Archive for category Ale

Beer for English Devolution

 A beer for every region!

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Talk of English devolution got me thinking. At first beer was, unusually nothing to do with any of thoughts, but memories of history lessons about Anglo-Saxon England and the original divisions of England emerged, before those pesky conquering Normans came along with their Dukes and Doomsday Books. I checked a few blogs and websites on devolution and came up with a modern version that might work today, dividing England up into modern day provinces that represented some historical roots but allowed for modern populations etc. etc…..’but what the hell does this tangent have to do with beer?’ I hear those of you still reading ask.

Well, in states and provinces in other countries, there are state flowers, provincial birds and trees, so if England were to divide up into provinces why not have a representative beer style? Ok so there are probably lots of reasons but this is just a bit of fun!

Capital Idea: London.

There are a couple of nominations for the beer choice of the capital, including IPA, as London was where the forerunner to the modern style was initially developed and exported to India. I felt that the home of IPA in its heyday was not in London but further north, and the real beer of London has to be the one that took its name from those that carried the goods around the city in the 18th and 19th centuries. The ticket porters (tickets were the metal badges that they wore as a licence to work) were the lifeblood of the worlds most important trading centre 200 years ago, and the beer that slaked their thirst was named after them. This classic was also known as ‘entire butt’ due to the brewing process used by the breweries that were, in effect, mass-producing this beer for the new industrial working classes in London, but it is better known as Porter. This beer lubricated a city and has become synonymous with it. The new wave of craft breweries in London are embracing the style and it has now been given new life and a prominence it deserves.

Beer of London: Porter

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Three London porters. A river porter, ticket porter and fellowship porter

 

The Mysterious East: East Anglia & Home Counties.

This may be a bit of fusion of two areas but my main thought here is that it contains the two counties most associated with traditional hop growing: Kent and Sussex. The hop is the ingredient that seems to be most revered by modern brewers, and we are now understanding them in the same way sommeliers understand grape varietals, with soil, terroir and climate all adding to their various flavours and aromas. The style that has showcased the English hop so well over the past 250 years has been Bitter and pale ale. Hoppy pale ale emerged with the development of IPA in the 18th century, and was in contrast to the relatively low-hopped ales that were also sold at the time. These hoppy pale ales were colloquially know as ‘bitter’ by those that drank them and the name stuck. Today bitter can be found around the world in its various guises and New World interpretations, but the home of the hop in Britain lies within this region and I think Bitter should be their official beer!

Beer of East Anglia & Home Counties: Bitter

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

Kent Oast Houses with hop-poles

 

The Borderlands: Mercia

Mercia translates as border country in Anglo-Saxon, and referred to the kingdom that sat uncomfortably for many years next to Wales, until King Offa defined a more permanent boundary with his dyke. Nowadays this area roughly translates as the much more prosaically named ‘Midlands’, but as a history enthusiast, I like Mercia a lot more! This was a tough one to decide as the industrial heartland in the ‘Black Country’ consumed many millions of barrels of Mild over the years, so that was my first candidate.

The second beer on the list is Burton Ale. Burton-upon-Trent was and the major centre of brewing for the British Empire for many years and this eponymous ale was drunk around the world before falling into obscurity. The town lies in the heart of Mercia, and any beer that represents this region must have an association with this old brewing powerhouse. Today its shadow falls upon many a Winter Warmer and Barley Wine, as Burton ale found itself being re-labelled and developed into these more familiar beers. Although Burton brewed and exported this beer, it was a major producer of porter and stout for export too, but the beer that really put it on the map was IPA. At the height of the British expansion into India through the East India Company as well as through Empire, Burton was the largest producer of what went on to be called IPA, running London into second place and Edinburgh third. This style has now captured the imagination of many a craft brewer around the world and been re-invented and interpreted many times over. The famous Burton water and brewing prowess made this style its own.

Beer of Mercia: IPA

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in 19th C

Burton Union Brewing System at Bass in the 19th Century

 

The Summerlands: Wessex

Wessex expanded its borders regularly of the second half of the first millennium, but its heart lies where the West Country meets the South. I tried to think what encapsulates this beautiful part of England, and I kept coming back to summer holidays, beaches, sailing, camping, hiking and sunnier weather that the rest of the UK! The only traditional beer I could place here is the now extinct west country white ale. This was an historic English beer made with wheat flour, little or no hops and wild fermentation. Maybe it was a more wheaty lambic, although some recipes include egg whites, so I’m not going to guess what it tasted like! I did think wheat beer, as a descendant of this curiosity, had a shout but really it’s a bit of a stretch.

In the early 1990s Wessex based Hopback brewery brewed a type of pale ale that appealed to a new generation of drinker. It was paler than the bitters and pale ales at the time, had a light , easy drinking body and just enough hops to give it a crisp, refreshing finish. Lifelong lager drinkers were starting to convert and a new style (or sub-style) was born. The Summer ale or Golden ale is now a mainstay of many breweries and usually finds itself as a summer seasonal, although recently it has become a year-round offering due to its popularity. It chimes perfectly with the sunny disposition of this region, and a pint of golden summer ale is never far from a beer lover’s lips when holidaying or living in this provincial paradise.

Beer of Wessex: Golden Ale

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

Coastal Beer Garden in the West Country

 

The Northern Powerhouse: Northumbria

The North of England is a blend of industrial towns and cities, that helped build a nation, and stunning wild mountains, lakes and hills. It’s as diverse as this country gets, but whether sat in a country pub or Manchester restaurant, the atmosphere of an independent spirit with a warm welcome is never far away. The candidates for this region were easy to assemble. Bitter is a mainstay of many a Yorkshire brewery and I’m sure many dissenting voices would be happy to fight the South East for this one, but I had to make the call and Northumbria came off second. Theakston’s Old Peculiar is a classic North Country beer and this modern-ish version of an Old Ale is a must after a long hike in the hills, accompanying a beefy pie and mash in the pub. I felt that Old Ale is a bit obscure for a flagship brew so the winner had to be Brown Ale. The internationally famous Newcastle Brown Ale is drunk in many parts of the world and spawned many, some far superior, brown ales. One is from the other side of the region and Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale is a delicious version of the amber brown style of beer. Sometimes known as ‘Northern English Brown Ale’ by American pigeon-holing types, it is not to be confused with the sweeter dark brown ale, typified by Mann’s. This northern ale is a thirst-quenching pint that can have a nutty malt flavour, and just a hint of hops for balance only and I feel this is a beer the North can be proud of.

Beer of Northumbria: Brown Ale

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

Thirsty Coal Miners enjoy a well-deserved brew

 

I hope you have enjoyed this regional ramble and provincial pontification. Feel free to disagree and stake a claim for an official ale for your area. You never know, we may be going federal in a few years and as beer is the national drink, it can unite us as well divide us, but each Anglo-state may be searching for an identity all of its own, and what better than a local beer to do just that?

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A perfect beer cocktail for Summer – the Vancouver Vice

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A vice is something that we might enjoy despite it being bad for us, a bit naughty or immoral in some way!

Weiss Beer is a German wheat beer
(and pronounced almost like the English “vice”) that is delicious and refreshing.

I put the two together and developed this great summer cocktail. It sells now in Bitter Tasting Room in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, and if you want to impress some summer guests who need to be shown how versatile beer can be, then grab a cocktail shaker and make a few of these with your favourite German Hefe!

