Cream of the Crop

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,

Cheers!

Gold Rush

 

Yes, the Olympics are coming up, but that’s not the gold I’m concerned about today. I’m talking about beautiful, delicious golden pilsners.  
 
Though the lager and pilsner styles of beer are currently globally dominant, this wasn’t always the case.  Up until the mid 19th-century the majority of beer being produced were darker, often cloudy ales.  In 1842, a brewer named Josef Groll from the Plzen region of Czechoslovakia created a clear, blonde-coloured beer.  Using Czech spring water, noble hops from the Saaz region and Movarian barley, the pilsner as we know it was created.
 
Last week I had the honour of hosting the pilsner-themed beer tasting at the Beer Boutique in Liberty Village.  For this event we had two authentic Czech Pilsners and two Czech-style Canadian pilsners to compare and enjoy.   Of the four beers we sampled, the Urquell provided the most hop bitterness.  The crisp bite in the finish is somewhat of an acquired taste; some of the participants felt it was a little overwhelming, while others loved the punch the hops provided.
 
We then moved on to the “heart of Prague,” Staropramen.  This pilsner was first made in the early 1870’s and was enjoyed by Emporer Franz Josef I.  This was a fun selection for me to present, because even though it once had Empirical favour, it was new to most of the tasters.  This is a really enjoyable beer, starting with a soft malty flavour and finishing with delicate hop bitterness.  It doesn’t pack quite the wallop that the Urquell does, which depending on your hop-love could make this a better or worse selection.

The next beer wetried is Czech-inspired but has roots right here in Canadian soil, Creemore Pilsner.  This was also a very interesting selection, because a number of people in the group were familiar with the Creemore lager but had not tried the pilsner.  It was fascinating to compare our Canadian offerings with the classic Czech staples.  Could our home grown offerings match the authenticity of the classics?  In this tasting, most agreed that they could.  The Creemore was a big crowd favourite, and was perhaps the most balanced of the bunch.
 
Our final selection of the night was one of my personal faves, Steamwhistle.  I did my best to not show too much bias, because I consume this one quite a bit and have toured Steamwhistle brewery a number of times.  In terms of its authenticity, Steamwhistle certainly has that.  From the way they use only four natural ingredients, all the way down to an authentic Czech Brewmaster.  This brew has significant hop presence and a pleasant lingering bitterness.  Everyone in the group was familiar with Steamwhistle so it was a great way to cap off the night.
 
My favourite part about conducting these tastings is seeing how people learn about their own tastes and preferences.  Because individual palates can vary so greatly, everyone is going to have different tastes and favourites.   This is why I always get a kick out of people discovering that they like a beer that they were hesitant about at the start. 

Interested in coming to a tasting?  They are held every Wednesday at 7pm at Liberty Village and every Thursday at 7pm at the Distillery District.  Sign-up sheets are posted the Friday before the tasting.  Beer, fun, FREE – can you think of a better way to spend an hour?

Cheers!

It’s been a long time since I last blogged and I thought now was as good a time as any for a comeback.  I recently met up with the members of the inaugural graduating class from my Prud’homme beer certification program.  It was great to catch up, reminisce and have some beers with friends.  It was a great step to get me re-motivated and re-focused on my beer pursuits.
So without any further ado let’s get on to the meat and potatoes, or in this case, the beer and cheese.
Over the last couple of months I have had the great privilege of leading some beer tastings at the Beer Boutique.   Now with a brand new boutique opening in the distillery district, I have been given the amazing opportunity to lead the tastings at both locations.  
However, this year not only am I facilitating the tastings, but I came up with the beer curriculum as well.  What that means, is that I get to pick the beer theme for the tastings and select the beer to taste as well.
With my new role, and the grand opening of the Distillery location, I knew I had to come out guns blazing for my first tasting.  Cue the beer and cheese pairings.  The format for the evening was 3 distinct beers, 3 cheese pairings suited to match.  Tonight we had a pilsner (Steam Whistle), an IPA (Muskoka Mad Tom) and a strong amber ale (Maudite) paired with a chevre, an English cheddar and a gruyere respectively.
We started with the Steam Whistle and goat cheese.  (For those playing along at home, it’s always best to start from lightest to darkest, and lower to highest alcohol percentage when doing a tasting.)  This was truly a great pairing, better than I even expected it to be.  My rationale was to pair a softer, fruitier cheese with the hop bitterness that a pilsner provides.    In this case, the cheese mellowed some of the bite of the pilsner, and both were still able to co-exist quite nicely.
The next pairing was the Mad Tom IPA with English “Glenphilly” cheddar.  This was a bit of a tough one, again I was being a little selfish when I chose the beers.  I figured because it’s the first tasting of the year I want to showcase beer I know and like.  As a beer on its own, I am a big fan of this IPA: it’s floral and aromatic and profoundly hoppy.  My idea for pairing this was that I need a sharp cheese to stand up to the massive hop presence.  I was both right and wrong on this.  An aged sharp cheese would have been a great choice for this IPA, but the cheddar I bought, though delicious on its own, it was not sharp enough to handle the IPA and was a little over-powered.
Finally, we paired one of (if not my hands down) favourite beer, Maudite with a gruyere.  I have tried this pairing before and in the past has been a tremendous pairing.  Tonight it still went well, but was a shade less spectacular than I remember it.  Perhaps it was the particular gruyere, or maybe I was so overly impressed with the Steam Whistle / chevre pairing that all others paled in comparison.
All in all it was a wonderful night filled with great cheese and great beer.  The beautiful part is I get to do it all again next week as I return to the original Beer Boutique in liberty village to host their beer and cheese tasting.  Not too shabby.
Cheers!

