Sheepshaggers Gold Ale

Clearly there is something sort of interesting and unorthadox about this golden ale. Just look at that sheep; it looks to be enjoying itself way too much for there not to be a sinister purpose behind it’s grin. Not really sure what the brewer’s were thinking in terms of the name, but the beer itself is a bit of a cultural rarity and is likely only available within the township surrounding the city where it is brewered. It’s doubtful in my mind that you would even be able to find this on draught in one of Scotland’s larger cities. Oh well. Maybe I will find out when I actually travel there on a European beer tour. Until that day I can only speculate.

But it is not a bad beer in general. A nice golden color as the name would suggest, a handsome head that lasts only for a brief time and a coppery, malty nose. The flavour is well balanced, clean and tastes as if it was brewed with water taken from a brook filled with mossy, algae covered pebbles (to me this is an excellent flavour). Quite easy drinking; pretty good. If I was in the area I would get it again, but nothing really spectacular. A  treat nonetheless, because I doubt I would ever have found this beer myself.

Thanks to Michelle for supplying me with this beer from Edinburgh, Scotland. Obviously I couldn’t have gotten it myself because I doubt this is popular enough to be exported to Canada. Thanks for the share, buddy.

Craft Beer Tasting

On Wednesday August 10th 2011 I hosted a craft beer tasting at the Royal Canadian Legion branch 232, Texada Island, B.C. In preparation for this event I learned quite a lot about beer (I had to try to sound intelligent after all.) I also had to choose 8 beers available in the Powell River area that were up to my standards for such an event. They had to be delicious, diverse in taste and style, and available locally. (In case, by some stretch of the imagination, the folks who attended this event ACTUALLY liked the beers that I chose, they could purchase some for themselves.) Next year I may order some obscure beers that attendees may never get their hot little hands on again.

Learning so much about beer was inspiring and exciting. I really, really want to make my own beer. Like Rob Nagy, I will start simple. It would be very cool, however, to eventually start from scratch. I would love to grow the cereal grains, make my own malt, use my own selection of hops/herbs for flavour, etc. There is some experimentation possible with “kit brewing”, of course, but half of the art of beer making lies in the malt – white sugar and generic cans of malt just won’t cut it!

A few points that I shared with the guests at the tasting:

-Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in the world, it outsells wine by 400% (It is also the 3rd most popular beverage over all, after only water and tea.)

-Brewers’ yeast is very high in trace minerals such as magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, biotin, and all of the B vitamins. (No wonder some people call it “liquid bread”) Ergo, beer may be high in calories, but clearly it has a lot of nutritional value too! There are worse things to get fat from.

-The term “beer” refers to a beverage produced by fermenting the sugars derived from cereal grains (such as barley, wheat, oats, corn, rice, etc..) and does not necessarily contain hops. In fact, before the 17th century beer rarely contained hops and was flavoured instead with various herbs that were native to the particular brewing region. Hops are popular because they give beer its iconic (and delicious) bitter flavour and also act as a natural preservative.

-Rice and corn are commonly used in commercial American beers. Many people believe this is because corn and rice are cheaper than other grains, but in reality they are added because they produce a very light tasting, easy to drink beverage. This practice became commonplace after prohibition ended in the 30’s and beer started to become mass produced. True “ale” recipes that were more traditional apparently did not suit North-Americans taste.

-Hops are often added more than once during the boiling of the wort. Similar to steeping a cup of tea, the longer the hops are in the hot liquid, the more bitter they become. Hops may be added at the beginning to achieve a bitter taste, and then again added towards the end of boiling to retain the more floral, “hoppy” flavour.

-The cooled wort (which is malt + water + hops) is then put into the fermenter with yeast for a length of time that is determined by the brewer, it can be weeks, months, or in rare circumstances years. Bottom fermenting yeasts may also be left in the beer after packaging so that fermentation can continue, or sometimes the yeast may be filtered out and new yeast added before packaging.

-When beer is put into a keg, it is normally pressurized with CO2, but to get a rich, creamy, tight head, such as Guinness or other cream stouts/ales, nitrogen is used instead of CO2, or in combination with CO2. The “beer widget” (a ping-pongesque ball found in some beer cans) was invented in the 80’s by Guinness and releases nitrogen to achieve a perfect, rich pour every time.

