TASTED – Molson Canadian 67 Session IPA

20160210_135855So Molson Coors hops aboard the session IPA bandwagon with this 3% alcohol beer said to be seasoned with Mosaic and Sorachi Ace hops. And honestly, from the aroma of this copper-hued ale, those hops appear to have been put to good use, with a full and fragrant aroma of dried leaf, fresh lemon and grapefruit, accented by a bit of spicy earthiness.

After a sip, however, I’m left wondering what happened to the hops. After two sips, I’m thinking about putting out an a.p.b. on the missing hops. By sip three, I want to just go back to sniffing rather than sipping this beer.

The start of what might be termed the flavour of Molson’s Session IPA is light, very light, with a watery entry and notes of sour citrus. The mid-palate doesn’t get much better, with a character best described as weak lemon tea and a pallid, quick finish. The Mosaic and Sorachi Ace hops were obviously well employed for aroma, but where the actual taste of the beer is concerned, they do little positive and impart almost no bitterness. What this beer needs is malt, plenty of malt, and some hops added to the first half of the boil.

Sorry, Molson Coors, but if you want to start using the IPA moniker on your brands, you’re going to need to do better than a weaker, more fragrant and less flavourful Alexander Keith’s.

What to Drink in 2016

Ah, ‘tis the season of lists. For weeks leading up to Christmas, we have been instructed on the top gifting options for the x-type-of-person on your list. Following the big day, these lists were quickly replaced by ‘Best of 2015’ lists, covering everything from news stories to cat photos. And as the first day of 2016 fast approaches, reflective lists are ceding space slowly to predictive lists, advising us what to watch, drive, eat, see and travel to in the coming year.

And what to drink, of course.

I figure that the reason people write all these lists is because other people want to read and reference them, and who am I to buck the trend?! My specialty is beer, but I also dabble in writing about pretty much anything alcoholic, save for wine – which I leave to my more learned peers. And so, since people are apparently clamoring for advice on what to drink during the approaching twelve months, I might as well chip in with my two cents.

Presenting, then, Stephen Beaumont’s list of what to drink in 2016!

  1. Whatever the hell you want.

Thanks for reading.

Two From the Back of the Fridge

Sometimes beers that breweries have sent me get lost in the shuffle, migrating slowly to the back of the beer fridge where they are unfortunately but consistently overlooked. (Hey, I drink for a living! These things happen.)

I have just tasted two such beers, and interestingly enough they speak as much about each other as they do themselves.

First up is Innis & Gunn Bourbon Pale Ale. Now, I&G do not, in my opinion, get anywhere near the respect they deserve in prime beer circles. Sure, the back story is a bit too cutesy and the barrel thing is a tad overdone, but the company has still managed to turn out some damn impressive ales, including the Highland Ale they debuted this past fall. Unfortunately, the Bourbon Pale Ale shall not number among these desirable beers.

Coppery light gold in colour with a decidedly woody aroma, supported by ample vanilla, soft mandarin orange and other citrus notes, this beer immediately screams its barrel lineage. Which is also what happens on the palate, unfortunately, with way too much bourbon barrel trampling over the gentle hoppiness and what could well be nice and round fruity notes, finishing harsh and barrel-ish. In my view, this is a great example of what not to do with a bourbon barrel, or rather, as it says on the label, “American oak infused with bourbon.”

Contrasting the I&G beer is St. Arnold Brewing’s Bishop’s Barrel No. 9, an “Imperial pumpkin stout aged in bourbon barrels” that is, quite plainly, delightful. Pitch black and intensely aromatic, this high-strength ale offers an aroma of roasted and slightly burnt malt, chocolate, vanilla and pumpkin spices, especially nutmeg and allspice. The body has a sweet, vanilla-ish and spicy chocolate chip beginning, leading to a big and full body dominated by spice – peppery allspice, loads of nutmeg – but not to the exclusion of robust dark chocolate notes and a fading though still present bourbony vanilla. The finish is dry, peppery, boozy as heck and really quite enjoyable.

Where the bourbon barrel simply shines in the St. Arnold Stout, the bourbon-infused oak serves as a detrimental flavour in the Innis & Gunn beer, taking what could be a nice if mild-mannered pale ale and turning it into a jumbled mix of bourbon and woody flavours. A telling example of when too much of a good thing can turn very bad.

On Drinking Alpine Pure Hoppiness

So it’s been a bit of a long day. I didn’t sleep well last night — or the night before that or the night before that or, well, you get the idea — and had a group holiday luncheon today that promised a lot more than it delivered. So here it is, 6:30 pm, I’m still at my desk still trying to get done what I wanted to accomplish before I left for lunch.

And I want a beer.

