Ale Apothecary – Sahalie

It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog, so I thought I should come back with a stunner. Ale Apothecary is a recent addition to the BC distribution circles, and one that both surprised and elated a lot of beer fans here. We’ve been getting a lot of great Oregon beers added to the BC beer pool, but Ale Apothecary is an especially exclusive and limited label to see this far north. As far as I know, you’re not even going to find it in Seattle.

Ale Apothecary has garnered a lot of respect largely due to the approach its brewmaster and owner, Paul Arney, takes to brewing his beer. While barrel programs have really taken off over the past few years due to a booming interest in such beers, Paul takes it a step further. He doesn’t just age on oak, he brews on oak. You won’t find the large stainless mash tuns and fermenting tanks that are a symbol of the common brewery here, instead, as much of the process as possible is done in barrels. The idea behind this, in addition to being a more traditional approach, is to allow the various yeasts equal opportunity to “infect” the beer throughout the brewing process, resulting in complex and unique beers each batch.

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Sahalie is their ‘flagship’ beer, the anchor of the lineup. Its ABV can vary from batch to batch slightly, this one tips the scales at 10.1% and was bottled in December 2013. Sahalie, like all Ale Apothecary’s beers, uses only locally grown Cascade hops. Its dry hopped in oak barrels after having spent about a year maturing, and this comes through with bright, sweet lemony citrus that integrates wonderfully with the deep, oaky beer.

Sahalie has a balanced, wine-like acidity which offers depth and indicates its age without being puckering or overpowering. Over time, I am sure this component would continue to strengthen and deepen. There is a hint of honey sweetness, and fruitiness of apricot and peach. Some grassiness from the hops and plenty of lactobacillus and brettanomyces character as well.

The only reason to not drink this regularly is the rather prohibitive price; it lists in the mid-$30’s on local shelves for a bottle. It’s easier to approach this price-tag when thinking of the beer like wine, and in a lot of ways it has more in common with the typical wine than the typical beer anyway. Even so, there are a lot of good wines under $35, which leaves Ale Apothecary as a “once in a while” beer for all but the most spendy of beer nerds.

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Four Winds – Juxtapose IPA

Of all the impressive local breweries who’ve opened their doors in the past couple years, none of them impress me more than Four Winds in Delta. I’m not alone on this. It’s not just that their beers are great, it’s that they’re great AND they’re unusual. Four Winds consistently takes on difficult styles and continues to have great success at each, including a couple different brettanomyces-infused beers now.

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Enter their Brett IPA called Juxtapose, which has been on the market for a few weeks now. Not a huge IPA at 6.5% ABV and 50 IBU but driven well into the category. Bottle conditioned as well, which is always a bonus when it comes to the feel of the beer. Plus, of course, the addition of brettanomyces, a family of yeast strains that add sourness to a beer through its production of acetic acid.

I’ve had a good number of brett IPA’s at this point, including Mikkeller’s Green Gold and Farmhouse IPA. My general feeling on the style is that it’s unique, interesting but I’d rather have a saison-brett. Just seems the saison base suits the style better, and there are incredible examples such as Dulcis Succubus with a great oak character as well. The tough thing about the IPA is that the base beer is best fresh, but brettanomyces can work wonders given time.

I don’t mean to suck up to local breweries but Four Winds has thrown a wrench into my whole assumption by producing the most satisfying brett-IPA I’ve had to date. It’s a perfect example of how brettanomyces can service an IPA: subtly. The nose is full of bright citrus with sweet grapefruit leading the charge plus some honey, and the brett character is ever-so-gently on the back end of things. Taking a sip is a mixture of pink grapefruit sweetness, light pine, and a nice modest acetic finish. It finishes with a clean acidity completely devoid of that “funk” character that wouldn’t suit the bright character of this beer anyway.

In the end, this beer drinks mostly just as a sweet citrus IPA that stops short of what most would consider a “double IPA” but absolutely does not lack in flavour. The brett only surfaces to put a little bit of an acidic touch on things and otherwise does not get in the way – exactly what I want in this style of beer. I’m all for pucker-fest beers, but this was exactly what I wanted this particular beer to be.

