Category Archives: Craft Beer Advent Calendar 2015

Day 17 – Black Market Brewing – Tradecraft Sour Ale with Cherries

Day 17 - Black Market Brewing Co - Tradecraft Sour Ale with Cherries

So, remember a long time back when I was complaining about how the beer I took out was the wrong one. That it resulted in me having to have all the beers taken out and organized because the box was annoying.  Well, today, I finally get to try that beer!  It is day 17 and I’m looking forward to it.

The beer we have today comes to us from Black Market Brewing in Temecula California. It is there Tradecraft Cherry Sour.

Not only does Black Market Brewing have a pretty cool name, they also have a really well done website.  Starting out from humble beginnings of essentially a large garage and a 1 barrel system, Black Market Brewing has always put the emphasis on creating good beer.  Starting with what is now one of their most loved beers, a hefeweizen, they have always committed to using only the best malt, hops and yeast that are all hand selected by the brewing team.

Black Market is one of Temecula’s first craft breweries and helped to introduce locally crafted beers to the community.  Coming from wine country they had a lot of discerning wine lovers to convince, and they’ve done that.  Now sold not only all over Southern California, but also in Washington State and Arizona.

Founded by Kevin Dyer dream to start a brewery began with watching the growth of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and how it built itself into one of the finest American craft breweries.  Having worked in corporate America for a time, he grew bored and in 2007 founded what would become Black Market Brewing in an 800sq/ft garage.   As Black Market grew, so did the team, as have the wide variety of interesting, spy inspired, beers.

The beer we have today is a Sour Cherry beer.  It is essentially a Berliner Weisse that has had syrup infused into it rather than added afterwards.  Berliner Weisse is a really interesting style of beer, one that we will have the chance to try here in Winnipeg once Peg Beer Co. opens.

Berliner Weisse literally translates to Berlin White and it is a regional variation on the white beer style from northern Germany which dates back to the 16th century.  The fermentation of this style takes place with a mixture of yeast and lactic acid bacteria (lacto-bacillus for example) which is what creates the distinguishing feature of a Berliner Weisse.

By the 19th century, it was the most popular style of beer in Germany with up to fifty breweries making it.  By the 20th century, it had gone almost extinct with only two breweries left making this style.  What is interesting about this beer is that it has been given geographic indication protection.  This means that only this style brewed inside of Berlin can legally be sold as “Berliner Weisse”.  In America and Canada they are typically labelled and sold as “Weisse” beers.

The style is traditionally served in bowl like glasses with a number of different syrups that can be added to provide additional flavourings. The beer can also be mixed with other styles, like a pale lager, to balance the sourness.  I’ve always thought that a Canadian Berliner Weisse would be served with maple syrup and perhaps a garnish of candied bacon. Who knows? In the case of the beer we are trying today, it has been already flavoured with Cherries but is described on the breweries website as using their “Berliner Weisse” as the base.


Rating:  66/100

Appearance:  Light pink in color, good head that fades quickly leaving small bubbles on surface.
Smell: There are slight cherry notes, but, predominately is a cheese smell. Like stinky cheese and not wholly appealing.
Taste:  Starts of nice on the front with sour cherry notes. The finish is that of stinky cheese that grows and continues to invade your taste buds. Unfortunately this was incredibly unappealing and I could not push through it.
Mouthfeel: Light bodied with good carbonation, sour/cheese finish.
Unfortunately this beer tasted more like stinky cheese with slight sour cherry notes than what I would expect. Overall it was unappealing and I was unable to finish it.
Do I like it: Nope. Stinky cheese flavor that grew as I drank it. Could not handle this one and made me feel nauseous.

Beer 16 – The Duck-Rabbit Brewery – Baltic Porter

Day 16 - The Duck-Rabbit Brewery - Baltic Porter

We have arrived at Day 16 of the advent calendar.  Not too many left to go before we arrive at the last. I am also getting close to my trip and I am getting pretty psyched. I’ve already been exploring the best beer spots and prepping my trip to allow for some beer time.  It was a good day yesterday, despite the beer not really being my favorite, I’m optimistic for today.

Today we have a beer from The Duck-Rabbit Brewery (yes I love the name too) and it is a Baltic Porter.

