You have to love the fancy packaging. When you can only buy the bottles at the brewery, however, I guess you have already attracted the audience. The packing tape is a very nice touch. Eleven bucks for a six when you buy two. On tap at many finer brew bars in Ontario.
This is a really good beer. I thought when I started writing these reviews I would have a hard time thinking of anything to write other than "this is a really good beer" - but it is. It is not overwhelming, it is balanced, it is fresh, it's interesting and its flavourful. That is "really good" to me. So, the details. It pours dark mahogany, the head resolving to an active rim of small bubbles, it smells of both chocolate and smoked malt, but not strongly of either. In the mouth those are the two strongest flavours the first nicely giving way to the second. There is also a lot of honest grain and a good clean yeast palate, a basic British ale with some apple fruitiness. Where you think it might all be big, instead it is fairly restrained and subtle though solid. The water is very clean and makes me wonder if it is from a well on site. The hops are restrained, twiggy rather than green and may be supported with some black malt for that traditional Scots edge.
Some unhappier advocatonian reviewers wish it pumped up one way or another but for me to find the 6.25% in this light a beer is fairly masterful brewing. They may be thinking of a style like we find in a smoked porter. One top rater say she or he finds notes of bacon - this is not far off given the slightly oily feel that might mean a bit of oats in the mash and that easy smokiness. Does that make it breakfast beer?
We at A Good Beer Blog like to know what is going on out there in the world and so I was really pleased to receive an email or two from Ben who writes from behind a highly unsuccessful internet blackout which is part of the royalist coup in Nepal on the pressing issue of what is there to drink at a time like that:
I've spent a few hours at this internet cafe, so I thought I might as well send you my impressions of the bar scene and various alcoholic beverages over here. After all, it's not nearly so fun if I report it from the safety of the West. ;-)Fabulous report. By the way, the happy man with the Everest is someone else on his way to or from a mountain. He just looked so happy with his Everest beer which we can see is, in fact, larger than his head.
Kathmandu has lots and lots of bars, as does Pokhara (the lakeside resort town I'm now in). They are mainly tourist-oriented - rather like a cross between our familiar pubs and North American-style bars. So, really, very familiar territory. To my distress, I have found that there is in fact only one Nepalis beer - a brew called Everest. It isn't a particularly extraordinary one: it's somewhat lightish, rather the colour of a Molson or a Sleeman's Cream Ale. Goes down fairly easily. Has a picture of Tenzing Norgay on the front - to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the climb. The climb was in 1953. Hope it's just old labels, not old beer, but that might explain a bit about the ones I've had. Otherwise, foreign beer is the thing here, brewed under license by local breweries. The most popular seems to be San Miguel. I think it gained its market dominance by a use of the old-style custom of tied-houses -- certain bars signed up only to serve their product. The other main brand around is Tuborg, though I've also seen a few others.
Beer here is only served in big bottles -- it takes three half-pint beer-glasses to empty them. Ordinarily, I would be quite happy with that. But when I just want a little beer, I find that it's annoying when I have to finish the whole thing -- as one can't leave alcohol at the table, of course. It isn't done. Not by me, anyway. Other popular drinks: the Nepalis love to drink Johnny Walker. Red Label seems to be the most common at the parties I've been at. (Weddings, mainly.) Also, I got to try a rice liquor called raksi. It didn't have much of a taste: rather bitter, but kinda watery. Anyway, it didn't seem to pack much of a punch at the time but I wasn't much use the rest of the day. I was told to try the local wines when I got to Jomsom, but I think I may give that part of the trip a miss, what with the general strike starting tomorrow. Other local stuff is called "Chhang" and "Tumba", but, again, I sha'n't have a chance to try it out. Maybe next time. Or maybe once I'm back in Kathmandu after Monday. Shall e-mail any additional information I find as I go, but I think that this is the most I'll find out. Am still quite disappointed at the relative lack of domestic brews. I think it's a great business opportunity gone to waste...
I got off the 401 at the Brighton exit and headed away from that town, going north. I will write more about this brewery tomorrow when I am not so tired but for now here are some pictures and the assurance that some of the best beer in Ontario is being made in a small Victorian church in the rolling hills of Northumberland county.
Just one point before tomorrow, however: there were renovations going on and that is why a good swiffering looks due.
The Next Day: You have to spend an hour getting to and from Church-Key Brewing from the 401. Do it. It sits between Campbellford and Springbrook on route #38 on a high point among small century farms. If it is not on the road, you will notice the yellow draft dispensing van out front. The brewery is housed in the former Zion United Church which was likely the former Zion Methodist Church. The main body of the building is from the 1860s or '70s with an addition from the 1920s that the brewery is expanding into at the moment. Its 3000 litre conical fermenters stand floor to rafters like the dullest organ pipes in the what was the sanctuary.
I got to spend an hour with Church-Key Owner John Graham and Marketing Director Cary Tucker. We got so quickly into talking that I didn't even sample any samples. They only sell six-packs at the brewery, moving kegs to bars and restaurants from Ottawa to Toronto, Kingston to Peterborough. Cary and I got into beer travelling, the joys of the Galeville Grocery and his website. These guys like to know what is going on in the industry and, after five years or operation, are still self-described beer nerds.
