More reviews to come, as soon as I drink something noteworthy. For more in-depth beer musings, visit OnBeer.org.
Alley Kat Summer Squeeze Grapefruit Ale
Local beer heroes Alley Kat came up with a real show stopper this summer: a grapefruit beer. Fruity beer can be tricky – and those grotesque berry-flavoured coolers give fruity beer a bad name by association – but when it's done right, fruit beer can be terrific. Summer Squeeze gives off a gorgeous citrus scent, and the taste is clean, crisp and fruity with a grapefruit tang and bitterness. In a word: wow. The brew was certainly my "beer of the summer" in 2013, and it seems that a lot of people agree: Alley Kat has announced that they will make it available year round.
Phillips Blue Buck
The boys at Phillips really know what they're doing. This delicious amber ale has quickly become one of my favourites. Nice deep amber colour, fabulous malty taste with just a hint of hops in the taste and scent. Beer with a capital "B", man. I'm going to steal a marketing phrase from those chumps at Molson and award it to Phillips Blue Buck instead: this is what beer is all about.
Big Rock Rosmarinus Aromatic Ale
Big Rock calls this "comfort in a glass", which is a bit corny but pretty accurate. It's a pale, copper coloured ale with a nice malty taste and a hint of the herb it's named after. The Rosemary is pretty subtle – at least to my nose and taste buds – and this is a beer made for drinking with Sunday dinner roast beef.
Skinner's Heligan Honey
Skinner's is a brewery from Cornwall, England that has a very nice line of beers with kooky cartoon labels. Their Heligan Honey is very reminiscent of my favourite beer, Fuller's Honey Dew (see below). It's light and refreshing, with a sparkling sweetness and a bit of hops for balance. Their Cornish Knocker Golden Ale is also very good: a hoppier offering with a strong but fruity taste.
I have always liked white beers (or wit beers) but my critique is that a lot of them taste more or less the same. Bruton Bianca has a wonderful, subtle taste that gets nice and fruity right at the end with a crystal clean finish. Delightful.
Unibroue makes excellent craft beer with some flamboyant graphic design that adds to its appeal. Maudite's label features some voyageurs paddling their canoe through the setting sun while a grinning devil waits below. Don't know what this means, but Maudite (French for "damned") is just as bad ass as the label art. This deep amber ale gives off a heady fragrance of orange and coriander (like their excellent Blanche de Chambly white beer), and features a rich, dark, spicy flavour similar to Leffe but with a darker undertone. It has quickly become one of my favourites.
Dieu de Ciel Route Des Épices
C'est formidable! I refer to both the beer and my lovely wife who picked up a six-pack of this tasty brew during our last beer run. Quebec's Dieu de Ciel makes a really good looking set of beers (and their arty graphic design really matches what's in the bottle). This is a very nice rye beer flavoured with black pepper. It has a nice malty taste with a hint of caramel and a nice peppery bite in the aftertaste.
Wychwood makes a series of "ye olde English" beers with fairy tale names. Most of them are only on tap, but some of their bottled beer has made it to Alberta. Hobgoblin is a full-bodied, red beer with a subtle toffee aroma and a delicious dry malt flavour, finishing with a tasty bit of bitterness.
Fuller's Honey Dew
Fuller's Honey Dew is without a doubt my all-time favourite beer. This magnificent brew made me swoon with the first sip. It pours out a gorgeous golden colour and gives off a lovely clover scent, which is the first indication that this is no ordinary beer. Incredibly smooth and rich with a touch of honey sweetness that lingers for just a moment before a crystal clear finish. Amazing. This is a beer that makes you believe that there is a god and she wants us to be happy.
Alley Kat Pumpkin Pie Ale
Alley Kat's Pumpkin Pie ale is a fantastic brew that only comes once a year, making it something to look forward to and something to savour. Spicy in aroma and flavour, with hints of nutmeg, ginger and cinammon, this delicious brown ale is wonderful. The perfect beer to sip on a chilly October evening. Now available as a limited edition seasonal brew in big bottles.
St. Ambroise Citrouille
It's the great pumpkin, Charlie Brown! Alley Kat Pumpkin Pie Ale has a serious competitor! I love pumpkin beer in the autumn, and St. Ambroise's delicious Citrouille just might be tastier than Alley Kat's much-revered brew. Hands down, Alley Kat's Pumpkin Pie Ale has the best aroma I've ever encountered in a beer: rich, dark, spicy, sweet, inviting. While St. Ambroise's Citrouille doesn't have such a strong scent, it's dark, rich, spicy taste full of cloves and caramel is quite magnificent.
Tree Brewing Jumpin' Jack Pumpkin Ale
The autumn of 2011 was a dark and dreary one for me when I learned that Alley Kat wouldn't be brewing their Pumpkin Pie Ale. Oh, the anguish! I went on a desperate quest to find another pumpkin beer. I discovered Tree Brewing's Jumpin' Jack Pumpkin ale, which is really good. A rich, spicy and very tasty strong ale.
I've always liked Leffe. When I first started realizing that beer went beyond boring lagers, Leffe was quite the revelation: heavy, sweet, and chewy. (And when I say "sweet" I mean a hint of sweetness, not like maple syrup.) Although I've tried other sweet/caramel beers, Leffe is clearly the queen of this variety. In a word: sophisticated.
St. Ambroise Oatmeal Stout
I'm not a huge fan of stouts, but I certainly relish them now and then. This black ale is one is my favourites, and if you check out the beer nerd websites, most people agree. This is an award winning beer with a dark and earthy malt taste and strong flavours of coffee and chocolate before a mildly bitter finish. Black velvet.
