Tag Archives: seasonals

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.

A Pair from Propeller


Yes, I know that  promised a series of Innis & Gunn review posts, and they’ll be coming soon eventually, and more as well. But I wanted to get this post up quickly while at least one of the beers is still in season.

The trigger for this was a package I got from Propeller Brewery in Halifax a couple of weeks ago with some bottles of this year’s batch of their Pumpkin Ale. It’s a beer that I liked a lot when I tried the 2006 version, so I was happy to give it another go, and even happier to find it just as good as I remembered it. In fact, based on this tasting notes from back in ’06…

Hazy light gold with a massive rocky white head. Big pumpkin pie aroma – cinnamon, cloves, ginger, mutmeg, pumpkin – very nice! Body is quite aggressively carbonated at first, but mellows as it warms and flattens a bit. Flavour of a pleasant, well-made golden ale laced with pumpkin and spice, and a dry finish with an interesting lemon cookie note. Very refreshing brew that lacks the cloying character that taints some other pumpkin beers I’ve tried.

… it appears that it hasn’t changed much since then. Which is perfectly fine.

And since I was in a Propeller mood tonight, I reached further into the fridge for the bottle of Propeller Hefeweizen that my friends Jeremy and Karen passed on to me a couple of months ago. I really should’ve had it sooner, as it was already 4 or 5 months old by then, and hefes are always better fresh. But it was still in OK shape considering:

Cloudy golden with a medium white head that recedes to a thin film that sticks around through the whole glass. Lightly yeasty aroma with hints of lemon and pineapple. Good mouthfeel with a nice level of carbonation. Flavour is a bit muted, but what’s there is pleasant, with nice tropical and citrus fruit notes, some crispness from the wheat, and a mildly spicy and yeasty finish. Based on the label, it looks like this was bottled back in April, so drinking it six months later I’m obviously not getting it at it’s prime. It’s still a decent hefe, though.

I briefly considered making it a Halifax trio and cracking the Garrison Hop Yard I’ve got chilling in there, but it’s getting late. So I decided to hold off, and will perhaps bring it out along with a bottle of the Ol’ Fog Burner Barley Wine that I’ll be reviewing later this week for the next issue of TAPS.

LCBO: Let's Censor Bunnies, OK?

gc_easter_censored.jpgLike most government-run liquor boards, Ontario’s LCBO has their fair share of rules and regulations that producers and agents have to follow in order to get their products into the system. Some of them have at least a semblance of logic, such as ensuring that the alcohol percentage on the label matches that of the liquid in the bottle, but a lot of them elicit an incredulous “WTF?” reaction from me, and presumably many other people.

For example, there is a policy that any graphics that might be appealing to children are not allowed to appear on the packaging of alcoholic beverages in Ontario. Now, I find this policy to be pretty ridiculous, which is how I feel about most overly restrictive laws and policies of the “Who will think of the CHILDREN???” sort. But if I put myself into the nanny state mindset for just a moment, I suppose I can see the reasoning of such a policy when it comes to products that are sold at LCBO retail outlets, since they might purchased and brought in the homes of irresponsible parents who leave their liquor in a place accessible to their kids.

What I absolutely cannot understand, however, is why this same policy applies to products that are not in LCBO stores, and are only available via consignment orders directly from import agents. The vast majority of these products – such as the Gouden Carolus Easter Beer pictured here – are sold to the bar and restaurant trade, where they should never be accessible to anyone under the age of 19. Yet the LCBOverlords ordered that the label on every bottle of this beer had to be defaced with a sticker before they were shipped out to the handful of establishments that ordered it via import agents Roland + Russell.

(By the way – if you’re curious to see the offending image that needed to be censored, just click on the photo.)

Anyway, government red tape and label defacement aside, I suppose we should at least be happy that Gouden Carolus Easter Beer is available to Ontarians at all. It’s one of the few Easter beers brewed anywhere (according to RateBeer, there are barely two dozen beers in the world with the word “Easter” in their name), and given the generally high quality of the Gouden Carolus line-up, it’s bound to be a good one.

I’ve actually got a bottle courtesy of R+R, but it’s set aside to share with some friends at a beer tasting later this week (none of which are children, I promise!), and my review will pop up on RateBeer soon afterwards. In the meantime, Happy Easter!

OCB Winter Beers – A Review Round-Up


Back in mid-December, I received a media pack from the Ontario Craft Brewers containing eight holiday/seasonal/dark beers. For a number of reasons, I was pretty slow to drink them all, with the final bottle finally being cracked a couple of nights ago (although I wish I had opened it sooner, for reasons noted below…), so the review round-up I promised would “follow soon” at the time has taken a bit longer than expected. Better late than never, right?