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Parallel 49 – Russian Imperial Stout 2014

I’ve been getting pretty lax about posting to the blog, but it’s not due to lack of beer drinking so much as lack of commitment. I do vow to continue to post up about relevant local beers though, which is what I’m doing now. With the recent influx of so many great import beers here (Dieu du Ciel, Trou du Diable, Mikkeller, Bruery, and so on) I’ve found myself drinking unusually few local beers so far this year.

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I’m planning to swing things back into equilibrium this summer, though I’m at the mercy of a) the local importers of craft beer and b) my own free will. In any case, today I’m posting up about the beer I drank last night, a pretty fresh 2014 RIS from Parallel 49. As can be seen above, this bottle comes waxed with a burgundy wax, a symbol of age-ability. I have last year’s RIS in the fridge also but I wanted to start with a fresh bottle as a basis of comparison in recent memory.

Both the nose and taste of this particular stout is heavily centered around the roast character. There isn’t a lot of adjuncts present, but the roasted malts are rich and expansive. I pick up chocolate on the nose but not very much in the taste. I taste more vanilla and a little bit of coffee, plus some licorice back there. Interestingly, despite being aged in whiskey barrels, I’m not getting a lot of oak or whiskey. That is in stark contrast with one of this beer’s local adversaries, Driftwood’s Singularity, whose primary palate point is big bourbon flavour. Parallel 49’s RIS take a bit of a different approach and it’s by no means a bad thing – I think there are plenty of folks who would prefer this over Singularity, most notably those who aren’t big on bourbon.

I look forward to cracking open the bottle of last year’s RIS and will report back when I do.

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Pro-Tip: Use the two-fang bottle opener common to wine openers to “bite through” the wax. Other style openers likely won’t be able to cut through the wax without you having to cut some wax off first.

BA Bottleshare #2

The Canada forum regulars on BeerAdvocate got together late last year at member rutager’s house for an unofficial BeerAdvocate bottle share. We’re not sure, but it could have been the first of its kind. Well, last weekend (March 8th), the follow-up event took place at another member’s place, Boozecamel.

Much like the first go-round, there were a lot of awesome, coveted, rare, and ridiculous bottles. Here are some of the phone pictures I took during the evening – unfortunately the photography will be pretty lackluster compared to what I would normally use for the site.

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One of the earlier bottles was Upright Brewing’s Blend Love. This is one that I’ve longed to try, and it did not disappoint. The mug on the bottle is that of Ben Love’s, the guy behind Gigantic Brewing. He doesn’t look nearly as mean in photos as he does on the bottle.  I didn’t take much for notes, but it was tart and full of fruit flavour, but also a good barrel quality as well. I will never pass up an opportunity to buy a bottle.

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Before our palates were in any way compromised, Tom pulled out a collection of Still Nacht bottles. Now I’ll admit, I didn’t know very much about these guys, though I knew they carried a little clout. Pegged as a Belgian strong pale ale (and they mean strong… 12% ABV), these were unlike anything I’ve ever had before. The small bottles are 2010 and 2012 editions while the large bottle is the 2010 Reserva, having spent 25 months in Bordeaux barrels. It goes something like this: the 2012 bottle is really good, a unique mix of Belgian yeast and fruit and malt that I’d not experienced before. Kind of like a quad, but there are lighter fruits like apple and pear too, and the yeasts are a bit different. The 2010 bottle is a full step ahead of the 2012 bottle, as the fruits have exploded into full spectrum. Then there’s the Reserva, which has not lost any of the great characteristics of the base beer but add to that deep and complex oak and wine notes, and decent tannin level. Just mind blowing. I would put it in my top 10 beers ever, probably.

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Anchorage, one of the greatest ninjas in brett-beers, has this brett DIPA. Bitter and sour together is a bit of a tricky thing. This is a fine example of doing it right. Like other brett-IPAs I’ve had, the full hops kick is tempered by the wilder yeasts and bacteria. A great balance between acidic qualities, with plenty of lemony citrus.

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Pardon the size of the photo above, but damn it, it needs to be stated loudly. This is barrel aged Speedway, and it’s got coffee. I’m not too up on the Speedway variants, but I think this bottle is pretty special, or at least it tasted that way. This should be a poster-child for coffee-bourbon-sweetness balance. Absolutely one of the best stouts I’ve ever had.

