Howe Sound Brewing – Woolly Bugger 2013

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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!

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Gueuzerie Tilquin – Quetsche Tilquin

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Tilquin’s oude gueuze is a fairly available, mid-priced gueuze that is quite delicious.  Quetsche is a special release from the folks at Gueuzerie Tilquin that adds plums to the mix.  The label is boldly coloured in plum-like dress but the gueuze itself still, well, looks like gueuze.

The smell is still, for the most part, what you’d expect from a standard oude gueuze.  There is the slightest hint of plum in there but it is mostly the acidity and yeast character dominating the nose.  Strong oak notes as well, the plum comes across for me as a hard-to-place background sweetness.

Taking a sip and I am enveloped in a full-bodied gueuze experience, lots of oak and tartness, and natural and gentle sweetness and an acidic, dry finish.  The plums are in the background on the finish for me, and they are tart and dry like under-ripe plums.  You know the ones, where the pit is desert dry.

More than anything I feel like the addition of the plums bolsters the feel of this beer, bringing it well into full bodied territory for the style.  The beer is slightly puckering due to a combination of the sourness and the dryness.

This is a lot less fruit flavoured than I expected and I’m more than just okay with that, I think I’m pretty glad.  This is a superb gueuze!

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Evil Twin – Disco Beer

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I’ve already gone into detail about the unique character (and by character I mean owner) behind Evil Twin and what makes it an unusual brewery, so I won’t repeat all that – Cole’s notes is that he is nomadic by nature and has a unique take on brewing.  I think I bought this bottle late summer when I noticed a couple Evil Twin beers on the shelf.  I didn’t know anything about Disco Beer but I liked that it was in a manageable bottle size, since it was 10.5% ABV.  Something I could kill on a weekday without concern.

Even as I pulled it out of the fridge today and cracked it open, I hadn’t even read the label.  I glanced over it finally as I readied the camera, and discovered to my surprise that it is a Chardonnay barrel-aged IPA.  Obviously a big IPA if it’s 10.5% ABV.  Now I’m interested, as the last barrel-aged IPA I had was Dogfish Head’s Burton Baton and it was superb.

Then I poured the beer.  Big, big puffy cream coloured head, very dense, almost cream-like in texture as well.  The colour is just awesome, a deep and rich ruby red.  I think it’s usually a bit difficult to get excited about the appearance of a beer, even an excellent beer, but this is really quite special looking.  Also, it looks nothing like a typical IPA.

I also would not say that it smells like an IPA particularly, though there is a veritable bowl of fruits in the nose and they are indeed accompanied by an earthy, sort-of-pine character as well.  However, the fruits aren’t the bright citrus type you’d typically see with an IPA – instead they are darker and sweeter:  plums, cherry, raspberry.  There is a vinous acidity as well that comes through loud and clear.

Taking a sip yields a similar but different experience.  There is caramel notes in the malts, but the same red fruits are present and their sweetness does trump the barrel notes and hops bitterness.  The piney, earthy, and oaky flavours are not forgotten though and do a good job of keeping the beer from being anywhere near cloying. The fact that this is 10.5% ABV is honestly rather baffling, as I don’t taste the alcohol whatsoever and it is unbelievably drinkable – this will disappear quick unless you drink deliberately slow.  It is on the sweet side but robust and powerful in the hops department as well, even if most of the bitterness is cloaked.

The body of this beer is big and rather thick, especially for what is called an IPA.  The carbonation is strong and wonderful.

What a great experience this turned out to be.  Disco Beer has big flavour that lands somewhere between a pale ale and a barleywine perhaps, but it is not any sort of compromise – it is truly an excellent beer.  Between this and Burton Baton I have come to realize that wine barrel aged IPA’s are a style that really appeals to me.