Located in Farmville, North Carolina, is a brewery.  It has an interesting name and makes interesting beers.  The Duck-Rabbit Brewery was founded by Paul Philippon and sold its first beer in 2004.  It was a long journey to arrive at this point for Paul.  Pursuing a career teaching Philosophy, Paul first got he idea to open his brewery in 1987.  After working over the next number of years at three different breweries, he was finally able to open his own.  In 2004, Duck Rabbit Brewery sold its first beer and has continued to grow since.

Paul came up with the logo for the brewery using his experience as a philosophy teacher.  The image is one of those which when viewed from a different perspective looks like more than one thing.  Like the old lady and young lady picture, this logo is based off one which looks like both a rabbit and a duck, depending on how you look at it.  Hence the name, and the logo.

The Duck-Rabbit brewery team includes a number of folks helping out with the various tasks. The brewery uses a 20-barrel brew house and brews into 20, 40, 60 and 80 barrel tanks.  The focus of the brewery is not on brewing a wide variety of beer styles, but focusing on being the “dark beer experts”.  For them, the dark styles of beer are under represented in the marketplace.  Given the enormous flavour and style possibilities in brewing the darker styles of beer, they hope to be able to make something that will suit the tastes of every beer fan.

Today we have from them a Baltic Porter.  Now, as I discussed on day 2 of this blog, porters and stouts are not really historically different beers.  While we do have beers sold under both names, stouts traditionally were stronger versions of porters.  The Baltic Porter is a prime example of this historical nature, though, it is still quite strong in an of itself.  The Baltic Porter is in fact a version of the Russian Imperial Stout which originated in the Baltic region of the world.  What makes this different is that it is usually cold fermented, similar to a lager.  With the export of Britain’s Russian imperial stouts being quite popular in the Baltic region, it was only a matter of time before they decided to make their own using their own ingredients and brewing styles.

A Baltic porter often has the malt flavours similar to an English Brown porter but with less of the roast on the malt, like a schwarzbier.  Overall, typical of this style is a sweet malt combined with deep malt, dried fruit esters and alcohol.  Smooth roasted malt flavours coming close to burnt with a clean lager characteristic.  An interesting style that I’ve not had the opportunity to enjoy too often. So, I am looking forward to this one.

Rating:  88/100

Appearance:  Deep dark brown, almost black in colour. A good amount of head that fades really quickly.
Smell: Chocolate, toffee, plums, currant, date and roasted malt.
Taste:  really nice sweetness from the malt as well as some good bitterness thrown in there as well. The roasted malts come through really nicely along with those chocolate and dark fruit notes. There is a lightness to this beer as well and it is incredibly smooth.
Mouthfeel: Full bodied, lighter than a Russian imperial stout, soft carbonation, good warming finish from the alcohol. Smooth drinking.
Sweetness is not overwhelming, really well balanced, great depth of flavours with the roasted malts bringing in chocolate and toffee and then the dark fruit notes coming in on the back to just add even more to it. Alcohol is present, but not noticeable on taste, just there to warm the cockles of your heart.
Do I like it: Oh yes.  So far this is my second favourite from the Calendar.  It has a lot of those same positive points from the Boris the spider, but with a slightly lighter body.  Overall, this one is really strong and really worth drinking. I’d have this one again any time.

Day 15 – West Sixth Brewing – Christmas Ale

Day 15 - West Sixth Brewing - Christmas Ale

Well, for those of you who have been reading regularly, you’d be aware that today I defended my Master’s Thesis.  It was quite a nerve wracking experience up until it started and then things went as smoothly as I could have hoped.  So, if you’re at all interested, I was successful and I have officially passed the thesis component of my Master’s program.  I’m pretty thrilled.

Back to business.  The beer we have today comes to use from West Sixth Brewing in Lexington Kentucky and it is a Christmas Ale.

West Sixth Brewing was founded by four friends who all felt that Lexington, KY needed more high quality local beer.  So, with their diverse sets of talents and skills, Ben, Brady, Joe and Robin all came together to create not only beer for the craft aficionado, but also beer you could drink after a bike ride.

