We had just finished with Pitchfork’s Peoplelist and compiling a list of the best albums from 1980 – 1995 with some friends when we cracked this beer. To say we were hugely nostalgic for the ’90′s would be an understatement. This was the perfect compliment!
This is an interesting beer on many levels. First, it was brewed by Seattle based Elysian to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the cities Sub Pop record label which rose to fame in the Seattle grunge scene as the first home of Nirvana, Mudhoney and Sound Garden but has also been home to recent acts such as the Shins, Fleet Foxes or Iron and Wine. At times in their careers Sebadoh, Dinosaur Junior and Sonic Youth have also called the label home. They’re kind of a big deal and we’re sort of fans! We originally thought the name of the beer was actually a reference to the Beck song but it turns out that Odelay was put out by Geffen (not Sub Pop) so we are not really quite sure where it came from. The ‘90’s were a bit of a blur.
Second, this beer is a might unusual as it uses the incredibly hard to find (but amazingly delicious) Sorachi Ace hop to create a very unique pale ale (the only other beers we can think of that use Sorachi Ace are the Brooklyn Brewing saison of the same name a couple of companies that have used it as part of a single hop IPA series). Elysian beers tend to have a signature malt base that is sweet and syrupy. Strong maple and peach flavours. That is still present here but the Sorachi ace provides an interesting twist. There is a hint of lemon citrus to counteract the sweetness and an overwhelming creamy or buttery taste that means the beer goes down really smoothly and lingers on the tongue for a while. It’s nicely carbonated which helps to keep it light.
Definitely a beer that is worth trying because it is wildly different! Put on that old copy of Nevermind gathering dust on the shelf (OK, use your iPod if you must, but that really is selling out) and relax with this easy drinking pale ale. The slogan Corporate Beer Still Sucks, originally Corporate Beer Sucks when Loser was first bottled in 2009 is a reference to a shirt Kurt Cobain wore when Nirvana first graced the cover of Rolling Stone which pronounced “Corporate Rock Sucks” (shout out to #pdxbeergeeks for that tit bit).
Float Fest was our affectionate nickname for an evening where the Hobbyists got together with some good friends and experimented by re-living our childhood in a manner more fitting for adults – by putting ice cream in beer instead of pop! We were lucky that the same beer was only picked twice (and it really was a perfect choice for the purpose). The Hobbyists being an adventurous bunch, no one person showed up with the Vanilla/Porter combination we were all expecting. It was actually surprisingly easy to pair everything, just avoid beers that are overly bitter and don’t pick and ice cream with large chunks (sorry, until we hear otherwise, cookie dough is out).
Being competitive souls, we made it a competition. It worked out pretty well. Here is what we tried.
Round 1: Granville Island Brewing Ginger Beer with Green Tea Gelato
One of our big worries in setting up this evening was that everyone would select a stout and pair with vanilla ice cream. Fortunately, us Hobbyists are an adventurous bunch as this first choice was a testament to. We paired a Green Tea Gelato with Granville Island‘s Ginger Beer. It worked really well, something a little adventurous to set off the night but flavours not so extreme as to ruin the palette. The tartness of the Green Tea ice cream balancing the sweet spiciness of. It went down easily.
Round 2: Granville Island Brewing Ginger Beer with Cinnamon Vanilla Ice Cream
Our only duplication (in terms of beers) came in the first two pairings of the night. Again, this round saw Granville Islands Ginger Beer but this time paired with a cinnamon vanilla ice cream. We didn’t have time to make our own, so the ice cream was put together by rechurning some store bought vanilla with freshly ground cinnamon. It was interesting to see the same beer paired in a completely different way. This time round, the sweet spiciness of the Ginger Beer was complimented by the creamy spiciness of the ice cream. This one was a definite crowd pleaser and one of the highlights of the night, likely due to the fact it tasted like apple pie in a glass.
