Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Salute to Dead Animals!

Beer: Dead Elephant Ale
Brewery: Railway City Brewing (St. Thomas, ON)
Type: American IPA
ABV: 6.5%

My brother and I went out for pints last weekend in Hamilton at the "Winking Judge", a truly excellent pub in terms of its craft beer selection and atmosphere. Seriously, check it out; it has a 3L bottle of Fin du Monde displayed over the fireplace. I plan to be buried with it.

Anyways, after sampling a few tasty local brews (Niagara's Best General Brock Stout; Magnotta West Coast IPA), I settled upon the delightfully-named "Delirium Tremens", a Belgian Strong Ale named after a symptom of alcohol poisoning. Damn was it good. It was served in a branded snifter glass that was covered in little pink elephants, possibly the most appropriate yet horrifying image ever to grace a beer chalice. Seriously watch "Dumbo" again, or youtube this shit and prepare to be re-traumatized:

Fuck you, Disney...

Anyway, the elephant glass prompted my brother's memory of sampling another local brew with an unusual name: Dead Elephant Ale. Naturally, I had to try this beer. With luck on my side, the LCBO happened to just bring in a few bottles of this offering from Railway City, so I snapped a couple up. At the cash register, the cashier asked me if I knew why the beer was called Dead Elephant Ale. Sadly, I couldn't think of anything until she prompted me with "it's brewed in St. Thomas." Ah yes, Jumbo....

Jumbo was an African Elephant who, upon his capture in Africa, became the star attraction of the Paris and London Zoos at the end of the 19th century. I guess he was a particularly big elephant; thanks to him, we now have the word "jumbo" in our vocab to mean super-bigly-huge. After a few years of living what I assume to be a comfortable and abuse-free life at a Victorian Era zoo, Jumbo attracted the attention of showman and all-around weird guy P.T. Barnum, who purchased the elephant for $10,000 and added him to his circus lineup. Several years of touring North America brought Jumbo fame and fortune, which was aided of course by his whirlwind romance with Jennifer Aniston. Sadly, in 1885, after performing in the bustling metropolis of St. Thomas, Ontario, Jumbo was crushed to death by a passing train (morbidly funny alert: the railway company responsible was called Grand Trunk...). His death's a pretty big deal in St. Thomas; there's a massive statue of him there, as is his majestic grave site, seen above. He's also the inspiration for the video chain Jumbo Video, better known to Ontario children as "the place where you get free popcorn and it perpetually looks like it's 1992."

Railway City Brewing decided to honor the memory of Jumbo by featuring a picture of him sitting on top of a train and drinking beer. All class. (actually, it's pretty awesome)

I've had some bad experiences with Railway City before, so I was a bit hesitant to try it once I learned who brewed this charming salute to animal death. At the KW Craft Beer festival, I tried their Iron Spike Blonde, and proceeded to barely avoid vomiting for the next 20 minutes. Holy mother, was it bad. I'll just say this: no beer should ever taste like boiled broccoli, and this one did. However, since it's an Ontario micro brewer, I like to give second-chances. Sometimes, individual batches (particularly ones on-tap) go skunky or foul, but on other occasions they taste just fine. (See my review of Heritage Lager) It's a problem that needs to be dealt with, but until then I'll still give them my support. The fact that this brew is in bottle form eased my mind somewhat.

Dead Elephant pours a somewhat light amber colour, and leaves a fairly robust white head that takes a good deal of time to recede. Lots of flecks of lacing. Not a bad looking brew.

The nose is particularly potent, and if you aren't used to American IPA's, it can come across as smelling quite foul. Notes of resin and pine, juicy hops, grapefruit and biscuits. There's also a slight buttery character to the nose, which isn't really doing it for me, but on the whole it smells fine.

Dead Elephant is a bitter beer, but if you give it a chance you'll get other flavours as well. It opens with bready malt and finishes with that strong resin hop character, which is a common characteristic in American IPA's. Some notes of grapefruit and raisins as well. The mouthfeel is slightly creamy, with a moderate body and good carbonation.

Despite the name, Dead Elephant was a pretty enjoyable local IPA, but I can see how batches of this can go awry. Ontario microbrews have a tendency of misusing hops, and this one just pushes the edge of palatable hop flavors. The buttery character to the nose is also a bit troubling; over time this has the potential of going foul. Luckily, I happened across a decent batch of this brew and ended up quite enjoying it. If your feeling adventurous, I suggest you give it a try, but if your experience is a bad one, it might be the batch. However, even if you have to drain-pour it, at the very least you'll have an awesome new bottle for your collection. (Grade: B-)

1 comment:

  1. I am a product of that railway city and have yet to have a bottle of this beer. I might just have to look it up matt. Thanks!!
    --Dave K