“Rye Guy” (Rye IPA) Beyond the Pale Brewing Company

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Rye Guy

Rye Guy is a natural guy, comfortable in his own skin: strong with a complex & sensitive personality ….

Rating → 90 points
Stats:
 IPA. 6.7% ABV. 52 IBUs. Ottawa, Ontario.
Size: half-growler (or full-growler also available)
Colour: Golden, unfiltered, brewed on lees
Mouth Feel: Low-Medium, very natural carbonation; refreshing, clean, dry finish
Purchased: From Brewery
Price:
 $7 (plus $3 bottle deposit)
Pairing Notes: Sushi

After recently reviewing Beyond the Pale’s The Mullet, the brewery’s impressive Belgian IPA, I was equally intrigued to try this rye IPA ~ RyePA as some call the style. This is still a bit of a fringe brewing style but one which is nevertheless growing in availability as other brewers try their hand at using rye malts in the brewing process.

While I”m not a brewer, I’ve made a lot of bread and used a lot of different grains and flours in the process. Rye is a troublesome one to work with — and I can only conjecture that it gives brewers grief too, perhaps for the same reason. Why? Rye doesn’t actually possess the same gluten protein as in wheat — but before that sounds like a salvation anthem, it’s important to note that rye contains secalin which is a form of gluten which possesses the same risk to those with celiac disease. Rye gluten, however, behaves very differently than wheat gluten in food. It tends to be more heat tolerant but is ‘weaker’ which means it’s less elastic. It also needs an acid (like a sourdough starter) which allows the bread to rise. Without getting overly technical, the different proteins, enzymes, and starches work differently in rye than wheat which means that traditional bread theories around pH levels and yeast differ as well. The result is a denser bread than wheat — unless wheat is combined in the bread-making process which produces “light” rye bread. A 100% whole-grain rye bread is a dark and rich like pumpernickel and is known for its spicy and nutty flavours. All to say, a lot of this translates into the flavours of rye beer but I wonder if this also impacts the brewing process like it impacts the bread making process because I’ve not tasted many good examples of rye beers …

Rye Guy (zoom)… until today.

So given my history, I was a bit uneasy in both buying and purchasing this beer, but what a pleasant surprise awaited me.

Off the nose, it is a light fruity — tropical and citrus (grapefruit) both. Excellent presentation of the hops. And that all-important first taste — wow! Great balance that just pulls you in for a second gulp very quickly. The carbonation of this beer, like The Mullet, is impressive. If two samples are any indication, this is a brewer after my own heart who doesn’t abide the American tendency to over-carbonate beer. It has a beautiful, tender, very natural mouthfeel which works in great balance with the alcohol to nevertheless present a “big” strong beer. The bubbles don’t need to mask for testosterone here, and that is a big thumbs up.

The flavours in the mouth present a beer clearly influenced and paying serious homage to the Westcoast hop tradition: citrus (grapefruit, pineapple) and a bit of pine that emerges as it moves to the mid-taste. And while the hops are big on display, this is an infinitely approachable beer that will surprise. What really impresses me, however, is the play of the rye malts here which give this beer some serious ‘spice’ and a well-constructed backbone that lets this beer stand very upright at the end. If I were to be presumptuous, I’d say the ending is very Belgian, perhaps a result of the rye which leaves this beer exceptionally dry at the end, leaving the hops to beautifully drift from beginning to end with an effortless swipe across the palate.

Overall, this is the best rye-PA I’ve ever tasted and a beer that deserves some serious attention, especially for those drinkers that love American pale ales but want something with a balanced carbonation and dry ending.

Indian Summer

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Miracle DayIt was a miracle day a month ago, a hot miracle of an Indian summer when Ben and I went for ice cream and, in reliving a special memory, we created one even more special.

Over the last few months, but really over the last couple of years, I’ve been contemplating writing a book, one that will be part biography, part autobiography, where the subject will be my Miracle Dog. I’ve now begun the process which will likely have reduce some my writing productivity here as I give some of that time to this other project. I’m not sure if this would be the cover of that book, but it certainly will be the cover of a chapter in it ….

