Sea Level Brewing – Southern Cross IPA

 

IMG_1552.JPGTravelling through Nova Scotia there are many small villages, fishing outports, and quant towns. Port Williams is one of those small villages and home of Sea Level Brewing. Adjacent to the small town of Wolfville (not as small when Acadia University fills up in the fall, not as sleepy either) they hold that small town feel and state-of-mind. On my recent visit I was treated to great hospitality by the staff, including an impromptu tour of their small brewing facilities.

From the brewery:”Inspired by a funky New Zealand Hop and CS&N song called “Southern Cross”. It is layered with resiney spiciness that gives way to a fresh squeezed citrus aroma with subtle pine notes”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Golden with orange and caramel highlights. Creamy but not long lasting head.

Aroma: The first thing that is noticeable is a very sweet note, like candied cherries. There is a bit of orange and grapefruit, but it’s not nearly a dominate as the sweet aroma. The aroma is fragrant, but I can’t place it as hop or malt dominant – very nice, very interesting, and unique.

Taste: The bitterness is right upfront. As the bitterness starts to fate in the palate the hops come through as pine and resin, with notes of orange peel. The bitterness starts to lighten by the second sip and becomes softer and the malt shows a bit. The sweetness is there from the nose, but the bitterness keeps it in check. There are also hints of leather.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and medium carbonation (which is pretty great considering the growler travelled a bit too long with me back from my Nova Scotia vacation – so many great beers). The hops add their oiliness to the palate and a drying sensation on the tongue.

Overall: A pretty good beer. Honestly, with the sweet aroma I was expecting more of the malt to show through it maybe more hop flavours, but I can’t say I was disappointed with the beer either. It certainly is balanced towards the bitter side, but it’s also quite drinkable.

78/100

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Bugs In My Beer?? Adventures in Mixed Fermentation, part 1

 

IMG_1684.JPGA year-and-a-half ago, in January of 2013, I brewed an English styled Old Ale using a limited release Old Ale Blend from Wyeast - which was a yeast blend that included a culture of brettanomyces. This was my first encounter with brettanomyces, or brett (known as the king of wild yeast).

Brett is cousin of saccharomyces, which is what typical brewers yeast is (and the same as bakers yeast, just a different twig in the same branch of the family tree). Both are in the same family of fungus (yes, fungus!) and will ferment sugars into CO2 and, most importantly, alcohol. Most of the time brewers do their best to keep brett out of their beers, avoiding it like the plague for fear of contaminating their “clean” beers. Brett creates flavours that are typically referred to as “funk” and are described from “fruity” to “barnyard” and “horse blanket”. It sounds pretty bad, but is one of the main flavour contributors to Belgian and American styled sour ales, changing flavour over its long maturation period (months to years). It can be manipulated, somewhat, with the conditions set out by the brewer in the wort/beer, temperature, time, and brett strain (like yeast, they’re not all the same).

So, why would anyone want to tempt fate and contaminated beers? Flavour, experimentation, to prove you can, sheer insanity – somewhere in there.

After my initial brett beer I did nothing more in the way of “mixed” fermentations until recently when I decided that I wanted to go back down that road. (Mixed fermentation is when not just brewers yeast is added, but brett and/or bacteria cultures to sour the beer – my original brett Old Ale, for example, had brewers yeast and brett). I had been reading a lot on The Mad Fermentationist blog about his experiments with brett, as well as, lactobacillus and pediococcus bacterial fermentations as is done in traditional sour beers from Northern Europe and by newer breweries in the US. This sparked that urge in me to try it. I’ve had several sour ales before and love them, and I’m not afraid of trying new experiments (nor am I afraid of contaminating my other, clean beers – basic sanitation and common sense should help).

So, what did I do?

First thing I did was culture up the dregs from my Old Ale using first a small amount (250mL) of unhopped wort in a mason jar covered in tinfoil to see what would happen. After two weeks it was smelling and looking good, pH and gravity had dropped, so I had a taste and it was nice and fruity (cherry-like). Next, I added it to some lightly hopped wort (900mL) and put in an airlock, and this is where it sits as I’m writing, sill fermenting/aging. I hope to use this culture to ferment out an pale ale and added it to some other fermentations.

