Day 6 – Big Sky Brewery’s Bière de Noël Extra Strong Ale

Beer 12

Well, after getting everything organized with the beers from the advent calendar, this morning was a heck of a lot easier.  It’s kind of funny how something so little like having a beer to open every morning can make a craft beer lovers’ day.  It’s also really interesting to take the time to research the breweries and the style of beer.

The 6th beer of the calendar is from Montana, specifically Missoula.  It’s Big Sky Brewery’s Bière de Noël Extra Strong Ale.  What is somewhat disappointing, is that I had this exact beer on Day 12 of last years’ advent calendar.  What is kind of exciting, is that I get to try it again.  Last year I didn’t really like the beer.  Since then I’ve grown in my palate and my tastes and I am curious to see what I think about it this year.

I’m going to copy myself.  I wrote all about the style and the brewery last year so if it looks familiar it is.  What will be different is the tasting notes and rating.  If you’re curious what I said about it last year you can read my review here.

Big sky was started by Neal Leathers, Bjorn Nabozney, and Brad Robinson.  It all began with Brad and Neal, home brewers since the 80s, when they first came together they began producing a series on their local cable access station called “Beer talk”.  It was a show about Brad and Neal tasting various beers and commenting on what they liked and did not like.  This brought attention to the duo and showed their passion for beer.  Sadly, neither of them were business savvy.  That’s where Bjorn came in.

Neal started brewing test batches while Bjorn and Brad raised the capital.  After about a year and a half, Big Sky Brewing was officially ready to open its doors.  They brewed their first batch of beer, Whistle Pig Red Ale, in mid-June of 1995.   They started out as a draft only brewery but today they are one of the 50 largest breweries in the U.S. selling a total of over 46,500 barrels (2.5 million 6 packs) of beer a year.  They sell in over 24 states so it’s a beer you might be likely to run across.

The beer we are trying today is not one of their standard brews.  It’s a seasonal beer that they bring out only around this time of year.  It is the Biére de Nöel Holiday Extra Strong Ale.  This is a limited edition beer from the company brewed in the style of a Belgian Dark Ale.  It sits at about 10.13% alcohol/volume.

Belgian Darks offer a really wide range of characters.  The colours can be in a variety of hues from amber to light brown to deep garnet.  Flavours range between dry and spiced to sweet and malty.  Most usually have low bitterness but this one comes in at a pretty good 35 IBU (international bittering units).  The average IBU of IPAs come in at the 40+ range.  I’m pretty excited to give this one another try, so let’s get to the beer!

Rating: 66/100

Appearance:  Amber brown with 1”
Smell: Caramel, toffee malt notes, dried fruit and pepper on the nose.
Taste: Unfortunately this beer tastes as though it has been exposed to oxygen.  This has resulted into an almost cardboard flavour which is not appealing.
Overall: Second time I have had this beer and the second time I have found it to be bad. Whether this is a result of the calendar itself and the time the beer has sat, the storage of the beer, or the packaging, this beer tastes off and has some serious oxidization problems.
Do I like it: Last year, I had felt this beer was overly alcoholic and not properly balanced.  This year, I have noticed off flavours and oxidization which have resulted in a weird taste and really not an appealing beer.  I am not sure what in particular it is about this beer, but this year as last I do not like this one.

Day 5 – Aviator Brewing Company – Devils Tramping Ground Tripel

Day 5 - Aviator Brewing Company - Devils Tramping Ground Tripel

I love the craft beer advent calendar, I really do. It’s got a lot of interesting beers from breweries I may not otherwise get a chance to try.  What I don’t like about the calendar is the way the beers are put inside.  I’ve had major issues with them falling down this year, especially the cans, and today I even ended up taking out the wrong beer.  Somehow my day 17 beer fell down and pushed my day 5 beer out of the way.  My wife ended up taking them all out for me (so I couldn’t peak) and putting them in individual wrapping with numbers on them.  I still love the calendar, just some friendly feedback (if you’re reading).

The fifth beer of the calendar is Aviator Brewing Company’s Devil’s Tramping Ground Tripel.  As the name suggests, this beer is a Beligan Tripel.  Aviator Brewing Company is located Fuquay Varina, North Carolina and has been open since 2008.