See more of from other’s submissions to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Cover Art.

See more of my own photography here ….

Copyright @ Dale Schierbeck

“The Mullet” (Belgian IPA) Beyond the Pale Brewing Company

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Beyond the Pale - Mullet (front)

Business in the Front and Party in the Back

Stats: IPA. 75.8% ABV. 49 IBUs. Ottawa, Ontario.
Size: half-growler (or full-growler also available)
Colour: Dark gold, unfiltered, brewed on lees
Mouth Feel: Low-Medium, very natural carbonation; refreshing, clean, dry finish
Purchased: from the Brewery
Price:
 $7 (plus $3 bottle deposit)
Pairing Notes: n/a
→ 86 points

It seems only fitting that I break my blog-silence since Ben’s passing with a review that he initiated. While I’m still very sad, I think he’d approve of me slowly getting back to something else that I love and which fulfills in many ways.

A few weekends ago before he passed away, by an uncomfortable mix of fortune and misfortune, I found myself in Ottawa’s trendy Wellington Village parked right in front of this small little brewery. The contradiction was that my trip was to visit Loam, a local clay studio, and an artist there who I sought out in my quest to commission a special piece that would capture Ben’s paw prints in clay … before it was too late. As the rain started to come down, I couldn’t help but think that there was a pull in the universe to bring me to this brewery and finally try its wares, available only on tap at some local establishments … or directly from the brewer.

Over the past few years, I’ve given a lot of attention and deserved praise to Beau’s, one of my favourite breweries which is also local to Ottawa. However, Ottawa is indeed becoming fertile ground for many new craft breweries so even though Beau’s continues to rock the region with its innovations, I thought I should spread my wings.

Beyond the Pale - Mullet (label)So Anne waited with Ben while I quickly dashed into, surveyed the possibilities, and made two purchases. Each was a half-growler; a “growler” is a half-gallon, so a half-growler is just under a litre, or two pints. The first that I’ll showcase with this post is their Belgian IPA called “The Mullet.” I’ll admit that I was drawn to the beer both by the style and by the name; and if you’ve seen pictures from the “Big Lebowlski” fund-raising night earlier this summer on Twitter, you’ll understand the attraction (but I digress).

What’s a “Belgian IPA” you ask? Well, it’s an example of imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. Even though the Belgians are kick-ass brewers and leaders in their own right, there is a growing movement there to embrace the American IPA as a desired style … a style which the Belgians are singling out for the extra hoppiness and bitterness. Ultimately, like any great artist and leader, however, they aren’t just imitating: they’re borrowing and inventing and bringing to the style their own strengths and personality. So you’ll find Belgian yeasts being employed with often European malts and matched with American hops to produce a flavourful IPA that has a crisp and clean finish. So for those who like the idea of an IPA but think American hop-heads have taken a good thing and gone too far, the Belgian IPA may be your cup of tea.

How does this criss-crossing of the Atlantic work, then, when Beyond the Pale brings the Belgian style to Canada? The answer is: “Wow — I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to review this brewery!

‘Nough said?

This liquid dark gold, unfiltered (slightly cloudy) beer pours with little to no head. Interesting, to say the least. You’d look at it and think it was flat until you took a sip and found a beautiful bottle-fermented micro carbonation which tingles but doesn’t get in the way. If you hate beer that fills you up, this is one you’ll love!

Off the nose, there are good tropical hops on display — take a sip and, with all due reference to the tag that labels the beer, it’s a big party upfront. The flavours? A bit mingled but read that as complex. Definitely some tropical fruit and I would say some banana (just a hint) to finish. Very very tasty. The beer moves very well from the front of the tongue through the middle where my only knock is that the specific-gravity here gives a bit of a thinness — however, the knock I give is slight because the beer doesn’t dwell here long before moving to the ending where true to the style, the ending is crisp and very very dry. Yes, some astringency there, but given the style, I think appropriate.

