3 Bottles + a Book: Wheats from Canada, the US and Brazil, Plus a Literary Twist

I got wrapped up in the development of what will henceforth be calls ‘Special Project 3b’ and thus missed posting yesterday’s 3 Bottles + a Book. So, in the spirit of ‘better late than never,’ here it is on Thursday morning…

Berliner WeissNew Glarus Brewing’s Berliner Weiss is a part of the brewery’s “Thumbprint” series and so a limited edition, but it’s a limited edition anyone within spitting distance of Wisconsin should have on their radar. Pale gold with what is, for a Berliner, a rather delicate and softly tangy aroma, holding notes of white wine grapes, gooseberry and lemon verbena, this appears at first a somewhat tame approach to the style. Until, that is, it hits the lips with a surge of tangy, lemony sharpness, followed by a slight growth in fruitiness, notably in notes of papaya, and some sour milk flavours – in a good way – with a lightness of body that makes it all work so very well. The finish leaves a bit of sourness on the tongue, but refreshes wonderfully, marking this as an even-handed, thoroughly enjoyable and delicious take on a style of beer now brewed far more frequently in North America than it is in Germany.

Continuing on the wheat theme, we have the Muskoka Brewery’s Summer Weiss, a medium gold beer with only a slight haziness to it. On the nose, this is allSummer Weiss about the sweet fruit, overripe banana and a hint of tangerine, with some clove notes appearing as it warms. The body stays principally sweet, with plenty of fruitiness, almost but not quite straying towards the cloying side, and just a bit of peppery, clovey spiciness. For a beer described as a weiss, this doesn’t have quite enough Germanic character for my tastes, leaving me to characterize it as more an American wheat ale-weissbier hybrid, albeit a most approachable one that will likely find many Ontario fans this summer.

Finally, in what has unintentionally become a wheat beer edition of 3 Bottles, I offer you Cervejaria Coruja’s Alba Weizenbock from Brazil. Made with a bit of smoked malt in its grain bill, this deep gold and quite hazy brew offers a subdued aroma of lightly roasted banana, although the restrained nature of the nose likely had something to do with the cold temperature at which it was served during the 20th anniversary Mondial de la Bière, held earlier this month. On the palate, it’s rich and fruity from start to finish, with spicy, clovey notes and apple skin in the middle and a dryish, lightly phenolic and smoky finish. I liked this a lot when I tasted it a couple of years ago in Blumenau, Brazil, and I think I might even like it a little bit more now.

Considering today’s theme, it’s tempting to include Stan Hieronymus’ 2010 opus, Brewing with Wheat, as my book pick, but aside from not having a copy at hand, that would give Stan two of four books thus far featured here, and that would be unfair. Instead, then, let us go back to the realm of cocktails with Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle.

On the surface, this book promising “cocktails with a literary twist” is more novelty than anything else, but remember what they say about judging books by their covers, or in this case, by their themes? Turns out this is a wonderfully entertaining read, slight enough to be digested in one sitting, clever enough to be entertaining even if you never make a single one of the cocktails. In fact, go ahead and forget the recipes! The entertainment is at least as much in the introductions to the drinks.

Product DetailsYou’ll work hard to find a cocktail within the pages of this book made from more than four ingredients, or with greater complexity than The Lord of the Mai-Tais – get it?! – but the intros are fun and lively and some of the add-on hugely entertaining. I hate drinking games, for example, but the two pages Federle offers at the back of the book had me chuckling out loud.

In other words, this is a cocktail book for reading, and aside from a few of the more serious tomes out there – DeGroff’s Essential Cocktails, Abou-Ganim’s Modern Mixologist – there aren’t too many of those around!

3 Bottles + a Book: Harrington’s “India Style” Lager, “Secret” Altbier and Texan Cocktails

Today has gotten away from me and time is a-wasting, so let us leap straight into the bottles.

East IndiesHarrington’s East Indies Lager, a 5% alcohol “Indian style” lager from New Zealand, presents itself in what seems a beer marketer’s package, complete with obscure references (what is an Indian style lager, anyway?), vague flavour promises (“distinctively smooth”) and predictable food pairing suggestions (“enjoy with spicy foods”). So let’s see if there is anything more to it than that.

