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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REVIEW: Hacker-Pschorr Münchner Kellerbier Anno 1417

20140612-055738-21458335.jpgGuest review by Trevor Adams

The brewer’s notes on this beer focus a lot on its drinkability, and not much on its taste. And that’s probably a good call. Its flavour is unremarkable (in a blandly pleasant way) but it is a smooth, refreshing and easy-to-drink beer—the kind of beer that suits best after you mow the lawn on a hot day.

From the brewer: Münchner Kellerbier Anno 1417 exudes seductive hues of golden honey as it shimmers in the light. This is a beer of inimitable character—authentic and gutsy, yet eminently quaffable and refreshingly mild and light. In other words, a true Bavarian.

Appearance: Golden and opaque, with head that disapates fast.

Aroma: An earthy, grassy smell—hints of honeysuckle, with a slight grapefruit tang.

Taste: Clean and crisp, with some apple in the finish. Less nuanced than its aroma would lead you to expect—an immature tasting, straightforward beer. To no one’s surprise, it pairs nicely with sauerkraut and bratwurst.

Mouthfeel: Medium carbonation, with an unremarkable body; a bit of a soapy finish.

Overall: The brewer describes this as a textbook Bavarian, but I’ve been to Bavaria, and we must be reading different textbooks. There’s nothing wrong with it, but Munich can, and usually does, do much better. A perfectly servicable everyday beer, but unlikely to rock your world.

76/100

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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Rare Bird – Pale Ale

20140607-123944-45584492.jpgRare Bird is brewed in Guysborough, Nova Scotia buy Authentic Seacoast Brewing Company. Using “pure artesian water”, hops, and Canadian malt they make small, handcrafted batches in Maritime brewing tradition.

From the brewery:
“Rare Bird Pale Ale is an immensely drinkable East Coast interpretation of this classic beer style. Using pure artesian water from Nova Scotia’s pristine Eastern Shore, Rare Bird Pale Ale starts with a nice hit of hops on the nose, a delicious balance of specially selected malted barley and both English and North American hops in the middle and a dry finish that delivers a refreshing beer of rare character.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Deep amber. Clear with a nice lasting head and good lacing.

Aroma: A bit of hops, but not as predominate as many North American styled pale ales. Some light fruit notes, probably from the yeast used.

Taste: Bitter on the back of the tongue, but sweeter up front. Some citrus and earthiness, with notes of caramel. Balanced overall.

Mouthfeel: Medium to light body. Slight oiliness from hops.

Overall: Nice and easy drinking, even at 7% not over powering in any aspect. This East Coast pale ale is well crafted with a beautiful balance that makes it a joy to drink.

78/100

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REVIEW: Schneider Weisse – Tap 4 Wiesen Edel-Weisse

20140529-175147-64307171.jpgThis organic wheat beer is brewed in the tradition of Georg IV Schneider by Germany’s Schneider Weisse. Its golden and refreshing, showing off what a German wheat beers should be like.

From the brewery:
“A shiny-brass colored organic wheat beer, certified Naturland organic. An aroma of hops and citrus with a spicy note perfectly balances the malty character with the easiness of the hops. Refreshing and full-bodied at the same time.

The recipe for TAP4 Mein Grünes dates back to Georg IV Schneider. This refreshing wheat beer with its hoppy notes is brewed after the Oktoberfest-beer the Schneider family brewed as long as production was in Munich: „Georg Schneider’s Wiesen Edel-Weisse“. It is now brewed as an organic, „Naturland“ certified wheat beer. Outside Europe, we may still sell it under its original name.”

And what did I think?

Appearance: Golden. Good carbonation, clear, with no head to speak of, which is surprising from a wheat beer.

Aroma: Sweet and fruity with a slight malt presence and no hops. Cherry, currant, and clove note highlight the aroma.

Taste: Clean and light with a bit of the carbonation flavour appearing. Very much lager-like and very easy to drink. Some grassiness and clove coming through.

Mouthfeel: Light bodied with appropriate high carbonation.

Overall: Easy drinking and refreshing. Balanced nicely with some of the classic wheat beer flavours coming through, but restrained to make it very approachable.

80/100

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