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The Vancouver Vice

1 oz (30 ml) Hendricks Gin (or your gin of choice, but Hendricks is best for the “Vice”)

1/2 oz (15ml) Pimms N0.1

1 1/4 oz (37ml) 2:1 Strawberry honey syrup

1/2 oz (15ml) Lemon juice

1/4 oz (7ml) Lime juice

1 bar spoon (5 ml) Bittermens Hopped Grapefruit Bitters

3-4 oz (90-120ml) Maisel’s Weisse wheat beer (or your favourite German Hefeweisse beer)

Garnish: Wheel of Lime or Lemon

(Metric conversions are approximate)

Method:

Combine all the ingredients (except beer) in a shaker with ice. Shake and strain into a stemmed 12oz (360 ml) glass half filled with ice. Top up with gently with beer. (If you pour it straight in too fast, it will foam over) . Now gently mix with a barspoon (or ‘pull through’ from the bottom to top) to combine the beer and garnish.

I know some of you are looking at strawberry honey syrup and wondering where to buy it, but it is home made and very quick and easy to make. It’s totally worth it as the fresh fruit flavour gives it a real kick.

Strawberry Honey Syrup (2:1)

1 cup (250 ml) of clear runny honey

1/2 cup (125 ml) of water

1 lb / 500 g Strawberries

Gently warm the water and honey until they combine into a syrup (this is a 2:1 honey syrup) – don’t let it boil though! If you have a juicer, cut the green stems from strawberries and juice all the strawberries and add to the honey syrup. Stir on a low heat until it has combined. (Any raw fruit in a syrup has to be heated just enough to pasteurise it, just don’t let it boil otherwise you lose that fresh flavour and get a jammy one) . You can optionally strain the syrup through a large sieve or strainer to remove any remaining strawberry bits, but it is not necessary. Allow to cool and chill

No juicer, no problem!

De-stalk the strawberries and slice and chop them. Add to the honey syrup over a very low heat (don’t allow to boil) and stir and allow the juices to seep into the syrup. Strain, allow to cool and chill.

Always keep the syrup in the fridge.

 

 

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Cascadian Dark Ale – A name is dead? – time to re-brand!

500px-Flag_of_Cascadia.svgThanks to the litigiously minded Eli Gershkovitch at Steamworks Brewery in Vancouver, BC The name for that dark, top fermented beer, with full hoppy aromatics, created by the Cascadian varietals of  hops, has now effectively ceased to exist. Proud Cascadian brewers across the Canada-US border in the beautiful Pacific Northwest have been denied the chance to brand the style that was created and championed with the cross national region that takes its name after the Cascade mountains (a term first used  in 1825). In 1970 the term ‘Cascadia’ was first used to describe the surrounding region, and since then has been a popular name used by its inhabitants. Sadly the use of the word “Cascadia” and “Cascadian” has been trademarked for beer names and styles by a brewery that no longer produces the beer that once bore its name.  Sadly, as far as I know, this has not been tested in court, no doubt because these things cost money, and money is often in short supply within the world of  small craft brewers.

So it might be safe to assume that the battle to use the name for our region is lost for now, but that begs a new question: What should we call this style now? Black IPA seems popular but is a truly horrible contradiction (black and pale – oh please!!) So what are the options?Cascadia_map_and_bioregion

The American Brewers Association has plumped for ‘American style India Black Ale’ – with its US-centric attitude towards beer styles they have ignored the Canadian contribution to this beer as well as the uncomfortable use of ‘India’ within this name.

The American  BJCP, founded on principles of homebrew competitions, have yet to decide on a name for this style other than a speciality style, but debated the issue last year. (I can’t find any resolution on their site).

The British based World Beer Awards have gone for ‘Black IPA’ and the US based World Beer Cup with its record breaking number of sub-styles call it ‘American style Black Ale’.

One thing is certain, no one agrees!

The use of ‘American’ for me is problematic as it ignores Canada and its contribution to the development and popularisation of the style. The great thing about ‘Cascadian’ is that it crosses the border effortlessly without the ‘North American’ moniker.

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There is a genuine ancestor of this style that was brewed as a porter, but prepared for export to India with extra hops and dry hopping. This was called a number of things such as ‘India Porter’ or ‘India Export Porter’, or ‘Export India Porter’. This was predominantly hopped with English hops (but not necessarily exclusively) but resembles the CDA in the same way a British style IPA would resemble a North American style IPA – related, similar but not the same. The Kernel  Brewery in London have re-created the style (interestingly they also make a Black IPA). This gives us a start but ignores those that developed the Cascadian version and the use of Pacific Northwest  hops

 

Here are some options which I would be grateful for you, the reader, to consider.

 

North American Style India Porter

West Coast India Porter

West Coast Porter

West Coast Dark Ale

PNW (Pacific Northwest) Dark Ale

PNW Porter

Can-Am Black Ale

Obviously there are many variations (Black versus Dark etc) but you get the idea. Perhaps a shortlist can be assembled and some names voted on!

 

 

 

 

 

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The Great Pumpkin beer tasting

 

 

So I decided to try some Pumpkin beers on Hallowe’en while watching some bad horror movies (starting with “The Children”- murderous kids and toddlers go on the rampage!) I had five different beers from four breweries. I started with Parallel  49’s Shadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest. A clever idea marrying the easy, malty marzen style lager of the Oktoberfest with some pumpkin and spices of Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving.

 

 

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Parallel 49 Schadenfreude Pumpkin Oktoberfest

This is the only lager from the group and it certainly is easy drinking. There is some nice sweet pumpkin flavour, a hint of vanilla and some  nutmeg and cinnamon perhaps. The spices are light and match the medium bodied maltiness of the beer. Quite a dry spicy finish that, although stops this from being a sweet beer, can be too dry for some.

All in all a good first effort from this brewery and I would recommend this and buy it again next year for sure!

Wrangler Rating:

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 Lighthouse Pumpkin Ale

This one is a mid amber colour and starts off surprisingly light. There is a mild sweetness from the demerara sugar and a little spice. It finishes very quickly and I felt there was not anything to it. I guess they went for the restrained approach, seeing as some pumpkin ales are cloyingly sweet and spiced out of all proportion, but I feel they were too cautious and missed out on some seasonal flavours.  A rare miss from this reliable brewery!

 

 Wrangler Rating:

 tankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Fair)

 

 

Tree Brewing Jumpin Jack Pumpkin Ale

Tree brewing have a number of seasonals that are usually well received, so how will  their pumpkin ale stack up against some stiff competition? It pours a dark amber and, weighing in at 7%, promises a fuller tasting beer than the other two. With a malty spicy aroma, it doesn’t taste like it’s as strong as it is. It has an even maltiness, a medium body and well integrated spicy flavours. This was a really well balanced beer with all the flavours combining well! This beer is not overly sweet, and the pie spices match the pleasant malt nicely. An easy 3 almost 4 Tankards!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

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Cannery Knucklehead Pumpkin Ale

The Cannery pumpkin ale comes with a well-dresssed knobbly headed pumpkin gentleman on the label, and pours a bit darker that the others so far. It seems to be based on an amber-brown ale, which leads me to let it warm up a bit, rather than having it straight from the fridge.  It has a slightly smoky note to the spice aroma but the malt seems a bit thin for me.  The spice is definitely dominant, with a touch of black liquorice  but there is almost no sweetness or maltiness, which I like a bit of  in my pumpkin ales. Having said that it went well with my pumpkin BBQ ribs, and the dryness contrasted with the sweetness of the sauce. This one just squeaks a 3 tankards!

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

 

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Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter

This is a bit of a departure from the others in that it is a much fuller bodied beer than the others, with dark malts, mocha notes and made with real chocolate. There is some spice and ginger, but they are laid back and the rich chocolate is definitely king! Pumpkin flavour? well I struggle to taste it, let’s face it, the large orange squash is not known for its strong flavour and it gets a bit lost in this beer. On the other hand this is a delicious beer and my favourite of the ones here, but…. I might struggle to put this in the pumpkin ale group if I was tasting blind. Soooo… what does this mean? Well this is the best beer here but as a pumpkin ale?