-Beer cans, although often associated with lower-end beers, are great in the sense that they keep out light, preventing “skunked” beer. Many people say that green beer bottles are the worst for keeping beer for any length of time.

-Glassware is of course important, with many breweries designing custom glasses to alter the perception of their beers. Glasses change the way the beer is viewed, but also the way it lands on your tongue, and the way you hold it. Glasses with stems keep your grimy bear paws from warming the beer up (if you are smart enough to hold it by the stem.) Glassware is also a great marketing gimmick, probably resulting in people buying more beer.

-Temperature also affects the way the beer tastes. One might say that the colder the beer, the more refreshing it is, but the warmer the beer, the more that the flavours and aromas become available to your pallet. According to the Wikipedia page on “Beer” a general drinking-temperature guide to beer is as follows:
7 degrees Celsius – light beers
8 degrees Celsius – wheat beers
9 degrees Celsius – dark lagers
13 degrees Celsius (cellar temperature) – British ales/stouts/Belgian Specialties
15.5degrees Celsius – strong ales/Trappist Beers

-Pouring obviously plays a role too. Rate of flow, tilt, and position are all important. I won’t go into detail, it just takes practice. Get drinking.

The beers, in order that they were tasted:

1.Grandville Island Hefenweizen (3.5 out of 5 heads)
A delicious wheat beer. Made from malted barley and wheat. Top fermented. Cloudy and translucent like most wheat beers.

2.Fraoch Heather Ale (4 out of 5 heads)
This is a delicious Scottish pale ale brewed without hops. Heather flowers are used for flavour. It is very botanical and refreshing. See Tom Nagy’s review for more info.

3.Kilkenny Cream Ale (3.5 out of 5 heads)
A delicious, smooth cream ale, brewed in Ireland by the same brewery that produces Guinness. The can contains a nitrogen filled “beer widget”. This is the only one of the 8 beers that is actually available from the liquor store here on Texada. (The rest are available in Powell River, a half-hour ferry ride away.)

4.Tree Brewing Company – Hophead IPA (3.5 out of  5 heads)
This delicious IPA is, as its name implies, very hoppy. It was not a favourite of the tasters, but here in B.C. it is a favourite of mine. It may be too bold, spicy and bitter for your average pale ale/pilsner drinker. I had originally special ordered 2 flats of Mill Street Tankhouse Ale to serve at the tasting, but instead decided on Hophead at the last minute simply because it is more accessible. (The minimum order is 2 flats, which is 48 beers.) Too bad, I had to drink all that Tankhouse myself! Hophead is comparable in price and flavour to Tankhouse. It’s also reminicent of Hoptical Illusion.

5.Leffe Blonde (4.2 out of 5 heads)
A delicious, strong Belgian Ale. Both Leffe Blonde/Brun have their very own unique flavour. The blonde is the only one available locally. It was a hit at the tasting. At about $15 per 6-pack, it’s a bit more pricey, but packs a good bang for your buck.

6.St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout (4.5 out of 5 heads)
A delicious, very dark, rich beer. Contains malted barley and oats. See my previous review for more info. I think I gave it the same rating when I reviewed it before, but I didn’t double-check just now. So glad that this one is always available here, I find myself going back to it often.

7.St. Peter’s Honey Porter (5 out of 5 heads)
Holy shit, thank-you thy heavenly Saint for creating such a beverage. See my previous review for more info. Talk about a deep, dark, rich, delicious honey/beer experience. This stuff is holy shit.

8.Chimay Blue (5+ out of 5 heads)
What can I say? This amazingly complex masterpiece of a beer was a hit. By far the definite winner of the popularity contest, even amongst beer amateurs. Those fucking monks know what they’re doing. I still have yet to gain enough will power to leave one of these bottom-fermenting beers untouched in storage someplace long enough to age to full maturity. I am curious to know if there is a noticeable difference in taste. Doesn’t matter, still the best of the best.

And that’s that.

Mahou: A Spaniard’s Delight

Months after the fact, I’ve still got traces of Spain on my mind.

I’ve shared my thoughts about this inspiring country with quite a few people, and I even wrote a blog post about the ecosystems I got to see while I was there. But, as everybody knows: no visit to another country is complete without a beer review. This is why I’ve decided to review the beer you’ll wind up drinking 95% of the time in Spain.

