“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 ….

Watercress Salad with Smoked Salmon & Roasted Beets

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Beet Salmon Salad(m)2If there has been one theme in my cooking this CSA season, it has been beets and, specifically, roasted beets. I’d be lying if I said there was “something” about roasted beets that is magically comforting — no, there is something very specific about roasted beets I love, how their flavour is transformed, how the roasting deepens their sweetness and turns them from crunchy into a rich and velvety experience on the tongue. And, I dare say, when roasted well, the beet becomes a sweet vegetable that will have huge appeal, even to children. And roasting them over the direct fire of a barbecue, well, it’s primal (yes) and adds something even more than doing them in your oven.

So when I was reading through an email from CSA provider, Roots & Shoots Farm, a few weeks ago, they referenced an easy salad from Jamie Oliver for “fresh smoked salmon & beetroot salad.” I was inspired (again) by these ingredients to create my own. So yes, my salad takes some of the main ingredients from Jamie’s recipe (beets, salmon, and watercress) — because he’s a pretty clever and resourceful chef, to say the least — but changes up the supporting ingredients and the cooking techniques to create something my own. For example, I’m not big on horseradish (I actually hate the stuff) so instead I opted for a classic pairing with smoked salmon: onion. However, I chose to lightly roast these rings as well, a process that takes away their bite and brings even more sweetness to the dish. I also elected to go with my own dressing that I previously made and showcased with my Roasted Red-Kuri and Beet Salad: a lemon-maple vinaigrette. I chose this because, well, it is mine (yes) and very tasty but more than anything, the citrus would pair perfectly with the beets and the salmon. And, finally, as intrigued I was at the raw beet and as easy as this might be, as already mentioned, I love love love roasted beets, so I was going back to that ingredient, even though it would add an hour to the process, it would be an hour well-worth it. So, yes, this salad does take a little longer to make, but it is an easy hour while the beets quietly roast, time enough to prepare your main course or just sit and relax with a nice glass of wine.

Prep time:   15 minutes
Cook time:   60 minutes
Total time:   75 minutes
Servings:     6 side salads or 4 as meals
 

Watercress Salad with Smoked Salmon & Roasted Beets

Ingredients:

Salad:

  • 1/2 lb (225g) smoked salmon, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 medium beets, tops removed
  • 2 bunches of watercress, large stems removed
  • 1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/2-inch (1-cm) whole rounds
  • 2 ounces (55g) feta, crumbled

Lemon-Maple Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup (125mL) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 Tablespoons (45mL) freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons (30mL) maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon (5mL) grainy ‘old style’ mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1mL) salt (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Preheat grill to 375ºF (200ºC). Trim tops off the beets, leaving an inch or two of the stems attached. Lightly oil the beets and place them on the grill and roast for 25 minutes.
    → Alternatively, do this in oven. Line a roasting pan with parchment paper and otherwise follow the same instructions. Note: If using the oven method, some suggest wrapping them in foil to speed up the poaching. While this does improve the speed, I find unwrapped produces a richer flavour.
    Roasting the beetsAfter 25 minutes, flip beets, and continue cooking for another 25 minutes. At the same time, place the onion rings on the grill and grill them for about 5-7 minutes per side, until grill marks just appear on each side: be careful as they will turn from perfect to burnt if left unwatched for long.
    Grilling Onions Remove onions when done, and set aside to cool.
    Grilled Onions
    The beets will be done when they are tender to the fingers if you squeezed/poked them. The beets will also start to ‘blister’ on the outside of their skin. Remove from grill and let cool in the fridge for about 25 minutes.
    Roasted Beets
  2. While the beets are cooking, prepare the Lemon-Maple Vinaigrette by combining all the ingredients together in a graduated measuring cup. Stir well, and let sit.
    Lemon Maple Vinaigrette
  3. Prepare the watercress by cutting away the stems up to where the leaves start … and beyond this, break off any larger stems. While all edible, they tend to be a bit tougher. Thoroughly wash (immerse in water) a couple of times and then spin them dry. Set aside.
    Prepare Watercress
  4. When the beets and onions have cooled, you can begin to prepare them for the final steps before plating the dish. First, by place the onion rounds on a cutting board, place your fingers flat on top and using a very sharp chef’s knife, slice them through horizontally.
    → If this scares you or you don’t have a very sharp knife, you can dice the grilled onions instead.
    Now prepare the beets by using a sharp paring knife to top and tail them and peel away the roasted skin, leaving the moist beet intact below. I recommend wearing a latex glove on the ‘holding’ hand to prevent staining.
    Peel roasted beetsPeel the BeetsCut the beets into 1/4-inch (1/2-cm) rounds and place in a separate bowl.
    slice the beets
  5. To plate and build the salad, arrange a handful of watercress on the plate; sprinkle the watercress with the feta; then arrange rounds of roasted beet around the plate; individually, pinch together slices of salmon and place arrange these between the beets; and then, finally, layer around individual rounds of grilled onion. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of vinaigrette and serve.
    Beet Salmon Salad10 Beet Salmon Salad11 Beet Salmon Salad12Beet Salmon Salad16Wine Pairing: An off-dry rose would pair very well as would many other choices.