So, in the order of appearance in the photo above…

Wellington County Dark Ale
Chestnut-brown with a small off-white head. Toasty malts on the nose, with some toffee and chocolate. Medium bodied, and a well rounded malt flavour with notes of caramel/brown sugar, chocolate, and an odd hint of red wine. (Just see if I was imagining it, I checked my notes from a few years ago, and I noticed it then as well.) Mild hops in the finish are a bit earthy. A pleasant beer that straddles the line between a traditional UK pale ale and a nut brown.

Great Lakes Winter Ale
To quote myself: “A strong (6.2%) and malty ale spiced with cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. It has a rich ruby-orange colour and a sweet aroma with hints of fruit cake and caramel. The flavour starts quite sweet as well, but turns pleasantly spicy in the finish, with the orange peel and ginger being especially prominent as it warms up. This spiciness seems more up-front than I recall in last year’s version, but that’s quite alright, as it gives the beer a distinctive and enjoyable edge.”

Camerons Dark 266
A dark lager with a slightly murky ruby-brown colour. Nice aroma, with a good chocolate malt character with a bit of brown sugar. Similar malty sweetness in the flavour, followed by a bit of smoke, and a fresh hop finish. Medium bodied, quite suitable for the style. Like Waterloo Dark, it’s a fairly simple but enjoyable beer that is a good introduction for people who don’t think they like dark beers.

Trafalgar Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale
This is the last of the batch I tried, but I should’ve known better and opened it back in December in hopes of it being drinkable. Alas, like many Trafalgar beers I’ve tried in the last couple of years, it was infected despite being three months ahead of the supposed “best before date”, and had an aroma and flavour that sat somewhere between old sweat socks and pickle brine. It’s such a shame that a brewery with such an eclectic line-up has such poor quality control, as they’re really doing a disservice to themselves and Ontario’s craft brewers in general. Perhaps they should spend less time on their rebranding gimmicks and more time getting their core beers into a more stable condition before shipping them out.

Mill Street Barley Wine
Quoting myself again: “It has a clear, deep golden-orange colour with a good sized white head. The aroma has the sweet maltiness expected from the style, with a strong caramel character, but also a lot of orange/citrus notes that I don’t remember from the older versions. The flavour is very sweet off the top, with some spice and pepper in the middle, and strong orange peel in the finish along with a whisky-like heat that builds in intensity as the beer warms up.”

Old Credit Holiday Honey
Old Credit is one of those breweries that I rarely think about. Based in Port Credit, they have two year round brands: a “pilsner” which is more of a pale lager, and an “amber ale” which is essentially a Rickard’s Red clone. Microbrewed beer for mainstream tastes, I suppose. So I didn’t expect much from their holiday beer which is apparently available only from the brewery, and those moderate expectations were well met. It has an amber colour with a wispy head, and a simple, one-dimensional sweet malt aroma and flavour, with a faint hint of honey. It’s not offensive in any way – in fact, it’s inoffensive almost to a fault. And it has absolutely nothing in it that says “holiday” to me.

King Dark Lager
The first time I tried this beer a few years ago, I wasn’t that impressed. I guess I expected a dark beer to have a full body with big flavours. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate more subtle “dark” beer styles like dunkel, and realize now that King Dark Lager is a very good crack a that style. It pours a nice caramel-amber with a small off-white head. The aroma is malty, with notes of coffee and bread, and a grassy hops. Medium mouthfeel, and a very nice nutty malt flavour with hints of coffee and toffee, and a moderately hopped finish. Great stuff, especially if you get it fresh.

Heritage Black Currant Rye
Two years ago, this beer was a lager that was first made available at Volo Cask Days, and later as a limited bottle release. Last year, it became an ale that was, frankly, pretty bad. This year, it’s an ale again, but it’s been reformulated with some help from Perry Mason of Scotch-Irish, and it’s much better for it. Pretty ruby colour with a good size pink head. Great balance of malt and sweet-tart fruit in the aroma, while the flavour has a mild malt profile with a nice infusion of red currant. It’s a good fruit beer that’s sweet without being too sweet, but it’s also an odd choice for a winter seasonal – it really seems more summery to me.

Black Oak Nutcracker
This beer wasn’t actually part of the promo package, but I added it to the picture in order to make it more symmetrical, and to add another true winter/holiday beer to a somewhat slapdash selection. Nutcracker is a rich and robust porter laced with cinnamon, and it’s annual release is a highlight of my holiday season every year. That anticipation is one of the indicators of a great seasonal beer, and it’s also the reason that Nutcracker would’ve been a great addition to this package. Ah well, there’s always next year…