Category Archives: Craft Beer Advent Calendar 2015

Advent Calendar 2015 – Wrap-Up

Wrap

Sorry this took so long. I had a great time travelling and am now back and ready for the New Year. It’s a pretty exciting time to be writing about beer. While last year when I started it was all about what might come, it is now about what is coming. I met and interviewed a lot of up and coming breweries last year. This year, I get the opportunity to write about them opening. Like I said, exciting. I’m in the midst of setting up follow-ups and looking forward to Winnipeg’s craft beer community growing.

Once again I’ve been really impressed with the craft beer advent calendar.  While I know there are qualms and concerns with the beers sitting for so long, having a chance to try unique and one-off beers is well worth it.  So, let’s wrap up with some statistics.

  • Once again we had 24 beers, this time from around North America.
  • There were 15 from the USA and 9 from Canada
  • States and Provinces represented:
United States Canadian Provinces or Territories
–          California (3)

–          Washington

–          Massachusetts

–          Colorado

–          Montana

–          North Carolina (2)

–          Maryland

–          New York

–          Connecticut

–          Michigan

–          Kentucky

–          Alabama

–          Yukon

–          British Columbia (2)

–          Ontario (4)

–          Alberta

–          Saskatchewan

  • One of the beers, Evil Twin’s Smoked Pilsner, technically doesn’t come from anywhere in particular as the brewer uses other breweries. That particular one came from Connecticut, but he is based out of Brooklyn, NY.
  • 62.5% of the beers came from the United States and 37.5% from Canada

I’m a bit disappointed that most came from the United States, but I suppose they were the ones who chose to participate. I’d like to see a more Canadian advent Calendar and I’m actually hoping next year there will be enough breweries here in Manitoba I can just build my own local version. Or maybe we will get a collaboration pack for Christmas…hint hint.

Over the 24 days there were some hits and misses. Out of all the beers though, my favorite came to us from:

Spider Bite Brewing Company, Holbrok, Long Island and was Boris the Spider Russian Imperial Stout

Once again it’s been a lot of fun doing this blog-a-thon of beers from the advent Calendar. I brought some pretty interesting ones back from my trip and I’m looking forward to trying those.  As for this blog, I’ll be returning to my focus on beer in Manitoba. I can’t wait.

  • Beer Winnipeg

Day 23 – Sound Brewery – Yonder Star English Strong Ale

Day 23 - Sound Brewery - Yonder Star English Strong Ale

Sorry for the late post.  Here in Hawaii it’s 4 hours behind Winnipeg, so it isn’t always easy to remember that. I’ve been enjoying some good local island beer, and also, some of the great American stuff they have. But, as for the Calendar, only one left after today.  I hope it’s going to be a good one.  So far this has been a pretty solid advent calendar and I’m happy I managed to get it.  I hope next year they will have the packaging issues sorted out.  There are a lot of interesting calendars coming out.  Who knows, maybe next year I’ll be reviewing a collaboration pack from the new local Winnipeg breweries (here’s hoping.)

Today’s beer comes to us from Sound Brewery in Washington State and it is called Old Yonder Star and it is a Yorkshire Style Christmas Ale.

Unfortunately, their website does not really provide a whole lot of details on them.  I can’t seem to find much in general.  Maybe I’m not looking hard enough because I’m on vacation, so if you have better luck, let me know.  What they do list is their beers and there are a number of them.  They have some good info on each one so that is at least worth a read.

This beer is brewed in the style of an English Strong Ale.  Now, English Strong Ales are somewhere in between a Pale ale and a Barleywine.  They are strong, complex, and rich in flavours.  Typically, with a colour between deep amber and reddish copper, they usually have bold fruity flavours and a malty mix of toasted and chocolate malt. Hops can vary depending on brewer but they can have full blown hop potential to a subtle bitterness.  Alcohol is usually evident with even some solvent taste to it depending on quality.  Many of this style are unfiltered and bottle conditioned.

I’m interested in trying it, so let’s get to it.