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg tankard.jpg(Excellent)

 

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So to conclude the Great Pumpkin Beer Tasting I feel that there is a split decision! Parallel 49 Lost Souls Chocolate Pumpkin Porter was the best beer out of the five, but … I think Tree Brewing`s Jumpin Jack was the best ‘classic’ pumpkin ale here. On Hallowe’en I want to taste pumpkin pie in a glass but not be overwhelmed by any one element and Tree managed it well.

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Hoyne Wolf Vine Wet Hopped Pale Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Hoyne Wolf Vine is the first beer I have reviewed from this fairly new brewery. Their IPA is popular as is their version of a dark mild, Dark Matter. This is a limited release due to the availability of the fresh hops and sees Sean Hoyne, formerly of Swans brewpub and Canoe brewpub, and brother of Lighthouse founder and brewer Paul Hoyne, enter the fresh/wet hopped beer fad that is gripping British Columbia at this time of year.

Instead of going for an IPA, Hoyne has gone for the less bitter pale ale, and given it the fresh treatment. It pours a mid amber colour with a bubbley head and leaves heavy lacing around the glass. The aroma is terrific with a big hit of fresh, green leafy notes, lime zest and lime flower. The palate is a bit more restrained but develops more as the beer warms up to cellar temperature. There are less of those aromatics than I expected and it tastes less hoppy than it smells. There is a good balance of bitterness on the finish, leaving a leafy, herbal note in my mouth. Overall a good beer that I enjoyed but it didn’t totally wow me. This would be nice with a (real) mature cheddar ploughman’s lunch.

Serving: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 5.5%

Best Served: 7-10°C

 

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Cascadian Wheat Ale – a beer is born

I’m calling it! I’ve had enough with ‘IPA’ being used as a byword for ‘lots of hops’. IPA has a great history that has genuinely developed over time to mean a range of beers that have a common theme. Pale malts, well bittered and dry hopped aromatics. Which malt? what hops? how much? – its kind of up to the brewer, but whether you are enjoying a Lighthouse Switchback IPA from BC, Canada, the East India Pale Ale from the Brooklyn Brewery in New York or the IPA from Meantime Brewing in London, we know what family we are in, and rightly so. Black IPA, White IPA, Belgian IPA, India Session Ale?….. oh come on! Get your own bloody names people – leave India out of it!

There have been a number of “White IPAs” on the market in the US and Canada, but when Vancouver Island Brewery released their rather delicious Flying Tanker White IPA, it struck me as a missed opportunity. We Cascadians are at the centre of craft brewing in North America, whether you are in Oregon, Washington or British Columbia, we have much in common, not least our hops and innovation. So why not take this opportunity to create our own names for a new generation of beer, rather than pilfering the 19th century. North American IPA, West Coast IPA, Cascadian IPA, Pacific North West IPA… fine,  they all mean something. They are our versions of the classic British IPA. They maintain an historic philosophy while interpreting the style with their own local inspiration. But White IPA?

Please brewers and beer marketers, stop mis-using IPA and forge a new identity. Cascadia is the home of hoppy brews and great hop varieties, so why not make some new beer styles our own! We have tried with Cascadian Dark Ale, lets seize Cascadian Wheat Ale before it is too late!

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Lighthouse Switchback IPA

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

I keep drinking this beer, so it stands to reason that I

a) like it and b) should write about it.

The problem is that every time I crack one open I just want to relax and enjoy it, rather than actually  open my rather neglected blog and get to it!

Lighthouse Brewing have really upped their game in the last year and a half with some cracking and interesting “big flavour” bombers. They waited a bit to follow up with an addition to their popular if conservative 6-pack range, but it was well worth it. The Switchback IPA is described as  “Pacific Northwest” that promises some big hop notes, and challenging the likes of Central City’s Red Racer IPA and the former Lighthouse brewers at Driftwood with their Fat Tug IPA.

On with the beer! It has a lovely dark golden amber colour with a white fluffy head. Aromas of grapefruit and tangerine zest mix with a sweetish grainy malt note. The flavours follow on with the same citrus zest, a fruity tang and a sweet piney note backed by a solid but definitely subservient malt platform.The trick that is not performed well by many North American or West Coast style IPAs are that a bunch of hops are chucked in, with both eyes firmly on the IBU count, rather than how good it is to actually drink! Lots of hops but highly drinkable is a tough ask, but Lighthouse Switchback IPA manages it extremely well. My palate is given the buzz of a very hoppy brew, but unlike some I could mention, I still want to drink more, which is why this works as a 6-pack rather than a 650ml bomber. Enjoy on your deck, or pub patio this summer, and be grateful there is now another great, hoppy,  BC West Coast IPA to cool yourself down with!

Serving: 355ml bottle

ABV: 6.5%

Best Served: 6-8°C

 

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Driftwood Singularity – 1 year on

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Outstanding)

I went to some good friends’ house for dinner the other night and had been saving a bottle of Singularity stout from last years release to compare with a bottle of this years, that he had brought to the party. We opened them together and had them side by side to ‘test’  the effects of ageing.

The head on the 1 year-old was a little more restrained, but the aromas and flavours were full on! Dark mocha coffee bean, baked dried fruit, high cocoa content chocolate, rich sweet black molasses, a roasted warmness and a whisky like note on the finish. This beer was long; by that I mean the amazing, complex flavours lingered for an age in my mouth.

By comparison the new Singularity, with the great looking wax seal, was a babe in arms! All the components were there, but they were not yet of age. The flavours had not yet married, they were still separate, youthful singletons waiting for the right time to meld. The patient drinker will reap the benefits of this new classic. Get as many as you can lay your hands on, but crack them  open on their anniversary; keep a few more to see if it improves and develops further.

Serving Type: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 11.8%

Best Served: 10-12°C

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Phillips Garrison Mash-Up Baltic Porter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

East and West united; Canada going forward as one, whether you are in the Maritimes or the West coast beer is a universal pleasure and one that has united two great Canadian craft breweries on opposite sides of the country.

What is Baltic Porter? It is a relatively modern name used to describe strong Porters brewed in Russia and the Baltic nations that copied strong porters and stouts brewed in Britain for export to those regions. One difference is that many of those breweries now use lager yeasts rather than the warm/top fermenting ale yeasts that brewers in Britain used. Modern craft brewers are now making their version, and bringing this beer to a new audience. Garrison Brewing already produce a good Baltic Porter, and now they’re joining up with Phillips to make a new version; so how does it stack up?

It has a dense black colour with a loose tan head and an aroma of black coffee, baked dried fruit and black molasses. Once sipped it has a full body, but not the intensity I expected. The flavours are full of sweet molasses and burnt mocha. There is a lengthy,  fairly sweet finish and that I find detracts from the balance of the beer, but it is still a good and boozy drop!

Serving type: 650ml bottle

ABV: 8%

Best Served: 8-10 °C

 

 

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Ommegang Three Philosophers

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Ommegang Three Philosophers is a Belgian style quadrupel dark ale, blended with an authentic kriek (cherry lambic). It has a dark reddish brown colour and a loose head that disappears fairly quickly. This beer has a powerful flavour that saturates my mouth as soon as it enters. The thick caramel notes and cooked, dried fruit are the main players, and it overwhelms the subtle (or is it buried?) cherry from the kriek. There are sherry-like armoas and a winey finsh that give this a bitter-sweet note that is good for strong cheeses.

I was a bit disappointed with it as I was expecting a bit more complexity from such a grand beer, and the cherry was just a hint, nothing more. On the whole though it is a very pleasant ale that is best enjoyed on a cold winter`s evening .

