladin Noël Baladin 2010 - I keep hearing things about these fancy new Italian craft breweries, so I figured I'd give them a shot. Fancy bottle, hefty price tag that was fortunately marked down, how could I pass this up? Pours a dark amber, almost brown color with visible sediment and half a finger of bubbly head. Smells of dark fruits - raisins in particular, with some light spiciness and maybe a hint of darker malts. Taste is also quite fruity, again with the raisins, plus a very light spiciness. Mouthfeel is surprisingly well carbonated considering how little head I got out of it, but it's got a medium-ish body, thinner than I'd expect, with a relatively dry component. Overall, this is a solid Belgian style beer, but nothing to really write home about. B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (750 ml capped). Drank out of a goblet on 12/22/12.

Hoppin' Frog Frosted Frog Christmas Ale - The only non-foreign beer in the post, I suppose I could make an insensitive crack about Ohio, but I'm not a jerk (remember, big tent guy here). Pours a very dark amber color, almost brown, with half a finger of bubbly head. Smells strongly of traditional mulling spices, ginger, cinnamon, clove, etc... Actually smells a lot like a snickerdoodle. Taste has a nice, sweet malt backbone to match that spicy flavor profile, leaning more on the cinnamon here than in the nose. Mouthfeel is quite nice actually, medium bodied, well carbonated, but with a hint of stickiness. No real booze in here, which is nice for a reasonably strong beer. Overall, it's a really solid winter warmer style beer, one of the better I've had this year. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 8.6% ABV bottled (22 oz bomber). Drank out of a tulip on 12/22/12.

Dieu du Ciel Solstice d hiver

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel! Solstice d'hiver - These wacky French Canadians threw me a wicked curveball the last time I tried them, an utterly fantastic take on a Scotch ale, so I made preparations to try more. This Winter Solstice beer pours a cloudy dark brown color with just a thin layer of quickly disappearing head on top. Smells of caramel malts and fruit, with some hops peeking through as well. Taste is sweet, filled with that rich caramel flavor with the fruits showing up in the middle and finish. Some hop presence as well, but nothing overboard like a lot of American barleywines. Mouthfeel is full bodied, rich, and smooth, almost creamy. There's just enough carbonation to make it palatable, so it's smooth without being still, if you know what I mean. Overall, this is a very well crafted, balanced brew. Not as eye opening as with my previous Dieu Du Ciel experience, but a pleasant one nonetheless. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 10.2% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a snifter on 12/23/12.

Emelisse Winterbier 2011 - I've heard good things about these brewers in the Netherlands and have had some pleasant experiences with their brews first hand, so let's try some more. Pours an amber brown color with minimal head. I inadvertently poured a big slug of yeast into mine glass, so this thing was cloudy as can be, with chunks o' yeast floating all around. Fortunately, that didn't adversely affect the beer, at least by my count. Nose is quite nice, fruity sweet with what could have been spice, but I couldn't quite place it. I may be imagining things. Taste follows the nose, nice sweetness with ripe fruits and a note of brown sugar, finishing with a balancing bitterness. Booziness is apparent, but not overpowering. Mouthfeel has a low carbonation, perhaps too low, bit it comes together well enough. Medium bodied, a little booze. Overall, a solid wintery ale, but I think I'd rather have had a fresh bottle. Still, these crafty Netherlanders intrigue me enough that I'll seek out more of their stuff... B

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/26/12.

A thousand pardons for the lack of pictures on two of these. I'd fire up MS Paint, but I'm no artist (read: I'm too lazy at the moment). You'll just have to use your imagination. This, more or less, wraps up the holiday beers for this year, but don't you worry, I've got plenty of facemelting stouts and barleywines on the way, wintery to their core, and perhaps a few IPAs and sours as well, just to keep things interesting. Stay tuned.

Hopfenstark Captain Swing

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Are there Canadian breweries outside of Quebec? Because every time I get my hands on some fine, craft brewed Canadian beer, it winds up being from some small French Canadian brewery. Not that I'm complaining. I've pretty much loved everything I've ever had from the likes of Unibroue and Dieu Du Ciel, though I admit that I must delve a bit deeper into their respective catalogs. So when these Hopfenstark beers started showing up locally, I figured I'd give them a shot.