Bright gold and faintly hazy, it has a mild, dry graininess to its aroma along with mild nutty notes and some hints of fresh hay. On the palate, it’s somewhat like the lighter Saddler Lager from the same brewery, with a dry and lightly bitter body showing some caramelly malt on the start and a more bitter dryness on the finish. All in all, a decent lager with just a touch of serious hoppiness, but not something I’d associate with India per se.

More readily identifiable in its inspiration is the new Sticke Alt, part of Beau’s All-Natural Brewing’s “Wild Oats” series of special releases. This reddish-amber altbier from Ontario’s easternmost brewery is lovely to look at and interesting in its aroma, with earthy malt and woody, almost peaty notes. (This confused me at first, until I read the neck tag and found that there is some oak aging involved.) The body certainly doesn’t speak of the wood, though, or at least not much, with instead a sweet and faintly chocolaty front leading to a drier, hoppier middle, with mild notes of raisin and date and a growing bitterness, even a hint of citrus oils, that reaches a crescendo, albeit a rather reserved one, on the finish.

Designed after the famed twice-a-year “secret” (sticke) altbiers of Düsseldorf, I’d say this is a fair homage, and a nutty, earthy, greatly satisfying brew I could grow quite used to drinking.

Today’s last bottle is perhaps the best-named double or Imperial IPA ever: 6-4-3 Double IPA, from baseball-themed Ontario contract-brewer Left Field Brewery. On the nose, this hazy gold, 8.4% alcohol brew is almost sticky in its resinous aroma, with notes of slightly spicy pine and citrus oils mixing with a faint hint of rosebud and lavender. The palate is actually relatively mild in comparison, with some peachy fruit leading off and a big bowlful of citrus-accented fruit salad batting second, followed by some herbaceous notes to draw a walk and load the bases. Alas, in this case, our clean-up hitter doesn’t make the Grand Slam, but rather chips a double play ball of aggressive and unrestricted bitterness in the finish, scoring a run but not giving the beer the support it deserves. Still, what we have here is a decent enough late-night hop bomb, more than satisfying but a trifle less than impressive.

Given that there were no spirits involved in today’s bottles, I thought I should choose something boozy for the book, specifically Tipsy Texan: Spirits and Cocktails from the Lone Star State by David Alan.

Now, I actually quite like regionally-themed cocktail books, especially when they have a healthy dose of history to them. But this book strikes me more as regional for the sake of it, even to the point of hampering the reader’s efforts to make some of the drinks! For example, I give you the Texas Mai Tai:

  • 1 ounce Treaty Oak Platinum Rum
  • 1 ounce Treaty Oak Antique Rum
  • ½ ounce Paula’s Texas Orange
  • ¾ ounce Orgeat
  • ¾ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
  • Fresh mint, for garnish
  • Lime wedge, for garnish

Now, I like a good Mai Tai, but without knowing the qualities of the two rums and the Paula’s Texas Orange, I’m at a loss as to what I should substitute! Flip to the Margarita recipe and I find that it’s an equivalent to Cointreau, which I had sort of figured, but should I really need to hunt for such info?

Bottom line, if you’re a serious Texas-o-phile and /or have access to a whole bunch of Texas spirits, this book might well please you. But if not, there are many superior books to guide you through the rudimentaries of mixology.

3 Bottles + a Book: Three Musketeers, Brazilian Porter and a Book About Hops

Last week and over the weekend, I attended the 20th anniversary edition of the Mondial de la Bière in Montréal, and so the first two of this week’s bottles come from that experience.

I tried many new (to me, at least) brews from the brewers of Québec, but the one that stood out above the rest was the Sticke Alt from Les Trois Mousquetaires. Although the brewery’s website lists this as a lager rather than a lager-conditioned ale, it struck me as very much true-to-form, with an earthy, nutty aroma and a body that balances nicely a faintly raisiny and roasted nutshell maltiness with a drying but only slightly bitter hop. The gently warming finish might be a bit on the sharp side, but otherwise I was entirely captivated by this lovely brew.

On the visiting brewery front, I stuck principally to Brazilian beers, sampling several good ones from Bodebrown, Colorado and Coruja. My imagination was captured, however, by Cervejaria Way’s Cream Porter, a beer that certainly delivers on what it promises by its name, with a malted milk aroma and a creamy, sweet milk chocolaty body that reflects well its modest 5.6% alcohol and friendly, enjoyable character. There is drying in the finish, but not so much that the sweetness in the body seems at odds with it. All in all, a most delectable quaff.

