Tag Archives: IPA

Quick Quaff: Newcastle Werewolf & Newcastle Winter IPA

Like many drinkers of better beer who came of age a couple of decades ago, one of the first imports I tried was Newcastle Brown Ale. It was never a top choice for me – if I was drinking a dark beer from overseas, it was usually Guinness. But back in the days when the local microbrew scene was still fledgling and decent imports were few and far between, I had no problem downing a pint of two of Newkie in places where it was available.

While I don’t often see it on tap in these parts anymore, Newcastle Brown is still one of the top import brands down in the US. It makes sense that parent company Heineken would want to use that brand recognition to try and grab a bit more of the market, so I wasn’t surprised when I received a PR pitch a few weeks ago regarding the Newcastle Limited Edition series, a set of four seasonal beers – Summer Ale, Werewolf, Winter IPA and Founders’ Ale – that are being brewed in the UK especially for the American market.

In keeping with the season, samples of Werewolf and Winter IPA were provided, and while I tried them and jotted some notes soon after arrival, various factors have kept me away from the ol’ blog for a while. So with apologies for my tardiness, here are a few thoughts on the pair:

Newcastle Werewolf is described in the promotional bumpf as a “formidable beast”, suggesting that something big and bold is being contained by the bottle. Mention of “a bite of bitterness” that’s “long, deep and lingering” raise even more anticipation. Sadly, though, aside from it having the promised “blood red” colour, it’s a pretty straightforward darkish ale. The aroma has toasted malt, a bit of chocolate, and not much else, while the flavour augments those two notes with some dark cherry and perhaps a smidge more hops than typically expected from the style, but not approaching anything I’d describe as “lingering”. It’s a respectable enough brew, but one that ultimately isn’t really worthy of its name.

And speaking of misnomers; Anyone expecting a full-bore craft-style India Pale Ale from Newcastle Winter IPA will be setting themselves up for disappointment, as its is more in line with mainstream UK IPAs like Wells Eagle and Caledonian Deuchars. Using those brews as a comparison point, Winter IPA performs well, throwing off burnt toffee and biscuit on the malt side, and even-handed hop notes that are somewhat tea-like with a backing grassiness. There’s also a slight mineral tang around the edges, and a soft and slightly creamy mouthfeel to hold it all together. Like its lycanthropian cousin, it’s not a showstopper, but it might just twig a few Newcastle Brown drinkers to the fact that there are more beer styles out there that are worth exploring.

Quick Quaff: Muskoka Mad Tom IPA

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 (à 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.

There Are Some Things I've Been Meaning To Tell You…

…and here they are:

  1. My weekly column for Taste T.O. this past Tuesday was a re-review of Great Lakes Devil’s Pale Ale – “re-review” because I had previously written about it three years ago when it was first launched in cans, but the recipe has recently been tweaked to make it hoppier and much more enjoyable.
  2. Speaking of re-reviews – last night I cracked open one of those lovely 750 ml ceramic swing-top bottles from Beau’s All-Natural Brewing, containing their limited edition Screaming Beaver Oak-Aged Angry IPA, which I had been sitting on since May. I tried a pint of it on cask back in the spring and didn’t care for it at all – it was boozy and sticky and just a big hot mess. But either the three months or so of sitting in my fridge took the edge off the bottled version, or it was a beer better suited for bottle format over cask – either way, I enjoyed the hell out of it this time. Big aroma with the oak, malt and hops playing very nicely off each other, and a flavour that starts sweet, with some notes of caramel and tropical fruit, before it turns dry and bitter with a wonderfully long and lingering finish of pine and grapefruit and wood. Mmmm-mmmm!
  3. Not sure how I missed mentioning this before, but a few weeks back, my buddy Troy over at the Great Canadian Beer Blog did a Q&A with me as part of a series of Ontario beer blogger profiles. Seven of us have been featured so far, and as the blogroll I maintain over at Canadian Beer News shows, Troy will have plenty more to choose from if he decides to continue, especially if he expands to cover all of Canada. Hard to believe that just a few years ago, there were only 3 or 4 of us doing the beer blogging thing in the whole country.
  4. Finally, I’m flattered to have been asked by George down at C’est What? to participate in one of the events they’re holding during Toronto Beer Week. Dubbed “Not Always In Good Taste – a beer writers-in-the-round“, it’s gonna feature Stephen Beaumont, Nick Pashley, Ian Coutts, Steve Cameron, Troy Burtch, Aonghus Kealy, Josh Rubin and myself sitting on stage talking about beer. And drinking some as well, I would expect. Which could be pretty boring, but given that it’s happening at 10:00 PM following several other TBW events, including what is sure to be an epic Brewdog beer dinner at beerbistro, I fully expect that most of us – and most of the audience – will be half in the bag before it even starts. So best luck to whoever is supposed to moderate the damn thing…

