Tag Archives: stout

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…)


It’s the end of the year, a time when people can’t resist the urge to look back and review the last 12 months while anticipating the year to come. This is something I’ve done on this blog a couple of times, but given how infrequently I’ve posted here in 2009, combined with my piss-poor memory, trying a put together a comprehensive round-up of my year in beer would be a relatively hopeless endeavour.

There was my trip to Mondial de la Bière in Montreal, of course, half of which I managed to document. I also drank way too much in Buffalo; went to cask ale festivals at The Victory Cafe (which I wrote about) and Volo (which I didn’t); went to beer dinners featuring beers from Nørrebro Bryghus & Mikkeller (which I wrote about), Allagash (which I didn’t), and Innis & Gunn (which I sort of did); and I’m pretty sure I did lots of other stuff as well, some beer-related, some not so much.

One thing that I do remember quite vividly, however – if only because it occurred quite recently – is a very exclusive little tasting session hosted at beerbistro by Vlado and Liliana of import agents Roland + Russell, featuring perhaps the most infamous and coveted beer on the planet today: Tactical Nuclear Penguin from Scotland’s BrewDog Brewery.

I’m guessing that anyone reading this blog is familiar with TNP and the story behind it, given the flurry of blog posts and news articles that spewed forth when it was released a month or so back. But in case not, this amusing video will explain it all:

Given the beer’s price (£35 per 330 ml bottle if ordered directly, more on the secondary market) and scarcity (500 bottles, apparently), I had little expectation that I’d ever have a chance to try it. But as BrewDog’s representatives in Canada, Vlado and Liliana were able to score a few bottles, and last Tuesday they were kind enough to share some with a small group that included a several beer writers/bloggers and a few beerbistro staff members.

Like any big show, there were a couple of opening acts: Mikkeller It’s Alive! and Meantime London Porter, both from the R+R import portfolio, and both very fine beers that would be the highlights of any other tasting. But with TNP on the bill, they simply had to be relegated to the support slots.

As for the headliner… well, here’s what I wrote:

Deep brown-black colour with ruby highlights and a very still body. Aroma is outstanding – smoky, peaty, salty, soy sauce, toffee, and some alcohol heat, but not nearly as much as expected. Mouthfeel is smooth and supple, very nice! Flavour is deep and complex with notes of peat, salt, vanilla, licorice, burnt wood, whisky, smoke… and yes, of course, some boozy heat, but as with the aroma, not nearly as much as I anticipated from 32%. A truly unique and absolutely delicious beer that totally lives up to the hype. I would have no problem consuming a whole bottle of this over the course of a long winter’s evening, although it would be rude not to share…

Much respect to BrewDog, then, for creating something that is a whole lot more than just the gimmick it might appear to be. (If you don’t believe me, have a look at what Troy had to say.) And many thanks to Vlado and Liliana for their extreme generosity in sharing their very limited stash of this gem – in a business full of many wonderful people, they’re really a step above the rest.

To them, and everyone else, here’s to a great 2010. Cheers!

Nøgne Ø Porter & Imperial Stout


Back when I was heavily into electronic music, I had a fondness for a lot of the stuff that came out of the Scandinavian countries. Maybe it’s the climate, but much of the music had a cold and minimal but still oddly soulful sound that I really enjoyed. And in many cases, the cover artwork would also have a very sparse and minimal design that would fit the music well.

I mention this because the labels on the beers from Norway’s Nøgne Ø Brewery remind me a lot of those CD covers. Every beer in their line-up features the same basic label design – a large stylised ‘Ø’ logo with the beer name underneath – with only the colours changing from brand to brand. Very clean and minimal, and also very eye-catching.

I’ve only been able to try a small handful of their beers since they first started making their way across the ocean a couple of years ago, but I’ve enjoyed them all. Recently, local beer importers Roland + Russell added Nøgne Ø to their portfolio, and they dropped off bottles of their Porter and Imperial Stout for me to sample. I’d had both beers before, but certainly had no complaints about drinking them again.

Here are a few notes on both:

Nøgne Ø Porter
Deep ruby-brown with a moderate tan head. Big, roasty aroma with notes of coffee, bitter cocoa, burnt sugar and oak. Slightly thin mouthfeel, but appropriate for the style. Fantastic flavour of dark chocolate, malted milk and slightly over-roasted coffee, with a lactic twinge and some alcohol warmth in the moderately dry finish. A bit strong perhaps, but pretty fine otherwise.