All in all, this is a beer I am already coveting and thinking I need to get more. However, it may also be a limited release (to be confirmed), so if you’re intrigued, act now.

Sorry, I guess this is an Ottawa-specific post, but if this first taste in any indication, this a brewery that has some serious chops and is worth a serious taste or two … or three. Find a designated driver and have some fun.

Ben ~ In Memoriam

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Ben and Me4It was a rainy morning, a forecast filled with tears.

Ben, the miracle dog, has left us, left my hearth, but not my heart.

These past few days have been the saddest of my life — and that isn’t hyperbole. It seems only right that it has poured rain almost non-stop here for two days, save for a couple of hours where the sun came out and when I lay Ben in a sunbeam as we prepared him for his last. I know some may have a hard time understanding my grief … or understanding the depth of a grief that has been overwhelming, but Ben was more than a dog, so much more than a pet. I’ve never called or considered him a pet myself: he was family, not chattel, not an object. He was not “mine” and I was not his “owner.” We were two creatures bonded together, strong and independent, but dependent on each other, drawn together more and more by a symbiotic thread of life that made us one.

Benjamin was most certainly not a cliché — but he was my best friend. He was also my father; he was even my mother; he was a brother … and he was a son. I’ve heard through secondhand recounts that when some people meet me and watch me, in some contexts, they view me as a stern, serious man. My pensive and somewhat introverted nature certainly has done nothing to challenge those perceptions. But to a person, when they see (saw) me with Ben, they saw a man, a boy, a vulnerable human being with a great heart and a sense of humour. They saw in my interaction with Ben my capacity to love, to give, to accept unconditionally, to give without self. They saw me play; they saw me care; they saw patience; they saw my compassion; they saw my beauty.

Ben was the best of me ….

I do wonder with Ben gone whether people will still be able to see my heart and my humanity? I grant you that I own responsibility for a lot of that … I can continue Ben’s legacy even when he’s not there to be my foil. Ben made me good. I don’t mean that he was a filter through which people saw my goodness, which is true as well. I mean that Ben actually brought out the best in me.

As I said to my friends and family post mortem:

Ben also had the greatest heart … and if you think I have love in me, if you believe I have a great heart, it is because Ben filled me with that … because he fought his way into my heart and opened it to the world.

Ben was and continues to be a life-force. I don’t pretend to understand why — it really has nothing to do with intention. But he just was. He wasn’t an easy dog. And until his last few weeks, he was never lap dog. He found his way to cuddling and connecting, yes, but he was always fiercely independent. There is strong evidence that he had a good amount of Irish Terrier in his blood … and at an early age, I was fond of calling him an Irish terror. He was a fighter and while that made him hard at times, it meant he was a survivor. How else do you find yourself living on the streets of Warsaw still with your baby teeth and finding a way to survive? How do you find not only food, but love in that mix without also being entirely loving? Ben was a fighter, yes, but with a heart made from the hearts of archangels.

I kLap Dog1new how to fight long before I met Ben … but Ben instilled in me that sense of love and for what and why we fight. Through the worst days of my life, through divorces and other losses, through moments of despair, through fear, through confusion, through it all, Ben was my touch stone, my furry rock, the one constant on which I could depend. And in that relationship we shared, and over time, I transferred so many of my hopes and dreams and so much of my love onto Ben. I would have done anything for that dog and I know that I did an incredible amount. I gave so much of my finances and time to him, that is for sure, but I gave him my attention, my thoughts, my values, my heart, my everything. In return, he gave me a love I’ve never felt from anyone else. And the more we gave to each other, the stronger our bond and giving continued to grow. We were everything to each other.

There were days over the past few years and numerous days in the past 6 months of our struggle together that I held him tight to my heart and I made offers to the universe, to whatever force holds this existence together, call it what you will, but I asked that force to take years from my life and give them to Ben. I didn’t care the price or the cost. I wanted Ben to live. And at the end, as I write this, it is the one thing I struggle with most — that I somehow could and should have done more for that sweet little dog that was an external manifestation of my heart.