Round 3: Innis & Gunn Canada Day 2011 with Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
Round three brought something a little different to our previous offerings, we paired Innis & Gunn’s Canada Day 2011 release with a dark chocolate ice cream. The beer is a Scottish ale aged in oak whisky barrels. The trick to this pairing is to get dark, dark chocolate ice cream. This compliments bitterness of the chocolate compliments the malt profile of the Scottish Ale, it really helps the oak aging and whisky notes come through in the beer.
Round 4: Tin Whistle Killer Bee Honey Ale and Mayan Chocolate Ice Cream
This was a beer we had never tried before. Unlike most honey beers the Tin Whistle Killer Bee is surprisingly dark and malt forward. This meant that it paired nicely with a rich dark chocolate ice cream. This roasted malts add a bit of chocolate to compliment the ice cream but also coffee and the sweetness of the honey to offset it and add some complexity. It was a delicious pairing that worked really well and something totally unexpected for our evening!
Round 5: Rocheforte 10 and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
By far the most decadent choice of the night was pairing Trappistes Rochefort 10 (one of Belgium’s more widely available Trappist beers) with a nice vanilla bean ice cream. The vanilla really worked well with the dark fruit and carmel flavours of the beer allowing its complexity to shine while enhancing that slight Belgian vanilla taste present. Most surprisingly, a creamy ice cream balanced quite well with a beer around 11%. This was another favourite of the night!
Round 6: Phillips Longboat Chocolate Porter and Strawberry Cheezecake Ice Cream
This was a bold choice and a bit, but not a total, miss. The beer was great and the Haagen-Dasz Strawberry Cheezecake actually paired really well with the Phillips Chocolate Porter. The deep bitterness of the porter balances well with the sweet creamy strawberry. Unfortunately, we had not taken into account that the cheese cake base in the ice cream would essentially create floating biscuits in our beer. Not really a desirable quality! Still, surprisingly tasty besides that.
It was hard to decide a winner in the end, there were so many delicious combinations, but the trying sure was fun! Definitely something we will be doing again!
Townsite Brewing: Zunga Blonde Ale
We have been following the progress of Townsite Brewing, the new kid in BC brewing from Powell River, for some time now. We love our trips to the Sunshine Coast and the idea of having access to local, freshly brewed beer there is more than a little exciting. The brewery has been finished for a little while now and the beer has started to flow, so when they announced that the Lower Mainland got it’s first shipment of bottles we were right there!
Having first tried their Zunga blonde ale, it is a bit like a Transformer, there is more than meets the eye! There was a lot that made it seem like the least exciting of the range. BC isn’t exactly a hotbed of great blonde ales but then, this isn’t really a blonde ale in the North American sense. The name is not, as we initially thought, a reference to a dance based exercise craze (silly us, that is Zumba). As stated on the bottle, it is a reference to a local word for a rope swing, a much cooler story! We really like that they kept it local.
As you may be starting to guess, some of our initial judgements were wildly wrong, this beer is great! It’s light and crisp and refreshing yet nicely bitter. It’s perfect for summer. Despite being only slightly bitter (at 25 IBU) it comes across as a nicely balanced ale, much closer in style to a British Golden Ale. There is a influence of piney rather than the traditional North Western citrus hops and a sweet golden base that make for easy drinking. It’s a little bit different, not something commonly seen in this area, but that makes it a little bit special.
Honestly, our only gripe is that the label could be a bit more bright. This beer is perfect for summer. The label even features someone in a bathing suit on a rope swing, but the colouring is muted and dark. That said, it does have everything we would want to know about the beer (other than perhaps the hop varietals used) and we love the brewery logo!
We haven’t had a chance to sample many of Townsite’s other beers but after trying the Zunga, we will be keeping our eyes open. As a lighter beer, it pairs excellently with seafood, but would also stand up to summer barbeques (steaks and sausages). We will definitely be consuming more as the weather gets hotter – this could be an early pick for our Beer’s of Summer.
Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub: Northwest Ale
As we have noted before, Victoria is fast becoming British Colombia’s craft beer mecca which makes it a great place to take a trip. However, when you can’t travel to the beer, it is really nice to have the beer come to you. As a result, we were more than a little excited to hear that Vancouver was getting a shipment from Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, whose beers we have heard so much about but been unable to try.
