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.

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.

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.

Most Improved! – Big Ditch Haymaker IPA, Buffalo, NY, USA

When I first reviewed this beer last April, I enjoyed it but didn’t think it was anything overly special or exciting. A return trip to Buffalo earlier this week changed my mind, and a tasting last night from the growler I brought back confirmed it.

From a dense and restrained aroma, this has blossomed into a complex and fruity nose that leads with lemon, floral grapefruit and preserved lemon, but also boasts subtler notes of strawberry, currant and starfruit. On the palate, it’s gone from a resinous body with herbal notes of muddled grapefruit zest, rosemary and thyme, all layered over lingering malty sweetness, to a more integrated balance of malt and hop, with fruity, caramel and floral notes up front leading into a still largely resinous body with well-developed notes of herbs and grapefruit oil. The finish is clean, just off-dry and lingering.

Lovers of hop bombs and citrus assaults will no doubt view Haymaker as just another ‘meh’ IPA. For lovers of complexity and character, however, this is an absolutely top-flight ale that demands attention as one of upstate New York’s finest IPAs.

From The Globe and Mail – My Look at 8 Rums

Drinking trends are fickle and often contradictory things. Lately, anything aged and complex is red-hot, from bourbons to tequilas to single malt whiskies, and the older the better. And yet, youthful flavoured spirits such as imaginative gins, spiced Canadian whiskies and all manner of juiced-up vodkas are also making headlines. One spirit can satisfy both the aged and flavour trends: rum.

The stereotype has been changing of late as aged and spiced rums make their way into more than just shots and shooters.

“A good spiced rum can provide depth and character to an otherwise one-note rum cocktail,” says Lauren Mote, co-owner of Bittered Sling bitters, bar manager at Vancouver’s UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar and winner of Diageo World Class Canada Bartender of the Year, 2015.

(Read more, including notes on Bacardi Fuego, Mt. Gay Black Barrel and Flor de Cana 12 Year Old, plus the recipe for Lauren Mote’s Amphibious cocktail, at The Globe and Mail.)

Moonlight Kettle Series Mosaic Single Hop (Muskoka Brewery, Ontario, Canada, 4.7%)

Okay, first off I didn’t understand why Muskoka was sending me another bottle of a beer I’d already tasted, the Moonlight Kettle Summer Saison, much less why they would do so with a summer beer at the end of summer. But then I noticed the small print ‘Mosaic Single Hop’ and realized that this is a new beer in the series. (Might want to make that a bit more obvious in the future, guys.) Unfiltered and slightly hazy, this has a bright, tropical citrus aroma holding just enough oily herbs and car tire to make it really interesting. So much so, in fact, that I’m salivating for a sip. The start is peach and mango and orange, leading to a more complex body with a somewhat oily disposition, blackberry and strong herbs joining the initial fruitiness, and an impressively clean, just off-dry finish. I seem to recall someone tweeting about this being a more summery beer than was their Moonlight Kettle Series Summer Saison, and I’d agree. Doesn’t make my thirst for another glass any less, though.

Update: Having had that second glass, I’m compelled to note that the Mosaic hop is very assertive in this beer and that, by the end of the 750 ml bottle, I was feeling some Mosaic fatigue. For maximum enjoyment, then, it’s probably best to share this with someone.

Innismouth Olde Ale (Narragansett Brewing, Rhode Island office, contract brewed in New York, USA; 7%):

I know nothing of H. P. Lovecraft, to whom this beer is dedicated, but the idea of an “olde ale” in a can is, to say the least, rather odd. Nonetheless, the bright amber colour is attractive, as is the very winey nose, rich with plum, raisin and stewed fruit aromas alongside hints of sherryish oxidization. The body starts sweet, raw sugary sweet, before breaking into more plummy body with still sugary notes, some molasses and hints of licorice candy, finishing sweet and even a bit cloying, like a children’s purple candy. This is a beer that could stand some aging; it may turn out rubbish afterwards, but right now it is entirely too sweet and candy-ish. Hence my original incredulity regarding the can.

Miller Lite (SABMiller, USA; 4%):

Some p.r. person sent over a few cans of this beer following its introduction to the Canadian market, so I figure I’ll give it a try. Very light gold in colour, you can’t fault its generous fluffy head…except when it starts to collapse almost as quickly as it formed. The nose is very soft, with some hints of grainy sweetness and very light floral notes, perhaps even a whiff of tropical fruit. The body doesn’t taste like much of anything, really, with a little cereal sweetness up front and a slightly creamy, faintly caramelly flavour backed by corn-on-the-cob notes. At least the finish is dry, and very, very quick. People forgive beers like this as ‘lawnmower beers’ or ‘ballpark beers,’ but frankly I’d much rather a Pilsner Urquell – from the same brewer’s portfolio – in either of those situations.

Pengo Pally (Bush Pilot Brewing, Ontario, Canada; 6.5%):

Bright gold with a floral (sunflower and a whiff of lavender), off-dry and spicy (white pepper, chamomile) aroma holding a hint of yeastiness. The body begins sweet but not too much so, more along the lines of a light cordial, with spicy and floral orange notes leading to a more peppery, drier and eventually slightly boozy body. It stays perhaps a bit too sweet, but some of that might be due to the Arctic herbs used, since the finish dries out quite nicely, leaving a lingering spiciness, hints of tannin and a soft residue of alcoholic strength. Overall a nice effort on a beer that is genuinely saison-esque.

Santo (St. Arnold Brewing, Texas, USA; 4.7%):

Describing this beer as a “black kölsch” doesn’t work on many levels, not the least of which being that, as the brewery freely admits, the style doesn’t exist. Hell, it’s not even black beer, more like dark brown, with an aroma that is vaguely kölsch-like in that it bears little to no fruitiness, with earthy, potting soil qualities paired with a soft roastiness. The body is a bit more ale-like, rounded with chocolate-cocoa quality laced with nuttiness and a drying thinness, finishing dry with a bit of allspice and cocoa lingering. Not big enough to be a brown ale, or a rather anemic brown ale if it were, yet somehow too full and rounded for a kölsch or altbier. I’m not sure what it really is, but I feel pretty confident that it would, as the brewery suggests, “pair perfectly with a plate of enchiladas.”

Vintage 2014 (New Glarus Brewing, Wisconsin, USA; 6%):

A brewery special release, this is New Glarus’ take on a gueuze, complete with spontaneous fermentation and the blending of one, two and three year old beers aged on oak. Carefully poured, it has a lightly hazy, light gold colour and a citrus – mostly floral lemon – and yellow plum aroma, along with ample wet hay and horseblanket. The body is fuller than you’d expect of a true Belgian gueuze, with sweet, tangy and tart flavours right up front, then a drier, still tart and quite lemony middle with firm acidity and background notes of green grapes, and finally a bone-dry finish with hints of lemon zest and lemon thyme. In the style of a gueuze, for certain, but wonderfully different, too.