They brew a lager, a pale ale, a smoked ale and a chocolate porter and, going by the two sixes I picked up, the beer is some of the best made in the province. I'll review the smoked ale and chocolate porter later but suffice it to say that I can easily see making the two and half hour round trip some Saturday just to get another fix. Recently, they have won some important awards:
Church-Key Brewing picked up three Gold Medals at the second annual Canadian Brewing Awards held at the Duke of Westminster Pub in Toronto. Church-Key's first gold medal came in the Scotch Ale competition as Holy Smoke was chosen Best of Category. In the Cream Ale Category, Church-Key's Northumberland Ale tied for the Gold Medal with Gulf Islands Salt Spring Golden Ale from British Columbia and Quebec's Microbrasserie du Lievre La Montoise. Church-Key's Decadent Chocolate Porter, flavored with cocoa from World's Finest Chocolate in Campbellford, tied for Gold in the Stout or Porter category with Black Oak Nutcracker from Oakville, Ontario and Boreale Noire from Quebec.Impressive competition which makes me think we have a couple of candidates for the National Six-Pack.
You think it is February. Nothing will surprise you in February when you are as many weeks from Yule as you are to spring. Month o' the rut. Then, you try a brew that you have never gotten around to trying and the world is all sunshine and love...or at least has one more good brew to tell folks about.
I really like this ale. Likes it, I do. 5.5% at a pretty basic price at the Beer Store. It is like a cross between a great Belgian witte and a great Canadian pale ale. A bit spicy, gingery orangey/lemony but also a big husky grainy profile as well. There is a yeast deposit that tastes decidedly spice-a-lee Belgian but a careful pour leaves the ale bright in the glass. The colour is more deep dark straw than amber - no red to my eye. The head stays around in a nice lively fine foam. It is the kind of beer you could smell for an hour, sticking half your face in the glass - you could if your wife or pals or children would not laugh at you for being a dork.
The brewery, Unibroue says of one of its lighter offering Raftman:
Launched in March 1995, Raftman is a beer with a coral sheen that is slightly robust. It contains 5.5 percent alcohol and combines the character of whisky malt with the smooth flavours of choice yeast. It has a subtle and exceptional bouquet that creates a persistent smooth feel. Raftman complements fish, smoked meat and spicy dishes. It is brewed to commemorate the legendary courage of the forest workers. These hard working men knew when to settle their differences and share their joie de vivre with a beer and a whisky.The brewer twice notes "smoked whisky malt" as a part of the mash but it is a pretty subtle smoke if it is there at all. Still, it is Big Joe Mufferaw ale. Ale for men in plaid. Beer for lumber bars like Fred's in Chapeau or the Silver Maple back of Shawville. Click on the photo for a plaidly scale version. The beer advocates do not go all rang-dang-do ever it but lots like it.
So far, tied best of the National Six-Packs along with St-Ambrose Pale. Two Quebecers leading the pack. Who knew?
Germany is investing billions of euros to stage the 2006 World Cup that is expected to be the biggest yet in business terms, but the honour of hosting the event has failed to impress German companies, which are crying foul at being squeezed out by big foreign players...German troubles started when it was announced that German beer would not be available at cup games because Anheuser Busch, the huge US brewer, had won the rights.So if you go to one of the world centres of beermaking for the world's celebration of soccer...expect thin, insipid American lager in the stands. Pure evil is afoot.
I go to the LCBO more than the Beer Store here in Ontario but when I have gone to the place also known as "the In and Out", I have noticed but never picked up this brand, preferring Maudit or another Unibroue variety. I noticed today that it actually comes in a four pack and thought what the hell. The clerk looked at me a little like my head was on wrong and had to hunt through her computer to find the right key to hit. Apparently no one ever buys it. Bodes well.
The Trafalgar Brewing out of Oakville has been around since 1993. It gets a few lines in Allen Winn Sneath's Brewed in Canada in the chronology for the year of its opening and for its two year attempt to expand to the Old Mill in Elora. It is a tough trade. You know, some smaller microbrewers in Ontario only get local sales so that, for example, Mill Street Brewery's product from Toronto or Heritage Brewing's bottles from Ottawa simply do not make it to Kingston shelves even though we are about two hours drive from each - God bless the monolpoly system that ensures I have access to 27 types of identical tasting eastern European lager but not all the real ales from within this province. In part it is the reality of shipping costs but mostly it is a bad system of laws. So it is a bit of a odd thing to see one here. The packaging is a bit weird too, a 1 x 4 quart (650 ml) pack. No handle, light cardboard meaning you have to kind of hug the thing which is not unlike carrying a grade 12 math textbook when you are in grade 6.
The bottle I had was showing age with a bit of a rusty cap but its secluded life at the back of the Beer Store cooler kept the ale inside in fairly good shape. It is a fresh tasting amber ale, not too heavy at 4.5%, along the lines of Gritstone, Quidi Vidi Trad or Big Rock Trad. Like Quidi Vidi and Big Rock there is a bit of sourness (yeast sting?) to the yeast and like Gritstone it is a fairly sweetish ale. Unlike all of them is the addition of a smoky note and a bit more body. The white head dissipates fairly rapidly over the clear dark caramel ale. It is a quite attractive ale with notes of apple, toffee and maybe mocha back there somewhere. Subdued barky and green hops. It is an ale I would be interested in comparing to Garrison Irish Red from Halifax, though from recollection the latter might still be my preferred ale. The brewery says:
The Celtic formulation is based on an ancient recipe for Irish Brown Ale. Four different malts emphasize the grainy richness of this well-balanced ale. The flavour profile of Celtic is that of an easy drinking subtle ale with mild hopping. This every day ale compliments most meals and occasions.Only one beer advocate has rated this beer and had it on draft at the brewery. At $13.95 for four it is definitely good value.
I am starting to think there is an unnamed style out there, the Canadian amber ale, sort of a low hopped ESB, that has versions throughout the land: medium in colour, sweetness and weight with only enough hops to cut the cloy of the sweetness. Not much to aspire to but this one goes beyond it. I am a little smitten.