This Week on Taste T.O.: Amsterdam Boneshaker IPA

For this week’s “Beer of the Week” column over on Taste T.O., I review Boneshaker IPA, a rather excellent new(ish) beer from Amsterdam Brewery.

Great to see brewmaster Jamie Mistry continuing to brew interesting seasonal and one-off beers – he’s really turned things around at Amsterdam since joining a year or two back.

The column also touches on the debate regarding small beer samples – i.e. the little plastic cups you tend to get at festivals – and how valid they are for writing up proper tasting notes. I’m interested in hear other opinions on this, so feel free to comment there or here if you have something to say.

The Session: Joining The Cult

Given that BB&B is one of the most infrequently updated beer blogs on the whole damn internet – plus the fact that people apparently aren’t reading beer blogs anymore, anyway – I doubt that there are (m)any people out there waiting with the bated breath for me to post here more regularly. But that’s still my plan for the next month or so, when one of my major time commitments is on a break, giving me some free time to do a bit of writing here.

(I briefly had a brilliant/ridiculous idea that I would try to do at least one post a day for the month of April, but since I missed April 1st, that’s been set aside. Plus I stupidly hit “Save Draft” rather than “Publish” when I finished this post last night, so I missed April 2nd as well…)

To kick off what I hope will be a productive and regenerative month for this blog, it seems fitting to contribute to The Session, the monthly beer blogger hootenanny that I was all gung-ho about for the first year or so, but which I haven’t participated in for quite some time. This month’s theme, as chosen by Sean at Beer Search Party, is “Cult Beers”, inspired by brews like Dark Lord and Kate The Great that people will travel for hundreds of miles and line up for hours to obtain.

Specifically, the questions to be answered are:

What beer have you tasted recently (say, the last six months or so) that is worthy of their own day in the media sun?

And to add a little extra to it, how does “great” expectations affect your beer drinking enjoyment?

AND If you have attended one of these release parties, stories and anecdotes of your experience will be welcomed too.

My choice would be a beer that may seem somewhat unremarkable to many, as it’s in a style that is a dime a dozen in the US craft beer scene, but up here in hop-deprived Ontario, it was joyously welcomed by beer geeks when first launched a few months ago.

The beer is Ten Bitter Years, a 10th anniversary beer from Black Oak Brewery that they’ve refused to tag to a particular style themselves, but which many consider to be a Double IPA. When I wrote it up for Taste T.O. back in January, I described it as follows:

[T]he “Bitter” part of the Ten Bitter Years name is there for good reason. This becomes obvious almost immediately after the slightly hazy golden-amber liquid is poured and placed down, as huge aromas of grapefruit and orange peel spring forth from the glass, along with hints of pine and tropical fruit. All of these come through powerfully in the flavour as well, with grapefruit in particular taking the lead position. A suggestion of balance is provided by some fleeting notes of caramel, but honestly, with this beer, it’s all about the hops.

Again, for those who have easy access to the beers of Stone or Avery or the multitude of other American breweries that worship at the altar of the hops, Ten Bitter Years might elicit a bit of a “meh”. But in this province, where it’s only been in the last couple of years that our brewers have started to dropping the hopbombs, and usually only as ultra-limited one-offs for special events and such, having a beer of this sort more widely available has been a pure joy.

