Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Garrison Coast To Coastless Imperial ESB

Coast To Coastless is a special edition collaboration brew involving four Canadian craft brewers.  Garrison (East coast), Phillips (West coast), Flying Monkeys (Ontario) and Trou du Diable (Quebec) joined forces to create the only imperial extra special bitter I've ever encountered (let's be real though, there are probably a bunch out there).

Here's how I think it turned out.


Coast To Coastless Imperial ESB is sold in an unfortunate 650ml bomber bottle (I really miss the slim 500ml Garrison bottles of old).  I consider this to be an excessively large bottle for a brew of this strength, even though it is hardly the worst offender in that regard.

The label is unattractive in a way that seems to be quite deliberate; it's made to resemble a cheesy post-card one might send from Niagara Falls or some other tourist trap.  Each of the breweries involved are named in smallish print at the bottom.  No single brewery is featured more prominently than the others, suggesting that they were all on equal footing for this project.  Even though it's a bit ugly I like the overall tone of the brand messaging.

This beer is brewed to 7.6% abv with 50 IBUs bitterness.

The Beer

Colour: Copper coloured and clear.  The head is firm and off-white with fantastic retention, and leaves a nice maze of lace in its wake.

Nose: The malt-forward nose starts with toffee, baked goods, and a touch of molasses.  There's an overtone of brown bread, and a faint tropical fruit hop aroma rounds it all out.

Taste: Bitter and medium bodied.  Malt-forward with toffee and biscuit flavours leading, with a fruity hop presence coming in a bit later, plus a touch of apricot.

Finish: Dry.  Very mild coffee and a faint metallic note.  Hops, and a lingering spice-cupboard quality that's very satisfying.

Overall: It's very good and you should try it before it's gone.  It's not not necessarily blowing my mind, but I'd happily buy it again.

Some links:

NSLC Availability <-- coming soon
Flying Monkeys
Trou du Diable

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Forty Creek Evolution

Evolution was Forty Creek's limited release for 2014.  It is either 12 or 9 years old.  You might think "No no, it is one or the other, so which is it?"  Well it's complicated; John Hall aged the component whiskies for 3 years in American white oak, and then re-distilled the stuff.  Following the second distillation it went into French oak ex-cabernet barrels and stayed there for 9 more years.  Mr. Hall also blended in some liquid from his "favourite barrels" for balancing, and who in the world knows how old those whiskies are?  Evolution's history is complicated and quirky, as is the liquid itself.

Anyway, all that stuff is probably old-hat to you, because I am late as hell to this party.


Forty Creek Evolution is sold in 750ml bottles.  It's encased in a flimsy boxboard gift box which, while somewhat ugly, is quite informative; John Hall's tasting notes are printed on the side and the back describes the whisky's unusual story.

The bottle itself shares a silhouette with Forty Creek's regular bottles when viewed front-on but is broader and flattened into a flask-like shape.  The bottom is nicely weighted to help prevent it from getting knocked over.  It's the same bottle Forty Creek has used for previous limited releases and it looks nice.

Also it's sealed with a synthetic cork stopper.  That makes me happy.  What makes me even happier is the 43% abv bottling strength; Canadian whisky bottlings above the mandatory 40% mark are despairingly rare even in premium limited releases, so even that extra 3% gives me warm and fuzzy feelings.  Like, emotionally, not because of the extra booze content.

The Whisky

Colour: Deep amber-brown.

Nose: Blackberries, maple and demerara sugar.  Emerging spice, tobacco, and vanilla.  There are even some earthy and vegetal notes that somehow coexist with the sweeter fruity aromas.  This is as complex as can be.

Taste: Cream, brown sugar, maple, brown spices.  A dash of vanilla, some cream, spruce needles and woody tannin.  The palate truly fulfills all of the promises made by the nose.

Finish: Spice, wood, and a trace of red wine.  Vanilla and blackberries next.  Gradually dries out with red grape skins and tannin.

Overall: John Hall is some kind of evil genius.  I find Evolution to be absolutely wonderful and worth every penny of its $70 price of admission.

Some links:

NSLC Availability
Forty Creek

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A Couple of IPAs

Amsterdam Boneshaker Unfiltered IPA


Amsterdam Brewing's Boneshaker IPA is a limited time offering at the NSLC, and I'm happy to see that "limited" has actually lasted a pretty long time (I think it's been nearly 6 months, though it may finally be on its way out).  It's sold in 6-bottle open carriers similar to those used by most imported brands (ie. Corona, Stella Artois).  Visually they've gone for a "less is more" presentation; the carrier is plain brown boxboard with the beer's name printed it large font over the image of a skeleton riding an old fashioned bicycle.  