Off to the beer fridge I go, thinking of something hoppy. The fridge’s contents ebb and flow depending on what projects I’m working on, if anyone has sent me samples to taste, and often just because something has caught my eye while beer shopping. Right now it has a bunch of IPAs and double IPAs in it, plus many other assorted odds and ends, but I am, as noted, hankering for something hoppy, so it’s the hoppy side that has my attention. I’d also like something with a decent bit of alcohol warmth to set the evening straight, but not too much, since the actual, full-fledged end of my workday likely won’t arrive for several hours still.

tumblr_inline_npp9v9bxej1tovnkl_400I search. I scan. I spy the Alpine Beer Company’s Pure Hoppiness.

Popping the cap, I realize that this will be the first Alpine beer I have tasted since the brewery was bought by Green Flash a little over a year ago. I don’t expect it will make much difference, since both breweries were pretty well established at the time of the deal and, to my knowledge, Green Flash has done little or nothing to change operations at Alpine, but I still find the fact intriguing. I grab a glass and pour.

Light gold and somewhat hazy, it has a fruity nose that mixes fresh and canned peach aromas with lemon zest and lemon and grapefruit juice. It’s appealing, but not extraordinary and, perhaps because of the age of this bottle — there is no date code on it, but I got the press release back in October, so it’s got to be about two months old, at least — has only a modicum of that fresh, leafy, hoppy nose one usually gets from a beer that has been dry-hopped with an “incredible amount” of hops, according to the label copy.

The selling point of this beer is its “hop bite,” again as per the label, and it certainly has some of that. But what doesn’t get the headline play is that peach and apricot fruitiness that underpins all of that hoppiness, providing a solid backdrop for resinous, piney and herbal hop notes in front and more grapefruity, citrus bitterness in the back. The lingering effect is hop bitterness, no doubt, but there is definite balance in the body of this beer. Conclusion: It has a flavour profile that strays a bit on the muddy side, not as clear and sharp as I would hope, but generally speaking I like this quite a bit, and more importantly it is serving the exact purpose I wished of it. It’s also one hell of a lot better than the Pure Hoppiness I sampled back in 2010, so well done, Alpine. Cheers!

Sweet Heaven! An Ontario Bock, and It’s Impressive as Hell!

Bocks are as rare as hen’s teeth in Ontario, especially so bocks with cool names that are clever riffs on old songs, so the arrival of the new Big Rig seasonal release, Bock Me Gently*, is especially welcome. Even more so because, as it turns out, it’s a pretty damn terrific bock.

bigrig_bockmegentlyIt pours a bright and beautiful burgundy colour with an off-white and lasting foam and an aroma that is all dry malt, as a bock should be, with toffee notes combining with lightly toasted grain and a whiff of brandy-ish alcohol. The start carries a light sweetness with notes of beer nut – really! – leading to an off-dry body that is as soft and smooth as it is flavourful and warming, with sweet toffee mixing with more drying than bittering hop, a hint of apple, walnut and some very subtle spicy notes, especially cinnamon and nutmeg. The finish is dry, mildly bitter and wonderfully boozy, making this a most impressive bock, every bit the equal of or, in some cases, superior to well-known German versions.

If you live in Ontario or the west of Quebec and can get your hands on this, you should. It will help along your Christmas cheer most wonderfully.

* For those not in on the joke, the reference is to a 1974d Andy Kim song called Rock Me Gently.

Rosetta (Brewery Ommegang, Brewed in Belgium by Liefmans, 5.6%)

This is a billed as an Ommegang beer, but as the label description of “made in Belgium” makes clear, its creation actually occurred at Liefmans rather than at Ommegang. (So why not label it as such?) It’s also a bit curious that what is billed in the press release as a blend of three year old beer aged on cherries and young Flemish brown ale is labelled as “ale aged on cherries with other natural flavor added.” What “other natural flavor” I wonder?

That said, the appearance and aroma of this beer are not to be faulted, with a reddish brown beer supporting a collar of beige foam and a moderately tart aroma of cherries with soft cocoa notes and sweet cherry juice. The release says that Phil Leinhart, Ommegang’s brewer, was going to sweet-sour balance on this, and I think he has found it with a tart cherry and sweet chocolate front – reminiscent of a brownie with tart cherry sauce – and a more complex, far less chocolaty middle with notes of vanilla, cherry, blackberry and hints of nuttiness, or perhaps that’s more almondy cherry pit. Where it falls down, however, is in the finish, which is short and somewhat watery. I like the flavor of the beer and I find myself disappointed that it does not linger more after I swallow.

The Problem with “Craft”

Thanks to Abita Beer’s Jaime Jurado for pointing me to an article this morning in Los Angeles Magazine suggesting that “It’s Time to Rethink What We Mean by ‘Craft Beer’”.

