The craft beer scene in BC, and most notably Vancouver, has exploded in the last couple years and a good number of breweries around are very young as a result. Howe Sound is not one of those breweries. They have been making unique, delicious and characteristically large (other than this beer, their stuff comes exclusively in 1L swing tops) beers for as long as I can remember – 1996, to be exact. Also noteworthy is that John Mitchell, the grandfather of BC craft beer, was called upon to help with both the brewery and the beers in the early days, putting Howe Sound in a good position early on. Howe Sound is located in Squamish BC, about an hour outside of Vancouver, midway to Whistler.
Howe Sound is also a favourite stop of mine on the way home from Whistler, which happens about a dozen times a year. I’m generally up there mountain biking, so coming through I’m tired and probably smelly and dirty too. The food is tasty and the beer of course awesome also. The place is rather impressive itself – not the kind of establishment a brewery can typically afford here in Vancouver.
Woolly Bugger has been brewed for at least the last couple years; I’m not sure what the first year was (might be 2011). Packed full of pale, crystal, cara, chocolate and special B malts and on the hops side there’s nugget, fuggles and goldings hops. The bottle gives us a full spectrum of the beer’s statistics: 25 degrees plato, 75 IBU, 1.106 specific gravity and 10.5% ABV. This is consistent with my claim of “packed full” of grain and hops.
On to my notes:
A: The beer appears a very dark crimson brown that appears nearly black. The head is big, quite thick with good retention, and light brown in colour.
S: The smell of this beer is amazing. Caramel and vanilla sweetness, some citrus and red fruit (orange, plum, cherry), a bit of molasses. Sweet but earthy.
T: First reaction is wow this has a big, grainy body. Malty coating with fig, plum, and powerful earthy hops. Bitterness is moderate, showing the freshness of the beer. Alcohol heat is also quite prominent, though not harsh. Just a heck of a winter warmer.
M: Thick! Almost a grainy texture. Carbonation is good.
O: The taste is very good and the smell is sublime. I had heard that the 2013 ‘Bugger is very good already (Barleywines often do well to have some age on them) and I don’t disagree, though Woolly never attempted to hide the fact that it is a big, big beer. I got a little carried away with the number of bottles I purchased so I look forward to revisiting this brew each year for the next few years, including future ‘Bugger verticals. I have a feeling I might like this beer more with a year or two on it, though I like it a lot already – this year’s batch is really great!