Tag Archives: Canada

Quick Quaff: Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale

When it was announced in October 2009 that Molson Coors – via its Creemore Springs subsidiary – would be acquiring Granville Island Brewing, it inspired a fair bit of speculation regarding how long it would be until brands from one of the breweries was introduced into the market of the other. Apparently the answer to that question was “just under two years”, as Granville Island English Bay Pale Ale made the trip east to Ontario back in July.

It was around that time that a friendly Creemore rep passed me a six pack to try, I’ve tipped back a bottle every now and then in the couple of months since, and having now finished the half-dozen, I’ve come to two conclusions: (1) I like it; and (2) I won’t go out of my way to drink it again.

Yeah, I know that these conclusions seem to be contradictory, but here’s the thing: English Bay Pale Ale is, as Stephen aptly puts it, a “highly quaffable ale.” It has a nice dark copper hue; a nutty caramel aroma with faint peppery tinge; and a flavour that could use a bit of a boost in the hops department, but which still fits nicely into the “well balanced UK-style pale ale” niche that appears to be the aim.

That said, it’s also a beer that leaves little in the way of an impression, lasting or otherwise. Even while it’s being consumed, there’s little to grab the drinker’s attention (which probably explains the somewhat generic nature of my tasting notes above), and even less remains on the palate or in the memory once the glass is empty.

In other words: It’s not a bad beer, but it’s also not a memorable one.

Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask

This is one in a ridiculously infrequent series of posts reviewing various beers from Innis & Gunn. Previous installments have featured reviews of I&G Original and Rum Cask editions.

It’s Canada Day here in, well, Canada, and it seems like as good a time as any to revive this long-delayed review series to take a quick look at their Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask edition – if only because seeing the disgustingly prolific output of local beer blogging newcomers like Chris at Toronto Beer Blog and Jordan at St. John’s Wort has me feeling as guilty as ever about so often neglecting this poor little blog of mine.

Canadians reading this may know the story of why a Scottish brewery saw fit to create a beer that celebrates Canada Day, but for those who don’t, here’s the scoop: Canada – especially Ontario – has been a hugely successful market for Innis & Gunn, with their Original being the top-selling bottled UK beer at the LCBO in Ontario, and other editions of the brand also doing extremely well.

So as a way of saying thank you, they tracked down some Canadian whisky barrels and produced a limited run of Innis & Gunn Canadian Cask to be released exclusively in Canada in time for last year’s Canada Day. Here’s what I thought about the 2009 edition when I reviewed for Taste T.O. last June:

With a ruby-brown colour and a small off-white head, it looks great in the glass, and smells quite nice as well, with notes of dried fruit, spice, maple, and mellow rye whiskey. The flavour is quite fruity off the top, with raisin and orange accompanied by maple and toffee, all balanced by a peppery rye whiskey character to end.

The beer was brought back this year in a 2010 edition, and while I haven’t had a full bottle of the new version yet, I did get the chance to have a small sample a couple of weeks ago, and found it quite similar to last year’s. The main difference I noted was that the flavour seemed a bit rounder and softer, with the peppery rye notes moved a bit into the background.

Still very good, though, and worthy of a place in the rotation for Canada Day beer drinking even despite its foreign pedigree. After all, if you go back far enough, most of us (or our ancestors) came from somewhere else, and that mix of cultures is one of the reasons this is such a great country. Happy Canada Day!

Halifax Blacks: Garrison Baltic Porter & Propeller Revolution

The world of beer from Halifax may begin and end with Keith’s for less astute beer drinkers, but those of us In The Know are well aware that some of the best beer in the country is being brewed in Nova Scotia’s capital (which I call “Nova Scotia’s capital” rather than by a cool or historic nickname because apparently Halifax doesn’t have one yet…).

