This is one of my favorite winter stouts, a real foreign stout. A foreign stout was a high test export ready stout created to survive a sail. Imperial Stouts, dry and roasty at pushing 10%, were originally created for the Baltic trade between England and the northern Slavs in the late 1700s and early 1800s. This sweeter and, at 6.6%, not so incredibly strong style was for the Caribbean trade. It is a little odd to describe - like a Coke meeting a cold mug of cocoa. There must be some lactose in the brew, an unfermentable sugar found in milk that leaves a sweet malty creamy base over and through which the moderate hops cut. Very pleasant.
Alba Pine, Fraoch Heather, Ebulum Elderberry, Grozet Gooseberry
I buy this four 330 ml bottle boxed set every Christmas at the LCBO for no doubt an exorbident price given all the fancy packaging. What I do not understand is why the beers in this promotional package are not otherwise available as singles. What exactly is being promoted? Anyway, the best thing is that these are all good beers and worth comparing even if each is more or less a unique style on its own.
These beers are made by Heather Ale Ltd. which also brews a full range of cask ales under the "Craigmill Brewery" brand and bottles Craigmill Swallow IPA. It is located in a 18th Century water mill on the river Avon, near Glasgow, in Strathaven, Lanarkshire. The web site for the brewery has a shop for readers in the UK to try and does indicate that single-brand cases can be bought, including cases of Kelpie, a seaweed beer, which is not included in the fourpack. Here is what I think of the four brews that are:
- Alba Pine Ale: The label tells me that:
Alba is a "triple" style ale, brewed to a traditional Highland recipe using the sprigs of spruce and pine collected in May 1998. This complex rich tawny ale is best drunk at room temperature from a wine goblet. Ingredients: malted barley bree, scots pine and spruce sprigs.I remember thinking before I had tried this ale that I had better brace for something resembling a 1960s institutional floor cleaning liquid. Nothing of the kind. This brew is very well structured with a big malt and sweet pine green front end. It is pretty apparent that there are no hops leaving any bitter edge. Rather the spruce and pine leaves a slight astringency and aromatic heat in the mouth that serves the same function as hops, cutting the cloy of the malt. While the brewer uses the word triple, implying a form of strong Belgian ale, I think that the malty and herbal taste at 7.5% is more analogous to a Belgian dubble.
The beer is reddish brown with a very nice tan head that faded quickly unsupported by the low carbination leaving just a rich rim inside the glass. There is lots of woodsy fruit in the glass as well as some whiskey, perhaps smokey notes. At the Beer Advocate, all but 5% of 105 reviewers give it a thumbs up, something I would not have expected for such a unique ale. The finish is orange peel, butterscotch, some heat yet a fresh juiciness quality that would make this rather more-ish if it were available-ish from the LCBO-ish.
- Ebulum Elderberry Black Ale: black ale this beer calls itself. It is really an oatmeal stout with fruit flavouring but that is besides the point - the point being that this is very good stout. Elderberry is an ornamental plant here in Canada which grannies grow on their front lawns and make jelly from in the autumn. It is a lovely small fruit bush and, when mature, very productive providing masses of the tart, woodsy, dark grapey berries. It is not that far off a blackberry or what some call a thimble berry but , unlike those, is not shaped like a dark raspberry. It is the perfect compliment to the roastiness and silkiness of an oatmeal stout. The bottle says:
It is a rich black ale with fruit aroma, soft texture, roasted grain and red wine flavour, with a gentle finish. Ingredients: malted barley bree, elderberries, roasted oats & barley and hops.It is interesting to note that there is no style called a "black ale" though there is a central European one called Schwartzbeer - but it is a lager. Beer advocatonians pick up the red wine comment and compare to port. Given the truly vineous nature of lambics and other soured beers, I think this is a bit of a red herring but it is not devoid of merit. Again, it is utterly beyond me why the LCBO does not stock the 500 ml bottles as a standing order when it brings this boxed set in each Yule.
I am confused as to the use of "barley-bree" on the lable as I understand this to reference a finished ale, implying I think incorrectly that the other ingredients are infused into that finished ale. I do not think that is the process being employed here given that roasted oats, unmalted, would create a problem with stability if it were merely infused.
- Grozet Gooseberry Lager: This deep straw coloured lager pours out quite still, the white head diffusing immediately. The berry flavour is much more forward than in the Ebulum giving a very tangy prominant overtone. It is citrusy - a combination of lemon/orange/lime. The bottle tell us that the ingredients include malted barley bree, wheat, gooseberies, hops, bogmyrtle and meadowsweet - the last two being traditional Scots wild herbs used before hops came to the UK in the 16th century. Unhappy beer advocatonians do not appreciate the goosebeery flavour but as the best dessert I ever ate was a gooseberry-pear pie, I am not worried. The gooseberry matches the tang of the wheat very nicely.