(The 11.5% alcohol, cinnamon-spiced Coice, a doppelbock from Coruja, and Colorado’s new Guanabara Imperial Stout, both served at the terrific Thursday night beer dinner put on by the festival organizers, certainly stood out as well. But because they were tasted several courses and beers into the dinner, I didn’t take notes.)

Today’s third bottle comes from Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery, but it’s not a beer. Distillates made from beer might be more-or-less commonplace in some parts of the U.S. these days, but in Canada they are still rarities, hence my interest in the first output of Mill Street’s new distillery division, Mill Street Bierschnaps.

This is, as noted, the distillery’s first output, so perhaps some leniency is in order. But from my first nosing of this clear spirit I’m all too aware of the sharp alcohols contained therein, not in the “strong but soft” category of many higher proof spirits, but more the “no mercy, no quarter” variety. Depending on how you feel about sharp plummy-orange-bread notes mixed with ample booze, this might be a good or bad thing, but it does have me understanding why the bottle copy advises that it be served “frozen.”

The body confirms this suspicion, with a palate that starts strong and sharp and continues that way throughout, right to the frankly vodka-ish finish. (And not a subtle vodka, either.) Along the way, I get some light fruity notes of concentrated raspberry and perhaps apricot, but primarily a strong and curiously tobacco-y character. This one is distilled from the brewery’s pale ale, Tankhouse, so perhaps more complexity and subtlety will be found in future editions distilled from other beers.

The book this week is one of my absolute favourites from last year, For the Love of Hops by Stan Hieronymus. It is also, I must admit, not a book I have read cover to cover, but oneHops-book which I find myself dipping into on regular occasions, reading a page here or a chapter there and always coming away with some bit of insight.

If you are just a casual beer imbiber, Hops is probably not the book for you. But if you have even the slightest interest in what causes the beers you drink to taste the way they do, then you will find something of interest in this book. The evocative section on harvesting hops, for example, which takes you first through history, thence to several hop regions and finally to “A Brewer’s Guide to Evaluating and Selecting Hops,” all in a mere seventeen pages. Or the detailed section on dry hopping. Or, and perhaps most of all, the center section called “The Hop Store,” which details the characteristics of 105 hop varieties.

The ex-newspaper journalist Hieronymus – yes, another friend of mine – has the ability to write technical details in a decidedly non-technical way, which makes For the Love of Hops a most approachable book for even the non-beer obsessed. If you are inclined to read it based on the words written above, then I can almost guarantee it will bring greater understanding and enjoyment to your beer drinking.

3 Bottles + a Book: Hoppy Bock, Old Red Barn and Beer Crafts

It’s Wednesday, which means that it’s time for 3 Bottles + a Book. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

The first bottle up is Hoppy Bock Lager from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing. Now, I don’t know why it’s called a “Bock Lager,” since pretty much by definition bocks are lagers – unless you count Boston Beer’s Triple Bock or ales brewed in Texas and misnamed in order to comply with some of the most ridiculous beer labelling laws in the United States – and I’m sure that some hopheads out there will be equally curious about the “Hoppy” part of the equation, since this is hardly an overtly bitter beer. But one sniff and you’ll understand that this is more about aromatics than bitterness, and that the moniker is apt.

The nose of Hoppy Bock is one of the most attractive I’ve experienced in a bottom-fermented beer for some time, lightly sweet and floral, with some soft herbals and something almost approaching lavender. The start of the body is a tad more benign, with an inauspicious, slightly watery entry, but grows more interesting with every second it sits on the palate, adding first some very light caramel notes, then green herbs and soft florals, followed but a more significant bitterness and a surprisingly dry and quenching finish. There might not be a huge amount about this beer that I associate with the bock style – maibock at a stretch, maybe – but I certainly do find it most enjoyable and admire the complexity of the nose and finish.

Next is a bottle that arrived only this morning, but which I’ve pushed to the top of the tasting queue because, frankly, I’m curious about it and off to Montréal for the Mondial de la Bière tomorrow and so otherwise won’t be able to try it for a week or so. It’s from Winnipeg’s Half Pints Brewing and represents their first adventure into the wacky world of so-called sour beers, influenced, they say, by a “mixed yeast culture” and barrel aged for two years.

