As much as I appreciate that the LCBO’s periodic series of brewery features has been bringing in some great beers that Ontario drinkers might not see otherwise, I really wish the agency were a bit more organized in terms of release dates and distribution so that customers have a clearer indication of where and when the beers will be available.
Case in point: The current release featuring a half dozen selections from Oregon’s Rogue Brewery was originally announced as being due in stores in late June, so I’ve been sitting on my notes from the early May media tasting, and was planning on posting something a bit closer to the release date. Then I got word that they’d be coming at the end of May, and got ready to write something sooner – until I head that it was back to late June, and held off again.
And then the beers suddenly started hitting the shelves a week or so ago, and are already selling out in some locations, which makes this post a little less timely than I’d hoped.
There are still bottles of most of them out there, though, so here are a few quick thoughts on each to help you decide whether they’re worth the hunt…
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Posted in beer reviews
Tagged ale, US
This past week’s launch of Muskoka Brewery‘s Mad Tom IPA ($12.95/6×355 ml at The Beer Store) was one of the most anticipated Ontario beer releases in recent memory, and while only one other local beer blogger seems to have gotten a review up, you can expect that to change pretty quickly. You can also expect that most of those reviews will be positive, as Mad Tom gives Ontario beer drinkers something that’s been sorely missing from our retail shelves: a locally-brewed version of a well-hopped American-style IPA.
That’s not to say that no Ontario brewery has crafted a beer in this style before. It’s just that all of them – such as Black Oak Ten Bitter Years, Flying Monkeys Smash Bomb and assorted experiments from Great Lakes – have been draught/cask-only or for sale in bottles exclusively at the brewery.
In fact, the only comparable Ontario-brewed beer with wide retail distribution at the moment is Great Lakes Crazy Canuck Pale Ale, which hit the LCBO in cans around the same time that Mad Tom was released at The Beer Store (with LCBO availability to follow soon). Both beers are fantastic, but it’s Mad Tom that I’m giving props to today.
Pouring a shining golden-orange with an ample white head, the beer throws off the aromas you’d expect from a beer dry-hopped with Chinook and Centennial – i.e. citrus and pine, with some tropical fruit cocktail playing a small supporting role. In the flavour, the malt makes a valiant effort to show itself, offering some nice hints of caramel and biscuit off the top, but it can’t hold back the hops, which punch through with tons of grapefruit, lemon zest and pineapple, a smidge of pine resin, and an odd but not unpleasant suggestion of pepsin (Ã la Beemans Gum).
Well done, Muskoka – you’ve earned Mad Tom a regular spot in my fridge for the summer, and I imagine the fridges of a lot of other folks as well.
Back when I launched this blog, my original intention was for it to be primarily a place to write about beer and food, but to also feature occasional posts about music as a sort of extension of the previous years I’d spent as a music writer and DJ. But in the almost half-decade that has passed since, I’ve written a grand total of five posts that are related to music in any way, which rendered the blog name I’d chosen to use – Beer, Beats & Bites – at least 33.3% inaccurate.
At the same time, the last couple of years has seen an increase in my interest in exploring and writing about spirits – especially whisky – and I felt like the name of the blog should be changed to reflect this.
With that, I’m happy to announce that after a couple of months of waiting for the appropriate URL to come out of post-expiration limbo, Beer, Beats & Bites is now known as Beer, Booze & Bites, with a new address – beerboozebites.com – to go with the new name. (Although the old address will still work as well, at least for the time being.)
Along with the new name comes a new banner, and a hope on my part that changes that have been happening with my other projects – most notably Taste T.O. – will leave me with some free time to get new content up here on a more regular basis. Based on my past record, I know enough not to promise anything, but I reckon that given the increasing number of Canadian beer blogs out there, I really need to step things up a bit to stay relevant.
In the meantime, while everything seems to have gone smoothly with the switch over, there’s always the chance of bugs lurking around the edges, so please let me know if you notice anything funky going on with the site. Otherwise, thanks as always for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to do so.
