Thursday, 30 July 2015

Review: Rough Draft Southern Triangle IPA

I've never heard of San Diego, California's Rough Draft Brewing until just now, when I picked up a bottle of their Southern Triangle IPA. Aside from Boulevard and the less-than-ethical it's been a long time since there were new American beers at the local LC. With a name like Rough Draft, you would almost think that the purchasers over at the LC brought it in just for me, as it would fit in with my First Draft column at the Brandon Sun.

Their Southern Triangle IPA is their first beer available here, and I mistakenly keep calling it Southern Tier IPA. Yikes.

Appearance: Southern Triangle pours like any normal West Coast India Pale Ale, it's a vibrant caramel-honey look with a minimal amount of carbonation, fairly clear and filtered, nice amount of thick creamy beige head on top that gently diminishes, leaving a nice crisp lacing on the side of the beer glass.

Aroma: A tad nutty, which is something I don't generally like in IPAs - but thankfully it's minimal at best. Notes of alfalfa, LOTS of alfalfa, notes of lightly sweet caramel malt, hint of tropical fruits including mango, pineapple and a smidge of grapefruit. Not that bitter for it being an IPA out of San Diego of all places.

Taste: The hops are more present in the taste: bit of a grassiness meets alfalfa to it. More of a sweet forward IPA with tropical notes of mango and pineapple popping up here again. Bit of caramel and a light tinny bitter aftertaste that lingers for a moment.

Overall Thoughts: I appreciate the tropical sweetness, but at nearly $7.00/bottle and it being from San Diego - I would expect it to be more of a hop bomb rather than a tropical sensation. It just lacks bitterness for me. The beer uses a combination of Nelson Sauvin, Moteuka and Galaxy hops, which is what explains for it having more of a tropical vibe to it. Very easy to drink and 6.5% ABV.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Link: The time I was interviewed by the Winnipeg Free Press

There's only two times I've ever been interviewed by the media about something I did. The first time was back in early 2000s was in the Deloraine newspaper when I won a literary contest through the Bank of Canada. More recently, an article in the Winnipeg Free Press about me being a beer blogger. I've written about beer for a very long time, mainly to keep me sane in periods of unemployment/stress, also as a reminder of what beers I've tried over the years.

I was interviewed back in February/March by Winnipeg Free Press' Bill Redekop and it was a blast - he reminded me of why I like writing about beer: People are overwhelmed by choice and don't know what to try.. and they want to try something that they think they will truly enjoy it. It's even overwhelming for me, being unemployed to keep seeing new beers being added to the Liquor store list while I can only try a few of them because either they end up stolen by sketchy friends of my roommate, or I simply can't afford it.

Link to the Winnipeg Free Press article

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Review: Red Racer Maple Bacon Ale

Maple/Bacon beers are weird for me as they're hard to brew. With maple, I've found that either you end up brewing a beer that's way too sweet and over-the-top in maple or else the maple is too subtle where it could be just about any other "sweet" flavour - like caramel rather than actual maple syrup or smoked maple. Then there's bacon: most bacon beers don't have any notes that are in any way reminiscent to bacon. The closest thing to bacon I usually find in bacon beers is smokiness. With bacon flavoured beers - you don't want to piss off the vegetarians/vegans, because they will be very vocal about it not being a vegan friendly beer. The only maple beer I truly loved so far was Cannery Brewing's Maple Stout, which was an incredibly sweet and over-the-top stout, but it was amazing for dessert.. or breakfast.

Now: Central City's Red Racer Maple Bacon Ale has been in Manitoba for a while now, I haven't had the chance to try it out yet because I've been busy for the past few weeks and frankly.. it sold out within a few days at my local LCs. Central City is one of the most solid breweries in BC, so I know I'm drinking a quality beverage... but maple and bacon is still a bit weird for me for beers.

Appearance: The maple bacon ale pours a copper-caramel ale, clear, moderate amount of carbonation and a thin amount of beige head.