The bottles are beer bottle brown but have an unconventional tall, cylindrical body with a somewhat shortened neck.  From the lack of heft I'd guess they're made to be lightweight and environmentally friendly.  Finally, they hold 355ml rather than the typical 341ml.

This Ontario beer is 7.1% abv and unfiltered, giving it a hazy appearance in the glass.  The bitterness weighs in at 87 IBU.  

The Beer

Colour: Hazy, coppery orange.  The head is off-white and doesn't get very tall but has good retention.

Nose: Grapefruit rinds and soft pine needles.  There's marmalade hidden beneath those huge hop notes too, and it brings loads of extra depth with it.  Interestingly the marmalade character seemed to vary between bottles, perhaps suggesting that some carry more yeast sediment than others (even within the same 6-pack).

Taste: Bitter and about as hoppy as can be.  The nose truly predicts the palate here; grapefruit, tree needles, and that subtle but wonderful marmalade character are all present.  It's quite delicious.

Finish: Unsurprisingly it finishes quite bitter.  It's like you just chewed citrus pith, and it lasts for ages.

Overall: This is a must-try brew for fans of the style.  No ordinary IPA.

Propeller Rye IPA


Propeller Rye IPA is a brand new seasonal offering from Nova Scotia's bestselling craft brewery.  It's sold in 650ml bomber bottles and is available now at both Prop Shop locations, and should be replacing their Irish Red on NSLC shelves some time in the near future.  It's also headed to the private stores (it's likely there already). 

The label is in Propeller's usual style.  This time around the central propeller logo has moved to the background and been replaced with a simple drawing of some stalks of rye grain.  It's clean and simple and distinguishes it at a glance from the company's other products.

This beer is brewed to 6.8% abv with 72 IBUs bitterness.  As usual I find the bottle size to be problematic for a strong beer; 500ml would have been plenty.  

The Beer

Colour: Honey brown to amber, and crystal clear.  The head is off-white and not particularly tall, but like the Boneshaker it retains well.

Nose: The hop profile here is pretty pungent.  Spruce and fir are very much in charge, with citrus pith acting as more of a background element.  

Taste: Really full, rich feel to this one, almost a bit creamy.  Bitterness and hoppiness are as dominant as you'd expect, but there's also a wonderfully subdued spicy quality that keeps this from being just another craft IPA.  

Finish: Bitterness and citrus lead the finish, followed by the tree needles, faint orange peel, and baking spices. 

Overall: Another IPA you probably ought to check out.  If you liked Garrison and Beau's Sweet Rye'd then this will be right up your alley.

Some links:

NSLC Availability (Propeller Rye IPA)

Friday, 10 April 2015

Cazadores Tequila Reposado

Hey, I found tequila in my cabinet!  Better write some notes on it, right?


Cazadores was once sold in a tall, slim bottle with a crappy plastic screw cap.  While there was nothing necessarily offensive about the look of it, it also didn't command much of a shelf presence.  Within the last few months it enjoyed a serious makeover and is now presented very handsomely indeed.

The new bottle is shorter and thicker than the old one.  The plastic screw-cap has been replaced with a synthetic cork (which I love).  The label is cleaner and easier to read, with the fine-print elements moved off to the side instead of crowding the cente
r as they once did.  The stag, which was always the centerpiece, maintains its place of prominence but is now printed in black-and-white and very high resolution.  The new package just looks way, way better.

Cazadores is bottled at the typical 40% abv.  It's a 750ml bottle and is widely available at the NSLC.  This is a 100% agave tequila.

The Tequila

Colour: Very pale straw.  It actually looks pretty similar to a light-bodied white wine (like Flat Roof pinot grigio).  The legs are quick to resolve and descend.  I assume there's no colour added here, because it's really, really light.

Nose: Black pepper dominates.  There is a light presence of lemon, lime, and vanilla.  The overall impression is earthy and vaguely vegetal.  Alcohol is detectable but not overpowering, being masked well by the other elements.  I suspect those citrus characteristics are a "power of suggestion" thing, as the smell of tequila forces memories of margaritas into my brain.

Taste:  Quite light in both texture and flavour.  Black pepper leads again.  The oak is more apparent than I expected and counters the spicy pepper with a nice hit of vanilla and toffee.  It's tasty but relatively non-complex.