It hasn’t been TOO widely available, though, which is why I would consider it worthy of “cult” status. Problems with Black Oak’s bottling line made it look like it would be limited to cask and keg distribution exclusively, which meant that each time it popped up at a different bar, word would spread quickly, and the tap would soon run out. But then it recently came out that bottles would be offered after all, inspiring so many queries about when exactly they’d be available that Black Oak owner Ken Woods posted an April Fool’s Day announcement on local craft beer forum The Bar Towel indicating that the bottles sold out near instantly when they went on sale at the brewery.

(Or at least it appeared to be an April Fool’s Joke – Ken has yet to return to the forum to confirm one way or another, so maybe there really was a mini-Dark Lord Day out in Etobicoke that I missed out on…)

So – is Black Oak Ten Bitter Years cult-worthy? Probably depends on how you define the term. But whether it is or not, it’s still a landmark beer in Ontario’s craft brewing scene. So in that regard, it deserves as much attention and as many accolades as it can get.

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.

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

I Heart Hopfenstark

As I mentioned in my infamous “Ass Sandwich” post a while back, one of the highlights of my trip to Montreal in February was meeting Fred Cormier of Microbrasserie Hopfenstark. It was a highlight not only because he’s a great guy with a lot of passion for beer, but also because he’s a very generous guy who gave me and my travelling companions a box of beer to bring home with us.

I went through my share of the goodies soon after returning to Toronto, and have intended to write something about them here ever since, but lack of time and organizational skills have caused a delay until now. Below are my tasting notes from the half-dozen bottles I tried, as originally written for RateBeer:

Keep reading this post

Mixed Pack From Pennsylvania

A few weeks ago, through an odd series of events, I found myself in possession of a mixed case of beer from Pennsylvania. I’d tried a fair number of PA beers before, from breweries like Victory, Sly Fox and Weyerbacher, but this specially assembled collection contained an assortment from three breweries that I wasn’t very familiar with: Church Brew Works, Erie Brewing and Yard’s Brewing.

As is usually the case with these things, the beers ranged from quite good to not-so-much, and I thought I’d share quick round-up of my thoughts on the 11 new beers I tried.

Church Brew Works


I’ve long wanted to visit the Church Brew Works brewpub, which is fittingly located in a former church in Pittsburgh, mainly because the photos I’ve seen of the place look absolutely stunning, but also because I’ve been curious about their beer line-up since I had a chance to try their Oatmeal Stout on tap at Cole’s in Buffalo a couple of years ago. So I was happy to find these four bottles in the package, although unfortunately, most of them ended up letting me down.

Pious Monk Dunkel is the best of the four, having a perfectly on-style clear brown-amber colour with a small head, and mild but inviting aroma of toasted malt, bread and tobacco leaf. The flavour is mild as well, but also good, with hints of coffee, smoke, toasted malt, and a short but pleasant bitter finish. Simple, but well made and satisfying.

A bit less impressive is the Pipe Organ Pale Ale. It looks nice, with a sunset copper-gold colour and a small white head. But the aroma is odd, holding a faint caramel note that was overwhelmed by overripe (i.e. slightly rotten) fruit and something sharp that I can’t quite place. The body is moderately carbonated with a medium mouthfeel that gets a bit sticky as it warms, and the flavour is as suggested by the aroma – caramel malt, pungent fruit, and that sharp edge – followed by a moderately bittered finish. This is puzzling beer that I suspect might’ve been mildly infected, but not in a familiar sort of way.

Thunderhop Double IPA seemed promising – for this hophead, it’s hard to go wrong with an 8% double IPA – but it’s ultimately a disappointment. As with the Pipe Organ, it looks nice in the glass – golden-amber with a moderate white head – but the overwhelming aroma of citric hops with a pineapple juice background is too much even for me. The flavour is equally unbalanced, with strong, acidic hops that have very little malt to back them up. I’m totally cool with hop-bombs as long as beer has a strong backbone for the hops to play against. In this case, the beer is just too thin and flabby, leaving the sharp hops with nothing to hang on.

