Tag Archives: advent calendar

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, whatsbrewin.ca 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.

Day 10 – Bridge Brewing Company – Sleigh Booster

Day 10 - Bridge Brewing Company - Sleigh Booster

We are nearing the halfway point of this 24 beer journey and so far I’ve been pretty impressed with the beers I’ve had.  Because I know people are not reading all of these, I want to take a minute to reiterate something.  I am not a beer judge, I just really like beer and as I’ve been drinking it my palate has become better. I’m by no means perfect and there are a lot of things I still have to learn.  All the ratings I do in this are based on my own personal opinion of the beer.  Like I’ve said before, I don’t always listen to people when they rate beers and I don’t expect you to either.

The main focus of these 24 posts is to learn about the breweries and the styles of beers. The ratings are so I can look back at the end of this and decide which one I liked the best. I hope that in reading these you will at least learn a bit more about the breweries, styles, and make up your own mind if you’d like to give them a try.

Today we have a beer from Bridge Brewing Company located in North Vancouver, BC.  The beer is called Sleigh Booster and it is an Imperial Red Ale.

Bridge Brewing Company opened in 2012 as Vancouver’s first nano-brewery. Bridge was housed in a 1,000 sq/ft space and was brewing beer in 800 litre batches. Craft beer drinkers loved their beers and they’ve been working hard to expand production as much as possible to meet their demand. They have since expanded their brew house and brought on some help in order to meet the demand for their beers.

What is really interesting about Bridge Brewing is that they are committee trying to be a zero-waste brewery. At present they are 99% waste free. As they brew in small batches their hops and grains in small quantities so that they make sure they get the most use out of them. This also helps them ensure high quality standards in all of their batches of beer.

Speaking of beer, they brew quite a lot of different styles from year-rounds, their iron-worker series, as well as seasonal beers.  The beer we are having today is from the Seasonal selection and sounds pretty tasty.  I’ve had the opportunity to try another one of their season beers, their Uganda Sipi Coffee Brown Ale and I thought it was pretty good.

Imperial Red Ales tend to use American hops and has a perception of hop bitterness to the flavour. Typically, with a solid malt profile and a beautiful deep amber to deep copper colour, these beers tend to bring a good balance between hop bitterness and malty sweetness. While Imperial Red Ale itself is not a traditional style, it is an example of North American brewers taking the traditional Irish Red Ale style and ramping up the flavours. Typically using a lot of hops to bring out that bitterness, these beers can also be bottled conditioned with results in slight fruity esters.  These beers also tend to be quite high on the ABV range, 7.9%-10%, and the alcohol flavour is a noticeable part of the taste profile. I’m looking forward to giving this one a try.

Rating: 80/100

Appearance:  Deep amber in colour with about 1” of off-white head that retains well.
Smell: Low aroma.  Slight spice, malty caramel and toffee notes. These malt notes are the most evident.
Taste:  Malt is front and centre on this with alcohol notes a close second. Front is chocolate, caramel and toffee with a bitter finish and strong hop notes.
Mouthfeel: Creamy mouthfeel with soft carbonation, bitter and alcoholic finish. This is a strong ale, alcohol notes are expected.
As an Imperial Red Ale it is pretty good. The body, head, and flavour notes are near an Irish Red Ale but ramped up. The use of strong hop notes is uncommon to the Irish Red Ale category but to be expected in the Imperial Red Ale. Good tasting beer that balances the malty sweetness on the front with the hop bitterness on the finish.
Do I like it: I enjoyed drinking this beer but it wasn’t something I was over the moon about. I felt that the malty sweetness was good and it balanced well with the hop notes. I did enjoy it and I’d be happy to drink it again. It makes me curious to try the other brews from Bridge.

Day 9 – Iron Fist Brewing Company – Spice of Life

Day 9 - Iron Fist Brewing Company - Spice of Life

Well, I have to take a minute to send an apology out to all of my twitter followers.  I have been so excited about the beers from the advent calendar that I’ve been tweeting them out first thing in the morning.  In all of my enthusiasm, I never considered that I might be spoiling the fun for others by telling them what beer they will be getting before they get it.  So, to all of those for whom I’ve spoiled any of the surprise, I apologize. So, starting tomorrow, I will not post what beer it is until I post my review. Someone else might, but I wont.

Now, today’s beer is from Iron Fist Brewing Company and it is a Bière de Garde called Spice of Life.

Iron Fist is a family owned brewery located in Vista, California, right in the middle of San Diego’s craft beer scene.  While the website doesn’t give a lot of details about the specifics of the brewery or the people who run it, they do provide a list of there beers and a video that gives the story of the brewery.  So rather than me writing all about them, why not take a watch.

