Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 13

Beer 13

So begins the second half of the CraftBeer advent calendar.  The first half of it was rather good.  As a recap on the countries we have visited so far we have: Norway, Finland, England, United States, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Mexico, Iceland, Brazil, and the United States.  So, thus far we have visited 11 unique countries on 4 different continents!

Today’s beer takes us back to the United Kingdom, this time to Perth in Scotland!  Perth is located to the north of Edinburgh, 42.8 miles away and within the city we will find the brewery who has made us our beer today – the Inveralmond Brewery.

Founded in 1997, this brewery has certainly made a name for itself in Scotland.  The head brewer, Ken, officially joined the brewery in 1999.  A year later he smuggled some yeast to Scotland from the Czech Republic giving the brewery the claim of having the only “official” Czech Pilsner in Scotland.  In 2002, they won Champion Beer of Scotland, no easy task, and continued to grow from that point on.

In 2009 they had grown too big for their original space and laid the ground work to build their brand new brewery.  They moved into the new brewery in 2011 and have continued to expand their production from brewing 8000 pints at a time to now brewing over 32000 pints at any given time. When their local team, St. Johnstone, made it to the Scottish cup for the first time in 130 years, they brewed a special blue beer to show their support.  They are truly a Scottish brewery through and through.

The beer we have the pleasure of tasting from them today is their Blackfriar Scotch Ale.  It’s named for one of the three ancient orders of monks who are central to the history of Perth.  The monastery of the Blackfriar was built in 1231 and was the location of the assassination of King James I by traitors.

Scotch Ales are strong ales which are traditionally known as a “wee heavy” in Scotland. Scotch ales are typically very malty and balanced with hops to land somewhere in the middle ground between sweet and bitter.  This particular beer has been brewed with not only barley malts but also wheat which will give it a heavier, creamier feel.  Balancing with four different kinds of hops this brew promises to have a number of flavor notes and I’m excited to see what it tastes like.

Rating: 78/100

Appearance:  Copper brown beer, clear, 1” of head that retains well.
Smell: Chocolate notes as well as the floral notes of hops.  Smells a bit of caramel as well at the very end.
Taste: Malts come through at the beginning with a creaminess that comes from the wheat malt.  Balances really well with the hops providing a mild bitterness to combat the sweetness of the malts.  Flavours of chocolate come through from the chocolate malt used in the beer.
Overall: Creaminess is really pleasant and goes well with the richness of the malts and the balance of the hops.  This beer has flavours that work well together with the specific body of it and I really found that I was enjoying the beer while drinking it.   The use of wheat and barley malts was really smart and added a lot of character to the beer.
Do I like it: I’m not a huge fan of this style of beer. While I wouldn’t necessarily seek this one out at the liquor store, I did enjoy it and would be happy to drink it given another opportunity.  I feel the hops came through really well to balance the sweetness.  Overall, a beer I really enjoyed.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 12

Beer 12

We are official at the halfway point in the beer advent calendar.  It’s been quite an interesting experience thus far.  Lots of opportunity to try unique beers, and only halfway done!  That means 12 more beer to go!  Fantastic!

Today’s beer comes to us from Big Sky Brewing Company in Missoula, Montana.  This is the second American beer we’ve come across in the calendar.  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 (not to be confused with the style) 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 (the hoppier style of beers) come in at the 40+ range.  I’m pretty excited to give this one a try, so let’s get to the beer!

Rating: 66/100

Appearance:  Amber brown with 1” of head that retains very well.  Cloudy with some signs of possible sediment.
Smell: Very sweet smell.  Malts come through strong giving a caramel aroma with slight berry notes and the distinct smell of alcohol.
Taste: Sickly sweet with a strong alcohol after taste.  This is clear a strong ale as the taste is somewhat overwhelming.  Malts are clearly noticeable and add to the sweetness of the beer.  Flavours are limited by the overtone of the alcohol leaving a bitter aftertaste that isn’t wholly pleasant.
Overall: When brewing, alcohol is created by the yeast digesting the sugar in order to create alcohol as a by-product (among other things).  Many strong ales have this trouble of being overly sweet with a strong alcohol after tone that overshadow any of the malts or hops used in the brewing process.  Good ones can balance this out creating a flavourful enjoyable brew.  Sadly, this one was not able to do so and the alcohol and sickly sweetness of the sugar and malts overwhelmed any other flavours.
Do I like it: There are many good examples of strong ales that are balanced and provide a full flavour beer that is still strong in alcohol. Sadly, this beer was not very balanced and was not really that enjoyable. I found myself cringing at the sweetness combined with the alcohol after tone.  This is not a beer I would buy.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 11

Beer 11

The question was asked of me this morning if I am getting beer’d out.  I think I likely would be if all of the beer were the same. Luckily with 24 different styles from 17 countries, I think I’m going to be excited ’til the very end… and then sad.