It’s been a long time since I last blogged and I thought now was as good a time as any for a comeback.  I recently met up with the members of the inaugural graduating class from my Prud’homme beer certification program.  It was great to catch up, reminisce and have some beers with friends.  It was a great step to get me re-motivated and re-focused on my beer pursuits.

So without any further ado let’s get on to the meat and potatoes, or in this case, the beer and cheese.

Over the last couple of months I have had the great privilege of leading some beer tastings at the Beer Boutique.   Now with a brand new boutique opening in the distillery district, I have been given the amazing opportunity to lead the tastings at both locations. 

However, this year not only am I facilitating the tastings, but I came up with the beer curriculum as well.  What that means, is that I get to pick the beer theme for the tastings and select the beer to taste as well.

With my new role, and the grand opening of the Distillery location, I knew I had to come out guns blazing for my first tasting.  Cue the beer and cheese pairings.  The format for the evening was 3 distinct beers, 3 cheese pairings suited to match.  Tonight we had a pilsner (Steam Whistle), an IPA (Muskoka Mad Tom) and a strong amber ale (Maudite) paired with a chevre, an English cheddar and a gruyere respectively.

We started with the Steam Whistle and goat cheese.  (For those playing along at home, it’s always best to start from lightest to darkest, and lower to highest alcohol percentage when doing a tasting.)  This was truly a great pairing, better than I even expected it to be.  My rationale was to pair a softer, fruitier cheese with the hop bitterness that a pilsner provides.    In this case, the cheese mellowed some of the bite of the pilsner, and both were still able to co-exist quite nicely.

The next pairing was the Mad Tom IPA with English “Glenphilly” cheddar.  This was a bit of a tough one, again I was being a little selfish when I chose the beers.  I figured because it’s the first tasting of the year I want to showcase beer I know and like.  As a beer on its own, I am a big fan of this IPA: it’s floral and aromatic and profoundly hoppy.  My idea for pairing this was that I need a sharp cheese to stand up to the massive hop presence.  I was both right and wrong on this.  An aged sharp cheese would have been a great choice for this IPA, but the cheddar I bought, though delicious on its own, it was not sharp enough to handle the IPA and was a little over-powered.

Finally, we paired one of (if not my hands down) favourite beer, Maudite with a gruyere.  I have tried this pairing before and in the past has been a tremendous pairing.  Tonight it still went well, but was a shade less spectacular than I remember it.  Perhaps it was the particular gruyere, or maybe I was so overly impressed with the Steam Whistle / chevre pairing that all others paled in comparison.

All in all it was a wonderful night filled with great cheese and great beer.  The beautiful part is I get to do it all again next week as I return to the original Beer Boutique in liberty village to host their beer and cheese tasting.  Not too shabby.

Cheers!

The Big Kahuna

Recently I had the honour of trying the new “Hawaiian Pale Ale” by Spearhead brewery. This new brewery will be launching their flagship beer in the next couple weeks, and I expect big things from them.