With this in mind, West Sixth Brewing produces a number of different beers with a focus on quality ingredients, hand crafting, and working hard to make sure every beer that goes out the door is just as delicious as the last.  West Sixth produces four flagship beers as well as various seasonal beers.  The beer we are having today is one of their seasonal brews.

They also have a strong community focus.  Since the beginning part of the model for West Sixth has been to have a positive impact on the community in which they live. They do this in a number of ways.  The most simplistic way is by contributing money back to charities.  They have so far committed to contributing 6% of their net profits back to various charities every year. They also hold special “Sixth for a Cause” nights at their brewery allowing non-profits to come in and use the space and setup all kinds of things in their tap room.  From this they contribute 6% of their sales that night to the non-profit as well as whatever is donated directly to them through whatever activities they’ve setup.

Now, Christmas beers come in all shapes and sizes.  This style typically refers to beers consumed at Christmas time that are generally spiced with seasonal spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg or ginger.  These beers also tend to be higher on the ABV ranger and can often use odd or interesting ingredients.  These beers don’t have a specific style necessarily.  Already we’ve had a Christmas beer that was in the style of a Belgian Dark.  Fort Garry’s “Naught and Spiced” could be considered a Christmas beer and is made using a porter base.  This specific beer we have today is called an ale.  The brewery itself, which is something I love, gives the exact malts, spices, yeast and hops used in the production of this beer.

Based on this, it has some Belgian components in the use of Abbey Malts and Belgian dark beet syrup, as well as the Christmas spices (ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg) along with some traditionally used in a wit (cardamom, clove and orange peel.)   At 9 ABV and with a good range of spices and malts, I’m interested to see how it tastes.

Rating:  66/100

Appearance:  Dark Amber Brown with very solid head that fades quickly after pouring
Smell: Smells of clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and roasted malt. The smell on this is fantastic and really does smell like Christmas.
Taste:  I’m feeling as thought something may be off with my beer.  The spices come through but there are some serious off flavours in this one.  In reviewing other comments on the advent calendar beer, I’ve come to conclude that whatever I got is not quite as strong as the others for some reason.  I had a hard time drinking this beer and really, the taste was unappealing and very off putting.  It may just be me.
Mouthfeel: Good carbonation, medium body, bitter finish.
I’ve never pretended to be a beer tasting expert and have always stated that my tastings are my own opinion of the beer to help me know which I like best.  This is a situation where some may like this beer but I found, overall, it was very off putting and I ended up not being able to finish it.  The spices tasted off, there was a weird metallic aftertaste that really was not nice and it simply did not taste good.
Do I like it: No.  I’m not suggesting that this beer is bad. In fact all other comments I’ve read suggest the opposite.  For me, and in this particular situation, it tasted bad and was really off putting.  As always, I suggest people try beers they think sound interesting and make up their own minds. For my particular can, it was not good.

Day 14 – Saugatuck Brewing Company – Blueberry Maple Stout

Day 14 - Saugatuck Brewing Company - Blueberry Maple Stout

Yesterday was a pretty good day. I had the opportunity to sit down and relax a bit and forget that tomorrow I have to present my thesis defense.  I have to say that this process has been one of the most mentally taxing and at the same time, incredibly rewarding experiences I’ve ever undertaken.

I’ve been overall pretty impressed with a lot of the beers in this calendar so far. I’ve felt that many of them were quite tasty and have given me yet another opportunity to try a variety of different styles and flavours in beers.  Today will be no different as we have a Blueberry Maple Stout coming to us from Saugatuck Brewing Company in Douglas, Michigan.  Douglas is a city that is after our own hearts.  It’s been the “City of friendliness” since 1870. Well, Friendly Manitoba says hello Douglas.

Developed as a three-phase brewery plan by founder and original brew master Barry Johnson, Saugatuck Brewing Company first opened its doors in 2005.  In its infancy it consisted of a 3.5 barrel “brew on premise” system in a leased industrial space.  3.5 barrels is about 300 litres of beer, not very much when you are providing interesting and tasty craft beers.  So, in 2008 they moved to a 25,000 sq/ft facility that was fully remodeled to include an Irish style pub providing not only tasty beers but also tasty snacks.  They continued to use the “Brew on premise” system allowing for patrons to come in and brew their own beers to be taken away in bomber bottles after fermentation and carbonation were complete.