Finally, the real stinker of the bunch is Celestial Gold. I got nervous when I saw the very pale gold colour with a small white head that disappeared quickly. And my fears were proven to be well-founded by the grainy malt aroma with a slight vegetal note, the thin body with heavy carbonation, and the flavour that starts sweet before being overtaken by an unpleasant overcooked vegetable undertone, and an unbalanced bitterness in the finish. Supposedly a German-style Pilsner, but it seemed to me to be a simple mainstream lager, and a poorly made one at that.

Erie Brewing


Like the Celestial Gold, Erie’s Presque Isle Pilsner is a pretty lacklustre take on the style, with a very light golden golden colour, a small white head, and an aroma of light malt, subtle hops, and an unpleasant note of cooked corn that builds as it warms up. Thankfully, the corn doesn’t come though in the flavour, but there not much else there either. The best I can say is that it finishes clean, with some mild Saaz notes, but it’s not much of a pilsner.

Mad Anthony’s APA is a good step up from the lager. It pours a clear golden-orange with a small but persistent snow white head, and the aroma is pleasant and balanced, with fresh-smelling malt and some slightly citric hops. The flavour is nice, following on the aroma with a good balance of sweet malt and tangy hops, and a good finish. The body is a bit thin, but the crispness makes it an enjoyable quaffer.

From there, things take a bit of a dip with the Railbender Ale. The appearance is OK, with a clear light copper colour and a small white head. The aroma is a fairly bland combination of malt and tobacco leaves, with a slight sharpness building as it warms. The flavour starts with sweet malt, slightly sugary off the top, developing some caramel notes in the middle, and a moderately hopped finish with some alcohol warmth. Not bad, not great, just – meh.

Yard’s Brewing


These looked to be the most interesting beers in the collection, and given the generally average to poor showing made by the other two breweries, I was hoping they’d prove to be the best ones as well. I was especially glad to see the Saison, a style that I’m a big fan of, and thankfully, it ended up being a pretty solid example. I was a bit worried by the very light, clear gold appearance, but the aroma has enough orange, coriander, and herb notes to keep me interested. The body is light and crisp, and the flavour is decent – a bit light off the top, but some pleasant candi sugar and spice notes come through in the middle, and the herbal hops wrap it up nicely.

The Presidential ales intrigued me as well, with the promise of old-tyme recipes bringing to mind the Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection that came out a couple of years ago. In fact, looking back at my tasting notes for the George Washington Porter in that Sam Adams collection, there seems to be a fair bit of similarity between it and Yard’s General Washington Tavern Porter. The Yard’s brew is ruby-brown with a small off-white head, and has a very roasty and malty aroma with some hints of chocolate, burnt toffee and molasses. The flavour is excellent, very full and toasty off the top, with molasses and toffee sweetness coming in quick, followed by an interesting plum-like tartness. Very nice.

As for the Thomas Jefferson Tavern Ale, it couldn’t be more different from the Traditional Honey Ginger Ale that represented the third president in the Sam Adams pack. In fact, it comes across as a fairly modern US strong ale. Not that I’d complaining, of course. The appearance is a slightly hazy golden-amber with a small head, and the aroma of pine and grapefruit with hints of caramel and toast is solid. So is the flavour, with vibrant and fresh hops taking the lead in the flavour, but allowing enough caramel malt to come though for balance.

Finally, the Yard’s IPA was another winner for me. Not the most unique or exciting IPA around, but still a good one, with the aroma having a good balance of sweet caramel and citrus, and the flavour being well-balanced and enjoyable, with a sweet beginning, and a pleasing hop bite in the finish.

So, while I can’t make a complete assessment based on three or four beers from each brewery, the edge definitely goes to Yard’s based on my limited sampling, followed by Erie in second place, and Church Brew Works well in the rear. And putting them all up against the other PA breweries, none of them come close to most of what I’ve tried from Victory and Weyerbacher. But still, it’s nice to get a taste of the local brews from other places. Hopefully, I’ll get to try more of what the state has to offer, maybe as part of a future Philly Beer Week.