After trying it, it is most similar to nothing you’ve had before.  This is a good thing, and this is the way the team at spearhead have intended it.  This unfiltered, unpasteurized beer is burnt orange in colour with a thick white foam collar.  It is made with west coast hops and real pineapple which is evident both on the nose and in flavour.  Coming in at 60 IBU the hop presence is definitely there, but surprisingly not overwhelming.  The beer is balanced in a delicious way between citrus, some spice and the hop bitterness in the finish

I predict big things this summer for this beer.  I could easily see someone spending some quality patio time getting to know this beer.  Just be careful, at 6.5% just make sure the patio doesn’t have to many stairs.

I hope you enjoy it.  Let the tiki party begin.

Cheers.

Match Made in Delicious

Throughout food history there have been some classic food pairings: peanut butter and jam, burger and fries, chips and dip have all been thought of as perfect marriages of flavour.  Beer too has also been classically paired with some items, but usually it was relegated to pretzels, nuts or ballpark hot dogs… All great pairings, but there are so many more items that beer is perfectly suited for.  One of them is cheese.

Though historically cheese has been paired with wine, more and more people are coming around and discovering that not only does beer pair well with cheese, it may even be a better pairing than wine.  When you consider the facts beer is more closely related to cheese than wine.  Both wine and cheese are aged and fermented, both were originally farmhouse products and both balance sweetness and acidity with fruitiness and fermentation flavours.

I am currently enrolled in the third and final level of Prud’homme Beer Certification Program and recently had the great fortune of having a whole class devoted to cheese.  We have had many great classes, discussing beer history, ingredients and anything beer related… but a whole class about beer and cheese - now that’s the kind of education I can get on board with.

Our guest lecturer was Alex Couch, a bright young man who is studying to become a fromagier (cheese expert).  Alex led us through several different cheeses and explained the subtleties and nuances of each cheese.  Many were delicious on their own and became over-the-top delicious once we paired them with beer.

Though there is no real substitute for experiencing a flight of cheese with an expert I encourage anyone who has a passion for beer or cheese to start to experiment on their own.  If you’re looking for a good place to start, some of my personal favourite pairings are:  An aged parmigiano regiano with an IPA  and  gruyere cheese with an Oktoberfest beer.

Cheers (and Bon Appetite)

Ontario Brewing Awards

I have had a week now to reflect on the Ontario Brewing Awards, and now that all of the events have had time to soak in I feel even more proud to have participated in the event.

I have been a beer fan for some time now, but it has only been in the last year or so that I have been immersed in beer culture and really become knowledgeable about beer.  Since this was the first event of it’s kind that I have been involved in, just attending would have been memorable, but because I was unique involvement this night was truly special.

Not only did I have the good fortune to attend the event, but I also had the honour of judging the some of the people’s choice awards and actually presented some of the awards as well.  If that were not enough, the awards were held at The Dominion On Queen where I have worked as a bartender (beer-tender) for the last year.

I have worked many events at the Dominion, and I can honestly say the place has never looked better.  The event was packed, from brewer to fan, micro to big guy.  At first I was a little taken back, wondering how I was going to be able to talk and relate to these beer big-wigs.  My concerns were all for naught, as everyone I came in contact with was very friendly and approachable. 

After thinking about it, I realized why wouldn’t everyone be in a good mood, the main point of the night was to honour and celebrate the creation of good beer.  The awards themselves were really interesting.  It was fascinating to discover what some of my choices were, as it was a blind tasting during the judging.  Some of the selections were very surprising, but all in all it was a great night filled with great conversation and great beer.

For a complete list of the winners visit:

http://www.canadianbeernews.com/2011/05/10/ontario-brewing-awards-2011-winners-list/

I can’t wait for the OBA’s 2012

Cheers

Innis & Gunn & Easter


Another holiday is in the books.  This weekend I was granted a few much-deserved days off and got to spend the easter weekend with my family.  For me, and I’m sure many of you can relate, going to visit my folks is an experience filled with pros and cons.  One of the cons was at my moms there is no internet connection, hence the delay between posts.  However, one of the great pros was coming home to a surprise easter basket from my mom.  I’m a grown man but I’m still my moms little boy so I received a man-basket filled with beef jerky, hot sauce and assortment of beer.  Yeah, my mom is adorable.  Among the assortment was the Innis and Gunn rum cask beer.

