I was in London last week, which is pleasant during all seasons, but this has been the hottest July for 30 years, so there is an extra need to refill the body's liquid reserves.
I first visited the splendid Pitfield Beer Shop, which sells both a number of bottle conditioned ales from its own micro and a broad selection of beers and ales from Britain and the rest of the world. Friendly staff that know their beers as well, so it is definitely woth seeking out, even if it is a bit out of the way for most visitors to London. I bought as many bottles I could reasonably carry, and walked back through the Clerkenwell area, where I decided to try the new golden ales on offer from Young's and Fuller's, the two independent London brewers which both own a number of pubs serving their beers.
Next stop was the Sekforde Arms, a friendly Young's local on a side street. Young's have Golden Zest as their seasonal ale this Summer. It is dark gold in color, but while it looks like a lager, it is certainly an ale. Light and refreshing, but not a groundbreaking brew. Served at the proper cellar temperature - what critics of British beer call "warm beer", this could actually have been served colder on a hot day like this. It was nice to try the Golden Zest, but the next time I will return to their Special. The brewery blurb for this 100% malt brew: Maris Otter pale malt, lager malt, English Fuggle and Golding hops come together to produce a wonderfully light and refreshing golden beer.
A few minutes walk to the Fuller's pub City Retreat, a great place on a hot afternoon (or a cold Winter evening, as I've been there before). The new ale from Fuller's is Discovery, and this was something else. An ale with a depth of flavour. It is fruity, with hints of apple and peach. A splendid summer beer, but I am not sure where it will fit in the market, as it is neither a lager nor a typical ale. According the Fuller's, this is to be added to their year-round range of ales, along with London Pride and ESB. This was served chilled, and I found that suited the beer well. According to Fuller's, this is "brewed using a unique blend of malted barley and wheat for a delicious malty taste bursting with rich, biscuity flavours. Liberty hops are added for a distinctive zesty character and fruity bite, whilst Saaz hops add a gentle bitter taste for a clean, refreshing finish."
It seems like they have both aimed for the same type of beer, with "zesty" being a common denominator. It is worth mentioning that Young's launced a beer a few years ago, the Triple A, which also aims at the drinkers who dont't want the full flavour of their bitters. This is not a real ale, and it is served chilled, rather like a Kilkenny, but with a bit more taste. Purists frown on this, of course.
If you stay in the British Museum area of London, these two pubs are just a few minutes away by bus or taxi - if it's not too hot they are within walking distance. They are much to be preferred to the more busy and touristy pubs in the Covent Garden/Soho area, being frequented by people who live or work in the area. You can look up their addresses on http://www.youngs.co.uk and http://www.fullers.co.uk, where there is plenty of information on their beer range, too. And, if you have more time on your hand, both breweries have tours of their premises and they have brewery taps and souvenir shops. Young's even have published books on the history of the brewery and their pubs, see a review on my self-named Knut Albert's Beer Blog.
Good use of a sideboard - click the images
A real surprise was in store when I hit the LCBO the other day preparing for a dinner party on a stinking hot summer Saturday. They had actually brought in a bunch of extra hefeweizens, southern German wheat ales with a measure of yeast left in.
- Rogue Half-E-Weizen: a loose rich white head falls to a white skim leaving generous lace over a slightly cloudly yellow straw body. Corriander and hops balance well, their bittering leaving some astringency while the lightly creamy yeast with its presence of banana intercedes. A medium light version of the style without the German committment to full bore clovey creamy goodness. $5.05 for a 22 oz bottle.
- Erdinger Weizen: I am a little unsure if this is a real hefeweizen as the labelling is "weissen" but the little neck sash says "mit feiner hefe in der flasche gerfeift" which in my hack German I take as "with fine yeast left in the bottle". Even with that the nature of this beer still leaves me wondering a bit. White foam over cloudy yellow leaving no lacing. Light body without the phenols of banana or spice that indicate the style. A clean cream yeast without complexity but very refreshing.
- Schneider Weisse: This is the business. One of my favorite beers that for some reason screams "lunch" with a cold cut sandwhich. How many things scream that in life? It is rich and creamy good with lots of cloves and banana. A fine white head over medium brown with almost a greyish tinge. As befits the style, very moreish and heat-wave cutting.
- Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen: this hefeweizen pours a tall egg white meringue over cloudy straw ale. A layer of hop astringency cuts and to a degree hides the yeasty phenols of banana and clovey nutmeg. Not as rich as others from Germany in the style though richer than the American cousins here. Lemony grapefruit in the finish.
- Edelweiss Weissbier Hefetrüb: white foam over dark yellow or light brown cloudy ale. Simply lovely. Lighter than the Schneider Weisse with a lemony brightness it does not share. Clove aroma and banana-clove in the mouth. The brewery has had only 530 years to get it right. Clean finish with a nice drying hop astringency.
- Saranac Hefeweizen:I am quite surprised by the quality of this beer. Not as creamy a yeast strain as the others but much truer than the other US version of the style from Rogue above and Harpoon's version tasted in April. It would be worth comparing to Paper City's Cabot Street. White fine rocky head over cloudy straw coloured beer. Quite pronounced clove over banana. Worthy yet the label says limited edition.
- Hacker-Pschorr Hefe Weisse: The last of this set, perfect on a summer warm evening with a game from Fenway on the tubes, soothing to aches and pains from old timers soccer. Niether lemony or particularly creamy, this is quite a grainy rendition of the style with both banana and clove as supporting class. Massive rich white head over cloudy dark straw beer verging on orangey. There is something savory as well in the palate, making me thing of soaking a pork roast in this one. Of the selection above, most like the Rogue with that beer's untraditional use of corriander but the notes of spice here are in the yeast. Another amazing expression and, for what it is worth, one of the best logos in all of commerical trade.