In most Spanish bars, if you ask for a beer, you will get a Mahou. Mind you—every now and then, they’ll inform you about their options, but for the most part, those are all interchangeable; you might as well not have to make any beer-based decisions. Oh, no, ladies and gents. Save your decision-making processes for what you’ll be eating that night.

The food in Spain, while not being overly special, is hearty, tasty, and readily available. In fact, the culture is shaped in such a way so that the majority of the conversations you overhear (if you happen to be a Spanglophone*) will be about what those people just ate, will eat, or are eating. For those of you more visually inclined, allow me to illustrate my point.

Yes. It was as tasty as it looks. This was eaten while standing, from a barrel that doubled as a table. What’s more, it was enjoyed with Mahou.

Now, Mahou is not a particularly good beer… but it is refreshing! And to me, Mahou will always represent something more than the beer. It represents good food, a relaxed lifestyle, and the fuck-it-all attitude that comes with intercontinental travel.

I would give this beer 3 heads out of 5, and I would suggest pairing it with a healthy-sized serving of Spain, and maybe some canned mussels.

* Yes, Spanglophone is a completely bogus word. Deal with it.

Beer Experience in Belgium

And so it comes down to the heavy-weight of beer, Belgium.  What a lovely country, full of farmers fields, plain and simple bricked villages, medieval Brugge, Frites, Chocolates, Food and the best beer in the world.  Is this heaven?  Well, yes.  Do I want to go back, yes.

My first adventure into Belgium was to navigate through some of the WWI monuments, cemeteries, Flanders Fields and Ypres, like any Canadian would do.  Now that that was past us, it was on to the mystical and illusive Abbey of Saint Sixtus in search of the Westvleteren beer.  Now one note on getting there, its not easy.  There isn’t some yellow brick road to follow, but rather two small signs, tips from locals who don’t really know where it is, and some serious guess work.  Once there I managed to walk away with a six bottles of the 8 and two gift packs which each had a 12.  As reviewed earlier, the 8 and 12 are both magical and are by far the best beers I have ever tried.  So enough said.

Off to Brugge.  On its own, this city is worth the trip.  It just makes you feel like your in a dream and you could die there some day..  The first beer I had was at a restaurant off the main plaza, where I had a Brugge local ale and Flemish style beef stew.  The local ale was sweet, fruity, had a nice head of thick tight foam and a nice bubble to it.  It sparkled in the mouth and left a nice quick and fruity finish.  Fantastic beer in a fantastic place.

After a nice walk around the city, eating a lot of chocolate, it was off to another bistro for a beer.  The waiter gave me a menu and I nearly lost if when I saw a section called “Trappisten”.  Every Trappist ale on the menu, except for Westvleteren of course (however, St. Bernardus is on the menu and, so they say, is basically Westvleteren clones because a few of the monks left the order and started up a new brewery with the same recipes).  And so, since I have never had one, I ordered an Achel Bruin.  It poured into the glass just as it should.  The thick and creamy foam reached right to the brim, but did not rise above.  Honestly, how do they do that?  I mean create such a perfect glass for their brew..  Anyways, it was noticeably sharper and had a little bit of a bite to it.  Although this was probably because the beer was fresh and not aged very long, the flavours were not altogether intense.  It reminded me of the Konigshoven tripel actually.  A nice ale for a nice night in Brugge.

The next day I payed a visit to De Biertempel te Brugge.  I’m kind of glad that we don’t have one of these back here in Ontario because I would never have any money.  They have everything!  Glasses, random stuff, gift packs and a beer shelf that would make you cry.  So I bought a crazy amount of stuff with complete disregard of how I would get it back home to Canada.  And because I bought so much loot, the man behind the counter gave me two free beer tickets to the Bierbrasserie Cambrinus.  We dropped off the lot at the hotel and went for lunch.