Old Red Barn is reddish auburn in colour, with a huge cherry pit aroma combining vanilla with cherry notes and something not necessarily funky, but more old and musty, although not in a bad way. The body is vibrant and quite tart, a little too much so, honestly. (I prefer to call such beers “tart ales” rather than “sour beers” or just “sours,” but this one is making me reconsider my position.) Beneath the tang there is cherry and plum, plus some woody notes, but while the sourness – ahem, tartness – stops well short of the vinegar I’ve experienced in some such beers, it is still beyond the relative finesse of the best of this class of ales.

Shifting gears in a fairly dramatic fashion, bottle number three is Poit Dhubh (“Potch Ghoo”), a blended malt whisky from the Gaelic Whisky Collection. Composed of unspecified whiskies, but said to have Speyside and Islay characteristics, which give you some clues, it is unchillfiltered and aged for 8 years, partly in sherry casks.

The nose sits right where you might think the median between Speyside and Islay might be, a little oily and iodine-ish, but also creamy and a bit floral, caramel making an appearance and a hint of kiwi, as well. The body is slightly on the rough side, as you’d expect of a whisky so relatively immature, but forceful in its personality, with caramel and overripe fruit up front yielding slowly to a seductive smokiness and a dry, almost ashen finish. This is not a massively complex single malt, but at just over half the price of ten year old Ardbeg, it provides budget friendly solace for peatheads. (For Ontario readers, this has arrived, at the LCBO at a price of $52.25.)

Today’s book arrived out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and I must admit that its appearance was not greeted with enthusiasm. Beer Crafts by Shawn Gascoyne-Bowman is all about making artsy, tacky things out of beer paraphernalia, and that is definitely not my thing. But perhaps there’s more to it.

The back page photo of a PBR carton cowboy hat put me immediately off, as did the first page I turned to, which detailed how to make “Bekki’s Beer Can Crocheted Baseball Cap.” I would not be caught dead wearing either, and neither would I fashion a “Beer Can Lantern” or a “Bottle Cap Headband.” But perhaps you would, in which case you might appreciate the instructions contained within this book, which appear to be fairly detailed and precise, even if some begin with the clichéd “first, open a beer,” apparently to absorb space in what are really pretty basic instructions.

Still, I digress. The bottom line for Beer Crafts is that if you’re the type of person who would make and use or wear stuff make from beer packaging, then you’ll love this book. If you’re not, well, we can chuckle over it all at the pub, but you’re buying.

3 Bottles + a Book: Heart of Gold, Shakespeare and More

Next week, I’m off to spend a few days prowling around the Mondial de la Bière, so I though it appropriate to begin this new regular feature with a Québécoise beer, one I’ve known since it was first brewed by a father and son team in Boucherville, Québec.

http://www.unibroue.com/i/right/beers/SGN_label_410X4354.jpgSeigneuriale was originally conceived as an Orval-esque ale, which it was, and a very good one, at that. Then Laflamme père et fils, who founded the brewery of the same name, sold to Sleeman and Sleeman sold to Sapporo and Seigneuriale ceased to exist for a long period. (In truth, there were several different Seigneuriales, including a Blonde and a Tripel. I’m assuming this is meant to emulate the original flagship brew.)

The revived beer pours a hazy golden brown despite having been refrigerated upright for a couple of days and displays a nose of brown spice, dried and baked apple and a light tanginess. The flavour begins with a hint of dryish caramel-chocolate, moving quickly to a drier, quite spicy and mildly hoppy middle with some fruity apple and banana notes, finishing very dry, modestly bitter and spicy. Not quite as I remember it, Seigneuriale is nonetheless a fine beer, but one thus far lacking the panache that I think would take it to excellence.

Bottle 2 is a beer I sampled recently in New York City, although it had travelled a long way to be there. Hitachino Nest Daidai IPA is a new one from Japan’s Kiuchi Brewery, and although I tasted it with Toshiyuki Kiuchi, the man behind the brewery, I must confess to being a bit uncertain as to some of the details to this ale. I do know that it features a new hop strain out of Germany, and I believe also some actual mandarin orange, the specific type of which I remain unsure.

