Dogfish Head – Burton Baton

DSC_0211-1

Burton Baton is an IPA, or India Pale Ale.  If there’s one thing the beer nerd knows about IPAs (actually, there is usually a lot of things the beer nerd knows about IPAs), it’s that they are to be drunk fresh.  As fresh as possible.   Some hop heads will tell you they only drink IPA’s that are a month old or younger.  Two months tops!  I would argue that most IPA’s benefit from a couple weeks in the bottle to let things really mix together, but definitely after than they should be drunk soon or that beautiful hops profile will become nothing more than a memory.

Dogfish Head’s oak aged imperial pale ale that you see here though says right on the bottle “Lush and enjoyable now, Burton Baton will age with the best of ’em.”  That’s not what I’m used to seeing a brewery say about their IPA.  This is indeed an IPA that’s already been aged in oak barrels, and it’s 10% ABV so there’s no doubt it’s got some serious punch going in.  Like anything with a lot of hops, the hops will indeed mellow out over time but it sounds like this particular brew can handle that change gracefully.

This bottle was filled in May of this year, making it about 5 months old.  That’s a little on the old side for a typical IPA but it sounds like it’s probably prime for Mr. Baton.  Well, I would say it’s the perfect age for Burton Baton though I’ve never had this beer before – it was excellent, magnificent even.  I’ll run through my thoughts:

Appearance: Caramel brown with pretty minimal head, especially for an IPA.

Smell:  Malty!  Caramel, banana bread, peach, pineapple.

Taste: This beer has an expansive flavour!  Big caramel sweet malts with a lot of floral notes (lavender, sweetened chamomile tea), earthy and pine notes, and citrus and orange fruits.  It ends on a earthy bitterness combined with lingering coating of caramel.  Pine and oak notes as well.

Overall I love the balance this beer has, it’s got a lot more malt than I expected but still packed a pretty powerful hops punch as well.  I will seek this beer out again for drinking at various ages, from fresh to a couple years old – I want to try every facet of it.  I’m impressed with this Dogfish Head regular, for sure.

DSC_0212-1

Driftwood – Lustrum

DSC_0198-1

Driftwood is celebrating their 5th anniversary with a sour ale, which is a style I have come to respect Driftwood for.  This particular sour is made using wild yeasts harvested locally plus the addition of black currants.  The resulting brew weighs in at 9.4% ABV, so it’s no slouch.  In this respect, I am thinking this is a good candidate for some aging though I have no scientific basis for that.  It has already spent a year in oak barrels as well.

The beer pours a deep, dark red with a little bit of purple in it.  The head is an impressively dark pinkish red, darker than it appears in the photo above.  I caught a whiff of the funk while taking the photos from 18″ away.  The fruit flavours are not overly bright or open – there is some sweetness of cherry or black currant (obviously it’s black currant, but not knowing I’d have guessed either or).  The sourness is lactic and kind of sharp.

Taking a sip, I’m met with wonderful carbonation and a gentle, tart-sweet black currant flavour along with oaky red grape notes, which then slides into a lactic sour funk.  It drinks much like a full bodied red wine in the beginning, before headed to funk-town.  It is not puckering – Belle Royal hit you with a puckering sour start that eased into sweetness, whereas this starts pretty neutral with barely-tart fruit but then the funk builds from there, ending with a lot of barnyard quality in the mouth.  I dare say it’s a little overly lactic for my tastes, though that’s my only criticism.  It also has a warming effect at the finish along with the barnyard funk, undoubtedly having something to do with the 9.4% alcohol content.

Overall, I’m not as ecstatic with it as I was with Belle, but still very pleased.  For those who like sours this will no doubt be worth having a couple bottles though I don’t feel there’s a need to hoard it.  That said, since I do want to cellar at least one for a couple years, it wouldn’t hurt to have more than the three I was limited to at purchase.

DSC_0200-1

BA Bottle Share #1

DSC_0159-1

One of the forum regulars on Beeradvocate hosted a BA ‘bottle share’ meet this past weekend; the first of its kind for BA in our neck of the woods.  With a modest but appropriately sized group of 6 members we worked our way through a very memorable collection of bottles.  I feel extremely lucky to have been a part of the gathering and was able to try beers I likely never would have otherwise.  Most, if not all the other fellow beer nerds at the meetup were regular traders (plus one member having just arrived from Montreal) which meant a great variety of beers from afar.  Myself, I’ve never bought beer anywhere except Vancouver and Portland so I could hardly compete.

