Beer never has a "bad year."
A co-worker who gets to drive a cop car called and said he had a delivery for me. Fine as long as it is not a summons, I thought. And lo and behold what were gifted me but a beer from the Basque area of France, bought by a pal of his when recently visiting St. Pierre and Miquelon, the tiny French province off Newfoundland. It cost 2.28 Euros for 330 ml at 5.5% and is from a small brewery called Akerbeltz, their amber or ambrée Gorrosta. Most neato of all is that no one has reviewed the beer on the Beer Advocate. Very interesting opportunity for me. Click on the picture for a close up of the label.
This well illustrates my policy on giving me things. You can. More when I open this.
My favorite book on the beers of Scotland is called Scotch Ale and it is by Greg Noonan, founder of the Vermont Pub & Brewery of Burlington on Lake Champlain which I first visited in the summer of 1990. I referred to this book in one of the few reports written here on the beers of my forefathers, the great Traquair House from Peeblesshire. I should take a moment in what promises to be a longer post than usually to mention the series in which Noonan text is published - the Classic Beer Style Series from Brewers Publications. Issued mainly for the home brew set, these guides set out the history, the main features of profile, brewing facts, ingredients and examples. They are gold for any beer nerd. Noonan's on the beers of Scotland is among the best written of the series. A bit expensive due to the limited market, beer fans really should invest in these.
Scotland's beers are largely based on one thing - the solid mass of rock which rises in the middle of Edinburgh. That is because, as Noonan explains, wells drilled deep into the rock produced a wonderful water that always arose at exactly the same temperature, a cool 51º F. That allowed for a more standardized brewing in the pre-scientific era than you would have found elsewhere. As a result, for centuries and right up until recent years the road down from the castle was the site of a number of large breweries jammed up against each other. In addition to the cool of the water was the northern climate. Barley and oats grew better than wheat and even then other strains of barley florished. Added to this was the inability to grow hops as easily as in southern England what with the colder seasons and you had a naturally slower fermentation at a lower temperature, without high hopping, without highly attenuated yeast to dry out the sweet from the beer. This left the world with a smoother maltier beer, not unlike the idea of a Marzen from Germany, but with sources of balancing bitter other than steely hops to cut the cloy. Usually this was black malt burned almost to dust but sometimes, too, it was the local fruit or herbs. These five ales are attempts to capture something of the spirit of those conditions.
- McEwan's Scotch: This is an old friend. I had a habit for this 8% ale in my undergrad years, being one of the few deviations from rapidly macro-morphing Maritime Canadian pale ale you could get in the early 1980s in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A sheeting tan lace, rim and foam sits over deep mahogany. The aroma of sweet malt with a note of smoke sits like a fog over the glass. You sip molasses with a note of apple butter which opens to a discrete seam of black malt char guarding the heat of the alcohol. Underneath is the rich smoke and cream of the yeast. It is big but not massive, a winter's blanket of an ale. It has actually been years since I had one of these and I am immediately regretting the time lost. Thankfully it is generally available at least in eastern Canada. I can renew the acquaintance. BAers approve.
- Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Ale: Jim in Scotland included this in a past review of five from the Old Country. For me, it poured a dark honey with large bored carbonation feeding white foam. At 6.6%, this strong ale is honey sweet, smokey oaked and buttery. The effect, confirmed by the yeast selection, is creamy and rich and very pleasant. As the maker's website explains, the beer takes 77 days to make, the first thirty in new American oak barrels. This provides a profound effect on the ale which makes it difficult to compare it to others, rounder and mellower while also picking up flavours such as vanilla. It is too bad as beer from the wood was a common thing not that long ago but in all these reviews only Marston Pedigree serves as another example of a beer formed in a wooden cask. This flavours assist in their way with the successful balancing the sweetness and as a result, as is appropriate for a Scots ale, there is a more subdued hop effect. A note of black malt toast is also present. All in all, the flavour profile is not unlike the liqueur Drambuie in far drier form. Very nicely done. 15% of advocatonians disagree with me.
- Smuttynose Scotch Style Ale: reddish mahogany...maybe chestnut...under a rocky tan head. This scotch has a hidden green hoppy underseam beneath the round soft malt and the stroke of dark malt - but chocolate rather than black. A bit hot, too - which is no surprise at 7.8%. The malt is mainly apple butterish but also a little dark raisiny, too. There is a bit of smoke in the rich yeast as well - which is not from the yeast itself but from 2% German hardwood rauch malt according to the brewer's notes. Really a nice take on the style of a wee heavy. Everyone loves it. Worthy.
- Middle Ages Kilt Titler: this is something of a take on the McEwan's Scotch above with tan foam and rim over rich mahogany. The nose is more subdued and in the mouth there is the heat of 9.5%, apple butter and maybe a note of licorice and even perhaps banana, coffee and cocoa. There is smoke which is more likely from smoked malt than a true Scots yeast. The water has a chalky thing without being overly soft. At the end there is hop which sits below the malt, perhaps green, maybe twiggy. The otherwise pleased BAer average is skewed by one low rater. Confirms again that Middle Ages is one of my favorite brewers.
- Belhaven Wee Heavy: Wow. The smokiest of all. Tan foam and lace leaving rim over reddish mahogany ale. This would make an excellent BBQ beer, medium-sweet and big bodied. Unlike a pure smoke beer like Rogue's Chipotle, there is also rich malt flavours of date, apple, raisin and pear - and a licorice effect as well. A very complex array and not as strong at 6.5%. There is also more hop than in the other Scots-made heavy above, the McEwan's. If this were placed before me as a light rauchbier I might believe it. BAer approved.
This beer from St. Peter's is a ruby brown ale under an oddly ivory head. I've never seen an ivory head: tan plus hints of green-grey. This is old style, like Burton Bridge porter: barley candy plus molasses with lime and green hops. The yeast is sour cream or soured milk or something in between. Yet all well balanced.
