En Stoemelings: Cuvee Houdini

As part of my “soon” to be released thoughts on a “recent” trip to Belgium I thought I would do a quicker write-up, about a lovely beer from a lovely new brewery located in Brussels, that might help clear my mind.

En Stoemelings is the most recent brewery to startup within Brussels. Sandwiched between parks and train stations in the Marolles neighborhood in southwest Brussels; En Stoemelings is a small space with a 250L system that is cooking up some amazing bottle conditioned beers.

Sam, Denys and their crew have created some very exceptional recipes and are already producing some very high quality beer after a short “start-up” stint in their home kitchens. Having tasted several of their offerings I can say they bring a marvelous and subtle touch with their takes on modern and old styles. For example their “BBQ Beer” was a take on mass produced light beer and it had some of the most interesting tasting notes on a beer I think I’ve ever had.

Many North American drinkers could use some eye-opening on subtle beer and Brussels is a great place to experience that. And in that focus En Stoemelings is king as their small img_20160903_174931direct-fired system is capable of imparting lovely caramel notes into every batch and bottle conditioning allows them to create such perfect soft texture to accentuate any style.

Cuvee Houdini is an amber beer that has orange peel, lemon peel and coriander added in the boil making for an interesting but gently spiced beer. Malt forward, this beer has a nose of caramel and hints of spice and some gentle yeast esters. The coriander and peel leave a gentle hint on the palate (not over bearing like the coriander bombs coming out of the west coast of Canada) playing with yeast esters to bring out an almost cherry like finish. This beer focuses mostly on the malt and is exceptional at that.

So if you ever find yourself in Brussels please do yourself a favour and check out this small, friendly, brewery, it’ll be worth a stop in I promise.

Cheers,

-WCBL

Evil Twin Brewing: Retro/Modern IPA

Evil Twin seems to love brewing beer with a twist, their three beer Yin and Yang series is a perfect example of the black and tan with a new age twist. But I’m not here to discuss their previous series let’s take a look at the latest two beer series starring Retro IPA and Modern IPA.

Pretty low risk style to pick to do a series with, as IPAs are the current market monster and every brewer pretty much has to have something hoppy on offer, but I like what Evil Twin has done with these. They are great beers to have side by side to compare and contrast how 10 years of market popularity has shaped the India Pale Ale.

IMG_20160404_122845    Retro IPA tastes pretty close to what I remember the west coast IPAs tasted like around 2005 even maybe a little “dogfish head 60 minute” type profile. Retro is balanced toward malt flavours with the hops being not only more timid but also less tropical and more grassy and earthy. Lots of great malt notes, mainly biscuit and some caramel, balance out a gentle, steady and non-dynamic hop wave. From a clarity standpoint this beer is absolutely clean and clear no chunks, resin or sediment of any kind. This beer would be a perfect IPA to give to someone who currently prefers more malt forward beer styles such as brown ales or even scotch ales as its timid hop character still adds a decent change up to a maltier style of beer.

IMG_20160325_141451    Modern IPAs profile is something I have come to absolutely treasure in almost any form. When fresh modern and experimental hops are on the bill, I am in. Galaxy, Mosaic, Citra, Simcoe, Nelson and a plethora experimental hops from growing regions around the world, are the new stars of these modern IPAs. Brewed most frequently, and successfully, in the north east of the USA these hazy and aromatic brews really bring the goods, especially in the aroma department, and the Evil Twin offering is quite a decent example. Even just opening the can is an experience; expect waves of hop character on the nose and palate with a nice resinous and lingering bitterness on the finish. Innocuous malt character but enough to offer some sweetness to cut the hops, and that’s it.

Another point about the pair; these beers come in 4-packs of cans the way the good lord intended as they are not meant to be aged in any way. The finest purveyors of beer may have even pre-packaged the pair in a mixed pack just for you, the consumer, so go forth and imbibe!

Cheers!