That column, written by Jolie Myers, explains the definition of “craft” and goes on to describe the problems which, in this new age of $1 billion craft brewery take-overs, are inherent in that definition. In so doing, it covers much of the same ground and reiterates many of the same points that have been debated in what must now number in dozens of similar soul-searching articles. Ms. Myers’ conclusion is that “it’s time to reconfigure” the definition of “craft” and looks to, of all places, the US federal government for help.

The thing is, that’s not the problem with ‘craft.’ You know what IS the problem with ‘craft’?

Nothing.

Forget the Brewers Association definition and forget whether Ballast Point Sculpin IPA has suddenly, through an act of finance, gone from ‘craft’ to ‘crafty.’ Forget whether corn or rice may be added to the mash under the craft definition or whether 6 million barrels of production can still be considered small. (In the age of Anheuser-Busch InBev-SABMiller, believe me, it can.) ‘Craft’ is still a useful, globally significant beer term for one reason and one reason only.

People understand it.

Consumers don’t know that the BA has a definition of ‘craft,’ and if they do, they likely don’t care. They know that Michelob Ultra is not craft and Sculpin is, no matter if Constellation owns the latter and Boston Beer suddenly goes mad and decides to buy the rights to the former. Craft is about flavour vs. the lack thereof. Sculpin’s got it and Michelob Ultra doesn’t, so one is craft and the other is not.

This is popular perception and it extends far beyond the United States to China and Brazil, Italy and the U.K. (Although, admittedly, things are a bit more complicated in Britain.) A segment of those consumers, possibly a significant segment, will understand and care whether a brand is owned by a large company or a small one, and everyone within that segment will have their own definition of those terms. But the majority of people will likely go ahead thinking of Shock Top and Golden Road IPA and Goose Island Matilda and Blue Moon Pumpkin Whatever as craft simply because they taste like it.

If writers like Ms. Myers want to clarify things in popular publications, they would be wise to spend more time identifying who owns what and if smaller brewery beer X is comparable to or better than now-big brewery beer Y and less time obsessing over ‘craft.’ Because words are not defined by governments or trade organizations or columnists writing in magazines or online, they are defined by the way people use them.

Constellation Buys Ballast Point and Here Comes the Bullshit!

Breaking news this morning is that Constellation Brands, a “leading beverage alcohol company,” according to NASDAQ, has agreed to purchase San Diego’s Ballast Point Brewing for US$1 billion. This will bring Sculpin IPA and Grapefruit Sculpin into a portfolio that also includes Corona – which is owned by ABI, but the marketing and distribution in the United States of which is owned by Constellation – Clos du Bois wines and SVEDKA Vodka.

Although it’s doubtful that anyone without insider information anticipated this particular tie-up, it shouldn’t be surprising that the number three beer company in the U.S. would be interested in adding a craft brand to their line-up. Surprising perhaps that they valued Ballast Point at one billion dollars – a number that was bandied about and had many industry observers scratching their heads when Heineken bought half of Lagunitas – but not so much that a strong regional player on the verge of becoming a national force was deemed an attractive target.

In the release published in the NASDAQ website at 9:04 this morning, Ballast Point founder Jack White was quoted as saying:

“We started this business nearly 20 years ago with a vision to produce great beer that consumers love and to do it the right way. To achieve that vision, we needed to find the right partner. The team at Constellation shares our values, entrepreneurial spirit and passion for beer, and has a proven track record of helping successful premium brands reach the next level of growth and scale.”

So, the marketer of Modelo Especial and Corona Light shares Ballast Point’s “passion for beer,” eh? Please. Constellation may be many things, entrepreneurial and successful certainly among them, but let’s stow the passion talk, shall we? This is, I strongly suspect, another in a long and, no doubt, soon lengthening line of brewery purchases that have at their core an interest in cashing out on the part of the owners and/or investors.

There is nothing wrong with that. It would just be nice for someone on the receiving end of the bigger company’s largesse to say that. Just once.

Beijing for Beer? You’ve Got to Be Kidding!

Actually, no kidding involved! I went to China to learn about the local craft beer scene and visited five breweries. I wrote the trip up for the Growler Magazine and they have been kind enough to share it online. Check it out over here.

I’ve been writing regularly for the Growler since June, by the way, and since it’s a monthly magazine, that adds up to quite a few columns. So far, I’ve visited in print BuffaloKansas City, London and Toronto, as well as Beijing. Coming up next month is Asheville, North Carolina!

Ontario’s Best Pilsner Has Arrived!

Matt Tweedy, who I first met when he worked at beerbistro, the Toronto restaurant and bar I helped found, and who has worked or done internships at breweries from Cantillon to Lost Abbey to King (now Thornbury, and rapidly becoming a faint shadow of its former self) has with his wife Dayna — another beerbistro vet — opened Tooth and Nail Brewing in Ottawa, Ontario. And with that he has also brought great pilsner back to the province.