Biere de Garde (keeping beer) is a strong pale ale style of beer that was traditionally brewed in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France.  They were originally brewed in farmhouses during the winter and spring to avoid unpredictable problems with the yeast in the summer time.

Typically copper or golden in colour, they are a beer that is brewed and then cellared in order to be consumed later in the year, basically like the Saison style. Most are top-fermented and bottle-conditioned but they can be bottom fermented.  What is interesting about this style is that if it is brewed using regional ingredients it is eligible for a Appellation d’origine contrôlée, similar to French wines.

Characterized by a toasted malt aroma, slight malt sweetness, and medium hop bitterness.  Typically brewed with noble hop varietals, there are earthy and musty notes often in this beer as well as fruity esters from the yeast.  Chill haze is expected (hazy colour when cold) in bottle conditioned versions of this style.  The style we are drinking today is brewed using grains of paradise, bitter orange peel, and coriander.  It is a bottle conditioned beer and so the haze is expected.  Let’s get to it.

Rating: 83/100

Appearance:  Copper in colour, poured with basically no head.
Smell: Brewed with orange peel, coriander and grains of paradise, all of these are noticeable on the nose of the beer.  There is also the smell of toasted malt and some fruity esters from the beer.
Taste: Alcohol flavour is noticeable, common for this style.  There are fruity notes from the orange peel, the coriander is present as well as toasted malt notes and a sweet smooth finish.  There are also some good peppery notes to this likely coming from the grains of paradise.
Mouthfeel: Soft carbonation, smooth mouthfeel, almost creamy.
Strong example of this style. Good flavours, lots of things going for it. The lack of head was concerning at first but the carbonation throughout is great. Good fruit notes balanced against the sweet malt and pepperiness. Overall quite good.
Do I like it: Yes, I do like it. It’s a good beer to drink on a summer day, it was a nice one to have after the warm weather we’ve been having here. I had just gotten back from a long walk and it was nice and crisp and refreshing.  I’m a fan of these Belgian styles of beer and this one lives up to my expectations. Quite good.

Day 8 – Spider Bite Brewing Company – Boris the Spider Russian Imperial Stout

Day 8 - Spider Bite Brewing Company - Boris the Spider Russian Imperial Stout

Yesterday was a pretty decent turn around in respect to beer.  While it was not my favourite, it was okay and that’s a big jump from day 6.  Today, as usual, I got up early and went into grab the now individually wrapped day 8 beer from my spare bedroom (away from cats who might knock it over). Given that the advent calendar beers tend to sit for a little while before actually being opened, I was hoping that I might something that actually can age well.  Today’s beer is just that.

Today we have Spider Bite Beer Company’s Boris the Spider Russian Imperial Stout.  Spider bite is located in Holbrook, Long Island and distributes its beer primarily between Long Island and New York.  Spider Bite Beer Company was conceived by founders and friends Larry Goldstein and Anthony LiCausi back in 2008.   Larry was born and raised on Long Island, but after getting biology degree he decided to move to Atlanta to study Chiropractic medicine.  It was during his time in Atlanta that Larry discovered a love and passion for craft beer.  He began home brewing, entering competitions, writing tasting articles for a local paper and then began assistant brewing at a local brewpub.  After more than a decade as a Chiropractor he moved his family back to his hometown of Nesconset, NY.  Larry attended the American brewers’ guild to receive a formal brewing education followed by an apprenticeship at Lost Abbey/Port Brewing in San Diego.  It was here he fell in love with many of the styles he brought over to Spider Bite when it opened in 2008. You can listen to the guys talk about there beer and the brewery here.

Spider bite has a number of different spider themed beers.  Check them out.  I am pretty excited about today’s beer.  Russian Imperial Stouts are a style that I’ve really started to enjoy and appreciate.  These beers age incredibly well and change over time.  This style of beer was originally brewed in the 1800s by Thrale’s brewery in London England for export to the court of Catherine II of Russia. This same beer is brewed today now under the Courage brewery name and is called Courage Russian Imperial Stout (RIS).   Ranging between 8%-12% alcohol with strong malt notes of coffee, caramel, chocolate and dark fruit (plums, prunes or raisins for example), it is a perfect beer for a winter night.

Like I said I have become a pretty big fan of this style and have learned to appreciate the deep rich complexity of these beers.  I think this is one of those styles that takes a little bit of getting used to and I certainly didn’t appreciate these beers last year as much as I do now.  Without anything further, let’s get to tasting this beer.