Back in 2003, I attended a fantastic event presented by Sleeman to promote the fact that they had recently taken over distribution rights for Samuel Adams beers in Canada. For just 20 bucks, attendees were given ample servings of four standard Sam Adams beers, including the flagship Boston Lager, along with understandably less generous samples of the brewery’s legendary big beers: Triple Bock, Millennium and Utopias. The implied message seemed to be that Sleeman had big plans for the brand, and we could look forward to seeing more Sam Adams beers on at stores and bars in Ontario soon.
Sadly, that implication ended up being a misinterpretation, as all we saw on the shelves in the next few years was Boston Lager and fleeting appearances by Sam Adams Summer Ale. But last year, Sam Adams severed ties with Sleeman and joined forces with Moosehead, a partnership which has led to more Sam Adams beers being released in Canada, including the infamous Utopias as well as some of their less expensive and more accessible seasonal beers.
The latest arrival is the Samuel Adams Noble Pils (LCBO 239525 – $13.55/6×355 mL), which I’ve been enjoying the hell out of since it hit LCBO shelves a few weeks ago. Pouring a vibrant yellow-gold with a thick and fluffy snow white head, it has a gorgeous aroma of honey, floral hops, a bit of citrus and caramel. On the palate, it’s crisp and clean, providing a perfect backdrop to the delicious and well-balanced flavour that features sufficiently sweet malt intertwining with those beautiful hops, which bring in notes of herbs, pine, pepper and grapefruit.
For a long time, I’ve considered Victory Prima Pils to be my favourite Pilsner brewed in North America, but every bottle of Noble Pils that I finish brings me closer to reconsidering that opinion. I may just have to have another (few) to be sure…
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that things being late is pretty much par for the course. So just as with my previous week of tandem whisky and beer reviews, the one intended to posted on Friday was, uh, not. I’m sure no-one but me noticed, but for the sake of completeness, here it is now…
Century Reserve 21 Year Old
(LCBO 231704 â€“ $48.95/750 mL)
This 100% corn whisky is one of a multitude of spirits and liqueurs produced by Highwood Distillers in Calgary, and while some of their brands are aimed at the mid- to low-end of the market, this is one of their more premium bottlings, and it’s gotten a fair bit of acclaim from critics and aficionados of Canadian whisky. And after tasting it myself, I’d say that the praise is well deserved. Showing a light, bright golden hue, it has a soft aroma of butterscotch, pepper, citrus, honey and toasted wood. The flavour opens with a good hit of citrus – notably lemon peel – with some pepper behind, followed by notes of butterscotch and toffee that build toward a sweet middle, and then subtle finish where the pepper comes back into play. A very good whisky that’s quite different from the Crown Royal Cask No. 16 that I reviewed earlier, but at a similar level of quality for less than half the price.
Lindemans Gueuze CuvÃ©e RenÃ©
(LCBO 224824 â€“ $6.45/375 mL)
It’s going to be a month or so until this one appears on the shelves along with its companion, Lindemans Kriek Lambic (LCBO 224816 â€“ $5.95/375 mL), but it’s been so long since we’ve had a proper gueuze at the LCBO that I couldn’t resist reviewing it now. Traditionally an unflavoured and unsweetened blend of both old and new lambics, much of the gueuze available today has been sweetened to appeal to a wider range of drinkers, but CuvÃ©e RenÃ© is the real deal. It’s crisp and tart and funky, with notes of barnyard and lemon and musty leather coming through in both the aroma and flavour. While quite noticeable, the sour tartness isn’t overpowering, which makes this brew a good introduction to traditional gueuze for those who may be unfamiliar with the style. And while more seasoned drinkers may consider it inferior to the beers of such venerable gueuze producers as Cantillon and 3 Fonteinen, the odds of us seeing any of their bottles on LCBO shelves any time soon is probably pretty damn low, so let’s be at least somewhat thankful that we’ll soon be able to get this one.
Each weekday this week, Iâ€™ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBOâ€™s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBOâ€™s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today, it’s two that I’d have no trouble drinking a lot of on a regular basis…
Isle of Arran 10 Year Old
(LCBO 221069 – $49.95/750 mL)
Here’s something that proves I still have a lot to learn about whisky: When I see “Isle” on a label, I expect something peaty and smoky to come out of the bottle. Not only because I love whiskies in that style, but because “Isle” makes me think of Islay, the Scottish island where almost every whisky they make fits that template. But then I remember that there are distilleries scattered across other islands that produce whiskies in a variety of styles, from soft and sweet to full of peat. This 10YO from the Isle of Arran Distillery leans more towards the sweet side, although the aroma starts with a bit of sea and smoke before elegant notes of vanilla and cream come through. The mouthfeel is soft and supple, and the flavour holds a nice combo of melon, vanilla, coconut, pear, subtle oak, and a hint of spice in the finish. Not one to wow the crowd, but for an everyday easy drinking malt, it’s a great choice.
