Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Two Saisons From North

I made it downtown last Sunday for a growler fill at North Brewing Co.  They had two different Belgian saison brews available: Saison de l'Acadie and their Winter Saison.  I came away with a 750ml swingtop of each.

Saison de l'Acadie

Presentation


North's Saison de l'Acadie is sold in branded, refillable growlers of various sizes.  Mine is the 750ml swingtop version with the old "Bridge" branding.

L'Acadie is brewed to 7.5% abv.  This is where it gets interesting; North brewed this with l'Acadie blanc grape must courtesy of Avondale Sky winery.  They've also added a generous dollop of honey to help balance out the high acidity of the grapes.  

The Beer

Colour: Golden straw coloured and quite cloudy.

Nose: The banana-and-clove notes typical of North's brews are immediately apparent, but there's a lot more going on here.  A slightly sour wine-y undertone is countered deftly by a soft aroma of honey.  Some floral notes tie the whole thing together.  Complex and very nice indeed.

Taste: Richly flavoured.  The initial attack is tangy and sweet.  Grape, honey, and pineapple shine through, and a touch of  hop bitterness and plenty of Belgian yeast keep it from being cloying.

Finish: Yeasty finish with lingering tropical fruits.

Overall: Interesting, nuanced, and rewarding.  This is a genre-bending brew, and while it doesn't necessarily blur the lines between beer and wine it does at least smudge them a little.  Quite excellent and highly recommended.

Winter Saison

Presentation

North's Winter Saison is sold in the same format(s) as their other brews.  As usual I picked up a 750ml swingtop.

The special ingredients this time around are ginger and black pepper.  It's brewed to 6.0% abv. 

The Beer

Colour: Golden and hazy with a frothy white head.

Nose: Banana-and-clove yeast.  Fir, complemented by extremely subtle ginger (if I hadn't known it was brewed with ginger I probably wouldn't have picked up on it).

Taste: Very Belgian, plenty of yeast.  Grassy with faint-but-enjoyable black pepper.  

Finish: Yeast, ginger, lingering black pepper.  Dry and slightly herbal.

Overall: Enjoyable Belgian-style beer.  Recommended, unless you hate yeasty brews.

Some links:



Thursday, 6 November 2014

Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye

This Autumn saw the launch of a new addition to the Canadian Club stable of products; Chairman's Select 100% Rye.  It rings in at a reasonable $28.49 here in NS, which makes it slightly cheaper than Alberta Premium's excellent Dark Horse bottling and slightly more expensive than most brands' flagship whiskies.  The price and the clear "100% rye grain" marketing caught my interest, so shortly after the launch I picked up a bottle.


Presentation

Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye is sold in a clear glass 750ml bottle with a plastic screwcap closure.  The green label and neck wrap look quite nice against the rich colour of the liquid.  For $28.49 a screwcap is to be expected, but man, a cork sure would have been nice.  I have an unhealthy love for cork stoppers.

This whisky is made entirely from rye grain.  That "internet" fellow tells me it's sourced from Alberta Distillers rather than the Hiram Walker plant where most of CC's whiskies are distilled.  It's bottled at the standard 40% abv.

The Whisky

Colour: Dark honey brown.  Fast-moving legs speak to the standard 40% alcohol content.

Nose: Really dusty spice cabinet.  Sort of like opening a cedar cupboard full of spice jars you haven't used in a couple of years.  Ground ginger and maple sugar seem dominant, with cinnamon sticks hiding beneath.  There's also toffee and vanilla.

Taste: Spicy, peppery heat.  Dark rye bread, some nuts.  Hard red candies and plenty of oaky toffee and vanilla.  Warming and pleasant.

Finish: Nice dark rye bread and walnuts, orange pith, ginger and cloves.  Fades slowly to fairly gentle tannic dryness.

Overall: A real class act.  Canadian Club has crafted a pretty remarkable whisky here at a really outstanding price.  It proves a worthy adversary for Dark Horse at the $30-or-less price point.  I'd happily recommend this to anyone who enjoys rye.

Some links:

Canadian Club
NSLC Availability

Friday, 31 October 2014

A Pair of Pumpkins

Gahan Pumpkin Ale


Presentation

Gahan's Pumpkin Ale is sold in a 500ml bottle.  It's the short, stout shape Gahan uses for their other brews (Picaroon's uses the same style).  The label is pumpkin-pie brown with an illustrated pumpkin underneath the large-font name of the brew.

This beer is brewed to an assertive 5.8% with brown sugar and "pumpkin pie spices" (presumably cinnamon and nutmeg, maybe cloves and allspice as well).

