Should there be laws against craft breweries opening up within a few blocks of one’s employment? I probably won’t debate it because, quite frankly, I’m just a wee bit happy to discover another local craft brewer that isn’t situated in some industrial park — it’s not the only one in Ottawa, but one of very few, and the first I believe that has actually set up its shingle in the downtown core and just on the edge of the tourist-friendly Byward Market.
Jess and I first tasted Waller Street at a craft brew market set up as part of Ottawa’s City (folk)Fest a couple years ago and, at the the time, we were pretty oh-hum about it. And while it turned out to be only a few blocks from our work, it still has taken us, well, a couple years to get there to do any real serious field work. Such it was last weekend that we ended up downstairs in the basement of a heritage building “older than Canada,” a speak-easy set brew pub with our great friends — nod out to you, Brent and Tracy — after a night at the Bytown Cinema. And, I must say, a nice way to round out the night. We sampled several beers before settling on the Black IPA for the night, but we also brought home a “traveller” disguised as a growler to review here. Here’s what we had to say.
from the Brewer: A coppered yellow American IPA fermented with a mixed culture including Brett to have a truly complex tropical aroma and taste. Malt is slightly subdued to really let the hops and fermentation characters shine. We play with this beer quite a bit, so stay tuned to see the different variations!
We really wanted to get a big bold fermentation profile out of this beer to develop a unique balance focused on the yeast-hop interaction and bio-modification. We use a “Brett-like” yeast to get that unique dimension.[Note for email readers: You will need to click your link to read our full Her/His review online].
Stats: American Pale Ale ♦ 6.7% ABV; 70 IBUs ♦ Ottawa, Ontario.
Colour: Amber; Unfiltered.
Mouth Feel: Light-medium carbonation; soft in the mouth, but astringent ending.
Location/Price: Brewer-direct ♦ approx. $6+deposit (750ml)
Pairings: Candied almonds or nuts; something with some salt and a bit of sweetness (). ♦ Foods which would balance out the bitters like something creamy/cheesy/greasy-American pub fare such as grilled cheese, club sandwich, onion rings, nachos, mild chili . Perhaps with an Indian butter chicken or other mild and creamy curry. ()
The first beer from Waller St we are reviewing is their Blind Pig IPA – Brewer’s Blend. From what I have seen on Twitter, the brewery is embarking on an ‘IPA saga’ this year, making a number of variations on the IPA. This seems to be the first in the family tree.
When poured, this beer doesn’t produce a big head but does maintain a small ring of bubbles around the edge of the glass the whole time it is waiting to be drank. You can see the tiny bubbles on the surface. The colour is a nice, hazy golden amber – not too dark, very inviting, unfiltered.
The nose of the beer is mild and earthy, with notes of pine and grapefruit, a little wet grass, and a subtle bit of tropical fruit (papaya?) and some floral notes as well. Of course, as it warms, those fruity esters intensify nicely.
At first sip, the carbonation is perfect for little me – tight bubbles, small, not overly carbonated, no burn or too much tickle and they dissipate quickly. The beer coats the mouth with a bit of butteriness – not watery, but a nice medium ‘weight’.
The fruit comes through with more zing and sweetness than in its nose – I can’t really say if it’s papaya or Mango or passion fruit…maybe because of the complexity of the other flavours I taste like grapefruit rind and pine and also a slightly unpleasant soapy flavour. Unfortunately, along with the fruit and bitters that hang onto the palate, so does that same soapy taste. I can say that this beer certainly isn’t shy. The malts are somewhat subdued in this beer and so the bitters stand out prominently – even though I like a really hoppy, bitter beer, I find the bitters linger on the back of my tongue and into my throat a little too long. Overall, I wouldn’t call this a very balanced beer and probably one I would prefer with food versus on its own.
I think that this beer hits certain marks and misses others. Overall, it isn’t quite to my liking, particularly due to the strange soapy flavour coming through and the fact that the bitters and malts aren’t quite in balance. It’s an audacious brew and one which I think the right food could balance out a bit and make it more enjoyable. All that said, I’m still looking forward to trying other IPAs in the Waller St. IPA Saga this summer.