Around this same time a 10-barrel system was installed in the brew house and production began en masse of and start planning for regional distribution of their beers. Starting with a meager 70 barrels of fermentation space and only a single 650ml bottle filler, their first year consisted on only 250 barrels.  In 2010 they purchased Meheen 6 head bottle filler and in-line labeler enabling them to produce 4 mainstay styles of beer to be sold in six-packs. This allowed them to distribute not only to the lower part of Michigan but also into Chicago and they managed to reach 2000 barrels of production in 2012.

Today, Saugatuck Brewing boasts a large 45-barrel system paired with 960 barrels of fermentation space.  With newly installed bottling system and a fleet of over 6,000 kegs they are able to produce on average 13,000 barrels per year with a large scale distribution.  They produce a number of mainstay beers as well as seasonal and specialty beers. They’ve got quite the team over there as well, head up by head-brewer Ron Conklin and provide little write-ups on each member on their website.

This is the fourth stout that we’ve had in this advent calendar and, although a different variation on the style,  I already did a write up on stouts on Day 2. So if you are interested in reading a bit more about the Stout style, feel free to take a look at that one.

This particular stout is an American Stout and uses the base style of beer, essentially hops, roasted malts resulting in dark colour and caramel, toffee, and/or chocolate notes in the flavour.  It has then been flavoured using most likely blueberry syrup as well as maple syrup to provide those two addition flavours. American stouts are generally has more roasted malt flavours and are a bit hoppier than their Irish or English counterparts. Breweries will express individuality through their choice of roasted malts and flavourings and this one has had both blueberry and maple flavours likely through the addition of syrups. It should contain most of the appearance, smell and flavour of stout but with the addition of the blueberry and maple flavours.  Let’s try this one, I am excited to see how those blueberry and maple flavours come through.

Glassware: Stein, Pint Glass, or Snifter.
Temperature: 8-12 Celsius

Rating:  68/100

Appearance:  Jet black with a tan head that fades quickly leaving fast uprising bubbles.
Smell: Big blueberry aroma with hints of maple sweetness.  Really smells like blueberry pancakes with maple syrup.  There is a slight roasted malt with notes of chocolate present but only as undertones.
Taste:  Ridiculously sweet taste.  Almost overwhelmingly so.  It tastes like drinking blueberry syrup on the first taste, but once your palate has adjusted to the sweetness, it tones down a bit and some roasted malt comes through.  Slight roasted malt notes, low to non-existence hop bitterness, everything is outshone by the blueberry and maple notes.
Mouthfeel: Soft carbonation, full body, and sweetness dominating from start to finish.
This is a very sweet stout. The flavour is dominated by the maple and blueberry and completely overwhelm any other flavour that might be there.  It would make a good desert beer to be sipped slowly in front of a fire or after a meal.
Do I like it: No.  I found that this beer was far too sweet.  The blueberry flavour was artificial tasting and the maple flavour was too much like syrup.  This beer was toned WAY up on the sweetness factor and was completely out of whack with any of the other flavours that might have been there.

Day 13 – Evil Twin Brewing – The Cowboy Smoke Pilsner

Day 13 - Evil Twin Brewing - The Cowboy Smoke Pilsner

We have successfully made it through the half-way point of the calendar and are drawing ever closer to the end.  I’ll be heading out of town on the 22nd to enjoy some holiday time in the sun with my wife but I’ll do my best to post the last two beers while I am away.  Whether I bring them with me, or I break the rules and drink them before I go, I’d like to get the posts all done before the New Year.

After these blog posts I’ll be back to my regular shtick of trying to keep anyone who is interested up to date on what is happening in the beer scene.  I’ve been checking in with folks along the way and hope to be able to write some posts updating you all on where the various local breweries are.  My expectation is that Peg Beer and Barn Hammer will be up and running around mid-January (at least I hope) and we will all be able to enjoy pints of what I expect will be fantastic beer.

Today we have a beer which comes to us from Evil Twin Brewing and it is The Cowboy, smoked pilsner.