The nose is curious, fruity of course, but also with an oddly sweet funkiness about it – nothing I’d associate with Brett or any other wild yeast, but more along the lines of an appealing mustiness. The body is so fruity my notes refer to it as being evocative of “a hop-infused orange juice,” which Kiuchi said was roughly what he wanted. Equally curious is the finish, which dries out quite thoroughly. I found the Daidai to be a fascinating and wonderfully flavourful ale, but I fear that in the U.S., at least, it will suffer from having the letters “IPA” on its label, since it’s a descriptive many will find quite at odds with the taste.

heart_of_goldAnd now for Bottle 3, one I’ve anticipated having for review since I first experienced John Hall’s “Deconstructing Forty Creek” tasting, in which he presents the different whiskies he uses to make his Forty Creek Barrel Select, including one damn fine rye. Heart of Gold is that rye, or rather, it sort of is and sort of isn’t.

A whisky-maker who operates as a wine-maker, it isn’t Hall’s style to make a straight rye, so what he’s done instead here is craft a “mostly rye,” with barley and corn whiskies to round it out and add some of that trademark Forty Creek softness. The advance tasting sample I received last week has hints of rye’s characteristic spiciness on the nose, but not assertive and peppery like, say, a Rittenhouse. Instead, it’s more herbal spice and peppery vanilla, with caramel and bitter orange notes. On the palate, it’s relatively soft and sweet up front, growing steadily more spicy as it rolls across the tongue, finally revealing and reveling in the raunchy, aggressive pepper-ginger-brown spice I associate with a proper rye.

Overall, this is a tricky whisky, one which lures you into a comfortable cocoon of vanilla and caramel before slapping you upside your head with bold and beautifully unsubtle flavours. Consider it an intro to straight rye, or perhaps the midpoint between bourbon and rye, or maybe just the cornerstone of what might become your go-to Manhattan. Reservations for numbered bottles – in Ontario only – begin next Monday, May 27.

This week’s book is the latest from Pete Brown, newly published and available in North America courtesy of St. Martin’s Press. Now, I won’t lie, Pete is a friend of mine, but also a friend I consider to be a damn fine writer, and as such, if he had veered off his game with this, his fourth book, I’d be the first to call him on it. Luckily, that’s not the case here.

Originally published as Shakespeare’s Local, the book has been retitled Shakespeare’s Pub for the North American market and dressed in a pretty ghastly new cover. (I’m no great fan of the original, which is rather too busy for my aesthetic tastes, but the new one makes me expect the contents to be some sort of graphic novel about Shakespeare’s life, perhaps reimagined as a beer-chugging superhero.) Pete presents a synopsis over here, so I’ll leave you to click over to that while I relate what the reading is like here.

As with Brown’s other work, Shakespeare’s Pub has a distinctly English form to the narrative, both in many of the expressions the author uses and, necessarily in this case, with reference to most of the historic and geographic references made. In fact, unless you are a frequent traveller to London, I’d even go so far as to suggest that it’s a book best read with a map of the city at your side. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Caveat aside, this is a rollicking good read. Brown is a very personal writer, even when he delves into history, as he does here, and that makes Shakespeare’s Pub a book that ventures well beyond “Six Centuries of History,” as the British cover claims, to aspects of past and modern pub life, what it’s like to live in London today, Margaret Thatcher and some girl-pop group called Sugababes, and what can happen when two notable beer writers inadvertently wind up drinking at the bar alongside prominent members of the National Front.

Like Brown’s last book, Hops and Glory, this is a title that will be notoriously difficult to classify, kind of like a barrel-aged IPA fermented with a Belgian yeast strain and seasoned with rose petals. It’s historical, yes, but also beer-related, semi-autobiographical, sociological and occasionally comedic, especially when Brown lapses into his barely-controlled obsession with footnotes. Above all, however, it’s a fun and entertaining read, suited to the approaching summer reading season in a fashion that few histories can manage.

One word of warning, though: It will have you jonesing to drink at a London pub in general and a place called the George in particular. Or at least, that’s what happened to me. I leave for Heathrow on June 25.

3 Bottles + a Book: A Wednesday Feature

In an open attempt to make myself blog more – like, at least once a week! – I’m introducing “3 Bottles + a Book,” a feature that will continue to run weekly until: a) I run out of bottles (unlikely); or b) I run out of books (far more likely)

Check back tomorrow around midmorning for my first installment, featuring a Pete Brown book newly available on this side of the Atlantic and the long-anticipated Canadian rye from Forty Creek!