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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Canada Strikes Back!

With the recent Sapporo buy-out of Sleeman, there's been lots of hand-wringing about Canada's three largest breweries being owned by foreigners. So it was nice to see the news today that some of my countrymen are doing some deals in the other direction:

Montreal's ICBS Ltd. said Wednesday it is buying New York`s Lake Placid Craft Brewing Co.

The 10-year-old Lake Placid Craft Brewing Co. has created a market demand for their Craft beers, such as UBU and Frostbite ales, ICBS said in a statement.

The story also notes the ICBS also owns Ramapo Valley Brewery of Hillburn, NY, and Alan posts at A Good Beer Blog to let us know that they recently bought Maska Laboratories, a Quebec-based lab that does work for the beer, wine & food industries. Could be some interesting things afoot...

Saturday, August 26, 2006

An Award For Beau's Lug-Tread (Sort Of...)

Last weekend I headed on down to beerbistro for the 4th annual Golden Tap Awards, a beer awards event arranged and presented by Cass Enright of The Bar Towel. Unlike other Canadian and Ontario beer awards, the GTAs are chosen via online voting by beer drinkers, not industry insiders or "expert" tasting panels, and there are no outside sponsors, so there are no token awards like "Best Selling Beer: Coors Light". As a result, they've quickly gained the respect of breweries and bar owners from across Toronto (where the awards were focused for the first three years) and Ontario (where they expanded this year).

Adding to the democratic nature of the awards is the Best Of The Fest prize, which is awarded based on votes cast for the beers that are being served on tap and in bottles during the event. This year's nod went to Lug-Tread Lagered Ale, a Kölsch style beer from Beau's All Natural Brewing, a new brewery up near Ottawa.

Well - more accurately, it went to an odd variation on Lug-Tread that Beau's Steve Beauchesne has dubbed the world's first "Kölsch-Bock". The birth of this mutant hybrid is described in a blog post about what happened when they kegged their first commercial batch:

Our Lug Tread is a tribute to the very subtle Kölsch style from Cologne, Germany. This batch, while very tasty, was anything but subtle. Assertive bitterness and mouth-filling maltiness were the dominant traits, with a notable alcohol flavour. In fact, it tasted more like a Bock or a Bière de Garde than a Kölsch.

While we stood there perplexed, back at the brewery Matt was discovering the secret of what we would later christen our Kölsch-Bock. Our double-jacketed unitank, with icy kosher propylene glycol coursing through its veins, apparently worked a little too well. A 150 litre "iceberg" had formed, effectively concentrating the remaining wort and giving the yeast little opportunity to settle.

As this discovery was made during weekend of their official launch in Ottawa, with kegs ready to tap and media ready to hype them up, they felt that they had no choice but to release the beer under the Lug-Tread name, and hoped that they could spread the word about the beer-sicle accident so people would understand why the beer was the way it was. And according to a later blog post from Steve:

[I]t looks like our initial gamble to release the high-octane version of Lug Tread was the right decision. It seems that most people get the fact that we’re new and that one batch is going to taste different from the next for the first few rounds through (insert huge sigh of relief, wipe sweat from brow).

Of course, it hasn't been completely smooth sailing. Response from the folks on RateBeer has been far from kind, although some of that can be chalked up to the fact that style sticklers may take some objection to this very non-Kölsch-like beer, even after the reasons are explained by the brewer.

I've also seen comments that since the beer didn't come out as expected due to a mechanical malfunction, Beau's should have chucked the batch and started over, even though they thought the resulting product was quite tasty, and pitching it would have caused the last-minute cancellation of a long-planned Canada Day launch event.

Or maybe some people simply don't like the beer.

Whatever the case - even though they were generally happy with the reception their Kölsch-Bock garnered in Ottawa, Steve and co. still took these criticisms to heart, especially when they were planning what to bring to the GTAs:

Instead of bringing a keg from batch 2 – still not exactly where we want the final product to rest, but a much smoother beer, definitely moving in the right direction - I had an idea which I ran by Matt (our brewer): “What if we brought the bathtub beer?” This was a nickname we had given the last remaining keg of our Kölsch Bock.