Nøgne Ø Imperial Stout
Deep black with a small dark tan head. Aroma is big and roasty with notes of dark sugar, chocolate, and hops. Full bodied. Flavour – wow, that’s good! Very full and lush, with notes of coffee, chocolate, dark malt, licorice, and a lot of hops. Excellent!

Cherries 'n' Crème


I’m generally not one to play or pick favourites, but if I had to make a list of the best young breweries in North America, Southern Tier would be near the top. These guys from New York State produce so many solid and interesting beers, it’s hard to believe that they’re less than 5 years old. And it’s nice that they’re one of the few US breweries to have representation and availability in Ontario, thanks to the fine folks at Roland + Russell.

Vlado from R+R passed me a pair of of brews from ST’s specialty Imperial series a while ago, so as I continue to play catch-up on all the things I’ve been meaning to write about, here’s what I thought of ’em:

Southern Tier Cherry Saison
Saison is one of my favourite beer styles, and cherry is one my favourite fruit beer flavours, so I was prepared to love this one. Unfortunately, I was a bit let down by it. It has a slightly hazy golden with a small white head. Odd aroma – a vague hint of cherry of you know to look for it, some oakiness, some musty yeast, hint of spice, and something else that I can’t really identify. Medium mouthfeel. Flavour is rather disappointing – again, a very vague hint of cherry, but it’s overpowered by notes of wood and caramel, a hint of cream, and a mild spiciness. Quite a strange beer – I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.

Southern Tier Crème Brûlée Stout
Ahhh, now this is more like it! Deep brown colour with a small mocha head. Absolutely rockin’ aroma of vanilla and caramel with hints of cream, maple, brandy and cocoa. Flavour follows the aroma note for note. Body is full and slightly sticky. I can see why some people wouldn’t dig this – the sweetness is verging on being cloying – but alongside a few rich chocolate truffles, this is a fantastic dessert brew. Yum!

O'hara's Celtic Stout: A Better Black Beer

oharasirishstoutWhether they’ll admit it or not, most beer geeks have a soft spot for Guinness Stout. Relentless corporate greed and growth may have turned it into a shadow of the beer it used to be, but in the right bar at the right time, there’s still a bit of romance and fun in savouring a properly poured pint or three of the black stuff.

But romance and fun can only take you so far when there are so many better stouts out there. And one of them is O’hara’s Celtic Stout, brewed at the decade-old Carlow Brewing Company in Carlow, Ireland.

I enjoyed O’Hara’s a fair bit when it was briefly available here in bottles a couple of years ago. And then I found it on tap tonight at my local watering hole, The Rhino, and had a couple of pints which I found to be better than pretty much any pint of Guinness I can recall tipping back. It’s nearly black, natch, with an inviting roasty aroma, and flavours of cocoa, fresh roasted coffee and slightly burnt malt, with a dry finish and a faint & not unpleasant sourness as an end note.

Thanks to Diageo’s deep pockets, I doubt it’ll be displacing many Guinness taps any time soon – in fact, Rhino was still pouring Guinness right alongside it. But God bless Carlow Brewing for at least taking a shot.

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

The Session #7: The Brew Zoo

session-logo-med.jpgYou know the drill by now: First Friday of the month, beer bloggers, The Session, blah blah blah. This month, we’re being hosted by Rick at Lyke 2 Drink, and he instructed us to go on the hunt for beers that have animals in the name and/or pictured on the label.

As I lamented back when the theme was announced, the selection of animal-related beers here in Ontario is quite pitiful. Aside from the dogs that appear on a few Scotch-Irish tap handles and the Monkey Brown Ale at Burlington’s Pepperwood Bistro brewpub, I can’t think of any Ontario-made beers fitting the theme. And on the import side of things, due to the fact that the LCBO and Beer Store carry S.F.A. in the way of decent American micros, the critter selection is limited to such craptacular lagers as Kingfisher and Tusker. Bleh.

stoudtsfatdog.jpgI was seriously considering take a pass on this month’s Session, until I was sorting through my stash the other day and found a beer that I’d completely forgotten I had on hand: Stoudt’s Fat Dog Stout. One of my favourite animals, one of my favourite styles, and a beer that I hadn’t tried before. The animal gods must be smiling upon me.