- Fraoch Heather Ale: Heather is a lovely thing and, being a Scottish immigrants kid who grew up in New Scotland, a pretty pervasive symbol in my life. Unlike hops, which is a robust annual vine that can grow to hundreds of feet, heather is a low bush that grows in pretty marginal rough places. It has both a sweetness like clover, twigginess and floral blossom aspects. This comes out in the ale, which is otherwise a fairly neutral low-medium pale ale. There is some fruit in the grain which joins with the sweetness of the heather nicely. There is an lavender-orangey thing to it but woodsy rather than fine. The finish is just off-dry and flavourful. Beer advocation is positive. From the brewery's website, this interesting technique to infuse the beer is explained:
Into the boiling bree of malted barley, sweet gale and flowering heather are added, then after cooling slightly the hot ale is poured into a vat of fresh heather flowers where it infuses for an hour before being fermented.For me, that is a better use of the infusion description. This one would be a very good every day ale if it were actually for sale here...every day.
If it were not for the word "beer", this story might not have been reported, at least not in the West:
GAUHATI, India — Wild elephant herds have been terrorizing India's remote northeast, killing people, flattening houses and even guzzling local rice-beer supplies, prompting villagers to retaliate against the pachyderms with firecrackers and bonfires... Rice beer is an attraction. Workers in tea plantations in Assam make rice beer at home and store it in drums. On Oct. 26, wild elephants drank rice beer kept in drums in Marongi, a village about 175 miles east of Assam's main city of Gauhati, and then went on a rampage, trampling three people to death and wounding two others, India media reported.A search for more information finds quite a number of other media outlets repeating the same story, using the same phrase "beer-swilling elephants terrorize Indian villages" as the headline. "Beer-swilling, puck-chasing hoser", however, is another use of "beer-swilling" which apparently relates to Canadians rather than elephants.
I'm not sure of the veracity of this Hungarian custom, but I was in Budapest in 1993 and was advised by a local that it was improper to toast with beer in Hungary -- with wine or spirits, yes, but not with beer. I was drinking Czech pilsner at the time, by the way, the real Budweiser.
The reason? It seems that during Hungary's war of independence from Austria in the late 1840s, Austrian soldiers were given a beer for every Magyar soldier they killed.
Anyway, not sure if it's true -- I've spoken to other people of Hungarian descent who hadn't heard of this -- but consider yourselves cautioned.
One of the things were are trying to achieve around here is adding multiple authors from around the world. As we speak, negotiations are underway for adding a blogger each from south-west France near the Basque region of Spain as well as one from Amsterdam. If you would like to be considered for either a regular spot or if you would like to send us an article for review, please send me an email at our email address.
Please also have a look at the other member of the beer blog confederacy, Jon of the The Brew Site. Who knows? By 2006 we may have a Convention of Beer Bloggers. For now we can salute each other.
Affligem Blonde, Bruegel Amber Ale, Leffe Blonde, Petrus Special.
In his book Belgian Ales, Pierre Rajoute states:
Trying to classify Belgian beers in well-defined styles is like attempting to impose guidelines on the Belgian brewmaster's creativity. There are always beers that at one time or another probably started a trend which might be defined as a style. But if you look at the beers included in a so-called style, you will see that a narrow definition is impossible.For present purposes, I am going to condier five main styles for discussion: wittes, blondes, dubbles, triples, old browns and lambics. Any number of unique ales like Orval or styles like Scotch ale from Belgium may be added to this list but, even though it is very general and addmittedly partial, this listing should serve as a good start.
I have already compared some wittes. As with the witte post, I have been collecting blondes and thought it was time to let them out of the cupboard. The funny thing about Belgian ale is that you are facing such a face full of flavour that you have to wonder how anyone makes a buck selling this stuff. There are hundreds of brewers in Belgium, that freak of the brewing nations, and when you do buy one of their brews you want to sit on a glass for hours. Elegant, full of flavour and rewarding - five bucks worth makes for an evening well spent.
How the head holds up:
Affligem Blonde, Bruegel Amber Ale, Leffe Blonde, Petrus Special.
In this experiment I picked up four brews over a few shopping trips and poured them side by side to see what a blonde could do for me. Can I provide you with any more references to blondes as if...well, ok, I'll stop. You can see from the above that there are differences in the way the ales pour. The Leffe, second from the right, is tight, white and and long lasting. Its neighbour to the right, the Petrus Special, faded to a certain point quickly.
