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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Founders Breakfast Stout

Okay, back to beer time.  I’m not under the influence this time around (beyond the half-glass I’ve consumed) so I’m less likely to go off on odd tangents, regardless of their justifiability.  In a defining moment of redundancy, I decided to put up a blog post about one of the most heavily reviewed beers in North America:  Founders’ double-chocolate, coffee and oatmeal stout referred to as their Breakfast Stout.

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Founders are a bit of a rarity around the northwest, especially in Canada, due to lack of nearby distribution.  Dedicated beer nerds find a way though.  Myself, I lucked out by having a friend bring this bottle back for me from his trip to Philly.  Naturally, it was on the bucket list so I’m very thankful for its being delivered to me.  Perhaps their KBS is a little more popular, but Breakfast Stout is right up there.  When I wandered over to BeerAdvocate I discovered a 100 rating both by user input and “The Bros”.  That’s about as impressive as it gets over there.

My review was -7.3% from the BA average, but that’s not because I didn’t like it.  I really, really like it.  I just don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all breakfast stout.  But jeez, it’s close.

I won’t go into a lot of detail about the appearance, because it’s a stout.  You can see above.  It’s fairly inky, though not thick as it pours.  Head is minimal.  Not notable.  However, things start to pick up on the aroma: bitter chocolate mixed with oats, and a huge fresh coffee presence, like sticking your face into a bag of fresh grounds.  It’s so fresh and prominent that you can really dig into the details about the beans and their roast:  the roast comes across pretty light, while the beans are fruity and nutty.  Most excellent.  This is the blur of a beer nerd and a coffee nerd’s delight.

Taste follows with baker’s chocolate coated granola bar on the front half, backed by some coffee towards the back end.  Not nearly as much coffee as the aroma, but still very much present.  Medium roast coffee I would say, not overly roasty.  The chocolate is pretty prominent but absolutely sugarless in flavour – there is very little sweetness and there is correspondingly very little bitterness to balance it off.

For me the surprise was the body of the beer, which was definitely on the thin side.  It was still creamy and rich and by no means bad, but it did not have the viscous quality I cross my fingers for in a big stout.  That’s okay though, it’s not like the beer needs it at all.  It drinks more like a coffee in terms of body.

I would love to have another and I’ve never had a breakfast stout so full of explosive flavour.  It’s not my favourite nor even in my top 5 stouts, but it’s still right up there and just awesome in its own right.

 

 

Intermission: Song review, Typhoon’s ‘Artificial Light’

This is a beer blog that I tend to, but I’ve had just enough tonight that I want to make a post not about beer but instead about music.  I like to believe the two go hand-in-hand, and while this isn’t untrue, its significance varies widely from individual to individual.  We may be united by our taste in beer, but our taste in music likely varies widely.

I like to think that good music will transcend genres, though that’s not really true at all.  As I drink my glass of Ten Fidy, I am revisiting a track I’ve listened to a whole lot recently – both on Rdio and on my turntable.  It is by the Portland band Typhoon, and it’s their first song on their recent release, called Artificial Light.

Portland does beer well, we all know this.  They also do music well – which is not surprising given the fact it is a city made up almost exclusively of artistic types.   Typhoon is a band that screams Portland to me – tons of members (because what else do they have to do?) all coming together in a way that emphasizes the end result, not individual gain.   They are an incredibly quiet band for their size, and I mean that as a sincere compliment.

I encourage you to mind the lyrics as you listen to this song, because they are fantastic and fortify the song strongly:  http://www.songlyrics.com/typhoon/artificial-light-lyrics/

A notable feature of this song is it changes tempo and reinvents itself at a couple points.  Crucial to its storyline and appealing from a sensory perspective.  I assume you’ve read the lyrics as you’ve listened along.  I hope you did, even if just to appease me.  Lead singer Kyle Morton has a unique, pitchy voice that may not appeal to everyone, though I think it’s brilliant.  Undeniably though, the song underneath is worth being told.