You see, en route to deliver the keg to Pub Italia, we found out they were not able to put us on tap right away and asked if we could deliver it the following week. What to do with the keg??? We had a walk-in cooler that was not operational yet, and, desperate to save the beer, we put it in Jamie’s bathtub, filled the tub with ice, and hoped it would survive.

Knowing that the Golden Tap crowd would a) recognize good beer and b) be interested in something different and new I thought to myself, what a great way to use up the rest of this keg. A week before the event Matt and I tapped the keg to give it a test. I was convinced that the beer was fabulous, but Matt was worried. Would these aficionados forgive the beer for not being what it had originally intended to be and judge it simply on what it was? Or would they write it off as a pitiful attempt at a very specific beer style? Matt reminded me that the brewery’s fortunes aside, his reputation as a brewer was at stake, something I had not considered up to that point.

After sampling the beer with a few more friends and fellow brewers, they went with their guts and stuck with the Kölsch-Bock. Based on the audience response, it looks like this was another gamble which paid off big.

Oh, I guess I should mention what I thought of the beer. First of all, it probably goes without saying that it doesn't resemble a Kölsch in the least, aside from the bright golden hue. And given its high octane alcohol level, it definately has some boozy notes in the nose and flavour. But it also has a very nice sweet, fruit and slightly floral character that I quite enjoyed. It actually reminded me somewhat of King PilsBock, a similar - but intentional - hybrid that came out from King Brewery back in the spring. It wasn't my favourite beer of the fest - that honour goes to the fantastic Ste. Andre Great Eastern IPA - but it's an interesting, flavourful and enjoyable beer, style be damned. And isn't that the most important thing?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Best. Tasting. Ever.

My usual crew came by this week for a tasting, and Jeff brought along a disc of photos from our Michigan trip and our last couple of tastings - including a monumetal one from earlier this summer:

From left to right, the beers (and their current rating on RateBeer) are:

Panil Barriquée (Sour)
- #67
Three Floyds Dreadnaught Imperial IPA - #9
AleSmith YuleSmith India Pale Ale - #20
AleSmith J.P. Grays Wee Heavy Scotch Ale - #64
AleSmith Speedway Stout - #5
Dieu du Ciel Péché Mortel - #30
Stone Imperial Russian Stout - #14
Stone 06.06.06 Vertical Epic Ale - the only one not in the Top 100
Bells Expedition Stout - #7
Dogfish Head World Wide Stout - #15
Founders Breakfast Stout - #31
Avery Mephistopheles Stout - #55
Victory Storm King Imperial Stout - #39
Abbaye des Rocs Grand Cru - #49

Like the subject line says: Best. Tasting. Ever.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Michigan Festival & Road-Trip Report: Part Three

Yes, here it is, the long-awaited third part in my bloated Michigan Road-Trip Trilogy. If you haven't done so already, you might want to read Parts One and Two first.

Saturday was the main event - the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival. The festival actually started the night before with an evening session that we decided to skip in favour of checking out the scene in Ann Arbor, although as the previous instalment in this series showed, we'd probably been better off going to the fest. But no matter, we had a good day ahead of us.

Now, I can hardly call myself a beer festival expert. I go to Toronto's Festival of Beer every year, and have been to other smaller fests and events here in town, but my only out-town-festival experiences have been Montreal's Mondial de la Biere a few years ago, and the Michigan fest in 2003 and this year. But I think I can safely say that the folks in MI put on one of the best beer events in North America. First of all, it's held in the absolutely gorgeous Riverside Park - which is, fittingly enough, a big park beside a river - located in the picturesque town of Ypsilanti. And more importantly, it features astoundingly good beer from a range of breweries and brewpubs that is just mind-boggling, especially for those of us who live in a province where antiquated liquor laws and government red tape have led to a somewhat stunted - but thankfully improving - craft beer culture.

Soon after arriving with my crew (Jeff, Paul, Jeremy & Harry), we met up with fellow Canucks Mike & Derek, and a few American pals who we knew from RateBeer - they have real names, but we know them best as 11026, Styles and BBB63. We were soon joined by Quebec RateBeerian beerbuzzmontreal and his pal, and then the drinking began.

