Wednesday, November 26, 2014

beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio's on the coast with stephen quinn
(to listen, click here and fast-forward to 10 minutes from the end - 2:19):

Seasonal ales

We can’t deny it any longer, winter is here, and that means it’s time for drinking winter beers.  Winter ales in these parts have been very vanilla the past several years, and by vanilla I mean the spice not that they’re boring!  So let's talk about some imported winter ales that utilize different flavours to celebrate the season.

I brought in three Christmas ales from Belgium for us to taste.  These beers are imported by Bravo Beer Co.  You can find them via the Bravo BeerCo. website and at private liquor stores like Legacy, Firefly and Brewery Creek.

The first is a blonde beer - one of the only blonde ales brewed for Christmas - Bonsecours Blonde de Noel from Caulier Brewery is 10% and rated 100 out of 100 by Beer Advocate but only 50 out of 100 on RateBeer.  It comes in a 330ml swing-top bottle (like Grolsch and Howe Sound).

[We found this one to be very effervescent, mildly spicy, and an awful lot like a regular belgian blond ale - as in we weren't too sure why it was a Christmas brew.  We found it very deceptive and would have to be careful with it. Christmasy, clovey, nutmegy says Stephen.]

The second is an organic beer, Noel de Silenrieux from Brasserie de Silenrieux, a Belgian brown ale, which is 6% and spiced.  This one comes in a corked bomber.

[We found this one to taste very strongly of dark fruit and spices and burnt caramelly molasses flavour.  I found it boozier than it's 6% would tell, Stephen didn't.]

The third is a dry-hopped Belgian strong dark ale called Scaldis Noel from Dubuisson Brewery that was rated 99 out of 100 on Beer Advocate and 97 on Rate Beer and is 12%.  This one comes in a small 250ml capped bottle.

[We found this one to be quite the winter warmer!  Dark, rich, complex with notes of oaks and pepper.  This one bubbled over a lot when opened so I strongly suggest letting it rest a good while before opening.  In your mouth it feels like wine, like a sherry or port.]

There may be a subtle hint in there, but these three beers do not have the emphasis on vanilla that you find in many winter ales these days.  Vanilla isn’t a traditional winter ale flavouring.  Spicing beers is fairly traditional – before the wide usage of hops to bitter beer it used to be herbs and spices and tree bark that were used.  It was a natural progression from there to add some spices to a nice winter ale, akin to the traditional fruit cakes of the season.  But these spices tended to be nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice, sometimes going so far as to use clove, ginger, licorice, molasses or coriander.

There is also a story that one ancient festive celebration in Britain involved putting a piece of spiced loaf called Yule cake into the bottom of a bowl and filling the bowl with ale, and passing the bowl around for everyone to share.  Eventually brewers skipped the cake step and just put spices directly into the beer.

If you think back to years ago, winter ales didn’t have as much vanilla in them.  That’s a recent trend, but it seems to have caught on as vanilla-y winter ales are very easy to find here in the Lower Mainland.  For those who would like to try something else, there are many more traditional winter ales, and other experimental ales around, in a variety of flavours, from black forest cake to juniper to spruce tips. 

Winter beers tend to be richer, sweeter and darker roasted, sometimes spiced and often boozy!  Some brewers also change their recipes every year for their winter ale.  And because many of the winter ales are high alcohol, they’re a good choice for cellaring.  So if you find one you really like, an its 8% or above, buy a few extra bottles to sock away in a cool, dark place for a year or two.

Beer Picks:
Some home-grown winter ales that don’t depend on vanilla to flavour them:

Biere D’Hiver – Townsite Brewing Inc.
French-inspired Winter Ale reminiscent of Maple Syrup this beer took silver at the BC Beer Awards last month in the Strong beer category.  650 ml bottles, 7.5%.

Face Plant Organic Winter Ale – Nelson Brewing Co
Available in six-packs of cans, it has a brown sugar and molasses flavour - and it’s organic. 6.5%

Ice Breaker Winter Ale – Stanley Park Brewing
Available in six-packs of bottles, it has notes of chocolate and cherries, kind of like black forest cake.  5.5%

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