Aside from being the original hometown of the Granite Brewery, one of Canada’s first brewpubs, it also has a couple of great brewpubs, and two full-scale craft breweries – Propeller and Garrison – that have been increasing their profile outside of the province considerably in the last few years. They’re also two of the few breweries that occasionally send me samples  – in fact, I’ve received both of their respective winter seasonals recently, so it’s only fair that I give a few thoughts on them:

Garrison Grand Baltic Porter is back for a second year, and it remains a really interesting take on the style. The ones I’ve tried from actual Baltic states have tended to be fairly sweet and malty, but this dark mahogany-brown beer has a really unique, complex and mildly tart fruitiness going on in the aroma and flavour, with notes of prunes, raisins and dark cherry. There’s a subdued roasty malt character, with suggestions of cocoa and hazelnut, even a bit of licorice, but it’s those dark fruit notes that are in the forefront. And except for a short hint of heat in the finish, the 9% alcohol is really well-hidden.

The same can’t be said for this year’s batch of Propeller Revolution Russian Imperial Stout, which comes across a bit boozier than the Garrison despite being 1% lower in abv. It’s also somewhat hoppier, which probably adds to the pleasantly tingly burn in the finish. And here’s lots of other stuff going on in there as well – stuff like molasses, charred wood, coffee, dark chocolate, and other lovely things that you’d expect to whiff and taste in an almost pitch-black Imperial Stout.

Both great sippers for a cool winter night. Nice job, Halifax! (Oh, and thanks for giving me my wife as well…)

Back with Brockton

More than a month between posts. So what else is new?

As always, I’ve been plenty busy elsewhere, and there will be more on that in another post soon. (No, really!) But in the meantime, I need to post this long overdue review, since the kind folks at Granville Island were nice enough to send me some samples of their latest brew, and other people got their reviews posted a long time ago, making me look like some sort of deadbeat.

brocktonSo: Granville Island Brockton IPA. It’s a 25th anniversary beer from a BC brewery that, to be perfectly frank, has not impressed me much in the past. Although to be fair, I’ve only tried four of their beers, and have no idea how old they might’ve been by the time they reached me.

This beer, though, I liked quite a bit. It’s got a lovely orange-amber colour with an ample white head, and an inviting aroma that’s a bit floral & a bit citrusy on the hop side of things, and moderately sweet and caramelly on the malt side. Flavour is masterfully balanced, with a solid, not-too-sweet malt backbone, and a zip of citric hops in the finish. All told, it really reminds me more of a UK-style IPA than a North American West Coast one.

Which brings me to my main complaint about this beer: the slogan, “Finally, a West Coast IPA”, suggests that Brockton is gonna be a big ol’ hop bomb, but it’s not, and that’s caused disappointment with some of the Raters and Advocates. And as a bit of a hophead myself, I must confess to feeling a little let down with I took my first few sips. But once I accepted it as the solid and sessionable beer that it is, I quickly got over it.

A thumbs up from me for the Brockton IPA, then. And a promise to myself that I’ll try and give some of their other beers another shot.

Pimpin' For Pump House


One thing that I’m going to try and do more of in ’09 and beyond is posting beer review features here on the ol’ blog. As a beer rating whore, I’m taking & typing up notes for all of the new beers I try, anyway (although I’ve currently got about half a notebook full that need to get entered). So while I won’t be posting here about every single beer I tip back, I’ll be aiming to do themed posts when I get a number of beers in the same style, or from the same brewery, etc.

Which brings us to this li’l round-up of five beers from  Pump House Brewery. My exposure to the beers from this New Brunswick brewery has been fairly limited, since only their Blueberry Ale has ever been available in Ontario, and even that was quite limited. But when the lovely and talented brewmaster Greg Nash headed there after being turfed from Garrison Brewing in Halifax, I made a point of trying to get my hands on more of their brews, and soon lucked into the five pictured above.

I actually received and drank all of these beers a few months ago, but I just came across the photo that I took of them back then, obviously with the intention of doing a post like this one. And thanks to the magic of RateBeer, I can cobble one together now:

Pump House Special Old Bitter (S.O.B.)
Caramel-amber colour with a small off-white head. Aroma and flavour are both quite hop-forward, with strong grapefruit notes, and a sweet malt backing – simple, but very good. Medium bodied, and quite sessionable.