While the novelty Crabbie's Ginger Beer tastes like ginger beer, Phillips Ginger beer tastes like beer with ginger; I much prefer the latter. It pours a very nice gold colour with a slight floral scent. An excellent mix of hops bitterness and a tasty ginger bite. (I would recommend gently tilting the bottle a couple of times before pouring to distribute the ginger settled at the bottom.) My only critique is that you don't get a nice, clean finish – the ginger tingle lingers on your tongue. However, it's not unpleasant and makes you want the next sip.
Alley Kat Aprikat
Hometown beer heroes Alley Kat have been a mainstay in Edmonton's microbrew scene for many years – in fact, they were Edmonton's first microbrewery. Besides their year-round brews, Alley Kat also make some really nice limited edition beers throughout the year. Aprikat is their wheat beer, with a delicious and crisp fruity taste. Their Blueberry Ale is not bad, but it doesn't compare to Pumphouse's.
Alley Kat Amber
A great brown ale with a very nice malty taste and some hints of caramel and hops. This is certainly my trusted favourite when I want a nice, dependable beer in the fridge.
Pumphouse Blueberry Ale
Although some manly men will scoff at fruity beer or describe it as cloying, Pumphouse Blueberry is wonderful. Summer is not complete without at least one six-pack of Pumphouse Blueberry in the fridge. It's a very nice blonde ale with a terrific blueberry flavour that never gets too sweet. Perfect for your next barbecue.
Hitachino Red Rice Ale
When I think about Asian beers, the blandness of Asahi and Tsingtao come to mind – okay when you're at a Japanese restaurant and enjoying some sashimi, but certainly not something you would seek out at the liquor store. So I was pleasantly surprised when Hitachino's excellent beers started appearing on the shelves. Their Red Rice Ale has a robust, complex flavour with hints of malt, nuts, and yes, rice. Their White Ale is very nice, too.
Celt Bronze Ale
After brown ales, reds are my favourite and this one is really nice. Pours with a wonderful bronze colour and a slightly floral aroma. It has a rich, robust taste that is pleasantly malty and offers a bit of caramel sweetness at the finish.
Big Rock McNally's Extra
After Sleeman's Honey Brown, Big Rock Traditional Ale was the first beer I really embraced. Although I don't drink a lot of Big Rock beer these days in favour of more esoteric choices, almost all of their brews are very good (their Lime Lager stands out as the lame duck). McNally's is a strong red ale with a dark, caramel flavour and some fruity undertones.
Blue Mountain Rockfish Wheat
Blue Mountain Brewery is located in Afton, Virginia and offers a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains when you sit on their patio and sample some of their tasty brews. Their list of beers is impressive and ever-changing. I brought home a six pack of their summer beer, Rockfish Wheat. I've always liked wheat beers, and this one is especially impressive, with a great, crisp taste.
Grizzly Paw Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat
There are many good reasons to go to Canmore, and one of them is the variety of beer offered by the folksy Grizzly Paw Brewing Company. I'm not crazy about all of their beers, but their Grumpy Bear Honey Wheat and Rutting Elk Red are very good.
Amber Australian Pepperberry
Amber is another mainstay in Edmonton's microbrewery scene, although I'm not a huge fan of their beers. Australian Pepperberry is a crisp, clean lager flavoured with sundried blueberries; while the berry taste is very subtle, the hint of pepper is more pronounced. Very nice. Although it might sound like heresy, I think that Amber's cooler, Grog, is really their best offering. Of course, 99% of coolers are sickening: a drink for teenage girls who might as well melt a popsicle in some vodka. However, Grog is quite delightful, with a refreshing lime flavour and hardly any alcohol taste, which makes it a bit dangerous to drink!
Cannery Naramata Nut Brown Ale
Another great brown ale that I often pick when I can't make a decision or just want to enjoy an old favourite. Nice dark colour with a slight toffee scent. It has a rich taste that includes molasses, chocolate and roasted nuts. Goes well with a burger or maybe a roast beef Sunday dinner.
Nelson After Dark
Dark ales have always been my favourite type of beer. Nelson After Dark is one of the best I've had, with a rich, dark, chocolate flavour that doesn't clobber you (that's what stouts are for) and a very smooth finish.
Mill Street Belgian Wit
Mill Street's other beers don't impress me that much; their Tankhouse Ale is quite good, but has too much of a bitter finish for my liking. However, their Belgian Wit is very nice – crisp, light, with a fruity coriander aroma and a zesty, orange peel taste.
Woldtop Angler's Reward
A very nice golden ale from our friends in Yorkshire. This seasonal brew has a nice subtle aroma, a slightly fruity taste, and just the right amount of hops bitterness to linger in your mouth before a clean finish. Woldtop has a good looking line up of beers that I'll definitely check out if they make their way to Alberta beer coolers.
Orkney Dark Island
The nice label art on the bottle caught my eye, and luckily the beer inside was excellent. Looks like a porter and pours dark as night, but instead of a big porter taste, Dark Island is wonderfully subtle. A slight whiff of chocolate and toffee in the scent, a similar velvety smooth taste and a delightful linger of coffee in the aftertaste. Think of it as the tasty shadow of a more robust stout.
Wells Banana Bread
There are a few weirdo beers out there that some would avoid, but I'm always game to try them. Why limit yourself in the wonderful world of beer? Pours a very nice gold colour with an obvious sweet aroma. You guessed it: this beer tastes like banana bread, but it's not overpowering. I also detect a slight citrus tang and a hint of hops before a nice finish.
Shepherd Neame Spitfire Premium Kentish Ale
Being a WW2 nerd, the name of this beer caught my attention. Spitfire pours a nice amber colour with a malt aroma along with a bit of orange. It has a very nice malty taste and a tiny bit of hops and spice. A very classy beer. Check out their funny commercials on YouTube.