Into the Bierbrasserie Cambrinus and sat down at a nice booth near the front window.  Talked to a nice UK couple who informed us that there was going to be a beer festival tomorrow with 245 breweries coming to town.  I wish I didn’t know that because we were leaving that day.  So, again, another menu that looked like a bible with a million beers to choose from.  However, the free beer tickets only allowed me to choose the house brew.  But this was fine by me as their house brews were a dubbel and a tripel.  In twisted stem chalices they came and they were both superb.  Since Ashley doesn’t drink beer, I got the honor of enjoying both of these fine ales.  The dark ale was musty, sweet, low bubble, intense prune/raisin flavour with a powerful wine like finish.  The golden ale was sweeter, low bubble, sharper alcohol with a candy aroma.  I may be a little bias rating these beers so high, but that was because I had the Trappist cheeses egg and meat sandwich which came with Belgian frites and creamy dipping sauce.  Yes, this is Beer for Breakfast.  I never want to leave Brugge.

So after some time spent in Germany, Champagne country and Brittany France, I decided that I needed to keep my rental car one day longer to take a visit to Chimay in Belgium.  A 2-hour drive from Paris and I was in the nice little town of Chimay.  Really, not much going on here.  You drive through the town and get lost in the country side for a little while.  Then, out of nowhere, and well hidden (seems to be the Trappist style, impossible to find),  was the Abbey of Notre Dame and the Auberge de Poteaupre Chimay.  I spent quite a while in the giftshop, buying one and two of almost everything, and then relaxed in the bar area to a nice meal.

In all I ordered the “Chimay Experience” which gives you the Red, Blue and White caps as well as the secret Black label that only the monks drink, the “Chimay 4 Cheeses”, the “Regional Dinner” which was a lapin with prunes and magic sauce, vegetables and of course Belgian frites and homemade bread with Rochefort butter, and the “Regional dessert” which was a soft sponge type cake with another creamy magic sauce, chocolate and fruits.  That experience was pure bliss.  And I know your wondering, the black label was very much different than the other ones that we know so well.  It was definitely lighter in complexion and intensity, though the flavour was simply a meadow of wild spices, herbs, and candies.  It was semi-sweet with a sharper bubble/sparkle to it.  And as we had discovered later on, the Chimay cheese, and regional Chimay food make these beers have super powers.  They transform into these works of art and taste that cannot be matched by any other beer out there.  Definitely worth the trip.

Brugge Local Ale

Achel Bruin

Bierbrasserie Cambrinus Dubbel

Bierbrasserie Cambrinus Tripel

Chimay Red

Chimay White

Chimay Blue

Chimay Black

Chimay Grand Reserve 2008

Westvleteren 8

Westvleteren 12

Beer Experience in Germany

Into Germany we go.  I was very VERY excited to spend some time sampling German cuisine and beer.  I have to admit, going to Germany felt a little imposing since I don’t speak, hear, understand a lick of German.  Driving into Germany for the first time on the Autobahn at 2am was definitely an experience.  Note to self, Ausfahrt means exit.

First up was a tankard of Köstritzer Schwarzbier with the Sauerkraut platter at the Hackteufel restaurant in Heidelberg Germany.  The food was incredible – refer to picture for confirmation.  It was so incredible that I ate the entire plate in 30 seconds – well almost.  The beer however was a bit of a disappointment.  It looked dark-black and intense, smelled reasonably appealing, but was rather watery in taste and lacked any real character.  It was kind of bland.  I really wanted to love this beer, just look at it!, but it wasn’t very fun.

Later that night we went to the Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg for a nice German dinner.  Wow, what a beautiful and loud place.  The French enjoy their peace and quiet while dining, but the Germans love to talk loudly, sing, be merry!  I loved it.  I loved the food, having a beef roast steak thing and a whole chicken with an apple strudel to finish it off.  I honestly don’t remember the food too much because I got the bright idea to drink a lot of the house brew.  Did I mention that a tankard of the brew is 1 litre?  I had 4, maybe 5.  They have a bunch of different flavours that I couldn’t figure out what they where on the menu.  This was a local German restaurant that doesn’t see many outside visitors, so we had a fun time trying to communicate with our waitress.  I loved everyone of the beers, to my memory, but the wheat beer was the shining star.  I bought and brought home a bottle of the wheat beer that we will sample and review over some schnitzel soon enough.

Lastly, we went to the Biergarten in Rudesheim, a busy little tourist town in the heart of their wine country, and I had a schnitzel and a pint of Quetsch Kommod beer.  The beer was slightly watery in taste, although disguised as a rich wheat beer, had a nice citrus flavour with a nice sparkle/bubble to it.  A decent beer for drinking with lunch.  And although it was a filling meal, I had to stop and grab a German sausage with hot mustard and sauerkraut at a sausage stand.

