8Wired Saison Sauvin

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Time for another saison.  I was intending to have last week be ‘saison week’ but I managed to completely miss that mark.  Oh well, just means things are better spread about anyway.  This is what I was expecting to be the most exciting saison of those I had on hand, 8Wired’s ‘Saison Sauvin’ – and likely also the most unconventional.  As per the bottle, 8Wired’s saison uses the traditional Belgian yeasts (which provide the ‘barnyard’ Belgian quality) but double the malt (increasing the ABV) and using Nelson Sauvin hops.  This is a type of hops native to New Zealand and gets its name from the white wine fruitiness it imparts.  It’s also known for having big flavour.

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The beer pours a rich orange as shown.  The smell reminds me of a Belgian sour – there is a funky tartness, acidity, but some hops floral notes as well.  Smells slightly of earth as well.  The first few sips I felt like I was drinking a fairly athletic IPA – the hops took control of the palate, delivering sharp floral and fruit notes with an earthy acidity.  The hops were drying and bitter and very excellent, but almost masked the saison characteristics.  A lot of the tart and sharp flavour was coming across as orange peel.  Once the glass warmed up some more the tart white wine notes of the saison yeasts came through stronger and the hops retracted to a more balanced level.

This was an extremely enjoyable beer as I’ve grown used to expecting from 8Wired, but not at all like other saison experiences I’ve had.  If one were not a fan of IPA’s but loved saisons, I would not recommend this beer.  But for the IPA fan who is less sure about saisons (which is a more common point of view for the serious beer drinker, for sure) I would highly recommend this as a saison you’re likely to love.

Like other 8Wired offerings, it’s not cheap here in BC.  This was $10.55 for a 500mL bottle.  It comes in at 7% ABV and without an IBU claim on the bottle but from my tastebuds I would say it would land in the 50-60 range.

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Driftwood Brewing Singularity – Russian imperial stout

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Fresh back from a letter press workshop where I made myself a website logo, and with a new Driftwood pint glass, I figured it was time to open my only bottle of 2013 Singularity which has been a cornerstone of my collection for a couple months now.  I really do wish I had picked up a couple more bottles so I could age them; having only one meant I was drinking it within the year as aging really requires a baseline ‘fresh’ tasting to compare to.

I had heard great things about the 2013 batch of Singularity and I’m a big fan of both Russian imperial stouts and Driftwood.  Sounds like a winning combination.

First off, the wax on this bottle is amazing stuff.  More rubber than wax.  Damn near impossible to chip off, but was able to get a bottle opener on it with a few chips gone.  Next up is the immediate aroma – sweet molasses and some alcohol bite.  Let’s not forget this stuff is 11.8% ABV.  There is even a bit of a soy sauce or teriyaki quality to the nose that my girlfriend picked up on.  Definitely some rich and very dark fruits in there, like merlot-soaked figs.  At first it’s all molasses but with a little more patience you start to realize how complex this nose really is.

Then there’s taking a sip.  The body is very thick and velvety, absolutely what I love about RIS’s.  It is sweet, very sweet.  Molasses and brown sugar dominate while plums, figs, currants, dates, raisins, and more fill in the spaces between.  The alcohol is present and offers warming and a slightly spirit-like quality especially towards the end.  I could see this being too sweet for some and personally, though it doesn’t bother me, it doesn’t need to be this sweet.  But between its thick richness and the splendid mixture of sugars and fruits, it is a most excellent beer that I’m really enjoying.

An update as I finish off the bottle – the booziness increased as time went on and the beer got warmer, and I started to feel like I was drinking an excellent spiced rum to some degree.  I think this would really benefit from some cellaring time. The alcohol presence is not a bad thing but does limit the speed at which you drink it for sure (good thing at nearly 12% ABV).  More and more I became aware of how serious the beer I was drinking was.

I do wish I had more, but fortunately there are so many other great RIS’s out there.  I will be buying at least three Singularity 2014’s though.

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Townsite Perfect Storm oatmeal stout

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Townsite Brewing hails from the small town of Powell River, BC.  The old, original part of Powell River is called Townsite, hence the name.  Other than a once world-leading paper mill site, they also brew some beer.  Good beer, in fact.  I had read very favourable things about this beer over at Beer Me BC and thus kept an eye out for it, being an oatmeal stout fan already.

Looks like a typical oatmeal stout – no light gets through, light brown head that doesn’t stick around too long as the beer is not highly carbonated.  Smells sweet, like brown sugar on oatmeal.  Starts off nicely sweet upon sipping with come caramel notes, then breaking slightly for the oat flavour and some hoppy bitterness to come through.  Still ends semi-sweet with dark chocolate notes, which is nice – many oatmeal stouts tend to come in without this sweetness which causes the oats and hops to really do a number.  Their influence is notable in this beer but tempered nicely with the chocolate-brown sugar sweetness.  An excellently balanced and complex beer.  I would definitely pick more of this up – it’s a little bit of a step up in price from my usual Nelson Brewing oatmeal stout 6-pack, but a worthwhile one.