WCBL

Stone’s Enjoy By IPAs

Stone Brewing, out of San Diego County, California, is famous for its IPAs; really most Californian Brewers make at least one killer IPA, it’s what they do down there. Today I’d like to talk about a very specific IPA, well Imperial IPA that is, Stone ‘Enjoy By’.

I still don't get the significance of this date.

I still don’t get the significance of this date.

This brew is quite well respected in the craft community and I think most people who enjoy strong, bitter beer would agree. To me what makes the ‘Enjoy by’ series so interesting isn’t that it’s a great beer but what it does beyond that. IPA, IIPA, APA and any other hoppy styles are brewed to be drank within a certain time period as the alpha acids, that provide aroma and bitterness in hops, degrade with exposure to light and oxygen so as a beer sits it slowly loses its hoppyness. With a few months of aging that nice, bright, citric and bitter IPA will mellow into a gentle ale or maybe even barley-wine like profile depending on any residual sugar or higher ABV.

Now what Stone Brewing does with the labeling and recipe changes to ‘Enjoy by’ is what brings this point to light. The big green label on the bottle is a massive, ‘in your face’, message relating to this point. Drink this beer while it’s fresh. ‘Enjoy’ it by this date. Now most people would think, what’s the big deal? Well the big deal is that most brewers are frightened to even put a small expiry date/born on date on their packaging where Stone has the balls to make it the entire purpose of the brew. That tends to put a lot of pressure both on Stone Brewing and its distributors and trusted retailers to deliver the beer well before the date on the bottle and packaging, like a constant reminder of the inevitable expiry. Just ask any purveyor of fine ales about what a shelf turd is, as ‘Enjoy By’ becomes the best example after the date has passed.

IMG_0330Stone also does a great job of mixing up the recipe and it’s a really great way to note differences in what is labeled as the same beer in the same style. I recall 08.16.14 tasted kinda catty as the addition of Simcoe hops often is. 12.26.14 was almost like Five Alive juice, as one of my friends so accurately noted. 02.14.15 was more balanced and drinkable, smoother. 04.20.15 had some pretty onion like, grassy notes but still quite citric. These batch to batch variations can make the drinker more aware of what is in her more regularly available beer and can draw attention to freshness and consistency and get the drinker thinking more about the quality of their favorite brews, the entire reason why we drink craft beer!

As always, Cheers!

WCBL

Zwanze Day barVolo

I consider myself an avid fan of beer, nay, enthusiast. I read beer books, I cellar my own beer, have contacts in the industry and study beer from different perspectives as much as I can. Now, how I missed something like Zwanze Day, I’ll never know, but there I was on vacation in Toronto(you know the center of Canada) with no clue about the fun that was in store.

I had plans of re-visiting several places I enjoy there, including the always lovely Fahrenheit Coffee(please check this place out if you’re ever in the area it’s probably the best cup in Canada and say hi to Sameer while you’re there) and a recommendation to visit a small, locally owned, craft centered, pub called barVolo.

After receiving the recommendation I immediately headed to their website to see what the offerings were like. The site showed a very comprehensive list of local Ontario offerings with six real ale taps and twenty-six regular taps, impressive! I was excited to visit this obviously dedicated beer bar but there were still some surprises ahead.

IMG_0404On the day that I had a moment to head to the pub I checked the online tap list and noticed that all the beer was sour and there were a ton of Cantillion offerings. I had a hunch that there must be a special event going on, based on the uncommon Cantillion offerings. My brother-in-law and myself showed up at barVolo on a Saturday afternoon around 4pm only to notice a bunch of bearded beer lovers with all their collective noses jammed in the exact same glasses. “Private event, ticket holders only, return at 7pm when we open to the general public,” said the lovely woman at the door; the tickets had sold out in thirty seconds a month prior. Damn, no way to get in. We turned to leave and my always charismatic, and attractive, brother-in-law wouldn’t settle for the disappointed look in my eyes. He turned around said a few nice things(begged) to the young woman at the door and suddenly I found myself inside the bar, custom glasses and all. IMG_20141014_182237Now that I was in I realized I wasn’t checking the website properly and that there must be another section that would have explained this whole event to me, and indeed there is. But that didn’t matter I was inside one of the most interesting and dedicated craft beer bars in Canada during one of the most desirable and exclusive events in the beer world, one of only 56 such simultaneous events across the globe. We walked outside to the small deck at barVolo and waited, with tokens in hand, for beer.