Rating:  79/100

Appearance: Jet black with a really thin dark brown sliver near the edges.
Smell:  Molasses, alcohol, black cherry notes
Taste:  Roasted malt combines with malty sweetness and finishes with a slightly bitter oily finish.
Mouthfeel: Very fine carbonation. Oily slightly bitter finish with alcohol warming.
Overall:
Overall, not bad. It doesn’t have the full body and depth that a barley wine might have nor does it have the light hoppy notes of a pale ale.  Overall it’s a good balance between these two.
Do I like it: It’s alright. I’m not a huge fan of it. I think it could be doing a lot more.  Overall it’s not bad, just not really right up my alley right now.

Day 22 – Yukon Brewing – Longest Night Cascadian Dark Ale

Day 22 - Yukon Brewing - Longest Night Cascadian Dark Ale

So, the beer made it through a plane ride just fine.  I had them wrapped well and no breakage, super awesome.  As I’m on holiday and don’t really have a lot of time to be writing these given there is so much to see and do, I’ll be keeping these last ones a bit shorter. I also don’t have my photo editing program, so, no titles on the pictures unfortunately.

Today’s beer comes to us from Yukon Brewing based out of Whitehorse in the Yukon.  It’s called the Longest Night and is a Cascadian Dark Ale.

Yukon Brewing originally opened its doors in 1997, but under a different name.  Originally it was called Chilkoot Brewing Co. Ltd. The owners, Allan and Bob, came up with their idea for the brewery around a campfire on a canoe trip.  Being from Ontario originally, they have both lived and worked in the Territory for most of their lives.

The plan was to open a quality brewery while keeping jobs in the Territory and service the north with good beer. Over a decade later, this is still the main goal of the brewery and they now employ over a dozen staff and support many local events every year.

Bob and Allan still act as the chief officers and now Yukon distributes its 9 brews outside the Yukon to Alberta, BC, Manitoba and some finding their way into Quebec and even all the way over to German. They’ve got a good blog on their website and chat a bit more about their beers.  Take a look if you have a chance.

The style of beer we are having today is called a Cascadian Dark Ale.  Now this style of beer has raised a bit of controversy over what it should actually be called.  Some say it is a Black IPA, others an India Black Ale while, like this one, others call it a Cascadian Dark Ale (CDA).  The US Brewers’ Association accepted it as a style in 2010 and dubbed it the “American Style India Black Ale”. Whatever it is called, it is essentially a dark hoppy beer.

The style has been described in a couple of different ways and this site has a pretty good exploration of that.  Essentially what it comes down to is that it is a darker beer with between 50-90 IBU and good combination of malt characteristics and hopiness.  I’m looking forward to it, so lets give it a try.

Rating:  78/100

Appearance: Deep amber with little head that fades quickly leaving some minor lacing
Smell:  Roasted malt, chocolate, bit yeasty, slight hop notes and toffee notes.
Taste:  Resinous hop flavour, slight chocolate and roasted malt. Very little else.
Mouthfeel: Finishes with resinous bitter note that lingers. Medium-light bodied not withstanding how dark it is.
Overall:
Overall, not bad. Decent dark ale but would likely be better with food. Something to bring out the subtle flavours of the malts.
Do I like it: It’s pretty decent. I’d be happy to have it again if I was at a friends but I’m not going to go out and buy it.

Day 21 – Clown Shoes Beer – Bombay Berserker Indian-Stlye Chocolate Stout

Day 21 - Clown Shoes Beer - Bombay Berserker Indian-Stlye Chocolate Stout

Only a three beer left after today.  It’s been quite a run.  I can’t believe it’s already almost over.  I’m heading out of town shortly too, but I’m bringing the beers with me so that I can still get my posts up.  It’ll be a sweet trip and I’m hoping to manage to get to some of the breweries in Hawaii so I can try some of the beer.  I’ve already scoped out a sweet pub near where I’m staying that has a ton of beer on tap from all over the USA. Should be fun.