Historically, Captain Swing was apparently a fictional nom de plume signed to threatening letters during 1830s riots when laborers were losing their jobs to industrial threshing machines. Captain Swing was a sorta mythical figurehead to the movement. Why this would matter to French Canadians is anyone's guess, but I'll admit, it's a pretty cool name. Does the beer live up to this reputation?

Hopfenstark Captain Swing

Hopfenstark Captain Swing - Pours a clear, deep copper color with a couple fingers of tan head. Smells of caramel with a slight floral, piney hop character. Taste features lots of that caramel malt flavor, along with just a bit of piney hops, leading to a nicely balanced bitterness towards the finish. No real fruitiness apparent at all, which is a little surprising. Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, with tight carbonation giving way to a very slight slickness in the finish. Overall, this is very nice, if a little straightforward... It's labeled as an American Barleywine, but this feels more like an Imperial Red than a barleywine. Regardless, it was solid, and I enjoyed drinking it, so call it whatever you want. I'll give it a B+ and leave it at that.

Beer Nerd Details: 9% ABV on tap. Drank out of a tulip glass on 10/7/12.

A favorable first experience with Hopfenstark, a brewery that I'll probably seek out again at some point. Though, in general, I'd like to try out some more crafty Canadian beers.

Lost Weekend

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No, I didn't get blackout drunk this weekend, but I did lose a bunch of reviews due to a hardware failure on my host. All is well now, but I lost last Thursday's review, and any notes I took over the weekend. Also, some comments were lost, so sorry about that (for what it's worth, they were about the recent and awesome trend of non-sour beers aged in wine barrels and other fancy non-bourbon barrels).

But I've got a steel trap for a brain, so here are some thoughts on recent drinkery. I'll include ratings, but I'm sure the nerdiest among you will be wary of their reliability or something. I suppose there's something to such claims, but that's no fun and you should probably get over yourself, so here goes (in order of consumption):

  • Smuttynose Pumpkin Ale - Yeah, it's that season again. I know there are lots of folks that freakout about early availability of these brews, and in July, they might have a point, but it's mid-September at this point, so I think it's time to start easing into the seasonals. This is my favorite time of year, when it's socially acceptable to watch bad horror movies, mutilate pumpkins, and decorate your house with faux-corpses. Oh, and we start to get seasonal beers that are actually distinctive... like this beer. Unfortunately, I found it to be a lackluster example of the style. It's got the typical elements - pumpkin and assorted pumpkin pie spicing (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc...) - but it came off flabby and limp. It's a relatively low-ABV beer, which I think lent to the more watery feeling (not that low-ABV automatically means bad or anything - there are beers that do that well). It's not the worst beer ever or anything and I'd totally favor this over any macro offerings, but I found it disappointing. B- (Beer Nerd Details: 5.84% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a tulip glass on 9/14/12.)
  • Dieu Du Ciel Équinoxe Du Printemps - Probably my favorite beer of the weekend, a Scotch Ale made by those wacky French Canadians at Dieu Du Ciel. I've previously enjoyed their pale ale, but this thing makes me want to stock up on everything of theirs I can find. It's a Spring seasonal and apparently not much makes its way down here, but I lucked into a bottle:

