Tag Archives: stout

Five From Half Pints

Last fall, I got word of a new brewery starting up out in Winnipeg called Half Pints Brewing. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention to the announcement. I mean, it’s always good to hear about a new micro starting up, especially in Canada. But since the odds of ever seeing Half Pints beers available in Ontario are next to none, my reaction was basically “oh, that’s nice, maybe I’ll try some of their stuff if I ever make it out to Winnipeg”.

But then I learned that the president and brewmaster of Half Pints was David Rudge, a man who is semi-legendary amongst Canadian craft brew fans. Mind you, most of us had never actually tried any of his beers, but we’d heard fantastic things about the stuff he did at Bushwakker Brewpub in Regina, Saskatchewan from those who were lucky enough to visit the pub. So I knew that I needed to get my hands on some bottles of his Half Pints offerings.

Luckily, I was able to find someone from Winnipeg on RateBeer who was willing to do a trade, and back in December, I got a nice big box packed with a bomber each of five Half Pints beers along with a few other goodies. I’ve made a point of sharing them at several different tastings and get-togethers over the last couple of months, and now that I’ve finally tried ’em all, here’s what I thought:

Bulldog Amber Ale
Orange-amber colour with a small white head. The aroma holds some very nice woody hops, well balanced by some slightly grainy malt. Body is a bit light, but OK for the style. Once in the mouth, it proves to be a nice, simple, clean, balanced UK style ale with a well-hopped finish. A fantastic session ale – if the LCBO carried this (hint, hint!), it would be a regular in my fridge.

Little Scrapper IPA
Maybe all of the Double IPAs I’ve drunk have caused me to build up some hop resistance, ’cause I didn’t find this nearly as hoppy as the description on the label promised. Oh, no doubt that there was a healthy amount in there – some great notes of orange rind and pine resin in both the aroma and flavour proved that – but I actually found it to be quite well balanced. Another one that I could drink a lot of if given the chance.

Oktoberfest Lager
I’ve generally found Oktoberfest beers to be pretty boring, but after having this, I think it’s because most of the ones I’ve tried have just been mediocre beers, regardless of the style. It has a slightly hazy copper-amber colour with a medium head, and a quite malty aroma with sweet caramel and some interesting earthy/leafy notes. The flavour starts quite sweet, develops some bready notes in the middle, and finishes fairly dry with a hint of cocoa.

Stir Stick Stout
A coffee stout made with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe?!? Dude, I am SO there! Very dark brown colour with ruby hints and a couple of fingers of off-white foam. Nice aroma – very roasty with a good hit of coffee, some light woodiness and a bit of chocolate. This body is thin, which is the beer’s one main weakness. Thankfully, the flavour makes up for it – good roasted malt and coffee notes off the top, sweet in the middle, and a well bittered finish. With a bit more body, this would be a fantastic stout. As it stands, it’s just a very good one.

Sweet Nikki Brown
Brown ales are a much maligned style – somewhat deservedly, as most of them are boring as hell. But when they’re done well, they’re a real treat. This particular example pours a dark ruby-brown with a good sized mocha head. The aroma is great, with lots of sweet roasted malt, cereal (specifically, Honeycomb cereal), and herbal hops, all well-balanced. The flavour is roasty and nutty off the top, with a slightly watery middle, but a nice bitterness in the finish that makes up for it.

So, a big thumbs up on this first quintet from Half Pints. I have a standing order in with my new trading buddy for any of David’s future releases, and there are already four more waiting to be shipped – a winter seasonal Burly Wine, and the “Holy Trinity” series of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit – plus a couple more planned for the next few months. I expect you’ll see another Half Pints post here soon enough.

Sick in Seattle 2: The Nausea Continues

As previously reported, I was struck down by a bug of some sort during my trip to Seattle. It started on Saturday morning, when I woke up with what I thought was a mild hangover from my Friday night outing. It seemed unlikely since I really didn’t have that much to drink, but combined with a bit of jet lag, it was a possibility.

After some ibuprofen, coffee and a light breakfast, things weren’t getting any better, so I decided to get out to see if some air would help. It was grey, damp and cool outside, but the fresh air still helped somewhat, so I hopped on a bus downtown to do some exploring.

My destination was Pike Place Market, a massive complex of food stalls, shops and restaurants that makes Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market look like a corner store in comparison. I spent more than 2 hours wandering around, and I’m sure that I didn’t see everything. I saw them throw some fish around at the Pike Place Fish Market, took a good whiff at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, had a tasty snack at Piroshky Piroshky, and avoided the bad hippy buskers in front of the original Starbucks.

Feeling a bit better after my morning constitutional, I decided that I was up for lunch at The Pike Pub & Brewery, a spacious brewpub located a block or so from the Market. I ordered up a sampler flight of a half-dozen beers, and found them all to be pretty solid examples of their respective styles. Well, except for the Weisse – it was kinda bland. But I particularly liked the XXXXX Stout, which had a lot of great coffee and chicory character, and hints of molasses and smoke.

Unfortunately, halfway through my lunch, things started rumbling around again, and I decided that it might be a good idea to head back to my hotel room and take a bit of a break before heading uptown to check out a couple more beer spots. But when things didn’t get any better in the gastro-intestinal department, plans for further outings were scrapped in favour of – well, just laying around feeling generally shitty, really.

So, that was my trip to Seattle. Half great, half lousy. Meh.

Like We Needed An Excuse To Drink More Stout!

