Tag Archives: Review

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 18

Beer 18

Today’s beer is another South American one!  It comes to us from Well folks, here we have come at last.  The last day that I will posting with the calendar.  I will be back posting the final beers when I return from my trip.  In the meantime I will be making every effort to post on beers I am trying while on the trip, so you don’t feel like you’re missing out.

Today’s beer is another South American one!  It comes to us from GUYANE FRANÇAISE, or French Guiana, located in the northeastern region of South America bordering Brazil (to the south) and Suriname (to the west) with the South Atlantic Ocean on its eastern side.

Founded in 2010 as an amateur microbrewery, they brewed their first beer in 2011 and opened their brewpub doors in Cayenne.  In 2012 they grew to allow 10 times as many people into their brewpup and began selling their beer throughout French Guiana.  This is also the year they introduced there second two beers, the Weiti (which we get to try today) and their blonde.  Today, in 2014, they have finally begun to export for the first time, to Canada!

Now, their Weiti is a White beer (wheat beer) that has been flavoured, lightly, with oranges.  They use malted barley and wheat to give it the specific white beer characteristic of being creamy.  Like many wheat beers, this one is not filtered to allow for the flavouring of the oranges to remain intact.  This beer would likely be reminiscent of Shock Top or Rickard’s White (I would guess) and I am excited to see!  On to the beer!

Rating: 85/100

Appearance: Golden brown, cloudy, with a significant head that retains until consumed.
Smell:
Strong citrus smell, the orange really comes through.
Taste: As I expected, quite a lot like Rickard’s White and Shock Top.  Creamy orange flavor that goes down smoothly and is packed with malty sweetness to go with the tangy citrus notes from the orange.
Overall: While this one is a more traditional Belgian Wheat Beer, the citrus notes add quite a bit to the balance and over all flavours of this beer.  The fact that I would put it above Rickard’s White or Shock Top in terms of balance, flavor, and overall quality of a Belgian white is a strong nod to this South American microbrew.
Do I like it: I do, quite a bit, like this one.  While it is not as strong as the Hop Blanc was, lacking the nice bitterness from the hops, it is a strong Belgian Wheat Beer that brings a lot to the table.  It is certainly something I’d drink again and definitely one of my top choices so far.  Maybe Belgian Wheat’s are my new style?

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 17

Beer 17

Today’s beer comes to us from Yorkshire, England.  The Wold Top Brewery is located on 600 acres of farmland in Yorkshire.  Owned by the family for generations, the traditional farm was not bringing in enough revenue.  The decision was made to diversify – after 8 years of planning and discussing, in 2003 they brewed their first beer.  Since then they have grown to include numerous traditional recipes and brew many beers that are distributed around the UK.

Being on a farm, brewery owners Tom and Gill use ingredients that they grow right on site.  Leaving space between their crops to allow for biodiversity, they make every attempt to brew using sustainable methods and local self-grown ingredients!  The beer we will be trying from them today is a seasonal that is typically brewed as a cask ale (a beer brewed and served from an oak cask) that they have bottled for limited distribution.  The beer is called the Marmalade Porter!

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. This one uses both barley and corn malts. It was rare to see corn malts in a beer until recently when the numbers of those with gluten intolerances soared.  Now we find corn and even sorghum malts used in beers to make them “gluten free.”  This one is not 100% gluten free – while it does meet the requirements for those who simply have an intolerance, it would not be good for those with celiac.  On to the beer!

Rating: 75/100

Appearance: Rich dark brown with no apparent head.
Smell: Chocolate, coffee, caramel and sweetness are apparent in the smell.  Hints of orange at the end.
Taste: Rich and heavy with a strong malt flavor and good sweetness.  Has an odd metallic taste to it and a strange after taste that I attribute to the use of corn malts.  Flavors are good and it is not overly sweet.  Not a high quality porter but a unique one in the use of corn malts and the flavor profile.
Mouth feel: Rich and full bodied with mild carbonation.
Overall: A standard porter. Nothing spectacular about it but it also does not have anything really dragging it down other than the metallic taste and the odd aftertaste.  The choice of malts was a good one, other than perhaps the use of corn malts in this case.  The flavor profile is nice and provides for a good balance.  Corn malts in a porter where malts are super important is a risky choice.  I don’t think it worked here.
Do I like it: I didn’t not like it, I’ll say.  It is definitely not my favorite beer and one that I likely wouldn’t want to have again.  It is a beer that I’d be fine drinking if there was nothing else but not one I would seek out to drink again.  Overall it’s an average porter and an average beer.