The next bit of experimenting came from inspiration after reading American Sour Beers by Michael Tonsmeire (also the operator/writer of The Mad Fermentationist). I made a small (300mL) lightly hopped wort (13 IBU) and added nothing but 10 or so ripe blueberries from my bush in the backyard. I have no idea what I will grow in this one, but if the test come out (pH, gravity, smell) its probably safe enough to taste and then we’ll see if it was a success (note of caution – attempting to grow something from the wild can be dangerous. There is a possibility of mold or E.coli or other nasty things growing in that wort. There are some indicators that its safe or not, but I’m no expert and I don’t advocate following my word on this). My hope is to capture some local wild yeast and souring bacteria that will make tasty beer. We’ll see how it goes, wait for a future post on this.

I have also purchased ingredients for a lambic beer, including Wyeast Lambic Blend, which is a blend of brewers yeast, brett, lactobacillus, and pediococcus. This will be a more traditional attempt at a sour ale. I also plan on a red type ale as a side experiment with the lambic blend, my house cultured brett blend, and a standard ale yeast. I will post on this once they are made.

So, as I start out down this long road to sour ales, I feel like I’m part brew master and part mad scientist. I can see the need for more airlocks and jugs of various sizes (and space for them, and understand/tolerance from my wife) in the near future. The path to great beer is always exciting, but now that I’m on this path I feel a new brewer, excited like a kid in a candy shop with cash in his hand. Look for upcoming posts as I brew and experiment.

-Cheers!

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Propeller – American Red

 

20140807-183140-66700093.jpgPropeller is a great craft brewer located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Known for their ales and lagers, they have been brewing beers from traditional ales to modern, cutting-edge craft beers.

American Red is their latest release in their One Hit Wonder series, this modern red ale has a firm bitterness and lots of hops. Perfect summer beer.

From the brewery: “Propeller Brewing Company has released their latest One Hit Wonder series brew – American Red Ale. Weighing in at 5.7%ABV and 70 IBU’s. Inspired by the modern red ales produced along the southern west coast our American Red Ale utilizes specialty malts to create depth of color and flavour, and is aggressively hopped with a variety of American hops.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: The colour is a deep amber with off-white, long lasting, creamy head. Beautifully clear with ruby highlights.

Aroma: The first thing in the aroma is citrus, mainly orange, but some other lemon rind notes. There is some sweet caramel notes and in the back there is s bit of the malt.

Taste: Firm bitterness with some malt. There some hints of leather and less hop character then in the aroma.

Mouthfeel: Medium body and carbonation. Creamy texture.

Overall: A great red ale. Lots of hops and a good malt backbone to balance. This is one that I would love to see all year, but the short-run makes it that much more special. Try to get some before its gone.

79/100

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Sea Level Brewing – Blue Heron Extra Special Bitter

imageSea Level Brewing first opened in November of 2007. They were the first, and still only, microbrewery in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia. Located in Port WIliams, they produce small batch award willing beers from their small brewhouse. They’re a small brewery, mainly doing tap sales locally and growlers from their brewery shop, but they also have a canning line for their beers, canning 3 cans at a time. Labelling and date-stamping the cans by hand, this is a real labour of love and truly “craft”, and if you’re lucky you might be able to find a 6-pack near you (though, it probably still means a trip to Nova Scotia, but it will be worth it).

From the brewery: “This award winning ESB, inspired by the blue heron in our tidal Cornwallis River, is a full bodied flavour from its signature smooth malts, to the complex hop flavours, and aromas. Brewed with four different hops varieties, this charismatic brew is dry-hopped inside the serving tank.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Deep golden, burnt orange, with highlights of caramel-brown. Little in the way of head on the beer, but it has lacing that lasts through until the end.

Aroma: The aroma is mainly that of hops and a caramely sweetness. The malt comes through with a bit of breadiness and that sweet, grainy aroma. There are also notes of toffee and flowers with a touch of earthiness.

