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Walking in a Winter Wonderland (December Beer of the Month)

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I’m going to take things in a slightly new direction here, and declare the December BotM to be all the various seasonals that crop up at this time of the year. It seems like you can’t turn around without bumping into a Christmas this, a Barley Wine that, or a Winter Ale there.

So, without further adieu, here’s the winter funtime seasonals that I will be keeping my eye out for, along with a bit of authentic Chuck commentary on each.

  • Driftwood Old Cellar Dwellar — I’ve been proactively cleaning out space in my cellar for this bad boy. I’ll even do a ’09, ’10 and ’11 vertical when it comes out. No, you aren’t invited.
  • R&B Auld Nick — Last year this guy had a bit of a buzz because of the, er, enthusiasm with which it tackled the ABV. This year, while it certainly has a bit more umph than the 6.5ABV label suggests, it’s not the same dark brown beery insanity from last year that made it so very popular with alcoholics. Still good, though.
  • Driftwood Bird of Prey — This came out, and was bought up in record time. I managed to find a few to put down despite missing the initial release. My thoughts? Keep it in your cellar for a year or so. If you want a Flanders Red right now, seek out the Storm version, which is better… now.
  • Howe Sound Father John — Just found a 2010 of this hiding in the closet, so I’ll definitely do a side by side. However, this is one of the best Xmas ales out of the gate, so focus on drinking it now versus later.
  • Vancouver Island Hermannator — I did a side by side of my last 2010 and my first 2011. A year made this beer fantastic, to the point that the new one seems pale and limp in comparison. Buy it to cellar, as it is cheap and there are better Ice Bocks on the market.
  • Fort Garry Munich Eisbock — And this is one of them. Fort Garry has only just now starting showing up out here in BC, and this is a great Eisbock to keep the cold at bay right now.
  • Saltspring Fireside — You know, we don’t get enough of this guy over here. A pleasant mug sipper for those with masonry fireplaces, giant dogs to use as foot-warmers, and awesome lounging jackets.
  • Howe Sound Woolly Bugger — Also a good sipper, if not the best Barley Wine out there. Buy it for the tiny wee bottle if nothing else. (The bottle is actually the recommended serving size for barley wine. I’ll let you ponder that while looking at that empty Old Cellar Dweller in front of you this holiday season).
  • Central City Thor’s Hammer — Expected out mid-December. This is one tasty barley wine; I still think it should be a crime to not bottle this.

Also rans:

  • Dead Frog Christmas Beeracle — Just not very good at all, sorry guys.
  • Central City Winter Ale — Did someone have an accident with the hop bucket while brewing this year’s batch? Much too hoppy for my liking. UPDATE: CC informs me this is on purpose. I’m on the fence, but perhaps they’re about to make a new style? Check it out.

Lastly, I haven’t including anything by the non-bottling brew pubs, as the list was already getting a bit longish. In short, this is prime malty beer brewing and drinking season, so everyone should get out to their local and consume, consume, consume.

Written by chuck

November 29th, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Sartori Sartori Sartori Sartori!

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To be honest, I was very seriously considering just making this entire update nothing but the word Sartori, but I finally relented when I realized exactly how fucking stupid that would be.

Yes, it’s that most wonderful time of year: the annual release of Driftwood Sartori, BC’s reigning beer champ. If you were following me on Twitter yesterday, you would have seen a series of announcements as I wandered from private craft beer store to store, marched to the counter and demanded “Where is it? WHERE IS IT!?!?”

My multi-location retail-focused adventure was caused not by low stock, but by said stores’ policies to limit sales per customer. Some as high as six. Some as low as two. Sure, these rules ration out the diminishing supplies of the golden elixir so that as many people as possible can get their yearly top up, but they also prevent me from purchasing–then consuming–ALL the beer and are therefore bad (note, similar rules designed to prevent anyone else from such hoarding would be good).

Most stores received about 10 cases of the stuff, and were selling it rapidly even before it made its way onto the shelves. In fact, even though I was in each store only 4-5 minutes total, at every one but Darby’s I was not the only beer geek with as many bottles of Sartori in my hands as they’d let me carry away… yanked right out of the still-open cases not he floor. Translation: if you want some of this delicious brew, you’d best either have it already or be on your way to the store right now. I am very serious when I predict most stock to not last the weekend. Except Darby’s. For some reason that store just doesn’t show up on the beer geek radar. Heck, they still have Spring Rite, but don’t tell anyone.