Serving: 750ml bottle

ABV: 9.8%

Best served: 10-12°C

 

 

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Lost Coast Winterbraun

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

The Lost Coast Winterbraun is a strong dark brown ale brewed especially for the winter months. The label sports a Picasso-esque snowboarder with skin the colour of this rich and deeply hued brew;  the sweet, dark caramel and rye bread aromas that greet you are a comforting reminder of why we drink different beers when the nights draw in and there is a chill in the air.

The flavours are warming too, a hint of black treacle, roasted malt, baked dried fruit, and sweet caramel are all there and give this beer a cake-like appeal. This can be drunk with a rich beef and ale pie and gravy or on its own, some might enjoy this with desert, such as a steamed sponge pudding made with lots of dried fruit and a caramel flavoured custard.

ABV: 6.5%

Serving type: 650ml bottle

Best Served: 9 – 11 °C

 

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Driftwood Twenty Pounder Double IPA

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Driftwood Brewery Twenty Pounder Double IPA comes with trademark fabulous graphic artwork on the label. At the very least they have raised the game when it comes to bottle labels! Happily this is not where the game raising ends. They have produced many of British Columbia’s (and canada’s for that matter) best craft brews. A double IPA (thanks for not using ‘Imperial’) has been keenly awaited by the craft beer fans of the West coast. Since the two IPAs that have been on the shelves – regular IPA Fat Tug and super seasonal Sartori Harvest have proved so popular, a double IPA seemed to be an obvious choice for a seasonal specialty.

On with the review! It pours a rich mid-amber colour and has a small foamy head. The aromas are full of dried fruit and candied orange peel. There is some pink grapefruit there too and it promises to be a big mouthful of a beer, full of richness and power. There are obvious notes of sweetness, from the malt, but not a giant amount of depth. The hop notes are still king and a real pithiness is present on the tip of my tongue.  There is, however a slight cloying note and a bit of a metallic taste on the lengthy finish which tempers my total enjoyment.

I can’t help thinking that Driftwood’s real skill has been some of the farmhouse ales like Spring Rite and the great ESB Naughty Hildegard and that’s where their passion lies. The plethora of Double IPAs from many North American breweries have made the style a “standard” and perhaps this hasn’t showed off their indisputable talents at their best.

Having said all that I still like this beer, but I can’t help thinking that it will improve with a bit of age. I will put one down for six months and I’m sure it will show better. I did this with the Lighthouse Shipwrecked Triple IPA and it’s disjointed flavours greatly harmonised after a few months in the Beer Wrangler’s cellar.

I also feel that this would would work better with some food – perhaps a blue cheese to temper the sweetness or on the other hand a funky but creamy Limberger might just be perfect!

Serving Type: 650ml Bottle

ABV: 9%

Best Served: 9 – 11°C

 

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Brewdog Trashy Blonde

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

What makes a great Summer ale? Whether you call it a Blonde, a Golden or a Summer ale, the style has to refresh, not be too heavily flavoured, but definitely not bland. There also has to be a good level of (here I go – a word I hate!) drinkability. (I feel soooo dirty!)  However a drinkable balanced golden coloured ale would only get a 3 tankard rating. A great beer has a certain something that inspires and delights, and as all beer connoisseurs know, when you come across it, you mark it down in your mind and make sure you revisit that beer at a future date. Brewdog comes with a lot of hype, and are well known for their super strong and heavily hopped ales, but can they pull off a great session style summer seasonal without overdoing it or being too cautious?

It has a nice pale golden colour, and crisp slightly hoppy, almost lagery nose. There is a hint of grainy malt but no real sweetness, and a good dose of dry herbal hops on the finish. The hop notes linger for a bit, almost drying my mouth, which in turn makes it start to water!

This is a nicely made Summer blonde ale and I could sink quite a few on a hot day on the deck!

Seving type: 330ml bottle

ABV: 4.1%

Best Served: 5-7°C

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Kona Brewing Oceanic Belgian Style Saison

Wrangler Rating:

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Kona Brewing’s Oceanic Organic Belgian Style Saison is brewed on the Big Island using Belgian yeast and organic ingredients. It has a medium gold colour and if you tip the whole bottle out, the small amount of yeast inside will give it a slightly cloudy appearance, with an aroma of spice and citrus. The flavour is a touch one dimensional, but has a nice crisp refreshing flavour with a citrus note. There is a hint of the coriander and dry spice on the finish and is pleasantly drinkable. This seemed to get better as it warmed up, so if you don’t want to miss the subtle spiciness, don’t drink it too cold!

ABV: 6%

Serving type: 650ml Bottle

Best Served: 6-8°C

 

 

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Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Leinenkugel’s Sunset Wheat is sold by the brewery as a ‘Belgian Wit’  but this is no ordinary Hoegaarden imitation that some breweries, large and small churn out in the summer. This could be the fruitiest wheat beer on the market with the vibrant orange colour of the liquid echoed by the flavour. Sweet tangerine dominates the palate with juicy blueberry notes there as well. With a touch of sweet spice and a balancing note of bitterness, this beer is a great summer refresher.

Although simple, I really enjoyed this beer and would definitely have this again on a hot afternoon.

Best Served: 5-7°C

ABV: 4.9%

Serving Type: 355ml Bottle

 

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Abbatiale Triple (Brasserie des Sources)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Abbatiale Triple is brewed by Brasserie des Sources in St-Amand les Eaux in northern France, and scored gold medals at the Paris beer competition in 2006 and 2008; now let’s see how it scores with me!

The cool packaging is the first thing you notice when you approach the beer shelf at your favourite local specialty ‘beertique’.  With a white ceramic bottle, cork and a cage it makes me want to investigate further. As I draw nearer the bright golden label reads ‘Abbatiale Triple Blonde, 7% ABV 50cl 6-12°c, refermented in bottle, delicately flavoured with juniper berries, a genuine recipe from the middle ages. A true Abbaye style blonde.’ – My drinking cloak and chalice await!

As I pour it into my chalice (the recommended glass) this brew exhibits vigorous carbonation, a light golden blonde colour, and bright white foamy head that lasts and leaves lacing down the inside of the glass. The aroma has a fresh mild yeastiness, a fragrance of juniper berries, roasted corn and gentle earth. The first sip hits the back of my throat and I feel like I’m standing in ankle deep water with the sun on my smiling face and an ocean breeze that takes me away. Refreshing is not an expressive enough word to describe this excellent french beer! Zingy herbal notes on the front palate give way to a subtle creamy nuance, with a buttery and  tart finish that lingers.

As for food pairing – I want fish and chips; I want southern fried chicken, collard greens, and cornbread. Plank my salmon and serve it with a side of coleslaw or potato salad, and while you’re at it, I’ll have another beer please. Abbatiale is easy drinking, good refreshment, smooth and quaffable, it’s easy to taste why this little jug of deliciousness has been around for a few centuries.

Serving: 500ml Bottle

ABV: 7%

Best Served 6-10°C
-By Brewlord

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Estrella Damm Inedit

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Outstanding)

The Spanish term ‘Inedit’ which means ‘Never Been Done Before’ is the given name that graces the label of this delicious brew from Estrella Damm Brewery of Barcelona, Spain. A collaboration between the team at the critically acclaimed elBulli Restaurant and the Brewmasters at Estrella Damm, this beer claims to be the first crafted specifically to be served with food. A skillful blend of lager and wheat ale styles, it uses 100% natural ingredients with a combination of water, hops, wheat, and spices that has yielded a fantastically refreshing and drinkable beer.