Finish:  Finishes spicy with pepper, wood, and a little nip of alcohol.  Short and pleasant.

Overall:  I have to be perfectly honest here: I'm very inexperienced with tequila.  Like most people I've mostly consumed it in shot format and in margaritas, and mostly in my youth.  That said, I find this to be enjoyable but not mind-blowing dram for sipping neat.  It also enjoys fairly frequent Airmiles offers and sale prices at the NSLC, though I feel for the money you're better off with 30-30 Reposado (it is around the same price and is a more satisfying sipper).

Some links:

NSLC Availability
Tequila Cazadores Official Site

Second (and better informed) opinions at:

Tequila Tourist

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Pike Creek 10 YO

What's this, an age-stated Canadian whisky?


Pike Creek 10 YO is sold in a 750 ml clear glass bottle.  It's sealed with a cork stopper (yay!) and has a nice old-fashioned-looking label with "Pike Creek" etched directly on to the glass.  The shape of the bottle is stout with a medium-length neck and sloping shoulders.

The main curiosity here is the weird paper-cord-knot neck ringer thingy.  According to the Pike Creek website it is a "hand-tied miller's knot as a tribute to our craftsmen who created this amazing whisky."  It looks pretty cool but it's kind of annoying when you're trying to pour the stuff.  They also chose to hot-glue the knot onto the bottle, which just seems weird to me when you consider that gravity keeps it on the neck just fine, and gravity is cheaper than glue.  I picked the glue off mine so I could remove the knot when pouring.

Knot issues notwithstanding, I really like the visual presentation of this whisky.  The label is much more informative than is typical for Canadian whiskies and provides some details about the wood regimen employed.  It doesn't, however, disclose what portion of the 10 year ageing period was spent in each barrel type (it likely changes from batch to batch).

Pike Creek 10 YO is matured in ex-bourbon and vintage port barrels.  It is bottled at 40% abv and is produced by Corby .

The Whisky

Colour: Amber with a nice orange-y glow.  The port cask finishing likely added the warm red tones.  Legs form quickly and have a nice elongated, oily appearance.

Nose: There's rye for sure, and it's a much more significant presence than is normally found in Canadian blends.  It reminds me of a hot toddy with a garnish of orange peel.  More nose prickle than expected from the standard bottling strength.  I'm not getting much of the fruitiness a port wood finish implies.  Maybe a touch of strawberries and cream, vaguely similar to Gibson's 12 YO.  For me this is all about rye spice and orange peel.  Lots of brown sugar emerged after a rest in the glass.

Taste: Sweet and creamy up front, with almost rum-like brown sugar and molasses.  Plenty of spicy ginger and hot pepper.  Oak elements come in later (toffee and vanilla).  Tasting it this time I'm finding that it packs a much bigger wallop of rye spice than I remembered, and I like it all the more for it.

Finish: A big surge of rye spice gives way to vanilla, orange zest, and more of that slightly sour (but not unappealing) rummy note.  Becomes dry and pithy at the end, with some red grape skins for good measure.

Overall: My first impressions at last year's Celebrate Whisky show were mostly negative, and after investing in a bottle for further investigation I was again initially underwhelmed.  Now that I've spent some more time assessing it, however, I have really come to enjoy it as an interesting and flavourful Canadian sipping whisky.  At $40 I'm not fully sold on the value-per-dollar; spend $5 or $10 more and you could have Lot 40 or Wiser's Legacy (respectively); $10 less gets you Dark Horse or CC 100% Rye.

In any case, I think my feelings on Pike Creek have finished yoyo-ing and have settled on "I like it quite a bit."  I like it more with each subsequent tasting, which can only be a good thing.

Some links:

Pike Creek
NSLC Availability

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Some Lighter Fare

Propeller Pilsener


Propeller Pilsener is sold in 500ml single bottles year-round at the NSLC, and at Propeller's on-site retail shops in both singles and 6-packs.  The label carries Propeller's usual recognisable branding, this time with a blue field and yellow trim.  It's brewed to 4.8% abv and a modest 27 IBU bitterness.

The Beer

Colour: Golden and crystal-clear with a tall, fizzy-yet-firm head.  

Nose: Freshly baked yeasty white bread and light citrusy hops.  It's not really complex, but it's nice.

Taste: Slightly sweet malt followed by a little hop bitterness.  Pretty lively effervescence.  Really easy-drinking.