Aroma: Light smokiness, sweet caramel maltiness, moderate bready aromas and table pancake syrup. Only trace amounts of maple make its way in the beer, but it reminds me more of table syrup (non maple syrup) rather than maple.. so that's never a good thing for me. However, it's alright.. a bit reminiscent of a sweet amber ale.

Taste: The first thing I taste here is Hawkin's Cheezies.. minus the cheese powder. The flavour profiles are all over the place. There's a sweetness that's a combination of table pancake syrup and a hint of maple, a hint of smoky faux bacon taste that you would see in potato chips. Light nuttiness, slight saltiness. As it warms up, I'm noticing a light amount of spice warming up my tongue.. perhaps a bit of chipotle? The spiciness is intertwined with the smokiness. The maple is there, but it just tastes a bit off.

Overall Thoughts: Not one of Central City's better beers. If they advertised this as a Smoky Amber Ale rather than a Maple Bacon Ale, I'd believe it more. The maple is more reminiscent of table syrup than maple syrup, which is disappointing. Most of the maple I do notice comes later on in the aftertaste.. I just wish it was more prominent in the flavour itself. I do like the light smokiness as I love smoked beers. I'll pass on this the next time I see it in store.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Review from the archives: Mill Street 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager

Originally posted in the Brandon Sun back in February.

Toronto’s Mill Street Brewing was one of the first breweries to ship their beer to Manitoba when the craft beer craze was slowly becoming popular back around 2007. For the past 8 years, it was fairly easy to find their Coffee Porter, Tankhouse Ale and Organic Lager at just about any local Liquormart or beer vendor. However, in that time, Mill Street has branched out into one of Canada’s most popular brands in the beer scene. They have a very popular chain of brewpubs in Ontario and the brewery itself brews more beer than most other breweries in Canada now. They’ve become a Canadian success story.

8 years is a long time to wait for a new product from an established brand to arrive in Manitoba. So when they brought in four new (to Manitoba) beers to Liquormart and beer vendor shelves, of course it’s a great time to try them all! The new arrivals include Cobblestone Stout, Lemon Tea Ale, Vanilla Porter and 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager. Being in Brandon after all, a place that’s right along the edge of the 100th Meridian, it only made sense to try the 100th Meridian Organic Amber Lager. 

The first thing that caught my eye about the beer was the label, a painted label with a sketch of a golden fields, bright sky and a grain elevator popping up from nowhere, your typical prairie sight. 100th Meridian pours a colourful golden straw lager with a good amount of bubbly carbonation that’s quite reminiscent to your standard prairie influenced pilsners & lagers. There’s a tad bit of snowy froth on top that’s sticking to the side of the glassware, so this looks like your classic craft brewery take on a Canadian lager.

The aroma has notes of barley, lots of sweet malted barley, a bit of lemon peel, very lightly hopped with a hint of alfalfa aroma to give it a light bitterness in the profile. This is quite a grassy lager, which is comparable to most microbrewed lagers, pilsners out there like Farmery or Steam Whistle.

This is a sweet lager, with a taste of orange peel, a bit of a caramel maltiness showing up, notes of lightly toasted organic Canadian prairie barley, a light sprinkling of Cascade hops to give it a bit of a grassy alfalfa aftertaste to it, but not so much that it tastes like you’re drinking plants. A malt forward lager rather than a hop forward lager, which may be too much for some, but a welcome change for others. I like this as it’s very smooth on the tongue, a great balance of hops, toasty & sweet malted barley, an amount of graininess that reminds me of cleaning grain bins as a child and it doesn’t have a lingering corn taste to it, which a lot of the top lagers seem to have - in order to keep costs to a minimum.