Not so blonde sometimes:
Affligem Blonde, Bruegel Amber Ale, Leffe Blonde, Petrus Special.
- Petrus Special (5.5%): tiny 250 ml bottle, this beer is clear light amber and light, fine white head. Aroma is lighty autumn floral, straw bale. Mouthfeels is light to medium and fruity, old hop bitter, a little musty, some spice. Not far off a english pale ale but the malt is richer, notes of apple, not grainy. Some grass like a NZ sauvignon blanc in both aroma and flavour. Low carbonation. Yeast is creamy underneath. Michael Jackson in his Great Beer Book describes it follows:
...an assertive ale, with an earthy aroma; a textured malt background; corriander in the palate (this spice is added); and a root, hoppy finish.This would be a great beer with an old cheddar and a Northern Spy apple. A fairly modest ale but well balanced and fresh even with the musty notes. The glass was left laced but less than the others, even the Bruegel. It is not a round oaky ale like the Leffe or Affligen but a lighter fresher beer. This is not far off a Canadian pale ale with its edge of bitter hops in the background. A bit sour in the yeast as well, not unlike a Big Rock tone. The lightest of the four. Beer Advocatonisn say this about it.
- Leffe Blonde (6.6%): this brew is always at the LCBO and I overlook it in favour of its sibling the Brown. This and the Affligem are very close. This one is a little less musty and more creamy but definitely they are the two stars of these four. Smokey, orange, creamy more than the Affligem's buttery. It has the best lacing and is crystal clear. Nice and rich but, like the style, not an everyday brew perhaps...though for Belgians who knows. Here are the Beer Advocate's reviews of Leffe Blonde.
- Bruegel Amber (5.2%): this beer is just caramel, a little smoke, a little brown sugar. It may have darker Belgian brewers sugar and really not be a blonde but at the same time it is not a dubble or any other Belgian style. It is a uni-tone and not as interesting as the other three - of the four it is the least and therefore not worth much comment. At the end there may be a sort of orange peel thing but it is left as a sort of burned thing given the other flavours. No real hops to speak of. It is not an off beer, however - just not interesting. One Beer Advocatonian compares it to raisin bran - just what I like in a beer.
- Affligem Blonde (6.8%): after a hit of orange and corrianger and the first this is somewhat musty...but in a good way. Drinking the smell of Grannie's attic, oaken and sweet. There are German dessert wines or Ontario Select Late Harvest Reisings which have this kind of mushroomy thing happening. Some heat of the alcohol, but, as it should be it is placed behind the Belgian brewers candy, a sort of candy floss flavour in the middle of the mouth. It is medium in body and buttery. It is not clear while the Leffe is - not as cloudy as a witte but real yeast on the bottom of the bottle. All the others have no evidence of a real ale. Like Leffe, whiskyish at the end. The Beer Advocatonians generally approve.
A trip to the LCBO located this week's contender for national six-pack supremacy, Big Rock Traditional Ale out of Alberta. To review, this is the nation of Canada we are discussing and the pursuit of the best pale ale produced therein. So far we have had the great, the good and the ugly. The last one put me off for a few weeks but we have hope that Traditional Ale from Big Rock will lift the average. First impression? Good...better than Wellington SPA even. More malt at the beginning than at the end but it is malt - no brewers sugar that I can detect.
The guys at the Beer Advocate give it an average of only 3.51 out of 5, not a great score. One unhappy person writes:
Pours a dull dark copper color with a crackly head that fades fast. Soft malts and some floral hops make up the aroma. The flavor is of sweet malts and some funny yeast taste. The hops are not very noticeable. This beer was a dissapointment to me. Its seriously lacking in the hop department and has a very bland run of the mill flavor. The finish is clean but way too watery. This beer is like an amateur extract hombrew.I think that is a bit harsh...but I have had a Labatt 50 this calendar year as part of this enterprise and that is enough to change one's perspective. One happier camper writes:
This is the second best beer that they brew (after their McNally's Irish Ale) and is well worth having. I find the flavor to be on the sour side, but that's not a bad thing! The hops are more for bitterness than aroma, but everything is well balanced. Almost every bar/ restaurant serves this too cold! The flavors really assert themselves as it warms up.That is important. I do not throw a brew like this in the fridge anymore. A cold ale is a dead ale. Leave it warm and you get to taste what is there. As I tried this ale at different temperatures, I noticed that as it got cooler, the malt backed off and the sourish yeast flavour came forward. I would definitely keep this one away from the frosty glass to get the full range and balance of flavours. Lagers are for the fridge and like most things in cold storage, suffer when brought into the land of the living.