Craft Beer Advent Calendar – Day 15

Beer 15

My wife and I were going over in our heads the countries and continents we have already seen so far this month.  We were figuring out which continents we have yet to visit of the 6 featured.  So far we are only missing Africa and Asia.   I guessed that we would be seeing a beer from South Africa shortly and lo and behold, today’s beer is from Africa!  South Africa to boot.

Porcupine Quill Microbrewery is located in the Valley of 1000 Hills, Bothas Hill, Kwazulu Natal, South Africa.  Bothas is 600km southeast of Johannesburg and is on the eastern edge of South Africa right on the ocean. They produce beer under 3 labels: Porcupine Quills, Dam Wolf and African Moon. They produce a total of 8 beers under the labels in a variety of styles.

The brewery is located in the same building as a deli in the Bothas region and they serve locally made food as well as their local brew.  The brewery itself is a 6 barrel brewery system imported from the UK.  Another rather small brewery, they are only producing 980 litres of beer at any given time.  The system can only use whole flower hops as opposed to manufactured hop pellets, which are used in many other brewing processes.  This gives a fresher hop flavour to beer and combined with their chemical free production method makes for a very “wholesome” beer.

One important thing to note is that this brewery does what is called “natural bottle conditioning” for the beer. Conditioning has to do with how the beer becomes carbonated. While many larger breweries will artificially carbonate beer by forcing CO2 gas into the entire batch of beer, bottle conditioning is more traditional for small batch beer.  It is, actually, how home brew is carbonated.

At the end of the fermentation process some residual yeast is still in the beer.  Extra sugar, typically dextrose as it dissolves best, is added just before bottling.  This allows the beer to carbonate while in the bottle.  This results in a yeastier smell and flavour to the beer as well as mild sediment.  It is however also a more natural way of carbonating the beer.

The beer we are trying from them today is the Porcupine Quills Karoo Red. It’s an American amber ale that has been highly hopped with Williamette whole flower hops to give it a pronounced bitterness.  Coming in at 49 International Bitterness Units (IBU), it’s right up there with any IPA.  Similar in style to the Hopped Red Ale we had from Australia, I’m curious whether the makers of the Calendar consider this to be a different style simply because it is called a Red Ale rather than an India Red Ale.  Either way, I am excited to give it a try!

Rating: 77/100

Appearance:  Cloudy amber with no noticeable head.
Smell: Caramel, yeast and floral notes from the hops.
Taste: Sweet malty caramel that flows smoothly into bitterness that is enjoyable for those who like it.  Certainly well-hopped.  Balance is right for a hoppy beer with the sweetness making way for the bitterness on the finish and allowing it to shine as the star.  The hops in this beer are one that carry a citrus flavour that blends well with the other flavours, caramel, malt, and slight yeastiness from the natural bottle conditioning.
Mouth feel: Medium bodied beer that is well carbonated and has a coarse mouth feel.
Overall: Excellent hoppy red ale that shows of the flavour of the Williamette hop while still balancing well with the sweet malts.  The yeastiness from the bottle conditioning detracts somewhat from the overall flavour of the beer and brings the overall flavour of the beer down a bit.  While it is a decent red ale, there is certainly room for improvement.
Do I like it: Yes, I did like this beer.  I am a big fan of hops and I love having the opportunity to try ones which are being showcased.  Having a single hop in a beer and allowing it to shine is an excellent way to give someone the opportunity to really taste a particular hop.  Most IPAs and hopped beers use multiple hops to create broad flavour profiles.  I really enjoyed getting to try the Williamette hop and I’d be happy to see it show up in other beers.

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.