(LCBO 696955 – $2.85/330 mL)
When choosing which beers to write up from the seasonal releases, I usually pick ones that are first timers, as they may need a bit more attention than those that have been on the shelves here before. But I’ll make an exception for Christoffel Blond, as it’s a beer that I will praise any chance that I get. Plus it allows me to poach from an earlier review, when I described it as having “a rich golden hue and a good sized snow white head”; an aroma that “reveals a strong herbal and floral hop character, with some candyish notes as well”; a body that’s “crisp and full and quenching”; and a flavour that is “a tasty combination of sweet orange candy, sharp green herbs, and a refreshingly bitter citric finish.” Gorgeous stuff that I drink loads of every time it shows up in Ontario – and it’s great liquid for steaming mussels as well.
Each weekday this week, Iâ€™ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBOâ€™s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBOâ€™s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today, it’s a pair that pleasantly surprised me…
Sheep Dip Malt Whisky
(LCBO 231688 – $44.95/750 mL)
While most of the Scottish selections in the Whisky Shop rotation are higher end single malts, they do keep a blend or two in there as well, and some of them – like the Famous Grouse Gold Reserve – are deserving of their spot. But something about the name Sheep Dip had me not expecting much from this one. Thankfully, I was wrong, as this blend of 16 single malts from a variety of distilleries and reasons is a not a bad little whisky. Notes of grass and hay are at the forefront, with some marzipan and orange marmalade sweetness, and threads of cinnamon and clove. Yeah, it’s not especially complex, the flavour is a bit muddled, and the palate a little softer that I’d like, but it’s a big step up from many blended whiskies. (Still not as good as that Grouse, though.)
Brasseurs De MontrÃ©al Coeur BrisÃ©
(LCBO 224212 – $2.95/341 mL)
Like the whisky above, I went into this beer with low expectations, although not because of the name (which translates to “broken heart”), but because of the style. While I always enjoy a proper Belgian-style framboise, I find that most other raspberry-flavoured beers tend to be sickly sweet and/or artificial tasting, and are often made using a base beer that is pretty mediocre to start with. Coeur BrisÃ©, however, seems to be based on a well made golden ale, and both the aroma and flavour have a very natural and fairly tart raspberry character, with a bit of toasted malt sweetness and a hint of citric hops. The body is full enough to be noticeable, and crisp enough to be refreshing. It’s still not my favourite style, but as far as pale raspberry ales go, this is a pretty damn good one.
Each weekday this week, Iâ€™ll be posting a pair of mini-reviews covering selections from the latest additions to the LCBOâ€™s Whisky Shop premium whisky program, and the products in the LCBOâ€™s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. Today I’ve got a pair from south of the border – one of them from a bit further south than the other…
Rittenhouse Straight Rye Whiskey 100 Bond
(LCBO 230813 â€“ $34.95/750 mL)
As the ‘e’ in ‘Whiskey’ suggests, Rittenhouse is created in the tradition of classic American rye whiskies – specifically, in the Monongahela/Pennsylvania style – while the “100 Bond” designation indicates that it’s a 100 proof (50% alc) spirit that’s been “bottled in bond“. All of this old-tymey stuff might smack a bit of gimmickry, but Rittenhouse is actually a really solid whiskey that has had a lot of success throughout the US, no doubt due to the trend towards better quality cocktail spirits. And while I imagine it to make an impeccable Manhattan, it’s quite fine on its own as well, with a dark amber hue that resembles that of well-aged lacquered furniture, and a myriad of aroma and flavour notes including pepper, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, brown sugar, honey and marmalade. Too bad the LCBO stock is already dwindling.