Thanksgiving BenBen was the most beautiful dog in the world. Yes, I’m biased, I know. I just have so many incredible memories with this life-force. We had an amazing run. We had an incredibly beautiful last 6 months. And in those last 6 months, since the spring when he was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, we strengthened our bond into a titanium cable that will keep us connected forever. We relived some of the most beautiful memories we created. We lay in the grass and we cuddled everywhere. We filled my computer with pictures. We went on a final walk to our park in our favourite season. We went for ice cream one more time and he fed until he got an ice cream brain freeze. And we got to miraculously, truly miraculously, share in one last Thanksgiving together on Monday and he ate his turkey dinner … and then got some more with some whipped cream on top. And we got to take in together the most glorious fall sunrise the morning before he passed.

Ice Cream Ben6Ben was so much more to me than the whipped cream on my life, but he was certainly sweet. For a dog that was fierce and full of boundless energy as a puppy, a stage that lasted 6 years for him, he was equally that most loving and endearing senior citizen. In 18½ years, a dog gets to live a few lifetimes, and there is no question that Ben changed, matured, and grew … he became different dogs and I loved each one of Ben for a different reason, each in his own time and place. I am so blessed to have had so long with this angelic creature … and I’m equally sad that it was only 18 years.

I miss Ben already. I miss him terribly. My heart breaks for his physical absence. He became part of my routine — part of the very DNA of my life. My everyday started with him and ended with him. In the last few weeks, I’d roll out of bed and watch him and see him breathing and know we still had more time. But there was not a part of my day that didn’t have him in it, including constantly making sure he got his pees in every 3 or 4 hours to counterbalance the excess water intake that became a part of his life the past 5 years as he battled Cushings disease … and then the renal failure on top of it. Five years is a long time to be thirsty. I looked at a small stain this morning on the porcelain tiles he often fogged up with his breath waiting for me to come home. And I looked at his little clumps of fur that are caught in all the corners of the house. I realize I won’t have to buy family-sized packs of paper towel and Windex anymore. But oh how I wouldn’t give anything to be cleaning up an accident from him today.

Fall SunriseThe house grew immediately silent when he took his last breath. It’s a silence that is only broken by my own tears when I hear it, when I don’t hear the clickity-click of his nails on the hardwood anymore. And yet I have heard him several times in the past 48 hours, a sound behind me, near. It happens when I make a sudden noise and I hear him wake and I hear a sound that was all his own, something that became part of my auditory memory. It is the sound of a slight gasp, a sigh, a smack of the lips, and then the quick pants that follow when he lifts his head. It is the sound of him awaking, his gaining traction on the moment. I hear a smile and joy in those breaths as he reconnects with me.

Today, there are no feet coming to me as I eat. There is no friend to share the plate or bowl. I stare at my stove over which I laboured so much over the years, making him his own food. I realize I don’t want to eat right now, let alone cook, because if there was only one thing that connected us — and there were many — food was certainly a shared love … and my cooking in particular. Ben was a foodie and I’ve lost my dinner companion of the past 18 years.

Ben has helped me grow as a human being and he has taught me not only what it is to love but how to share it. Ben is now teaching me how to grieve and it is a celebration of my incredible and very deep love for him that I feel emotionally devastated at his loss … a loss that Ben isn’t physically here to help me through. I want to honour his memory as much as I can to be the man that Ben wanted me to be. I want him to be proud to see that I can love others as I love him. I want Ben to see from wherever he is that I’m trying to expand my circle of trust, of friendship, of patience, of acceptance, of selflessness. I want Ben to know that I did my best, truly I did; I want you to know that I will never stop loving him, that I’ll never stop holding him to my heart.

You will never leave me, Ben. You will never be out of my heart. You will always be my boy, my incredible angel. And know that I will never leave you….

I will protect you always; keep you safe; keep you fed; keep you held and secure.

I will love you forever.

Thank you, my sweet Ben. Thank you for being my miracle, my miracle dog.