The complex aroma with hints of coriander, clove, fennel, ginger, and sweet citrus reminds me of Mom’s fresh baked gingersnap cookies. It has a slightly misty appearance with a great mouthfeel, mild carbonation and a slight creaminess. The well balanced array of flavours flow over the palate, leaving a lingering finish that begs for more. This beer is excellent with oysters, grilled scallops, mixed greens, and balsamic dressings and glazes. It also has the right acidity to enjoy, as a foil, butter and cream sauces or mild cheeses. In fact this well designed beer is very approachable with many foods!

To enjoy at its best, serve in a 300ml (10 oz) white wine glass, fill to just over half way, and leave the bottle on ice after serving. An inexpensive, expert creation that would do Bacchus proud – Magnificent!

Serving:  750ml black glass bottle

ABV: 4.8%

Best Served: 4-8° C

-By Brewlord

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It’s Hammer Time -Phillips Style

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Phillips Brewing make a highly regarded Imperial Stout every year in limited amounts which usually sells out fairly quickly. This year they released a bourbon whiskey barrel aged version in even smaller numbers. But is all that extra effort and cost worth it? I decided to gather the Wranglerette and have a taste off. Is the barrel aged pure gold bullion, or is it full of bull? I always like to start with the original so here goes:

In the Blue corner….

Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

It pours as dark as beer gets, with a dark, creamy tan head. There are aromas of black molasses and burnt caramel with sweet roasted coffee beans. The palate follows on and adds hints of sweet dark cocoa and a hint of cooked dried fruit. It has a creamy and silky texture, so doesn’t lie too heavily, and remains very drinkable. The finish is fairly long with the creaminess of this beer lingering.

In the Red corner….

Phillips Hammer Bourbon Aged Imperial Stout

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Despite the previous description of colour – I swear this is actually darker and even denser, but with the same creamy, dark tan head. The aroma is much more different than I had imagined with a lot of the burnt characteristics smoothed out with a touch of vanilla-like sweetness.  The notes of whiskey are there too, but not overpowering, lending some richness to this big stout. The flavours echo the aromas and feel more integrated than the non-aged version. I don’t know how long this block-buster gets in barrel, but it certainly gives it a smooth rich evenness. But…. the bourbon aged stout seems to have lost something along the way, the bite of those heavily roasted malts have been reigned in and replaced by a simpler sweetness. Don’t get me wrong it’s a good beer but it’s not as drinkable as the original, and a small glass is enough before my palate needs refreshing. It gets a lower score than the original, which is totally against my preconceptions, as I generally like barrel aged beer, but this time it only added a sweetness which smoothed out those peaks of flavour I rather enjoyed!

Phillips should be applauded for trying this out as it keeps BC’s breweries right up there with all the current trending on craft brewing, and I’d like to see them try it again next year with different barrels. If they could buy some of the Samuel Smith Stingo barrels – now that would be interesting!

Both Stouts:

ABV: 8.3%

Best Served: 14 – 16°C

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Pretty Things Hedgerow Bitter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Pretty Things make beer with some interest, as opposed to just brewing standard styles to fill their portfolio. This time out they have used three Dwarf Hop varietals from England, Sovereign, Pioneer and First Gold, and made a well hopped British Best Bitter.  The hoppy flavours may not be familiar to those used to drinking North American IPAs, but these fairly new varieties give it a distinctly wild herbaceous twang.

This is certainly reminiscent of Bitters I’ve drunk in the UK but with an extra helping of hops. The Dwarf hops taste fresh and vibrant and leave a lingering dry aftertaste on the palate. This is an interesting, refreshing and drinkable beer if a bit one dimensional. This is great on its own or perhaps with a traditional fish and chips; the hops will cut through the grease and revitalise the palate.

ABV: 5.4%

Best Served: 8-10°C

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Nogne O God Jul (Winter Ale)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Outstanding)

Nogne O is a craft brewery from Norway, and judging from my first experience of their beer, is going to take the craft brewing world by storm!  Their Strong Winter Warmer is an absolute must for any fan of dark rich warming ales.

It pours a deep, dark mahogany amber, that needs to be held up to the light to appreciate its colour. The aromas that hit you are ones of spice, dates, madeira and caramel. As you drink this luxurious ale the tan head slowly dissipates, but the flavour does not. Notes of Christmas pudding and fruitcake persist and are joined by more sweet fortified wine flavours with hints of coffee bean, molasses and  spice.  Sweet liquorice can be found on the lengthy finish with some almost oaky tones.

The amazing thing is that this is not a spiced Christmas ale according to the brewery, but the flavours are complex, integrated and definitely festive!  This is truly an outstanding beer, and I can’t wait to taste this after one or two years aging – the complexity and integration can only improve – if that’s possible!

ABV: 8.5%

Best Served 12°C

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Winter Beer Showdown

Seasonal beers are filling the shelves right about now, and go well beyond any single type. The basic style is the classic Winter Warmer. This is not usually spiced but brewed to a slightly stronger alcohol volume (6% – 7% is typical for this warming malty style). Specialty Christmas beers take their cues from the old Wassail Ales – spiced, sometimes fortified, mulled beer given to carol singers in Medieval England. Although no longer fortified or served warm, it is usually strong and spiced, rich and filling. There are other winter seasonal ales brewed in the Belgium style.  They tend to be strong and dark with a super-rich malt profile.

Lagers get a make over too with the German, and now Canadian specialty, Ice-Bock, giving fans of strong and malty dark amber lagers something to enjoy. Of course breweries the world over make all sorts of beers for the festive season and often they don’t fit easily into any specific style, but that’s what makes it fun – beer can be full of surprises!

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IPA – A History

The History of IPA

Pale Ale and Industrialisation

The history of IPA starts not in India but in London and then found its home in Burton-upon-Trent, an ordinary town in Staffordshire, Britain, where beer has probably been brewed since 1004, when an abbey was founded there. Monks were (and still are in Belgium) prodigious brewers, and would have used the water from the local River Trent to brew their early ale. What made Burton so special, therefore made it the most important centre of brewing in Britain (and even the world for a while) was the water from the river. Its natural minerals happened to be perfect for brewing beer, particularly (as it turned out) Pale Ales. In fact today many brewers add mineral content (Gypsum or Sulphate) to their beer before brewing – a process still called ‘Burtonisation’.

Brewing in Britain was largely done by the owners of pubs, inns and ale-houses for their immediate customers, and so the beer would not have had to travel far before it was consumed. With the onset of early industrialisation there was suddenly a need for larger brewers who could supply the fast growing urban populations, and thankfully the growth of the canal system gave them the means to transport it. Burton, already noted for its fine ales quickly became an important centre of Brewing.

At the end of the 17th century the process of kilning malts was becoming more efficient, due to the use of coke, derived from coal. This meant that you could kiln a malt (stop it from germinating by heating it) without the use of so much direct heat. This had two consequences; the finished malt was paler than before and it produced more fermentable sugars per grain. Initially this was a fairly expensive process, so the early pale ales (more likely to be a dark amber) were mainly drunk by the wealthy, who were also the ones who could see the colour, due to the fact that glassware was so expensive. (The ordinary drinker would still have used a pewter or leather tankard for some time!)

The beer that became IPA descended from a beer known as “October Ales” – named because they were brewed in that month, and were highly thought of because of their strength, and extreme aging potential (as well as high hopping levels). Documents telling of 25 year old October beers being consumed and enjoyed exist from 1773.

The East India Company

The Company was founded in 1600 as a speculative venture that would trade spices from the east back to Britain. This company would come to be, in its heyday, one of the largest, wealthiest, most successful and most unethical companies the world has ever known. The British government did not formally take India from the Indians but nationalised the Company in 1857 after the Indians “mutinied” against them. They had their own army (made up of British and Indian soldiers) a vast merchant fleet and many local maharajahs in their pocket.