We cracked their Northwest Ale first. A beer that is everything you would expect based on the name. This beer is a mighty fine representation of BC brewing. It’s light but it’s hoppy. It’s refreshing but also nicely complex. It it were any more representative of BC, it would be running off to yoga class in Lululemon pants and sipping a non-fat caramel macchiato. Except this beer is the opposite of that.
It pours a deep golden copper colour that glows in the glass. With an emphasis towards the three C’s of Northwest hops – Centennial, Cascade and Citra – the aroma is heavy in citrus and pine normally associated with IPA’s from this part of the world. It’s more the great outdoors than a Kit’s yoga studio. It’s the sunrise on the top of Grouse Mountain. There is some lingering sweetness, like maple syrup, and a fruitiness from something we can’t quite put our fingers on (possibly mango). To the taste, the beer is bitter yet balanced. A lot like we would expect from an IPA. There is a strong hop profile which is to be expected from 85 IBU’s but it’s not overpowering. It’s actually quite refreshing.
The bottle looks great too. All of this is captured quite well in a beautifully painted scene of a surfer against a West Coast sunset. Definitely a beer that made us want to take the hop to the Island!
Newport, Oregon’s Rogue Ales makes some great beers, but right off the bat, we knew this beer was going to be something a little special even for them. First it is an Imperial Pilsner, not exactly a run-of-the-mill style. Secondly, the beer bears the name of renowned Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Last, but not least, the ceramic, flip-top bottle really sets it apart. With bold Japanese influenced art work (likely tipping their hat to its namesake) on a subtle white backing. It makes a nice show piece that, not surprisingly, has won a number of packaging awards.
The beer inside the bottle was no let down either. It pours a deep golden colour with the fresh straw aroma and hints of sweet malt. Tasting the beer, the strong malt is prominent and balanced with a little straw hoppiness. It’s like a super-pilsner, everything is ramped up to extra strength other than the hops. At 74 IBU (international bitterness units), we were expecting a bit of a hop bomb but instead there is a light, refreshing tartness and dryness you would expect from a pislner. We did wonder if our bottle had aged on the shelf. There was a bit of alcohol bite that warmed the throat as it went down.
We paired our bottle with a variety of grilled meats (pork sausage, buffalo) and some roasted vegetables. It worked wonderfully.
A bit of a pricey bottle for those of us in Canada, but in our opinion, well worth the splash. If you think of the purchase more as a cheap bottle of wine (and at 8.8% it’s not too far off the strength), it doesn’t seem so extreme. Splitting the bottle over food is a great idea (and strongly suggested by Rogue). Along those lines, it would make a great dinner gift. The beer is a little different but not overpowering and so very accessible to a number of preferences. The bottle also makes it look a little special.
Stone Brewing Company: India Pale Ale
There is a certain irony to the fact that the IPA, a beer that was designed to survive the journey to colonial India, has become the flagship of any North American brewery. This is especially true on the West Coast where California’s Stone Brewing Company was one of the first major players.
Originally brewed in 1997, this beer has been around for 15 years. But like any modern classic (Portishead’s self titled debut or Massive Attack’s Mezzanine both come to mind as musical comparisons), you wouldn’t be able to tell. There is a reason BrewDog so badly want to emulate Stone, they were doing long ago what many people are just starting to catch up with! While they are somewhat arrogant (their Twitter account proclaims them as the ‘all time top brewery on Planet Earth’), and a tad odd (the bottle includes a description of the historical significance of the Gargoyle) they clearly have some excellent brewing to back it up!
Pouring the beer into a glass, it’s a deep golden colour with about a half finger of crisp, white head. Apparently each batch spends two weeks being dry-hopped with a blend of Columbus, Chinook and Centential (the three C’s). It’s noticeable! Right off the bat there is a refreshing citrus and piney smell wafting up from the glass. There is also a slight sweetness lurking away at the back. It’s very clearly an IPA but this one is certainly packing some punch. The taste does not disappoint. It’s strong but there is a balance there too. Not overpowering in any one direction and highly drinkable.
