This week’s theme for the tastings at Beer Boutique was cream ales. This was very interesting because not only was it a flight of all the same style, but all of our offerings were from Ontario as well. It was really fascinating to see what our province had to offer and to see each brewery’s unique take on the cream ale style.
Our first offering was the Sleeman Cream Ale. This was a great lead-off beer as it is truly a fine example of the style. It pours a straw gold colour with fine white lacing. It has a malt forward aroma with hints of green apple. It is a very crisp beer that slides around your palate before quickly dissipating. It has very little hop bitterness, but is incredibly sessionable. As the tasting went on and we revisited this beer later on, more fruit sweetness developed. There were definitely more notes of pear and apple as it aged. It was a small crowd for this week’s tasting, and everyone participating had tried the Sleeman Cream Ale at least once before. Everyone agreed that it was a very easy drinking beer, and actually leaned a little closer to a lager style than ale.
We then moved down the highway from Guelph to Oakville, as we sampled Cameron’s Cream Ale. This was an impressive offering and was actually my pleasant surprise of the evening. I have had this beer before, but it has been a while since my last tasting and didn’t remember it being this good. It pours a clear golden colour but a considerably darker gold than the Sleeman. To me it had a sweet malty aroma that was reminiscent of Arrowroot baby cookies. The sweetness was nicely balanced with a fair hop presence. Everyone attending was certainly impressed and it was regarded as a favourite by several tasters.
During these tastings I routinely call on one first-time participants and get them to engage in a little experiment. It’s known as the bottle vs. glass challenge. The idea is for the participant to do a head-to-head comparison of the same brand, first straight from the bottle than from the glass. Most people haven’t tried this type of direct comparison before, and their discoveries are usually quite eye-opening. Most people find (and tonight was no exception) that beer tastes cleaner and thus better out of a glass. In my humble opinion the bottle and can should be used as a transportation device only. Yes, of course there are exceptions: out on a golf course or at the beach come to mind; but to me beer is at its best when consumed out of a glass. In a glass the beer is more true to its original draught state, and in a glass there is less carbonation which leads to less gas, bloating and hangovers. (#allgoodthings) There are all kinds of style specific glassware that will enhance your drinking experience; but in the beginning just getting it to a glass – any glass is a good start.
Our third beer of the night was the Muskoka Cream Ale. This was probably the most distinct beer offered tonight. It was different from the others visually, in aroma, and taste as well. To start, it is significantly darker than the previous two, as it is deep gold that almost borders on copper. It also had the thickest foam retention. It definitely is the hoppiest of the bunch as was evident in both smell and taste. Again, hop presence is an acquired taste. Personally, I love the kick that hop bitterness provides but not everyone shares the same hop-love. I felt the Muskoka Cream Ale had a delightful aroma of hay and grassiness. Amongst the three I thought it had the most mouth-feel and most distinctive finish. It was truly a unique offering, one that I will be returning to over the summer.
*Blogger’s Note: After completing this tasting and blog, Muskoka went on to win Gold at the 2012 Ontario Brewing Awards for best Cream Ale. Congrats Muskoka Team.
Our final offering of the night was mired in controversy: Labatt 50. As I brought out this beer I explained that 50 won gold in the 2011 Ontario Brewing Awards in the cream ale category. I had anticipated the response I was going to get when I presented the 50, and I was correct. “50 is a cream ale?” That was the question I knew I was going to have to answer. I explained that the name cream ale is already a bit of a misnomer. Yes there is creaminess in these beers, but it is not the same as the near frothiness that you see in U.K. cream ales; and it is not intended to be. In America, the terms “Cream Ale” and “Canadian Ale” are synonyms and often used interchangeably. They are characterized by: golden in colour with some bitterness. There should also be a strong taste of grain and should be very crisp and pronounced in flavour. This is the way in which Labatt 50 should be regarded as a cream ale. In fact, in some international markets Labatt 50 is sold as “Labatt Canadian Ale”.
When pouring, the 50 comes out a pale gold and was probably the lightest in colour of the four tonight. It had malty sweetness in the nose which reminded me a lot of Golden Grams. It has a crisp refreshing taste with an almost abrupt finish. As I have discovered in the past, there is no middle ground in regards to 50’s popularity. You either love it and defend it proudly or hate it and regard it as “old man beer”. I tend to do both: yes I can see it being old man beer, as my father and several uncles used to and still do drink it; but I don’t see that as a bad thing, since I too love it. I think I did my part to open some eyes as some of the doubters were impressed and perhaps changed some of their pre-conceived opinions.
This was personally one of the favourite tastings I have hosted. We presented a great selection of beer and there was a great energy from the participants. But you know what they say about cream… It rises to the top!
If you are looking to participate in a FREE Beer Boutique tasting, they take place every Wednesday at Liberty Village and every Thursday at the Distillery District (7pm). Sign-up sheets are posted the Friday before the tasting.
That’s all for now folks,