I will also say that we tried other beers at the brewery which we enjoyed more and will be reviewing those soon, so we haven’t at all given up on this great little gem in the heart of Ottawa.
First Taste (10) = 7.25
Appearance (5) = 5
Aftertaste (15) = 9.5
Aroma (10) = 8.25
Mouthfeel (10) = 9
Overall: (10): = 7
46/60 = 77%
The first taste is a bit of an earthy punch in the face. Now, truth be told, that’s not the worst way to start a relationship with a beer, but it certainly isn’t subtle. It took me a minute to come back and remember the aroma after that startling taste, but for the record, I’d say a whole-wheat bread comes off the nose, which is nice. The taste is immediately, as I say, full of slate, all umami, and a good bunch of tannins as well. The mouth is met with a nice, medium-carbonation which quickly springboards into what the umami is fortune-telling: the puckered peel of a grapefruit, with a tonne of pith attached. And when I say grapefruit, don’t imagine any fruit — and I mean ‘zero.’ Just imagine the bitter flavours as if you took the essence of a grapefruit peel, boiled it down to its essential oils with perhaps some spruce oils to make it interesting, and then removed any real ‘fruity’ esters, before leaving it on the counter to get more bitter and punchy.
Waller Street might say this is a balanced beer — indeed, Alex, the very affable and entertaining bartender cum magician, asserted most of their beers were “balanced” — but I’d be lying if I said I agreed. Honestly, I don’t know how you get to “balanced” in my view if the malts, even by the Brewer’s own admission, are almost an afterthought.
So let’s summarize what you’ve heard so far: it’s an imbalanced punch in the mouth with a dusty, withered old bitter grapefruit peel. And you’d probably surmise: yup, Dale hates the sucker.
Well, it’s certainly not an IPA for the faint of heart — but, it might surprise you to know that I like it, but, no, I don’t love it. I’ll grant you it is a fairly one dimensional beer and a reasonable experiment. But as it warms in the glass, the thin lacing all but disappears, the faint bubbles fade to expose the beautiful unfiltered amber of the ale, it’s a beer that your palate will similarly warm to like … that is, if you like a good bitter. As I say, the malts which are present are playing a moderate bit of background music. They add some nice colour and bit of caramel that you might say rounds out a bit of “burnt orange” in the beer … but really, the malts are on the low end of perceptible. This is a beer about the hops and the bitters they bring; bitters that greet you even before you get to knock on the front door, let alone walk through it, but once they have you, they grab you by the tongue and drag you across the dusty floor all the way to the back door where they toss you out with a bit of wince and some tannic astringency followed a bit of “cilantro” (read: soapy) aftertaste. The final ending is where I say the beer fails and where the lack of malts probably cause the “experiment” to come apart … which is the same result you get when using canned tomato paste in your sauces and you don’t add any sugar.
All in all, I’ll give this beer a solid B+. I’m happy to greet it walking across the street and I’d definitely order it off the menu, but I’m not sure this particular Blind Pig is going to become a staple in my fridge. Still, if you just feel like a good punch in the mouth or you’re just in the mood for a tremendously bitter beer, it’s a reasonable bet.
First Taste (10) = 8
Appearance (5) = 4.5
Aftertaste (15) = 10
Aroma (10) = 8.5
Mouthfeel (10) = 9
Overall: (10): = 8
48/60 = 80%
Overall: 78.5 points
Waller St. Has dubbed itself ‘Ottawa’s tiny little prohibition brewery’ – and tiny it is. A little ‘hidden gem’ in the basement of a heritage building and what it appears has long been a bar. It feels like a prohibition era speakeasy – which is the point. In today’s world, this means Waller St. is pushing back against ‘legislated monopoly’ and doing its own thing. We had a really fun time sipping beer, chatting with the bartender Alex, who also treated us to a few magic tricks.
All that said, in bringing Blind Pig home for the taste, our experience was not nearly as charming — a bit like turning the lights on in bar at the end of the night and you look at your date and think, hmm, not quite as a attractive without fake smoke and strobe lights. All in all, while we enjoyed the beer, enough, and were happy to finish it … neither of us are in love with it enough to recommend it to our friends.