Pump House Dementia Double IPA
Hazy dark golden with a small, lacy white head. Aroma – sweet sassy molassy, that’s HOPPY! Seriously, this is one of the hoppiest smelling beers I’ve ever come across. Big notes of citrus, pine, spruce, pot – crazy! Flavour is SLIGHTLY more subdued, but still pretty powerful. There is a sticky character to the body, but it’s also surprisingly crisp, especially in the finish, making it remarkably refreshing.

Pump House Raspberry Weizen
Dark pink-amber with a minimal light pink head. Aroma and flavour are all about the raspberry – big and fresh, and really, really tart. Completely one-dimensional, but if you like raspberries (which I do), that one dimension is a really good one.

Pump House Pail Ale
Golden amber with a large white head. Aroma starts malty, with notes of chocolate and caramel, with citric and slightly woody hops coming up behind. Medium bodied with light carbonation. Flavour is great – mild caramel, candied orange peel, lingering hop bitterness. Solid!

Pump House Cadian Cream Ale
Light gold colour. Sweet & grassy malt aroma. Light body. More sweetness in the flavour, with a bit of honey & orange. Not much bitterness in the finish. The most mainstream – and most disappointing – of the bunch.

Cheers, Jim

jimbrickmanThe guy in the photo on the right is named Jim Brickman. Way back in 1984, he founded a brewery in Waterloo, Ontario called Brick. He probably doesn’t know it, but he and his brewery are the main reasons I became a craft beer drinker.

This may sound strange to younger folks who are only familiar with the Brick of today: a brewery known mainly for their “buck-a-beer” Laker brand along with a bland mainstream lager (Red Baron), a bland dark lager (Waterloo Dark), and a bland retro-ale (Red Cap). But as I briefly noted in the first post on this blog, during the couple of years I attended the University of Waterloo in the mid/late-1980s, Brick (along with Sleeman and Wellington in nearby Guelph) was an early pioneer of microbrewing in Ontario.

Brick’s line-up of beers wasn’t extensive at the time – just two, or maybe three brands – and in keeping with the German heritage of the Kitchener-Waterloo area, it concentrated on lagers. But they were lagers that were actual relatively flavourful and distinct from the standard Labatt, Molson and Carling O’Keefe beers that had been the only option for beer drinkers in the previously few decades.

I can’t claim that I didn’t drink my fair share of mass produced suds back then. I recall having a strange fondness for Molson Golden (which was an ale, at least), and like most black-clad punk/goth/alternative club-goers of the time, Carling Black Label became part of my uniform for a couple of years. But early on in my drinking career, I discovered Brick Lager and Red Baron, and they kick-started my interest in trying other microbrews and imports.

Through the 1990s, Brick remained at the forefront of Ontario’s craft brewing scene. Their core line-up expanded to include Waterloo Dark and several other lagers; they rescued the brands of short-lived small breweries such as Algonquin, Formosa and Conners; and they signed deals to contract brew such renowned international brands as Andechs Spezial Hell, Henninger Pils and Celis White, the latter being the first Belgian-style witbier I ever tasted. And let’s not forget Brick Anniversary Bock, an annual offering through the late 1980s and most of the 1990s that remains one of the best beers ever brewed in Ontario.

But then, a few years ago, things started to change, as Brick seemingly decided that market share was more important than product quality and diversity. The international brands all disappeared, as did most of the smaller brands they had purchased over the years, and the Anniversary Bock was discontinued. The Laker discount brand purchased from Molson in the late 1990s became a bigger part of their portfolio, alongside an array of undistinguished and indistinguishable pale lagers being sold under the Brick banner. Aside from cracking an occasional Red Baron or Waterloo Dark for nostaligic reasons, I pretty much stopped paying attention to Brick at this point, as the beers they were brewing obviously weren’t being made with craft beer drinkers in mind.