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Duchy Old Ruby Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Duchy Originals Organic Old Ruby Ale is made with a historic malt called Plumage Archer which gives this beer a deeply pleasant roasty malt flavour. The bright amber-ruby colour sparkles, and the gentle nose of biscuity and fruity malt make this a great session ale. The slightly tea-leafy and floral hops break through enough to make this a nicely well balanced beer.

This is not a flavour bomb by any stretch of the imagination, and it falls into a cross between a Best Bitter and an Amber Ale in style, but don’t be put off. This is a well-crafted traditional style ale that makes it a breeze to drink three or four in an evening – perhaps accompanied by a steak and ale pie!

ABV: 5%

Best Served 10-12°C

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Driftwood Fat Tug IPA

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Driftwood’s Fat Tug IPA is the long awaited addition to the brewery’s regular line up that filled in the gaping hole of a classic Pacific Northwest IPA. A hefty 7% ABV and 80 IBUs sees this beer punching in the heavyweight category for a ‘standard’ IPA. The hit of hops is fresh, fruity and sharp, and will please the hop-heads out there. On the palate the hops retain their power and vibrancy, and cover the alcohol admirably. The malt is there too, but it is in a supporting role, and props up the hop flavours nicely. This is a great example of a well hopped IPA,  as it is more than just a load of hops in glass though, as ever, Driftwood make a rounded, drinkable and flavoursome beer that is sure to become a staple in the fridge of many a craft beer fan.

ABV: 7%

Best Served: 7 – 9°C

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Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Samuel Smith Yorkshire Stingo is a classic in the British beer scene. It’s an Old Ale which means that it has had some time well spent in very old seasoned oak casks, many of which date back more than a century. Each year adds to the beer-soaked wood and helps them give more complexity to the finished product.  This ale spends over a year conditioning in the oak and is bottled with yeast, so can condition further in the bottle.  It pours a deep amber colour with a thick and lively tan head. The aromas are fruity and almost Madeira-like. The taste follows on and delivers more. Dates and brandy-soaked orange peel hit your tongue followed by  treacle and vanilla notes. There is a subtle oaky finish that keeps the sweet flavours in check. This is a Christmas Pudding of a beer that allows  you to keep on eating! Stingo proves that British beer can have as much flavour and intensity as a Belgian ale if the desire by the brewer is there. Serve on its own after a meal or with a blue cheese such as Stilton.

ABV 9%

Best Served 14-16° C

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Spinnakers Blue Bridge Double Pale Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Spinnakers Blue Bridge used to be labelled a Double IPA, but they have renamed it a Double Pale Ale, perhaps because it is not as much a hop explosion as some Double IPAs. It still has a good dose of hoppiness though, but seems to be carefully balanced with the malt, which makes this beer a refreshing change from the wealth of similar double or imperial IPAs on the market.

Spinnakers is one of those breweries that are hard to find outside of its local neighbourhood (Victoria, British Columbia) but are well worth the effort as the line-up includes some great Canadian takes on some classic British Ales.

This is a very enjoyable strong pale ale that hides its alcohol well, has some grainy sweetness and a good herbal hoppy finish. Although this won’t blast your taste buds away, it may well tickle your fancy, especially if you serve it at the correct temperature – too cold and you’ll miss half the flavour!

ABV: 8.2%

Best Served: 10°C

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Driftwood Belle Royale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Driftwood Brewery Belle Royale is described as a Strong Belgian Cherry Ale, and seems to be based on a Tripel or strong golden ale  recipe, with “900 pounds of cherries” added. They don’t specify how much beer gets the 900 pounds but we get the idea – there’s  a lot, and they’re real cherries, not cherry flavour or syrup. It has a lovely pink amber colour, a thinnish head, with a spicy, fruity aroma.  The flavour has a hit of sweet spice and sour red cherries that lingers on the palate and develops into a long finish with sweet herbal notes.

Not only do Driftwood excel at making beer, but they design some of the best labels on beer bottles anywhere in the world, and this ode to Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin-Rouge paintings is no exception. It’s sexy and sassy – a bit like the Belle Royale  itself!

ABV: 9%

Best Served: 8°C

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Les Trois Mousquetaires Sticke Alt

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Les trois Mousquetaires is a small but dedicated brewery from Quebec, Canada, and it produces a range of European style and seasonal specialties. Sticke Alt is not a common style of beer, least of all outside its home nation of Germany, and is an Altbier on steroids. Many Alts are a well rounded malty beer with a nice hit of herbal hops on the finish, making a good session ale.

A Sticke Alt is a far more serious affair, and this Canadian version is no exception. It has a deep red-amber colour with a creamy head, that leaves plenty of attractive lacing around the glass. The first thing that hits you is the body; this is a very full beer, with a rich maltiness and a viscous feel to it. There are notes of dried fruit and black molasses, but without too much sweetness. It is counter-balanced by a strong herbal bitterness on the finish from a good dose of hops, with some woody touches that sometimes feels a bit drying. Over all this is well worth a go, and would pair well some rich, fatty meats as the bitterness would be a good foil for the fat, and the body can match the strong flavours too!

ABV: 6%

Best Served: 10°C

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Archiduc Belgian Beer (Brasserie d’Ecaussinnes)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Archiduc is an unassuming beer that doesn’t give too many clues as to what it is on the bottle (the Belgians obviously don’t have the same predilection for categorising as we do in North America). It is in fact a strongish Belgian Amber Ale with bags of flavour. It comes in a 750ml bottle that is corked and the beer has a deposit of yeast from the re-fermentation. It pours a rich amber hue with a medium tight head that slowly disappears. The aromas are spicy, rich and fruity, and the taste doesn’t disappoint after such an inviting whiff. This beer is rounded, balanced and delicious. There are notes of marmalade, allspice, citrus peel with a sweet herbaceous finish. This fantastic Belgian ale is rich in flavour but totally drinkable in every way. This is a real gem that sits silently in the beer store, but definitely is worth shouting about!

ABV: 6.2%

Best Served: 9°C

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A Cascadian Revolution

Viva Cascadia!  So at last there seems to be some agreement on a name for a very hoppy dark brown to black ale made with Pacific Northwest hop varietals (see Northwest Brewing News). Those not from the great nation of Cascadia might not have had this mighty dark ale, but should definitely try this deliciously contrasting beer.  Hoppier than an American Brown Ale, as dark as a porter, this beer has had numerous names in the past, not all of which make sense!

“A black IPA please”  I hear in a crafty taproom.   “A dark  India Pale Ale for me!” …..”hold on, hold on”, said other more sensible folk ” How can you have a dark or black pale ale?” . So the term India Dark Ale was bandied about and the cries of indignation seemed to have been quelled, until some bright spark piped up “What’s this beer got to do with India?”

“er, nothing really, except the hops….”

“Hops?” came the reply, “Well hopping levels actually, the word India on a beer label really just means loads of hops now”

“really?”

Although the logic is clear, this means that we should have India Barley Wines, and maybe an India Russian Imperial Stout…..

“India Weiss Bier anyone?” – hmmm no thanks, let’s stop this now please. So thank goodness this beer, popular with brewers from the Pacific Northwest, AKA Cascadia, has a name we can all agree on. It uses the spicy, citrusy hop varieties grown in these parts (not just Cascade hops) hence the name, it’s dark, and it’s an ale. As the old British advert for a wood treatment product used to say “It does exactly what it says on the tin!” or in this case bottle.  So why oh why -at this moment of consensus did Phillip’s rename their Black Touque India Dark Ale – a Cascadian Brown Ale? Well there’s always someone who wants to be a bit different…..