Founded by Jeppe Jarnit–Bjergsø in 2010, Evil Twin isn’t really a brewery.  Jeppe is known as the “gypsy brewer” in that he brews all over the place.  He develops recipe after recipe of unique styles and plays on styles that are brewed out of other breweries and exported around the world.  At the moment, he brews out of 10 different breweries in 6 different countries around the world.  This means that Evil Twin doesn’t really have any year round beers but rather a huge number of different and interesting one-off brews. To put it in perspective, Evil Twin launched more than 40 beers in 2012.

Jeppe was born in Denmark and began his adult life as a school teacher.  In 2012 he moved his family to Brooklyn, NY so that he could be closer to where it all happens and to grow his brand.  His goal is to make New York the beer capital of the world.  While many of the beers that he makes are experimental, they are also in many cases critically acclaimed.  Brewing in small batches, usually no more than 2500-3000 barrels (~3500 hectoliters), the beers tend to be a bit more on the expensive side and very difficult to find.

This particular beer that we are going to be trying today was brewed out of Two Roads brewery in Connecticut and is another example of an experimental recipe from Jeppe.  It is classified as a smoked pilsner which is unique in itself as most beers that are classified as smoked tend to be on the darker side.  As this is a combination of styles, I’ll make some comments on both Pilsners and Smoked Beers.

“I need to know what kind of beer cowboys drink, as I have recently become one. I want to be the best cowboy I can be, and I think drinking the correct beer is important. I already have a cowboy hat and a nice big shiny buckle?”
-From the bottle

Pilsners are one of the most popular beer styles in the word and originate in the City of Pilzen in 1295.  While Pilsners are considered to be bottom-fermented beers now, they were actually top-fermented until about the mid-1840s.  The taste and standards of this older styles varied widely and in many cases entire barrels of beer were dumped out.  In 1839 the city of Pilsen founded a city owned brewery (now Pilsner Urquell) which was to brew beers and pioneer the Bavarian style.  Brewers had already begun to brew using bottom-fermenting yeasts that were fermented and stored in colder temperatures to be drunk later. This is where the term lager comes from. Lagern is the German word for storing and comes from this process.

Using Pilzen’s soft water, local saaz hops and this Bavarian style of lagering produced a clear, crisp and refreshing beer that became the standard for the style.  With the introduction of modern refrigeration there was no need to use caves for beer storage and this enabled the brewing of bottom-fermenting beers in many new places.  There are three styles of Pilsner:

  • German-style Pilsner – More bitter and earthy in flavour
  • Bohemian (Czech) Pilsners – tend to have lighter flavour
  • Classic American Pilsners – Brewed with more corn and rice as well as native cluster hops along with the noble hops when available.

All modern pilsners are very clear, very light beers that are pale to golden yellow.  All of them have a distinct hop aroma and flavor.  There are also Dutch and Belgian pilsners (not a separate style) which can be slightly sweeter.

As for smoked beers, they should not be confused with a traditional RauchbierSmoked beer can be quite robust and even overpowering.  Many versions of this style use peat smoked malts which are much stronger and more assertive in their smoke flavor.  Beers of this style tend to be made in the style of Scotch Ales or more typically Porters.  What is expected is that there be a balance in aroma between the base beer (in this case Pilsner) and the smokiness imparted by the smoked malts.  This should be low to assertive and not overpowering. Flavours should also be balanced between base style and the smokiness.  I’m curious to see how smoke combines with the nice crisp flavours of a pilsner. Let’s get to it.

Glassware: Flute, Stein, Pilsner Glass or Stange.
Temperature: 4-7 Celsius

Rating:  84/100

Appearance:  Golden, slightly hazy, many uplifting bubbles and a thick head that retains well.
Smell: Slight alder smoke smell reminiscent of smoked sausage or bacon.
Taste:  Bitterness right away and then the smoke comes through on the finish to leave a smooth and lightly smoky flavor.  It is balanced with the light body of the pilsner.  The smoke is not overpowering and blends well with the bitterness and earthy notes from the hops used in this beer.
Mouthfeel: High carbonation, coarse mouthfeel, finishes with wood smoke.
Overall this beer has subtle bitterness on the start that balances well with the smoke.  The smokiness goes well with the beer and the bitterness is reminiscent of a German-style Pilsner but using more american hops than noble hops.  As a smoked beer though, it is quite tasty and really nicely done with the light body of the base beer.
Do I like it: I really do like this beer a lot.  I would be happy to drink it and would certainly buy it if I had the opportunity.  I think this is a great summer beer that would go especially well with a barbecue.  I certainly would expect a cowboy to drink this beer and love it.