Southern Tier 2xIPA
(LCBO 224220 â€“ $2.95/355 mL)
Speaking of dwindling stock – while this beer hasn’t hit the shelves yet (it’s due next week), it’s bound to be snapped up quickly when it does, given the combination of Southern Tier’s strong reputation from previous LCBO appearances by some of their other brands, and the general scarcity of highly hopped beers in Ontario. Anyone familiar with big American-style IPAs will find just what the expect here – i.e. a huge hit of citrus (especially grapefruit) with backing notes of pineapple, peach and pine resin, supported by enough caramel-accented malt to keep the harsh edges of the bitterness in check. And just as the Rittenhouse above is quite smooth for a 50% whiskey, so too is the 2xIPA a very easy drinker considering that it weighs in at 8.2%. Consume the two in tandem, and you’ll probably want to make sure you’ve got no big plans in the morning…
Since today is Victoria Day – aka Canada’s unofficial first day of summer – it seemed fitting to review some of the beers in the LCBOâ€™s Summer 2011 Specialty Beer promotion. And since the format seemed to be popular when I did it a couple of months ago with the Spring release, I’ll be pairing them up with notes on a few of the newest additions to the LCBOâ€™s Whisky Shop premium whisky program. Here’s the first duo, with another pair to follow each day this week.
Crown Royal Cask No. 16
(LCBO 64337 – $99.95/750 mL)
Named for the origin number of the Congac oak casks from the Limousin forest in France that are used to age this premium blend of more than 50 whiskies before it’s bottled, Cask No. 16 comes from the higher end of the Crown Royal range – only Crown Royal XR (Extra Rare) is more spendy. Hints of the Congac-infused wood come through in the aroma, along with plenty of fruit (peach, apricot, sweet orange), toffee, toasted nuts, and suggestions of leather and cinnamon. The flavour shows more of the Congac and fruit – taking on almost a fruit cocktail character – but this is still a Canadian whisky at heart, as evidenced by the notes of rye, vanilla, oak, and black & white pepper. While you can feel free to mix it with Coke or Canada Dry if you’d like, it would really be a waste, as this is a whisky more suited for sipping neat.
Celt Golden Crafted Ale
(LCBO 224600 – $3.45/500 mL)
There are a slew of UK golden/blond ales in this release (the others are listed below), and while the Celt wasn’t my favourite, I chose it to review over the others due to the uniqueness of it being a beer from Wales, which I believe is a first for the LCBO. The body, as the name suggests, has a golden-orange hue under a small white head. The aroma is intriguing – there’s the expected grass/hay maltiness, and some leafy hops, but also something around the edge that reminds me of lychee, as well as hints of candied citrus peel. The flavour is a bit more standard for the style – lightly roasted and moderately sweet malt, balanced by hops that are a herbal and a bit earthy. Mild citrus and a wisp of licorice come through in the end. It’s a very nice summer quaffer, as are the other golden ales in the release: Dark Star Sunburst (LCBO 223818 – $3.45/500 mL), Badger Golden Champion (LCBO 244632 – $3.50/500 mL), and Fuller’s Organic Honey Dew (LCBO 676858 – $3.50/500 mL) – the latter brewed with and tasting pleasantly of honey, just as the name suggests.
Earlier this week I got a sneak peek at some new items on the food menu at Bier Markt – the highlights of which I’ve covered in a post over on Taste T.O. – and launching at the same time was the latest exclusive addition to their draught beer line-up, Jupiler Lager.
I’m well aware, of course, that Jupiler isn’t exactly held in the highest regard among serious beer drinkers, as typified by a response to one of my tweets that evening reminding me that it’s “the Coors of Belgium.” And yes, it’s a bit unfortunate that it’s position as Belgium’s top-selling lager gives the marketers an opportunity to give it a higher cachet than it may deserve.
Still, as far as mainstream mass-produced lagers go, it’s fine enough. The mildÂ herbal edge in the aroma indicates that there are actually some hops in there, and while the flavour is simple, it’s also clean and mostly balanced, with pleasant lightly toasted grains off the top, and a smidgen of cut-grass hops joining in. However, it falls short in the finish, where the corn that’s added as a adjunct makes itself known very clearly and much too sweetly.
So no, it’s not a great beer. But it’s not an awful one either, and as I note in my Taste T.O. write-up, the folks who like Stella and Heineken will be more than happy with it.