Friday, March 26, 2010

Review: Howe Sound Bailout Bitter

Along with my first review must come a caveat: I generally hate beer reviews. Not that a beer review cannot be as lively and mouth-watering as the beer it references. I'm tainted by the BeerAdvocate experience. BA is an excellent source of opinion and discussion which I refer to daily (I only feel comfortable criticizing a small aspect of BA because it is overall my favourite beer web-resource). And I respect the (superior) experience of most BA members — and their forums show what a wealth of knowledge and passion they have.

But the review system prompts you to choose a score of 1-5 for multiple characteristisc: appearance, smell, taste, mouthfeel, drinkability (ASTMD) — each of which are weighted to give a total mark out of 5 which translates to a final letter grade. Reviewers must also offer a written report of the beer. Multiple choice? Written report? Letter grades? IT'S BEER SCHOOL!

The ASTMD system tends to encourage people to stick to these criteria when describing the beer. This results in mostly boring reviews that go like this:

A: quite lovely, a shimmering orange blossom yellow with amber highlights
S: quite heavenly, a blooming blossom of shimmering suds
T: quite stunning, a caressing highlight of shimmering tastefulness
M: quite sensuous, a blossoming shimmer of caring backrubs
D: not bad

The result is you get a fairly helpful overall grade, which at least helps you to sort promising brews from likely stinkers — unless you are cynical enough to believe that the weight of prior "A"s and "A+"s in any way affects subsequent reviewers' grades ("Oh god I didn't like this beer but Beernut9000 and Hoppywaggle_USA both gave it "A"s, there must be something wrong with my mouth!"). But you have to trawl through crappy report cards until you find a gem of writing that draws on experiences outside the ASTMD spectrum to evaluate the drink.

I have my favourite beer reviewers (some of whom even stick to the ASTMD format — but whose opinions are so astute they mirror my own...), but the reviews that really affect me and get me excited about a beer come from friends, or BAs whose writing and charm convince me to try a beer far more than an esoteric list of "flavour notes" wrung from the cultured tongue of a would-be aficionado. I wish they all had blogs instead...

Shit why would I build up expectations like this then post my own beer review? I have much to learn about blog strategy...

(image from Ruth and Dave's photostream. I have no idea if they ripped it off from someone else, but it's a nice picture)

Now and again a beer comes along that you feel you could settle down with for good. Fill a liter-sized sippy cup with Howe Sound's Bailout Bitter and wheel me off to the retirement home, please.

Gimmicky the label is, but it made me chuckle and buy a bottle out of curiosity's sake. And truth be told I've always been attracted to beers that come in vessels bigger than my head. Though Bailout comes with a Grolsch-esque reusable stopper, I've yet to actually use it - and neither will you.

It pours light for a bitter, but my idea of bitter is forever tainted by the murky-brown pints of John Smith's and Webster's ubiquitous to British pubs in the 90s. Bailout is a frosted, honeyed gold, with a lively effervescence as it slides into the pint glass (hehe - I couldn't resist).

The aroma hits with a fresh blast of yeast and hops, zesty and uncomplicated. Upon raising the glass hints of hefeweizen-style citrus burst under your nose.

The beer is immediately refreshing. It is tartly bitter yet clean, with perfectly judged hops for its modest strength. The body is round enough to be pleasing, yet never bold or committal. Its biggest charm is its ability to enliven at every sip and never grow tiresome.

While not a great beer in the sense of having unmistakable character, this is comfort-brewing at its best. For me, cracking one open is like putting Goodfellas into the DVD player, or opening a worn Bukowski novel. A reliably satisfying experience.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. "A pint of bitter . . ."

    Bailout bitter was a truly delightful find when I went beer hunting in Portland, Oregon.

    I like to pretend to be beer snob, but I'm not; I can't write a proper review. In that sense, I'm like the bloke who doesn't know art, but knows what her likes, and I like this beer.

    And, no, I did not use the stopper.

    Now, if only I could find it in Hawaii!

  3. Thanks for the great review! Bailout was a beer we released as a limited thing from the brewery and when the media got word of it things went crazy. We ended up with people calling us from Wall Street asking us for a bailout. *smiles*
    Thanks for drinking!
    Nathan Rayment
    Howe Sound Brewing

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