Howe Sound – Megadestroyer

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Megadestroyer is pretty big – not just in physical size thanks to the ample 1L bottle, but also in profile.  It’s got a lot of stuff in it and a lot of alcohol is produced by all that stuff. Granted, 10% ABV is merely moderate when it comes to a big stout, but it’s still easy to classify as a big beer.  Ingredients beyond the norm include licorice root, star anise, and blackstrap molasses.

The licorice root and anise are the stars of the show in regards to the aroma of this beer.  The licorice influence has all but taken over the aroma, leaving only traces of alcohol and earthy hops around the edges.  Picking up some hops scent is not surprising given the 75 IBU bitterness of the beer.

Once you take a sip, the licorice and anise take their place in a more well-rounded profile.  They are still certainly two of the main components of the flavour but they do not dominate to the extent they do on the nose.  There is a great roasted brown sugar (or molasses) components as well, working with the licorice and anise.  Despite the 75 IBU, this is a primarily sweet stout.  The licorice also comes across as a little bit sweet cherry at times I find.

This is probably the thickest 10% ABV stout I’ve had.  Huge stouts like Dark Lord or Bourbon County do come across as both thicker and sweeter but they are also in another class altogether on alcohol content.  I know I’m implying a direct correlation between ABV and body and that’s not really how it works, but it’s a pretty good rule of thumb.

Even as someone who doesn’t really like black licorice, I do enjoy this beer anyway.  It’s sweet and thick but with enough hops to keep the finish more neutral and slightly earthy.  I’d be pretty curious how it does with some bourbon barrel aging, personally!

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(Note:  this pour was on day 2 of the beer being open; the head was about 1cm and caramel coloured when the bottle was freshly opened.)

Four Winds Brewing Co. – Saison Brett

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It goes without saying that I was uncontrollably excited when I heard about an upcoming brettanomyces-laced farmhouse ale from Delta-based Four Winds Brewing.  I’ve already been hugely impressed with both their product and their priorities, as Four Winds has produced a good number of inventive and excellent beers with a particular focus on farmhouse style ales AND have been the second brewery in BC history to cork their beer.

I was even more excited when I heard very, very positive things about this beer.  I bought four bottles Friday, about an hour and a half after they hit the shelves at Brewery Creek (I got there as quick as I could).  I didn’t open the first bottle until tonight.  You can now chalk me up as another strong supporter of this beer.

It pours a hazy golden yellow with big puffy head.  I was hoping for nearly-uncontrollable head size off this beer and I got it.  It is a mark of a great craft saison.  Smell is of orange fruits like peach and apricot, lots of barn-straw, grass, some gentle spices, slight pepper, and wonderful brett character – not overly funky, just a great added depth of complexity to the yeast character.

Taste is much the same – it starts off as an already great, fairly malty saison and suddenly the brett breaks through with a healthy dose of straw and a damp and dirty moss-like quality… I realize that may not sound appealing, but trust me when I say I mean it in the best way possible.  Moves towards a dry oak finish after all that, with the brett still leaving its mark.

Carbonation and mouthfeel are spot-on for the style and do nothing but support the excellence of this beer.  I commend Four Winds for tackling such a difficult and fickle style so early into their existence; the fact that they hit it out of the park the first try is just icing on the cake.

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Sierra Nevada – Torpedo Extra IPA

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Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA gets its namesake from the torpedo-shaped contraption that Sierra Nevada engineered to gain the biggest and best influence of their whole-cone hops additions during dry hopping.  To expand on that opening statement:  Dry hopping, as you may already know, is the act of adding hops to the fermenter after the boil – this preserves those oils that are lost in earlier hop additions, and more than anything it improves the aroma of the beer.  Also a noteworthy part of the opener is that Sierra uses whole cone hops for this beer, not the more common pellets.  What this means to the final product I’m not exactly sure, but it’s a deviation from the norm nonetheless.

