Tasted!: Two From Halifax’s Garrison Brewing

When you open your beer fridge and see a bottle of ale made with “wet” hops fresh from the hop harvest, and it’s the start of February, you know you’re a bit behind in your reviews. So here’s trying desperately to catch up…

I actually only received the bottles of Garrison Brewing‘s 3 Fields Harvest Ale and Spruce Beer a little more than a month ago, so my tardiness is not as bad as I make it seem. But still, reviewing a harvest ale is a timely thing, since such beers lose their vivacity the longer they sit in bottle, so the popping of a cap or two was still overdue.

I start with the 6.4% alcohol 3 Fields Harvest, possibly the first beer I’ve yet tasted to include only Maritime hops, harvested from the Ross Farm Museum, Meander River Farm and Happy Hopyard fields, according to the label. Pouring bright and rich gold, it certainly boasts an aroma one would not hesitate to describe as hoppy, with notes of candied mandarin and lemon, lily blossoms and resinous pine billowing forth. In the body, florals continue to hold forth, with a perfumey sweet start and fragrant orange and pink grapefruit notes along with some cardamom-ish spiciness. There is bitterness, too, of course, but this being a fresh hop beer, and so one brewed with less concentrated hops, the attack of the grassy, citrus pith hoppiness is more subtle than acute, ending in an off-dry and lingering bitter bite on the finish.

For a style that is all too often ham-handled, this is a lovely expression of balance and nuance. What’s more, it’s one which makes me curious to visit a down east hop farm or two.

The 7.5% alcohol Spruce Beer I approach more tentatively,  not because of its strength, but owing to the chequered experience I have had with such beers in the past. From the first sniff of this brown ale, however, it’s pretty clear that the conifer element, though unquestionably present and, indeed, defining, has been held in balance, at least aromatically. There is spruce, to be sure, but also some soft brown sugar notes along with hints of raisin and plum. I am encouraged.

The body, however, is more apparently spruce-y, to the point that I’m taken aback by my first sip. Second sip, too. By my third venture into this beer, though, I’m getting more used to the spruce resin taste and finding other elements to enjoy, like the strong molasses flavours that support the spruce and an interesting spiciness the precise nature of which continues to elude me. Still, I keep coming back to that sticky taste of evergreen, even through the lightly sweet finish, and that’s something I’m having a hard time dealing with.

Perhaps later on in the day – I schedule my in-office tastings just before lunch, when my palate is at its cleanest – I would more enjoy this brew, but right now I find it a bit too spruce-y and lacking sufficient complexity to take my mind off the notion of sucking on tree branches. Good on ya for trying, though.

(Note: When I did return to the recapped and refrigerated bottle later in the day, sure enough I found the spruce to be less apparent and more palatable.)

3 Replies to “Tasted!: Two From Halifax’s Garrison Brewing”

  1. It would be interesting to know the sort of spruce used. When I was a kid, we were taught by our pal the exchange student from Sweden (who also scored all the soccer team’s goals) that the tips of evergreens for a few days in April were perfectly edible when they were tiny and still had (or were just losing) that thin brown casing on them. Lots of good pine flavour without the tannic woody harshness. Later, as a home brewer, I played with that form of spruce tip with good results.

    1. The info sheet — which I just found buried on my desk — simply says “spruce & fir tips” without specifying the time of year they were harvested, Alan.

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