The Zwanze was the first up as we had to taste the reason everyone was there. It was a blended lambic/kriek and it was great, no, AMAZING. One of the things I love about the Cantillion offerings is their subtlety and balance. Their beer is aged sour beer but it is always done masterfully and delicately. The Zwanze beer this year was definitely brewed to the regular Cantillion standards and then some. Done as a special brew for his son’s 18th birthday this blended fruit beer was exceptional. With just a hint of hops and super smooth is was a great way to start the afternoon. I suddenly started feeling exceptionally lucky.

The famed Cantillion brew Fou’ Foune was already sold out when we got inside; this beer tends to elude me but there were at least 10 other sour beer bottles to try so I wasn’t going to go wanting for beer. Next up I tried Cantillion Gueuze it was quite lovely, as always. Next we had Mikkeller Stella 2, Cantillion Grand Cru, Dieu Du Ciel! Solstice D’ete Aux Cerises(the raspberry is more to my liking) and Brasserie Thiriez/Jester King La Petite Princess an astounding mild, light bodied farmhouse ale from France. Bubbly, fragrant, yet exceptionally musty and wild La Petite Princess was a stand out for me as it’s a lower ABV beer that really performs. Next we stepped back inside to line up for the local taps.

Nickelbrook Kentucky Sour was up first and really was a departure from the foreign sours, which was refreshing. Kentucky Sour was very well barreled and almost chocolate like with hints of umami. On to the final beer, I can remember trying a month later, and the highlight of the event, for my tastes the, House Ales/Shacklands Flip Side. Flip Side is an absolutely amazing brett IPA with Galaxy Hops. It was everything I love about a brett IPA. Decent body, reasonable ABV(5.X%), exceptional hoppy aroma(Galaxy’s classic tropical fruit and citrus abounded in this beer), flavour and bitterness with that perfect brett dryness to finish it all off. If I could invent a time machine I would do it JUST to go back and try this beer again, it was that good, probably my beer of the year for 2014 and it’s been a big one for me.

BarVolo is incredible and their Funk Night event is NOT to be missed. If you’re in the Toronto area or visiting there, go right now and have a pint. Cheers, WCBL.

Lagunitas Sucks

It’s back.

I know you guys have probably noticed that I tend to talk about one beer quite frequently. It gets mentioned by me a ton because it’s a really great example of a few key aspects of tasting beer, namely aroma and balance. Unfortunately Lagunitas insists on making Sucks only once a year as a limited release but that kind of keeps it special too.

This years version is rocking everything that makes Sucks great and while we only have 2011 and 2012 to compare to it’s still everything I remember. I often refer to Lagunitas Sucks as the ‘Orange Crush’ of IPAs(or IIPAs I’m honestly not sure what it is) because of its potent orange flavour and relatively sweet finish considering the ABV(7.85%) but also with its high clarity and light lovibonds. The apparent lack of malt and nearer to light beer appearance makes this beer a sleeper visually. Give it an aggressive pour into a large glass and let the head settle for a minute. Then sniff it. Go ahead, don’t be afraid. Breathe that sucker in. Let it sink in. What do you smell? Melons, orange peel, mango, guava? It’s all there. I could literally be satiated by just smelling this beer it is truly that amazing, especially when it first arrives. The unique aroma of this brew is made possible by an amazing hop bill(Chinook, Simcoe, Apollo, Summit, Nugget and HBC342) that includes several unique varieties and at least one experimental hop variety(HBC342) that lends Sucks it’s melon like flavours.