The Beer

Colour: Honey brown to amber in colour.  Really nice head; creamy, firm, with an off-white colour.  It recedes slowly, leaving nice lace behind.

Nose: Subtle on the noses; spices are muted and seem to happily share the stage with dry, dusty hops.

Taste: The spices that were shy on the nose are more apparent on the palate, but not excessive.  Nice citric hop presence as well.  Very quaffable stuff, really good balance.

Finish: Dry finish with dusty spice almost reminiscent of rye whisky.  Mildly bitter.

Overall: I really liked this one.  It's fairly restrained on the spices; they're part of the show instead of the whole show.  If you find Propeller's pumpkin ale to be overly-spiced give this a try, it might be more your speed.


Garrison Double Jack Imperial Pumpkin Ale


Presentation

Garrison's Double Jack is sold in a 650ml bomber bottle.  The label is red with a big orange jack-o-lantern split by the brew's name.  It's a pretty cool looking label.

This one gets the imperial treatment and is brewed to 8.0% abv.  In addition to pumpkin spice this one uses actual pumpkin.

The Beer

Colour: Burnt orange, or red tinged amber.  It's a rich colour.  The head is an off-white beach sand colour, and nice and firm.  This is a good-looking beer in the glass.

Nose: Pumpkin spice is obvious but not excessive or cloying.  I'm getting nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and a touch of ginger.  There's a whiff of toffee-like maltiness as well, and a dash of hops.

Taste: Plenty of spice.  Brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg. . . ginger emerges a little later.  The hop bitterness is just right and wards of any excessive sweetness.  I'm even getting a bit of apple pie from this, and some dark fruit comes through with some savouring.  Full, rich mouthfeel.

Finish: Dry, hoppy finish with nutmeg and cloves lingering.

Overall: This is the best pumpkin ale I've had.  Spicier than Gahan but less so than Propeller, and the fruity qualities are an unexpected treat.

Some links:

Gahan
Garrison
NSLC availability (Gahan)
NSLC availability (Garrison)

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Wiser's Legacy

Canadian whisky this time!  I've been meaning to try Wiser's Legacy for a while now but always found reasons to delay.  I finally got a shot of motivation when, to my horror, I found that it has crept into the NSLC's "one time only" category and will no longer be available year-round.  I have no idea how long it'll take to sell through existing supplies, but if you're in Nova Scotia and want a bottle you'd be wise not to wait.

Presentation

They weren't fooling around when they designed this bottle.  It's thick, chunky, heavy glass.  Like really heavy; I'm talking "appropriate for self defense" heavy.  It's a rectangular prism with a short neck, tasteful blue label, and JP Wiser's signature down both sides.  The closure is cork and wood with the Wiser's crest engraved in the top.  Cosmetically this is top notch; it's more a decanter than a bottle.

Legacy is bottled at 45% abv and contains a high amount of rye (exactly how much is undisclosed and likely changes batch to batch).  I'm unsure as to whether it is chill-filtered, but the rye crystal sediment that has collected at the bottom of my bottle leads me to believe it may not be.

The Whisky

Colour: Deep amber.  Legs are thick, heavy, slow moving.

Nose: Rye!  Lots of it.  Ginger, brown sugar, cloves.  Lush fruit preserves (marmalade?), lots of vanilla, toffee.  Smells fantastic, and somehow there's no real nose prickle.  This has become one of those bottles I periodically open up just to sniff at.

Taste: Sweet and sour opening followed by searing ginger and toasty oak.  Rye bread and brown sugar and some dried fruit.  Plenty of oak influence at play from start to finish.  At 45% abv there's virtually no tongue burn; this is as smooth as can be.

Finish: Pepper, rye bread, dry fruit.  Spices are still present but have eased off in comparison to the nose and palate.  Oak dominates at the end.

Overall: Wiser's Legacy is excellent, and a bargain at $50.  Single malt loyalists contending with ever-increasing prices would be well served to give top-shelf Canadian bottlings a chance.  In this case you'll be exceptionally well rewarded.  Compared to Lot No. 40 it isn't quite as full-throttle on the rye front, and is certainly comparable for quality and enjoyment.

Some links:

Wiser's
NSLC Availability

Monday, 22 September 2014

Many Hands Harvest Ale (North Brewing + Boxing Rock Collaboration)

I'm sitting at my desk and looking out my window.  It rained heavily last night and the clouds haven't moved on yet; the morning is dark and gray and the window screens are nearly opaque from the raindrops they've ensnared.  But under all of that gray and through the wet screen I can see the leaves, and they seem to have a message for me.  They're flying new colours; their bright greens have begun to darken, some are even red altogether.  They're saying it very clearly:  "Autumn is here."  A fresh wave of great seasonal beers is nigh!  Beers bitter and bracing, spiced and invigorating, and some made with gourds great and small.