As much as I would have loved to try every beer available at the fest, the fact that there were something like 200 of them made it a little difficult. But by sharing some samples, I was able to get at least a taste of about 3 dozen or so, and some of my favourites included:

Livery Cask Aged Belgian Cherry Wheat
This Flemish Sour from The Livery brewpub of Benton Harbor was my first beer of the day, and it was so good I was worried that the day might go downhill from there. It featured a strong, inviting aroma of sour cherry and oaked whiskey, and a very nice flavour with tart cherry and wood notes. It was also dangerously smooth for such a strong beer (8.5%) - a theme that continued for much of the day.

Founders Blushing Monk Belgian Razz
Another wickedly strong fruit beer (10.3%), this one from the always reliable Founders Brewing of Grand Rapids. It poured a dark ruby-pink with a tiny white head, and had lots of fresh, tart raspberry in the aroma with some mild funkiness in the background. Sharp raspberry flavour, with enough tartness to keep it in line - some of the others at the table found it cloying, but I really dug it.

Bonfire Kristallweizen
This lovely beer from Northville's Bonfire Bistro and Brewery was my first ever Kristallweizen, and I'm glad to have tried a fresh, locally brewed sample rather than a potentially stale bottle from Germany. It had a golden yellow colour with a very faint haze. Nice weisse aroma, a bit yeasty and tart with mellow banana notes. Very clean flavour with a bit of spiciness and wheat, and mild banana to finish. Excellent!

Fort Street Farmers Tan
I was going to call Lincoln Park's Fort Street Brewery the dark horse of the festival, but since Dark Horse Brewing was there, that might get confusing. So I'll just say that they surprised all of us with the quality of their beers, especially since we'd never heard of them before the festival, as this Brown Ale was the highlight of their beers that we tried. It was dark brown with a nice creamy tan head, and looked really nice for a festival sample. The aroma was roasty and a bit smoky, almost like a porter. It had a soft mouthfeel, and a mellow flavour of roasted malt with notes of yeast and cocoa.

Bo's Solar Eclipse Imperial Stout
The folks from Bo's Brewery and Bistro claim that this beer is 22.5%. All who tried it at our table were skeptical of this claim, but if it's true, then they've discovered the secret to hiding the alcohol burn 'cause godDAMN this beer was smooth! It poured pitch black, of course, sitting in the glass like motor oil, and smelling sweet and smoky with notes of coffee with cream, molasses, vanilla - yum! The flavour was absolutely fantastic - roasted coffee & nuts, bourbon, wood, sweet malt - just completely luscious stuff.

Grand Rapids Bourbon Barrel Scotch Ale
Schmohz Kiss My Scottish Arse Scotch Ale
Livery Cask-Aged Kilt Tilter
If it's nae Scottish, it's CRAP!

Towards the end of the day, a few guys from Beer Advocate stopped by our table, and while we briefly considered starting a beer-rating-site rumble, we instead decided to enjoy our last beers together and have a few laughs. I was especially glad to meet up with Jonathan Surratt, the guy behind the absolutely indespensible RSBS, an aggregator of RSS feeds from around 100 (and growing) beer blogs and news sites. I gave him mad props, and promised a pint or two if he ever makes it up north for a visit.

Sadly, the festival came to an end at 6 PM, and tentative plans to do something or other with our American pals were scuttled when they found their car had been towed. We briefly considered another attempt to hit some of the Ann Arbor hot spots, but remembering the near disaster of the night before, decided it might be best to stay at the hotel for the evening. After all, with the goodies we'd purchased the day before at Bello Vino, it wasn't like we were wanting for beer.