Stan over at Appellation Beer has come up with a grand idea indeed:

Food bloggers have their own cooking day once a month. Wine bloggers have Wine Blogging Wedesday.

It seems that beer bloggers around the world should have something similar. So let’s start one, an event that will occur on the first Friday of every month. It doesn’t have to have a name (yet) or a logo (like wine), just participants who want to have a little fun and don’t mind learning a little along the way.

On Friday, March 2nd, the first instalment of this yet-to-be-named beer blog meme will take place, and the inaugural theme will be “Not Your Father’s Irish Stout”. Since my father drinks Labatt Blue, pretty much any stout would do in my case, but the rules specify that we have to stay away from the Big Three: Guinness, Murphy’s or Beamish. Otherwise, anything goes.

So check back here (and here, and here, and here, and probably here, and lots of these places) in just over a month to see what we all end up drinking. Maybe I can even convince my wife to get in on the action – she likes the black stuff even more than I do.

Oh, yeah – I should mention that I’m off to Seattle tomorrow for a meeting on Friday, and I plan to indulge in beer & food geekery on Friday night and Saturday. And of course, since I’m from the land of the CN Tower, I will point at their puny Space Needle and laugh. Ha!

Five O'Hanlon's Ales

Earlier this month, Ontario beer drinkers got the very good news that the latest vintage of the renowned Thomas Hardy’s Ale was now available for private ordering in our province thanks to import agency Roland + Russell. Not much was known about these folks in the beer community as they previously specialized in importing wine, spirits and fine food, but their great prices and excellent customer service won them a lot of fans very quickly.

Almost lost in the Hardy’s hype, however, was the fact that R+R is also carrying other beers from O’Hanlon’s, the brewery that revived the Thomas Hardy’s brand in 2003, a couple of years after the original brewer, Eldridge Pope, shut down their brewing operations to concentrate on their pub business. When I contacted R+R to place an order for some of the Hardy’s, they replied with info on the other O’Hanlon’s beers which I posted to The Bar Towel, and after exchanging a couple of more emails chatting about the beer business, they were kind enough to offer me sample bottles of the four O’Hanlon’s ales that they will be carrying year round, as well as a Christmas seasonal bitter.

One interesting thing about these beers is that they are bottle-conditioned, which is rare amongst the UK ales that we usually see in Ontario. When it comes to bottle-conditioned brews, I’ll often give the yeasties a swirl and pour them along with the beer, but with four of these five beers, I decided to pour slowly and leave as much of the sediment in the bottle as possible. (The exception: the wheat beer, which is a style that I prefer unfiltered.) The way I figure it, these beers are attempts to replicate cask ale in a bottle, and cask ale is always best when the publican has allowed the yeast to properly settle so the pints can be pulled as clear as possible. But if you prefer your ale with the little chunky bits, knock yourself out.

So – here’s what I thought of ’em:

Yellowhammer Premium Golden Ale
Light golden colour, and a nice aroma – a bit minerally with pleasant Cascade hop notes. Light, refreshing flavour of mellow malt, with some sweet fruitiness and an expertly hopped finish with a fresh, citric character. A pretty simple beer, but quite an enjoyable one.

Royal Oak Traditional Bitter
This is another former Eldridge Pope beer that O’Hanlon’s took on. It pours a deep amber-orange with a small white head that sticks around to the end of the glass. Great aroma right from the get-go – earthy, almost funky malts, some caramel, a bit of alcohol, and pungent hops. Soft, creamy mouthfeel. Lovely flavour of sweet and woody malt, a hint of honey and peach in the middle, and a well-hopped finish with notes of citrus and wood. Really nice!

Double Champion Wheat Beer
Initial slow half-glass pour is clear, bright yellow-gold with a good sized white head. The aroma, body and flavour are all sharp, with nice citrus and herbal notes, somewhat tart and quite dry in the finish. Second pour brings the yeast, turning the body cloudy and adding some dustiness to the aroma and flavour. The few UK wheat beers I’ve had before this haven’t done much for me, but I enjoyed this one.

Goodwill Christmas Bitter
Garnet colour with a wispy tan head. Nice aroma of sweet caramel, malt and orange candy. Same soft mouthfeel as the rest of the beers. Pleasant flavour, fairly sweet with mild spice notes, and a moderately dry finish with a faint medicinal tinge. I liked it, but I expected a bit more from an Xmas ale.

Original Port Stout
This interesting concoction is modelled after an old Irish tradition of starting the morning after the night before with a stout laced with a splash of Port. It has a nice, dark ruby-brown colour with a good sized light tan head. Interesting aroma that’s fairly malty/roasty with notes of coffee and smoke, and a tinge of sour fruit. The body is on the thin side – decent for an ale, but light for a stout. Flavour follows on the aroma, with sweet roasty notes of the top, some mild smoke and coffee, and a dry, sourish finish. Pretty neat little beer.

In general, I was impressed by the O’Hanlon’s line-up. It’s too bad that attempts to get some of them into the LCBO have been rejected so far, but at least they can be found in some of Toronto’s better drinking establishments, along with the Thomas Hardy’s Ale.

And to prove that they’re serious about this beer thing, Roland + Russell announced this week that they are now carrying a half-dozen beers and a a couple of unique beer-based distilled spirits from Austria’s Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg, including the one-time strongest beer in the world, the 14% abv doppelbock Samichlaus. Between this and recent cold and snowy weather, it’s like Christmas came to Ontario a month late!