Is this the holy grail? A 1750s porter? Likely not sour enough but colonial US farmers drank diluted vinegar so go figure.
So we went to Peterborough yesterday to see old friends and we had lunch at St. Veronus, a cafe/bar with a subtitle: "Belgian beer temple"...truer words were never writ. We are now looking for jobs in the Peterborough area.
So unaccustomed to great selection, great service, reasonable prices, care and attention to interesting beer and fantastic food selection am I in a Canadian beer spot that I kept mentally making US exchange rate calculations as I browsed the menu and the beer lists. Then I would shake my head and say...this place is actually in Ontario...and Ontario is in Canada.
I was overwhelmed at the outset when I realized what lay before me. I did not know what to order for a first drink so I just wandered around the two room cafe taking pictures. I mentioned the fact of this here website and, without shifting into a higher gear of service in any respect, the extremely helpful staff answered any number of my deer-in-headlight questions. They even allowed themselves to engage in a little beer porn for the camera as illustrated below. I settled on a Rochefort 6, a new beer to me. At 7.5% it was off their "new arrivals" short list. It was heaven. From recollection malty, a tad burlappy with even a little chocolate perhaps. Others had various lambics and Gueze as well as a very nice Barbar honey ale which I got to sip. Loverly. Just look at the bar fridge - now that's real shock and awe.
Despite the excellent price and variety of the beer, however, it was the food that actually made the visit. St Veronus offers a selection of grilled thick sandwiches with thoughtful ingredients that match the beers very well. The best I thought was the cheddar, slow cooked onion goo and slow cooked apple goo sandwich - it has an other better name but whatever it is called it was scoffed down by a seven year old in mucho haste. For my second sip, I had a local micro, Church-key Northumberland Ale. I did not get a six of that when I visited the brewery last winter but I will next time I go. It was a full malt-fruit forward rich pale ale under what must be the best beer handling conditions I have met in Ontario. And only 4.50 CND for a 500 ml pint.
Definitely a first of many visits.
The Larsblog has begun. There are very few postings so far but here is a good one about beer in Franconia, Germany where Lars recently visited. I don't really know where Lars is located but that may be half the fun at Larsblog. I just like writing Larsblog.
Here are two of my favorite bigger pale ales: Dead Guy Ale from Rogue of Oregon, USA and Extra Special Bitter from the Propeller Brewing Company of Halifax. They are both at your local LCBO in Ontario right now. There are probably no other stores in the world where you find both - though I would be very pleased to be corrected. It would be a heck of a store.
- Rogue Dead Guy Ale: One of the older micro-brews still widely available, I try to grab a few of these whenever I see it. At $4.95 CND for a 650 ml bottle, this 6.6% ale is a reasonable handful. Not a hop bomb in any respect, it is a big malty pale that has a bit of a note of mustiness that might make it a stock ale or even a young old...you get that, right? The brewery says:
Gratefully dedicated to the Rogue in each of us. In the early 1990s Dead Guy Ale was created as a private tap sticker to celebrate the Mayan Day of the Dead (November 1st, All Souls Day) for Casa U Betcha in Portland, Oregon. The Dead Guy design proved popular and was incorporated into a bottled product a few years later with Maierbock as the elixir. Strangely, the association with the Grateful Dead is pure coincidence.Isn't it sad how Rogue holds back the information. A maiback! Who knew? The beer pours a loose bubble head which resolved quickly to a white rim over still, dark amber beer. The nose is malty fruit, the mouth autumn apple and orange marmalade. The center of the malt is cherry with a good edge of twiggy herb. BAers vote strongly in favour.
Dead Guy is a German-style Maibock made with Rogue's proprietary "PacMan" ale yeast. It is deep honey in color with a malty aroma, rich hearty flavor and a well balanced finish. Dead Guy is created from Northwest Harrington, Klages, Maier Munich and Carastan malts, along with Perle and Saaz Hops.
- Propeller Extra Special Bitter: This is one of my favorite beers and I have had stashes of it bought in two Maritime provinces, once before in Ontario and carted wherever I happened to be going. At 5%, it is the benchmark ESB for me - enough body to separate it from the pale ales but less hops than anything that seriously thinks it is an IPA. The brewery says:
Rich, full-bodied English-style bitter made from a blend of two-row malts, including pale malt, crystal malt (for body and residual sweetness) and chocolate malt (for its rich flavour and colour). A last small addition of malted wheat helps deliver its pleasing head.That bit of wheat is key, making it in the nature of a Yorkshire bitter. The beer pours a reddish tan lacey foam head over ruby brown ale. The malty nose has some herby hop. The malt fruit profile is plum and prune, hops twiggy making for an interesting heart with almost a note of cigar. A lighter grainy finish makes it moreish. Sort of a lighter Wells Bombardier with a little less caramel raisin. All BAers share the love.
"There is no ‘real ale crisis'," said Roger Protz, editor of CAMRA's Good Beer Guide, which lists a record 80 new breweries in its 2006 edition, most of them micro-breweries...Beers with aroma and flavour are back in vogue," Protz added. "Beer lovers are tired of over-hyped national brands and avoid like the plague the bland apologies for lager and the cold, tasteless keg beers produced by the global brewers."Look at this one of the 80 new breweries - they brew in 27 gallon batches. Magic. Imagine if the law let you do that here in Canada? There'd be no end of small-run casks to try at this corner bar or that. People would actually get to try something different, to get a foothold in working for themselves. Thank heavens we have the Federal Excise Act and regulations to keep us from that by watching everything.
Update: the same appears to be true of creaft brewers in the US with a year to date rise in sales of 7.8% to mid-August 2005.