In the end, a grand total of 20 bottles proved enough to keep myself, my friends, and Sharon happy for a the month or two consuming them will take. Sartori will now become one of my regular beers until I run out. I tried cellaring it last year to discover that the freshness of the hops disappears over the course of 6-8 weeks. If you do wish to enjoy some mid-winter, then keep it as close to 0c as possible. A bottle I found in the back of the food-fridge (3c) was good 6m after the fact.

So, how is it? Is it still the best in BC? Yes, absolutely. This is a fantastic IPA. Is it better than last year? A qualified yes. As always, the hops are fresh and juicy. The switch to local malt has upped the local-ness of it, which is worth something. And I don’t know if it’s the local malt, but there’s also a certain Belgian-ness to it, something it shares with Driftwoods other two local malt beers (CuvĂ©e D’Hiver and Spring Rite). Of course, those are Belgians so take that comparison with a grain of salt.

However, the BC beer scene in general has improved significantly in just the past twelve months. So much so, in fact, that Sartori no longer stands out as the only truly awesome beer I’ve had recently. It’s still a 10, but a 10 surrounded by 9s just isn’t as stand out.

Sure, this is largely due to Driftwood itself (20 pounder, Fat Tug, Spring Rite, etc), but other breweries are improving things also. Heck, the fresh keg of R&B East Side Bitter I have *holds its own* against Sartori. It’s not as good, mind you, but it’s also not bad in direct comparison, sip vs sip. Not bad at all. And that’s a good thing.

Written by chuck

October 14th, 2011 at 11:19 am

Posted in Beers

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IPA Fight!

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As I alluded to in my previous post, I felt it was time to revisit my “Central City IPA is slightly better than Driftwood Fat Tug” theory. This was prompted by the rapid rise in the availability of Fat Tug through the LDB, and a recent perceived drop in the quality of CC’s canned products. Perceived, at least, by me. Ben Coli from Sloppy Gourmand. suggested we do dual re-reviews of which beer comes out ahead, and I agreed, always keeping an eye out for any paper-thin excuse to drinking dangerously large quantities of high test craft beer.

So this weekend, with the assistance of the lovely Sharon, I performed a single-blind taste test of the two buggers. Unlike some of my previous taste tests, this one had a beer lineup that ranged from Very Good to Excellent; the only question was really what the the order was.


Oh yeah, this is a horrible inconvenience.

The result can hardly be characterized as fair. About 1/2 a sip into “Sample A” I immediately identified it as Driftwood Fat Tug, so well do I know these beers. Of course, Sharon did not confirm nor deny my suspicions until after I was done, but it was pretty obvious.

The differences I had previously ID’d held true. Fat Tug has a bigger, fuller body, and CC has the fragrant citra hops pounding away at your nose. However, when put side by side, monster hops against monster hops, the CC’s advantage ebbs away while the Fat Tug’s smoother tones hold true. In the end, the CC ends up tasting like slightly bitter water in comparison.

However, that’s in a head-to-head comparison. I don’t know about you, but I very rarely find myself double-fisting 6.5% and 7.0%ABV IPAs. OK, maybe not that infrequently, but when I do I’m not in it for the subtle flavours of each, but rather looking to numb my tongue with the excessive hops before launching into the much more economical mouthwash-drinking portion of the evening’s entertainment.

Round two saw me enjoy a nice 5oz of each beer solo. Again, the Fat Tug won out due to the bigger body. Long after the intensity of the hops on each had faded, the Fat Tug continued to offer up flavour while the CC IPA seemed to out-hop itself.

I don’t know if the canned formula has changed, but overall the massive hop blast I’d come to expect from the CC simply wasn’t there whenever Fat Tug was around, and that proved to be it’s downfall. I will have to try this test again with the draught versions the next time I’m out, as I have always found the draught CC IPA to be even more massively awesome than the canned.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the CC IPA is still a fantastic IPA; it’s just that the Fat Tug is slightly more fantastic. I guess I need to update that list on the right now.

Written by chuck

October 10th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Posted in Beers

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