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GIB Barley Wine

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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

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Dark Macro Showdown

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It’s that time of year again. You know, when you get to hang out with your co-workers en mass at some shitty restaurant, eat okay food, drink okay booze and make awkward small talk with their spouses, all the while waiting to see which of the interns gets inappropriately drunk and hits on the boss first.

(Aside: Except my office–my office’s Christmas party was epic, perhaps because my work is better than yours. And no, this comment has nothing to do with an increase in readers coming from my work IP.)

Usually these functions trot out some variant of “red or white?” for liquor offerings, but sometimes they go the extra mile and cram a bunch of beer in a bucket full of ice. Often these beers are things with words like “Christmas” or “Winter” in them, but not the good stuff since it’s both too expensive, and comes in confusingly large bottles. (Another aside: When confronted by a 650ml bottle of beer, the masses will often open it and drink it like they do a regular beer bottle. I have seen this first hand.)

Nope, we’re talking the likes of OK Spring’s Mild Winter Ale and Granville Island’s Lions Winter Ale here*. So what do you do? Do you pull a Chuck and move on to wine and/or hard liquor? Well, I’m a hard core beer geek, and I can’t expect y’all to have such a snobbish demenour in less-than-ideal situations, so I’ve done everyone a favour: I’ve done a side-by-side comparison of these two popular winter beers to see which one wins.

Despite what you might initially think, picking a clear winner is not as easy as it sounds. Also, there are waaaaaaay more pictures of hilariously ugly dogs on the Internet then I would have guessed.

First, let’s get one thing straight: neither is a good beer. Comparing them to an actual winter ale is like getting a five-year old to draw elephant. You’ll get some of the coarser aspects, and you certainly will recognise it as a cruel caricature of such, but you won’t, for one second, expect it to stand up and start pouring water over itself with its trunk.

Now on to the notes:

Brewery Granville Island OK Spring
Name Lions Winter Ale Mild Winter Ale
Visual Clear amber, good (too good?) carbonation Clear, slightly darker. Decent carb
Nose Vanilla. Barest hint of hops. No malt. Roasted Malt and spice, slight hint caramel
Mouthfeel Fairly creamy. Lots of sugar in this puppy. Like a cream ale. Decent, but not too viscous.
Taste VANILLA and sugar. Fairly astringent. Mild roasted malt, fairly empty, but has that… OK Spring finish (macro-esque, maybe their hops blend?)

Detailed notes on GIB: Gah. I mean, I like vanilla extract and all, but must you guys cram my beer full of it? Did more subtle levels of “sugary vanilla” just flop out in market testing? You know that the kind of people that will agree to taste beer for free at 2pm on a work day aren’t exactly beer connoisseurs, right?

Detailed notes on OK Spring: I’m confused by the name. Is this a milder take on winter ales or an ale for a mild winter? Regardless, I wouldn’t consider this a great execution of either of those things. This is a boring, boring beer, to be brutally honest, and it says great things about OK Spring’s current line-up that this is probably the best thing they’re brewing right now.

Picking a Best Beer between the two is like stapling wings to a dog and a cat and throwing them off your roof to see which one flies farthest. You’re judging two contestants based on criteria that neither possesses. These beers aren’t meant to be savoured by craft beer geeks; they’re meant to be consumed en masse by people wearing backwards baseball caps and who likely bump chests as a means of celebration.

If pressed to make a call, I guess the cat flew a bit further before splattering, because it wasn’t ladden down with a sickly dose of vanilla. Despite being a boring, boring beer, the OK Spring Mild Winter Ale was the least offensive of these two, and that’s a victory of sorts… I guess.

* Yeah, yeah, neither is technically a macro, I know, but that title is awesome. What do you want? “Regional Breweries with Annual Production Exceeding 100,000hl but not 300,000hl Dark Beer Kumatai?”

Written by chuck

December 8th, 2012 at 2:11 pm

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Game On

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We’re finally coming out of the late summer beer lull: those lazy days of late August after the summer releases have become scarce but before the tsunami of awesome Autumn releases pile up and demand room in my cellar.

For most of September the local breweries were preoccupied with producing their pumpkin beers. With the latest round of brewpub bottlings, have a truly amazing crop of pumpkin beers available this year. I count no less than 10 pumpkin beers available for purchase for in-home (or on-patio) consumption.

But honestly, while I do like a good pumpkin ale, it’s not what gets us beer geeks all worked up in a tizzy. No siree. They’re damned fine, but they are no Imperial Stout or Barley Wine, those two reigning kings of fine ale.

However, we just can’t jump straight into the main act of fall releases. That’d be a bit premature. We have to first get ourselves warmed up some teasers. The pumpkins served their role as a flirtation, but now we need something a bit more serious to occupy our attention.

And that something is the fresh-hopped beers. The king of all fresh-hopped beers is Driftwood Sartori, and it is making its way to beer stores as I type this. When I first has this brew, I was convinced that no better beer could be made or even conceived of. While my opinion has come down a bit, I still think it’s one of the best IPAs in the province.

But don’t stop there! Driftwood isn’t the only one dumping buckets of still-green hops into their beers. Phillips, Granville Island and even new-guy Hoyne are all throwing their mitts into the rink. Buy ’em all and do a side-by-each comparison. The only winner here is you.

And when you wake up from your hop-induced coma, it’ll be time to take things up a notch with the fall releases all our favourite stouts, porters and winter warmers. Oh, it’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Written by chuck

September 25th, 2012 at 12:27 pm