~ je t’aime beaucoup.

In Memoriam ~ Benjamin ~ My Miracle Dog
April 25, 1996 – October 15, 2014

Ben Sleeping

“Pumpkin Ale” (Spiced Beer) Great Lakes Brewery

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GLB Pumpkin Ale (front)

The Great Pumpkin Ale emerges — all hail the great pumpkin ale….

Rating: 90 points
Stats:
 Spiced Beer. 5.5% ABV. Etobicoke, Ontario.
Size: 650mL bottle
Colour: Deep straw, golden
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation; clean, bitter and refreshing finish.
Purchased: LCBO
Price:
 $4.95
Pairing Notes: Green curry.

And so the field narrows and it comes to a point as I complete my seasonal quest for the best pumpkin ale available here in Ottawa. I’m sure I have missed a few but if I did, it’s only because I wasn’t going to lift every rock in my search — so yes, a sample of four isn’t definitive but it is still a fair competition. Let’s see if I can’t improve on that next year — so, if you have a better suggestion yourself, I’d love to hear it. And thus in my own Game of Thrones race, there can only be one ….

I’ll admit that this was a bit of a strange competition because it wasn’t exactly blind and I picked two I had previously had which I knew I loved already. Still, as critical as I am in these reviews, I’m certainly open minded and in my mind the field was still open for those other two newcomers to wow me. As you’ve seen one clearly disappointed and the other put in a very strong showing through some nice qualities with respect to pumpkin flavour and balance. Nevertheless, that really meant the competition was coming down McAuslan vs. Great Lakes — Montreal vs. Toronto. Given I’m a BC lad, I certainly wasn’t going to be picking a favourite based on geography and really who better to arbiter a competition between Montreal and Toronto than a kid from out West?

So the stage was set. Two breweries I love for their products in general. Two beers I new I loved. A short list was on the table. On it, I already knew that McAuslan produced an exceptional beer. I love it and would have no hesitation in recommending it or buying it. The question is, where does Great Lakes rank in this list? Let’s see ….

It pours like so many of these ales with a short-lived head. It does have more bubbles out of the bottle, however, and is the least natural in terms of carbonation. Still, where other beers fell short for their flatness against the malts, Great Lakes has a delicious mouthfeel which I think is buttressed perfectly with an ideal 5.5% ABV. This feels like a beer drinkers beer, and it has my respect. Why this works is because since most of the beers are light on the malts with considerable wheat backbones, they have proven to be non-existent upfront. This beer, balanced with carbonation and some weight fills the mouth before the flavours have kicked in as they did with all four ales I sampled: that pumpkin ale sweet-spot, the middle.

GLB Pumpkin Ale (back)Off the nose, there are some light yeast aromas a wee bit of spice. Not over the top, but definitely there. The colour is light and compares well with the Grand River’s Highballer for its straw colour. There is nothing wrong with the colour — the question is what do you think better represents pumpkin ale: blonde or amber? Personally, I think amber which gives the nudge to McAuslan and its deeper malts. Having said that, this beer doesn’t suffer for lack of flavour, so I’m going to leave the jury out on colour still as I’m not sure it makes a real difference to this style.

So far, then, the race is likely neck and neck but with McAuslan in the lead … but the final stretch includes two massive jumps that will separate the winner from the runner up: spicing and pumpkin.

The spicing is the razor’s edge in the pumpkin ale chase. It is the thing that people screw up but which they can control. It’s the difference between the cook who puts too much salt in the soup and the chef that constructs a dish the relies on deeper flavour structures. If I was to air on one side in this experiment it would be to say less is more — the spice is an accent to the beer, it isn’t the beer. Pumpkin pie should taste like pumpkin, not spices. The same is true of a pumpkin latte … or pumpkin ale. When GLB (no, that’s not gay lesbian bi — it’s Great Lakes Brewery) says they want ‘hints’ of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg and allspice, they’ve clearly executed their vision. All are present and all in the layer of ‘hint.’ In my opinion, this is the standard for spicing a pumpkin ale … and with that GLB pulls ahead.