    Dieu Du Ciel Equinox Du Printemps

    Thick and chewy, with a burst of delicious fruity malts and rich, syrupy caramel. It's got a richness that I normally associate with barrel aged beers, though there's obviously no bourbon flavors or anything like that. Apparently this is made with Maple Syrup, which probably explains some things (maybe the syrup was oak aged?) A big, eye opening beer, but well balanced, complex flavors make it something to seek out, especially for malt lovers. Right up my alley, and a good way to follow up with that pumpkin beer. A- (Beer Nerd Details: 9.5% ABV bottled (11.5 oz twist off) Drank out of a snifter on 9/14/12.)
  • Great Lakes Oktoberfest - As near as I can tell, this is the best reviewed Oktoberfest beer on Beer Advocate (at least, of beers with more than 50 ratings), even beating out the Germans. It's not really my favorite style, but I always like to sample a few during the season, just to keep sharp. I actually really enjoyed this one. Not sure how close to authentic style it is, but whatever, it's really solid. Maybe a little sweeter than expected, but it's got that trademark toasty, nutty malt flavor, along with some atypical (to me, at least) caramel malts. It goes down quite smoothly, and I'd certainly put this towards the top of my rankings for the style (along with Live Oak and Ayinger). B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a big ass mug on 9/15/12.)
  • Boulevard Brewing The Sixth Glass - I found myself relatively unimpressed with my previous exposure to Boulevard's celebrated Smokestack series, a double IPA that just wasn't doing it for me. Fortunately this one, a Belgian-style quadrupel, fared better. Perhaps not a top tier example of the style, but it's a respectable and welcome redemption for Boulevard. Lots of Belgian yeast, musty and spicy, along with some fruity malt character. Perhaps a little too much sweetness, leading to a slight stickiness that's not really characteristic of the best of the style. Still, this was a really nice beer, a fitting nightcap to a late Saturday night. B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of a goblet on 9/15/12.)
  • Emelisse Barley Wine Ale - Bonus review! I had actually written up and published a full blown post for this one, and it was witty and brilliant stuff, but it got lost in the ether. Fortunately, my tasting notes were still available, so you get more detail here: Pours a deep, cloudy amber brown color with minimal head. Smells of ripe fruit, caramel, and maybe some booze. Taste is filled with rich, fruity malts, caramel flavors, a little booze, a hint of bitterness in the finish. Full bodied, rich mouthfeel, minimal carbonation, very smooth, a little boozy warming going on, some slickness in the finish before it dries out. Overall, this is a very well crafted, if pretty straightforward English barleywine. B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz.) Drank out of a snifter on 9/1/12.)
So there you have it. A solid weekend, and I'm excited to enter Halloween season. I've got a couple unusual pumpkin ales coming up, as well as an accidentally aged Autumn Maple that's just calling my name. Harvest beers are starting to show up too, though I get the impression that West Coasters benefit from such practices moreso than we do, though I'm sure I'll get my hands on some local harvest stuff from Victory and the like. Stay tuned...

Unibroue 17 Grande Réserve

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A few years ago, the Canadian brewers at Unibroue made their 17th anniversary ale. It was quite popular at the time, and indeed, I remember reading of this brew after the fact and thinking I'd never get my hands on the stuff. But apparently Unibroue kept winning awards with this stuff. Despite being bottled in 2007, it was winning "World's Best Dark Ale" awards every year. So in 2011, Unibroue made some more, affixing the bottle with the "Grande Reserve" appellation to indicate its quality for aging (they also upgraded the packaging, including individually numbered bottles). As a dark ale on lees (i.e. a bottle conditioned dark ale) clocking in at 10% ABV, it certainly ticks most entries on the beer aging checklist.

Of course, while I have been toying with the concept of aging beer, I didn't really have the patience in this case. I snatched up a bottle of the stuff and drank it just a few short weeks later. I'm not entirely sure if this beer was made in the exact same fashion as the original batch from 2007... Jay found this recent incarnation to be overly sweet, but I was more taken with it (I found it sweet, but not cloying, and even a bit dry).

Unibroue 17

Unibroue 17 Grande Réserve - Pours a murky dark brown color with a finger or two of light tan head. Smells strongly of dark fruits and spice (clove). The taste follows the nose. Sweet, very spicy, plenty of fruitiness, maybe even a little in the way of roast or slight chocolate. Really complex flavors here, it keeps evolving. Some light, nutty oakiness is apparent (but not strong), as well as a bit of a molasses character. Mouthfeel is spectacular. Highly carbonated and effervescent, but dry enough that it's compulsively drinkable. The 10% ABV is certainly well hidden, though you might get a bit of warming from it when you drink quickly. Overall, a wonderful beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 10% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked). Drank out of a goblet on 6/22/12. Bottle No. 2011-90241. Best before 12/12/2016.

Unibroue is a brewery I tend to take for granted, and I'm not really sure why. They're readily available, and they brew some fantastic stuff (indeed, La Fin Du Monde is one of the lucky few that have garnered the coveted Kaedrin A+ grade). I think I've had most of their year-round catalog, but there are still plenty of beers I haven't tried just yet. Heck, I should probably revisit some of the other stuff I've had from them while I'm at it...