I don't think I mentioned previously that we were staying at the Best Western Executive Plaza, a bizarre hotel/motel hybrid that seemed to be stuck in some sort of time warp, particularly when it came to Bedrock's Eats & Beats, the hotel bar/restaurant where we had our dinner on Saturday. As the name suggests, the place had a weird Flintstones theme going on, and based on the size of the place and the large dancefloor and DJ booth, it looked as if it might've been a very happening place at one point. But on this particular Saturday, we pretty much had the place to ourselves aside from two other patrons who sat and smoked and drank Bud at the bar. At least the food was decent in a bar food sort of way - although Harry's Bronto-Burger frightened the rest of us a little bit.

Hunger satisfied, we spent the rest of the evening hopping from room to room and sampling stuff from each of our stashes. Dead soldiers that night included HeBrew Bittersweet Lenny's R.I.P.A, Avery Twelve, Arcadia Scotch Ale, Sprecher Generation Porter, Baltika 6 Porter and Arcadia Hopmouth Double IPA. You can click the links to see my notes and ratings at RateBeer.

The next morning, we hit the road bright and (fairly) early for our trip back to Toronto. He had a quick stop outside of Detroit to trade a few things with our American RateBeer buds (who thankfully got their car out of the pound the night before), had the easiest border crossing ever, and hit Windsor just in time to have lunch at our last stop for the weekend, Charly's Brew Pub.

Walking into Charly's is like walking into any roadhouse sports bar in any small North American town - lots of TVs; a group of regulars holding up the bar; a faint hint of cigarette smoke still lingering even though smoking has been banned for months; and a slightly surly but efficient waitress; and greasy but tasty food. But in addition to all of this, Charly's has a beer list of 100+ bottles from around the world (mostly LCBO general list, but still impressive for this sort of place), as well as a small brewery where they brew their house beer, Time Out. In fitting with the atmosphere, Time Out is a pale lager designed to appeal to Blue and Bud drinkers, but unlike those industrial lagers, it has a fresh character and some recognizable malt and hop notes. It certainly wasn't in the same league as any of the beers we'd enjoyed in the previous two days, but we still enjoyed our pitcher, and found it amusing to note that they also sell a bottled version called Buck Off Beer in honour of the fact that it's priced at a dollar less than bottles of Blue and other domestic swill.

A few hours later, and we were back home again. All in all, it was a great weekend of good beer and even better company. Hopefully, we'll be able to do it again sometime.

Movin' On Up...

I've just upgraded this blog to the beta version of the new Blogger. This gives me lots of funky new features like labels (or if you prefer, tags) that will make it easier to sort and search for posts, new templates to play around with, and other stuff that I haven't had a chance to dig into yet.

For the two or three of you who have been leaving comments, you may have to port your Blogger account over to the new beta to continue doing so. If you notice anything weird going on, let me know.

And apologies to any of you who are reading this via RSBS - I didn't realise that porting the blog to the new format would cause all of my previous posts to be republished to the RSS feed. Thankfully there were only 12 of them...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Sleeman-Sapporo Thing

Back when I started this blog, I promised myself that it wouldn't be one of those blogs that just posts links to other blogs without adding any commentary.

(I also promised myself that I wouldn't use the word "blog" too much, but based on the paragraph above, I guess I've pretty much blown that one...)

However, as I was getting ready to post some thoughts about this past weekend's takeover of Sleeman by Japan's Sapporo Breweries - with a specific focus on what it might mean for Sleeman-owned Unibroue - I realised that a couple of other people had already said pretty much everything I was planning to say about it.

People like Stephen Beaumont, who posted his thoughts to On The House, a group-blog on the drinks industry that he contributes to occassionally:

Unibroue’s brands are both highly profitable and well-regarded, and yet at the same time they are also utterly foreign to Sapporo, who have no experience marketing anything like them. This, it seems to me, would indicate that the Japanese brewery might go in one of two directions.

Although the Japanese market for Belgian-style luxury beers is small, it is enthusiastic, which could mean that Sapporo might very well try to use Unibroue brands such as Maudite, Fin du Monde and Terrible as flagships for the super-premium segment there. Or they might decide that they want nothing to do with the brands and sell off the Quebec brewery, perhaps even returning it to local interests. The point in between, that being allowing the brands to languish, is to me the least likely scenario.