Mark Dobel opened Aviator in an old airplane hangar (hence the name) in November of 2008.  At the time he was the only employee and he brewed into two used dairy tanks.  Initially only brewing 300 gallons of beer, he quickly outgrew the dairy tanks.  In January of 2009, after adding a 30 barrel system, they began distribution to the triangle area of North Carolina.  I should say he because at this point they still only had 1 employee.

In April 2010 they moved from the hangar and increase capacity as well as employees up to four.  In 2012 they added a canning line as well as new beers including the one we are trying today, and by 2014 they had canned over 1.2 million beers.  In June of 2015 they were up to canning 3.5 million beers and had moved to a new 5 acre site.  At present, they are looking to expand to another 5 acre site and build a restaurant as well.  The website provides a good look at all the milestones along the way.  The beers sold by Aviator range widely from an IPA to a Pils to an Imperail Belgian Tripel.  They all have fun names and labels, check them all out here.

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.

Appearance – Clear, golden in colour with a good 1” of head that fades quickly leaving only a remnant of what was.
Smell – Almost like soap.  Not bad soap, the good fruity soap, like tangerines or grapefruit.
Taste – Nice sweetness with hints of pepper, mild fruit flavours and good malty sweetness. Definitely can tell it is alcoholic, but not in a bad way.
Mouth feel medium bodied, low carbonation, refreshing and crisp.
Overall – Really good.  The smell through me off a little bit but once I delved into the beer itself I was really impressed.  I like the depth of flavours with the tangerine and sweet fruits combined with the spice and malty notes. Nice ester profile with sweet date in there as well.
Do I like it?
– Yep, I really like. I’ve been growing in my palate for beer and last year I might not have liked this as much. For me this a strong Belgian Tripel with a lot going for it. The smell, while a bit weird, did not translate into taste. It’s one I’d like to have again.


Beer 4 – Strathroy Brewing Company – 1815 XXXX Peacemaker

Beer 4 - Strathroy Brewing Company - 1815 XXXX Peacemaker

Things are really starting to heat up in Manitoba in respect to the craft beer scene.  Peg Beer just launched their merchandise site, announced some of there beers and launched the PEG 100 club.  The memberships went like hotcakes and are certainly going to be worth the entrance.  We also have Torque Brewing who have officially signed their lease and are getting things organized at the brewery. Barn Hammer is coming along as well and are finalizing preparations on the brew house.  Needless to say after I get back to the Peg in January, it’s going to be a different beer scene and I’m very excited for that.

This morning I had a much easier time getting the bottle of beer out of the advent calendar.  I think it’s just the cans that are going to be a pain.  Really hard to get a grip on those guys.  Today’s beer comes to us from the small municipality of Strathroy-Cardoc and is Strathroy Brewing Company’s 1815 XXXX Peacemaker.

In June of 2014, after months of work converting an old flour mill into a micro-brewery, Alex Martin produced his first batch of 1812 Independence Pale Ale.  He turned his homebrew hobby into a business with the help of friends and family.   Alex brought his older brother Matthew, an avid home brewer and chemical engineer, into the business.  Matthew combines his brewing knowledge and scientific expertise into the brewing of Strathroy Brewing Company’s beers.

They’ve both worked very hard to get their beer into local pubs and restaurants.  Alex is a history buff and thus the name of the beer as 1812 Independence Ale, referencing the war of 1812.  The beer we have today, the 1815 Peacemaker, represents the treaty of Ghent, Belgium, the end of the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and over 200 years of Peace between Canada and the USA.  Check out Alex talking about the beer.

This beer is a Belgian Brown Porter.  Now, this style of beer is a combination of a British Porter and Belgian strong ale.  Porters, like stouts, are dark and heavy beers that have been malted heavily.  They are rich and often flavored with chocolate, coffee, or caramel malts to give them some balance to that richness.  Belgian dark strong ales are also malty with fruity esters and bready malts.  The combination of these two styles should make for a rich malty beer with subtle spice and fruit esters. I’m excited to give it a try.  You may see this beer called a Traditional Ale.  This is a catch all for beers that do not fit within particular styles and are typically ancient or old styles not brewed often.