It’s probably no coincidence that during this same time period, Brickman’s role at the increasingly corporate brewery seemed to diminish. He was replaced as President and CEO in 2004, and while he retained the title of Executive Chairman and remained the public face of the brewery, it was clear that decisions on what brands to brew and what ones to cull were pretty much out of his hands, with the board being more interested in increasing share value than satisfying adventurous beer drinkers.

brickmanbeersThings took a slight turn for the better a couple of years ago, when most of the Brick brands were killed off and replaced with the J.R. Brickman Founders Series, a trio of beers that seemed to be intended to return Brick to its craft brewing roots. Some claimed that the brews – Pilsner, Amber and Honey Red – were simply rebrandings of the discontinued Brick brands, but to my palate, they seemed to have a fresher and more flavourful character, with the Pilsner being especially impressive. Sadly, though, the quality hasn’t been consistent, with a can of the Pilsner I tried back in July being especially poor, suggesting that corners are now being cut on what was originally intended to be a line-up of premium beers.

And now, as Brick is about to enter it’s 25th year, there comes another blow: Jim Brickman has left the brewery. The announcement came with little fanfare in a press release last week, buried beneath the quarterly financial statements. There was no direct quote from Brickman, just a brief notice that “Jim Brickman has provided his notice of retirement to the Company which the Company has accepted effective immediately”, followed by the typically corporate quote from President & CEO George Croft stating that “The Company appreciates the significant contribution Jim Brickman has made to Brick Brewing since founding it in 1984”.

There has been no subsequent statement from Brickman giving details regarding the reasons or circumstances of his departure, and I don’t want to get wrapped up in any conjecture, aside from noting that “retirements” that are “effective immediately” are rarely amicable ones. But even if this one is, it’s still a sad day. Yeah, Brick will continue making beer, and Jim Brickman may pop up somewhere else, but it’s still the end of an era in Ontario’s – and Canada’s – brewing industry.

Cheers, Jim. And thanks.

Teaching Druggists What To Drink

Earlier this year, I got an email out of the blue from an editor at the specialty publications group of Rogers Publishing, asking if I’d be interested in writing an article for a magazine called newpharmacist, a lifestyle magazine for pharmacists. At first I thought that maybe he had me confused with some other Greg Clow who actually has some knowledge about pharmaceuticals beyond being prescribed them once in a while, but it ended up that the mag features a regular drinks column, and they wanted to focus the article for the summer issue on beer. Or more specifically, non-macro beer that’s especially suited to warm weather.

(On a slightly ironic side-note: Rogers’ co-publisher on the magazine is Apotex, the pharmaceutical company owned by Berry Sherman, who also happens to be the money man behind Steelback Brewery.)

Since the magazine (which came out last month, I think) is only distributed to Canadian pharmacists, and since I suspect very few of my readers fall into that category, I thought I’d post it here. It’s aimed primarily at an audience that likely doesn’t know much about beer beyond the big names, so it’ll probably be a bit basic for most of y’all. But hey, at least it’s content, which is something that has been all too rare around here lately…

Keep reading this post

Dark Duo from Down Home


Like most people who live in Toronto, my wife and I weren’t born here. My family is from Summerside, Prince Edward Island (although I only spent a few years there before we moved to a small town in Ontario), and Sheryl is originally from Halifax. We both ended up in Toronto around the same time in the late 1980s – although our paths didn’t cross until a few years later – and while we both love our adopted home, we still feel some undefinable connection to the East Coast. Especially Sheryl, who didn’t leave until she was 18, and therefore needs to tip her toes into the Atlantic every three years or else she’ll turn into a lobster, or something like that.

Due to my honey’s Haligonian roots, and my fondness for the city based on a couple of visits, we tend to keep an eye on the brewing scene out there, especially the wares of the city’s two micro-breweries, Propeller and Garrison. We were pleased when Propeller made some inroads into the Ontario market a few years ago and got a couple of their beers into the LCBO and a few pubs – most notably the Nova Scotia-themed Duke Of Argyle, which sadly closed late last year. But their foray here was short-lived, and Garrison never attempted it at all (although given the somewhat variable quality of their brews in the past, that might’ve been a good thing).

