What is a winter beer? A beer brewed for winter? Is it that simple? CAMRA's annual National Winter Ales Festival is aimed at old ales, stouts and porters but that is not what the US understands by the term. As the Magic Hat offering is called "a dark wheat ale" on the label you can expect to find some experimentation and style stretching with winter ales. Dark, malt rich and strong I often think of them as old ales without the funky "stock" quality.
It is also interesting to note that the Blue Point Winter Ale is being contract brewed at the Clipper City Brewing Co. in Baltimore rather than their own facility in Long Island New York so we have one each from New Hampshire, Vermony, New York and Maryland in this selection.
- Redhook Winter Hook: chestnut ale with beige foam and rim. Malty roundness resolves into a juicy lush drink followed by twiggy hops and then orange welling up. The finish has a minerally or black malt toastiness. Rich but not overly sweet at all. Not too complex at all but quite pleasant. Very likeable. Come to think of it, this is not too far off a Scots heavy like Caledonian /80 but silently stronger than that at 6.1%. Here is the brewery's take on it and here's the word from the BAers.
- Magic Hat Saint Gootz: cloudy mahogany ale with beige rim and a lot of yeasty chunks. Very distinct taste with the green grass of the wheat over a dark malt richness. Vegetative with some bell pepper notes. Steel hops. Lighter body than expected with soft water quaffability. Something like a cross between a Belgian dubbel with a German pilsner at 6.2%. A little querky for me though Magic Hat does spin a good tale. Here's what the BAers say. I would think the most common example of this sort of dark strong wiezen would be Aventinus...maybe not if there is a difference between a dunkel wiezen and a weizenbock. You tell me.
- Southern Tier Old Man Winter Ale: Quality. The best of the lot and another confirmation that the guys at Southern Tier in western New York have something going. Red-chestnut ale with white foam and rim. The nose is spiced citrus. This ale has a great grainy texture sweetned by crystal malt and, I think, a bit of corn in the American style. The hops are grapefruity f rom a very generous measure of US hops - cascade?. Smooth and rich without a hint of mustiness. Almost a double IPA like Stoudt's. [Ed.: later] Then I thought it was like a practically impossible style, a double ESB. Anyway, it picks up 100% BAer approval and achieved 7.5% with utter stealth.
- Blue Point Winter Ale: Dark red amber ale - the lightest in colour so far, a more subtle version of the Southern Tier version above. Again there are citrus hops but lighter by a notch. The malt is grainy and a little sweet but a bit of a distinct sultana note. Rich and round with good grainy texturing. The milky quality of the yest is nice as is the soft water. Like the others something that is both big and wasy to take. At 4/5% it is the lightest in strength as well but the BAers also all approve.
It must be odd that beer is such a large part of one's view of the world's ills that you maintain this sort of record:
The central Ohio city of Westerville, once known as the "dry capital of the world," is dry no more. A pizza parlor on Thursday became the first establishment in Westerville's uptown business district to legally serve a beer since 1875.Apparently, Westerville is the former headquarters of The Anti-Saloon League, a once powerful lobby group. Here is a site with some of the history of the organization.
What a grand thing to call yourself the anti-something league. I will have to think of one. The anti-medler league perhaps.
I got a little fancy the photo effects but this is one of my first favorite south of the border ales and the only US beer I ever saw listed anywhere as a "Canadian ale" but I am thinking this is very like Mendocino Eye of Hawk and Special London Ale from Youngs.
A rocky off-white head sits over orange-amber ale. Soft water and a lovely aroma of marmalade. Rich malty and a tad sweet, this is a very clean brew with a nice edge of twiggy hops cutting through. I swear I taste a salty tang which is not too odd given where Shipyard brews its beer. If you don't like the ringwood yeast, you will find an odd note. I like the ringwood yeast.