Surprisingly for a beer that is 6.9% and 77 International Bitterness Units (IBU’s), the Stone IPA is quite light and refreshing. It would make a great addition to our regular rotation if only it were more widely available in BC. We were lucky enough to score ours from the US.
BrewDog: Tactical Nuclear Penguin
Warning, this might be a long post. This beer, its complexity and its place in history are not easily summarized. The Tactical Nuclear Penguin was, and is, a little different from the rest of the pack. Along with their marketing tactics, this beer set Fraserburgh’s BrewDog aside from the rest of the pack.
An imperial stout, it was frozen three times to remove water to form the strongest beer in the world (at the time) at 32% ABV. It started a back and forth between BrewDog and German brewery Schorschbrau - each trying to one up the others latest effort. The response from Germany was the 40% Schorschbock. BrewDog followed up with the 41% Sink the Bismark, a Quad IPA (named for a World War II battleship) and the 55% End of History, a blonde Belgian ale infused with nettles. The latter of which was limited to a 12 bottle run, each released in its own taxidermied squirrel or stoat (note, the animals used were roadkill). However, despite these efforts, the title of Worlds Strongest Beer is back with the German’s, Schorschbock 57 weighing in at a whopping 57.5% released in October 2011.
We had our bottle (very carefully) hand delivered from Scotland as a gift (from a very kind sister). From the moment we opened the parcel, it was obvious that this was no ordinary beer. Each bottle arrives in its own brown paper bag with a cartoon penguin on the front and a wine stopper tied round the neck with a piece of string. Every one is hand numbered in permanent marker and (as you can see in the picture above) also includes a best before date some ten years in the future. The label looks like most of the other BrewDog beers, and as a result, it has usual entertaining bylines. This time, it’s a serving suggestion:
This is an extremely strong beer, it should be enjoyed in small servings and with an air of aristocratic nonchalance. In exactly the same manner that you would enjoy a fine whisky, a Frank Zappa album or a visit from a friendly yet anxious ghost.
Our bottle was in the cellar for about four months before we opened it. It was served slightly chilled as suggested on the bottle. It pours a deep ruby red colour with a slight dirty brown head that dissipates quickly. This was a bit of a surprise as we were expecting something black given this beer started out as a stout. It smells sweet and smoky a product of the fourteen months spent aging in oak whisky casks. Continuing to break down our expectations, rather than the usual coffee and chocolate, the beer was shockingly fruity with hints of plums and figs most prominent. At this point, we gave up trying to guess what was next, this was clearly no ordinary beer.
The first sip is more of the same. It’s fruity, more like a tawny port than a beer (perhaps port barrels were using in the aging). There is a bit of alcohol burn, as one would expect with a spirit of this strength. As the glass warmed, more of the underlying beer came of the front. Deep coffee and treacle flavours normally associated with the roasted malt profiles of imperial stouts, there was a bit of vanilla there too. Again, there is some smokiness and definite influence of the barrel aging. At no point was there any hint of hops. It’s very clearly not a beer but it most definitely once was! We found the syrupy texture caused the beer to linger and opened up more of the underlying layers.
What to say, in the end, this beer is an experience. It’s never going to be your standard Friday night tipple. But then, at the price tag, we would have been disappointed if it was. It’s complex and rewarding but it definitely isn’t easy drinking. Like one of Scotland’s other greats, post-rock band Mogwai, this beer takes a while to access but once you do, it’s well worth it!
We have to admit, more than anything, this beer left us curious as to how Sink the Bismark is different. How would the different hop and malt profile change the beer? We hope to one day find out! BrewDog may have outgrown their Punk aesthetic but the definitely keep beer interesting.
