Barley Mowat 

Russell Naughty and Spiced plus Hop Therapy

with 2 comments

I’ve had these tasting notes on the ole iPhone for a few weeks, but got distracted by other beers, events, and general rantings… then the Barley Wines lumbered onto the scene and, well, those things take a certain toll on your attention span, sobriety and really general health.

However, better late than never, so here’s the two latest bombers from Russell Brewing’s ever-expanding special release program which, as I understand it, now has a few dozen barrels to play around with.

Naughty & Spiced is a high gravity porter that’s been augmented with a dabble of vanilla and a handful of oak chips. As Christmas seasonals go, it’s a more mild take on the traditional “let’s get fucked” approach to ABV (only clocking in at 6.5%), and should make a decent beer to sip while wearing your once-a-year ugly Christmas sweater (and yes, P49’s Ugly Sweater could be considered a better fit, but that’s a bit too on the nose, don’t you think?).

Hop Therapy is a double IPA that I’m still tasting two days after drinking it. This is a massive, in your face, American-style hop bomb that uses basically every Yankee hop varietal known to man, and at every step of the brewing process. Massive hops aroma begets massive hop flavour begets massive hop finish. Did I mention there’s some hops in this?

Tasting notes:

Naughty & Spiced: A full, round, roasted malt-heavy body supports the spices, which in turn support the limited booze quite well. Despite the (relatively) low 6.5% ABV, a pleasant boozey warmth is evident after a few ounces. Any time you add vanilla to a beer there’s a danger of cloying sugar overload (aka the “GIB Lions Effect”) but this doesn’t happen here. The sweetness of the vanilla is effectively cut by the astringency of the oak chips.

Hop Therapy: Pours cloudy (bottle conditioned?) with a nice mouthfeel and… I’m sorry. That’s as far as I got before the impending tsunami of hops broke on my face. My tasting notes from the day in question just read “HOOOOOPPPPPPSSSSSSS!!! Hops… hops… <broken sobs>

If you’re a colossal hop head you’ll love this beer. If you’re not, you might want to stay away from any hop heads you know for a while because they’re going to be gleefully exuding hop resin from their pours while sporting a stupid, blissed out grin.

In summary: While both these beers are good, N&S just isn’t that special. HT is a balls-out take on an aggressive beer style and, while not perfect or even superb, I have to admit: I kinda want to go back for more.

Coles notes:

Brewery Russell
From Surrey
Name Naughty & Spiced Hop Therapy
Style Spiced Porter American Imperial IPA
SOA Now None Bronze
SOA Potential n/a; table beer
Drink Now
Single handed affect on the going rate for hops futures n/a +25%
Availability Most LRSs Limited LRS, going fast
Cost $6.50-$8.00 per 650ml bomber
Similar Beers (you can buy) Hoyne Gratitude, Howe Sound Father John’s Uh… none.
Chuck says Buy one and share. Buy several and don’t.

My tongue is tingly!.

Written by chuck

December 24th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

Posted in Beers

Tagged with

GIB Barley Wine

with 2 comments

On Wednesday I counted myself lucky enough to be invited down to Granville Island Brewery for a preview of their first ever Barley Wine. In addition to a glass goblet heavy enough to brain a horse, I was given unlimited access to their most recent brew, and even a nicely wrapped bottle to take home for offsite consumption.

So, is it worth a damn? Yup. Vern describes this effort as a stylistic middle ground between the more refined, traditional English-style Barley Wine and its loutish American/New World upstart offspring. I would agree with that sentiment, although the bourbon barrel ageing is a definite New World touch.

On pouring, this guy has an awful lot of carbonation for a barrel-aged Barley Wine… almost too much. It’s hard to say whether this is for sure artificial, as the beer is bottle conditioned. Even so, I’m unsure how much extra carb you’ll get out of yeast that’s given its all to make 11.5% ABV and then spent the last four weeks chilling in a used bourbon barrel.

The nose is very mild, almost imperceptible malt and a touch of bourbon. On tasting, the hops come through initially and then the bourbon follows up with a solid kick to your chest. The malt, though, is almost absent, with all those rich sugars effectively hidden behind the whiskey.

And that’s my main complaint about this beer: Where’d the malt go? The sugars, and all that caramel-y/toffee promise that they bring are definitely there–the hyper-smooth mouthfeel will testify to that–but the barrel ageing is all you’re going to pick up on right now.

My secondary complaint would be that this shares a certain je-ne-sais-quoi with GIB’s main beers, specifically their Pale Ale. Whether it’s the yeast or the hops, I can’t say (although I’m leaning towards hops), but it does have that unique GIB-ness about it.

The negatives I mention slowly fade over the course of 8oz or so, and the smooth mouthfeel and body build up nicely. The bourbon and hops create a nice spiciness, very similar to Central City Thor’s Hammer. Try one to see for yourself, but only try one… for now.

Ageing is not optional with this beer. Right now this beer is interesting, perhaps even decent, but give it a few months to half a year and it could become great.

With time, the bourbon and hops will fade, and hopefully give all that malt sugar a chance to come forth. At ~$10 a bottle, this is priced low enough that even inexperienced cellar-ers should pick up a few to see how it develops.

Lastly, I think the bottle-conditioning, cloudiness of the beer, and complete lack of filtering (aka potential for oak bits in your glass) give this beer a wonderful homebrew-y quality, which is the exact opposite of what you’d expect from a brewery that is, after all, a wholly owned subsidiary of MolsonCoors.