But now, there are a couple of bits of good news for those of us who know that Keith’s isn’t the only Nova Scotian beer out there. Propeller has hooked up with super-duper import agents Roland + Russell to get their beers back into Ontario, with private orders starting soon, and a return to the LCBO hopefully to follow. And over at Garrison, they’ve brought in new head brewer Greg Nash – formerly of the acclaimed John Shippey’s Brewpub – who has improved their existing products, and has added some pretty interesting new beers to the line-up.

To mark the Propeller deal, Vlado from R+R passed along a bomber bottle of their Porter. It had been at least a couple of years since I’d last had it, and it’s just as good as I remembered. The full name is Propeller London Style Porter, which is fitting as I find some similarities to Fullers London Porter: dark brown body, long-lasting beige head, soft mouthfeel, and an aroma and flavour of well-roasted malt with notes of chocolate, coffee, licorice and smoke. It’s a favourite of Sheryl as well, so I was glad when Troy over at Great Canadian Pubs & Beer hooked me up with a second bottle.

Speaking of Troy, he was also kind enough to slip me a bottle from his exclusive stash of Garrison Black Lager, an “Imperial Schwarzbier” released late last year in a limited run of 2007 bottles. I thought that Nash’s Imperial Pale Ale was pretty damn good when I tried it in the fall, so I was expecting good things from this one, and it didn’t let me down. As you can see from the photo above, this baby poured almost-black with a huge tan head that thankfully settled down pretty quickly, leaving some nice lacing behind. The aroma and flavour both hold dark roasted coffee, charred malt, dark sugar, smoke, dark bittersweet chocolate, and just a hint of booze. The body is full without being sticky, with a nice soft edge. If Troy weren’t young and fit, or I weren’t old and and fat, I would be tempted to fight him for the rest of his holding.

The Canadian Brewing Awards: Worth The Drive To Vaughan


I am, I must admit, a downtown snob. I rarely go north of Bloor, except when I’m going to the Summerhill LCBO or the Granite. Any further than that, and I start to get antsy.

So when I found out that this year’s Canadian Brewing Awards were being held at the Dub Linn Gate Irish Pub in Vaughan – aka “The City Above Toronto” – I nearly had a panic attack. Highways! Strip malls! No public transit! AIIIIEEEEEE!!!

OK, it wasn’t really that bad. I just had to scramble a bit to bum a ride, but once that was arranged (thanks, Jeff!), I was looking forward to it. Even though this is the 5th year they were being awarded, it’s the first year that I actually paid attention and planned on attending.

Keep reading this post

Sandy McTire Would Approve

Like 5 AM hockey practice and the double-double, Canadian Tire money is a tradition in our fine country. Introduced nearly 50 years ago as a loyalty reward program by the Canadian Tire hardware & gas chain, these coupons featuring the visage of cheery Scotsman Sandy McTire have become so ubiquitous that they’re often referred to as “Canada’s second currency”. Check the glove compartment of any vehicle on the road in Canada, and you’re bound to find a few bucks worth of the colourful funny money.

Of course, if you only shop at CT occasionally, there’s always the question of what to do with this stuff when you end up with some. Saving it until the next time you need to pick up some tools or get an oil change is an option, but if you happen to live in Edmonton and would like to buy something a bit more fun with it, you now have another option:

A west Edmonton liquor store is accepting Canadian Tire money at par as a form of payment, and its owners say the program is a hit with shoppers. “There’s a liquor store on every corner nowadays, so you need to have a bit of an edge to get someone to stop by your liquor store,” said Don Calder, a part owner of Liquor International.

Calder, whose store takes in about $5 worth of the stuff on a slow day and up to $200 when things are hopping, put the policy in place about a year and a half ago.

It was supposed to be a short-term gimmick but proved so popular that he’s kept it up.

“We do have a fair amount starting to stock up,” he said. “And, I assure you, we actually look for items now to go to Canadian Tire and buy.”

Sadly, it’s unlikely that such a policy will ever be implemented at Ontario’s booze outlets. Not only are the stores here run by a government monopoly, but if Wikipedia is to be believed, Ontario retail tax laws state that such coupons “must be reimbursed by the franchisee”. Too bad – I’ve got a couple of bucks worth of this stuff myself that I’d be more likely to trade in for a bottle than a lug wrench…