Muskoka Brewery – Mad Tom IPA

Hello! It’s been quite a while since I’ve made time to write a new entry here, but as usual there has been no shortage of new beers that I’ve enjoyed in that time. I was finally inspired enough to sit down for a moment to write down my thoughts on Muskoka Mad Tom IPA. The inspiration comes from the fact that Muskoka Mad Tom is the very first (to my knowledge) proper American West Coast IPA to be brewed, AND bottled, AND sold as a regular offering at The Beer Store and LCBO by a local Ontario brewery. Quite simply, the only¬†regularly¬†available homegrown American IPA in Ontario. And it is probably my favorite beer style overallūüôā

There have been many one-off kegs and casks, and sometimes bottles of American IPAs and the like available around Toronto for some time now (good ones too), but no brewery (except for Flying Monkeys, more on that later), for the lack of a better term, has had the balls to add it to their regular lineup of beers. Muskoka to the rescue.

NOTE: Flying Monkeys brewery is currently in the process of releasing their version of an American IPA called Smashbomb Atomic IPA. It has been delayed due to Social¬†Responsibility¬†rejecting the name and artwork. Read more here:¬†¬†and here:¬†¬†and everywhere else. The good news is that it’s coming, eventually.

I have previously written about American IPAs when I reviewed Double Simcoe IPA over here:¬†¬†so I won’t go into great detail here about what the style consists of. I’ll just say that it’s a hop forward beer that focuses on showcasing american hop¬†varieties, but also contains a solid malt backbone.

Muskoka Mad Tom IPA

Mad Tom IPA pours a clear light copper with a decent couple inches of head. The head eventually recedes¬†to a thin film that laces very well. Mad Tom is dry-hopped with Chinook and Centennial hops and the proof is in the aroma. The aroma is very fresh and packed with citrus, pine and some sweet malts. It isn’t quite as potent as some of it’s American counterparts that I’ve tried, but it’s still excellent and very inviting.

After enjoying the aroma, but noticing it was possibly a little on the¬†subtler¬†side of the style, I assumed the¬†flavor¬†might be similar. Wrong. The flavor is where this beer really shines. This is seriously a proper American IPA. The flavor is a fantastic punch of grapefruit and pine, with a solid malt backbone and nice lingering bitterness. Awesome. I’m going to be buying a lot more of this for the foreseeable future.

The carbonation is solid and just right for me, and the mouthfeel has a nice silky, hop resiny feel. Also awesome.

Needless to say I’m a very big fan of Muskoka Mad Tom IPA. I’m still going to buy my share of Southern Tier IPA while supplies last at the LCBO, as it’s the best American IPA available in Ontario currently. But I’m also going to keep the fridge stocked with Mad Tom IPA, as I really want to support Ontario breweries that are branching out and brewing this style, and to show them that there is a market for this style of beer here. I really think it’s just a matter of time until American IPAs are a much more popular style here in Ontario.

Well done Muskoka! I’m going to make a point of visiting the brewery this summer on the way to the cottage. Muskoka is quickly becoming my favorite Ontario brewery. Adding Mad Tom to the new special releases (Summer Weiss and Harvest Ale) and the already solid Lager and Cream Ale…. great stuff. Thanks!

Score: A-

Mad Tom is currently available at select Beer Store and LCBO locations. Get out there and give it a shot!

– Jesse The Belly

Posted in Beer Tasting, IPA | 6 Comments

Schneider & Sohn – Aventinus

If there is one beer category that is well represented at the LCBO, besides European lagers, it is wheat beers. There are a wide variety of wheat beer styles available year round as well as during special releases. Wheat beers come under a number of different monikers, depending on the style of wheat beer, or what country it was brewed in. Some common names: wit, white, wheat, weiss, weizen, hefeweizen, weizenbock, dunkel weizen, berliner weisse, lambic, etc.

Wit or Witbier is Belgian/Dutch, White and Wheat are often North American versions but not always. Weiss or Weissbier is German, as is Hefewiess, Hefeweizen, Weizenbock and Berliner Weisse. Lambic is Belgian. If you see any of these names on your beer, you can be sure that it’s made with wheat. Typically a wheat beer is made with approximately 50% wheat malt and 50% barley malt, but there are variations. German law requires that wheat beers use at least 50% wheat, but often they use more. If you’re not drinking a Kristallweizen (a filtered wheat beer), then your beer will almost certainly be very cloudy due to the suspended yeast.