Torpedo Extra IPA is a widely distributed, high volume beer as far as craft beers go.  It is medium strength for a big IPA at 7.2% ABV.   That is not to say it’s not special, though.  The aroma is a little on the malty side for an American IPA, but also with big citrus in the form of grapefruit and orange, and also lots of earthy pine wood.  It drinks full bodied, very rich and thick mouthfeel for an IPA of this sort.  Taste starts off quite sweet, I think thanks largely to the malts – and then slides into a floral, citrus, pine combination that just screams “proper American IPA”.   The above-standard malt addition is visible in the colour as well as the taste of the beer but it does not stand in the way of the hops character – the hops remain firmly and confidently the center of attention here.  The bitterness is muted by the malts though, or at least that is the sense I get.

This is a very fine drinking IPA that doesn’t demand your full attention to enjoy, but doesn’t shy away from such scrutiny either.  It has just the right level of maltiness for me, adding body and sweetness to the beer while still allowing the hops full autonomy and a lingering dry finish.

One more thing to note for my fellow BC residents:  I bought this at a government store for $5.99 (it’s 710mL), which makes it a very good value for the quality of beer you’re getting.  It was my first visit to a government store in a long time and I was floored to see it there.

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New Belgium Brewing – Le Terroir

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Le Terroir is a French term meaning “from the earth,” and is visually depicted on the bottle as what appears to be the water table (or an oil deposit).  It is also a dry hopped sour ale that New Belgium has been releasing annually since 2010.  It is unique and has been patiently created, spending between two and three years in wood barrels before being dry hopped with Amarillo and Cascade hops to put a different spin on the standard sour.

This beer has a fantastic smell thanks to this dry hopping; I was surprised by just how fruity and floral it was, much like a great IPA.  Tons of citrus smells, from orange to passion fruit to pineapple.  There is an undercurrent of tartness and lactic sourness, as to be expected, which is actually really quite complimentary.  It tastes like a cross between a sour ale and a bright and fruity IPA, and the combination is really pleasant – I am a huge fan.  The carbonation is quite strong and offers a tonic-like quality when combined with the barrel notes.  The finish is quite tonic-influenced in my opinion, likely in part due to the barrel oak in there and the big earthy hops.  The sour ale base is top-notch and actually reminds me of Cantillon gueuze in its dry acidity and great fruit and oak flavours.  The big hops addition is extremely bright and offers no counterpoint woodiness or any bitterness at all really – it’s just crisp and fresh and wonderful.

I wish I bought more than two but I’m glad this won’t be my last chance to drink the 2013.  This has definitely been added to my “find and buy every season” list.

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Here is my review from BeerAdvocate, where I gave it a 4.85 / 5  (almost my highest marks yet):

A: Bright golden orange with off-white head that dissipates to lacing.

S: Ooh! I knew it was dry hopped so I expected more hops than the average sour, but I didn’t expect this wonderful fruit bowl of orange, passion fruit, pineapple and apricot. Some floral too. The tart, lactic sourness flows below these fruits creating a surprisingly complimentary mix.

T: Good God. More perfect meshing of a sour base that I dare say reminds me of a Cantillon gueuze – big oak and dry acidity, great fruitiness – with just awesome hops additions that are bright and fresh and offer little to no drawbacks. If there’s any woodiness in the hops it’s meshing in perfectly with the oaked base, and the bitterness they are creating blends with the sour base to create a tonic-like dry finish.

M: Good carbonation which contributes to the tonic quality, the body evaporates off the tonque quickly but the flavour is longer lasting.

O: I’m blown away, I did not realize I would enjoy this so much. It’s like a really excellent sour beer and a really excellent IPA all in one, and the two halves combine to produce a beer greater than the sum of its parts!

 

Vancouver Island Brewing – Hermannator

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Vancouver Island Brewing’s annual release of Hermannator, a 9.5% ABV ice bock widely distributed in six-packs, has been perhaps the most cherished VIB annual release for quite a number of years now.  Having been brewed since 1987, its winter consumption has become a longstanding tradition for many beer lovers.  This year the beer has likely seen another boost in popularity from a recent award, Best in Show at the BC Beer Awards.  As another option for the enthusiasts in the crowd, Hermannator is being bottled in 650mL “bombers” with waxed tops, date stamped and all.  For cellarists such as myself, this is quite neat.