And hey, look, it's Mr. Beaumont again, this time posting to his beer blog at That's The Spirit:

What I view as the jewel in the Sleeman crown, Quebec’s Unibroue, may also be divested, as it represents a facet of the market – luxury brands crafted in the Belgian style – with which the Japanese have no experience. Conversely, I could also envision Sapporo embracing the profitable Unibroue line and expanding it both domestically and internationally, even making it an ultra-high end flagship in Japan. Either scenario I think signals a positive future for what is arguably Canada’s best-known craft brewery.

(Beaumont talks about some non-Unibroue factors in both of those posts as well, so I recommend you go and check them out.)

And course, our good friend Alan at A Good Beer Blog chimed in with some good observations:

[I]t is a little sad to note that no one is recognizing that there were a few factors that created the strain forcing the sale. The only one cited is the buck-a-beer discount phenomena. No one is discussing the move into the US which has not apparently gone well as Sleeman is placing its product next to quality micros and coming up short. No one is mentioning the challenge of buying up any number of larger micros across Canada and whether that project played out well. And no one is asking whether what is in the bottle is the issue. The way Sleeman is talked about you would think you were dealing with innovators like Dogfish Head or masters of quality like Brooklyn Brewery or even a micro brewery.

Thanks for the content, guys. I promise not to rip you off too often. You've just helped me fill some space until I can get around to finishing the last part of that damn Michigan festival report that no-one is waiting for...

Saturday, August 12, 2006

News From Toronto's Festival Of Beer

The wife and I checked out Toronto's Festival of Beer yesterday, and I put together a news item for The Bar Towel on the new beers and other announcements made at the fest. I'll be editing and expanding the piece into a full festival report that I will probably submit to Gremolata (and link here, of course) - but first, I need to finish my bloated three-part report on the Michigan festival before it becomes completely outdated and redundant...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Lech Premium

Since it is a government agency, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario - a.k.a. the province's alcohol retail & wholesale overlords - has to be as politically correct as possible when it comes to selecting what products will appear on the shelves. It's therefore quite easy to correlate Ontario's immigration patterns with the LCBO's stocking patterns.

For example, I live in an area of Toronto that is quite close to a neighbourhood full of Polish shops and restaurants. As a result, my local outlet always has plenty of Polish brews on hand, including Tyskie, Okocim Lager and Strong (although sadly, they no longer carry the fantastic Okocim Porter), Zywiec Lager, EB Premium, Lezajsk Lager, Warka Strong, and Dojlidy Zubr.

The newest addition to this line-up of generally middling Polish imports is Lech Premium, which has the distinction of being the first of the bunch to be offered in cans (more evidence of the LCBO's somewhat questionable new policy to give preference to cans over bottles when selecting new beers for their general list - a topic for a future blog post, perhaps...). Like Dojlidy Zubr and Tyskie, Lech comes to us from Kompania Piwowarska, the Polish arm of SABMiller that stirred up controversy a while back when it took on some of the brewing of Pilsner Urquell, the classic Czech beer that defined the Pilsner style. But that's just the sort of thing that happens when multinational brewing behemoths keep chomping up the little guys...

Anyway... even though it's produced by an evil conglomerate, this Lech Premium is a decent little beer. It pours a pale, bright yellow-gold with large white head that disappears pretty quickly. The aroma holds soft herbal hops and a bready maltiness - quite nice. The flavour is fairly sweet off the top, with lemon cookie notes in the middle, and a good balance of herbal, grassy hops and biscuity malt in the finish. This will be a good option in the future when I'm in the mood for something light and refreshing, especially since cans tend to keep beers like this in better shape than bottles.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Michigan Festival & Road-Trip Report: Part Two

In the first part of this report, I wrote about our stops on the way down to Ann Arbor on the day before the Michigan Brewers Guild Summer Beer Festival, and left off with our visit to the Bello Vino Marketplace where we did some serious bottle shopping. From there, we returned to our hotel for a quick rest and some freshening up before hitting downtown Ann Arbor for some bar and brewpub hopping.