Rating:  89/100

Appearance:  Pour incredibly dark, like a black hole absorbing all light around it.  Very minimal head which is to be expected with this style.
Smell: Rich coffee smells, smoke, chocolate and black licorice.
Taste: The smoke notes are evident on the start which fades into a chocolate malty sweetness finishing with a rich coffee aftertaste. Almost like a smoky chocolate mocha.
Mouthfeel: Low carbonation but full rich body, silky smooth with a slightly sharp finish.
Overall: Overall a very deep and layered imperial stout. There is a lot going on with this beer.  The richness of this and ability to hide the alcohol content with a nice warm lingering after the finish makes it a really delicious Russian imperial stout.
Do I like it: Absolutely. I really like this one.  As I said I am a big fan of Russian imperial stouts and this one lives up to my expectation. The rich flavours balanced eminitley and smooth make this a great beer to sip on a cold winter’s night.  This certainly is not a gulping beer, that wouldn’t do it justice, it’s a beer to savor.

Day 7 – Cameron’s Brewing Company – Into the Shade Saison

Day 7 - Cameron's Brewing Company - Into the Shade Saison

Well, yesterday was a little bit of a disappointing day in respect to the particular beer.  I am hoping it’s the only one that has been oxidized.  I had the opportunity to brew yesterday which a good bit of fun.  I am brewing a Tamarind Ginger Saison with a friend for a competition and I’m pretty excited about it.  After all this advent calendar blogging is done I’ll have to do a write-up of that beer.  It was pretty fun to make and I’m cautiously optimistic for the final product.

It’s quite fitting that I brewed a Saison yesterday as today’s beer is in fact a Saison from Cameron’s Brewing Company in Oakville Ontario.  It is there Into the Shade Saison, limited edition unfiltered release.  Unfiltered beers tend to have more nutritional value, better head retention, and more flavour.

Cameron’s is a family owned craft brewery that was founded in 1997 by Cameron Howe.  Cameron wanted to introduce quality craft beer into the Ontario market and started off home brewing before quickly turning into a small business.  Cameron’s tries to remain true to these roots and brews high quality beers that have won a number of awards over the years. They do a good job of running through there history and have a timeline on their website of some important milestones. It’s worth taking a look.

Currently Cameron’s president is Bill Coleman who was originally in a senior marketing role at Molson.  He is part of the team who was responsible for the “I am Canadian” ads as well as launching Rickard’s Red.  After leaving the beer industry to join Alias in the tech industry, he found that he missed beer and brewing.  After Alias was sold to Autodesk he sought to return to the brewing community and brought his experiences to Cameron’s.

He joins the brew master, Jason Britton, who has over 20 years of brewing experience from around the world including at Amsterdam Brewery in Ontario and Walkerville Brewing Company.  He works with his brewing team, Kyle and Curtis, to produce high quality beers using the best ingredients possible.  You can take a look at there brew system and process on there website.

Saison’s are a sturdy farmhouse style of beer.  Originally brewed in Wallonia, the French speaking part of Belgium, it was a beer brewed at the end of the cool season to last through the warmer months before refrigeration was common.  It had to be sturdy enough to be able to last but also not too strong so it would quench your thirst in the summer months.   This style of beer is very complex with a lot fruit notes, spices, and earth yeast notes to the beer.    They tend to combine nice fruity notes with spice and a subtle sourness or tartness.  Usually lots of spice with mild bitterness and a dry crisp finish and only a hint of sweetness.

At one point in time Saison’s were an almost extinct beer style but they have seen a great resurgence and are commonly brewed by a number of craft breweries across Canada.  We are seeing them pop-up more and more here in Manitoba and it is really one of my favourite styles of beer right now.  Let’s see how this one tastes.

Rating:  78/100

Appearance:  Crazy.  I popped off the cap and it just started shooting everywhere and wouldn’t stop.  Once I poured it into the glass it had a golden hazy colour with very little head.
Smell: Very fruit.  Pear, apples, apricot and citrus notes. Almost smells a bit like an apple juice or a cider in many ways.
Taste: Tastes quite fruity as well.  Pear, apple, apricot notes all come through on the taste with a nice tartness and a semi-sweet finish.
Mouthfeel: Really quite carbonated.  The bubbles on this almost numb the tongue in some ways. Dry finish with that semi-sweetness from the fruit.
Overall: Quite good.  I ate it with some spicy food which really brought out a lot of the flavours and extenuated them.  It’s also not really a winter beer. In the summer this would be fantastic.  Overall it was a good, but not mind-blowing, Saison.
Do I like it: At first I found the fruit notes to be a bit much for me.  It tasted almost like I was drinking apple juice or a cider.  As I got into it more the complexity of the flavours, the apricot, pear and peppery notes came out. As I ate my supper these were intensified and I enjoyed it more as I ate.  So, yes I do like this beer, but only in particular circumstances.

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.