Today’s beer comes to us from Clown Shoes Beer and it is a variation on a Chocolate Stout called an Indian-Style Chocolate Stout.  The name of the beer itself is “Bombay Berserker” and it sounds pretty tasty.

Founded by Gregg Berman and a group of friends after losing a beeradvocate naming contest.  They decided that they could make Clown Shoes beer themselves and they didn’t need Beer Advocate to be the ones to use the name.  They started off thinking it’d be one brew, just for fun.  After getting some good feedback on their beers, they decided what the heck, let’s keep going.  While they don’t provide too many details about the formation, brewhouse, or anything at all really on their website, they do at least give us a look at the variety of the beers that they make.  They’ve got a ton of special releases, seasonal bombers, 4-packs, and a whopping list of retired beers.  As the name might suggest, while clown shoes represent humility and humour, the brewery itself represents producing beer without pretension while being free to be a little crazy.  They put a big focus on experimentation and the list of beers on their site point to a lot of that.

This is another stout, although a different variation on the style. There have been a lot of stouts in this advent calendar.  This likely has to do with their ability to age. Now, I already did a write up on stouts on Day 2 and so if you are interested in reading a bit more about the Stout style, feel free to take a look at that one.  Like I indicated on the first chocolate stout we tried, they are beers which have noticeable dark chocolate notes both in flavor as well as in colour.  This is done through the use of darker, more aromatic malts.  Specially, chocolate malts, malts which have been roasted or kilned until they develop a chocolate colour.  This beer is a variation on this variation.  While still using the same malts in the beer they have added a number of spices including: chai tea, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla. I’m pretty excited about this one, it sounds tasty. So, enough about it, let’s get to it.

Rating:  79/100

Appearance:  Pours solid dark brown.  1” of puffy foam with tan head.
Smell: Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, star anise, some caramel malt as well as some chocolate malt.  Some earthy hop notes are present as well.
Taste:  Bready caramel malt, toffee, chai spice, cardamom is really present, ginger is noticeable but as a bitter lingering finish.
Mouthfeel: medium bodied, smooth, some creamy notes as well.
Overall:
Pleasantly spiced with a lot of layers and different notes coming through along the way. It’s got a good body to it that carries these flavours overs the threshold. Good sipping beer for sure.  Only complaint is that the spices overpower any of the underlying stout and I don’t really get to taste the beer, just the spice.
Do I like it: I enjoyed it.  I think it had a lot of interesting characteristics going for it.  I’d be interested in trying it again but I’m not going to seek it out.

Day 20 – Paddock Wood Brewing Company – Marzyana Belgian Tripel

Day 20 - Paddock Wood Brewing Company - Marzyana Belgian Tripel

Well, only a few beer left of the Advent Calendar before getting back to the regular blogging routine.  It’s always a fun time doing this calendar and I hope that while my reviews are that of an expert, that they’ve at least been helpful or mildly interesting.  Today I got to go see Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I’m impressed.  That’s all I’ll say.  Go see it if you are interested.

Today’s beer comes to us from our neighbor, Saskatchewan, and is Paddock Wood’s Marzyana Belgian Tripel.

Paddock Wood Brewing Co. has its origins all the way back in 1992.  Founder, Steven Cavan and his wife Kathleen James-Cavan, had recently moved to Saskatchewan to take up positions at the University of Saskatchewan.  Steve quickly discovered that there was no craft beer in Saskatchewan, so he decided to make his own.  From this endeavor Paddock Wood began, not as a brewery, but as a mail order brewery supply store.

A lot happened in between with various business ventures and some road bumps along the way.  There is a really good article on their website that I’d suggest you take a read through, it’s pretty interesting. Today, Paddock Wood is brewing beer through experimentation, trial and error, and a true love for the craft.  They pride themselves on trying to be unique and different and, thankfully, you can find some of their beers here.  They have a lot of interesting beers as well as a number of special and seasonal brews.  I’m going to need to make sure to take a visit there the next time I pass through Saskatchewan.