Aventinus is a Weizenbock of 8.2% abv. Weizenbock simply means a wiessbeir that contains the strength of a bockbier, bockbiers having higher abvs than typical weissbiers.

Schneider & Sohn – Aventinus

It pours a very hazy dark brown, with a nice creamy head that wanes to a 1″ ring after a minute or so. The head produces a little lacing, but not much.

The first whiff is all banana. I love it. After a minute you notice the spicy yeast, and a little clove, as well as some sweet malts.

The taste is even better, with banana leading the way upfront, with a really solid malt profile in the middle with a fruity, slightly roasted character, and finishing spicy (pepper and clove). During fermentation yeast produce phenols and esters (among other things), and the hefe yeasts signature phenol has often been described as clove-like and its primary ester is mostly described as banana, bubblegum, and sometimes vanilla. The hops and alcohol help balance this beer such that the sweetness isn’t cloying at all. This is dangerously drinkable for being 8.2% abv. You could get into some serious trouble with this one.

The mouthfeel is spritzy and pretty full. Great.

I love wheat beers of all styles, and second ONLY to some lambics I’ve had, this is simply the best wheat beer I’ve ever had. One of my favorite beers of all time, and very happy to have it available at the LCBO and such a good price. Other beer geeks tend to agree with me on this one:

Score: A+

On a related note, I might be trying my hand at brewing a very basic hefeweizen at home this weekend. Perfect drink for the spring. First homebrew post forthcoming? Maybe.

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Alexander Keith’s – Tartan Ale

A few weeks ago a PR company sent me a bottle of the newest offering from Alexander Keith’s, called Tartan Ale. I guess writing a beer blog has it’s perks, ha ha.

I drink a lot of new beers that I don’t write reviews for, but I feel like I owe at least a quick thought to this one since they were nice enough to send it to me for free to check it out.

Alexander Keith’s – Tartan Ale

Let me start by saying that I don’t drink much macrobrewed beer anymore, but I’ve had my fair share. I’d love to know how many bottles of Lucky Lager and Bud I went through during university (I’ll tell you how much, 50 pounds of extra weight much). It’s hard to imagine drinking that stuff on a regular basis now, knowing that there are such better microbrewed beers out there. That being said, I was mildly interested in seeing what Tartan Ale was all about, knowing that it is a Scottish ale, and a style that I’ve yet to see another macrobrewery attempt.

Scottish ales are maltier due to a longer boil, which is used to caramelize the malt leaving it in a state where it cannot be fermented by the yeast. This technique leaves a residual malt sweetness in the beer, and produces a malty aroma.

The Tartan Ale is 6.1% abv and pours a copper color with a relatively thin head that fades to a film quickly and doesn’t leave any lacing. The aroma is faint but it is of caramel, and there is a little bit of smokiness to it. Nothing great but not too bad actually. The flavor is similar to the aroma, with smoke and a decent malt backbone. The mouthfeel is medium, with medium carbonation. The extra sugars are held in check by the hops, but they do not impart much of any flavor.

Overall I must say that this isn’t a terrible effort by Keith’s. No question that it is a more flavorful beer than their IPA, and in a different league than their White beer. I wouldn’t buy it, but if faced with a choice between it and any other macro beer out there, this might win. It is nice to see a big brewery attempt to do something “craft-like”, though.

Score: C+

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Gouden Carolus – Hopsinjoor

Gouden¬†Carolus Hopsinjoor is a Belgian IPA. With an “IPA” you know there will be a¬†strong hop presence. And being a Belgian ale, you know there will be a strong¬†yeast character. Belgian IPA is a relatively new style of beer, and one that I am¬†quite unfamiliar with. In general, Belgian beer drinkers do not drink Belgian IPAs¬†as they find them too hoppy. Belgian beers are known for their strong alcohol and¬†spicy yeast character, as opposed to the hops. But recently more and more¬†Belgian brewers are creating IPAs for the American market. There are many American¬†craft breweries that brew this style as well, but American brewers use American¬†hops that are very different from European hop¬†varieties. Hopsinjoor is brewed in¬†Belgium, and is available in the Spring Release at the LCBO.

Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor

Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor is a bright cloudy orange and pours with a ridiculously huge pillowy white head. It slowly settles to one finger leaving chunks of lace behind on the glass.
As with most Belgian ales, Hopsinjoor is bottle-conditioned (refermented in the¬†bottle). This simply means that extra sugar and yeast were added at the time of¬†bottling such that the beer will undergo a second fermentation in the bottle,¬†which will carbonate the beer. This will result in sediment in your beer, but it’s¬†just dormant yeast. There is nothing wrong with it, and I usually swirl the bottle¬†near the end of pouring to incorporate that yeast back into the beer, and pour it¬†into my glass. Mmmm. Hopsinjoor has some other “floaties” as well, which I’m¬†pretty sure are hop particles, also harmless (and tasty!).