Day 12 – Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery – Saint Beatnick Chocolate Stout

Day 12 - Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery - Saint Beatnick Chocolate Stout

I’ve made it to the halfway point of this 24 day beer blogging journey through beers and styles from across North America.  It has been pretty fun so far.  As with last year, I am finding myself learning more about the various styles of beers (I’ve taken up reading the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines on the styles when possible) as well as more about breweries that I may wish to visit in the future.  I hope that those of you who are taking the time out of your days to follow along and read these blog posts are finding them both interesting and informative.

Today’s beer comes to us from a familiar brewery here in Manitoba, Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery located in Barrie, Ontario.  I’ve had the opportunity to try a number of there beers and I haven’t often been disappointed.  We tend to get a number of them in at the Liquor Marts here and they are a pretty solid go to beer when you aren’t really sure what to try.  The beer we have from them today is one that I have not had the chance to try before, Saint Beatnick Chocolate Stout.

Founded in 2004, Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery was originally called “the Robert Simpson Brewing Company”.  It is located right on the waterfront of downtown Barrie, Ontario, and prides themselves on being unique.  Making an effort to cast aside the concept of Macro-brewing and small batch “taste-a-likes” Flying Monkeys cast aside their original name 2008 to show their true selves.  Since then they have made every effort to brew collaboratively and creatively brewing adventuresome beers that fill the needs of craft beer drinkers in Ontario.

The brew master at Flying Monkeys, Peter Chiodo (Not the mobster…), learned the ropes of home brewing from his grandfather in an Etobicoke basement. He refined his skills as a broke university student in Alabama, then as a broke grad student in Mississippi.  Having honed his skills, Peter also developed a passion for beer that is made by hand, not by machines, and has a passion for locally brewed craft beers.  Beer site, visited Flying Monkey’s and spoke with Peter.  You can watch there video of that here.

Flying Monkeys takes a pretty firm stance on brewing beer on their website (which is also a bit weird itself). They say:

“Any Craft Brewer worth anything started somewhere as a Home Brewer. We learned the craft, we followed the curve, and we invested our All. If a Craft Brewery started solely as a name, a brand, or a business plan, then shame on them. Marketing is not Brewing.” 

This statement gives you a pretty good idea of how they feel about craft beer.  They have a number of interesting beers and I suggest you take a look and when you see one at the Liquor Mart, give it a try.  You never know, you might like it.

This is another stout, although a different variation on the style.  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.  I will say that Chocolate stouts 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.  In some instances, chocolate stouts can actually be brewed with real chocolate.  I’ve read nothing to indicate that is the case with this beer.  Enough about it, let’s get to it.

Rating:  79/100

Appearance:  Dark chocolate in color with a very thin off-white head that fades quickly leaving little lacing.
Smell: Dominated by chocolate followed by slight alcohol smell, almost as though it has been aged in whiskey barrels though there is no indication this is the case.  Very little else is noticeable on the nose.
Taste:  Mocha comes through strong followed by a bitter finish and lingering alcohol taste.  This beer tastes a lot like an Irish coffee in a lot of ways.
Mouthfeel: Soft carbonation, creamy mouthfeel, lingering alcohol and bitter finish.
Lives up to its name. The sweetness on the nose is quite overpowering but is less in the flavor. The carbonation is soft which is good, but I feel that the chocolate notes and sweetness almost overpower many of the other flavors that might be there. The chocolate and the lingering alcohol flavor certainly stand as the stars in this chocolate stout, which likely is the point.  Overall the chocolate is certainly the star in this stout with lingering alcohol flavors and good aroma.
Do I like it: I find the sweetness of this one to be a little overpowering for me. It’s not that I don’t like it, I think it is okay, it is just that the sticky sweetness is a bit much. Overall, I’d probably have this one again but I think I prefer other offerings from Flying Monkeys and would be more likely to gravitate towards them.