The final turn is the pumpkin … which one is better? As I say, the point of a pumpkin ale isn’t the spices, it’s keeping the throttle off the spices and letting the pumpkin taste actually shine through. And in that quest, GLB is the clear winner. Everything else about this beer sets up that moment where you arrive at the finish line and taste pumpkin. That’s what I loved about this beer when I first tasted it four years ago — and it’s why I buy it every year. It’s why I store it up, even, and keep bottles through to Christmas if I can show willpower.

In this case, by luck and not by design, I’ve saved the best for last and, by a clear few horses, this is the best pumpkin ale I’ve yet to taste. All hail the great pumpkin ale ~ Great Lakes Brewery is the king.

“Pumpkin Ale” (Flavoured Beer) Grand River Brewing

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Grand River Pumpkin (front)

Suddenly, out of the turbid waters, a pumpkin appeared.

Rating: 84 points
Stats:
 Spiced Beer. 5.2% ABV. Cambridge, Ontario.
Size: 500mL bottle
Colour: Deep straw, golden
Mouth Feel: Medium-low carbonation; medium mouthfeel.
Purchased: LCBO
Price:
 $3.95
Pairing Notes: A light Indian curry.

With the bar now squarely set, I approach the third in the Great Pumpkin Ale challenge with this one from Cambridge, Ontario.

Grand River Pumpkin (close up)So let’s get right to this one. The beer pours with a decent but relatively short lived head — not at all uncommon it seems in the style. Off the nose, there is little to take in, some light malts and a bit of pumpkin, but not a lot. Still, all things considered, promising start in as much as I can at least smell pumpkin. There are no spices to speak of, however. Interesting, I thought. That first taste? Nothing really. A bit of wheat, a tinge of residual sugar, and so you keep drinking until the beer hits the middle of the palette which is where everything starts to happen for this beer. Finally, pumpkin — I mean, really pumpkin. If you’ve made your own cooked, pureed pumpkin, you’ll know what I mean. It’s a special taste — truly, it’s the taste you’re looking for I would argue. This isn’t a pumpkin pie ale as so commonly afflicts this seasonal style — this is pumpkin ale. The pale malts that round out this flavour are mellow and smooth and very creamy, but not overly full. This is a beer that has hit the balance in terms of specific gravity with a nice medium feel. It isn’t until the end that the spices emerge, light and subtle, not at all a smack on the tongue with a cinnamon stick. Again, I applaud the restraint with a bit of cinnamon, some ginger and nutmeg to round out the end before the beer disappears as quietly as it began.

This is a very good example of the style, I have to say, and there are huge strengths to this beer. Like McAuslan’s, this is a beer that esteems balance and has clearly put the pumpkin in the bottle. It’s a beer I’d buy again, that is for sure. But does it set the standard? No, McAuslan’s St-Ambroise is still the standard, largely because it has better structure from beginning to end — but some of you, those of you that don’t like pumpkin pie, may well prefer this well-crafted offering from Grand River Brewing.

Read more Beer Reviews here.

“St-Ambroise Citrouille” (Pumpkin Ale) McAuslan Brewing

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St-Ambroise Pumpkin (front)

The benchmark in pumpkin ales.

Rating: 88 points
Stats:
 Pumpkin Ale. 5% ABV. Montreal, Quebec.
Size: 341mL bottle
Colour: Deep amber
Mouth Feel: Medium carbonation; creamy and full in the mouth.
Purchased: LCBO
Price:
 $9.95 (4/pack)
Pairing Notes: n/a

After the first disappointment on the Great Pumpkin Ale countdown, I chose to go with a known entity … one I already knew I loved from years before: McAuslan’s St-Ambroise Citrouille – where citrouille is French for “pumpkin.”

As the label clearly warns,  this beer is

Brewed just once a year, the Great St-Ambroise Pumpkin Ale returns this fall to bewitch beer lovers with a savoury blend of pale and caramel malts., hops, pumpkin and spices. If you enjoy the the out-of-the-ordinary, this seasonal offering will be sure to please you.

