Friday, June 28, 2013

Canada's Birthday Beers!

In order to satisfy CRTC requirements for Canadian content on this blog, I submit to you an appraisal of two brews that are positively saturated in Canadianness, though one of them is actually not Canadian and thus will not be factored into our airplay totals.   But they are both explicitly 'Canadian' in their theme and design, so I guess it counts.   That, and it's Canada Day in five days, so there's that going on.  Both brews are available in Ontario at the present moment, so it's not like I'm teasing you with hard-to-get brews.  That's next week's blog entry.

Beer: La Shawinigan Handshake
Brewery: Le Trou du Diable (Shawinigan, PQ)
Type: Weizenbock, apparently (according to BA and RateBeer), though the brewery calls it a 'Shawinigan Weisse'
ABV: 6.5%

Ah, the 'Shawinigan Handshake'.  A moment in Canadian legend and lore  The very words bring me back to a time where Quebec was constantly on our minds, where the Conservative Party (PC's, then) were utterly decimated, when Sheila Copps and John Nunziata were important for some reason (at least, that's what the Royal Canadian Air Farce told me), and when the Loonie was worth about 68 cents US, meaning you had to think long and hard about whether or not you wanted to make a trip to Disney World.  

It was a simpler time.

For those who have no freaking idea what I am talking about, 'The Shawinigan Handshake' was one of many batshit insane/hilarious moments from the lengthy Prime Ministership of Shawinigan-born Jean Chretien.  Wikipedia can tell you the rest, but basically what happened was during a Flag Day celebration in the middle of nutshrivelingly-cold February 1996, an anti-poverty protester named Bill Clennett got a little too close to Chretien, and in decidedly un-Canadian fashion, instead of apologizing to Clennett in our Two Official Languages, Chretien grabbed him around the throat and tossed him out of the way, breaking one of Clennett's teeth in the process.  Here's a video of the incident, which soon after became known as the Shawinigan Handshake.  The Opposition, scant though it was back then, had a field day with this, calling Chretien the 'Shawinigan Strangler', but although charges were filed against Chretien they were ultimately dismissed.  Chretien survived the incident quite well, winning the next two elections handily.

In honour of this bizarre incident in Canadian politics, Shawinigan brewer Le Trou du Diable has released a strong wheat lager - a weizenbock - that has recently made its way into Ontario.   Le Trou du Diable, or "The Devil's Hole" (named after a large cave structure in Quebec) is known for having some interesting, and in true Quebec microbrewery fashion, devil-inspired brews.  Last year, a few Trou brews made their debut on draught in select Ontario bars, and shortly after that their first bottled release - La Buteuse - found its way onto LCBO shelves.   This next offering promises to be a tasty journey into a goofy moment in Canadian history.  (Apparently, Chretien himself approved the beer's label!)

Poured into my stalwart glassed champion, the Duvel tulip.  Always a good choice if I'm not exactly sure of what glassware to use for a particular beer.  A hazy, marmalade-grapefruit concoction flows forth, which yields an impressive head of a couple of inches that survives quite nicely as a thick ring with scads of lacing.  A terrific looking brew.

Nose is banana, grapefruit, clove, other citrussy things, and a malt that for some reason is unmistakably Quebecois.  I'm not sure what it is, but I detect this smell in a great deal of Quebec brews - it's not a bad thing, of course, but it is curious.

This beer offers a Chretien-sized dosage of bitter grapefruit, citrus hops, a bit of resin, alongside a mild foundation of banana, cloves, bread and honey - more typical suspects for a weizenbock.  Nicely spicy, with notes of pepper and clove.  Excellent body to this beer: nice and thick, creamy, and refreshing carbonation.

A very tasty brew indeed, almost like a wheat beer with a bit of American hops.  Though it seems like an odd combination, it somehow works quite well.   (Grade: A-)

Beer: Mikkeller Canadian Dream
Brewery: Mikkeller (Denmark, but really wherever he feels like brewing*)
Type: Czech Pilsner
ABV: 4.6%

*Yeah, so what the hell am I getting at here?   So brewing is an expensive business, and it can take a while to get the capital (and location) to set up a great brewery.  Some folks have recently eschewed this idea, and instead got themselves into the so-called 'gypsy brewing' game.  Basically, these brewers have no permanent home; instead, they avail themselves the use of the facilities of other breweries for a fee (and probably for a cut of the beer).  Rent-a-brewery, you might say.  One of my favorite breweries that does this is Pretty Things Beer Ale Project, who brew some lovely ales (I've reviewed Jack D'Or on the blog before) using the facilities at Buzzard Bay Brewery to get their job done.   On the plus side, this is certainly cheaper than setting up your own brewery; it also allows for some pretty cool brewing collaboration ideas to flourish.  However, it is not a permanent home, and if the home brewery needs to use up all the facilities for their purposes, you are a bit out of luck.

Or, you could do what Danish brewery Mikkel Borg Bjergso of Mikkeller does, and take your show on the road.  Over the past seven years, Mikkel has brewed his unique creations at over 200 different breweries, all over Europe and the United States.  Mikkeller is a much sought-after gypsy brewery, and their products have a surprisingly massive availability.

This brew here is called "Canadian Dream", and was recently released in the LCBO, though I am sad to say it is not an original brew for the Great White North, but rather a repackaged variation of Mikkeller's original Danish Dream, which gets a relabeling and renaming based on whatever country it is sold in (there's also an American Dream as well - same deal).  I'm fairly certain that the fellow on the label is a stylized version of the brewmaster himself, which appears regularly on the Mikkeller website and looks like something out of a textbook of Victorian who's who.

Poured into that same Duvel tulip - it just felt right for the beer at hand, even though a stein or fluted pilsner glass would have been just as good.

Darker than your typical pils, a sort of tawny copper brew with an inch of fluffy foam that dissolves into a substantial layer with lots of lacing.  Nice looking brew, though not your standard looking, crisp clear golden pilsner.

Nose is noble hop, good grainy component, with a malty sweetness.  Floral notes and honey as well.

Tasty variation on the pilsner theme with some nice sweet cracker and biscuit, honey and floral hops to start things off, then a long bitter hop finish.  Very nice, good assertive punch of hops to the finish which lingers long after each sip.

Thicker bodied, a bit sticky, nice creamy carbonation.  Nice sipping brew.

A highly enjoyable, unique take on the pilsner style.  Not the bright, crisp and clean brew that made Bohemia famous, however, but still a satisfactorily bitter, flavorful brew.  (Grade: B+)

Couple of nice brews to usher in the summer and enjoy over the long weekend.  Check 'em out if you see 'em.  Something a little different for your Canada Day drinking, but still well within the weekends' theme.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!

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