I’m not a lager fan, but this was actually a very solid lager by the folks at Mill Street, and not only that - it’s an organic lager too! This isn’t Mill Street’s only organic beer available here either - they have an Original Organic Lager that’s been available here for several years now, though I found it a bit too skunky for my liking.  For a beer named after a geographic point that involves Brandon, this is the best “Brandon themed” beer I’ve had yet - Sorry, Big Rock’s Assiniboine Lager - you were pretty bad. 100th Meridian Amber Lager looks like your classic Canadian lager, but sure enough tastes more like an amber lager.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Skunksworth's Barleyslime: Mike's Mike-arita Strawberry

Budweiser and their owners AB-InBev LOVES to trash craft breweries and their dedication to actually trying to perfect the perfect beer, yet buys up the breweries they were trash talking in the first place.

The most recent shot fired by the folks over at the Budweiser piss factory was a statement that "Nobody cheers for the guy who brings a watermelon wheat beer" in a recent advertising campaign. The funny thing though.. Budweiser's Bud (Light) Lime branch of beers produces an overly obnoxious and faux fruity series of beers called RITAs (Right in the Ass?). RITAs are supposed to be faux margaritas in a tiny 237mL can form that come in a wide variety of fruity flavours. They have Lime-a-Rita, Straw-ber-rita, Mango-rita and now Cran-brrr-rita. All of these malt beverages are sugary beverages with concentrated faux fruit syrup to give it that "delicious fruit taste". In the end, it's disappointment, acid reflux, possibly a sugar induced hangover.. and vibrant puke.

Check out my review of Bud (Light) Lime Straw-ber-rita from last year.

Well today, I'm reviewing Mike's Mike-arita Strawberry, which is the newest competitor to Bud Lime's -RITA line of products. I don't usually review non-malt based coolers, but Mike's Hard has a special place in my heart - I still miss their Mike's Hard Orange that I loved back when I was 18 and didn't like the taste of beer. Mike's Mike-arita comes in a few other flavours as well, but today I'll concentrate on the Strawberry version.

Appearance: Pours an almost neon bright red, almost like as if you went to a fair, got a sugarful slushie and it melted down. This is very fizzy/carbonated, close no no head on top, but it's as carbonated as you would expect from an adult soda.. because this is exactly what it is.

Aroma: Aromas of corn syrup, strawberry extract, vodka, scents of a few ingredients reminiscent to what mom puts into her world famous slush (grenadine?). The strawberry has a bit of a more natural aroma than the Bud Lime Straw-ber-rita does, but that's not much to be said as this smells like an extract that would be used to flavour suckers for children.

Taste: Cucumber? What the hell? I noticed cucumber right at the beginning.. that can't be right! Okay, now it has a bit of a salty bite, followed by the faux strawberries. Slightly sour. Not as sweet as I would expect coming from a Mikes Hard Lemonade product. The strawberry flavour, like the aroma is reminiscent to what you would expect in childrens candy. Leaves a thick syrupy film on my tongue long after the margarita cooler is finished.

Overall Thoughts: I actually prefer this over Bud Lime's Straw-ber-rita, but this isn't something I'll be trying again. I would prefer to see a more natural malt or vodka based cooler using fresh fruits rather than corn syrup and lots of extract. PS - the company that owns Mikes Hard Lemonade also owns Vancouver's Stanley Park Brewing. That's something I just learned today.. huh.

473mL and 5.0% ABV

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Skunksworth's Barleyslime - Foster's Premium Lager

Fosters - Australian for beer!
If you watched a lot of American TV back in the late 90s like I did, you would have seen cheesy commercials with this tagline pushing Foster's Lager, describing it as the beer that everyone in Australia drank. The only problem? Nobody in Australia drinks Fosters because it's horrible. For many years, whenever I met someone from Australia I would ask them if they drank Fosters, each time they would get insulted saying that the beer is rubbish. They would always end up suggesting Coopers beer. I've had Coopers a few times when it was available in Manitoba, and it actually wasn't bad for an import lager.

Fosters is another story though.. the brand is mostly all about the advertising, making you want to partake in Aussie culture and visit Australia even though nearly everything there is bound to kill you. Here in Manitoba, advertising sells - so if Fosters started advertising on TV during hockey games, you better believe that sales of Fosters would go through the roof!