The aroma reminds me of a cross between a Belgian Triple and a Belgian Golden Strong Ale. There is a lot of yeast spiciness that has some cloves in it, as well as some fruity-ness, maybe lemon. But where Hopsinjour differs from these styles is in the amount of hops that are used. The aroma gives way to some earthy spiciness no doubt a result of the 4 different nobel hop varieties that are used. Goldings, Spalt, Saaz and Hallertau. Under all of this is some nice grassy pale malt as well.

Again, the flavor reminds me of a Golden Strong ale, but just upfront. Nice spicy¬†yeast phenols and a sweet pale malt, but this is quickly taken over with a load of¬†nobel hop flavor and bitterness, straight through to the aftertaste. The hops¬†taste earthy and grassy, and (I have heard of this but never really noticed until now…)¬†soapy. Sounds terrible, but it’s really nice actually. The finish is super dry and¬†you are left with a nice bitterness and hop flavor until the next sip.¬†The carbonation level is medium-high and the mouthfeel is pretty full. There is so¬†much going on that I don’t noticed the 8% abv whatsoever.

There is no question¬†that this is a well made beer, but at first I didn’t know how I felt about the¬†style in general, and on top of that I’m more of a fan of American hops than¬†European. But after a few sips I’ve decided that this really, really works and is¬†one of the better new beers I’ve tried lately. Sometimes Belgian beers can¬†overpower you with their sweetness, but the hops in this one really mitigate that¬†sweetness and as a result it offers greater drinkability, at least for me. I’m¬†guessing that this beer would turn off a lot of people, as it’s a bit challenging¬†at the beginning. It really is worth a shot though. Grab one at the LCBO while¬†supplies last! This is a special Spring Release and it could be years before it¬†comes back, if ever!

Score: B+

– Jesse

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Fuller’s – ESB Champion Ale

Keeping with the theme of widely available beers, last night I grabbed another
beer available at the LCBO, and a beer that everyone should keep handy in their
beer fridge: Fuller’s ESB.

Fuller’s brewery was founded in 1845 in Chiswick, West London, UK. They brew other
popular English ales such as London Pride and London Porter. London Pride and¬†London Porter are also available at the LCBO in tall cans, and should also be¬†staples in your fridge. I usually gravitate more towards American or Belgian¬†beers, but these English ales by Fuller’s are some of my all-time favorites for¬†tasty, easy drinking – at a very reasonable cost.

Fuller’s ESB

Fuller’s ESB is an English Bitter of the “Special” or “Strong” variety, meaning¬†that is has a slightly more pronounced malt and hop presence than an “ordinary¬†bitter”, and significantly more than a “mild”. It also has a slightly above¬†average abv, at 5.9%. The key to a good ESB is balance between the additional¬†malts and hops. Fuller’s ESB is an excellent example of that balance I speak of.

Fuller’s ESB pours with a one finger frothy head that recedes to a thin film.¬†There isn’t much lacing at all. The color is a crystal clear amber/orange, exactly¬†what I would expect from an english bitter, maybe a bit darker.¬†The aroma is nice but subtle. It smells of bready malts, sweet caramel and earthy¬†nobel hops. The taste is also pretty subdued compared to a lot of the high-octane¬†beers I drink. That isn’t to say it isn’t packed with great flavor though. The¬†taste is very balanced between sweet caramel, toasty/bready malts and subtle¬†spiciness and bitterness from the hops. I don’t get any diacetyl (buttery taste)¬†that is sometimes found in English beers, which is nice because I don’t love it.¬†This isn’t an overpowering beer in any way, super easy to drink and delicious.

The carbonation level is very low, typical of English ales and a way of mimicking¬†the mouthfeel of a cask conditioned ale. Cask conditioned ale (also called “Real¬†Ale”) are beers that have not been filtered and pasteurized and are served¬†directly from a cask (a container like a keg, usually smaller). These beers¬†haven’t been filtered so the yeast continues to be active and the beer continues¬†to develop over the time it takes for it to be fully served. Cask ale is most¬†often served at room temperature or slighty chilled. I have on occasion seen¬†London Pride available in cask format in the GTA, and I suggest you give it a try¬†if you ever see it. If nothing else you can experience how beer was originally¬†served!