Today’s beer comes to us from Brazil.  This is our first South American beer of the calendar.  The beer comes to from the Wäls brewery located in Belo Horizante, the capital of the Minas Gerais state in Brazil.

Founded in 1999 the brewery wanted to bring beer to the demanding consumer.  They chose the tourist region of Belo Horizante as the location for their dream and started brewing beers based off the Belgian, Czech and English styles.  Dare, invent and believe is the spirit by with the brewery creates its beers.

The brewery itself produces a number of different styles of beers and employs some different methods such as oak barrel maturation and brewing in the champenoise style (sparkling wine/champagne method).  They have enough storage for 2500 bottles to mature at any given time.

They like to produce unique beers from the standard Pilsner, to Hoppy Vanilla Cookie, and the one we are trying today which is their Tropical Christmas Saison, a flavoured strong beer sitting at 7% alcohol/volume.

Saison (French for season) is a broadly defined pale ale that is generally around the 7% mark for alcohol, highly carbonated, fruity and spiced.  This particular one has had raisins, figs, orange peel and coriander added to it during the brewing process to create the “Tropical Christmas.”  This style of beer originated from beers brewed during cooler less active months in Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium, and it is thus a Belgian style beer similar in many ways to the Krampus that I tried a little while back.  Let’s give this one a try!

Rating: 81/100

Appearance:  Clear, golden, and light bodied with minimal head that retains well.
Smell: Figs are noticeable right on the nose with the coriander and citrus from the orange close behind.
Taste: Very light and crisp on the front with citrus and the flavour of the figs and the coriander coming through at the end to create a dryness that results in a refreshingly dry beer.  The coriander leaves your mouth dry and works well with the sweetness to create a fairly well balanced beer.  It would make a fantastic summer beer which makes sense as Christmas is during the Brazilian Summer, go figure.
Mouth feel: High carbonation, light bodied, crisp.
Overall: Refreshing, light, citrusy with not too much spice or fruit flavouring to overwhelm the taste buds.  This is an excellent saison in that it really fits what it is trying to accomplish.  The flavours are truly Christmassy and given that it is summer time south of the equator, the refreshing crispness of the beer works well.
Do I like it: Considering that I was expecting the Krampus, which I did not like, I was pleasantly surprised with this beer.  It was delicious.  While it is not my favorite style of beer I found myself enjoying the flavours and the crispness of this particular saison.  I dare say, I would drink it again!

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 10

Beer 10

I believe the best thing about this craft beer advent calendar is that I get to try beers I would likely never have an opportunity to try.  While I do travel a lot and partake in “beer tourism” as much as I can, there are still some beers that I would be unlikely to find.  I believe that today’s beer is one of those.

Today’s beer comes to us from a small brewery in the Flókadalur valley region of Iceland called Gðingur Brewing Ltd.  This region is located in the northern part of Iceland near the northern coast about 360 km from Reyjavik.  The brewery was founded in 2011 with the purpose of using the local flora and Icelandic culture to brew new and exciting beers.  The brewery is run by 3 people.  Arni is the owner of the brewery and the farm from which they get their ingredients.  Birgitte is a partner to Arni in the brewery building.  She is also a seamstress.  Joe is the brewer in the operation and responsible for the beer that we are going to be trying today.

The brewing system that they use at Gðingur Brewing is a British 6 barrel brewery system.  While you can create most types of beers using this system, it is a lower yield system that can produce 980 litres of beer at any given time.  Given that, they are one of the smaller breweries we have had the opportunity to try. They produce 4 beers at present, a lager, a stout (which we are trying today), an IPA and a pale ale.  There stout is brewed using roasted malts from the farm.  This is the first stout that we are going to have a chance to try as well.  Two firsts today!

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 alcohol) porters, typically around 7-8%, produced by a brewery.  There are numerous styles of stouts ranging from Dry Stouts, to Porters, and Oyster 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.

When I think of a stout I think of a beer that is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from an IPA.  Rather than hopping to bring out that floral and bitterness from the beer, malts are used to bring out rich sweet flavours like chocolate, coffee, and caramel.  Stouts are a very heavy beer as well often considered almost a meal.  I am really excited to try this stout today and see what this small Icelandic brewery has in store! On to the beer!

