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.”
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.