Coles notes:

Brewery Granville Island Taphouse
From Vancouver
Name Ltd Release
Style Barley Wine
SOA Now Bronze
SOA Potential Silver
Drink Mid-2013 to early-2014
Watch out for Bits of oak floating in your glass
Availability Select LRS (60 cases) & at GIB (300 cases)
Cost $9.00-$11.00 per 650ml bottle.
Similar Beers CC Thor’s Hammer, Driftwood OCD/OBD
Chuck says Buy several and use it as a tutorial on ageing beer

Turns out Barley Wines are good.

Written by chuck

December 21st, 2012 at 11:53 am

Posted in Beers

Tagged with ,

Craft vs Crafty

with 5 comments

A lot of attention has been paid recently to the ongoing debate between “true” Craft Breweries and the big macros creating a shadow brand and marketing it as craft. The US-based Brewers Association (BA) is responsible for the latest salvo in the ongoing debate, recently issuing a press release on the topic as well as a rather blunt list of breweries they consider non-craft.

Before we start pointing fingers at non-Craft Brewers and saying all sorts of libellous things about them, we should first try and figure out what, exactly, a Craft Brewery is. For this purpose, we’ll borrow the Brewer’s Association’s own definition (see it here) because there is no accepted definition of the term in Canada.

Craft Breweries, according to the BA, have to meet three criteria, and I have issues with all of them. Read on:

1. Small
This is defined as an annual production of less than six million barrels, which is 7,200,000hl in non-yankee speak. Nothing about this volume is “small”–in fact, a brewery that makes 7,200,000hl would be colossal by pretty much any standard. OK Spring, BC’s biggest brewery by production, makes ~360,000hl across all their brands, for instance. Only the truest giantest macro breweries would produce more, and that’s what this number is all about.

As well, it has to be noted that this number keeps changing and growing as the former “small” breweries raise their production. Before “Craft Beer” was a broadly used marketing term, you’d hear about “Microbreweries” but that term became harder and harder to justify as these former small producers started brewing beer by the mega-barrel. Hence how we now have “Craft Beer” and it’s ever escalating production cap.

If this trick sounds familiar, it should.

2. Independent

Your craft brewery must not be more than 25% owned by an entity that, itself, is not a craft brewery (however if they are a craft brewery, bring it on!). So I guess selling out is okay, just not to The Man? No mention is given to banks, which likely hold the largest stake in all operating breweries. In the end, it doesn’t matter how great your beer is so long as the guy paying the bills makes macro beer (or his boss does, or that guys’ boss’ boss, etc, all the way up).

This requirement is the subject of the latest battle in the War on Macro Beer. It turns out the majors have been creating shadow brands and selling beer under those brands. The beer isn’t great, but it sure isn’t macro swill. Should Coors have to say they brewed Blue Moon on the bottle? I’m split on this, as the issue is more complex than you’d think. Does GIB have to say “brewed by Molson” on their main beers? Maybe. What about on Vern’s micro-produced one-offs, brewed by Vern on his tiny 10hl brewkit, which is about as micro as mirco gets? See? Not so easy to figure out, and I sure don’t have an answer. In the end, though, shadow branding and contract brewing upset me far less than bad beer.

3. Traditional

Your flagship beer (the one you sell the most of) must be an all malt beer, or a beer that only uses non-malt adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour. If this seems a bit convoluted to you, you’re with me. Basically this rule exists to rule out breweries selling lots of corn-augmented Pale Lager, but they had to modify it a bit to allow for fruit beers becoming popular.

So where does all this leave us? Basically all three rules are structured in such a way as to effectively say “you’re craft beer if your name isn’t SABMiller, Sapporo, MolsonCoors, or Anheuser-Busch InBev” (and a few others). Why they didn’t save us a bunch of time and just list those companies by name and call it a day, I’ll never know.

But they didn’t, and now we’re stuck with three rules that are harder to apply than they might seem. Think about this:

1. Small: Let’s say that Lighthouse’s Small Brewery, Big Flavour series becomes wildly successful, and everyone across the country just keeps buying it, but the second they brew the 6,000,001st barrel it should be shunned by geeks? Why?

Shut ‘er down, Dean, the third from the right is now shit.

2. Independent: You’re Goose Island. AB-InBev buys you (this isn’t hypothetical). I guess your (previously excellent) beer is now awful?

3. Traditional: You’re making a nice, light, refreshing wheat ale that’s well balanced and very popular. Sorry, you’re not craft because you’re using wheat for it’s crisp lightness.

It seems to me that all this is just dancing around the core issue: Good Beer versus Bad Beer. It’s possible to meet every single one of those criteria and still produce a macro-esque swill that will make Coors Light seem full bodied and complex by comparison, and it’s just as equally possible to miss on all three marks and make a lineup of amazing beers (and 1 pale lager made with corn).

Personally, I don’t care who made this excellent ale in front of me; all I care about is the fact that it’s excellent, and perhaps I might also be concerned about where I might find another. If it was made locally by someone I can go thank personally for making good beer, then that has a certain nice appeal to it, but if it was made in a giant vat by Molson I might be surprised, but I won’t suddenly like it less.

Let’s worry about the beer, and not who makes it. Yes, that might lead us to a world where the big macro producers are making barley wines and call them “Craft Beer” but you know what, they’d be right to do so. “Craft Beer” as defined by the terms above is an entirely artificial concept. If we take it by the more popular definition of “Good Beer” then why can’t Molson also play this game? If the macros have to resort to producing “Good Beer” to stay in business, then that’s the kind of world I want to live in.

Written by chuck

December 19th, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Beer and You