Even though I prefer "beer nerd" I guess this description fits me:
...it was Sean Ziegler, pouring beers for Dogfish Head brewery at at the Big Beers, Belgians and Barleywines Festival Saturday, who told it. "Wine is like an art. Your always subject to nature," Ziegler said. "Beer is more like a science. Hence, the name beer geek. You can measure the color, the hops, the sweetness - and theoretically - if you can measure it, you can reproduce it over and over again." The predominately male crowd at Saturday's festival is part of a larger beer culture much different than the quantity guzzling, can crushing frat boys often associated with beer. These beer lovers crave knowledge about their favorite carbonated beverage. They seek out brews that are complex in color and flavor and do it through tasting, smelling, attending festivals, visiting breweries and cooking up their own concoctions. "There's not a beer I don't like, there's not a beer I won't taste, there's not a place with a brewery that I won't visit," said Chris Katechis of Oskar Blues Brewery, who was serving up Old Chub Scottish style ale among others. "Everything there is to know about beer, we want to know. What time the brewer wakes up and starts brewing - we want to know."Is that you, too?
This weekend I made a discovery while looking for things to do while visiting family...OK, my in-laws. Right there in little Stratford Ontario was the Stratford Brewing Company. At the south end of town in a small industrial park area at the back of a building there it was...a van, a man and a set of second-hand brewing equipment making one of the best pilsners I have ever had.
After I got past what looked like an attack beagle, I met Joe Tuer who ended up taking over two hours of his day to tell me about his beer and his business.
I actually came back with the camera and a note pad. I was going to do this interviewing thing right. Looking at my notes now you would think I was sitting in a chilly lagering room in the middle of a Canadian winter fixated on the beer in front of me and chatting with a new found beer nerd fellow traveller. Oh...I was. I did get a good quote after I asked what his challange as a brewer was, which he replied:
I don't want to be someone's favorite beer. I don't want someone to buy our beer religiously. If we're in your top six - perfect.
This is a two beer operation. The flagship is a 4.9% Czech pilsner - by name of Stratford Pilsner - which has a nice breadcrustiness from the pale malt as well as a easy drinkability from Stratford's soft artesian well water. Joe also poured me a new 4% porter he decided to add for winter. Chocolate with a nice snap of twiggy hops, this beer relies on a light fruity English ale yeast as well as that soft water. Again, quaffable at the lighter end of porter. The malt Stratford Brewering uses is from Gilbertson & Page of nearby Fergus, the hops from Hop Union and the yeast are from Wyeast.
Brewing lager takes a bit of an investment and a bit of a chance. Lager has to be "lagered" or stored in cold temperatures for a significantly longer period of time than ales. This means you need more storage capacity to produce the same amount of beer as an ale brewer. It also means you have to pay higher cooling costs. But what is smart about it is that you are aiming at a niche that the average southern Ontarian is already used to supping. You have market. Stratford Brewing services a keg market of about two dozen accounts right now which is largely based on local loyalty in town as well as beer lovers in downtown Toronto, about two hours drive east. The town of Stratford has a world famous Shakespeare festival which attracts folk from around the world including many who expect a town to have a local town brewer and who ask for his beer before they even know the name.
After some rejection from banks as a new grad with a business degree, Joe reinvented his business interest in beer while working in Singapore enjoying the ex-pat life. Diligent readers of the archives will be familiar with Brewerkz, a brew pub there visited by Newfoundlander and Asiapundit, Chris Myrick before he moved to Shanghai, land of pineapple beer. Joe got a short course of over the shoulder training from Scott Robertson at Brewerkz which carried him back to Canada a year and a half ago and started him on his search for equipment. What he found was in Cincinnati - a 14 barrel Specific Mechanical system originally from BC shown here.
I will revisit Stratford Brewing (and not only because I visit my in-laws there) from time to time. This is a lager I would return to - and this is from someone who is not a lager fan. I hope to find Joe on a hot August Saturday with a lawn chair each and time to contemplate his work.
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From Alva in Clackmannanshire. Luscious brown ale, mahogany under a beige rim. Big dark chocolate note right up front. Among the chocolate the twig hops provide bitter which is sustained as notes of date and fig show up.
There is a lot of graininess amongt the richness which, along with the hops, keeps this from getting flabby. Really rich and smooth with a good body. Highly BA approved though they call it an old ale when it is more a southern English brown.
Very moreish. Sadly, I have but one to open.
Now in its 10th year, NWAF began because brewers of old ales, stouts and porters could not enter the Champion Beer of Britain Competition – held in August when most winter ales are not available. Since then NWAF has become a staple in the beer drinkers calendar, attracting thousands of visitors.I was not aware there was a beer drinkers calendar. Where can I get one of those.