So I had meant to get this written sooner, but with a best-friend house-guest, my time is less available then normal. Anways, last Thursday I was able to pop by the LCBO offices to get a sneak-taste of the Fall and Halloween beers, and I have got to say: I’m well impressed. If you haven’t noticed, the LCBO has really been bringing in more and more cool beers that you likely haven’t had before. There was a time, not that long ago, that the seasonal releases would have one or two really exciting beers, and a variety of so-so to kind of unispired brews. Not so any more. Walking into the tasting room with Mike from A Year of Beer (http://ayearofbeer.wordpress.com/) we were greeted by a selection of beers that made me feel like it was Christmas. The fall release, which should be available in stores today (stop on your way home from work), is (in no particular order): Samuel Smith’s Organic Cider, Hofbrau Munchen Oktoberfest, Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde, Garrison Imperial IPA, Innis and Gunn Highland Cask, Orval, Cannery Brewing Blackberry Porter, Trafalgar Ales Smoked Oatmeal Stout, Southern Teir Choklat Imperial Stout, Bellhaven Scottish Stout, Dieu du Ciel! Peche Mortel, and Dark Star Brewing Co. Espresso Stout. The Halloween release (due around the begining of October) is also pretty good, despite four pumpkin beers (which are not usually my preference): St Ambroise Citrouille, Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale, Southern Teir Pumking, Post Road (Brooklyn) Pumpkin Ale, Mt. Begbie Nasty Habit IPA, and Dieu du Ciel Rigor Mortis ABT.
So here are my notes from the fall line-up
Samuel Smith’s Organc Cider:
Pretty mild, aroma is apple and a hit of yeast. Flavour is crisp apple, with just a hint of a sour note reminescent of cider vinegar. Good carbonation and super light body make this a really easy-drinking cider. I would prefer this in the summer, as it’s light and really refreshing, but I get it: apples are fall food, right?
Hofbrau Munchen Oktoberfest:
Beer tasters from last year’s Oktoberfest tasting will remember this beer made an idiot of me, as I had just finished talking about how Oktoberfest beers are generally bigger, maltier brews, often higher in alcohol. Then I poured this beer, which is about as dark as Beau’s Lug-Tread Ale. The aroma is very grainy and clean with a hint of earthy hops. Taste is nice cereal grains, with a good hop finish that is quick and clean.
Wychwood Wychcraft Blonde:
An interesting lighter ale from our friends at Wychwood in England. Very flowery hops in the aroma. A good dose of grains in the taste, with a bit more hops. Pretty light weight, one of our LCBO hosts said that many beers have been popping up in Britain designed to entice more women back into beer-drinking, and this was one of them. While it’s accessable, I would happily drink more of it. So well done.
Garrison Imperial IPA:
OH HELL YES. Garrison and Propeller are the two “big” microbreweries in Nova Scotia, and are admired and well-respected for good reason. They make great beers. Garrison’s IIPA is incredible, golden brown with huge hops in the aroma, grapefruit mostly, and hints of florals. The flavour is pretty much all hops, though there is a nice malt background, which keeps the hops in balance. As it warms, there are hints of straw that come through the hops. In my notes, I used an obscenity to describe how good this beer is. Just buy it, okay?
Innis and Gunn Highland Cask:
Okay, I’m just going to say it: I have liked Innis and Gunn ever since my first sip. Malty, with hints of vanilla and oak. So nice. So when I saw that they had produced a blond, I was excited to give it a try. I was glad I had the foresight to only buy one bottle, as I didn’t particularly like it. It was “bad”, it just wasn’t nearly as good as the regular variety. They’ve put out a series of other brews, aged in a variety of different types of barrels. Rum, Canadian Rye, etc. While I know many people who really got down to the Canadian one, I still haven’t loved any of them. And I fear this ongoing sense of mediocrity is tainting my feelings towards the original product. I don’t seem to love it as much as I used to. I fear that this also corrupts my shaky objectivity anytime I taste another variety. Again, I’ll say, it’s not that any of the beers are bad, poorly/cheaply made, etc. I just don’t personally love them. That being said, lots of people more knowledgeable then me do, so I would still encourage everybody to give this a try, okay?
The beer looks like the standard Innis and Gunn, and has a pretty malty smell, with a hint of oak. The taste caught me off guard, malty, but also something fruity sweet. There is a lovely whiskey note on the finish, that lingers in a nice way. But that fruity thing, what is that?
