A Tale of Two Harvests

A while back, in preparation for a Toronto Beer Week tasting I was to host, I received a bottle of the Muskoka Cottage Brewery’s Harvest Ale, a beer brewed with as much emphasis as possible on local ingredients. It was, and is, very good, and went over gangbusters at the tasting. But more about that later on.

Then, earlier this week, I received a locked wooden box from the people at Labatt, containing what I was told was a secret beer to be revealed later on. Well, the box itself was pretty beat up and it was easy enough for me to pull the top the rest of the way off to reveal a bottle of the new Alexander Keith’s Harvest Ale.

I chilled the bottle and forgot about it, until I received the lock combination and press release about the brand this morning. So, time for a tasting, thought I.

The colour of the Keith’s is similar to what I remember that of the Muskoka Harvest to be, a deep amber, but that’s where the similarities pretty much end. The Muskoka beer boasts an earthy nose with hints of apple, black plum and chocolate alongside a little hoppy spice, whereas the Keith’s beer is simpler and sweeter, holding some candied red apple and caramel notes along with a whiff of roasted chestnuts.

In the body, too, the Muskoka Harvest throws a gauntlet of robust complexity to challenge the lightness of the Keith’s Harvest, with the earthiness of the aroma still pervasive in its taste, along with notes of coffee, raw cocoa and citrusy hop, all closing in a clean, off-dry and moderately bitter finish.

The arguably more approachable Keith’s begins with a little faintly fruity, caramelly sweetness before becoming more nutty in character, with a suggestion of chocolate developing towards the finish.

Overall, you could say that each of these ales caters well to its chosen consituency, with the large format, swing-topped Muskoka Harvest offering the body, complexity and depth that craft beer aficionados demand, and the Keith’s Harvest presenting the more conservative, muted character likely preferred by the average fan of Labatt brands.

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