Or that was the plan, at least. Our intentions were to get a quick cab ride into town, have dinner and beer at Arbor Brewing, make a quick stop at Grizzly Peak Brewing for a taste or two, and then head over to Ashley's to finish off the evening. However, we didn't account for two factors:

1) The concept of a "quick cab ride" does not seem to exist in Ann Arbor. Instead, when you call a cab, it will take roughly 45 minutes to arrive, and will end up being a dilapilated wreck driven by a guy who looks like he should be living in the mountains with a stockpile of guns & ammo plotting to take over the government.

2) The weekend of the MBG fest corresponded with the Ann Arbor Art Fairs, a group of four concurrent outdoor art exhibitions which close down most of the downtown core to traffic and draw a reported 500,000 people into a city that has a population of only 114,000.

As a result, once we finally got downtown, we found that both Arbor Brewing and Grizzly Peak were packed to the gills. So we slogged our way through the crowds and headed to Ashley's, which was - of course - packed to the gills. However, the door girl assured us that there would soon be some space available as they were going to be opening up the downstairs, so we hit the sub shop on the corner for a quick bite, and got back in time to score some seats in the downstairs bar (The Underground), a dark, cave-like space that reminded me a lot of the sort of places I used to hang out in when I was younger and wore black all the time - except with a better beer list. While the selection in the basement was limited, it still boasted several taps from Bell's as well as a couple of other local breweries and some well chosen imports.

However, being a bunch of old fogeys - well, except for Jeremy, but we're working on him! - the loud music and cigarette smoke started to get to us, so we made our escape to the less claustrophobic main floor where we things had started to clear out a bit. While the beer selection downstairs had been nice, the upstairs bar had a tap and bottle list that I believe more than one of us described rather enthusiatically as "fucking awesome!". The tap selection features 70 brews with a good balance of locals and imports, including some that we could only dream of ever seeing on tap in Ontario (Young's Oatmeal Stout, Spaten Optimator, Duchesse de Bourgogne, Gulden Draak...). Not to mention the three handpumps (including Dogfish Head 90 Minute!) and the rotating, often exclusive selections from Jolly Pumpkin, Kuhnhenn, New Holland, Rogue, Victory and Short's. And let's not forget the 70+ bottles...

Needless to say, we were all feeling pretty good by the time we left Ashley's. But we felt a little less good when we remembered the problems we had getting a cab down there, and even worse when a local informed us that even if we saw a cab driving by, trying to hail it would be futile since people just don't hail cabs in Ann Arbor. Our waitress had given us the number of one of the cab companies, but their estimate to get a cab sent to pick us up was "around 20 minutes". Considering that our earlier pick-up had been promised to be "around 10 minutes" but had taken over 45, we eventually decided that it might be better to walk the 2.5 miles back to the hotel rather than wait around for a taxi that might never show up.

Somehow, at least one of us managed to retain some semblance of direction in our beer addled brain, and we actually made it back to the hotel unharmed. And thanks to the brisk walk and copious sweating, relatively sober as well. And as indicated by the photo to the right, our trek seemed to take us through the liberal part of town, which allowed my buddy Jeff to make a fine political statement...

To Be Continued

Friday, August 04, 2006

Scissor Sisters - "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'"

Those familiar with my past music-related activities might be surprised to see the Scissor Sisters as my first music recommendation on this blog, but they've actually been a a guilty pleasure of mine ever since I first heard their wonderfully over-the-top cover of "Comfortably Numb".

I've been anxiously awaiting their upcoming second album, Ta Dah, and I recently stumbled across a leak of the first single, "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'". Like much of the first album, this track is an unabashed throwback to the heyday of disco when it crossed into the mainstream and cross-bred with rock and pop. Elton John participates on this track in some way, and his influence definitely shows - imagine a late 70s collaboration between John and the Bee Gees, and you'll have some idea what this sounds like. It's campy, cheesy, and catchy as hell, and I'm loving it!