Appearance – Dark Amber.  Think tan head that fades quickly leaving slight lacing.
Smell – Black cherry, toffee, caramel notes.
Taste – Slightly sweet on start and bitter on finish. Interesting transition between the two.
Mouth feel – Almost a little too light for such a dark beer, very thin in consistency with lots of carbonation.  Slightly bitter finish.
Overall – It’s ok.  It’s a bit lacking in the flavour department. Decent for the style.
Do I like it?
– It’s okay.  I find that it lacks any depth of flavour.  I get a lot on the nose and I’d like to see that translate at least somewhat into the taste. Unfortunately it doesn’t.


Day 3 – Aspen Brewing Company – Independence Pass Ale

Beer 3 - Aspen Brewing Company - Independence Pass Ale

Every morning when I wake up I am hit with a little twinge of excitement to see what new brew I will find today. This calendar is really something that brings a lot of joy to this craft beer lover’s morning.  This morning was a little bit more frustrating given that the particular beer had shifted and was rather stuck.  After about 10 minutes of shifting, opening the top of the box (my wife did so I wouldn’t peek) and shifting things around, we managed to remove the beer from it’s precarious position.

The third beer of the craft beer advent calendar is Aspen Brewing Company’s Independence Pass Ale.

Aspen Brewing Company was founded in 2008 by Duncan Clauss.  He had recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder and wanted to bring craft beer back to Aspen.  Previously Aspen had been home to Flying Dog Brewing Co. When Flying Dog moved all of it’s production to Frederick Maryland in 2006, it left a gap in the craft beer market in Aspen. Duncan and his crew of five, including head brewer PJ Goudreault, filled this gap and has been producing beers that represent the outdoor lifestyle of Aspen for the past 7 years.

Aspen Brewing Company focuses a lot of it’s profits and beer on the local community putting philanthropy and community support as one of it’s primary tasks.  They’ve supported dozens of local community ventures and take applications every year from those non-profits seeking support.  Aspen is also committed to the environment being one of three breweries to sign the Clean Water Act with environment Colorado and the US Environmental protection agency.  They’ve also signed onto the Brewers for climate change declaration.  They also practice a number of efficiency measures to keep their carbon foot print as low as possible.  Check out what they do for the environment here.

Aspen brews a number of beers divided into three “series” of beers.  The first is their Silver Queen Series.  The beer we have today comes from this series and it is their year round series of beers.  They also have a series of Seasonal beers as well as a Temerity Series of barrel aged beers.   The beer we have from them, the Independence Pass Ale, is a super-hopped IPA.  The beer is named Aspen’s eastern boundary and 12,095ft high elevation pass.  It comes in a 7% abv (alcohol by volume) and 62 IBUs (International Bitterness Units).

IPAs or India Pale Ale, have a storied history. The first known use of the term comes from the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser in 1829.  At this time, they were also referred to as a “pale ale as prepared for India”, “East India pale ale”, and “Export India Pale Ale”.  These types of IPAs were widely popular amongst the East India company and, while considered very hoppy, they were not much stronger than other beers brewed at this time. If you’re curious about IPAs check out Wikipedia or IPA Beer.

While these beers are part of the pale ale family, they are strongly hopped and often showcase the variety of flavours and complexities that can come from the simple ingredients used to brew beer.  Many will say the IPAs are an acquired taste, and they are rather unique, the bitterness brought by the use of a large quantity of hops is not for everyone. Now, onto this specific beer.

Appearance – Pours hazy, medium copper colour with about an inch of white head.
Smell – Passionfruit and blood orange on the nose.  Very fruity nose.
Taste – Very sweet for an IPA. Passionfruit comes through on the taste and is really balanced with a subtle bitterness that doesn’t denote the 62 IBUs this beer contains.
Mouth feel – smooth mouthfeel that lingers slightly with sweetness.
Overall – Pretty good IPA.  Not over the moon about it. The balance of the sweetness and the bitterness makes it a good IPA for someone who isn’t really into bitter IPAs and might be a good launching pad for those folks.
Do I like it?
– I think it is okay. I’m not going to go out and seek this particular IPA, there are so many really strong ones, but if I was at a friends and they had it I’d be happy to drink it.