I've had Fosters before - several years ago in North Dakota. I was still in a phase where I cared more about the price point of a product rather than the product itself. Fosters was pretty cheap, something like $3.00 USD for a 1.5 Pint (710mL) can of beer. As soon as I popped open the can, the aroma smelled of garbage. It was hard to drink down and I had to drink some Molson Canadian Golden to wash out the taste of Fosters. Back then - 2006 or so, Fosters was brewed in Canada at the Molson factory in Toronto for the American market.. so it was technically still an import, but certainly not from the land down under that's being advertised. Now days, it's being brewed by Miller at their "Oil Can Breweries" in Albany, Georgia and Fort Worth, Texas. So now it's not even an import for Americans anymore, but it is for Canadians, now.

Appearance: Fosters pours a strong piss yellow, lots of carbonation, a thick amount of head at the beginning but eventually there's close to 0 head remaining.. it looks flat.

Aroma: A strong corn smell here, a bit of an aroma of grass, a bit of a saltine craker smell to it, slight bitterness, very sweet maltiness that's reminiscent of your typical American lagers like Busch and Keystone, hint of skunkiness.

Taste: Very corny and sweet, way too sweet for a lager for me. Malty, a bit of lemon, lots of saltines in here, some graininess to it. There's some underlying flavour I'm getting in there that I just can't describe.. maybe corn syrup? Some flavours that remind me of malt liquor, especially the overly sweet maltiness + corn flavours. Close to no hop notes.

Overall Thoughts: Not enjoying this. It's fairly affordable though at $4ish per 750mL can but I would rather drink malt liquor at that price. It leaves a lingering sweetness on the tongue and a bit of a tinny aftertaste. It's certainly improved a bit since I last had it, but I won't be buying this again. Will it sell well in Manitoba? Probably.. because people will think they're going to be all "worldly" by drinking an Australian beer that's actually produced in Texas or Georgia (the state, not the country). PS - It's a Premium Quality Lager - so of course it had to be bad.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Photos: A visit to Fort Garry Brewing

Every time I visit Winnipeg, the beer geek in me loves to check out Winnipeg's breweries Fort Garry and Half Pints. Unfortunately, usually I'm only in town on weekends so while Half Pints is open on Saturdays, Fort Garry is closed. So when I do get to visit Fort Garry, it's always a treat! Here's some photos I took on my last visit to Fort Garry while visiting brewmaster Matt Wolff.

Fort Garry Dark
As soon as I arrived, brewmaster Matt brought me a freshly bottled Fort Garry Dark Ale. The Dark has been one of my favourites from the brewery for nearly a decade now. Heck, even when I thought the brewery was horrible for brewing Stone Cold, I still drank a Dark Ale or two once in a while. 

Fort Garry's Matt and Dan!

Mash tuns
Next off, we went on a quick tour of the brewery - which we always do every time I come for a visit. Here's the mash tun room. Not much was going on that day - but usually it would have the aroma of a farm (sans manure) to it and have a temperature of 50C.

Brewing tanks
I'm always amazed how large Fort Garry is. Half Pints has been around for 9 years now and they are nowhere near the size Fort Garry is, still. We took a walk around the brewing tanks - and watched our feet so we wouldn't trip over any hoses. Nothing seasonal was being brewed at the time. So it was mostly Fort Garry Dark, Rouge, Pale and Stone Cold Draft.

Fort Garry Pale Ale straight from the tank
Fort Garry Pale Ale straight from the tank!

Who wouldn't love a keg?
Who wouldn't want to have these many kegs worth of fresh beer in their home bar?

Warehouse: Bottling machine on the right. Several pallates of Fort Garry Dark, kegs and cases of empty bottles that need to be washed.

Several hundred bottles of Fort Garry Pale Ale - Ready to be shipped out and savoured.