Halifax's North and Shelburne's Boxing Rock Brewing Companies have joined forces to create a Fall brew of the bitter and bracing variety, the wet-hopped Many Hands Harvest Ale.


Presentation

Many Hands Harvest Ale is a 6.5% abv strong ale with 37 IBU bitterness.  It was brewed with locally grown butternut squash, an interesting twist on the more common seasonal pumpkin ales.  It's available primarily in growlers from North Brewing and Boxing Rock Brewery.

I got mine in a 750ml swingtop growler from North.  Not much to discuss about the package; it's brown tinted glass and the closure looks cool and works as it should.  Visually I like North's branding, though part of me misses the old Bridge name.

The Beer

Colour: Golden amber and crystal clear.  The head is initially tall, fizzy and white.  It shrinks pretty quickly.

Nose: Bitter, pithy hops initially dominate.  Butternut squash character is definitely noticeable, adding a nice savoury, nutty quality and a pleasing sense of warmth.  The hop and squash elements work together really well.  I had some trouble picking up the squash scents from a full glass; it took a proper tasting glass with just an ounce or two poured to really get a good whiff of it (I used a Glencairn glass for a more thorough nosing).

Taste: Bitter and hop-dominant.  Crisp effervescence and medium mouthfeel.  I'm looking for squash but just can't find it underneath all those hops; I guess it's too subtle for me to detect.

Finish: Oh good, the squash is back!  It's shy though, with hops continuing to reign on the finish with dry, citrus pithiness and a refreshing bitterness level.  The squash characteristics become more apparent as the hops fade.

Overall: Many Hands Harvest Ale drinks a LOT like an IPA.  The butternut squash makes for a nice flourish on the nose and finish but is unfortunately blown away by hops on the palate.  Personally I was hoping for the squash to be a bit more obvious.  If you're in the mood for hoppy beer with a subtle extra dimension, this is for you.

Some links:

North Brewing Company
Boxing Rock Brewing Company

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Glenora Fiddler's Choice Single Malt Whisky

On July 29, 2014 Glenora Distillery released its latest product; Fiddler's Choice, a no-age statement single malt whisky which has seen ageing practices similar to those used for their flagship Glen Breton Rare 10 YO.  The key difference here is age, with Fiddler's Choice flowing into the bottle after 6 years in ex-bourbon casks (a significantly shorter period than that used for GB).

A NAS release is hardly a surprise in this day and age from any distiller even though ethics / business sense of the practice of releasing young whiskies to market is the subject of much debate.  It's easy to see why distillers want to bottle at younger ages, as shorter maturation periods means more bottles (the angels are denied a larger part of their share), lower retail prices, and more stable revenues.  Many see the NAS trend as a terribly destructive force in the industry, one that can only lead to declining quality and the ultimate bursting of the whisky "bubble."  I'm a bit more moderate on the topic.  I feel that each release ought to be judged by what the liquid has to offer, and so I approach Fiddler's Choice with high hopes and an open mind.

Presentation

Fiddler's Choice was named in honour of late Cape Breton fiddler John MacDougall.  I'm not going to pretend to be well-versed on the topic of fiddle music, or even to be a fan of it.  I like the sentiment though, and naming this bottling in tribute to a Cape Breton tradition seems appropriate.  The back of the carton features of photo of John playing in front the of the Glenora Distillery and a short write-up on who he was and what he did.

The boxboard carton is of fairly simple design.  It's black with the "Fiddler's Choice" name printed in large white text over an image of a fiddle, a barrel, and a tasting glass.  The image is curiously low resolution; at a glance you don't really notice it, but it's one of those things that really can't be "unseen" once you've noticed it.  I'm not sure why they didn't use a high-res image.  It'd look quite nice if they had.

The term "hand-crafted" is used both on the front of the carton and in huge text on the sides.  I'm glad they chose to do that, as much of the appeal of Glenora's whiskies (to me at least) comes from the small, artisan nature of their operation.   Curiously absent are "non-chillfiltered" and "natural colour" statements, which seems like a missed opportunity.

The bottle itself is the same one used for Glen Breton Rare.  It's a clear glass rectangular prism with rounded edges and a nice monogrammed cork-and-plastic stopper.  The sides have indents that make it easier to grip.  The labels are basically identical to the carton.  I've always liked Glenora's bottle and I'm happy to see them use it for this release as well.

Now the more important details; Fiddler's Choice is bottled at 43% abv without chill filtration or added colouring.  It's a 750ml bottle.