Brouwerij Westvleteren: Westvleteren 8
Its bigger brother, the 12 has in the past been rated as the best beer in the world through numerous source, so when a good friend offered to share a bottle of Westvleteren 8 with us, we jumped at the chance. After all, this beer is hard to come by in Belgium, in Canada it basically exists as a rumour. There was one shipment to Vancouver last year that we knew of. Having day jobs meant we didn’t get any. Add to that, it is rated as 16th best beer in the world according to Beer Advocate.
Even from the outset, it’s obvious this beer is a little different. Ignoring the home printed label with the legal information required for the beer to be sold in Canada, the only discerning features on the bottle and the raised script on the neck and famous blue cap (the 12 has a yellow cap of the same design). The beer pours a dark brown colour with about a quarter inch off white head. It smells deeply malty and sweet. There are hints of maple syrup.
So, is this beer as good as the rumours?
Well, we can’t speak for everyone but it is definitely something special. It’s smooth, really smooth, it’s Lionel Ritchie smooth. It’s also surprisingly easy to drink despite its 8% alcohol. We kept ours just below room temperature and even as it warmed in the hand the flavour and the sweetness opened up. It started out with hints of licorice or aniseed layered on top of maple and vanilla that provide a little creaminess. There is a subtle taste of cloves and cardamom that add a light spice. Light carbonation means that there is balance on the tongue.
This beer is more complex than you relationship with your mum but it’s smoother than Barry White. If you see it, buy it! It seems to appeal to fans of all styles, its accessible yet complex. There is a reason it is so popular. We want more.
Hoyne Brewing Co: Devil’s Dream IPA
Victoria arguably the epicentre of the British Colombia craft beer scene. They already have more than their fair share of the best pubs and breweries this fine Province has to offer. Relative new comer Hoyne Brewing Co. is only going to improve that reputation. Brewmaster and namesake, Sean Hoyne has been around the Victoria brewing scene for a long time (since 1989 their website informs us) so he has definitely earned his stripes and honed his art. That expertise shows in this brew.
The beer pours a dark amber colour with a good white head. There is a dominant piney hop smell, a fresh profile with a bit of citrus lurking around in the back. The beer feels quite light despite its strength and colour. There is a definite hop bitterness but this is balanced with a good malt profile that adds some caramel sweetness. The carbonation leaves it feeling light on the tongue.
The IPA is quickly becoming the benchmark by which every new craft brewery is being measured. If this beer is anything to go by, then Hoyne will be one to watch. Their Dark Matter should be dropping at the usual spots sometime this week.So where does this beer sit in the end? It’s good easy drinking for any hop head. The first bottle was good enough to fit it into our regular rotation (while supplies are available. It’s a solid IPA and doesn’t look out of place among the other Victoria locals!
Green Flash Brewing: Rayon Vert
It’s hard to explain this beer. It’s odd, but we think we might love it. It definitely got us excited!
The Rayon Vert from Green Flash Brewing is like no other beer we have ever had (we imagine this is actually what Madonna was referring to in Like A Virgin). The brettanomyces (or brett) give the beer a deep sour taste not ususally seen in North American Pale Ales and more commonly associated with Lambic’s and Flanders Reds. It fuses together two very different styles producing something that is quite unique and bold. This means it’s not a beer that is going to appeal to everyone but give it a try and you might just love it too.
Out of the bottle, the beer is a copper-amber colour, slightly cloudy, with about a quarter inch of white head. As soon as it is in the glass, we began to realize this was no ordinary beer. It smells fresh and almost fruity. Bitter apple, cucumber and litchi feature prominently. There are some piney undertones that also give it a bit of an earthy smell.
The first taste is just as interesting. Unlike most North American pale ales, this one is sharp and acidic with strong apple and banana flavours. The fresher samples were a little chemically at first but that faded with some air time. It remained dry and refreshing throughout. Despite all of this, it also still manages to be a really good example of a pale ale. There is a nice malt body to compliment the sharpness.
The bottle does say that the beer is continuously evolving and we noticed quite a difference even over the two weeks it took us to drink the four pack. The brett had mellowed a little making the beer smoother and easier to drink. Would pair well with salads, especially those with creamy dressings or with fried food in place of an IPA.
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