Lag_SucksNot too tropical but not too piney Sucks really delivers on flavour. When I say it tastes like Orange Crush I mean literally that; tangerine, melon, citrus peel and sugar abound and it’s great. With 7.85% ABV to contend with the brewers at Lagunitas prove why they are some of the best around.

Balance is a particularly challenging aspect of brewing and balancing these really extreme beers with really extreme flavours is hard. But even with the amazing variety and amount of hops in Sucks it is still exceptionally easy drinking, which is dangerous for the unseasoned drinker, or let’s face it, the seasoned drinker as well.

This post has been delayed by a load of life getting in the way of my writing so I’m doubtful you’d be able to find Sucks right now but just trust me it’s good. If you’re looking for something similar check out the offerings from Tap It Brewing(IPA and APA) available at Sherbrooke Liquor.

WCBL; Insight Into, Yukon Brewing!

Hello beer lovers, I’m back! During the holidays I went home to Whitehorse, Yukon. Home to snow, ice, -30C temperatures, more snow and the now famous Yukon Brewing(Oh my god their imperial red! amiright?!). One of my childhood best friends is now head brewer at Yukon Brewing and it was a great pleasure to have an opportunity to sit down with him and have a chat about his career, brewing, beer and life in general.

Rob and I lived on the same street growing up. The house he lived in had a strange connection to me as several other friends of the family had lived there. When Rob’s family moved in he was the first person I didn’t know that had lived there. We were right around the same age(within days literally) and of course, as children do, we became great friends. Shortly after high school we lost touch but met up randomly once in a while over the years. When we got together one evening in early January it was the first time we had spoken in 13 years.

I am certainly biased but Rob is one of the most easy going, modest and approachable men I have met as I’m sure many beer drinkers would agree. He began his career working the gift shop at Yukon Brewing sometime in the late 90s early 00s he worked his way from the front to the back helping out on the bottling line and eventually working as a brewer for Yukon Brewing during its start-up days. Around 2003 he moved to Victoria, Vancouver Island and was eventually hired as head brewer at Spinnakers one of the original and oldest brew pubs of post prohibition North America, built in 1984. He brewed a large variety of fresh beer on a small brew system there and really got put in the hot seat experience wise. He managed to bring a revival to the slowly fading Spinnakers and his work there even garnered an atta-boy from John Mitchel himself(the grandfather of BC Craft Beer). Working along side the modern heroes of BC Craft Brewing(Sean Hoyne, John Meyer, Kevin Hearsum, Matt from Phillips etc.) Rob brewed up some of the best beer Spinnakers has offered. With a lot of freedom in the brew house Rob brewed and cellared a ton of unique beer focused on freshness and  balance, even some unique adjuncts. Rob eventually decided he was interested in returning to the Yukon and took an offer at Yukon Brewing.

Yukon Brewing has always provided a quality product(Lead Dog is my favorite of their regular brews) but in my mind they are a little timid. Rob explained to me that there is a certain art to brewing with balance and to make recipes work on a more modest profile is more challenging that just dry hopping everything. That said Yukon Brewing’s more recent offerings are starting to scratch the itch on my bruised palate. Their Megalomaniax Imperial Red is one of the better beers I’ve had and during the spring their Double Trouble Imperial IPA is a delight not to be missed. They had a lot of interesting brews on tap at their growler station this holiday season including a kolsch with black currants, a milk stout and every Friday at noon the brewers tap a cask of some variety from the crazed minds of the brewers. Now partnering with some of the local beer parlours up north Yukon Brewing is also offering cask ale nights. Really inspired Pacific North West ideas I’m sure Rob helped encourage.

