Friday, July 8, 2011

LCBO Summer Release

Well, it's officially summer, and already I'm seeing the glistening summer weekends start to fill up with this and that.  Though it's only early July, I'm already thinking ahead to the end of August, and then right around the corner I go back to school in September.  It's scary when the best time of the year starts to slip away from you.  My solution?  Never let a summer moment get by you, and make sure you take the time to sit and enjoy the weather with some nice brews.  Says the man currently typing on his computer with the AC on and the blinds keeping out all traces of sunlight.  Don't worry, I'll get to drinking outside soon enough.

The mish-mash of domestic and imported brews that comprise the LCBO's summer release are just now starting to trickle in to stores in my area.  This release sees the return of some old friends (Skjalfti, Fuller's Honey Dew, Schneider Organic Edel-Weisse), a baffling repeat (Trafalgar Cherry Ale), and some exciting new stuff from breweries that have yet to break in to Ontario.  A few these newbies I've reviewed on the blog before and won't re-review here, but I still urge all of you to try them if you can get your hands on some, especially Charlevoix's Dominus Vobiscum Blanche if you happen to be a fan of hefeweizens.  But praise be to Ninkasi, as there are lots of new goodies for me to try, as well as one brew that I've had years ago and really need to re-evaluate, so I'll be keeping busy this July!

Here are some of the highlights:

Beer: Dark Star Sunburst Bitter
Brewery: Dark Star Brewing (West Sussex, UK)
Type: English Bitter or Pale Ale
ABV: 4.8%

My second brew from Dark Star, with their coffee flavored Espresso Stout gracing the liquor store shelves last fall.  While not my favorite coffee stout, I certainly looked forward to more things from this south England brewer.  And here it is, and not a moment too soon as the name could not be more appropriate for such a bright summer's day.  Poured into a nonic glass and enjoyed on the patio with pork chops and sweet potato.  A nice bright copper-golden colour, good frothy head, lacing and solid retention.

Nose is mild biscuit and citrus, a bit of caramel as well. Nothing too potent.

A solid pale ale, quite tasty on the patio (but then again, what isn't?). Malt, biscuit, caramel, then nice citrus and tea hop finish. Slightly oily, thin bodied, nice carbonation.

I could easily drink a lot of this stuff, as I'm really digging this English Pale with Citrus Hop trend recently, and this one is a prime example.  While nothing too special, it's a well-made, highly sessionable pale ale. Should be a fine summer brew, although it's a bit pricey.  Worth a try at any rate.  (Grade: B+)

Beer: Schoefferhofer Hefeweizen
Brewery: Binding Brauerei (Frankfurt, Germany)
Type: Hefeweizen
ABV: 5%

Hot summer's day, patio and sun - the perfect mix for a hefeweizen, especially one with perhaps the most Germanic name one could possibly find.  Schoefferhofer Hefeweizen.  A beer name that demands to be accompanied by an ompah tuba band and ladies in dirndls.  Actually, come to think of it, all beer should be accompanied with ladies in dirndls.  Also, bacon. 

Poured into a hefe glass. A brilliant looking hefe - cloudy, amber-golden, a two inch head that displays outstanding retention, scads of sticky lacing. First rate.

Nose is classic hefe: wheat malt, yeast, a bit of bubblegum, floral hops, citrus.  Pleasant and fresh.

For all I had seen from the pour and detected in the nose, I was taken aback by how dry this brew was.  There's good notes of wheat and flowers, a bit of malted nuttiness, and the finish is slightly citrussy and bitter.   But the banana and bubblegum sweetness one comes to expect from hearty German hefes is surprisingly difficult to detect.  Indeed, this is one of the driest hefe's I've encountered in a long time, somewhat lacking in the flavor department in this beerman's honest opinion. Creamy mouthfeel, sticky, thick-bodied, mild carbonation.

Maybe you like your wheat beer a bit drier than I do; if so, Schoefferhofer will be right up your alley.  However, based on my personal preferences, this brew was too subdued and not among my favorites, considering how many steller hefe's are available year-round at the LCBO.  Let's not get carried away here; this was a tasty brew to be sure, and certainly pleasant to drink.   But there are better hefeweizens to be had at better prices.  (Grade: B)

Beer: Green Tea Ale
Brewery: Great Lakes Brewery (Toronto)
Type: Herb Flavored Ale
ABV: 4.2%

A beer combination that probably wasn't necessary, but still kudos to Great Lakes for experimenting.  I'm not a big fan of green tea in general, so bear this in mind - feel free to ignore this review.