The only thing that doesn’t please me about this beer, I have to say, is its seasonality — and come the 3rd week of October, it is usually gone from the shelves. I only got one taste of it a couple years ago before it was gone — and last year, I missed it all together. This year I was on top of it and had it in my hands in September … and so I advise any and all who like a really good pumpkin ale, buy this now before it is too late.

So why is this the standard in my opinion? Balance, in a word … and if you want a second, that would be pumpkin. With nice wheat undertones, the same hallmark of their apricot wheat (which I adore), this beer is not a one dimensional bomb of either spices (which afflicts many attempts at the style) or sweetness (which afflicts many more). The pumpkin is hidden there in the middle, like a nice deep throbbing bassoon in the back of an orchestra. Upfront are those delicious pie spices which melt away to the sugar and pumpkin before a dry and wheaty finish closes the deal. Those malts in the middle are really well done and offer a complex balance of sugars like those in the pie itself. But what really sells this beer for me is the mouthfeel — the same thing that ruined the Black Creek’s heritage classic previously. While the other was watery, this one is creamy and full on the mouth, like a custard pie that just makes you want to take another … and another.

The only thing this beer could do better would be to be bigger … a bit more backbone. A few more ABVs … some muscle. But for a style that seeks by its nature mass-appeal and the non-average beer drinker, McAuslan has probably found the right commercial balance; but if I was making this for myself, I’d amp this up a bit more if possible.

Still, if you want to taste a good pumpkin ale, this is the place to start and from whence to measure all other comers.

“Pumpkin Ale” (Spiced Beer) Black Creek Historic Brewing

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Black Creek Pumpkin (front)

A pumpkin ale that is more ghostly because of what doesn’t appear.

Rating: 70 points
Stats:
 Spiced Beer. 5% ABV. Toronto, Ontario.
Size: 500mL bottle
Colour: Light-brown amber
Mouth Feel: Low carbonation; low specific gravity; light end.
Purchased: LCBO
Price:
 $3.95
Pairing Notes: n/a

First up on the Great Pumpkin Ale Countdown is this traditional sampling from Black Creek Brewing.

This is an interesting brewery because it is truly a throwback to a bygone era, an attempt to maintain a traditional brewing style from a 150 years ago. As you learn on their website:

The equipment at Black Creek Historic Brewery is made mainly of wood and copper, and the beer ferments the way it was done in the old days, with wooden barrels to age the beer. Malted barley is shoveled by hand into the wort tun where it is boiled into a mash. After filtering the solids through a linen cloth, the sugary liquid is boiled and hops are added, both for flavouring and as a natural preservative. Once the boiling is complete, the beer is put in barrels where the yeast is added. A short time later, the beer is ready!

Were pumpkin ales being made 150 years ago, though?

Pop the cap and wisps of yeast quietly creep out of the neck, like the trails of a ghost on a moonlit night. As soon as I started pouring it I knew this was a flat beer and I poured harder … and then harder by lifting the bottle high above the glass like a Turk pouring tea. A head eventually formed, but if it lasted at all, it lasted 10 minutes and was gone like it was never there.

Black Creek Pumpkin (back)The colour was a beautiful nut amber and is the sort of thing I sort of think a pumpkin ale should look … but I say that without any real benchmark to measure, but that’s why we’re here, right? The smell in the glass was not the kind of spice bombs I’ve been miffed at in the past — and indeed, this one was a bit more like a cold pumpkin pie where the caramels and molasses are more the flavours. This brought some very nice malts into the nose with just a hint of spice at the end. So, the verdict off the nose was balanced: a good start.