Finish: Finishes more on the bitter side with light hops and more white bread.  It seems to be telling me to take another sip.

Overall: With enough hop character to lend interest to the lightly-sweet malt backbone, Propeller's Pilsener is an easy drinking brew that won't leave you wondering where the flavour went.

Lake of Bays Crosswind Pale Ale


Lake of Bays Crosswind Pale Ale is a relative newcomer to NS, having taken up residence on NSLC shelves just a couple of months ago.  It's sold in a 473ml tall can, decorated with a small yellow single-engine airplane on a khaki brown background.  Visually there isn't too much to get either excited or upset about; it's a can of beer.

Crosswind is brewed to 5.0% abv in Baysville, ON.  It's the first Lake of Bays product to arrive in NS (and I hope it's not the last).

The Beer

Colour: Amber-gold and crystal clear.  The head is tall, firm, and white, with great retention.  

Nose: Bready, but heavier than the pilsener (think whole wheat instead of white).  There's a pretty obvious hop presence that comes through as fresh grapefruit, but it's not what I'd call a truly "hoppy" nose.  It hits a nice malt-hop middle ground.

Taste: Lightly bitter, with grapefruit evident again on the palate without overpowering the fairly delicate malt.  Tasty.

Finish: Hops win the day on the finish.  Bitter and pithy with lingering citrus.

Overall: Easy-does-it pale ale that I'd be happy to drink again.  I hope to see more Lake of Bays make its way here.

Some links:

Thursday, 22 January 2015

El Dorado 12 YO Rum

Every so often as I roam the aisles of the NSLC location I call my workplace / candy store, I find myself lingering near spirits of which I wouldn't normally consider myself to be a drinker.  As I gaze upon premium rums, tequilas, and vodkas I always find myself wondering if, dollar for dollar, any of them can match whisky for sipping neat.  Rum, being Nova Scotia's favourite spirit, has become of particular interest to me.  Since this fermented, distilled molasses spirit accounts for 40% of the NSLC's spirits sales, don't I owe it to myself (professionally of course!) and my customers to do a little self-guided product knowledge training?

To that end I took to the web to work out which bottle to invest in, and with the help of The Rum Howler blog I settled on El Dorado's 12 YO rum.  I had previously had the opportunity to taste their 5 YO product in-store and was impressed with what it had to offer for such an inexpensive bottle, so moving up in their range to the  12 YO was an easy decision.  This rum rings in at $38, which I find pretty reasonable for a quality sipping spirit.


El Dorado 12 YO Rum is sold in a squat, short-necked 750ml bottle.  It used to come in a nice red carton but it seems that's no longer the case, at least at the NSLC.  The bottle is tinted brown and features a "wax" (plastic) seal stating the rum's age.  The label is attractively illustrated with a tall ship under sail.  Finally, it's closed with a cork stopper as is fitting for a premium spirit (AHEM, looking at you Writers Tears).  It's a good looking bottle.

The rum is bottled at 40% abv.  All rums used in the blend spent no less than the stated 12 years ageing in ex-bourbon casks.  It is distilled in Guyana by Demerara Distillers Limited.

The Rum

Colour: Deep amber.  Quick legs.

Nose: Leads with a big wallop of oak; rich toffee and caramel.  Somehow "rye spice" is here, inviting you in with cinnamon and cloves.  I actually found it strangely reminiscent of Wiser's Legacy.  Then there's honey, dried apricots, demerara sugar, and a dash of molasses.  Finally there's a slightly rubbery undertone (that's the best word I can find, but it's not an unpleasant scent).  Rye drinkers should find themselves in familiar-but-different territory here.

Taste: I hate using the word "smooth" to describe spirits, but I can't help it this time.  This rum is silky on the tongue and virtually devoid of alcohol burn.  The flavour is full and luxuriant, awash in sweet caramel and brown sugar, candied nuts, and chewy dried fruits.  After a short savour the wood asserts itself and you're back in familiar whisky territory with vanilla and a faint hint of bitter tannin.

Finish: Rich, creamy sugars, fruit preserves.  A slightly sour lingering tanginess I can only describe as "rummy."  The oak notes that seemed so apparent on the nose and palate are shy now, creeping in well after the sweeter aspects have faded away.

Overall: While this is noticeably sweeter than any whisky I've tried I still find myself on comfortingly familiar ground.  It's oaky and complex, spicy and sweet, and generally a thoroughly satisfying sipper.  It's really, really good.

Some links:

El Dorado Rum
NSLC Availability
The Rum Howler