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This stuff’s ridiculous. If ever you want to do a lot of damage to yourself in a short period of time using beer, this would be a good place to start. It’s 26% ABV. I’ve had a few beers in that range now, but this is the closest to a “normal beer” any of them have tasted. The grain bill is intense, and it feels like it’s just barely in solution at all. You almost need to chew. It has the flavours of a typical big stout, but all of them are unusually intense. What it doesn’t have, curiously enough, is the taste of alcohol – something you can get in heaps from beers half its strength.

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Just a little late-in-the-game Fou Foune action. I would normally never crack a bottle of Fou when I’m already tipsy, but it’s just the nature of the evening I guess. Bright, rich orange fruit must.

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Firestone Parabola is another beer I’ve heard plenty about but never had the chance to try. I distinctly remember passing it up on a previous Portland trip (too many bottles already), and now I regret it. I get the hype. Parabola has this toasted coconut character that’s quite unique and really delicious.

I’m skipping a few bottles (including the one I brought), but here’s the end result: a dozen awesome beers between the five of us (actually there were 13, a Prairie Artisinal bottle is missing). I was happy to call it after this, I was definitely tipsy. No duds, and lots of really special (beer) experiences. And another thing – despite the rather unusual group from a personality standpoint, we all got along famously and, as far as I know anyway, everyone really enjoyed themselves. Maybe it’s the beer I associate with these guys, but I really enjoy their company.

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Hair of the Dog – Cherry Adam from the Wood

I’ve said it before on my blog and I’ll say it again: I’m a bit of a Hair of the Dog fan-boy. I love their bottle design and the fact they sell primarily 12oz bottles; I love their beer structuring of selling a few dialed recipes and adding all these variations of the same base beer; but most of all I love the beer itself. Everything’s bottle conditioned and brewed with aging in mind – but they are all also good fresh.

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Here’s a prime example of a variant. The base beer, Adam, is a dark “old ale” which is a lightly smoked, not-quite-stout ale with a lot of complexity already. Cherry Adam’s brewed by taking Adam and marrying it with cherries in bourbon casks for 15 months.

The result is as glorious as I could have hoped for – more glorious than I expected, really. It looks almost the same as Adam does – nearly black with a tan head – but there is a slight hint of plum in the body and pink in the head too. I knew this was going to be good as soon as I took a whiff – cherries, plums, dried fruit, all with a tart edge, but also a rich malt sweetness and gentle smoke character also.

The smoke picked up a bit when I took a sip, though it is not overpowering and balances great with the dark and red fruit body. The smoke comes across as charred wood and peat, which I really enjoyed. There is a tannin and oak quality here that contributes to the beer tasting and feeling much like a sherry or port.

Speaking of the feel – this beer is exceptional in this regard also. Mouth-coating like honey, it just sticks and stays. Its sweetness is tempered perfectly, not coming across cloying at all. Also the beer has a great warming effect but there is no taste or burn of alcohol to be noted.

I would say this is a very good age for this beer (this bottle was about 16 months old at consumption), though I bet it will still have many great years ahead as well.

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Mikkeller / Anchorage – Invasion Farmhouse IPA

IPAs brewed with brettanomyces are a good example of how beer styles tend to cross-pollinate, so to speak.  It’s not a new thing, but with the huge insurgence of creative brewing going on these days there are now all kinds of combinations such as brett-IPA’s you can get your hands on.

One such example is produced by one of Danish brothers Mikkel and Jeppe, and I hope you can guess which.  The other is the man behind Evil Twin.  That’s a whole lot of amazing beer being produced by these siblings, and more impressive yet is neither one of them actually has a brewery.  They are both “gypsy brewers” who basically just rent space at whatever brewery has the space and the is the right fit for whatever beer’s up next.

This particular Mikkeller brew was produced in Alaska, at Anchorage Brewing Company.  Seems like a bit of an obscure place to go for such a delicate beer, but it is not by chance.  Anchorage has a whole lineup of beers brewed with brettanomyces. It can be said it’s kind of their thing, and I’m confident that they’re pretty damn good at it.