Sibling to the Floris Chocolate that Myrick ran into in Shanghai, cousin to the Delirium Tremens I had at New Year's, this 4.5% Belgian white ale is what you imagine mead would be like. A white lacey head over pale yellow. Very rich milky yeast with antique sweet green hop melding with profound honey and a slight edge of grain. Really quite astoundingly full of honey. Click pic.
New this week at the LCBO along with a raft of hefe-weizens soon to be reviewed.
We visited the Sackets Harbor Brewing Co. in the North Country of New York State last weekend. Sitting at the eastern end of Lake Ontario in the bay that once saw one-half of the US navy located there around two hundred years ago, the brew pub is in one of the prettiest settings around for a glass of real ale. It is also one of the smallest brew pubs I have ever seen. The building set on the waterfront next to a marina is divided into a pub side and a dining side with their DME brewing equipment set up in the front with a view from the pub. There is also a patio on the marina side.
We really didn't take in the full range of the beers offered as we were in the middle of a day long Father's Day upstate road trip with two little kids in tow but that is ofter a good measure of the capability of a pub. It was kid friendly if only because of the active harbour out the window of the dining room - count the boats, kids. While that was going on, I had their stout which I was really pleased with - full of flavour with a bit of chocolate and a bit on minty hops over a clean milky yeast. We also tried a half pint of a cherry wheat which was clean and refreshing with a solid cherry flavour which leaned a bit towards cherry pie as opposed to cherry picked off the tree.
Three advocatonians have visited and reported.
¹ 29 Dec. 2006: I have two left in the stash now and can confirm they are quite lovely session ambers. I will do a proper review soon.
This is an interesting motive for creating a new beer:
Protestors hope a new beer will boost their campaign against night flights at Nottingham East Midlands Airport. They have launched a beer from Belvoir Brewery called Nightcap to raise awareness of their concerns. New flight paths were introduced at the airport in May after a consultation process, but some residents say noise is still a problem. Steve Charlish says the beer is another way to put forward their concerns in "a serious but simple manner".This is an example of "contract brewing," a far more common practice than is usually thought. Brewers with excess capacity will take on the brewing and packaging of the beers of others for a fee. In theory, we each could have the beers we want made to our own specifications for sale to ourselves.
Another from the 100 Barrel Series from Harpoon of Boston, this Maibock is a nice malty expression of the bock without a heavy level of hops...and without that nice goat usually found on the label of a bock. The beer pours a nice caramel with a rich thick tan head that leaves an inordinate amount of lacing. Great sweet malt nose becomes greater apply raisiny sweet round malt mouthful with a faint fog of smoke.
Even cold from the fridge there is a strong cutting bitter hop edge with some green but no metallic. Like the Salvator, something of a Scots heavy feel to it, even in the sense that there might be some roast barley there in that bittering edge but without that tell-tale accompanying red tinge to the brew.
Although Calgary is home to the world's largest malting company, Canada Malting, makers of masses of the main ingredient in ales and lagers, it has taken a long time for beer to get some respect in Alberta. Like other areas of Canada 15 to 20 years ago, a very limited selection of beer existed, dominated mostly by the Big Three and local high volume producers, such as the Labatt's brewery in Edmonton, which is still operational. Thankfully, that is the only macro-brewery left in Alberta.
Going back, we find that the local markets were dominated by mammoth breweries such as The Calgary Brewing and Malting Company, above, which was founded in 1892. Then...after a lot of steadily poorer and poorer product...maybe about a century later...the revolution of beer hit the world and Alberta started to sprout up microbreweries and brew pubs. First on the Alberta scene was Calgary's Big Rock Brewery founded in 1984, a now 450,000 hectolitre capacity brewery that some say is no longer a micro, though Big Rock still produces craft beers and seasonals. The success of the brewery was pivotal however in allowing other beer-lovers and brewers in Alberta to see that indeed a small brewery specialising in craft beer could succeed. Thankfully, others followed, and Alberta is now home to a good number of microbreweries and brewpubs. Some include:
- Alley Kat in Edmonton
- Wild Rose in Calgary
- Grizzly Paw Brewpub in Canmore
- Brew Brothers in Calgary
- Wildwood Brewpub also in Calgary
Some others noted just five years ago have come and gone, notably Peak Brewing which was in Canmore, but closed years back. Though some of these micros have been around for 10 or 15 years, it seems only now that Albertans are starting to appreciate craft beer on a larger basis, and the market is reflecting this, as looking at some of the better stocked liquor stores will evidence. Niche craft beers and rare imports are now making an appearance, and people are drinking locally though, of course, on a larger scale swill beer is still flying high with sales. The niche market of good beer drinkers is expanding, however, and this year heralded two beers events worthy of notice in Calgary. One was the Calgary Beerfest 2005, the other being the CAMRA Calgary Real Ale Festival, held at Brew Brothers Brewpub, but more on that in another posting.
Well, I did not sit down to write a small history of brewing in Calgary, but that is kind of what it became. Of course, for every step forward for beer in Alberta, it seems we take a half step back, such as local chains of liquor stores that expand and eat up privately owned ones, and stocking very little selection. I give you as exhibit A Willow Park Liquor Stores. Though the main Calgary-based company store has probably Alberta's biggest and best selection of beers, their linked stores across Alberta unfortunately seem to cater to mass-market brews.
However, and to sum it all up for now, Alberta is getting better, and a beer lover can now find a large selection of local and imported artisanal beers here. Though not as rich as British Columbia brewery-wise, which can boast 50 or more breweries and brewpubs, Alberta, as of 2005, has never had so much beer choice. I only hope it keeps getting better.