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Russell Black Death Porter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Russell Black Death Porter is a terrific offering from a brewery that is best known for a rather mediocre cream ale. With their range of 650 ml ‘Brewmaster series’ they have definitely shown that they are more serious about beer than their 6-pack selections, sometimes suggest. This is a really rich and malty porter with a ton of black molasses , and a subtle note of hop, but it plays second fiddle to the delicious sweet, roasted flavours that dominate. The finish isn’t cloying though as there is just enough bitterness to balance it all out. All in all a very nice porter!

ABV: 6.5%

Best Served: 10°C

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Bath Ales Dark Hare

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Dark Hare, the latest offering from Bath Ales , with their beautiful hare themed labels, is absolutely delicious. As it pours into the glass you notice the deep ruddy brown colour, and the notes of toasted malt and dark chocolate on the nose. The very creamy mouthfeel is punctuated with molasses, which gives way to burnt chocolate as the fuggles hops leave their distinct taste on the finish.

A great Sunday afternoon brew, Dark Hare would also be fabulous with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, créme brûlée or a not overly syrupy sticky toffee pudding.

ABV: 4%

Best Served: 11°C

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Phillips Double Dragon Imperial Red Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Phillips Double Dragon Imperial Red Ale is this British Columbian craft brewer’s pumped up version of an American Red Ale, which is a hoppier version of the Irish Red Ales. The Imperialisation of this fairly modern style of beer gives it a big punch in both the flavour and strength departments, so is not to be taken lightly!

This deep red ruby ale has a fairly hoppy aroma, with a robust full-bodied flavour. The rich roasted malt features heavily on the palate and is quite sweet, with notes of caramel, molasses and malty bread, but there is just the right amount of hops to balance it all out. The citrussy grapefruit taste of the healthy hoppy addition, gives the finish a nice bitterness that makes this a very easy drinking beer for one so potent.  This might go well with a large plate of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, served with a rich gravy; but be careful, as this powerhouse may go down too quickly for you to get up too quickly!

ABV: 8.2%

Best Served: 10°C

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Maredsous Abbaye Triple

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Maredsous Triple is golden amber in  colour, a touch darker than many triples, and has a strong, spicy, alcoholic aroma, which is not surprising when you see the 10% ABV on the traditionally styled label.  The palate gives off a strong hit of the solvent-like alcohol at first, and is followed up by grainy dried fruit, with over ripe pineapple and boozy marmalade oranges leading the way. The finish is dry, with a hint of orange peel and herbiness. This powerful triple is not as refreshing as some and struggles to balance its flavour with its alcoholic strength; having said that, it is still a worthwhile beer to try, and if you are comfortable with the warming mouthfeel, then savour the notes of fried fruit and spice with pleasure.

ABV: 10%

Best Served: 7°C

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3 Monts (Brasserie de Saint Sylvestre)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

3 Monts is a strong Biere de Garde from the Flanders region of France, which is a style that can be hard to find outside of its native country, but is well worth the hunt especially if you are a fan of the more familiar Belgian Saison beer, which this is a close relative of. This beer gets a maturation period after fermentation at very cold temperatures to further enhance and integrate the complex flavours of this refreshing ale.

It has a bright, pale golden colour, with a long lasting, tightly knit head that genuinely stays with the beer, right down to the bottom of the glass. There is loads of spicy notes appearing front and centre with flavours of clove and ripe banana esters. The malt is there too, giving a grainy fruitiness that balances the Belgian hops at work that nicely bitter the finish. There’s more there too, but in the background, with herbal flavours, a touch of caramel and a pleasant solvent note. This is a multi-faceted beer that can be drunk on its own, with a strong nutty cheese or a good quality, full flavoured pork sausage.

ABV: 8.5%

Best Served: 8°C

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Swan’s ESB (Buckerfield’s Brewery)

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Swan’s ESB is brewed by Buckerfield’s Brewery on Vancouver Island in a popular hotel and brewpub in Victoria, that tends to brew British style ales and German style lagers. The ESB has a nice dark amber colour and is gently carbonated, in the tradition of ales from the other side of The Atlantic, but has a slightly more robust hop aroma than some. There is a nice malty body to this beer, with plenty of sweet caramel notes; these lead to a bitter hoppy finish that seem to envelop the initial malt sweetness.

Although I really enjoyed drinking this one, the flavours are not that well integrated, and the hops on the finish seem strangely separate fom the mid-palate. Never the less, it’s definitely one to try for fans of the style, as it goes down easily, and as it is lower in alcohol than most ESBs, makes a good session beer.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 9°C

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Howe Sound Total Eclipse Of The Hop

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Howe Sound’s Imperial IPA has a nice name that some of its younger drinkers might not get. I am not sure if Bonnie Tyler is a fan of this beer, but she should be. Imperial or double IPAs are usually a mouthful of hops with a hit of alcohol, but the brewers at Howe Sound have managed to brew in a style that the original creators of the IPA in the 18th Century would recognise and hopefully approve of.

This is a supremely well balanced beer that has 9o IBUs and 8% alcohol, but manages to be so drinkable, you could have two or three pints without any effort – quite an achievement for such a well flavoured and strong beer! The hops are very noticeable on the nose, and as there are six varieties it’s not surprising; the flavours that follow are a nice relief for those palates that are tired of naked hop explosions. The rich malt is there supporting all those hop flavours giving a balanced and very enjoyable beer. This is what a traditional IPA becomes when it is ‘Imperialised’, and for me achieves a great benchmark for the style.

*

ABV: 8%

Best Served: 9°C

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Maredsous Abbey Brune

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Maredsous is a true Abbey beer, which means that it was originally brewed in the Benetictine Abbey at Maredsous in Wallonia, Southern Belgium, but now has been transferred to a  brewery outside of the monastic grounds, but is still overseen by the monks themselves. Many beers that claim to be “abbey” beers do not have that distinction, and the name just describes a style.

The bottle I had this beer in was a corked 75 cl variety, still resting on the yeast, which would help explain the bready nature of this enjoyable ale, and served in a genuine Maredsous chalice. There are notes of dark, malty rye bread, with a touch of dried fruit and caramel.  This beer seems to go down all too easily while still maintaining its richness, which is a testament to the easy integration of all the flavours, and the crisp, slightly earthy, but lengthy finish.

ABV: 8%

Best Served: 10°C

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Dogfish Head Midas Touch

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Yum Yum! Dogfish Head’s Midas Touch is both justified and ancient, being based on a 2700 year old ancient Anatolian recipe which is a re-creation based on analysis of drinking vessels that were uncovered during an archaeological dig in what is now Turkey – drinking vessels that resided within what is thought to be the tomb of none other than King Midas himself (although suspiciously they had not been turned to gold!)

I can’t say that I have ever tasted a beer quite like this (which is equal parts a delight and a shame.) Deeply golden in colour it is pleasingly sweet with hints of honey and muscat grapes but without the cloying sweetness of many meads (or bee vomit as I like to call it).  The nose has distinct notes of tropical fruit and the finish has a deliciously dry biscuity taste.

As there aren’t really any other beers like this out there I don’t have much compare it to but I think this beer would be a great one for ladies to try but anyone interested in exploring the myriad of flavours beer can create would do well to give this a go.

I’d pair Midas Touch with a Moroccan tagine or a mild Goan prawn curry with coconut milk rice dumplings.

ABV: 9%

Best Served: 8°C

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New Glarus Black Wheat

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg tankard.jpg (Outstanding)

New Glarus Brewing is to be found in Wisconsin in the U.S., and is owned by the Brewmaster Dan Carey, who has spent a lifetime perfecting his craft, and oversees a brewery that makes lots of limited release seasonal beers that keep their fans on their toes and interested with an ever-changing line-up.