In the glass, it’s has a dark ruby-black colour with a small tan head, just like a good stout should. The aroma is big and robust, with lots of roast malt, coffee, anise, and alcohol. It has a thick, rich mouthfeel, and the flavour is sweet to start, with molasses and dark fruit; some bittersweet chocolate, cherry and espresso in the middle; and bitter finish with some slightly charred & sour notes.

I’m hitting the bottom of the glass as I write this (no, not first thing on a Friday morning – I’m actually prepared this month and got this written and scheduled in advance!), and the 9% alc has certainly crept up on me. Such a friendly looking dog on the label, but he’ll bite you on the ass if you’re not careful.

Speaking of dogs, mine are wanting to be let out, so I should be off. Thanks for the fun theme, Rick. Woof.

Beer of the Week – Hockley Stout

This article was originally written in May 2007 for the food & drink website Taste T.O., and republished here in October 2011 (but back-dated to match the original publication date) after Taste T.O. was shut down and taken offline.

As noted in this column a month or so ago, I’m quite a fan of Hockley Dark, an authentic UK-style brown ale brewed by Orangeville’s Hockley Valley Brewing. So when I caught wind earlier this year that they were planning a dry stout to be released for St. Patrick’s Day via the LCBO, I was obviously very interested to try the results.

Well, they missed the St. Patrick’s Day target by a month or so, but Hockley Stout finally started appearing on shelves a couple of weeks ago as part of the LCBO’s spring beer promotion. And having now tried all six of the beers in the rather meagre little release, I’m happy to declare this stout to be the best of the bunch.

In fact, I might go so far as to say that this is a quintessential example of a dry stout. Although the style is pretty rare around here, so aside from Guinness, there’s no real point of comparison.

It has a deep black body with ruby tints and a massive off-white head that recedes fairly quickly. The aroma is mild and malty, with notes of wood smoke, coffee and vanilla, and the body is a bit thin, but has a slight creaminess which is nice. The flavour is full and very solid, with all of the characteristics I expect from a dry stout – good maltiness, a bit of coffee and smoke, and a dry, faintly soured finish – and the fairly low alcohol (4.2%) is right on the mark for the style as well. Quite frankly, this is the beer that Guinness wishes it could be.

My only complaint about this beer would have to be the package format and price point. It’s offered in a 1 litre swing-top bottle which is attractive and distinctive, but which might be a bit off-putting to a curious customer who has never tried it. And even more off-putting is the $9.95 price tag. While I’m all for craft brewers charging (and hopefully getting) what their beers are worth, a price that translates to roughly 20 bucks for a six-pack worth of beer is bound to be a hard sell in a market where “buck-a-beer” is a popular buzzword, and the fact that this appears to be the slowest moving of the seasonal beers seems to prove that point.

Then again, it also translates to around 5 bucks a pint, which compares more than favourably to the draught prices at most of the city’s better beer bars. So why not look at it that way and treat yourself to a bottle or two of one of the best stouts to hit LCBO shelves in quite some time. And in the meantime, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Hockley is able to come through on their plans to add the stout to their regular line-up this fall in less intimidating and more reasonably priced 500 mL cans.

Post-Session Musings

I spent some time today looking at some of the posts from the first Session. Very interesting to see such a wide variety of opinions on a wide variety of stouts. I think Lew Bryson summed it up best in his Session post with the following:

Storm King made me look back at the stouts I’d had, and all the stouts that are out there, and the stouts I’d read that other bloggers would be sampling. I realized that this is a continuum, that stout embraces session beers, extreme beers (Dogfish Head World Wide Stout certainly qualifies), dessert beers, hoppy beers (black IPA, anyone?), mild and malty beers… There is no definite “stout,” not even Guinness can claim that, with so many different versions of itself around.

I love stouts and porters, in a large part because of this malleability of form. They’re dark ales (and sometimes lagers!), yet they have enough in common to be recognizable as brethren. The Brotherhood of Stout (women welcome, too).

Right. What he said.