This particular beer is aged over sixty days in oak barrels which previously contained navy-rum.  This extended maturation adds to the character and complexity of this great beer.  A deep-red in colour, with notes of toffee and a fair amount of spice on the nose. The spice comes comes through in the flavour as well, but it is not abrasive and quite balanced for 7.4% ABV.  It was around this time that I decided that this was not only going to be my Easter beer, it was doing to be Easter-dinner beer.

I love a good Easter ham as much as the next guy, but this year my house was a turkey house.  My initial hunch was correct and the beer paired quite well with the turkey, especially the dark meat.  The best match of the night, however, is how the beer paired with the stuffing.  The spice in the beer was a great compliment to some of the pepper and herbs in the stuffing.  Also, over time the oak characteristics became more apparent and also played well against the stuffing.  

The beer-stuffing pairing was a pleasant surprise, but the pairing would not have been possible if it were not for my moms man-basket surprise.  It was a sweet touch to a nice visit, and it was sure better than a chocolate-egg.

Cheers!



Reflections on Bavaria

It has now been one month since I embarked on my trip to Austria and Germany and in that time I’ve had some time to reflect on my vacation, basing a trip around beer, and beer in general.

When first discussing the details of my trip, it was met with mixed emotions.  Some people thought that beer could not be the cornerstone of a vacation, while others thought this was a brilliant idea and wished they had thought of it.  I have had the good fortune to go on a few vacations and I have to say this one ranked among the top.  While I admit that beer played a heavy role in the plans and destinations of my trip it was not the sole reason.  I took in the sights and scenery of some beautiful countries, experienced a different cultural and cuisine and reconnected with some great friends.

It was this last aspect, coupled with another look at my travel pictures that got me thinking about one of the most underrated qualities of beer.  Yes, beer is delicious and we all love that feeling we get from having a couple, but more than that beer brings people together.  Whether it’s for the big game, or a quick pint after work, or if its major German festival, beer is one of those wonderful things that becomes better when you add company.  This reinforces a theory that I’ve had for the past couple years:  Life is easy, all you need is good food, good drink, and someone to share it with.  Keep this in mind the next time you’re out with your friends having a pint.

Cheers!

Ontario Brewing Awards

On Monday I had the honour and privilege of being a judge at the 2011 Ontario Brewing Awards.  This incredible opportunity was offered upon my graduation from the Level II Prud’homme Beer Certification Program.

This was an amazing experience that I will not soon forget.  I got to meet new people, discuss beer with other like-minded beer fans, and most of all taste some great beer.  As an amateur judge, I was eligible to judge the some of the People’s Choice awards while a panel of BJCP-certified judges awarded the silver and gold prizes for each category.

I took the task of being voice for the people very seriously.  In my judging I attempted to think beyond my own personal preference and really deliberate on what a consumer would enjoy drinking.  I have the second round of judging this evening and I’m very much looking forward to it.

I have nothing but positive things to say about this experience, I mean come on… people coming together to recognize and praise good beer.  Sounds like a winning combination to me.

The Awards ceremony takes place May 10th at The Dominion on Queen.  Check it out for all the results.

Cheers!

Double Chocolate Cherry Stout

This week I got the opportunity to try the Double Chocolate - Cherry Stout by the Black Oak Brewery.  To me the mentality behind this is the same as my peanut butter and pickle sandwich theory…  I like pickles, I like peanut butter, naturally I should like them both together.  (Don’t knock it ‘til you tried it)

In terms of taste the beer achieved the same success as my sandwich.  No, the beer tasted neither of peanut butter nor pickles, but like my sandwich the combined creation did not live up to the individual parts.  The beer (and sandwich) is quite good, don’t get me wrong, but my preference for the respective ingredients is greater than the sum of their parts. 

The jet-black beer is 5.5% ABV and has an excellent creamy foam.  In the nose you instantly get cocoa and the tart cherries that it advertises.  Both flavours are equally apparent in the first taste as well.  The beer leaves a silky mouth-coating and for me the taste gets better as it warms.  One thought that immediately crossed my mind is that this beer needs to be revisited with a dessert, preferably a New York style cheesecake.

Though not an instant favourite, I commend Black Oak for trying something new.  It is this experimental attitude, this willingness to try something new that is resulting in new and adventurous flavours of beer.

Cheers!