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Anyway, I better get to this beer before I run out of energy. Labelled a “Farmhouse IPA” which alludes to the “wild yeast” nature of the beer.  As an aside, using the term “wild” has kind of become a legacy term – modern “wild ales” are often brewed with store-bought lactobacillus, brettanomyces, and the like just because it’s easier and more predictable.  I guess you could say the flavour is the wild part now.

Appearance: It looks like an IPA for the most part – tangerine orange in colour, though its colour appears almost to be at half-saturation, with kind of a greyness to it.  The head starts out strong but doesn’t last all that long before it’s just a ring.

Smell: It’s a familiar smell, like a saison brett.  The brett character is there but well integrated in with other notes.  Grassy must, earthy, and orange citrus.

Taste: Tangerine skin followed by lemony acidity. Complexity is very good, there is a deep seated mustiness that is gentle enough that it’s additive to the flavour and not the flavour itself. I kind of expected this to taste like I’m used to an IPA tasting like, but with some funky side to it. It’s not really like that though, because the brett is much more integrated into the beer.  It lacks the spice of a saison brett and it has more citrus than one, but otherwise it’s pretty damn similar to a well executed saison brett.  And to me, a well executed example is one that almost has a gueuze-like quality that gives the beer a feeling of age and oak.

Feel: The carbonation is mild and the body is silky.  Quite nice for the style.

Overall: This was a good buy. It wasn’t cheap ($25) but I’m happy I spent it. I’m not sure I’d stock up on it but I’d buy it again.

Le Trou du Diable – Dulcis Succubus

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Le Trou du Daible is one of a handful of premiere breweries out of Quebec, and Dulcis Succubus is a flagship beer from the brewery.  At least, that’s what I gather based on its astronomical price.  This price comes from the fact that it is barrel aged and it is produced with wild yeasts and spontaneous fermentation, all of which has been applied to a saison or farmhouse ale base.

Saisons with brettanomyces or other wild yeasts are one of my most adored beer styles.  There are a number of great examples out there, including Upright Brewing’s Saison du Blodget which I had quite recently.  Logsdon makes world-class examples of this style as well.  I prefer Dulcis Succubus to any of the aforementioned; it’s that good.

I think this comes largely from the barrel aging:  there is a good dose of oak flavour from beginning to end.  The nose is primarily fruit and some musty fruit skin:  apricot, pear, peach.  These are also present as flavours and combine with the big oak barrel character and a gueuze-like, complex yet gentle sourness.  The acidity of this beer is quite wonderful and is more significant than most saison-brett beers.  It’s a little dry thanks to the acidity and barrel character and wonderfully crisp from the saison side of things.

It has a high price of entry, but I truly believe if you like sour saisons, this is a must-try.

Driftwood – Bird of Prey 2014

I was genuinely filled with glee when I learned that Driftwood was re-releasing their original sour from 2011, Bird of Prey.  I have all the others in my cellar, but Bird of Prey was sadly absent.  2011 was about when I got into sours, and I missed the original release because I wasn’t as well connected as I am now with what’s going on in the beer scene.  Thankfully, Driftwood gave me a second chance.

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Bird of Prey is a Flanders Red, which is quite specific geographically, but looser in flavour profile. For instance, Duchesse de Bourgogne is very sweet and only slightly tart, whereas Cuvée de Jacobins is a pucker-fest. Bird of Prey is kind of muted on both sides.

Flanders / Flemish reds get their character from Lactobacillus, which produces a sourness by way of the production of lactic acid.  Bird of Prey has a serious lactic funk, especially through the finish of each sip.  It’s actually slightly heavy, though not unpleasant.  There is grape must, sour cherries (though not overly sweet), and a heavy tannin bill on the nose.  The palate is gentler, with the fruitiness kept fairly low profile.  It is good, though not as lively as you’ll find in some Flanders reds.

I also decided to pop open a bottle of Lustrum to compare and contrast between, though these are not the same style at all and thus comparison is kind of moot.  Mostly I wanted to see which I preferred, and I bought so many bottles of Lustrum I am always looking for an excuse to open one.