Rating: 79/100

Appearance: Black like the depths of the ocean with 1” of foamy head.
Smell: Chocolate, caramel, and smoke notes.
Taste: Rich and deep almost like milk with chocolate notes right on the front.  Flows into mild bitterness that leaves a smokiness in the mouth.
Mouth feel: Silky smooth and full bodied.
Overall: The flavours of the stout go well together. The sweetness is definitely there on the front but then it blends into a bitter smokiness on the finish. This stout is well balanced and quite a good example of a stout.
Do I like it: I used to drink stouts quite a lot.  Their heavy nature tends to make them something I am less like to reach for these days.  This is an excellent example of a stout and I did rather enjoy it.  Good balance between the sweet and the bitter and I really rather enjoyed the smokiness on the finish.  Something I would not likely buy, but would be fine drinking.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 9

Beer 9

We are approaching the halfway mark on the beer advent calendar.  There has been only one of the 8 beers I’ve tried already that I have not liked, which is fantastic. The excitement for each beer also has not diminished.  I’m always very excited to see what the next style and region the beer will be from!

Today’s beer comes to us from Mexico! Cerveceria de Baja California, to be exact. This brewery, founded in 2002, is located in the City of Mexicali. They are one of the few Mexican microbrews and produce beer under the label Cucapá Beer.

The name for the beer comes from one of the tribes that live in the Mexicali Valley.  The Cucapá tribe were the first settlers in the region. Their love for water and nature led them to live in the Colorado River Delta.  The tradition of nature, the water of the river, the geographical location and the initiative of being the first people to explore the region is what makes Cerveza Cucapá as unique as the Cucapá tribe’s ancestors.

Mexico had been predominately made up of Macro breweries which left an opening for a gourmet microbrewery.  Seeing this, the founders of Cerveceria de Baja California opened their doors as a brewpub initially in 2002. By 2004 their popularity had grown and they began considering how they might be able to expand. In 2007 they had expanded their production and bottling to be able to sell their beer to a wider market. They brew beers ranging from Blonde Ales all the way up to Barley Wines.  Today, we have the opportunity to try their Honey Amber Ale.

Amber Ales are a name given to a Pale Ale that has been brewed using a proportion of amber malt and sometimes crystal malt.  This produces an amber colour that ranges from light copper to light brown.  Again we see how simple changes in the brewing process can lead to different styles and flavours of beer.  Despite there being no real difference in the style from pale ale other than the malt choice, it is still a unique style with its own unique flavours.  This particular beer, however, has honey that has been added during the brewing process, often in place of dextrose or another sugar, which gives it a wider flavour profile.   This is the second North American beer in the kit.  Onto the beer!

Rating: 72/100

Appearance:   Clear, light brown with good amount of head.  Retains well.
Smell: Honey is very apparent along with the smell of apple and pear.
Taste: Starts off bitter and then melds into a honey sweetness.  Balance is off as the bitterness tends to linger longer than it should.  Honey flavour is not as apparent as you would expect from a honey amber ale.
Mouth feel: Coarse mouth feel, medium body, excellent carbonation.
Overall: The honey flavour is there but this beer lacks balance.  The bitter notes are not outweighed by the sweetness of the malt.  The bitterness is almost metallic leading me to believe it is not from the hops themselves.
Do I like it: I do not like this beer.  It wasn’t terrible but it was not something that I would seek out and purchase.  By happenstance I was eating spicy food while drinking this beer. After the initial tasting with a clean palate and taking notes, I continued to try the beer with my food.  I noted that after eating spicy food the balance of the beer was much better.  The flavours melded better and the honey was more apparent.  Given that I base my scores off clean palate tasting, this will not enter into the scoring.  I felt it was important to note though for those who may try this beer.

Thanks for following along.  Appreciate it!

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 8

Beer 8

Today’s beer is a special one.  It comes to us from the Weltenburg MonasteryBrewery in German and is called “Weltenburger Kloster Anno 1050.” For those who may not know, the Weltenburg Monastery is the oldest monastery brewery in the world and the second oldest brewery.  The main reason for the popularity of the Weltenburg Abbey Beer is due to the high art of brewing: they follow the brewing tradition of the Benedictine monks and also must follow the Bavarian purity laws.

Bavarian Purity Laws were established in 1487 when Albert IV, Duke of Bavaria promulgated it.  The law specifies three ingredients – water, malt (barley) and hops – for brewing beer. The law was established to make eliminate competition between brewers and bakers for rye and wheat.  Limited the grain to barley they made certain that there would be affordable bread for citizens.

The law was replaced by the provisional German beer law in 1993 which allowed other ingredients such as yeast, wheat malt and cane sugar, but would no long allow unmalted barley. One of the reasons yeast was never included in the original text is it wasn’t until the 19th century that Louis Pasteur discovered the role of microorganisms in fermentation.  While the change from the original law allowed for brewers to use different ingredients, many German breweries still follow the original law and brew using the strict method laid out within it. Weltenburger Kloster (Weltenburg Monastery) is one of those breweries.