DSC_0160

Above you can see two bottles that came out early in the evening (well, it was still afternoon at this point):  2013 Dark Lord, and 2013 vanilla bean Dark Lord.  Every beer nerd has heard of these beers most likely, as there is nary a stout in the world that drums up the kind of anticipation and general craziness as Dark Lord.  Only available one day a year at the brewery (and even then, there are hoops to jump and large sums of money to be paid), it never even occurred to me that I’d be able to try this beer myself one day.  However, our fantastic host Brad hooked us up in a huge way and now I’ve experienced both.  I didn’t take notes, but it left an impression that I don’t need to write down to remember.  It’s syrupy thickness is something I’ve never experienced, not on that level.  Sweet with heat.  Burnt toffee or brown sugar, great vanilla, and unknown depths of dark fruit and molasses.

DSC_0168-1

Tyler hooked us up with some of his most notable eastern procurements, such as this bottle of Flora from Hill Farmstead.  This was a real eye opener for me because it blurred a lot of lines between different beer styles that I love.  It had a smell like a gueuze, but with a fantastic floral presence as well.  The taste certainly had a gueuze-like quality likely attributed to its time spent in wine barrels, lots of lemon-citrus, floral-ness, and an incredible and indescribable gentle softness to it.  We attributed it to the water used to make this beer – an ingredient often overlooked but its influence is likely quite significant.  Again I didn’t take notes but this left a huge impression on me, just an amazing experience.

DSC_0182-1

The evening continued on, filled with amazing beers and great conversation – it was quite impressive how 6 strangers at a table were able to connect so well.  Maybe it was the love of beer, maybe it was simply the beer.  It seemed more-so that this was just a group of friends who hadn’t been put in the same room previously.  We even broached best-avoided topics like politics without offense or incident.

DSC_0172-1

I should post up a picture and full description of every beer consumed that night because each deserves such attention, but I haven’t the patience nor the notes to do them justice.  Below shows the lineup of beers we’d taken care of by the end of the night.  It was quite the sight to see all the beers lined up, but the real awe was in tasting all these beers.  Not a single one was average, let alone bad, though there were crowd favourites for sure.

DSC_0190-1

My sincere gratitude to the host for his hospitality and incredibly generous sharing as well as to each member of the party for bringing such prized beers – it was awesome!

Parallel 49 – Pound Sterling

DSC_1877-1

Fresh-hopped beers have been cropping up steadily since late September, fueled by the annual hops harvest that takes place in early September.  One big BC player in the hops market is Sartori Cedar Ranch.  Sartori planted Centennial, Magnum, Newport, Sterling, and Williamette (among others, I’m sure) a few years ago with Molson as a committed buyer.  During harvest, a small portion of the Centennial yield was sold as-is to Driftwood for their aptly named Sartori Harvest ale.  More recently, a whole bunch of BC brewers are jumping on the fresh-hopped bandwagon as the BC craft beer scene grows strong enough to support it.

Where Driftwood’s Sartori IPA is packed with Centennial hops, Parallel 49 took the pilsner route and, as the name suggests, used Sterling hops.  This is a departure from the standard Saaz hops for the pilsner style, though Sterling is not far off the mark.  It has been really interesting to see all the different beer styles coming out this year fresh-hopped:  Driftwood’s IPA, Hoyne’s pale ale, Granville Island’s ESB, Lightwood’s dark ale, and this, Parallel 49’s pilsner.  I suppose it was a natural choice for the lager-loving brewery, continuing to prove that lagers can be special just like the ales.

Pound Sterling is bright yellow-gold with a modest head that dissipates to lacing within a few minutes.  The smell is pretty mild with earthy hops defining what I sensed.  There is more to speak of once you take a sip, opening up with bright honeyed cereal, crisp hops bite, and it develops into a fuller hops flavour of earthiness, citrus (only slightly, but lemon I guess?) and a little bit of floral quality as well.  I’m not experienced enough in the pilsner style to really critique any further, but I enjoy it quite a bit.  I’m not sure I can appreciate the difference the fresh hops makes as much as I could with Sartori Harvest but this is a wonderfully drinking beer anyway.  It finishes earthy and smooth.

Hoyne – Wolf Vine

DSC_1833-1

Hoyne Brewing is a Victoria based craft brewery worthy of respect.  Though Driftwood is perhaps a little overshadowing at times, Hoyne does hold their own in producing quality and interesting beers.  Wolf Vine is one such beer, a pale ale that has been wet hopped with fresh, locally grown hops.  As such, like Sartori, it is only available during harvest season.

