Tag Archives: macrobrews

Blonde on Blonde – Keith’s Ambrosia Blonde vs. Rickard’s Blonde

While it’s unlikely that either company would freely admit to it, it’s easy to get the impression that Labatt and Molson have been shadowing each other with their respective Keith’s and Rickard’s brands in the last few years, leading to a pair of pseudo-craft portfolios that are strikingly similar in their line-ups.

The latest parallel between the two is the recent and nearly simultaneous launches of Keith’s Ambrosia Blonde and Rickard’s Blonde. While there are some differences between the two – the Keith’s is an ale while the Rickard’s is a lager; the former is a limited Brewmaster Series release while the latter appears to be a new year-round product – the similar names and the arrival of promo samples of both within a week or so of each other made it impossible to resist doing a head-to-head review of the pair.

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Quick Quaff: Molson Canadian 67 Sublime

OK, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat:

Molson Canadian 67 Sublime is not a great beer. It has very little colour, aroma and flavour. It’s bland and, frankly, kind of boring. The several bottles I had at the launch party that Molson threw at The Fifth last week are likely the last I will ever drink.

Those are all the things that I, as a Serious Beer Drinker, am expected to think and write about beers like this. And in general, they’re all true.

But they also don’t much matter, as Molson Canadian 67 Sublime – a low calorie and low alcohol beer infused with lime and lemon flavour – isn’t a beer for Serious Beer Drinkers, and what Serious Beer Drinkers think about it is pretty much irrelevant. It’s not a beer to be sniffed and sipped and swirled and savoured; it’s a light and lightly-flavoured beverage designed for calorie conscious consumers who want to enjoy a few brews on a warm patio with friends and not think about what they’re drinking aside from making sure it’s cold and refreshing.

And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sure, I could pull out the argument that those who want to cut back on their caloric intake could just drink a less – and preferably craft – beer rather than settling for a low calorie macrobrew. But that assumes that the people who choose to drink 67 Sublime and other low-cal and lime-flavoured brews are settling, when in fact, many of them are likely quite happy with what they’re getting.

And what exactly are they getting? A pale yellow liquid with lots of carbonation, very little aroma, a very refreshing mouthfeel, and a clean flavour that’s reminiscent of 7-UP with a backnote of malt. (My wife claimed that it tasted like Irish Spring soap, but I think that was caused by the combination of the beer and the cilantro in one of the hors d’œuvre that was being served. Plus she generally hates fruit-flavoured beers, and calls me a girly-man when I drink them.)

Sitting on the lovely enclosed rooftop patio at The Fifth, chatting with friends and colleagues, and enjoying a sultry early summer evening, I drank one, and another, and another besides that. Sure, they weren’t as good as the Hacker-Pschorr Kellerbier I’d enjoyed at a nearby pub beforehand, or something else similarly full of flavour and character, but they were cold and wet and drinkable (sorry, Steve!), and I was thirsty, and I drank them.

So for what it is, and who it’s made for, Molson Canadian 67 Sublime is a product that fits its niche perfectly. It’s just pretty clear that I (or any other Serious Beer Drinker) don’t really fit into that niche along with it. That’s not a passing of judgment, just a statement of fact – a fact that I’m fine with, and that I expect Molson is fine with as well.

Quick Quaff: Jupiler Lager

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 mild  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.

Quick Quaff: Alexander Keith’s Tartan Ale

Did you know that today is Tartan Day in Canada? Neither did I until I got an email last week from Adam Grant at The Monks Table, a great pub and restaurant in midtown Toronto, announcing that April 6th is officially recognized as Tartan Day – a day to celebrate Canada’s Scottish/Celtic heritage – and that he’d be holding a week of events at the pub to mark the occassion. And with some Googling, I found a bit more about it.

Unfortunately, my schedule this week is making it unlikely that I’ll be able to make it up for any of the events, so as a consolation prize, I toasted the day with a bottle of Alexander Keith’s Tartan Ale, the latest in the Keith’s Brewmaster Series of limited edition brews. Some may remember my joking complaint a few weeks back about not receiving a press sample of this beer when every other beer blogger in town got one, and thanks to the magic/creepiness of the Internet, a rep from the PR company contacted me the next day to apologetically rectify the situation.

My comment wasn’t intended to be bait for a freebee – I was being more self-depreciating than self-promoting – but I did want to give it a try, so I accepted the offer. And of course, given the large number of opinions that have already been offered , it’s hard to say much that hasn’t already been said, especially since my impressions are similar to many already expressed.

To wit: Pouring a deep and clear reddish-gold with a large white head, it has a respectable appearance, and an equally respectable – if somewhat muted – aroma of sweet caramel and barley candy. The caramel predominates the flavour as well, with supporting notes of maple and orange, and a suggestion of peat smoke that builds a bit as the beer warms. The finish is short, but noticeably hopped, leaving a final impression of a beer that is a well made step-up from most of the Keith’s/Labatt line-up, but which isn’t really interesting enough to inspire me to purchase or open another.

Two More From Molson: Rickard's Red & Creemore Springs Kellerbier

In my beer review column on Taste T.O. this week, I freely admit to enjoying Rickard’s White, despite the fact that they might take my Certified Beer Geek card away for liking a Molson Coors product. It’s certainly not the best Belgian-style wheat beer around – it’s too sweet for one thing, and less nuanced than better examples for another – but it’s still tasty, especially when it’s fresh, and serves as a good fallback beer in the sort of places that haven’t come around to the fact that there’s more to beer than Molson, Labatt and a few big name imports.