The style of beer we are drinking today is a Beligan Tripel. The name Tripel comes from the brewing process of this beer.  Essentially it means you are adding three times the malt as you would in a Beligan “simple”.   This increases the sugar content in the beer and results in a highly alcoholic beer.  The best Belgian tripels hide this strong alcoholic flavor making them delicious but dangerous.  They have a surprisingly light color, typically bright yellow to golden, which is a result of the addition of Belgian candy sugar (up to 25% sucrose).  Tripels are the most brewed of the Belgian styles and are highly adored due to their deep color, soft maltiness and unique yeast flavors.  Even with their high ABV (usually 8-12%) they are highly approachable when done right.  Let’s get to the beer.

Rating:  80/100

Appearance: Light copper with sediment floating around in it.  A good 1” of head that retains very well.
Smell: Smells of alcohol, very sweet fruit notes like apple. Caramel and Candi-sugar as well as some hop notes.
Taste: Caramel, candi-sugar, fruit notes but not overly so.  While alcohol is on nose, beer is smooth and balanced for the 9.2% abv. 
Mouthfeel: Carbonation is spot on, great full mouth feel.
Overall:
Pretty tasty. Solid body, good flavours, great balance.  Decent beer all around.
Do I like it: Yeah, it was quite nice.  I enjoyed this one and would be happy to have it again.

Day 19 – Back Forty Brewing Company – Cuban Coffee Stout

Day 19 - Back Forty Brewing Company - Cuban Coffee Stout

Can you believe it has been 19 days since this calendar started?  I think I’ve managed to keep this blogathon going pretty well.  Only 5 days left to go (2 of which will be in Hawaii…sweet!)

Today was a pretty decent day.  Not only did we get pretty much everything prepped for our trip, I managed to get 4 of the 6 chapters of my thesis ready to upload.  Awesome.  Also, I am going to see Star Wars tomorrow (no spoilers, I promise) and Half Pints put their Simcoe Spruce on tap.  All in all a good day.  I am hoping that today’s beer, a Cuban Coffee Stout from Back Forty Brewing Company, makes it all the better.

Back Forty Brewing Company is based in Alabama, a place that the brewery describes as a “wasteland of craft beer”.  Their name comes from the agricultural term for the forty acres of land situated furthest from the farm.  These forty acres are the hardest to maintain and are often overlooked, a metaphor for how the brewery sees Alabama.

What is likely the largest contributor to the lack of a craft beer market, is the legal framework under which Alabama found itself up until 2008.  Before 2008, it was illegal to sell beer in Alabama with an ABV over 6%.  Needless to say, this eliminated dozens of styles of beers.  It was also illegal to operate a tasting room, sell beer directly to the public or package beer in bottles larger than 455ml.  So, no bomber bottles either.  While these laws have loosened and it has become possible for craft breweries to exist, it is to this day illegal to offer investment opportunities to anyone who owns a restaurant or distributor within the state making it very challenging to get funding.

In 2008, founder Jay Wilson got in touch with a renowned brew master, Jamie Ray, and asked for help developing recipes for Back Forty Brewing Company. The goal was to expose southerners to the same craft beer Wilson had been a part of for the past 10 years. In June 2009, Back Forty released its first beer, Naked Pig Pale Ale, and after its success, the second hit the shelves in March, 2010.

Today, Back Forty employs 22 individuals from all over the country, has six beers on offer, and has seen its capacity tripled since 2012. They even have another 2X expansion slated to happen soon.

The beer style we have today is one that any Half Pints drinker will be familiar with.  It is a Coffee Stout.  Now, as the name suggests, Coffee Stouts are essentially stouts with the addition of coffee during the brew.  As you know I wrote about stouts on Day 2, so I won’t repeat myself again and bore you all.  I will say that coffee stouts carry with them a really nice coffee flavor and are typically paired with complimentary malts.  This one, for example, uses chocolate malts that will bring with a it kind of mocha pairing, I’d expect.  I’m looking forward to trying it, so let’s do it.

