Hoo-wha, I love summer! Not just the weather, but the seasonal offerings local brewing artisans bring to café tables. Forgive the indulgence of my title but it dovetails into the theme I’m working into this edition’s column; I’m reviewing and recommending a few delectable craft beers I experienced on tap at sunny café patios this summer as well as a couple of memorable sessions with limited release bottled brews on my own patio. The common thread is they are all imported or use imported ingredients — thus the “passport” component of the title.
Xingu Black Lager is a wonderful decadent Schwarzbier (light-bodied German black lager) from an award winning Brazilian craft brewer. This is a more robust interpretation of the traditional Schwarzbier style. Served fresh from the tap you get a deep chestnut hued lager with a puffy tan cap and subtle aroma. There is a fleeting hint of malt sweetness before the rich roasty-chocolaty demeanour goes into a dry, hoppy clean finish. This is one of the best black lagers I’ve tasted – slightly rich without losing its light-bodied character, very easy drinking – like Kostritzer on steroids. If they were serving this in Brazilian sports bars during World Cup, no doubt it made Brazil’s loss much more palatable.
Rogue Farms 7 Hop IPA is produced by Oregon’s Rogue Brewing Co. from the proprietary grains and hops grown on its Willamette Valley farm. This is a true all-natural unfiltered beer with locally grown ingredients, with no preservatives, adjuncts or stabilisers, made from seven proprietary hop varieties and three malts. I can attest to this being a profoundly quenching, satisfying, brightly hopped ale when served fresh on tap. The local traditionally grown (no insecticides) proprietary ingredients truly give you an earthy sense of the terrior of this brew’s origins — every sip shouts “Made In Pacific North-West”. Highly recommended for those who enjoy IPAs and bright fresh tasting beer.
Side Launch Belgian Hat Trick is a summer offering from this re-established craft brewer. Hat Trick is a Belgian triple abbey-styled ale. The master brewer’s touch in the attention to detail, ingredients and process is evident in this on-tap offering. It’s obvious an esoteric strain of Belgian yeast was used along with imported malts. For a high-gravity ale this one is fully finished, no sharp edges, mellow, flavorful and smooth as silk in delivery. Very aromatic with abundant fruit and floral notes, lightly complex in flavor with apricot-biscuity-earthy tones amalgamating with the spicy, leafy hop selection – clean dry finish with not a hint of the 8.5% alcohol present – deceptively delicious with a rich satiny mouth feel. On tap this was a truly rewarding brew when paired up with the pub’s trencherman’s platter of cheeses and smoked meats. I hope Side Launch decides to make this again and possibly bottle it for cellaring.
Jolly Pumpkin Calabaza Blanca (LCBO# 365734) – A Belgian “white ale” from a Michigan artisanal brewer. Calabaza Blanca is aged in large oak casks and refermented in the bottle. Spiced with orange peel and coriander, and utilizing wild yeast strains (Brett), its delivery is refreshingly tart and spicy with a wonderfully dry finish. This brewery produces some of the best bottle-conditioned beers anywhere. All of its beers are aged in oak barrels with wild yeasts giving a subtle, pleasant acidity not unlike tart fruits. After oak maturation these beers are re-yeasted, and allowed additional time to develop natural carbonation in the bottle and further enhance complex flavour refinement in the finished beer. Because of this you must learn to gently handle the opening and pouring of bottle-conditioned beers to avoid the “foaming volcano” effect. This white ale was particularly quenching paired with a chipotle-chicken salad after a hot day.
Flying Monkeys Green Man imperial Amber Lager – A very limited release from this innovative craft brewer. This, at first blush, appears to be an amped up imperialized version of a marzen amber lager. A closer inspection reveals that this is another of Peter Chodo’s concept beers utilizing esoteric hop varieties against a supporting blend of specialty malts in a common style, yielding uncommon results. In Green Man we see the use of some unique New Zealand hop varieties which are normally used in ales – and these abstract elements spice up this big malty lager and connect well in this beer. Big, malty, hoppy, modest complexity with subtle unexpected tastes for a lager, like vanilla, caramel, nuts, and lemon grass. Medium bodied and satisfying, this is a big lager with all sorts of pleasant unconventional surprises.
The Malt Monk’s Taste o’ the Moment
Bush Pilot “Norseman” Eisbock (LCBO #399154)
A new offering from this local maverick brewing company, this time done in collaboration between Bush Pilot, Nickel Brook Brewery and Kjetil Jikiun, the founder of legendary Norwegian craft brewery Nøgne Ø. In keeping with the bush plane theme and to celebrate the Norwegian component of this brewing project, they named it Norseman and created a seasoned Armagnac barrel-aged Eisbock (A doppel bock that goes through an ice reduction process).
Will likely leave this out in print. Add a note “Complete tasting notes on this beer can be found online”
My sample came in a 750ml dark green champagne bottle – crown capped – kept from light in a container tube.
Ambience: cool early summer night, consumed by a roaring campfire with a meal of fresh caught steelhead, cooked on a cedar board served with capered basmati rice and fresh fiddlehead greens.
Serving temp: spent about 30 minutes on ice in the cooler – approx. – 45deg. F
Serving container: thick glass tumbler (chilled)
Color and appearance: pours a dark murky chestnut color with a moderate off white cap which fades quickly to a clinging surface lace (not surprising for a high gravity brew)
Aroma: complex, changes and gets more pungent as it warms but the core elements are figs, port, robust roasty grains – toasted pumpernickel with cocoa, wet oak, light smokiness, just a hint of yeast funk, some fusel tones come forward as it warms.
Character: rich, full bodied, solid malt spine verging on silken mouth feel but it gets a tad hot in the finish from big alcohol.
Flavour profile: a big hit of roasty malts and dark fruits up front, lightly sweet, hops provide some spice and balance although malt and dark fruit esters carry the profile here…mid-palate you get complex flavour impressions – muscatel, raisin bread, pipe tobacco, filberts, Madera, woody tones….long, rich, warming finish.
Overall Impression: This is a well-designed ice process dark doppelbock lager. Very judicious selection of hops and malts along with care and control in the brewing, barreling and ice process has yielded a really unique vinous-like bock. If you didn’t know what you were drinking you’d swear it was a rich dark fortified wine of immense gustatory sensation. I love bock, I drink a lot of it, but it pales in comparison to the intensity of this brew. I have had a lot of high gravity doppel bocks but this is a new experience – very much like one of the intense beers Brew Dog experiment with but easier drinking. If there is a flaw, it’s that the alcohol is a tad evident now for some palates.
This is not a disadvantage if you savour ports or Madeira. However a few months to a year in the cellar will certainly improve this Eisbock by taming the alcohol. I will be buying a few bottles to cellar because I’m deeply curious to see what bottle aging will produce. For those who missed the April release of this brew, be advised there will be an early winter (December) release of a second lot that has more aging on it. I can recommend this big beer for those who like intense brews, or who like to cellar age fine brews, or for those who like fortified wine and wish to venture into strong barreled beers.
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 maltmonksbeerblog.wordpress.com/