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Coal Harbour Triumph Rye Ale

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My third Coal Harbour experience was this rye ale, the first two being Smoke & Mirrors and Hunter’s Moon – both of which were very unusual brews that took quite a bit of getting acclimatized to.  This expression from the brewery was immediately palatable though, being much closer to the average person’s definition of ‘beer’.

I would say Triumph Rye Ale doesn’t pack the excitment of their other offerings I’ve tried but that is in no way a slight on this brew.  At first, I was kind of surprised that I wasn’t attacked with flavour.  This starts off towards the mellow end, with a light and balanced mouthfeel accompanied by rye flavour, immediately recognizable as a component of a rye whiskey’s flavour.  There is plenty of northwest hops presence though they do not inflict any bitterness on the beer.  Also of note is a spiciness that is quite noticable especially towards the finish – pepper and chili flakes.

Now that I’m most of the way through the bottle, what I find when I take a sip is a rye malt start, with a bit of creamy and salty toffee, quickly transitioning to a gentle northwest hops pine and foliage influence, and finishing with pepper spice.  Its uniqueness is more subtle than the other Coal Harbour beers I’ve tried but it remains unique nonetheless.

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Granville Island Brewing Chocolate Imperial Stout

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What makes a beer ‘imperial’?  It’s a question that comes up, for sure.  And it comes up again and again because as far as I know, there isn’t really a concrete answer (correct me if I’m wrong).  ‘Imperial’ is to signify that the beer is strong – both in alcohol content and in flavour.  In my eyes, ‘imperial’ becomes an available term at 7.5% for IPA’s and 8% for stouts.  These are the two styles that most commonly borrow the word.

GIB’s Chocolate Imperial Stout weighs in at 8.4% so it’s met the above criteria in terms of ABV.  What about flavour though?

The first time I had this beer was shortly before Christmas last year.  Maybe it was just an off day, but I was finding the beer too heavy at the time.  I was at a family dinner.  I ended up passing off the second half of the bottle.  Not a great sign.  So I put the other bottle I had in the fridge for a while to see if a little aging might help.  Aging does a number of things to a beer and the reactions that cause aging are too complex and brew-specific to really predict, but generally, if a beer feels heavy then aging won’t help.  Aging takes the edge off a few things but it doesn’t make a beer taste ‘lighter’.

So I cracked this bottle 5 months later, not very much in the way of aging but I didn’t feel like sitting on it any longer because honestly, I didn’t have high hopes.  The beer pours black but not thick black, and the head is minimal.  The smell is almost completely enveloped by chocolate roasted malts – creamy and sweet.  There is a fruit component that combined with the chocolate reminds me of a sea salt and caramel chocolate bar from Trader Joe’s.  Maybe a slight bit of dark cherry in there too.

Upon tasting, I see why I felt how I did but yet today I’m enjoying it more than I had previously.  Initial flavour hit is full of chocolate – the bottle says it’s dark chocolate but I get a creaminess that reminds me more of chocolate milk.  After that it’s cherries pretty much for the ‘dark fruit’ influence.  The hops remain anonymous throughout this process, aiding to keep the beer from being completely malt-driven but not giving away their identity at all.

This is still a pretty heavy beer due to the huge chocolate flavour, but quite drinkable compared to what I remember.  I still don’t go head over heels for this beer but it’s solidly good, especially if you’re looking for a replacement for a slice of double chocolate cake.  Maybe that’s where I went wrong – I drank it before dinner last time, but this is very much the kind of beer you drink an hour after dinner to appease your sweet tooth.

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Granville Island Saison

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Granville Island Brewing released this Limited Release Saison back in November 2012.  Saisons are often referred to as ‘farmhouse ales’, as they were originally brewed on farms during the off-season in Belgium.  Their characteristic is usually refreshing but somewhat tart.

This GIB interpretation of the style poured a lager-like yellow gold and had little to no haze.  The head wasn’t huge (though I did pour slowly) and dissipated in a few minutes to just a white ring around the glass.  The smell is wheat, bananas, cloves and a little tart apple.  The taste is more of the same, really – the beer is apple/pear and banana with a bit of spice, namely cloves, and there is a straw-like grain presence.  The beer finishes slightly tart but still plenty of sweetness.  This particular saison comes in at 6.5%, pretty standard for modern offerings though higher than the original saisons certainly.  It presents much like a strong-willed pilsner, but with an almost sour quality in the mix.

I think the saison goes very well with today’s weather and full bloom of cherry blossoms off the patio.

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Lighthouse Belgian Black

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Lighthouse Brewing is from Victoria BC.  This is also where Driftwood calls home, which may be the most impressive brewery in BC.  Lighthouse though is no slouch either though, and Belgian Black is perhaps one of the more well respected ‘Big Flavour’ offerings from the brewery.  What it is is essentially a stout, but it’s brewed with the Ardennes yeast strain, typically used in big Belgian ales (think Duvel or Piraat, but also it adds to the character of a musty gueuze sometimes as well).  It’s not just the yeast strain that seperates this beer from a stout though – it is very much a true fusion beer.  In flavour and body, it seems to land somewhere between a Cascadian Dark Ale (or India Dark Ale) and a stout.  Where a CDA/IDA tastes like an IPA with roasted malts, this instead tastes like a Belgian blonde but with roasted malts.  It has the body of a big blonde ale, and it has a little bit of alcohol oomph that you’d find in a big Belgian ale as well (it comes in at 9% ABV which is about what you’d guess from a sip).