That first taste, however, was little less compelling. Hold it long in the mouth and I’ll still challenge you to find taste — and I mean any taste. There is very very little up front, a fact made more troublesome by the fact that this beer has one of the flattest carbonations I’ve tasted in awhile. Not really unpalatable but the natural carbonation only accentuates the emptiness of the first taste. The middle is a lot better which is where this beer really exists: full, on the flat of the tongue where the caramels churn in the flavours of mace, some ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg and just a hint of clove. But really, the mace and cinnamon are the strongest of the spices here. I appreciate this subtlety because while it is a “spiced beer,” it isn’t over-spiced and, as a result, you can unmistakably taste the creaminess of the pumpkin and those sweet, earthy flavours in the middle. As nice as these are, they end too soon before they washed out by the thinness (low specific-gravity) of the beer and finishes with an ending that is a bit of caramel, some nutmeg, and a refreshing bitterness.

All in all, this beer does a lot of things right — the elements are generally there. However, the beer tastes rustic, unrefined, and lacking the structure of a craft beer. This may be what our pioneering forefathers made and drank whilst staring that overflowing pumpkin patch, but if they lived today, this one wouldn’t likely make the modern cut. If this is a beer that follows a traditional brewing method, well, the method sucks. And while this beer may be available for another 2-3 weeks, I wouldn’t bother unless you’re doing research on heritage brewing methods.

Read more Beer Reviews here.

Searching for the Great Pumpkin … Ale

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Pumpkin Ales

As Canadian Thanksgiving arrives and we sacrifice hundreds of thousand of pumpkins across this fair land as part of our traditional devourment of the greatest pumpkin pies in the country, it seems appropriate that I spend a few days at least contemplating that other pumpkin treat: pumpkin ale.

What makes a great pumpkin ale? And what is the best available this land known as Ottawa? I know, some serious beer drinkers out there are going to disdain the question and my quest, but I for one like a good pumpkin ale. Heck, I like pretty much anything with pumpkin in it and given my love of beer, it seems a match made in heaven … when and if it is done well.

The thing is … it is more often done average or poorly than well. While I’m not a brewer, I do know there are different ways the pumpkin and its flavour can be infused into the beer — but the goal is to extract some of the natural sugars and starches from the pumpkin and use these in the wort to feed the beer and impart flavour. Some brewers do this better than others and you might be surprised how many pumpkin ales don’t actually taste of pumpkin.

Other than missing the mark of the ingredient, where things typically go horribly wrong with a (bad) pumpkin ale is with the spices which more often than not accompany the style. Yes, there is a lot more in common with the pumpkin pie than you thought, especially depending on the malts used in each product. The continuum runs from “pie” beer to pumpkin beer and everything in between. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not adverse to some spice in my beer. My issue is where the spices masquerade as flavour and hide both whatever is actually going on inside the bottle … and what isn’t going on. This is pretty much the problem with Magouille, a beer I reviewed last year.

So this year I quietly gathered up products I could find from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). While I could have cast a wider net, I didn’t have time and I wanted this to be a contest between those beers that are readily available here. I chose four beers, two known entities and two entirely new to me:

  1. Pumpkin Ales1Black Creek Pumpkin Ale
  2. St-Ambroise Citrouille (Pumpkin)
  3. Highballer Pumpkin Ale
  4. Great Lakes Brewing Pumpkin Ale

Join me over the next four days as I review these beers and pronounce the winner of my informal Great Pumpkin Ale Competition. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your own reviews of pumpkin ales near you that you think set the definitive standard. Perhaps I’ll be able to include them next year.

The one thing to remember, after all, is that this is typically a seasonal brew and they’re available for short runs … and once the beer is sold, it is gone for another year. And most in Canada sell out long before Halloween.

 

 

 

Dreamy

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Dreamy

To be caught in a dream is to let go of the world that is and be transported to a world that might be. It is a place where the imagination plays with indistinct forms, thoughts, hopes and desires …. To capture it in a photograph, might be to capture the dream of the subject’s or photographer’s eye … harder yet is to capture the place of dream itself. For me, the interplay of light, water, and colour in a soft focus comes close to my impression of a dream, of an indistinct place where anything is possible.

All Photos © Dale Schierbeck

See more of from other’s submissions to the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy.

See more of my own photography here ….

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