I have to admit I’m guilty of being drawn to exotic beer styles – terms like barrel aged, bottle conditioned, imperial this and that – and as a result, it takes a little bit of buzz and positive press for me to head to the store just to seek out a pale ale.  There is nothing wrong with the pale ale; it’s a quintessential beer style whose balance is nearly universally pleasing.  However, being so palatable and unoffensive of a style, it can be more of a challenge to make it extraordinary.  Fresh hops can improve many different beer styles when executed correctly, and Hoyne chose to focus on the veritable pale ale.  Usually, brewers will choose a more hop-intensive style in order to make the use of fresh hops really stand out – for instance, an IPA or ESB.  How does the more hop-neutral pale ale do with a smattering of freshly picked hops?

Word on the street was that Hoyne kind of hit it out of the park with this one.  Maybe I’m influenced by this success but it’s about as memorable as a pale ale gets for me.

Appearance:  Well, this is one department that pale ales maybe don’t excel in – well, at least not in terms of exciting bloggery.  It has the standard, perhaps classic pale ale hue of copper-gold.  Fairly dense white head that stays put fairly well.

Smell:  The smell is really quite balanced between some floral hops and pale malts.  The hops is brightly floral but muted by the malts.

Taste:  Light caramel creaminess with a fresh, crisp hops presence.  The hops is slightly citrusy (lemon and orange), but mostly just leafy.  Very rich and a little bit spicy as well.  Maybe it’s because I’m looking for it, but I can’t help but find a whole bunch of hops flavour with very little hops bitterness – the bitterness is just enough to give the beer a crisp feel.

I am really pleased with this – it started life as a really solid, rich and full bodied pale ale and it was surely bumped up a notch by the use of fresh hops.  I would love to try this recipe with standard dried hops and compare directly – I may have to run out and buy their pale ale, the Down Easy, to compare.

DSC_1835-1

Mikkeller – Breakfast Stout

DSC_1752

I don’t usually drink beer at 10:30am, but when I do, it’s breakfast stout.  I drank this on my birthday last week in an effort to start the day on the right foot.  Breakfast stout is an oatmeal stout, further fortified with coffee for a wholesome first meal.  Mikkeller is a Danish brewery producing this “imperial” stout – it is 7.5% ABV.  Not particularly strong for a Russian imperial, but unusually high for an oatmeal stout.

I didn’t take tasting notes at the time because hell with it, it was my birthday.  I can tell you this from memory though: first of all, it’s good.  To expand on that as best I can:  this is a classic oatmeal stout: it’s not sweet, and it’s full of oaty heartiness.  Pretty bitter actually.  Add to this though a fairly potent espresso flavour – dark roast.  If you like dark roast coffee with no sugar and cream, this is probably up your alley.  If not, I can’t imagine it would be,  because the coffee flavours are strong, heavily roasted, and bitter.  Fortunately this is just my kind of cup.

Sierra Nevada – Southern Hemisphere Harvest

DSC_1804-1

Sierra Nevada Brewing is based out of Chico, California and is known for a variety of notable beers.  Their availability has improved in BC, though this particular offering was sourced by a friend south of the border.

Southern Hemisphere Harvest is a fresh hopped ale.  As you may already know, fresh hopped beers typically start to pop up in September and carry through October.  They are only available during this time because the hops harvest happens only during this time. However, this brew uses fresh New Zealand hops, and their fall is our spring.  I’m not sure exactly the process, but the hops are dried or frozen to get to California (which takes inside of a week), so not as fresh as some local options that go direct from farm to kettle.  Still though, sounds like the hops used here are pretty fresh.  Using fresh hops is just like using fresh herbs in cooking – more flavour, truer flavour – especially in the right recipe.  Fresh hops is typically used to make IPA’s due to their hop-forward profile but are also used in pale ales, special ales, ESBs, pilsners, and the like.

The beer pours a bright copper orange/brown with fluffy head.  The smell has a unique character comprised of floral, tropical citrus hops and a sweet caramel malt smell.  Taste reflects this as well – the hops are delicate and primarily floral but with a good dose of pineapple and sweet orange as well.  Bitterness is nonexistent, yet the floral and citrus qualities manage to be quite prominent.  This is a very impressive result.  The malt backbone is solid and has a toffee, bready character.  I like to think the fresh hops is what’s able to pull of this rather unusual ability to douse the beer in floral, citrus goodness without any bitterness, dryness, or woody notes.  Only at the back end of the finish is there any indication of bitterness and it remains nearly masked by the creamy malts.

DSC_1802-1

 

Brouwerij Boon – Boon Kriek

DSC_1739-1

Brouwerij Boon makes a gueuze that I quite enjoy, so when I saw a big bottle of kriek from them I picked it up.  Boon is, not surprisingly, a Belgian brewery who specializes in lambics.