I first tried this a couple of years ago and wasn't impressed with the result (which pretty much sums up my opinion of Great Lakes, but there you go).   As my friend Ned described it, the beer tasted "exactly how you'd think a mediocre pale ale infused with green tea would taste."  Hardly inspiring, but with Great Lakes I've seen some definite improvement between the years in their major releases as they continue to churn out neat stuff at the brewery itself, and I've heard impressive accolades for their IPA "Crazy Canuck", so I figured this unique brew was worth another look.

Poured into a conical pint glass. Light hazy golden, nice frothy head, good retention and lacing.

Nose is tea, cracker, rice, a bit of lemon.

Cracker, rice, lemon, a bit of green tea (though not oppressively so), and a basic pale lager taste to the finish. A slight fruit or berry makes an appearance towards the end of the pint. It doesn't taste a great deal like green tea, it's still pretty drinkable.

Light, good carbonation, creamy.

While I still await Great Lakes to finally hit the mark with a quality brew, I have to say this one was among their better 'regular' offerings.  Although it doesn't taste that much like green tea, the end result is a fairly decent lager (even though they call it an ale) with a few hints of tea, which overall is not bad. So while the brew didn't really achieve what I thought it was going to do, it's not bad for what it is (Grade: B-).

Beer: Golden Crafted Ale
Brewery: The Celt Experience Brewery (Cairphilly, Wales, UK)
Type: English Pale Ale
ABV: 4.2%

Pictured: Every Welsh Girl Ever, I Hope...
Lastly, we have a firstly - my first brew from Wales, that is!  Now I don't know a great deal about Wales, other than the fact that their flag is a bad ass dragon, their language is incomprehensible and spelled weird, and they film Torchwood there.  And any country that's this close to Gwen Cooper (Eve Myles) is okay in my book.  But brewing is a very ancient tradition for the Welsh people, whose language and culture originates from pre-Roman Hallstatt and La Tene Celts.  Long story short, the Welsh know how to brew.  Though the history of Welsh brewing is still barely understood, two key words in brewing process - malted barley (bracis) and beer (kurmi) - began to appear in regular Welsh parlance around the time of Julius Caesar.  As was the case in the British Isles, ales were the only game in town, which would have been brewed at home and flavored with whatever flowers, spices, plants and herbs that were available in the region; hops only came into the scene around 1500CE, so preservation would have been an issue.

The Celt Experience Brewery is fairly new on the scene - they only have about five brews according to their website, but apparently the Celtish line is only half of the brewery's output, the other half being the original Newmans Brewery, founded in 2001, which brews more traditional British ales.  You can find this brewery at the adorably Tolkein-style address of Pontygwindy Road, in the town of Caerphilly, in Mid Glamorgan.  (I picture Gwen Cooper saying this and it sounds way hotter).  Based on the descriptions of the various beers, it doesn't look as if Celt Experience is really trying to replicate the ancient styles of Welsh brewing, but rather to celebrate the heritage of the Welsh people in the beer's names, while still giving the brews a distinct Welsh flavor.   Not going to lie, I was certainly hoping for a Welsh version of the Williams Brothers "Historic Ales of Scotland", but I guess simply having a beer from Wales will suffice.

Poured into a nonic pint glass.  Golden Ale has all the appearance of a standard English pale ale: light copper-golden in colour, little if any visible carbonation, a slight murkiness, all topped off with thin head with a thinner ring. Not that visually striking, but about right for the style.

Caramel, mild earthy hops, cracker, a bit of peat or bogmyrtle to the nose.  I certainly had expected some peaty earthy notes in a brew from Wales, so I was glad to find them.

Not a bad little English pale ale, pretty flavorful - all the usual notes of caramel, earthy hops, tea, as well as a bit of peat and pine.  Unique, but I have to admit its not something I'd want to drink too much of.   Again, I had to get over my initial disappointment that Golden Ale was not going to attempt to taste like an ancient Welsh kurmi, but I suppose the end result was still pretty good.  Thin, watery and with surprisingly strong carbonation.

Worth trying, certainly enjoyable, but not quite as exciting as I'd hoped.  It certainly is an above-average English pale ale, and the lower alcohol content and high flavor would make for good session drinking.  (Grade: B)

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