Okay, so on to business.  I poured this into my Chimay chalice, and the colour is as pictured above.  It is more or less black, but not as black as a stout – it is really a dark, dark brown, and somewhat translucent in thinner cross-section.  The head doesn’t stick around long, but it accumulates into the yeast rings typical of this strain (see below).

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The taste is consistent with what you’ve been led to believe thus far.  That easily recognized but hard to describe Belgian influence is there, along with dark fruits and roasted malts.  There is some roasted coffee bean taste.  It is still fairly light bodied and certainly not too malty despite the roasted malt’s presence.  It really is that fruity, yeasty Belgian ale infused with some but not all of the characteristics of a Russian imperial stout.  It lacks the substance of a true stout but it’s a most excellent compromise – and highly drinkable, perhaps too much so at 9%.  This is kind of a jack-of-all-trades beer, it will be good both on a warm day and a cold night but it is more than just okay for either, it’s really quite good.  I couldn’t give up Russian imperials for this nor could I give up a great saison on a hot day – but I’m very impressed with how nice this was to drink on this spring evening.

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Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2009

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The second oldest beer in my collection is, well, was this Fuller’s Vintage Ale.  I also have the 2008 Vintage, and had intentions of picking one up each year but neglected to keep up the tradition since 2009.  I decided to crack the 2009 instead of the 2008 because I have not stored these bottles properly over that time – they have seem some hot summers and have been 70F and over pretty much the whole time.  So I certainly had my worries they would be no good.

Pouring this bottle I did smell a slight mustiness that had me worried.  Also on the nose was apricot, pumpkin spices, caramel, and raisins.  The colour is hazy burnt orange.  Taking a sip, this is a bready beer with a a fall festive flavour – some pumpkin and spices, perhaps cinnamon and nutmeg, bready malt and a full bodied texture.  It’s slightly limp, probably from improper storage, but very enjoyable nonetheless.  I wish I had a bottle fresh so I would have something to compare it to.  Reminds me of oloroso sherry.

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Session Series: Parallel 49 Ugly Sweater milk stout

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Ugly Sweater was my go-to session beer this past winter, and this here is the last bottle of the season.  Finding a widely available milk stout is unusual, and this is a very smooth and drinkable example of the style.  Being that it was easily found in liquor stores and at an entry level price, I found myself picking up a six-pack pretty much as soon as the previous one was depleted, all winter long.

It is thin but creamy, with a chocolate milk (skim milk) taste and texture.  It is quite rich upon initial sip though it does fade to nothing pretty quickly compared to a bigger beer.  But that’s okay, this beer is made to be drank, not pondered.  I’ll probably be pretty excited to pick up my first six-pack next winter when it comes back into season.

Driftwood Mad Bruin Sour Ale

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Mad Bruin is Driftwood’s second sour release (of three so far), the predecessor to the Belle Royale I’ve covered in a previous post, and was released October 15, 2012.  Thus this bottle is about 6 months of age but has spent most of its life at refrigerator temperature.   Being a big fan of Belle and Driftwood brews in general, I opened this bottle with great anticipation.  I have heard accounts of folks preferring Mad Bruin over Belle Royale, but I have also heard accounts of the opposite.  I went into this bottle with an open mind.

I should point out that Mad Bruin was not simply the previous iteration of Belle Royale.  Belle is a sour cherry wild ale (per its bottle), while the Mad Bruin refers to itself as a sour brown ale.  Mad Bruin lacks the sour cherry addition that Belle has.

Upon pouring and smelling, Mad Bruin has what has become a familiar scent – a wine-like sweet acidity, fermented grape and apple or pear smell.  Hardly any of that barnyard like funk that for instance a gueuze typically has.  Quite fresh, but also with a sharp tartness.  The colour is a rich brown that leans towards the red spectrum.

Upon taking a sip, I was instantly reminded of Duchesse de Bourgogne.  Now, that’s not to say they actually taste that similar (this is maltier than I recall Duchesse being) as it’s been a few weeks since I drank the Duchesse, but it is what I thought of.  Compared to the Belle Royale, this is smoother and less sour.  Its greater maturity may play a role.  I perceive the taste to be fig, blackcurrant, apple; fading to a dusty, old oak finish.  It is very dry, drier than I remember the Belle being for sure.  Like a dry wine.  The sourness is not puckering (like Belle).  It is like taking a very dry white wine, letting it sit open for a day or two, and adding a little creamy malt and perhaps some berries and a dash of vanilla.

Definitely a different beast than the Belle, and although they are part of the ‘Bird of Prey’ series from Driftwood, they are otherwise incomparable really.  I really enjoy both of them to be honest, so I don’t really want to choose one camp or the other, but if I had to I’d say I’m a Belle Royale guy – it’s just a little more exciting.

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Note the difference in ingredients – Mad Bruin lacks the sour cherries in comparison to Belle Royale:

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