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Mostly they’re different, but they do share a common thread when it comes to that lactic funk:  both exhibit a strong lactic funk which outlasts the rest of the flavours.  Lactic acid is a welcome and important part of many sour beers, though it is a taste that ought to clean up after itself.  By that I mean other characteristics of the beer (for instance, carbonation, barrel character, fruit flavour, or hops profile) come in and neutralize the funk towards the back end of the palate.  Neither of these fully clean up after themselves in this regard, but the funk that’s left behind is by no means unpleasant.

I’m looking forward to seeing how Bird of Prey does with a little age.  It will be joined by its pals Lustrum, Belle Royale, and Mad Bruin in the cellar and the next tasting will likely involve all four.

Tangent: Single Malt Whisky

Now that I’m beginning to use this blog for all kinds of random things, let me post up about my other alcohol-related infatuation: single malts.  I’ve been into craft beer a lot longer than whisky (about 10 years), but a couple years ago my interest in single malt whisky overtook my interest in beer and I was on several whisky forums and always researching and planning my next purchase.  In the last year my interest in whisky reduced to a healthier level while my infatuation with beer is at an all-time high.

During the 18 months or so that I was totally hooked on whiskies though I collected what remains more or less my perfect dozen.  Twelve bottles was my self-imposed limit to ensure that my scotch collection didn’t get too out of hand.  It also meant I had to spend a little more time planning an appropriate range–both in cost and flavour.  Twelve probably sounds like a lot of bottles, but trust me, the limit comes quick.

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Okay, so there are thirteen bottles.  The Auchentoshan was a more recent gift and I already had my twelve.  It does suit the collection well though, as I wanted another light & smooth bottle for times when you’re not looking for a thinker.  The nature of these things is they tend to be consumed, so I’m not exactly stuck at 13.

So from left to right, this is what I have and why I have it:

The Laddie Ten:  This is an absolutely outstanding young, unpeated scotch.  Reasonably priced too at around $70.   Laddie is non-chill filtered, not artificially coloured, and 46% ABV.   These are nice features for this price range.   The flavour is quite powerful and complex for a young’in, with honey, some spices, slightly floral, and vegetal peatiness despite being unpeated.  If anything it’s a little harsh but that’s part of what comes with the territory for a young whisky.

Auchentoshan 12:  Not actually chosen by me, I don’t think this would have been one I’d buy myself but I’m glad to have it.  Unlike the Laddie this is a smooth and gentle one.  Lots of honey and caramel.  Not too complex but quite enjoyable.  This is a good one to have for guests who aren’t into the ‘hardcore’ whiskies.

Balvenie Golden Cask:  This is the only bottle in my collection that I just bought on a whim without prior research.  I was pleased with the result – this is rum barrel-aged and the rum notes of sweet apple and toffee are in there.  As I’m used to finding with Balvenie, the flavour profile is quite subtle, so it takes some careful reflection before you find a lot of what lurks within.

Balvenie 15 year Single Barrel:  This is a pretty cool whisky.  As the name implies, the contents all come from a single barrel instead of the standard method of mixing a whole bunch of barrels to produce a larger, more consistent batch.  So each barrel produces a slightly different result.  The details of the barrel are printed on the bottle:  the spirit went in June 20th, 1997 and came out August 7th, 2012.  Wonderful oak and honey, sweet floral depths.  Great complexity.  I paid $138 from BCL for this bottle, which is on par with the most I’ve spent on a bottle of whisky.  It’s been unavailable there for some time now, though.

Glenfarclas 15 year:  And onto the sherried whiskies.  Glenfarclas 15 is a gold-mine of sherry flavour, rich and smooth.  Vanilla, grape, plum, nougat, some citrus, this is a dessert scotch for sure.  I would put this in the top 3 whiskies of what I have.  BCL carries only the 17 year, which isn’t as good as the 15 but the 15 can be found in private liquor stores for a pretty reasonable $105 or so.