Although the food in German was unbelievable in every way, the beer was rather boring.  This is probably to do with the fact that we just came from Belgium where the beer is as bold as the sun.  German beer, from the few that I tried, are great for drinking in large quantities. Now if I could have only found some nice Paulaner, I would have been in heaven.

The one beverage that I really did enjoy was the Federweissen in Rudesheim.  It is Germany’s fall seasonal unfiltered sweet wine treat, basically a freshly fermented wine that lasts only 7 days.  We wanted to bring a bottle of the stuff home, but we were unable to as it comes in uncorked and lightly foiled over tops since sealing it off would make the bottle explode due to fermentation.

Hurray for German food!

Köstritzer Schwarzbier

Kulturbrauerei Heidelberg Wheat Beer

Quetsch Kommod

Federweissen Rudesheim

Beer Experience in France

So I’d like to share some of my awesome beer/food experiences from my resent trip to Europe.  This edition covers the France portion of the trip.  While I enjoyed many-ah wine and cheese experiences, I still had some great brews.

First on the list was the Leffe 9.   I happened to walk in to the local supermarche in Paris and I was delighted to find some good beers on the beer shelf (mind you it was dwarfed in comparison to all of the wine racks – most wines ranging from $4-8 bucks).  The Leffe 9 was enjoyed after a long day at the Musee d’Orsay (impressionist art) with La Big Mac.  Did you know that you can buy beer at McDonalds?  Although you can’t substitute it in a combo for the same price, bummer.  The beer was surprisingly clean and not of the intense flavour of the Brun.  It was much stronger, being 9% alc., with a nice taste.  Admittedly I did not have the correct chalice or drank it at the right temperature.  But it was a nice treat to enjoy with Le Big Mac.  Also, you get ‘Pomme Frite’ sauce with your fries, which is like a spicy mayo.

The next beer was enjoyed in Lille, France @ Cafe Leffe.  Cafe Leffe!  Cafe Leffe!!  Do I need say more.  Why isn’t there one of these places in Ontario.  I enjoyed a nice Ruby Cafe Leffe, framboise flavour, typical Leffe body.  It was bittersweet and only enraged my appetite for some delicious food.

From Cafe Leffe! to a small quaint hole-in-the-wall restaurant in a dark alley.  With boar and beast heads on the wall, copper pots and pans hanging, wild and wonderful pictures and artwork of all different sizes, at a candle-lit table I enjoyed a St. Landelin.  Not knowing what this beer was I gladly received a golden abbey ale in a sniffer glass.  Caramel flavours with coriander and bitter orange ring to compliment a wonderful hearty gingerbread beef stew.  Must return here in the future to drink in more of the ambiance.

While discovering the northwest of Brittany France in the walled city of St. Malo I enjoyed an AMAZING cheese covered omelet toasted bread meat sandwich.  Refer to the picture for confirmation of amazing-ness.  You will see a tall Paulaner tankard, but it is filled with an English abbey ale that I do not remember well.  Must not have been very special, but I am told that a lot of English visitors come to St. Malo, due to its close proximity to England, to take advantage of France’s cheaper beer and liquor rates.  The French also complain about the English being very loud and annoying people when they drink.  I myself was too busy enjoying the amazing omelet sandwich miracle.

After a nice day at the Palace of Versailles, we went to the other palace across the street – El Rancho.  I enjoyed a long-awaited non-strictly-cheese-meal in a chili nachos platter.   This was especially delicious since they used Doritos for the nachos.  What a fantastic idea.  Accompanying this meal was a Desperados Cerveza, 5.9% tequilla flavour beer.  I actually really enjoyed this beer.  It was refreshing, light yet powerfully strong with a great flavour of bitterness of the tequilla.  With a lime it was more like a margarita beer.  Its too bad that The Beer Store stopped carrying this beer a while ago, as I would love to enjoy this beverage with summer BBQ.

Lastly, to say goodbye to Paris and Europe, I celebrated a wonderful trip with a Westvleteren 8 in its official hand-blown glass chalice.  Can I describe the moment?  No.  Was the beer good?  Your damn right it was.  Its too complex to describe, honestly.

Leffe 9

Leffe Ruby

St. Landelin

English abbey ale in Paulaner tankard


Westvleteren 8