It’s a love story, which has been done a million times.  Kyle & band’s storytelling is a particularly eloquent rendition of the same old storyline, though.  We are brought from the “beginning” to current day shown the lengths that man has gone to appease his desire for happiness – from cosmology to advanced physics, we engross ourselves in the pursuit of knowledge and curiosity, all in the name of self-fulfillment.  In the context of this song, this is the “artificial light”.  In other words, it’s not the real deal.  But deeper into the song, the slowed-down lyrics “I woke up in the morning / To a pale light tangled in your hair / And I never wake before you / But this time, I caught you sleeping there” where Kyle finds the “true” source of light.  He then gushes about the finding.

The moral of the story was, of course, that genuine love is where this true self-fulfillment is found.  Of course, there’s a good chance I’m fabricating this metaphorical storyline but I stand by the fact that it’s a damn good one.  I also stand by Typhoon and their awesome music.  I have strong opinions on music as my extensive record collection will attest to, and Typhoon is a new addition to the collection I can’t get enough of.   Next, I would say go listen to some Horse Feathers.

The State of Stouts in BC

The (very) recent introduction of Oskar Blues’ famous canned stout Ten Fidy to the BC market has prompted me to post up about stouts.   Stouts in general, at least as they pertain to BC.  Ten Fidy is my favourite non barrel-aged stout, which is a pretty bold statement to make.  I like stouts, and there are a lot of good ones.

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Look at the colour of that head.  That is perhaps the most impressive part of this stout when it’s poured:  the head is a full shade darker than the dark tan head you’d find on a bottle of Old Rasputin, Narwhal, or any number of other Russian imperial stouts on the local market.  I’ll tell you another thing:  Ten Fidy is in another category altogether when it comes to body, too.  The stuff is thick, like motor oil thick.  But instead of being oily, it is sticky, like barely-dissolved sugar or molasses.  It is on the sweet side, and I know full well it’s probably too sweet for some folk’s palates, but for me it’s perfect.  It has that huge sweetness of chocolate, molasses, and burnt sugar but it’s also balanced off by a good hops presence as well.   There is a very powerful roast character along with the toffee sweetness.  Just awesome stuff, and the internet will back me up on that.

A lot of people get pretty defensive of their personal favourites in this department, for instance, North Coast’s Old Rasputin.  No doubt, Old Raspy is a golden standard of the style and I’m not knocking it.   Ten Fidy strikes a bit of a different balance:  more sugars, more viscosity.  It’s probably a personal thing.  But while Old Raspy is awesome, Ten Fidy is that much better for me.

I just finished a glass of another favourite:  Moa’s imperial stout.  The availability of Moa beers in BC has really expanded in the past few months, and this imperial stout in a 375mL corked bottle can be found any number of places now and for not too bad a price.  It has a rich roast with great hops and a good creamy body, though not quite Fidy-level.

So here are some fine locally available “regular” stouts I would recommend to anyone who likes stout:

  • Oskar Blues Ten Fidy
  • Moa Imperial Stout
  • 8Wired iStout
  • North Coast Old Rasputin
  • Sierra Nevada Narwhal

There are, of course, a slew of limited releases and barrel aged stouts locally available as well.  For instance, I’d recommend this year’s Black Butte XXV wholeheartedly while I’d say that Deschutes’ other annual stout release, Abyss, is actually runner up to the XXV*.  XXV showed a great balance between big chocolate and big bourbon this year; just delicious.  For a good bargain, Longwood’s Stoutnik is very drinkable.  Parallel 49 has released their Russian Imperial for the year, and just like last year it is good without being a must-have.

If you’re getting your growler filled, there are a few unique options available to you.   Brassneck’s Inertia stout is very tasty.  But my personal favourite, without a doubt, is Storm Brewing’s Vanilla Whisky stout.  Its availability is spotty but if the opportunity knocks, don’t pass it up.

* Technically Black Butte is a porter, not a stout.  I hold the opinion that porters are a sub-genre of stouts.  This is not an official stance.