I can honestly say this is unlike any kriek I’ve had before.  The smell is most unusual and quite hard to describe.  I suppose it’s cherry, but not the same cherry I’ve smelled before.  It is has a really weird mix of candy-sweet with an almost off-putting tartness too.  The tartness is most unusual and very hard to explain.  There is an element of grape soda, some vinyl or plastic, and who knows what.

The taste is a lot of grape soda – it is very sweet and the cherry tastes like artificial grape with a cherry influence, at least to me.  I know it sounds weird and it is.  It’s as if one mixed grape soda with cherry cough syrup.  It’s not totally unpleasant, but it’s not nearly what I expected.  The cherries here are very much maraschino cherries, at least that’s what they taste like.

I was a bit disappointed by this beer – I can’t say I’m a huge fan.  Knowing what I know now, I would actually sit on this beer for quite some time and let the cherry flavours die down a bit.  If you like your fruit lambics sweet and unique, give this a try fresh – if you don’t, I’d skip this or try it after a couple years have been put on it.

DSC_1743-1

Brassneck – Free Radical white IPA

DSC_1732-1

Brassneck is the newest in a series of new breweries that have opened their doors in my beloved neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant.  Brassneck in particular is only a couple buildings over from my own, so I am very excited that I can get a growler refilled in hardly more time than it takes me to retrieve my laundry.  Their opening has been very much anticipated in my neighbourhood.  It’s been a bit of a saga for them to get all the necessary paperwork squared away, as BC’s liquor laws do leave much to be desired.  But what’s important is they are open now, and it is glorious.  Their growler fill and beer tasting spaces are artfully curated and suit both the Main Street vibe and modern beer culture in Vancouver – that is to say, they are spaces that make a guy like me want to hang out in them.

The beer pours a wonderfully bright golden yellow-straw colour, and the wheat-induced cloudiness diffuses the light to make the colour really pop – especially when held up to light.  I had written down what I thought of the smell shortly after pouring the beer as “citrus, lemon, some grassy notes” but now that the beer has been given time to warm up a bit and breathe, it has opened into quite a bouquet of floral notes in addition to lemony citrus notes.  There is definitely a wheat-grass note or two in there as well.

The taste opens up with a full bodied floral and citrus hops hit which quickly transforms into a dry-wood bitterness.  I’m used to Deschutes’ Chainbreaker as an example of a white IPA – well, Brassneck’s take on the style packs a little more punch.  I was a little unsure at first about the dry bitter finish, but after a few mouthfuls you acclimatize and grow to appreciate it.  The citrus comes through as primarily lemon for me, offering a pretty powerful bitterness but there are floral qualities that balance it off as well.  The wheat works with the woody notes of the hops to produce a sort of dry grass meets pine chips thing.  It’s nice, but it’s not for those looking for subtlety I’d wager.

Although they’ve only been open a few days at this point, I am already pretty confident the highest turnover of growlers in my fridge will be Brassneck.  Good selection (there are no less than 8 beers from them already!), good quality, and rediculously close.  I am counting my lucky stars.

DSC_1735-1

Propolis – Gardin

DSC_1708-1

Gardin is a farmhouse ale brewed with herbs, brewed by Propolis out of Washington.  Founded in mid-2012, they are pretty new to the scene and have not yet had the time to make much of a name for themselves outside WA – though I have a feeling that will change.  Far from inexpensive, Propolis instead puts their focus on brewing the very best beer they are capable of, uncompromising on what goes into it.

The smell is almost completely enveloped in fresh herbs – thyme is number one, rosemary second.  Maybe some coriander as well?  The herbs truly dominate, leaving very little else to notice.  The body of this beer is surprisingly full, with great malts breaking way for a strong hit of those same herbs along with a brisk peppery spice.  Truly unique and powerful, the quality that Propolis claims is evident.

DSC_1712-1

I wasn’t sure whether the ‘brewed with herbs’ note would mean a hint of herbs or a lot of herbs.  Let me assure you, it is a lot of herbs.  While the rosemary and thyme tastes are strong, they aren’t unwelcome because of the earthy, almost bitter quality that they offer.  It goes very well with the saison backbone.

I did notice while reading the beer care page on Propolis’ site that they recommend 6 to 24 months of cellar time for their beers.  These are bottle conditioned ales, but I was still surprised to see the recommendation of aging on a farmhouse ale – a style that is typically drank within 6 months of bottling.  Propolis joins several others in this new-school style of farmhouse ale though, with higher ABV’s (this comes in at 7.5%) and conditioned for maturation.  Reminds me of Logsdon, of which I have a couple bottles in the cellar with the intention of aging matter-of-fact!

DSC_1709-1