Aberlour A’Bunadh:  This is an infamous whisky, known for packing one of the biggest sherry punches ever produced by a scotch.  Part of this punch comes from the fact it is bottled at cask strength (about 59-60% ABV), and part is due to the first-fill Spanish oloroso sherry butts that are used.  Its colour has a rich sherry-red tinge to give visual proof of its influence.   A’Bunadh is batched based on the sherry butt it came out of, so batch variations exist and some batches are considered far superior to others.  I bought a batch #44.  Lots of dark fruit, lots of vanilla and spices.  Takes some water to get the edge off and bring out more complexity.

Springbank 10:  This is a Campeltown whisky, which are pretty uncommon.  You pay a bit of a premium for this stuff but it’s unlike anything else I’ve had, landing somewhere between a peaty Islay scotch and a sweeter Highland scotch.  Great complexity and a modest amount of peat smoke.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask:  I have this and then 10 year and they each have their own distinct peat character.  Quarter Cask packs a bit harsher punch and has a fully enveloping smokiness that wraps around a sweet and oaky body.  Very, very good and a great deal at $75.  It’s also 48% ABV which contributes to the extra flavour.

Laphroaig 10 year:  The 10 year is all about a one-dimensional but fantastic campfire smoke character.  It’s rich, gentle but powerful and fully enveloping.  Easier to approach than the Quarter Cask but by no means less peaty.

Ardbeg 10:  The Ardbeg peat is completely a different animal altogether.  I would never use the term ‘campfire’ to explain this peat.  It is much more vegetal.  The colour is surprisingly pale but that does not reflect in the flavour.

Ardbeg Uigeadail:  This is my favourite whisky.  It’s $135 yet I still think it’s a steal for what you get – not many $300 whiskies can beat it.  It has tons of sherry character with fruit, spice and sweetness which is set against what I can only describe as hugely expansive peat smoke that seems to fill the room around you.  It’s truly the whole package.  It’s also very strong stuff, so some water does help.  It takes me all evening to get through an ounce of this because the finish is just so damn long.

Lagavulin 12 year:   The 16 year is Lagavulin’s bread and butter, but this cask-strength, limited release 12 year is extremely interesting as well.  It isn’t quite as peaty as its older brother but packs great complexity and power.

Talisker Distiller’s Edition:  The Distiller’s Edition program is used across the Classic Malt lineup which includes a handful of popular distilleries.  The idea is that they take their standard whisky, in this case the 10 year, and put it in sherry casks for about another year to impart some additional flavour.  The results vary in terms of whether the finished product is an improvement over the base scotch, but in the case of Talisker, the peppery peaty 10 year meshes so perfectly with the sweet sherry polishing.  It’s absolutely stunning.

 

 

Howe Sound – Gathering Storm

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Howe Sound has one of the longest and most impressive histories in BC craft breweries.  They have my utmost respect.  Further respect for using the 1L swing-top bottle, part of their own mandate to use re-usable packaging.  I have plenty of respect for companies willing to go the extra mile in this regard.  Also, their beer tends to be rather delicious.

Out of all the Howe Sound beers that I enjoy though, only two stand out to me as personal must-haves.  There are just a whole lot of awesome beers out there.  Even if I were to stick to only BC beers my whole life, I know I wouldn’t be able to try them all.  So I pick and choose based on who does the best what.  Those two Howe Sound beers that make the cut for me?  Gathering Storm and King Heffy.

King Heffy is probably my favourite hefeweizen, though it’s not a style I particularly like anyway.  But that’s not the subject of this post.  Gathering Storm is a CDA or Cascadian Dark Ale (hey, I’m glad they can still say that), which can also be called a dark IPA.  Most CDA’s I’m familiar with carry the hops profile of an IPA but with a bit of roast or chocolate, and a slightly maltier feel.  Gathering Storm takes the malt profile further than most.  The aroma is very sweet, candied even.  Sugary dark fruits, red licorice, a bit of spice and some citrus fruits too.   The taste is also sweet though not as strongly as the nose.  The citrus hops add their bitter influence the whole way through, though I find a lot of darker fruits like fig, plum, and raisin are in there too.  Sweet and rich malts really fortify the texture.

I’m convinced this is my favourite CDA right now, though it’s been a few months since I’ve had another – so I could be biased by my recent experience.  Regardless of whether it’s the best, it’s definitely a great beer.

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