“Hops & Bolts” (IPA) Creemore Springs Brewery

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Hops and Bolts (front)

A beer that behaves like the rich kid on the block pretending to be edgy and cool and in the end just tastes obsequious and insecure.

Rating: 77 points
Stats:
 Pale Ale. 5.3% ABV. 60 IBUs. Creemore, Ontario.
Size: 473mL can
Colour: Light-orange amber – unfiltered
Mouth Feel: Medium  carbonation; creamy finish
Purchased: LCBO
Price:
 $2.85
Pairing Notes: n/a

Do you recall those musical bands that are made up by record companies? Bands put together with the sole purpose of creating a truly ‘manufactured’ product? There are certainly scads of boy (and girl) bands that fit the bill. The Spice Girls certainly comes to mind; The Monkeys a couple generations earlier is another. But truly, no generation or country seems immune to the phenomenon. The craft beer industry isn’t either, apparently … because it makes money.

Hops and Bolts (close up)Take a look at this label: it’s fun, playful, exceedingly colourful. It is a bit reminiscent of Flying Monkeys. The difference is that you feel like this one has been designed by a focus group and not a couple of wing nuts that like to make beer and laugh while doing it (no offence intended, Flying Monkeys). Now try to find the name of the brewery on this label and you’d be forgiven if you said “Mad & Noisy Brewing” since that’s what’s on the back of the label. Except read the legal fine print about where it was made and by what corporation and you’ll see that it is actually brewed by Creemore Springs … which in turn is owned by Molson-Coors brewing. Not to get off topic, but Creemore was once a small independent brewing company that had a niche market a decade ago before the craft movement really took hold. Sensing the market was changing and they were losing ground, the big brewers like Molson started to buy up the small renegade outfits, not with the purpose of putting them out of business, but to buy their way into the micro brewing market. In 2012, Creemore, now distanced from its own roots, tried to find them again by creating a ‘made up’ culture within the brewery where they esteemed would be “fun” and where experimentation could once again take hold: enter Mad & Noisy, the cool table in the middle of the in a room filled with businessman.

Hops and Bolts (back)Anyway, to the beer. As you can tell, I’m approaching this with a lot of bias and not entirely trusting of the motives of this company. But I am on a mission to explore and if a beer wants to position itself as different, I’m willing to give it a chance and take a look and, in this case, a swig.

Not for the Faint of Hops

That’s their slogan. So I was thinking this must be a crazy, bad-ass hopped filled brew with IBUs out of the world — right? Let me put this another way. If someone claims their Buffalo chicken wings aren’t hot — they’re infernal suicide hot — and if you ordered those wings and found they were really “medium” in heat, you’d have to ask what the hell the vendor was trying to pull, right? Well, in the world of hoppy beers, 60 IBUs makes these “medium wings” in the hop world, at best.

I don’t personally like being made a fool but I feel that’s exactly what Creemore is attempting with me and other beer drinkers for who purchase this beer — beer drinkers who look at the front label, not the back. My plea to Creemore is just be honest — stop trying to be something you’re not. Stop trying to be trendy when you’re owned by the 7th largest beer company in the world. What really galls me on top of it all is that they’re charging ‘top dollar’ for an inferior product that they are making on an assembly line at half the cost. Hops and Bolts? More like cops and robbers ….

My review of the beer itself? It’s interesting and not at all bad. But it isn’t all that great either. I appreciate the experiment. I appreciate the notion of taking Czech pilsner qualities, like using the noble “saaz” hop and some German(?) malts and pretending to make a bad-ass American pale ale. It’s a cool idea and I was game to try because I really do love Czech beers. But what they’ve done is create a beer with a clear identity crisis that doesn’t know if it is sweet, strong, tropical, American, or European. There is nothing wrong with any of these notes, but when you play them together, you get a disharmonious symphony that you may appreciate, technically, but grates on the palette.

All this did was confirm my disdain for mass produced beers produced by large corporations.

Read more Beer Reviews here.

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