Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review Roundup

Homebrewing is a form of mental illness, of that there is no doubt. My free time is currently being devoured by researching hop filters, attending yeast lectures, and watching time-lapse youtubes of fermentation. An anthropologist from Alpha Centuri would freak out trying to make sense of it all.

In order to restore some normalcy, let's drink some palatable commercial beers and write a blog post, just like the old days.

First up, fresh off of Phillips' increasingly frenetic production line, is the Michael Lewis Pilsner. Phillips' output is of such prolific mediocrity that — I must admit — I do not even get too excited to sample them anymore (do I really need to drink an India Pale Lager to know a. it's gonna make me mad and b. it's not going to be as good as Brooklyn Lager?).

But the MLPilsner is an exception. This beer is based on a recipe designed by the winner of the 2011 CAMRA Amateur Brewing Competition—Michael Lewis—who is a fellow member of Island home brewers club BrewVIC, an all-round nice guy, and a dinner guest at my house tonight. The pilsner has "that Phillips taste" to it, I'm guessing due to their house yeast. It's a decent pilsner with a somewhat green-tea bitterness and the odour of a well-leafed paperback. Pleasant, and all the more so because a mate had a hand in it.

Second is a beer I was very excited to try: La Roja from Jolly Pumpkin. JP are my favourite 'wild' beer specialists if only because of Oro de Calabaza (the "Bam" series are also fantastic). La Roja is an amber ale given the spontaneous fermentation treatment, and it is a success. The beer is a radiant reddish hue, perhaps unexpectedly so given that it is an amber. It tastes characteristically tart and vinegary, but a lot cleaner and less horsey than the Oro. A glimmer of hops manage to shine through the champagne dryness, making this a beautifully refreshing, not-so-challenging sour. Great stuff.

Third is a triptych of newer Driftwood beers. All fantastic, which rids me of the dirty feeling I've had ever since I panned their double IPA. You might argue that Fat Tug is two years old now, but not to my mind. Fat Tug was pretty stellar when it first came out, but there was always something slightly brutish and heavy-in-the-mouth about it that makes the prospect of a bomber seem quite an ordeal.  I often hovered my hand over the 'Tug in the liquor store before choosing something more straightforward — like if someone offers you crazy whips'n'chains sex when all you really feel like is a quickie.

But the last 5–6 bottles of Fat Tug have been different. More refined, richer in aromatic hops, less syrup and orange peel, a dash of melon. It could all come down to perception or fluctuation of ingredient qualities, but I find myself unbuckling at the site of it these days, which can only be good.

Sartori has always been the best fresh-hop IPA we can get. First year was incredible; consensus is that last years' was pretty good; this year's is once again awesome. For the first time, this year's Sartori is brewed solely from local maltster Mike Doehnel's (read this) malt, which is a nice way to round off the local vibe imparted by Christian Sartori's Chilliwack(ish)-born hops. Forthright, smooth and exploding with hop aroma. Wonderful.

Finally, the much-anticipated Bird of Prey series (it's a f***king SERIES!) Flanders Red Ale. I knew this was in the works a year ago. Every time I asked Jason about it he'd make mystical sounds about it being sort of ready but not quite ready. Patience has clearly paid off because this is a lovely, lovely sour ale. Not as sweet as I have come to expect from a Flanders Red (blame Duchesse), the Bird of Prey is actually not a million miles away from La Roja. It is an assertive sour, but not a mouth-gusher. The strength (7.5% apparently) is completely disguised by a beguiling palate of sour cherry, lychee and dry cider. Others have attributed "complex" and "oaky" to it, but I identify with neither description (I am curious as to what it would have tasted like were it not aged in barrels for a year). The biggest charm of this beer is its straightforward refreshment and addictiveness. No palate fatigue whatsoever, which is incredible for the style. My advice: find a falconer and invest in a decent sized aviary. Fast.


  1. Dan,

    My boyfriend and I have just started reading small beer but we're enjoying it thoroughly. I was going to email you with praise but I can't seem to find your actual email address anywhere! This is probably just testament to my lack of technological tenacity...

    We just dropped an arm and a leg on bc beer to ship back to Ontario with us, so lots of reviews and anecdotes on the fruits of this province to come.

    Keep up all the great work. Blogs of any niche are abundant but it's been nice to hone in on such a good one!

  2. Well, Carmen. It's messages like this that keep me blogging. I'm glad you enjoy it so much, and I promise you a post in the near future. I have recently acquired a lecturing job, a home brewing habit, and a new child — and I am yet resettle into a decent blogging schedule. You can email me directly through the email address listed on the website — which I operate with two other keen bloggers.

    For the record, I spend a fair bit of time in Ontario, and am particularly fond of Gambrinus Bistro in London, Ontario - one of th best beer bars in the country I believe. If you get the chance to try it (if you have not already) please do!

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