Local craft brewers are beginning to release their fall seasonals – fest beers, wet hop ales, pumpkin ales and big porters. This Oktoberfest season saw a lot of great locally brewed seasonal releases which rivaled the fine selection of imported artisanal beers in the LCBO fall release. I had a splendid time sampling the many great seasonal beers at the many fall festivals. The appearance of three new craft brewers coming on line and the increasing diversity and innovation of styles are indicators the local craft beer culture/community is expanding and maturing. Selection is up and so is the quality.
Notable fall releases: Here are my impressions and recommendation of a few notable brews available this fall.
Amsterdam Autumn Hop Harvest Wet Hop Ale (LCBO #337261)
One of the welcome pleasures of the early fall harvest season is the appearance of this year’s wet hop ales. Wet hop ale is made with green hop cones, freshly harvested and brewed the same day. Amsterdam has come in with a great wet hop offering this year. This is a deep gold ale with an aroma of floral-pine, hints of peach and sweet pale malt. Medium bodied with a bright fresh hop character. The flavour profile has succulent hop humulones (pine, herbal) in front with a sturdy pale malt spine in a support role — goes to a clean bright increasingly bitter finish with herbaceous green hop bite at the end. Great harvest time sipping.
The progenitor of this big double red ale debuted at the Flying Monkeys tap take-over at Milos Kral’s old London craft beer venue Gambrinus. It was love at first sip for me. The commercial release of this big imperial red ale came together at last year’s Toronto Session beer fest, when Flying Monkeys’ brewers hooked up with west coast wonder-kid brewer Central City of Surry BC. Dubbed a “collaboration ale”, the Ontario release of “Red on Red” was rolled out in late summer on tap, and early fall in bottled product at the LCBO. This is a brew well worth seeking out — decants a shimmering copper-red with a rich frothy cap that laces the glass. Aroma is complex — big in tropical/exotic fruits, earthy pine notes, sweet malts — wonderful nose to it. Silken delivery but super robust — the palate is deluged with lush tones of guava and papaya married to rich red malt sweet toastiness. The finish is slow and silky accented by increased bittering — very lush and satisfying. Making a single hop double red ale with the new Mosaic hop and Munich red malts was a stroke of genius. Flush with mango, lemon, citrus, earthy pine, tropical fruit, herbal and stone fruit notes, this great red ale has a triple whammy of hop presence in aroma, flavor and bittering which perfectly complements the malts chosen. I love this big red ale and I’m hoping it will be made available on a more frequent basis.
8 Wired iStout (LCBO#328039)
Crafted in collaboration with Kiwi artisanal brewer Renaissance Brewing Company in Blenheim New Zealand, 8-wired iStout is one of the richest, most viscous stouts on the market. Pours a deep black that seems to defy light. A wicked creamy mocha cap lasts the whole drink. Aroma is pungent and complex — cocoa, coffee, dark dried fruit, roasty malts, floral, citrus, hint of licorice — a great amalgam of aromas. Body is big and robust, rich viscous mouth feel. Flavour follows aroma with more punch from the hops, giving a decadent cocoa-dark fruit-piney discernment — leads to a long lush finish where roast malt and hop battle for dominance. I’ve seldom sampled imperial stouts that rivaled this for richness or mouth feel. It’s definitely an artisanal stout to warm your winter repose with a good cigar or to create the most decadent dessert in beer geekdom: the Imperial Stout Float (a half glass of rich stout with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream on top). Enjoy!
Amager Rugporter (LCBO#330381)
This rye porter is the result of hard roasted barley malts and 16% rye. I’m partial to rye beers because of the spicy character. This is a Danish craft brew which combines rye spiciness with the deep roasty-sweetness of a porter and robustness of an imperial strength ale. It pours a turbid unfiltered black with a three-finger sticky mocha cap lacing the glass. Aroma is a wonderful blend of cocoa/coffee roastyness balanced with an underlying piquant spiciness. Flavour has big chewy malts in the front which dissolve into a decent roasty-spicey-herbal bittering balance, long rich finish where the malts give way to a complimentary penetrating bittering. Great lush porter with a big spicy rye character — highly recommended.
Howe Sound Pumpkineater Imperial Pumpkin Ale (LCBO #303610)
I have sampled this big west cost pumpkin beer on a few occasions and it’s wonderful to see it available in the Ontario market. A hazy dark orange-amber high gravity (8% abv) ale brewed with amber malt, fresh roasted pumpkin, west coast hops, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise. Rich and spicy, it dries in the finish — a superior well-crafted big pumpkin ale. Comes in a one-liter capped swing top bottle so you can finish it in two sittings. This beer is produced in very limited quantities each fall so if you see it on LCBO shelves snag it. It cellars fairly well.
New Brewers on the Block – Block Three Brewing Company
The quaint Mennonite Village of St. Jacobs is hiding a secret. St. Jake’s is now the home base of one of the region’s newest and most promising artisanal micro breweries. Once again we see a commercial craft brewing enterprise started by a group of friends who were home brewing mavens, who decided to take their passion for fresh natural beer to the public. This is a small 1.3 hectoliter brew operation with seven hectoliter capacity; head brewer Bryan Maher says the size works well for both experimenting and ensuring fresh beer. Block Three produces well crafted, full-flavored unfiltered natural ales. The brewers ran out in their first week, supplying local draft accounts and meeting bottle demand from their walk-in retail store. I sampled both flagship brews — King Street Saison and Sugar Bush Brown Ale. Both were incredibly fresh, flavourful and invigorating renditions of these styles — very drinkable, prime quality craft session beers. They will also offer a rotating series of special brews — rumour has it there is an Oktoberfest Marzen bubbling away in their spare fermenter right now. I can certainly recommend their brews, and a trip to this rustic Mennonite village brewery has its rewards.
Block Three Brewing Company, 1430 King Street North, St. Jacobs ON
Malt Monk’s Pick of the month –
First Draft 1812 Butler’s Bitter (LCBO #34907)
It isn’t often I’m impressed with an English Bitter or mild ale. These are good sessioning pub styles but they’re usually a tad wanting in body and mouth feel for my tastes. Enter the current offering from First Draft — Niagara College’s Teaching Brewery. Butler’s Bitter (4.4% abv) is a mild bitter in name only. It pours a clear shimmering red-amber with a sticky off-white cap and a good cap retentivity, which laces the glass wall as you drain it. Moderate carbonation as per an authentic pub/sessioning ale. Aroma is demure but distinct — sweet amber malts over spicy-earthy hops and a hint of fruit. Creamy mouth feel, malty-fruity character, medium-light body. Flavour has hints of caramel, succulent fruit tones, spicy hopping and a solid malt back bone — goes to a clean lightly bitter finish. This is a well crafted English-style session bitter with Canadian crafted character. I could tilt a few of these in a sitting — mild but flavourful, very drinkable.
THE MALT MONK is the alter ego of D.R. Hammond, a passionate supporter of craft beer culture. He invites readers to join in the dialogue at http://maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com