Most popular beers in Manitoba
Several hundred cases of beer empties that were returned to Manitoba beer vendors. When beer vendors send customers' empties away, Fort Garry washes the bottles to be re-used by the major breweries. This is a good representation of what the most popular beers in Manitoba are. A substantial amount of Budweiser, Bud Light, Keith's, Kokanee, Standard Lager.. even some Twisted Tea (rednecks love that stuff.. but it does go down soooo smoothly).. and apparently people still drink Labatt Lite and Club. Notice the case of Lakeport on the middle-left side: it's not even sold in Manitoba, so somebody was able to get deposit back for something they bought in Ontario! Same with the Labatt Blue Light on right hand side.

Manitoba's Most Popular Beers
Closer up of the cases of empties. Manitobans truly love Labatt it seems. Advertising pays.

Fort Garry's old logo and Earl's Albino Rhino Ale featuring a plastic Rhino wearing shades.

Pallets among pallets of 2L plastic bottles used for Stone Cold Draft. I've made it well known to Brewmaster Matt that I don't approve of the beer, in fact I reviewed the beer two years back.. and nearly barfed. Stone Cold is one of Fort Garry's most popular beers, but it's also linked to alcoholism - I see people chugging down the beer all over downtown Brandon, followed by people passing out and plastic bottles littering the streets. At $8.00 per 2L serving, it's an affordable way to get a quick buzz.

Fort Garry brews 30,000 litres of Stone Cold per month - which is 15,000 bottles.. that's a lot of beer!

Old beers from Manitoba's yesteryears:




Lastly, Brewmaster Matt's posing as I'm about to leave:

Friday, 3 July 2015

Review: Driftwood White Bark Witbier

The first time I ever tried Driftwood Brewing's White Bark Witbier was back in 2012 at Luxalune Gastropub in Winnipeg (owned by the guys from Farmery Brewery). I just came from yet ANOTHER failed job interview, so I came in to treat myself to some craft beer. At the time, I thought it was alright - bit of a lighter witbier with notes that reminded me of Big Rock's Grasshopper Wheat Ale. Since then, I haven't been able to try the beer - until now. With the Coast to Coaster promotion at Liquormarts, they've brought in a bunch of beers that are only available in Manitoba until they sell out. Lately, Brandon seems to get left out of limited releases by the Liquormarts, but the Coast to Coaster releases were surprisingly available at all three LCs here in Brandon.

Appearance: White Bark pours a cloudy light lemon/golden ale, just a slight bit lighter than your standard witbier. Nice amount of snow white foam on top and a hint of carbonation taking place.

Aroma: Ah... there's that witbier aroma that I know and love.. the musky combination of Belgian yeast, lemon, orange peel and coriander makes me happy. It's a bit sweet from the orange peels, quite bready from the Belgian style yeast and smells like patio weather.

Taste: The yeast pops out first, it's a bit bready, a bit of a pepper spice to it, lemon, some orange peel sweetness and there's a special appearance by coriander later on. For a witbier, I'm noticing more of a lemon citrus over an orange citrus.

Overall Thoughts: Surprisingly spicy for a witbier from the notes of pepper. Very citrusy, bready, aftertaste of orange peel. This is a solid witbier that is perfect for hot patio weather. If only it wasn't so smoky outside from the forest fires in Saskatchewan and Northwest Territories! I also love White Bark's new label - but it doesn't seem to fit with the words "White Bark" though.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Review: Belle Saison by à L'abri de la tempête

I've had several bottles of beers go missing from my fridge over the past few weeks now. Beers I've purchased/traded in Quebec, beers I had in the fridge for upcoming Brandon Sun reviews and even a bottle of Moosehead or two. It was just getting out of hand. So now I have to drink my beers before some ASSHOLE drinks them on me.

Belle Saison by à l'abri de la tempête is one of my favourite saisons in Quebec. The brewery is located on les îles de la madeleine, which just makes it even more cool.

Appearance: Belle Saison pours a light orange beer, cloudy, a bit of a copper hue to it, light amount of white foam and decent amount of carbonation - a bit of crackling taking place.