As we shared a few brews Rob brought out a dusty bottle from his fridge, I knew what it was right away, ’39 1/2 Foot Pole’ the beer he created exclusively for the CRAFT Advent Calendar that we beer lovers gobbled up in 2013. I really enjoyed that beer and it was great to get Rob’s thoughts on the process behind brewing 39 1/2 Foot Pole. First challenge he had to meet was brewing a beer that was going to be consumed 7 months from its brew date. Yukon Brewing had recently come across some black currant concentrate and he decided to exemplify those fruity flavours with loads of the most fruity profile hops he could source from his supplier; hoping for the hops to bring the blackcurrants to the forefront. What started out as the most hoppy beer Yukon Brewing has ever brewed mellowed into a fruity, boozy imperial ale that I found actually quiet delicious. Rob described the initial taste of 39 1/2 Foot Pole as a very hop forward IIPA with a slight fruit tang, I must admit I was quiet jealous as I would have loved to taste that beer but also was impressed with the foresight that it took to brew.

I asked Rob about what it is like to be a master brewer and he was quick to correct me that he is a head brewer(that modesty!). In the world of brewing master brewers have acquired a minimum education of at least a 3 or 4 year degree and often beyond as there are several universities that offer a masters degree in brewing. Rob brews based on experience alone and describes it as more akin to the work of a chef than anything else, despite the often rock star like attention in the Pacific North West. He works to a recipe and tweaks based on what style he’s brewing. The regular brews are hard and fast to the recipe to not disappoint the thirsty masses and the seasonal brews are the more exciting ones. Rob also does a fair amount of cellaring now in firkins when pulling a beer from primary and cellaring it a brewer gets to really innovate and work on their cellarmanship; I’ve heard rumours of the wonderful porter Yukon casked recently and I was sad to have missed it.

When I asked Rob what his favorite brewer or beer was he first said that he could never pick one but eventually confessed that Lagunitas Sucks IIPA was likely his favorite, if he was forced to choose just one; I tend to agree.

It was really great to reconnect with Rob and I was super excited to get his thoughts on brewing in the north and I would like to thank him for his time, and beer, as it really meant a lot to me to connect with an old friend.

Cheers! From the WCBL.

24 Days of Christmas – Day 24

I knew this would come quickly but I still can’t believe it, the final beer of the advent, meaning it’s also Christmas Eve. Yum! A Black IPA from a young Quebecois brewer called Brasserie Dunham. Glancing at their website it looks like they’re a fairly ambitious brewer with a great selection including a brett saison and several other unique offerings. This beer was really good. Balanced to dark malt the black IPA topped itself with a nice dark head and delightful chocolate and hop aroma. A lively mouthfeel accompanied the rich long lasting flavour of this BLIPA.IMG_1251 I have a great respect for the offerings from Quebec and black IPAs seem to be a staple from the province’s breweries and they never cease to impress. Brasserie Dunham is no exception to the quality of Quebec based brewers and I am really excited to taste more of what they have to offer.

CRAFT BEER ADVENT CALENDAR SUMMARY

Thank  you to my family for getting this thing for me in the first place as I had given up on getting one because of the demand. Thank you to Craft Beer Imports Canada Inc for organizing the beer and loading up the calendar. While there may not have been as many rarities as I was hoping for initially there were a lot of really exciting offerings from a lot of great brewers IMG_1252around North America. I love getting exposed to different beer and not being able to choose which ones they are takes you out of your comfort zone. Typically I only buy beer from a handful of brewers and getting exposed to new ones I don’t have access to was a real treat. Some were stinkers but that happens with brewing especially after beer has sat in the bottle for a while as was the case with the calendar. But stinkers aside the offerings were solid and I’m especially excited about drinking more from Tap It, Brasserie Dunham, Peak Organic and Nickel Brook. Getting exposed to the new brewers was well worth the price of admission to the calendar, in my opinion, and hopefully CRAFT will be able to bring these beers into Alberta in a more permanent basis. Overall I’m satisfied with the experience and will totally get another one in the future. Merry Christmas and cheers to you and yours from me, The Western Canadian Beer Lover!