Vim and Vigor Unfiltered Pilsner is, despite the “unfiltered” label claim, bright light to medium gold when poured from the can, which has sat undisturbed in my fridge for a week. The head is frothy and pure white and the aroma is prominently and properly floral with a soft sweet grain note in back. Tweedy noted to me that this batch was somewhat undercarbonated, but while that aspect is noticeable, if only barely, it does nothing to detract from the pleasures of this beer, with its perfumey and slightly sweet front, still somewhat sweet but bittering middle, with rising and grassy hoppiness, and quenching, almost bone-dry and moderately bitter finish. But for a slightly stilted sparkle, this beer presents pretty much everything you could want in a pilsner.

The shame — for this Torontonian —  is that Vim and Vigor is available at present only in Ottawa, presumably on tap at certain locations and in the can from the brewery.  If you’re in the area, I encourage you to drink deeply of it.

Reducing Drinking Reduces Risk of Dementia, or Maybe Not. No One Really Knows

(I posted the screed below on Facebook this morning, but thought I’d repeat it here for those who may not have caught it in their feed. I’ve also updated it with the frankly cringe-inducing perspective offered by my friend and fellow writer Pete Brown.)  

Articles like this, in which some dread disease — in this case dementia — is noted to be possibly offset by a change in lifestyle — in this case the cessation of drinking — drive me nuts. Yes, I admit that I have a vested interest in the popularity of alcohol, zero medical expertise and a healthy fondness for beer, wine and spirits, but come on! Every single story I come across like this is filled with qualifications and scary sounding pronouncements, and all too little in the way of factual absolutes. From this story alone:

  • “Middle-aged people should go teetotal to reduce the risk of dementia” (Reduce by how much? What’s the risk in the first place?)
  • “…the public should be advised that there is ‘no safe level of alcohol consumption'” (Just like there is no safe level of driving for avoiding traffic accidents, no safe level of exercise for avoiding heart failure, no safe level of sugar consumption for avoiding cavities…)
  • “Research has found that one third of all Alzheimer’s disease cases can be linked to lifestyle factors –such as exercise, obesity, smoking and alcohol.” (So what role does alcohol play? Can it be offset by regular exercise? Is smoking worse?)
  • “The new Nice advice says drinking any alcohol can increase the risk of dementia, disability and frailty…” (“Can,” but not necessarily “does.” Just like me walking to the other room “can” increase the risk of me stubbing my toe.)

My point is not that people should ignore all sound medical health advice, but that articles about studies filled with “can” and “may” and “could” are not really helpful in the greater scheme of things. Does drinking increase the risk of certain diseases or conditions? Probably. Is that increased risk offset by other mitigating factors, such as stress reduction, healthy diet and regular exercise? From what I’ve read on the subject, quite possibly. But even if not, running a story on how a lifestyle change “may” help to “reduce” the risk of something or other is hardly helpful.

Illustrating well the inanity and utter uselessness of such articles is another article offered up by Pete Brown shortly after I posted my diatribe. In his comment, Pete noted that another, directly contradictory report spawned this article only two days earlier. So beer drinking will either save you from dementia or cause it…or is in fact a benign activity when practiced in moderation that will not on its own have a direct impact on whether or not you get dementia at all. My bet, btw, is on the last.

In Which I Drink a Pumpkin Beer

That’s right, herein I sample but a single, solitary pumpkin ale. Not a collection or “Nine Pumpkin Beers You Have to Try! (and You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!!).” Just one pumpkin beer.

It’s by New Belgium, mind you, which is a brewery that hits far more often than it misses. A brewery, in fact, that is almost a guarantee of an at least decent beer, and often an extremely good one.

pumpkick_lThe name of this beer is Pumpkick, and the image that adorns its label is one of a raven pecking the eyes out of a jack-o-lantern. I don’t get the name, but I do like the imagery.

It’s hazy copper in colour, with a rather predictably spicy aroma, one heavy on allspice and not exactly subtle in cinnamon, backed by notes of actual pumpkin. The flavour, however, is quite different from what the nose had me expecting, with a tangy-sweet note evident right off the bat, not from wild yeast fermentation but rather from fruitiness. Perhaps…yes, those aren’t the pumpkin’s eyeballs the raven is pecking, but cranberries, which the label – now that I read it – lists as an important ingredient.

The body of this beer washes over the tongue in waves of flavour: first tangy fruit, then sweet herbals, spices, and back to the fruit again, finally finishing with a dry and very gentle spice, plus a touch of herbal character, perhaps lemon thyme or, now that I read the label all the way to the finish, lemongrass.

Overall, this is a different sort of pumpkin beer, one which might even change the attitude of the pumpkin beer haters – after, or even if, they get past the spicy nose, that is. For me, I think it’s a laudable exercise if not exactly a fully successful one, with a mix of flavours that doesn’t quite gel. I’ll finish the glass, maybe, but I won’t be looking out for more.