Aroma: Quite a sweet saison, it has notes of flowers (rose petals, etc), lemon citrus, ginger - lots of ginger to give it a gingerbread vibe to it, somewhat earthy. Fairly light aroma but welcoming.

Taste: Sweet malt gives it a bit of a caramel/ginger sweetness to it, followed by a light earthiness, grassy & floral, somewhat bready, slight amount of peppery background, slight sour. Quite stronger flavours than most saisons. A bit of a tinny aftertaste.

Overall Thoughts: The autumn flavours of gingerbread makes it a bit weird for me - it's not to style, but aside from that, it's a decent beer - a moderate amount of citrus zest and very easy to drink.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Shock Top Belgian White and Lemon Shandy

To me, Labatt's Shock Top is the kind of beer that if it was personified - he'd be that douchebag bro who would call you bro every 13 seconds, drink all your beer and still go "bro, it's your fault, you had free beer just sitting there in the fridge", and he wears socks with sandles and plays music on his phone's speaker instead of using headphones, that kind of douche.

Shock Top's essentially Labatt's take on the Rickards brand in Canada. As you can probably tell by now, Molson has pretty much cut advertising money for the prairies - so beers like Rickard's White are getting replaced by Shock Top Belgian Wheat. So due to that, everywhere that used to serve Rickard's has moved towards Shock Top. I've refused to review Shock Top for the most part because frankly.. I don't like their beer: It's watered down, syrupy and doesn't hold a candle in the wind compared to craft beers, or even RICKARDS.. sadly enough. I reviewed their Raspberry White last year and after trying that beer.. I don't know why people like it.. but perhaps it's the advertising or just that people think it's a craft beer when it's not.

Shock Top Lemon Shandy:
Appearance: Shock Top Shandy pours a very pale cloudy lemon yellow. Reminiscent to a typical shandy or Radler but lighter than I'd expect at 4.2%. There's an incredibly light amount of beige head on top rimmed around the side of the glass.

Aroma: Lightly sour - lemons, a bit reminiscent of Mill Street's Lemon Tea as it's a tad sweet.
There's a chemically aroma that's very much like baby wet wipes. Light breadiness.. I don't know what else to say..

Taste: Fairly sweet - especially compared to the aroma. Lemon water with a few tablespoons of sugar or corn syrup. Light grainy bitterness from the malt. The more I'm drinking this, I'm noticing more and more of faux lemon juice extract.

Overall Thoughts: Lemon, lemon, lemon, lemon. Hint grainy bite but lemon. It's incredibly easy to drink on a hot summer day like today.. so that's good, but lemon.

Shock Top Belgian White:
Appearance: It pours like your typical Belgian witbier, a very cloudy & murky orange with a hint of copper coloured ale. Decent amount of white creamy foam fluffs at immediately but it quickly goes down.

Aroma: A bit grainy - bready, hint of lemon, coriander and a hint of orange peel. This is very underwhelming.. it's grassier smelling than most witbiers. I think the Lemon Shandy might have been just a bit stronger in aroma.

Taste: Grassy, a bit metallic bitterness, a flavour that reminds me of the vinegar in Heinz ketchup, lemon, light on the coriander and oranges here. Actually a slight bit bitter. Really underwhelming.. but it is 5.2% ABV, so seeing how light it tastes, you will eventually get a bit of a buzz.

Overall Thoughts: I'm surprised that this is as popular as it is in Canada. While Rickards White is faux with its overly sweet orange notes and the overabundance of coriander - the coriander in this beer is minimal at best.. especially with the label mentioning it as part of the flavours. We have to remember that Shock Top is part of the very same company that makes Goose Island Sofie Saison and Hoegaarden - both are amazing wheat ales. This one is bland and truly needs orange wedges to give it some flavour. Belgian? Nope.. I don't recall Creston or Vancouver being part of Belgium. But this is a white, not a good white.. but yeah.