The big question, though, is what beer goes best with the Scissor Sisters? Well, you'll probably want something fruity and fun, but with a bit of a bite to it as well. From stuff I've tasted recently, I'd have to suggest St. Louis Premium Kriek, which has the candy and cough drop notes that you'd expect from a sweetened cherry lambic, but with a mild & pleasant tart funkiness in the finish. Sweet and funky - a perfect match!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection

I know that it's not cool to admit this amongst serious beer geeks, but I've always had a fair bit of admiration for the Boston Beer Company, aka Samuel Adams. They were indisputably one of the main impetuses behind the American craft beer movement, and their Boston Lager was probably the first American beer I tried that didn't completely suck. In fact, I still consider it a benchmark in the Premium Lager category, a stance that some people still agree with, even if others don't.

Even though they've grown to become the largest craft brewer in the US (so large that some argue they no longer fit the "craft beer" definition), they still have the balls to produce some really crazy, out-there beers. Not all of them have been successful, of course - helloooo, so-called Cranberry Lambic - but at the very least they deserve props for redefining what a beer can be with their Triple Bock, Millenium and Utopias.

Their latest laudable experiment is the Brewer Patriot Collection, a set of 4 beers that I will lazily describe by taking an excerpt from the press release:

"The Samuel Adams Brewer Patriot Collection honors our fine American brewing tradition by bringing back historical beer recipes and by using many of the same authentic ingredients the founders used," said Jim Koch, founder and brewer of Samuel Adams beers. "Brewing beers that the founding fathers would have brewed and enjoyed themselves is a one-of-a-kind experience. It gave me a true sense of connection not only to our country’s heritage, but also to these first American brewers."

When I heard about these back in June, I knew I wanted to try them, and thanks to my buddy Harry's sister who called him from a bottle shop on her way through Ohio to ask if he wanted her to pick up anything, I was recently able to do so. Here's what I thought:

Traditional Ginger Honey Ale
Ginger beer was quite common in the 1700s, and according to the label of this beer, "records show that Thomas Jefferson and his wife brewed 15 gallons of ginger beer with fresh lemons and honey every two weeks for daily consumption". It pours a hazy yellow-gold with a small head. There's lots of honey in the aroma, along with some fresh ginger notes, and a bit of maltiness. The flavour has a nice hit of ginger off the top, followed by smooth honey notes, and a floral/lemony finish. A nice one to start with.

1790 Root Beer Brew
Being a big fan of root beer, I was really looking forward to this one. It ended up being not what I expected at all. My tasting notes started "wow, this is some weird-ass shit!" and went from there. Colour is a hazy ruby-orange with a tiny tan head. Aroma is very herbal and medicinal - smells like some old timey snake oil remedy or something - with notes of dark sugar and vanilla as well. Flavour of bitter herbs, wintergreen, anise, licorice, vanilla, and some stuff I just don’t recognize. I wanted to love this beer, but sadly, I didn’t. It’s an interesting experiment, and I’m glad to have tried it, but I’m also glad to have shared it with my friend Jeremy who came by to split the pack with me - and I’m really glad that my wife liked it, 'cause Jer didn't much like it either, so at least the rest of the bottle didn’t go to waste.

James Madison Dark Wheat Ale
Appearance - hazy dark amber-brown with a small white head. Aroma is quite muted, with a hint of sweet malt and a faint smokiness - my wife says "It smells old, with an e on the end". Soft mouthfeel, and flavour of toasted malt and brown sugar. Seems like it could be a good beer if the flavour were pumped up a bit more.

George Washington Porter
I expected this to be the highlight of the pack, and I was right. Clear dark brown appearance with a strong tan head. Very nice aroma: dark malt, coffee, a bit of molasses, and some sour herbal notes. Body is thin, but active. Flavour has a nice roasty quality, complimented by notes of licorice, coffee and molasses, and finishing with more licorice and a slightly acidic bitterness. A really nice offering that is comparable to some of the better old style porters I've had from the UK.

So all in all, this pack ran about 50/50 for me, but even the ones I didn't like were interesting in their way. That's more than I can say for a lot of beers that I've tried. It just makes me sad that SA's Canadian distributor, Sleeman, is so worried about these superior south of the border brews making their line-up of bland "premium" beers look bad that they will only import the Boston Lager for sales in Canada. Thank god for good beer stores just across the border...