Continuing with the stout theme, I had a pint of Guinness with lunch today. It had been a while since I’d had one, and as always, my feelings were mixed. The nostalgic part of me always wants it to be as full and rich and flavourful as I found it the first time I had one, but the many better beers I’ve had over the years combined with the dumbing down of the recipe mean that I’m always a bit disappointed by the stuff.

But when you’re at a place where the other draught options are several macro-brewed fizzy yellow lagers, a couple of imported fizzy yellow lagers, a flavour-challenged red ale, and a sickly honey brown, it’s certainly the lesser of all the evils. And when I stopped being such a frickin’ beer geek for a few minutes, it was a pleasant enough pint. Just not the world-class beer that many think it to be.

The Session #1: Five Stouts

Today marks the first instalment of The Session, a new event that will see beer bloggers around the world drinking & posting about a different style of beer on the first Friday of every month. This month’s theme as chosen by the founder of The Session – Stan Hieronymus of the Appellation Beer blog – is “Not your father’s Irish stout”. in other words, any stout(s) besides Guinness, Murphy’s or Beamish are fair game.

First, some bitching: Ontario is a bit of a wasteland when it comes to stouts. There are only a half-dozen or so available at the LCBO on a regular basis, and just a handful more from a few local microbreweries available on tap at a few places around town. But thankfully, I had a few interesting ones in my stash from trades and travelling, so I worked through some of them over the past few nights.

I was originally going to pick one favourite to focus on, but I couldn’t decide, so here’s a little bit about all of them:

Garrison Martello Stout
This Halifax brewery tends to be hit-and-miss for me, but I quite enjoyed this one. The colour is on the dark brown side, and it has a good aroma with notes of roast malt, coffee and a bit of smoke. The flavour follows the aroma, with the smoke notes becoming a bit more prominent in the finish. I like a bit of smokiness in my stouts, so it’s well appreciated. The body is a touch thin, but otherwise, this is one of the good ones.

Big Rock Espresso Stout
Another dark brown one, looking a lot like a glass of cola. Mild aroma with the expected roasted malt and coffee notes, although it’s more stale coffee than the fresh roasted coffee beans I was hoping for. Thin body, quite disappointing. Flavour is OK – roasted malt, coffee, a bit of bitter cocoa. Not bad, but it didn’t wow me.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout
This is an old favourite that I don’t get to enjoy nearly as often as I’d like. I’ve got a couple of bottles in the stash, but my most recent taste of it came at the Brooklyn Brewery dinner at beerbistro this past Tuesday, when it was served with a dessert trio that had been made using the beer. This is a world classic when it comes to Imperial Stouts – black as midnight, huge aroma of charred malt and chocolate, creamy mouthfeel, big flavour, nice alcohol warmth in the finish. Oh yeah, always a treat!

Scotch Irish Tsarina Katarina Imperial Stout (2005)
I’d been hearing some mixed messages about how this beer has been aging, so I had a bit of trepidation when I found a couple of bottles in the back of my stash recently. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, as it’s still in pretty nice shape. I don’t know if it’s necessarily improved with age, but it’s still a big and complex beer. My tasting notes from my first bottle mentioned the aroma as being “rich and roasty with notes of toffee, chocolate, smoke and alcohol”, and flavours like “coffee, burnt malt, dark chocolate, dried fruit (prunes, raisins, figs), licorice, and a wonderful hit of hop bitterness in the finish.” All I can add is that there’s a slightly lactic end note to the flavour now – perhaps a sign of age, but I enjoyed it, so I’m not complaining.

Arcadia Imperial Stout (2005)
Another back-of-the-stash surprise – I picked this up during my trip to Ann Arbor last summer, and recently found it lingering with a few other strays. Another pitch-black beauty, it’s got lots of espresso and bitter cocoa in the aroma and flavour, and a fair amount of warmth from the 8.4% alcohol. It’s quite generously hopped as well, with gives it a finish that it a bit unique for the style. And I’m not sure where it came from exactly, but as it warmed, I found an interesting saltiness developing in the flavour. It was a bit strange at first, but I actually liked it.

Posted with 10 minutes to spare! Thanks for Stan for getting this thing rolling. Participating bloggers have been linking to their posts in the comments of his contributing post, and he’ll be setting up a list of links to all participating blogs by Monday. Next round is on Alan at A Good Beer Blog, who should be announcing April’s theme soon.