Howe Sound Brewing – Woolly Bugger 2013


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!




Howe Sound – Megadestroyer


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!


(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.)