Because as far as we’ve come in the current Craft Beer Revolution, we’ve still got a long way to go. For a lot of Canadian beer drinkers, Rickards White may be as close as they’ve ever come to a craft beer, in much the same way that a lot of American beer drinkers view Blue Moon Belgian Wheat, the Coors-owned beer that Rickard’s White is based upon, as something really unique and out there.

This is something I can relate to, as I had a similar reaction to another Rickard’s beer around 20 years ago. While I was already familiar with the craft beer of the time from breweries like Brick, Formosa and Upper Canada, the beers I was drinking from them were mainly pale lagers. So the first time I saw Rickard’s Red, I was confused and intrigued. A red beer? Who had ever HEARD of such a thing? And since the Molson connection wasn’t well publicized at the time, I assumed that it was from some other small brewery like those others I’d been discovering.

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Into The Light: A Molson Quartet

Over on Taste T.O. this week, I’ve got a review of Muskoka Pilsner Light, a newish beer from Muskoka Cottage Brewery that is “Light” due to being 4% alcohol, but is otherwise a solid and flavourful German-style pilsner. In the piece, I make the point that the name – which I assume was chosen at least partially to get the beer noticed by drinkers of Coors/Bud/Blue/etc. Light who may be willing to experiment a bit – might end up alienating Muskoka’s core customer base of craft beer drinkers who would sooner drink water than a typical North American Light Lager.

I have hope that the quality of the beer – which is quite high – will win it fans regardless of the name. But there’s still a big reason why so few small breweries call their beers “Light” even if they happen to be lower alcohol lagers, and that reason is that most mainstream light lagers simply aren’t very good. Not that they’re completely undrinkable (well, some of them, at least), but they inevitably lack some or all of the elements that craft beer drinkers look for in a beer – elements like colour, body, aroma and flavour.

I recently had a chance to reconfirm my opinion about macrobrewed light lagers when I received a promo shipment from Molson Coors Canada containing a selection of beers from their portfolio, ranging from light and ultra-light lagers to craft and pseudo-craft brews. I’ll give some thoughts on the beers in the latter category in a subsequent post, but for this one, I’ll be concentrating on the quartet of cans in the former group.

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RIP Dennis Hopper

Farewell to one of the greats…

Chill Out

miller_chillA few weeks back, I did a write-up for Taste T.O. on Moosehead Light Lime and Red Baron Lime, a pair of beers that hit the shelves in Ontario in the dying days of summer, attempting to ride to coattails of the incomprehensibly popular Bed Light Lime. You can click through to read the whole thing if you’d like, but the condensed version is that neither of them is especially good when judged purely as a beer, but the Red Baron was at least a drinkable and somewhat refreshing beverage.

Soon afterwards, I got an email from Adam Moffat, a rep from Molson who I’ve met a couple of times, with an offer to send me a sample of Miller Chill. While not available in Ontario, Molson has recently introduced it into the Alberta market, and Adam was curious to know what I might think of it, even given my general dislike for the lime beer gimmick. I took him up on the offer, making it clear that he shouldn’t expect a glowing review, and he followed through with a delivery a couple of days later.

In my typical fashion, I stuck a bottle in the fridge and then promptly forgot about it until this evening when I found it stashed in the back. With the temperature outside hovering down near the freezing point, it’s certainly not ideal weather for what’s supposed to be a summer quaffer, but I’ve never been one to worry about that sort of thing. So let’s get this done…

It pours a pale gold with a small white head that disappears remarkably quickly. The aroma is initially not so pleasant, offering that stale malt and wet corn husk smell that I get from many mass produced lagers, but that slowly clears and is replaced with notes of candyish lime. The body is thin and crisp, as expected from a light lager, and the flavour holds very little that can be described as “beer-like” – it’s more reminiscent of Sprite with a very, very faint wisp of malt.

Bottom line: Like the three aforementioned products, this is not a brew for serious beer drinkers. It’s for people who want to throw back a few lightly flavoured and slightly sweet alcoholic beverages on a patio, or at a party, or in other situations where people drink a lot without really thinking about what they’re drinking. Regardless of how much it may offend my pretentious beer geek sensibilities, there obviously is – and always will be – a large market for such beers, and for better or worse, Miller Chill serves that market well.

Molson Presents a Beer School for Bloggers

Due to the fact that I write about beer (and occasionally other things) in a number of different places, I get a lot of press releases and invitations and freebees. This is nothing new to me – I spent many, many years as a music writer and DJ, and received an absolutely insane number of free CDs, records, concert tickets and other swag – and as such, I’ve become both jaded and realistic about PR and marketing and the people who work in that business. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met a lot of really nice PR people over the years, a couple of whom I’ve gone on to become fairly good friends with. But I also have to recognize that my relationships with most them are ultimately based on them giving me stuff in hopes that I will write about it, and nothing more.

In addition to recognizing this, I’ve also developed what I think to be a pretty strong bullshit detector (OK, sometimes it’s a bit too strong), as well as a low tolerance for empty buzzwords and marketing doublespeak. Basically, I’m a cynical bastard who dislikes many elements of our consumer-oriented society, and I take most of the PR bumph that I receive with a huge boulder of salt.

So when I received an invitation a month or so ago to a blogger-oriented tasting event of some sort featuring Molson beers, I was typically ambivalent about it. Not just because I dislike most of Molson’s products, but also because the event was called “Brew 2.0” and the invite used phrases like “social media space” and “blogosphere” and such. I was prepared to ignore it, but I got hooked by two things: the promise of a debut of a brand new beer (Molson or not, I’ll all about trying new beers, since I’m a ratings whore), and the chance to check out the micro-brewery at the Air Canada Centre where they brew Rickard’s Red for on-site sales (not a big fan of the beer, but I always like looking at all the shiny tanks and pipes and things).

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