Rating:  81/100

Appearance:  Jet black with beige head that retains nicely leaving no lacing.
Smell: Smells like chocolate malt and coffee.  Some slight hints of toffee or caramel.  Really, it smells a lot like a hot chocolate with baileys.
Taste:  The coffee comes through on this beer right away on the start.  It fades slightly to a bit of a bitter finish.  The chocolate notes compliment the coffee nicely, but overall the coffee is the star.  It has a light sort of grainy note to it, like coffee grinds, but not in an unpleasant way. It’s more that it leaves a lingering astringent coffee note on the tongue.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, medium-low carbonation, slightly astringent finish.
Overall:
Overall it’s a pretty solid.  I feel the body could have been a bit more full, the lightness of the body somewhat detracted from the overall enjoyment of the beer.  The flavours are solid and true to the name. I’ve had Cuban coffee a number of times and this certainly rings true in the flavours of the beer.
Do I like it: It’s pretty good.  I think that if it had a fuller body I would have enjoyed it more.  Overall it was tasty and I’d be happy to drink it again.

Day 18 – Black Oak Brewing Co – Neck of the Woods Vintage Ale

Day 18 - Black Oak Brewing Co - Neck of the Woods Vintage Ale

Well, today I had the opportunity to try some pretty good beer.  The Liquor Mart near my house was doing a tasting of the Westvleteren 12.  For those who are unfamiliar, Westvleteren 12 is considered by many to be some of the best beer in the world.  It is made by Trappist monks in Belgium and has been brewing beer since 1838.  They brew in incredibly small batches and they are VERY hard to get. They had to fix their roof in 2012 and so some actually made it over to Canada. Today I got to try one of those that had been aging since then.  But, that’s another story.

Today we have a beer coming to us from Black Oak Brewing Co. based in Etobicoke, Ontario.  It is a beer made especially for this advent calendar and is called “Neck of the Woods” and it is an Old Ale.

Black Oak Brewing was founded in 1999 in Oakville Ontario by Ken Woods, owner and president of the brewery.  In 2008 they made the move to Etobicoke and have been brewing there ever since.  Like most craft breweries, they really care about the beer they are making and are sticklers for quality.  They take extreme caution in the production of their beers and only use traditional brewing processes and quality, Canadian, ingredients.  As well, they make an effort to use environmentally friendly materials throughout the whole process.

Black Oak Brewing brews using a 20 hectolitre brew house.  They have four 40 hectolitre unitanks and two 40 hectolitre bright beer tanks in their 11,000sq/ft space. All of their brewing equipment is stainless steel and custom made in Canada. They have a strong team and produce a number of interesting sounding beers, from year-rounds, to seasonal, to special series of beers.  I’ll be interested in making a visit the next time I visit Toronto.

The beer we are drinking today is an Old Ale.  Really, it is an American Strong Ale, but this term is a catch all that refers to a number of different styles.  Based on some of the reading, I’m leaning towards this one being an old ale.  Old Ales range from dark amber to almost black in colour.  With soft aroma and varying levels of bitterness.  Dark fruits are common as are intense malt flavours and sharp alcohol notes. The brewer describes this beer as being “strong, yes smooth: a full-bodied ale. You’ll get lots of dark fruit and caramel notes too!”  It sounds pretty nice and I’m excited to give it a try.

Rating:  85/100

Appearance:  Dark amber, off white head that fades relatively quickly (stays long enough for a picture)
Smell: Salted caramel, dark fruit and alcohol are prominent with hints of roasted malt and chocolate
Taste:  Roasted malt, alcohol, raisins and black currants come through. Caramel is not noticeable in the flavor as much as it is on the nose.  Sharp bitterness on the front with a warm alcohol finish that lingers.
Mouthfeel: Medium bodied, good carbonation, sharp bitterness on front and warm lingering alcohol finish.
Overall:
Pretty good indeed.  I’d be interested to see how it would age. There are some sharp notes that might balance out.  Overall I found this one to be quite a strong beer with a lot of different flavours going for it.
Do I like it: Yeah, I did.  Like I said above, it might be interesting to age one and see how it turns out. I thought it was nice as is and would be happy to drink it again. It makes me want to visit even more.