One of the first beers I reviewed and still one of the best I’ve tasted was Spearhead’s Hawaiian Style Pale Ale. What most impressed was its ability to incorporate the flavour of the pineapple into the beer in a subtle but unmistakeable way that doesn’t leave you with a sickly taste in your mouth going “ew-www – that’s a dumb idea.”
After completing that review, I learned that their next experiment was a Moroccan Brown Ale (here reviewed) that at the time hadn’t been bottled and was only available locally in Toronto in the pubs serving it there. Again, their ambition was to take a traditional beer, this time a brown ale, and infuse it with non-traditional flavours which included raisins, dates, figs and cinnamon. The question is: could they pull it off as well as they had with their inaugural creation?
The answer is more or less “yes.” True to the label, the beer has “a complex character with notes of dried fruit, plum and brown sugar.” The flavours are intoxicating and lovely, subtle and definitely unusual with just the right amounts of sugars so that even at only 35 IBUs, this beer has a nice, dry, and relatively hoppy finish. Very refreshing even in the peak of summer.
It is, however, a nuanced reference to the fermentation method that really defines this beer and leaves me a bit on the fence, at least with respect to what it tastes like poured from a bottle. The back label says it’s been “naturally carbonated” and that because it is unfiltered to “pour gently to leave sediment at the bottom.” For those who have read many of my other beer reviews, you’ll likely be deducing the same as myself: that these words imply that that beer has been brewed sur lies … in other words, it is “bottle fermented.” Apart from the cloudiness you see by pouring it out to the lees (see picture to the right taken after emptied the bottle), there is no other reason not to pour it all. The fact is, no matter how hard you pour this beer, I don’t suspect you’re going to produce any head or lace. I expect the caution is purely based on the expectation that the average Canadian Anglophone would be surprised (and dismayed) at the cloudiness of it otherwise. I know that when I started down this road a year ago, I didn’t much know what “sur lies” meant either and was curious at the connection between cloudy beer and the fermentation method.
Details aside, what this is all means – and explains – is that the beer smells yeasty from bottle to glass to nose. It take a good 30 minutes for the residual yeast aromas to dissipate – and while this does mean the beer comes closer to temperature (e.g. 10˚C), the dissipation improves the beer because before this, I think the yeast takes away from its other graceful notes including an alarmingly beautiful clear colour (if you don’t pour out the yeast) and a splendid and creamy mouthfeel. The natural carbonation is a technique that is to be relished because it produces a tight carbonation that fills the whole mouth. And I would say, there is a lot of it … perhaps even a wee bit too much. So while I approve of the bottle fermentation method, I think Spearhead put a bit too much emphasis on this in the bottle and I wonder if it is a bit more balanced when it is served on tap.
All in all, I strongly recommend a close encounter with this addition to Ontario’s beer landscape which can be enjoyed in all four seasons with great enjoyment. For a great treat, however, I recommend a glass of it with a hearty meat dish that has some sweetness such as my Moroccan tagine or my barbecued pork ribs with root beer sauce.
Stats: Brown Ale. 6% ABV, 35 IBUs. Toronto, Ontario
Colour: Dark red-brown. Unfiltered.
Mouth Feel: Medium-high carbonation upfront, creamy and refreshing finish.
Pairings: Baby back ribs with root beer sauce.