Taste: Hops upfront, with the bitterness settling to the back of the tongue. Pleasant earthy notes and a bit of sweet malt flavour cutting through the solid bitterness. As it warms slightly more of the malt sweetness starts to peek through the hop presence. Some slight fruity-floweriness comes through, but isn’t dominate.

Mouthfeel: The body is medium with the carbonation on the lighter side that makes it seem at bit more full-bodied and creamy they it would otherwise.

Overall: The hops were surprising at first, and probably a bit more than you might expect from a “traditional” ESB, but the settle in nicely. Well balanced and easy drinking, this is truly a great beer and those fortunate enough to find this little brewery near them are lucky to have the pleasure of this fine ale. And those of us who have to come from away will find it worth the trip.

84/100

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Garrison – Irish Red

20140724-162427-59067386.jpgLocated on the Halifax waterfront, Garrison is one of the granddaddies of the Atlantic Canadian craft-beer scene and has, over the last few years, also grown to become one of the region’s largest craft brewers. Most importantly, it has done so while retaining a small-time feel, with flavourful beers that still feel like they come from a small brewery. This may seem a no-brainer, but as many small brewers get bigger, they lose their way and start trying to appeal to ever broader tastes, until their beer tastes like just another macrobrew. I’m looking at you, Sam Adams. But I digress… I’ll have more to say about Sam Adams in a future post, but for now, let’s return to Garrison and its Irish Red.

From the brewery: “This classic beer style was inspired by centuries of Celtic brewing history, Specialty kilned malts such as dark caramel and Munich dominate the Irish Red resulting in a ruby red colour and smooth malty taste.”

Appearance: Bright copper, with ruby hues. Frothy head that dissipates quickly, leaving a lot of lacing behind.

Aroma: A nice punch of malt, faint hits of fruit and caramel—think of candy apples.

Taste: Malty, but not as malty as your nose tells you to expect. Moves smoothly to dark chocolate, with a black coffee finish. Agreeably hoppy; almost, but not unpleasantly, a hint of fresh-cut grass. Bold flavours, best enjoyed with a palate-cleansing apéritif. 

Mouthfeel: Foamier in the mouth than it looks in the glass. The hoppiness puckers your mouth, and will linger a bit. 

Overall: As you’ve probably gathered, I like this beer a lot. It’s been a mainstay in my fridge all summer, and it’s an equally pleasant winter beer. It has big flavours and lots of character, and holds its own alongside any Irish red. And lest you think I gush, it’s a three-time bronze winner at the Canadian Brewing Awards, and took home gold at the 2010 World Beer Championships.

85/100

Guest reviewer Trevor J. Adams is senior editor with Metro Guide Publishing and the editor of Halifax Magazine. In 2012, he published his first solo book, Long Shots: The Curious Story of the Four Maritime Teams That Played for the Stanley Cup (Nimbus Publishing).

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Boxing Rock – Temptation Red Ale

20140719-153813-56293037.jpgBoxing Rock is one of the newest craft brewers in Nova Scotia, Canada. Located in Shelburne, they are quickly aging a reputation as a great brewhouse, producing a growing list if ales.

From the brewery: “Full bodied and rich, Temptation Red Ale is a sultry jazz singer in your glass. Continuously hopped during the brew and dry hopped after fermentation with a single hop, this beer has a uniquely full flavour profile”.

And what did I think?

Appearance: Burnt amber red with orange highlights. Hazy with only a slight off-white head, but lasting.

Aroma: Very citrusy, with orange and grapefruit dominating. There is some flowery notes and just a hint of earthiness. No malt to speak of.

Taste: The hop notes in the nose carry through in the flavour with a firm bitterness. Flavours of grapefruit and orange peel are up front, but fade to a dry bitterness in the palate that begs for the next drink.

Mouthfeel: Medium mouthfeel with a typical level of carbonation. There is a slight oiliness, but this doesn’t present itself in a bad way – probably from hop oils.

Overall: Excellent beer once again from Boxing Rock. They knock this one out of the park. Very drinkable, enough hops to give it that great flavour, but it doesn’t destroy your palate and leaves you wanting that next drink. This might be the best American Red Ale I have ever enjoyed. Well done.