Day 11 – Grizzly Paw Brewing Company – Ursa Major Brown Ale

Day 11 - Grizzly Paw Brewing Company - Ursa Major Brown Ale

This week has been a pretty hectic week.  I’ve been working as usual but with extra meetings during the day and in the evenings.  I also happen to have a meeting this weekend.  Normally this would not be that bad, it’s pretty common place for me.  Unfortunately, I happen to also be trying to finalize my thesis presentation for my defense, practice this, and come up with questions I might be asked.  This has added a bit of stress to my week.  Luckily, I always have a beer waiting for me to try and so far I’ve been pretty happy with most of them.

On day 11 of the advent calendar I get to try a beer from a brewery I’ve had the opportunity to visit.  It is Grizzly Paw Brewing Company’s Ursa Major Brown Ale.

Grizzly Paw is a brewpub located on Canmore’s Main Street in the Canadian Rockies.  It’s a beautiful location surrounded by the mountains and on a clear day it’s just absolutely spectacular.  I had the opportunity to visit with my brother a few years back and it’s almost surreal to sit amongst the Rockies enjoying a fresh pint of beer right from the brewery itself.

The owner, Niall Fraser, got the idea for opening this brew pub from his frequent visits to “The Rocks” in Sydney, Australia.  While he was living there he frequented this brewery/pub and was impressed by the setup on old granite rocks nestled in the famous historic district between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House.

When he returned to Canada, he sought a perfect location to open his brewpub and finally found it while on a mini-vacation, Canmore, Alberta.  On April 29th, 1996, the brewery opened its doors for the first time and has been trucking away ever since.  Originally brewing a partial mash and only 200 litres at time, the brewery grew substantially and by 2009 they needed to open a brand new brewery to keep up with demand.  In April, 2013, the new brewery opened up and at 20,000 sq/ft the space is quite large.

Not only does Grizzly Paw brew beers, they also make micro-brewed sodas, make great burgers using Alberta beef, and other foods as well.  Being Canada’s first brewpub, Grizzly Paw offers quite a lot of variety and acts as a tourist attraction.

This beer is an American brown ale.  These ales get their origins from the originally English brown ales.  The term brown ale was first used in the 17th century.  These beers varied in alcohol content but were usually brewed with light hops and brown malt.  They grew to fame in the 1925 with the release of Newcastle Brown Ale which set the stage for the success of future beers in this style. In 1986, craft beer pioneers Pete Slosberg and Mark Bronder released “Pete’s Wicked Ale” which basically set the stage for the American Brown Ale style.

This style includes the dark-brown ales from southern England, reddish-brown ales from northeast England, and even the slightly sour brown ales from Flanders.  American Brown Ales are a recognized member of this spectrum and tend to have more hop bitterness than their English cousins.  The style is also lower on the alcohol spectrum, typically between 3.3% and 5%, has caramel and chocolate malt characteristics, low to medium hop aroma and medium to high hop bitterness.  On to the beer.



Rating:  71/100

Appearance:  Rich and clear dark brown with very little head even though I poured it somewhat aggressively.
Smell: Caramel, chocolate, roasted malts as well as notes of hop tartness.
Taste:  Malty on the front, but not a very deep richness to the malt flavours, they fade quickly to a mild bitterness from the hops that lingers. Dry on the finish with slight citrus.
Mouthfeel: Soft mouthfeel with very low carbonation, this one is almost flat to me. It is likely due to age or transport. Dry finish with slight citrus notes.
American Brown Ale styles should be dominated by the hop bitterness with the malt flavours playing a supporting role. This one certainly has the hop bitterness as the star as the malty sweetness fades quickly to the bitterness from the hops.  It has a dry finish as well as some very soft citrus notes.  Roasted malt is present which compliments the hop bitterness nicely.  The lack of carbonation takes the rest of the flavours down a notch and they don’t taste as full as I would have expected.
Do I like it: It’s not bad. I don’t drink a lot of brown ales and those that I do I prefer of the other various styles of this category, specifically the sour ones from Flanders.  It’s a nice beer that if it wasn’t almost flat I would likely have enjoyed more. It’s one of the risks with this calendar given that the beers tend to sit a while and have to be transported.