The Whisky

Colour: Pale straw, like a well aged chardonnay.  Coats the glass well, and legs form and descend fairly quickly.

Nose: Unmistakable Glen Breton character.  Fresh apples and tons of oak.  A bit of creamy sweetness and some citrus fruit, almost like an orange creamsicle.  Somehow this seems oakier than the longer-aged GB Rare 10 YO, which seems strange.  Also present are some nuts and honey (baklava?).  There's enough oak going on here that I'm reminded a little of Deanston Virgin Oak.

Taste: A bit young and feisty at first with a bit of heat nipping at the tongue.  Fresh grain and lots of oak again.  Some apple, but not so prevalent as it is on the nose, and lightly creamy.  Oatmeal with a bit of honey and apple thrown in, with some vanilla wafers on the side?  An extended savour reveals some lovely warm nutty notes, which are accompanied by a slightly unfortunate bitterness.

Finish: Lots of vanilla and a little cream, along with understated apple.  As the cream and fruit notes fade the oak truly takes over with toffee and eventually barrel tannin.  A touch of orange pith at the very end.

Overall: This is quite similar to Glen Breton Rare 10 YO, but somehow fuller, richer, and more woody.  I'm not sure how to explain it but I presume some excellent casks were selected for this release.  If you've ever wanted to try GB but $79.99 was too rich for your blood then you should seriously consider Fiddler's Choice; it's $59.99 and provides an excellent showcase of what Glenora's house style is all about.  I would go so far as to argue that it's slightly better than the 10 YO (or at least the batch that my bottle is from).

Some links:

NSLC Availability
Glenora Distillery

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Bad Apple Brewhouse Black and Tackle Russian Imperial Stout (Glenora Barrel Aged)

A few months ago I enjoyed and reviewed Bad Apple's RIS, a big, dark, roasted malt-driven bruiser of a stout.  I was aware at the time that some this delicious liquid was also maturing in single malt whisky barrels provided by Glenora Distillery.  As you can imagine this was exciting news for a beer and whisky geek; my two boozy loves were slowly joining forces to create what I hoped would be a beautiful Frankenstein monster of a baby.  Bottling time has come at last, and the good news is those bottles are available in the HRM area at our private stores (availability links at the end as usual).  Note that store websites don't seem to include this beer as a listing so may need to call.

Presentation

BAB's barrel aged RIS is sold in 500 ml glass bottles tinted the usual dark brown.  The pry-off cap is a simple metallic gray and unbranded.  The bottle shape is slightly stocky with a short neck and low shoulders.  The label is identical to that of the regular RIS but sports a medium sized logo clearly declaring that it's the barrel aged version (which is important; time in the barrel has had a profound effect on the beer).  I think I've said before that I like BAB's branding, and that holds true today.

Barrel aging has significantly increased the alcohol content (11.6% versus 9% for the un-aged version).  This could be due to evaporation of water, residual alcohol from the barrel-proof whisky, or a combination of those factors.  This beer is unfiltered and unpasteurised.

The Beer

Colour: Deep, dark espresso; as close to black as brown gets.  Totally opaque in all but the tiniest quantities.  The head is a bit reluctant to rise even with a vigorous pour; it maxes out fairly short and shrinks slowly.  It's foamy and has a nice khaki hue.

Nose: Glenora's barrels have done great things here.  The coffee, dark chocolate, and ash aromas of roasted malt have become muted background features.  Fresh apples and vanilla straight out of Glen Breton Rare 10 YO come first but give way to rich, dark fruit.  Cherries smothered with milk chocolate, Tootsie Rolls. . . I can't detect any serious hop presence, nor ethanol.  Really, really fantastic nose and an altogether new experience.

Taste: Very densely flavoured.  Tootsie Rolls and fruit leather, vanilla, and a great nutty quality.  Bitter coffee and chocolate reluctantly show themselves if you savour long enough.  Fairly heavy mouthfeel is slightly lightened by some effervescence.  Complex stuff and thoroughly enjoyable.

Finish:  Nuts and chocolate; almost brownie or fudge-like but not sweet.  Nuts go on for ages and gradually give way to the classic coffee of darkly roasted malt.

Overall: It seems like the barrel has sucked out a lot of the trademark bitterness of a RIS and swapped in some wonderful malt whisky and dark, dried fruit character.  BAB has used quality wood to make great beer into incredible beer.  Very highly recommended.

Some links:

Cristall Wine Merchants (call for availability)
Premier Wine and Spirits (call for availability)
Harvest Wines and Spirits (call for availability)
Bishop's Cellar (call for availability)
Bad Apple Brewhouse