Toronto Beer Week is about to kick off – actually, it already has, but I was on a plane when it officially started – and that means things around these parts are about to get pretty busy. Guess I should first write about the bunch of autumn/harvest/Oktoberfest themed beers that have recently crossed my desk, then.
Guinness Black Lager: This isn’t fall-themed, of course, but it is new and does have people talking. Me, I’m underwhelmed. I was expecting at least a decent take on a schwarzbier, but what I found instead in my glass is something more akin to Harp Lager with a hit of roasted malt added. The nose reminds me of the Kraft Chocolate Caramels I used to gobble every Halloween when I was a kid, and while the flavour leads with a decent bit of roastiness, that seems to be about all this one-trick brew has to offer, ending as it does with an unsatisfying and not even terribly refreshing thinness. I honestly can’t see Guinness loyalists going for it, and am pretty certain that light lager drinkers won’t be converted, so I have to wonder: Who does Diageo expect to buy this?
New Belgium Hoptober: I liked this so much when it arrived a couple of weeks back that I immediately settled on it as my “Beaumont’s Beer Pick” for an upcoming issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, for whom I’m the keeper of the “Beer, Wine & Spirits” page. The aroma is fresh, lightly citrusy and perfumey, while the body drinks lighter than its 6% alcohol, with fruity florals supported by a decent but never overwhelming shot of hoppiness. As I said in my NRN review, “A quaffable alternative to German brews this October.”
Newcastle Winter IPA: Newcastle sent me two beers, both special seasonals and both new. But as my sampling of the Werewolf left me singing “Is That All There Is?,” I was hoping for more from the IPA. Hoping, but not immediately receiving, as the first whiff is full on buttery diacetyl, while the second and third add only a bit of berry-like fruitiness to the mix. On the palate, I find caramelly fruit up front leading to a medium, faintly minerally bitterness in the body, finishing off-dry and mildly to moderately bitter. As an introduction to IPA, this richly copper-hued ale will no doubt sway some regular Newkie drinkers, but it’s not going to thrill the hoards drinking what is now the most popular craft beer style in the United States.
New Glarus Staghorn Octoberfest: The people behind New Glarus for some reason see logic in keeping me up-to-date on what they’re doing in Wisconsin, and bless them for it! As befits Dan Caray’s Bavarian brewing apprenticeship, this cool-fermented paean to autumn is a beer that can stand beside the best of German Oktoberfestbiers, and ahead of many if not most of them! Rich gold with hints of rust, it has a clean, sweet, honey-ish nose with notes of the lightly peppery scent of fresh grain. The flavour starts sweet and grows drier by the second, progressing from flower honey to caramel graininess to a satisfying, biscuity finish. Only available in Wisconsin, sadly. Please send more!
Goose Island Harvest Ale: The first seasonal beer I’ve tasted from Goose Island since the – dum-dah-dah-dum! – dreaded Anheuser-Busch InBev takeover, and let me tell you, this ain’t no Stella! Reddish copper and a little hazy in the glass, the Cascade hops in this beer stand out in the aroma, but not so much in the stereotypical nose-full-of-citrus manner, more a perfumey-lemon-with-stalks-of-barley-swaying-in-the-background kind of thing. On the palate, the start is lightly sweet and evocative of canned mandarin orange sections, mixed with muesli, while the body mixes in some citrus peel, tannins, lightly candies fruit and a bit of indiscernible nuttiness, all finishing dry and rewarding. Quite different than the New Belgium Hoptober, but reaching the same conclusion.