Their version of the traditional German Dunkelweizen is simply called ‘Black Wheat’, but this beer is far from simple. The deep brown-black liquid, topped by a foamy caramel tan head is a delightfully complex beer, that exhibits lots of nuances, and  never dominate one another. Notes of light molasses. cocoa bean, caramel, nutmeg, banana and prune combine and balance well, to leave a bitter-sweet finish that contains a touch of orange peel.

Try this beer with a well flavoured Mexican chili, it’s light enough to refresh your palate, but has enough strength to stand up to, and compliment all those rich and spicy flavours.

*

ABV: 5.7%

Best Served: 7°C

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Pyramid Breweries Snow Cap Winter Warmer

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Pyramid Snow Cap is the Winter seasonal offering from this popular Seattle brewery, and claims to be made in the “spirit of the British Winter ales”. At 7% alcohol, it certainly has the strength to warm the cockles, but does the flavour keep up? The combination of  English and Pacific North West hops give this Winter warmer a nice bitterness, but unlike many other North American versions of this classic Christmas brew, it has copious amounts of delicious malt to back it up and keep them in check. There are notes of cocoa bean and dark caramel on the palate, which leads onto the hoppy flavours; a touch of citrus, spice and a light floral taste give way to a rounded, balanced and smooth finish. This beer is a joy to drink and is a fantastic interpretation of a Winter Warmer, keeping true to the tradition, while maintaining its own Northwest identity. Drink this one with a beer-battered fish and chips, at Pike Place Market in Seattle, or in a London Chippy, it’ll feel right at home at either!

ABV: 7%

Best Served: 12°C

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Driftwood Brewery Blackstone Porter

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Driftwood’s Blackstone Porter is a very dark version of this classic beer that has its origins in 18th Century London. It is a completely opaque black in the glass, looking like a stout, and is made with a partial sour mash, similar to the method used for some Tennessee whiskies. This imparts a subtle tartness to the beer, making it less sweet than many Porters. The main flavours that come through are cocoa and coffee bean, and is followed by a smokey finish. There are vague notes of hop in the background, but they are bit part players, (a welcome break for some!) supporting the dark bitter-sweet malt that dominates. This would be great with smoked meats, or flame grilled pork.

ABV: 5.1%

Best Served: 12°C

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Rogue Mogul Madness Ale

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Recommended)

Rogue Mogul Madness Ale is a  Winter warmer with bite. It has a dark ruby-brown colour and a fairly creamy tan head that stays with the beer. There are some caramel flavours with some faint notes of banana bread. The unusual thing for a winter warmer, but not unusual for Rogue, are the obvious handfuls of hops used in the brew. They offer a pleasant bitterness on the finish that tastes a little grapefruity, and tends to last for a while after the beer has been swallowed. This is an enjoyable beer, but tastes like a good ESB to me. Rogue don’t seem to want to make a beer that has been lightly hopped, and perhaps are now victims of their own dogma, producing a lot of excellent but similar tasting products. I would love to see them do a really rich malty winter warmer, as they are brilliant brewers but are in danger of becoming just a bit one-dimensional.

ABV: 6.5% (approx)

Best Served: 12°C

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Wychwood Bah Humbug Christmas Ale

Bah_HumbugWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg (Excellent)

Bah Humbug is Wychwood Brewery’s offering at Christmas time to warm up those cold toes on a winter’s night. This is a very mildly spiced amber ale that is not quite malty enough to be a classic winter warmer, but it doesn’t pretend to be, as it is labelled ‘Christmas Ale’ and implies a more general festive beer, made with the addition of some seasonal flavour. This ale has a pleasant medium-bodied feel to it, with subtle notes of banana and clove; the hops are just detectable too, though mainly on the finish and aftertaste. The solitary added spice is cinnamon, and this is done with a frugal hand, as it certainly doesn’t overwhelm the caramelly malt. This beer is an easily quaffable Christmas pint with a hint of seasonal pep to give it a bit of festive flair.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 12°C

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Anchor Brewing ‘Our Special Ale’ 2009 (Christmas Ale)

anchor2009Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Excellent)

Anchor Brewing famously change the recipe for their Special Ale every year, as well choose a different tree, a symbol of the Winter Solstice, to adorn the label. This version (2009), when held up to the light, has a gorgeously dense ruby colour and an almost creamy pale tan head. The aroma is full of malty molasses with a definite hoppy highlight. The flavours that follow fill the mouth, but don’t overwhelm it; the main taste that starts off is a strong malty one, that develops into a black molasses backbone to the beer. There are some laid-back spicy notes layered into the malt, perhaps nutmeg or a hint of cardamon, but the hit of a citrus hop gives this sweetish beer an assertive and refreshing finish. This Winter seasonal ale is a real pleasure to drink, and is not too heavy or laden with spices, so is good for  those who find the ‘big’ spiced warmers a bit too much!

ABV: 5.5%

Best Served: 10°C

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Swans Coconut Porter

coconut porterWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Recommended)

I have to admit that I’m bit torn about Swans Coconut Porter. I love a good porter and really enjoy porters that are layered with other flavours (Kona’s Pipeline Porter with coffee is my personal favourite) so when I saw this coconut porter I became very excited. This beer is very dark in colour with a frothy cappuccino colour head and a strong caramel malt nose with a hint of roasted coffee bean.  The flavour of dark bitter chocolate fills the mouth and slowly gives way to a toasted coffee aftertaste. Unfortunately (for me anyway) I don’t taste any coconut which, considering the reason I bought the beer was to try the coconut, is disappointing. That said, I think this beer stands well on its own as a porter and would taste great with some strong English cheddar

ABV: 5.5%

Best Served: 11°C

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Tree Brewing Black Tree Dark Ale

tree-dark

Wrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Recommended)

Tree Brewing are based in The Okanagan, where this summer (2009) there were large scale wild fires that destroyed thousands of trees. This beer was released in aid of the BC Fire ReLeaf Fund that aims to replace all the trees lost in the fire. This is described as a dark ale but is in fact a blend of two beers, probably the Cutthroat pale ale and the Spy porter. This makes up a well appointed version of a Black and Tan beer. The dark mahogany ale has a roasted malt note throughout that serves as its backbone. There are pleasant hop notes on the nose as well as the palate that continue through to the finish along with a dry, toasty flavour. This is a simple yet effective beer, whose smoothness and balance make it really drinkable and can be enjoyed with a grilled steak in the knowledge that it all goes to help a good cause.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 9°C

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Wells IPA

Wells-IPAWrangler Rating:

tankard.jpgtankard.jpg(Mediocre)

Wells IPA suffers from a common British problem: mislabeling. During the First World War, breweries (with the government!) decreased alcohol in beers to conserve resources (barley) as well as limit drunkenness among essential workers and the military. Hop levels were also reduced, so the traditionally strong and hoppy IPAs were the first in line to be emasculated. Breweries continued using the term though, but it described a pale ale or a bitter rather than the full-on flavour of an IPA. Wells IPA is a very pleasant and drinkable British pale ale that would have been awarded 3 tankards and recommended, but unfortunately the use of the term IPA in this day and age is erroneous, and so must be marked in the category in which it is presented. The pale amber beer is restrained, but has a nice malty flavour with a simple bitter finish, but not so dry it extinguishes the malt. The carbonation is suitably low, which makes this a cinch to drink and an enjoyable session ale. A word of warning though- don’t drink this too cold, or you’ll miss out on its subtle flavours, have it at cellar temperature, as it was designed to be drunk.

ABV: 5%

Best Served: 11°C

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