If you’ve spent any time talking Trappist ales with me, you’ll know I love this beer. I love the story of God’s goodness to an Italian widow, I love the picture on the label, and I love the way it drinks. I drink this beer frequently (so should you), so I didn’t make any notes other then: “Same spicy awesomeness”. That about sums it up. Go get some of this, and love it.
Cannery Brewing Blackberry Porter:
The beer is opaque brown, with a crazy blackberry aroma, and bit of malts. The flavour is big blackberries immediately, but has some noticeable chewy malts. The blackberries hang around for ages, but are not overly sweet or cloying. Very nice.
Trafalgar Ales Smoked Oatmeal Stout:
So, another disclaimer. With the notable exception of Paddy Irish Red, I haven’t really had a lot of success with this brewery. Unfortunately, this is another brew that I won’t be buying much of. Aroma is a little smokey, and not much else. The taste is pretty thin. Surprisingly, a little sweet, and smokey, and not much else. Not bad, but not great.
Southern Tier Choklat:
Solid black beer is bursting with chocolate aroma, like a glass of chocolate milk, only better. Taste is hugely chocolate, cocoa bitterness, but with a sweet boozy imperial stout body. Sweetness lingers, but is not cloying. SO lovely. I probably couldn’t finish the big bottle, but I would try! Great bottle for sharing over dessert.
Belhaven Scottish Stout:
Ummm, what? Scottish stout? Okay, UK stouts are normally very light bodied; Scottish ales are nearly syrup. What will this be? Good, I can confirm. Beer is black, and smells of burnt sugar. The taste is very roasted and stout like, but sweeter, though the body is still pretty light. Very cool, another good dessert beer.
Dark Star Espresso Stout:
First let me say, beautifully designed label. But can we judge a beer by it’s label? Or a book by it’s cover? Or a person by the colour of their skin? Why can’t we be friends, why can’t we be friends…..? I’ll go with “probably not” but this is a very nice beer, like it’s label. The aroma is more like espresso beans, then brewed espresso coffee, but is nice, smokey and rich. The taste is very “stouty”, but with a noticeable charred taste like eating an espresso bean (if you haven’t you should). Kind of woody and burnt, but with clear coffee flavours. There is a bitter finish that lingers (like you’d eaten an espresso bean). I really enjoyed this.
Dieu du Ciel! Peche Mortel:
Okay, I’ve got a few bottles of this in the fridge already, so I didn’t take any notes, I just enjoyed it. Sorry. It’s a lovely drink though.
And now my notes for the Halloween release:
St Ambroise Citrouille:
A pumpkin ale from Quebec. As stated, this isn’t my favourite style of beer, but I was surprised by this. Heaps of lovely ginger in the aroma, as well as allspice and cloves,with hints of malts. Taste is very spicy, with a hint of pumpkin. I’d like it a bit sweeter, but other then that, I really like this.
Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale:
This is a regular fall offering from Great Lakes. This sort of exemplifies pumpkin beers I don’t really like. Lots of stewed pumpkin taste, some malts, and a bit of pie spices. I know people who wait with excitement for this beer to come out, so I know that it’s widely loved, it’s just not loved by me.
Southern Tier Pumking:
One of the top three rated pumpkin beers on BeerAdvocate.com. The aroma is actually like gingerbread. Spicy and bready/malty with heaps of ginger. The taste is more of the same, ginger and the usual pumpkin pie spices, and a lovely warm malty character. The pumpkin flavour is almost more of a background note. Excellent.
Post Road Pumpkin Ale:
Post Road seems to be a line made by the epic Brooklyn brewery. Again, the aroma is more spices then pumpkin. Sweet and cakey smelling. The beer is very smooth, almost lager like. Great balance of malts, pumpkin and spices. This is probably my favourite pumpkin beer to date.
Mt Begbie Nasty Habit IPA:
Big brash hops in the aroma and taste (Cascade, I think), but some good malts to hold up against the hops. There’s enough that they come through grainy in the taste, not just as a balance to the bitterness of the hops. Quite a nice IPA.
Dieu du Ciel! Rigor Mortis ABT:
See my notes on Peche Mortel. Full review to come.
All in all, a really great release, filled nearly full with beers I really really enjoyed. Almost no blahs. I’m stoked. So head on down to your local LCBO, and grab some bottles. Especially the Garrison IIPA, if you like it hoppy. If you like it sweeter, hook up some Southern Tier Choklat. And definitely get some of that Post Road pumpkin for you Halloween party, okay?
Thanks to the LCBO for the invite, and for making such a great release. Thanks also to the importers who are willing to work through the, shall we say “quirky”, requirements of the LCBO and AGCO to bring exciting and high-quality beers into our lovely little province.