Ice bock is a German style lager – it is extra strong for a bock, due to the freezing process which is used to raise the strength of the beer.  This is the same freezing process some breweries use to produce insanely strong barleywines and other ales.  Onto my experience with the first 2013 bottle:

A: The beer pours nearly black, but in reality it is a deep, deep ruby red with brown tones.  It’s like a slightly weak coffee but with a bit more red in it.

S: The smell is a mix of caramel and cocoa with just the slightest hint of vanilla.  The Saaz hops are there too, providing a spicy kick.

T: Taking a sip, the mouth is coated in dark chocolate, toasted caramel, and a surprising kick of earthy, almost drying hops bitterness.

M: The carbonation and hops presence work to produce a surprisingly crisp mouthfeel.  It is not a thick beer but does produce a nice creamy coat.

O: Hermannator lands between a few styles and really makes it work.  Taking some cues from a big stout or porter, but combined with a pretty heavy duty hops force akin to something between an IPA and a pilsner.  It has a warming finish suitable for this time of the year while retaining the agility to go down easy.

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Cantillon – Iris

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Iris is a unique beer for Cantillon, because it uses 100% barley malt.  Cantillon’s lambics, and lambics in general, are made up of a mixture of barley malt and wheat.  Another unique feature of Iris is the use of fresh dried hops for dry-hopping the beer.  Lambics use hops for their more ancient use in beer – their antibacterial quality.  Modern processes negate this need but lambics, being fermented openly with airborne yeasts in a largely uncontrolled manner, still benefit greatly from a healthy dose of hops to help prevent spoilage.  Older hops are used as they allow a higher quantity to be used without overdoing the flavour.  Iris, however is dry hopped (happens towards the end of the brewing process) with fresh hops for a more pronounced bitterness.  Iris does have many of the classic Cantillon features though: it is spontaneously fermented, bottle conditioned, and oak aged for two years.

A:  Iris appears a reddish gold, or an orange amber.  The head is small but fizzley, and crackles and pops its way into disappearance within a few seconds.

S: There is tart apple, plenty of funkiness and sourness, and lemon citrus.

T: Funky, sort of musty malt character, pretty light on the malts and with a citrus (lemon, and orange) hop kick that offers up some bitterness that really works in conjunction with the oak flavours imparted in the beer.  Finishes dry with an apple cider vinegar quality.

M: Gentle, fine carbonation and a light and crisp feel.

O: It is an interesting and very enjoyable beer, both unique and familiar at the same time.

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Logsdon – Seizoen

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Logsdon Farmhouse Ales are truly crafted in a farmhouse, located in rural Hood River, OR.  They are among the elite when it comes to saisons, a style rooted in tradition and country values but breathed new life in artful new twists of flavour and richness of content.  The saison is possibly my favourite style of beer.  It is typically wonderfully refreshing, with a simple enough core essence but takes well to a variety of flavour influences such as brettanomyces, herbs and spices, and a wide variety of fruit flavours.

A:  One of the great characteristics of a craft saison is the head: huge, puffy, an entity unto itself… and tasty.  Logsdon’s Seizoen is a perfect example – it’s aggressive to the point that great care needs to be taken to get anything but head, it’s got great structure and form and it lasts a long time.  The fluid is cloudy and golden-yellow, a nice and deep colour.

S: There is wheat, straw, clove, pepper, and some peach and apricot fruitiness.

T:  Delectably smooth despite the huge carbonation, spicy and orange fruit flavours.

M: The high carbonation works great to add texture to the flavour.  Finishing a little dry, very nice.

O: While it lacks the complexity of the Seizoen Bretta, it is more refreshing also.  So while overall I prefer the Bretta, sometimes I would grab this first.  Both are awesome.

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