Corne Du Diable

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Over at Beervana, there's a nice pedantic discussion over what constitutes an West Coast IPA (an offshoot of a debate with Stone's Greg Koch). Truthfully, I've never quite understood the distinction myself, but I always assumed it had something to do with big, juicy American hops with all their fruit and pine characteristics. But reading those posts and the comments, it occurs to me that no one really knows and who really cares? Styles are like genres in that they're fuzzy around the edges and often bleed into one another. Styles can give you a broad idea of what you're in for, but maybe they don't need to be quite so granular or locked-down.

Anyway, if you think west coast IPA's are causing a taxonomy problem, check out this beer. Beer Advocate calls it an American IPA. Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel's description adds some confusion to the mix:

Corne du diable (French for "Horn of the devil") is a contemporary interpretation of the classic English India Pale Ale. This new style, born on the west coast of North America, is characterized by stronger and hoppier beers. The result is a red ale expressing caramel flavours coming from the malt, sharp bitterness and powerful hop aromas, thanks to dry hopping
Ok, everyone get that? It's an English IPA born on the West Coast of North America, resulting in a red ale?

Yeah, so now you know why I only have one IPA category on my site (of course, that was born more out of laziness than anything else, but I digress). And the red ale intersection with IPA is also a bit of a pitfall, but maybe we should just drink the stuff instead of parsing its style:

Dieu Du Ciel Corne Du Diable

Brasserie Dieu Du Ciel Corne Du Diable - Pours a cloudy brownish amber color with a small amount of head. The smell is unusual. There's definitely lots of hoppiness there - maybe a hint of citrus, but more herbal or floral aromas seem to be the most prominent. The taste has lots of caramel malt, very sweet, with that same hoppy citrus and herbal character, and a well matched bitterness in the finish. Maybe a little spice too, and I want to attribute that to the hops for some reason. In any case, big flavors for a 6.5% ABV IPA... Mouthfeel is fine, maybe just a tad light on the carbonation (but still fine for the style). Speaking of which, it's called an American Style IPA, but it actually feels more English. Maybe even a hint of that butterscotch flavor that I always find in English pale ales and usually don't like, but it really works here (perhaps because it's not an overwhelming flavor). Overall, a very interesting beer. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 6.5% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip on 1/21/12.

Apparently the only Canadian beers I drink are French Canadian. Yeesh. It's actually hard to believe this is my first Dieu Du Ciel beer though. I quite enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to checking out more of their brews. They're not quite as ubiquitous as Unibroue around here, but they seem to be pretty widely available. And I get the feeling they don't really care about style either - most of their beers seem to be quite unusual (at least, from reading about them!)

Maudite

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I know what you're thinking. This isn't a holiday beer! Well, it is one of Unibroue's year-round brews, but the story behind it is rather interesting. The word "Maudite" means "damned", and the story follows a group of French-Canadian woodsmen who made a deal with the devil to make it home by Christmas by flying their canoe (this is apparently a variation on a class of flying canoe legends). One of the woodsmen broke the pledge, and thus the canoe plunged to the ground. Pleasant story, eh? For a more detailed telling of the legend in a funny French-Canadian accent, check out the video on Unibroue's website. Anyway, let's drink this thing:

Unibroue Maudite

Unibroue Maudite - Pours a deep orange brown color with a lot of white head. Aroma is full of peppery Belgian yeast and dark fruits. Taste is very sweet, lots of that fruitiness coming through strong. Plenty of spiciness here too, and no real bitterness at all. Extremely well balanced taste here. Mouthfeel is a little on the harsh side (in a good way). In the past, I've always found this beer to be undercarbonated, but this time it seems just right. Overall, it's quite a nice beer. A-

Beer Nerd Details: 8% ABV bottled (11.2 oz). Drank out of a tulip glass on 12/10/11.

Unibroue has one of the best year-round lineups out there, and this one is widely available and usually pretty cheap too. Well worth a try this holiday season!

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

You might also want to check out my generalist blog, where I blather on about lots of things, but mostly movies, books, and technology.

Email me at mciocco at gmail dot com.

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