Day 2 – Lighthouse Brewing Co – Black Sam Licorice Stout

Beer 2 - Lighthouse Brewing - Black Sam Licorice Stout

Yesterday was an excellent start to this year’s advent calendar.  I really enjoyed the Anderson Valley Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale and I hope that it’s going to be the tone for the entire calendar.  This morning I got out of bed early and went right to the calendar to grab my beer.  The tabs are a little small and my hands don’t really fit, so I asked my wife to assist.  Lo and Behold the second beer of the 2015 Calendar is a Lighthouse Brewing Co.’s Black Sam Licorice Stout.  For full disclosure, I’m not a huge fan of black licorice.  I’ll give this beer the benefit of the doubt but I may end up not liking it just because of that.

First off let me say that Lighthouse Brewing has a really fun website.  I am really impressed with the design if not the content.  So, I’d suggest you check it out.  Also, they posted a video of one of the crew talking a bit about the beer.  Check it out here.

Now, Lighthouse was founded in 1998 and is located on Devonshire Road in Victoria BC.  When founded, the demand for small batch craft beer was not really where it is today.  Brewing a Race Rocks Ale in the early days and delivering them to local pubs, Lighthouse quickly garnered a name for quality, local beer in a time when generic brands were king.

Lighthouse is made up of a crew of passionate people of which they don’t really provide much information.  Passion is a trademark behind the brewing at Lighthouse and they have a number of really interesting beers.  Besides their house series of beers, they also have an explorer series (of which the Licorice Stout is a member) as well as an uncharted series (currently just an Imperial IPA). Check out their full beer line-up here.

The beer that we have from Lighthouse today is one that has only recently been released in BC.  It’s also only available are certain private beer stores.  So, it’s one that I may not have a chance to try again for quite a while.  I’m excited.

Stouts are a dark beer made using roasted malts or roasted barley, hops, water and yeast.  Traditionally the term stout was used to describe the strongest (most alcoholic) porters, typically around 7-8%, produced by a brewery.  The reason for the name ‘stout’ was because these strong porters were often sold in stouter bottles than the standard porters.  This gave them the nickname ‘stout’ which eventually became the term used to describe the style of beer.

There are numerous styles of stouts ranging from Dry Stouts, to Porters, and Oyster stouts and my favorite Imperial Stouts.  While they had lost popularity in the early 20th century after the First World War, they have started to have a bit of an upswing due to the growing popularity in craft beer and breweries.  Stouts are very versatile allowing for a lot of creativity in adjuncts and flavouring and you can see a number of craft breweries doing stouts quite regularly.  Stouts also often age well making them a wonderful cellaring beer.  Without any further ado, my impression of Lighthouse’s Licorice Stout.

Appearance – Abysmal Black with no head (May just be my bottle).
Smell – Smells like licorice allsorts with a hint of chocolate.
Taste – Coffee and chocolate malt on the front with a sweet candy flavour finish.
Mouth feel – Coats the tongue, soft mouthfeel, low carbonation,
Overall – Flavourful stout with strong malt flavours and a good sweet finish. Not overly sweet. A good stout for someone who maybe doesn’t drink stouts often or is new to stouts. Not an overly heavy stout.
Do I like it?
– I did like it. It was an all-around good stout that I would enjoy drinking on a cold Winnipeg winter day/evening.  I’d definitely buy this, but I wasn’t blown out of the water.


Day 1 – Anderson Valley – Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale

Beer 1 - Anderson Valley Hornin' Ale
As with every year, opening up that first advent calendar tab is incredibly exciting.  It brings me back to when I was a kid and my mom would buy us an advent calendar with little chocolates inside. Every day was a different chocolate and every day was a little bit of excitement.  Translate that to an adult version with beer instead of chocolate, I’m a happy camper. Nostalgic.

So, like I did last year, with sincere anticipation I opened the first tab and lo and behold, it was Anderson Valley’s Fall Hornin’ Pumpkin Ale.

Pumpkin Ales are typically fall seasonal beers, though Anderson Valley’s is available from August-October.  They are really quite varied.  Some of the style use actual pumpkin, others use yams, and some still don’t use either but just use pumpkin spices.  Some breweries drop hand cut pumpkins into the mash while others use pumpkin puree or flavoring at different points in the brew.  However you cut it, pumpkin beers are meant to represent fall by bringing forward those delicious pumpkin pie spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, and ground ginger.