Before refrigeration it was nearly impossible to brew beer in the summer due to the hot weather.  Brewing ended with the coming of spring and most beers were brewed in March (Märzen).  These brews were kept in storage until the end of summer where they’d be brought out and served with the remaining bottles served at Oktoberfest.  Because of this tradition, it has become a beer associated with the Oktoberfest.

The beer we are trying today is called a Märzen beer. This style of beer originates in Bavaria around the 16th century and is also known as an Otoberfest beer. The style is characterized by a medium to full body, malty flavor, and clean dry finish.  I’m excited to try this one. Let’s get to the beer!

Rating: 80/100

Appearance: Clear, medium copper amber colour that pours with about two fingers of head which dissipates leaving a thin cap.
Smell: caramel malt, floral notes from the hops.
Taste: Honey sweetness with hint of lemon and just a hint of bitterness on the finish. Different than other similar style beers but still very tasty.
Mouth feel:.Coarse mouth feel, medium body, perfect carbonation.
Overall: A very tasty brew overall.  Excellent flavors that meld perfectly together to give you a really fresh, crisp and refreshing beer.  This would be the perfect summer beer.
Do I like it: I very much liked this beer.  It is different than what I would normally seek out, one of the reasons I love this calendar.  The flavor profile of this beer is just fantastic. It is sweet and smooth while at the same time being crisp and refreshing.  The sweetness is not overwhelming but rather a good compliment.  Very good beer from this, the second oldest brewery in the world!

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 7

Beer 7

Today is the 7th day of the beer advent calendar.  One whole week has gone by with a new beer each and every day.  It’s been quite exciting each day and I think this is something any beer lover should try to invest in if they can.

We are sticking in the same region today for our 7th beer.  While we had an Aussie beer yesterday we are jumping islands and finding ourselves in New Zealand.  Today’s beer comes to us from Croucher Brewing Co and it is the “Nuclear Free Anzus IPA.” This is the first true India Pale Ale in the calendar. India Pale Ales are hoppy beers within the broader category of Pale Ale.  They are lighter in colour and are incredibly unique as the variety of hops used and the hopping method can significantly change tastes.

Croucher Brewing Co is located in Rotorua, a small town in the northeast part of the island near Lake Rotorua in the Bay of Plenty region of New Zealand.  Rotorua means “second lake” in Maori – the full name being “Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahumatamomoe.” It is best known for its geothermal activity, having many geysers, bubbling mud pools, thermal pools and the buried village (a village buried by the  Mount Tarawera eruption in 1886).

Croucher Brewing Co was founded by Paul Croucher.  It began as a dream in the 1990s that slowly developed into a non-commercial brewery in 2004.  Paul entered the Beer NZ brewing competition and won the non-commercial category. This gave him and his business partners, Richard Croucher and Nigel Gregory, the confidence to forge ahead as a commercial brewery.  In 2006 they opened as a commercial brewery and in August of that year won a bronze medal for their Croucher Pale Ale.  They have continued to grow over the years winning numerous awards and producing many styles of beer.

The Anzus IPA  we are trying today was made using Australian, New Zealand and US hops.  The name of the beer itself is quite important.  ANZUS was a military alliance between Australia, New Zealand and the US (hence the hop choice) formed in 1951 in the shadow of the developing cold war. As the south pacific became a testing ground for nuclear weapons in the 80s, relationships became strained between these three super powers as NZ banned Nucelar Weapons in their territories and the US refusing to confirm or deny if they had any on board their ships.  This lead to then NZ Prime Minister David Lange famous quote during debate saying “If you hold your breath just for a moment… I can smell the uranium on it as you lean towards me…”(2 minute mark of the clip)

The beer itself is an attempt to repair relations, so Croucher Brewing Co says. Let’s see what the “best hops” from these three regions can produce. Onto the beer!

Rating: 86/100

Appearance: Clear golden brown with a 1” head that dissipates slowly.
Smell: Pear, apricot and green olive on the nose.
Taste: The front is incredibly smooth, light bodied, with the pear, apricot and citrus coming through in flavor. The combination of hops makes for a unique taste that finishes with just the right amount of bitterness and leaves a sweet fruit taste on the tongue.
Mouth feel: Smooth and light bodied.
Overall: This is a very good IPA.  The combination of hops from three countries is interesting and works. The flavor profiles of the hops work well together and provide you with a very well balanced beer.
Do I like it: As I have said many times, I love IPAs. This one does not disappoint.  It brings full on hop action that isn’t too overwhelming even for someone who doesn’t drink a lot of IPAs. The light body provides a crisp and refreshing beer. This is certainly a beer I’d buy and be happy to drink. This is a close second as my favorite beer so far.

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