The Bruery – Sour in the Rye

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This is a post about The Bruery.  Its primary focus is this beer I’m drinking right now, Sour in the Rye.  Within the last 48 hours I have also drank Oude Tart and Bois, so they are also fresh on my mind.  I’ll just go ahead and say it: I’m a Bruery fan-boy.  Shut up.

The Bruery is a well known contender in the west coast craft beer scene and undoubtedly they produce some of the more highly regarded seasonals:  Chocolate Rain and Black Tuesday for instance.  Unfortunately, those are two bottles considered too good for the Canadian market, but a select number of Bruery releases are trickling into BC with our ever-growing import selection.  Among those are: White Oak, Bois, Sour in the Rye, and Mischief.  From personal experience I can say they are all rather delicious.

The Bruery is somewhat known for batch infections and premium pricing, also.  They aren’t known for perfection every time.  But despite that I continue to be a fan-boy because my personal experiences continue to be nothing short of awesome.  Also I will admit I wanted them to be awesome because I find their bottles and their general image to be rather appealing.  This is kind of like my love for Hair of the Dog; I seem to go for the breweries known for high batch variance for some reason.

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Right, I came here to talk about Sour in the Rye.  Well, it’s quite a pretty beer in addition to the pretty bottle: a kind of tangerine orange/red/pink combination that is finely opaque as if there was glacial silt in the beer.  The head isn’t out of control in size but is quite fun to lace and watch break down slowly.  It smells intensely tart but with fruit sweetness as well, there is no funk here, just fresh, under-ripe and hugely tart berry fruit.  Taking a sip results in decent pucker, sort of a sour cherry meets a sweet but super tart lemon thing going on.  It does a great job of being full-on sour without giving up the sweetness, and it’s not cloying though it’s not far off.  The rye influence is on the back-burner and comes through towards the finish along with some oak dryness.  The carbonation is fine and lively, and really makes it all a pleasure to drink.

My immediate thought when I took a sip of this beer is that it has scratched an itch that only Belle Royale from Driftwood had previously scratched.  It lacks the complexity of say a Cantillon but I don’t care–this is really enjoyable stuff that manages to be refreshing while tingling my sour-loving taste buds.

Oh, and I mentioned I had Bois and Oude Tart recently.  Bois blew me away a little bit with its complexity, as it had a little bit of everything:  bourbon, red fruit, vanilla, oak, booze, and so on.  I know it’s one to age but it’s quite amazing already.  Oude Tart hit a great balance of raspberry / blackberry tartness that I was completely satisfied by.  No complaints at all.

Brassneck – Stockholm Syndrome

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Saisons with brettanomyces are pretty hip these days, though I swear my love for them has nothing to do with their popularity.  Brettanomyces, henceforth referred to as ‘brett’ for ease of typing, is a rather funky member of the yeast family which gets along famously with the tart, spicy nature of the farmhouse ale.  Its function is two-fold: it adds character and complexity to the base saison, and it adds a funky sourness as well.

Four Winds Brewing recently released a brett-laden saison which was the first of the style in Vancouver.  It was very exciting.  It was also very good stuff—perhaps not quite on par with Logsdon, but a very good first effort.  Brassneck has now come through with their crack at the challenging but rewarding style.

To answer the burning question of how it turned out, I would say it turned out really quite well.  I wouldn’t place it in Logsdon territory either, but it’s got great balance and really pleasant flavour.  I took some notes, though I preface that my note-taking is not incredibly insightful stuff:

Appearance:  Densely opaque, pale tangerine with that characteristic fluffy white head that leaves plenty of lacing behind.

Smell:  I’m getting apple skins, hay, earth, and maybe some clove-forward spices.

Taste: Bready wheat and sweet grapefruit citrus dominate the first portion of the palate while the long, long finish is dominated by the characteristic earthy funk that brett leaves.  It is reminiscent of Logsdon’s Seizoen Bretta though I find the Brassneck version to come across slightly heavier or denser.

Mouthfeel:  Rich body, carbonation falls a little short of perfect but it’s by all means good.

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