Pumpkin Ales are typically mild with little to no bitterness, quite a malty backbone with the spices usually the most prominent flavor on the front.  Many will also have a slightly thick mouthfeel to them.  These types of beers are a trend that seems to have been quite popular here in Manitoba this past October with a huge number of pumpkin ales being available on the shelves.

The one we have today is from Anderson Valley, located in Boonvile, California.  I’ve had a number of Anderson Valley’s beers and many of them are available at Barley Brothers.  They make a fantastic Blood Orange Gose as well as a really nice Turkey Bourbon Barrel Aged Stout.  Both of these are quite tasty, especially fresh.

Anderson Valley Brewing Company was founded on December 26th, 1987.  Originally they brewed with a 10-barrel brewhouse located on the lower level of their original brewpub, the Buckhorn Saloon.  At the time, they were one of only 20 craft breweries in the country and they are considered to be one of the pioneers of the craft beer industry.  In 1996 they expanded to a 30-barel facility at the corner of highways 128 and 253 (Why they have a 128 series of beer).  They were able to double their production to 15’000 barrels and began bottling as well.  In 1998 they built a three-story Bavarian style brewhouse with beautiful copper kettles.

What is really unique about Anderson Valley is that in 2006 they installed an array of 768 solar panels on top of their brewhouse and employee parking structure.  Since then, they’ve relied on the Sun to provide 40% of the energy they need to run the brewery.  Along with this, they have a strong ecological commitment which they outline here.

Brew Master Fal Allen came to the brewery through a circuitous route starting in Hawaii before brewing at Red Hook and Pike Place in Seattle followed short stints at other breweries along the way including Anderson Valley twice (he left to brew in Singapore for a bit).  They have quite a large team and their website has little interviews with the members. I’d suggest checking it out.

I’d also suggest you take a look at the part of their website that outlines the language “Boontling”. It’s pretty interesting.  With that said, I’m going to rate the beer.

Appearance – Nut brown with very minimal head.

Smell – Caramel and malt, spices very present (nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon). Smells quite a lot like pumpkin pie.  What you’d expect.

Taste – Spices come through right on the front and are quite present. This moves into a malty smooth flavor that is really quite pleasant.

Mouth feel – Good carbonation with a slightly thick mouthfeel.

Overall – Very good pumpkin ale.  Well-spiced with a really solid malt backbone

Do I like it? – Yes, I do like it.  I am not a fan of all the pumpkin ales that are available.  There are some that I find really nice and pleasant and this happens to be one of them.  I enjoyed this beer and felt that it had a lot of nice spice notes to it combined with a smooth malty backbone.  Overall it was really quite nice.  I’d certainly buy this if I had the opportunity to do so.


Craft Beer Advent Calendar – 2015

My wife gifted me the Craft Beer Advent calendar again this year.  24 different beers from North America.  As I did last year, I plan to blog about these beers again.  Every day.  That means 24 posts, hopefully.  Here is how the post will be organized:

  • Beer name, location, and style of beer.
  • Description of the style, origins and information about the brewery.
  • Rating of the beer based on the following:
    • Appearance (Body, Colour, Head, Retention) (%5)
    • Smell (20%)
    • Taste (45%)
    • Mouth feel (Light, Medium, Heavy, Smooth, Coarse)(10%)
    • Overall (20%)
    • Do I like it (Yes or No) and why.

I want to make a note on the ratings.  I’m not a beer judge, and even if I was, I don’t always take stock in what people rate beers at.  Perhaps someone doesn’t like a particular style, or they don’t think the beer is good.  It doesn’t mean I, or someone else, won’t like it.  So, while I do plan on rating these beers, it is more for my own personal reasons to keep track of which ones I liked the best throughout the process.  You can take my ratings as you like, either listen or don’t.  Ultimately, I want people to try new beers and take chances.

There is one hitch.  I will be travelling from the 22nd of December until the 7th of January.  I will be doing my darndest to try these last two beers before I go, cheating slightly, but giving myself the opportunity to write the posts and have them get posted on the 23rd and 24th.

The first post will be coming later today.  In the meantime, here is my round up of last year’s Craft Beer Advent Calendar.

Brew reviews and news