The body is moderate and slightly chewy, and very smooth. The aftertaste is subtle and balanced. I could drink a lot of these! This ESB scores an A.

We’re lucky to have the ESB, London Pride and London Porter available to us in tall cans at the LCBO. Definitely worth a shot if you’ve never tried them, or worth keeping on hand for when you’re in the mood.

– Jesse

Posted in Beer Tasting, English | 1 Comment

McAuslan – St-Ambroise Vintage Ale 2010

It has recently come to my attention that all of the beers that I have reviewed on the blog so far are not available at the LCBO! With that in mind I picked something from the fridge tonight that looked interesting, but is available in Ontario… but only for a limited time, once a year.

McAuslan – St-Ambroise Vintage Ale 2010

Once a year McAuslan brewery in Quebec brews an English barleywine (still a beer though!) and it is always available at the LCBO in limited quantities. It comes packaged in a nice cardboard tube that makes it standout on the shelf at the store. Barleywines can be cellared for a number of years and will improve with age. This is why it is named “Vintage Ale” and has been vintage dated like a wine would be. I don’t have the patience for cellaring for long periods, so this beer is less than a year old. Here we go…

The Vintage Ale 2010 pours a deep orange with a huge, dense and creamy four finger head. It leaves spotty lace and settles to a thin film and lasts until the last drop. The aroma is seriously potent and is dominated by rich fruity malts and a firm boozy-ness. It is 10% abv afterall. The aroma also leads to some caramel sweetness and a little bit of butterscotch. There is also a nice spicy earthiness as a result of the Goldings hops. A pretty complex aroma for sure.

The taste is just more of the same. Lots of dark fruit, caramel, butterscotch and alcohol. It is pretty sweet upfront but the Goldings balance it out nicely in the finish. There is a nice long lasting aftertaste of caramel and earthy hops.¬†The body is pretty full and chewy with a medium level of carbonation. The alcohol is¬†definitely¬†noticeable but isn’t hot. With a few years of age the alcohol would likely integrate further and offer a smoother experience, but at nearly a year old is it considered young but absolutely still enjoyable.

This is a really nice beer and I’m giving it a B+. When it’s available at the LCBO grab a few bottles and see how it changes over the course of a few years, if you have the patience and will power… I don’t!

Jesse The Belly

Posted in Barleywine | 2 Comments

Trois Pistoles – Unibroue

Well, I wasn’t planning on doing another post this week… but the Leafs lost with seconds left in overtime and I needed a pick-me-up. A strong one.

Inspired by my sister-in-laws recent trip to Quebec, I pulled a beer from the fridge brewed in Chambly, Quebec. The beer is Trois Pistoles, a Belgian Strong Dark Ale brewed by Unibroue. Unibroue brews a number of popular beers available in Ontario but is probably best known by the masses for Blanche de Chambly, a delicious and refreshingly spicy Belgian wit (wheat) beer – perfect for the summer months. It’s -13 outside right now, so it seemed more fitting to grab a dark, warming beer tonight.

Trois Pistoles pours a very dark brown, with purples edges when held to the light. An aggressive pour results in a big, fluffy off-white head that settles quickly to a 1/4″ ring that leaves decent lace, and lasts until I’m done.

The aroma is pretty strong if not super complex. It is full of dark roasty malts and dark fruits; plums, berries, figs and dates. The trademark Unibroue yeast is very evident with its nice spiciness.

The taste is dominated by the sweet dark malts and yeast. I don’t detect hops at all here. It has a medium body and a medium level of carbonation. It is very smooth going down. There is a sweet aftertaste that lingers for a very long time.

The drinkability of Trois Pistoles suffers due to the sweetness and the 9% abv. I’m done after one, for sure. This doesn’t take away from the beer at all though… it’s amazing as a night cap or an after dinner drink. Awesome stuff.

This beer is difficult but not impossible to find in Ontario. The LCBO doesn’t carry it (it does carry Blanche de Chambly, Maudite and La Fin Du Monde) but select Beer Stores DO carry it. I have no idea which Beer Stores carry it, but I was lucky enough to have a friend at work pick me up some.

This weekend go to the Beer Store and ask for it. While you’re at it get the others I mentioned above as well, you won’t be sorry. Unibroue brews some of the best beers for their style in the entire world, and the prices are fantastic compared to other offerings by other breweries attempting the same styles.

I’m giving this a solid A.


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