85/100

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REVIEW: Amsterdam Brewery – All Natural Blonde

20140703-183836-67116749.jpg

Okay, its summer. Its time for some hot weather, light and refreshing drink. Something easy, but not the same old mundane and flavourless pale lager.

Enter Amsterdam Brewery. First opened as a brewpub on Toronto’s John Street in 1986. By 2005 it had outgrown its roots twice and was a full blown micro brewery.

From the brewery: “One of Toronto’s original craft beers! This traditional blonde lager set the bar for Toronto craft beers back when it was first brewed at the Amsterdam Brewpub & Brasserie in 1986 and it’s been doing so ever since. We still brew this beer fresh daily using all natural ingredients, it is never heat pasteurized and always cold filtered for that refreshing clean, crisp taste, and smooth mellow finish.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Golden, burnt yellow, crystal clear with a pretty decent head.

Aroma: The aroma is quite malty with some fruit notes, and a hint earthiness. Otherwise, fairly clean.

Taste: Almost balanced, but slightly more bitter than malty. There’s a bit of hops, and some malt that presents itself as a caramel sweetness, with just a light leather note.

Mouthfeel: The body is medium with a moderate level of carbonation.

Overall: This struck me very much like a pale lager but with more body and flavour, but that is not a surprise form this style of beer. Its clean and light, but almost to a fault. Though a fine beer, it does leave something wanting. This is a great, easy drinking beer that would be a fine introduction to a non-craft beer drinker to the craft world.

72/100

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Unibroue – Blanche de Chambly

20140622-075337-28417761.jpgUnibroue started producing Belgian-inspired craft beers in the early 1990’s in Chambly, Quebec. They grew across Canada and internationally to eventually be bought by Sleeman Brewery and then Sapporo.

Blanche de Chmbly is their original flagship beer. A white ale (witbier) reminiscent of Abby Ales produced in Belgium, it is refermented in the bottle to give that classic cloudy, yeasty, effervescent appearance and flavour that you would expect from a fine Belgian white ale.

What did I think?

Appearance: Golden in colour and a bit cloudy. Nice head but not long lasting. Carbonation is apparent in the glass.

Aroma: Funky, earthy aroma. Some fruity and yeast notes.

Taste: The funk that was in the aroma comes through in the flavour. A bit tart and the carbonation also comes through a bit in the flavour. Somewhat mineraly and earthy. Notes of citrus and it almost wants to have some spice, but its not quite there. Palate clears quickly. As it warms there are some more yeasty ester notes of banana and fruit coming through.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light bodied. Well carbonated which lightens it up a bit. Drying on the tongue.

Overall: A fine Belgian styled ale. Light and refreshing, and without a long lasting flavour on the palate it begs for the next sip. Not heavy, this is a great beer after a big meal, or before.

82/100

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Magners – Pear Cider (Perry)

20140619-182817-66497912.jpgMagners Irish Cider is a producer of ciders, not just from apples, but a variety of fruits, including pears. Magners is owned by C&C Group, owner of several brands of cider and beer.

From the brewery: “The only fruit we use in Magners Pear Cider is pear. The best quality pears are ripened, carefully selected and then slowly fermented and cold filtered to provide a distinctive character and a delicately refreshing taste.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Pale yellow in colour, white wine like and very clear. Well carbonated with a bit of head that disappears very quickly.

Aroma: The aroma is fairly light with notes of apple, pear, and grape. There is a little funk.

Taste: The flavour is somewhat wine-like with a fair bit of the pear flavour coming through. A bit on the sweet side of balanced, carbonation keeps the balance from being too sweet. Fairly light and refreshing.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied with a decent amount of carbonation.

Overall: Okay, this is not beer, but sometimes its nice to step outside the six-pack box. Perry is a growing trend and because it is refreshing and balanced I can see why. The would be a nice summertime drink for a hot day. On ice, it becomes super smooth and not hard to drink at all. A bit warmer, theres a bit more body and flavour.

75/100

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