Is Barking Squirrel Stealth Craft?

I am sitting at my desk with a can of Barking Squirrel Lager in front of me. It was sent over by the brewer, an organization known as Hop City Brewing, which is a craft-esque brewery set up in Ontario by Moosehead Brewing. The label calls it “Craft with Attitude,” and then goes on to speak of the “subtle hop aroma and flavour of our freshly brewed amber nectar.”

All of which sounds good, but is it?

The beer pours orange-ish amber with a light collar of white foam. On the nose, rather than “subtle hop,” I get the aroma of Moosehead Lager, or something similar to Moosehead Lager, accented by a hint of caramel. The body begins sweetly, moving to a still sweet and somewhat cereally middle before a slightly less sweet and faintly bitter finish. Again according to the label, there should be “roasty toasty caramel malts.” Caramel, I get, maybe even toasty, but roasty? Not so much. Complexity? ‘Fraid not.

When I opened this beer, I was seriously thirsty after a long and difficult day. If there were any time that a chilled can of good lager should shine, this was it. It didn’t.

But I’m less concerned about the lack of character of this beer than I am about the branding. Nowhere on this package is there any indication that this is a Moosehead subsidiary, and I suppose that since it is a stand alone brewery, one which to my knowledge is not making Moosehead brands, neither need there be. But it is positioned as a craft beer, and leaving aside for the moment the on-going debate about what “craft” actually means, for most people, I think, a “craft” beer that boasts the name “Hop City” and speaks on its label of “hop aroma” should have some significant, or at least discernable, hop character. And in my opinion, this ber does not.

Even more to the point, and referencing my earlier comment about it smelling like something Moosehead Lager-like, I would guess from its aroma alone that this is not an all-malt beer, but rather one which makes use of the exploitation of adjuncts for commercial purposes. And that is certainly not something people reasonably expect of craft beer. So is it craft, stealth craft, or something else? At this point, I’m not so sure.


7 Replies to “Is Barking Squirrel Stealth Craft?”

  1. Only had this on tap before they started canning it. I found it a small step up from the usual sports bar draught but not much. I also wonder about the adjuncts. Pretty grainy and not much in the way of hops.
    I still don’t really know what makes a craft brewery craft but I don’t think this is one.

  2. Stephen,
    I’d say they are slightly more craft than the Moose. It is a stand-alone brewery. Mind you, from what I understand, it was built (not bought) by Moosehead.
    That being said, I agree with your notes on lack of hops (The Barking Squirrel had slighty more than what you describe here. Slightly….) and adjuncts. Not my favourite beer from Toronto…..

  3. I quite enjoyed this beer (on tap). Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were on a sunny deck overlooking Lake Muskoka last weekend? I had no idea it was brewed by a Moosehead sub until I read your post. I assume you knew this fact before you tried it so perhaps you were already somewhat skeptical about how it would go down? While I don’t disagree with your overall opinion of the lager, saying you got “the aroma of Moosehead Lager” seems a bit of a stretch, but I’ll take your word for it.

    I certainly agree with you about the lack of hoppy-ness. Considering it comes from a brewery called Hop City and the rodent is holding what appears to be hops, you’d think there at least be a hint of hops. Nope. Still, I’ll try it again. Maybe I’ll shoot a Moosehead first, then try the squirrel as a chaser and see if I can draw the same parallels as you did.

  4. I buy this beer on a regular basis and have read that the Moosehead ownership came after they had established themselves although now I question this considering how long the brewery has been around. I want to try their other varieties before I judge the brewery overall. Beau’s here in Vankleek hill produces an organic variety and I question their claim as a micro brewery now that they are producing rather large quantities as does Mill Street..

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