Category: Beer Tasting Notes

Granville Island Van Dame White ISA

Granville Island: Van Dame White ISA (Canada: Session IPA: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Hazy pineapple to lemon juice colour. Small white dash of a head that leaves some suds.

Nose: Really fresh lemon. Light cream and coriander. Pineapple.

Body: Moderate wheaty bitterness. Unleavened bread. Soft avocado. Good hop prickle. Pineapple. Lemon pavlova.

Finish: Good bitterness. Pepper. Soft avocado. Lightly earthy. Wheaty. Pineapple.

Conclusion: Session IPA meet white IPA. Oddly, despite my usual grumbles about the amount of adjectives used with IPA this one does not set off any alarms for me. maybe it is because things have got so insane over the years (Double Session IPA for one…).

Anyway, it works as an interesting mix, you can sense that kind of unleavened bread dryness that is the flavour in a lot of session IPAs, but that is underneath – up front it has that wheaty fresh character that makes the whole thing more manageable. Similarly the light spice associated with the wit style does a lot to round out the beer. It isn’t a perfect match, but I will say that it seems like a genuine way to take the session IPA forwards and give it some real legs.

I think it is because it adds a lot of range to what can be quite one note beers. The lemon wit characteristic work well with the comparatively restrained hop flavour to give a less intense but well ranging flavour profile.

Overall it doesn’t quite overcome the oft found flaws of session IPAs, that base character needs to be a bit less leaden, but it definitely works very well with it. The bitterness does build up nicely over time, slow enough to take your time with, but it doesn’t rely on just that to overcome the weak base.

Not the best, but, as I say, this definitely seems like a way to take the style forwards, and it is on the better end of session IPAs to say the least.

Background: As well as 4.5% abv this has an OG of 10.9 and 50 IBU. I do love how much info they give you in Canada. It is also very noticeably influenced by the Belgian wit beer style. Granville Island in Vancouver was awesome, tons of experiences and foodstuff to try. Including the ever addictive Nanaimo bars. At the taphouse I tried a few beers, but with a name like Van Dame this had to be the one I tasting noted.

Granville Island Brewing

Storm Imperial Sssouuurrrrr Flanders Red Ale

Storm: Imperial Sssouuurrrrr Flanders Red Ale (Canada: Sour Red: 14% ABV)

Visual: Hazy dark brown. Thin white dash of a head.

Nose: Cider apples. Gum of brown envelopers and vinegar.

Body: Sour. Vinegar. Envelope gum. Bitter charred core. Sour cherry and cherry sweets.

Finish: Gummy. Dry and dusty. Cider apples. Tart. Sour black cherry. Charred oak.

Conclusion: Ok, what would happen if someone attempted to replicate Rodenbach Grand Cru, but at 14% ABV? Would that ever be a good idea, could they even manage a close approximation?

Well, it does have some similar qualities, such as that gummy brown paper and almost vinegar notes that makes Rodenbach so odd – but the brewed up nature of this seems to make it feel a lot more charred at the core which overpowers a lot of the range of a good sour brown.

It isn’t a bad beer, but since that interesting holographic style shimmering flavour of a good sour ends up getting lost in the strength you end up with a lot more noticeable rough edges and a lot less pay off.

So, a very gummy beer, which is odd considering the mainly dry mouthfeel, but in the finish it is the gumminess that sticks around the longest. Not really a good or bad thing, just odd. Probably the most appetising characteristic if the beer is a slight cider apple characteristic that works well with the sourness. That fresh apple backing is a pretty good base to work form, and late on develops out to add sour black cherry – hints of where it could be going well, but it needs more. It has the right idea, but pushes itself too far into elements that don’t work by concentrating on the strength, and letting the better elements get lost in the mix.

Ah well.

Background: Hmm, looking online I can find an Imperial Flanders Red, but not with the oddly named sour that it was listed as on the menu. The one I found was 11% rather than 14%, could be a different batch of the same beer. I don’t know. Due to the high abv the kind people in the Alibi Room allowed me to grab a small measure to try. I just had to try it, an insane high abv sour, ok, let’s give that a shot.

Four Winds Berliner Weisse

Four Winds: Berliner Weisse (Canada: Berliner Weisse: 3.2% ABV)

Visual: Hazy lemon juice. Thin off white head.

Nose: Tart apples, in an almost cider fashion. Raspberries. Lemon juice and dried dates.

Body: Apricot. Lemon juice. Slight vanilla and ice cream. Syrup sweetness. Raspberry sharpness. Cider and lychee.

Finish: Stewed apricot. Tart raspberries. Dry wine mouthfeel. Light lime. Lychee.

Conclusion: This is proper lovely. I’ve got used to the tart berliner weisse style over the years and been rewarded for it, but despite that it is nice to find one so easy to get into.

The tartness is there, but delivered so softly that it refreshes rather than punishes, and then pushes the soft stewed fruit so that the fruit and sweetness just rises to fill your mouth. Then, as that vanishes slowly a white wine finish rises to meet it. While not the most dominant element, it is the soft fruit lychee character that seems to define this beer best – sweet but fresh.

The beer, metaphorically, just falls apart on the tongue – breaking open the initial tartness and leaving the, again metaphorical, piƱata worth of sweet fruits to fall out. I wonder if that analogy actually makes sense. Nay bother. I’m sure my regular readers are used to me making no sense whatsoever.

This is a genuinely great berliner weisse, and it feels like it would be heresy to add syrups to it to sweeten it, as is often the tradition, it just stands perfectly by itself. A proper tart fruit juice meets berliner weisse experience, and at a perfect abv to drink for a warm day. So, another of those hard to find perfect summer session beers.

Well worth it and a fine welcome to Vancouver.

Background: Drunk at the Alibi Room in Vancouver which has a great set of taps and is deeply involved in the local craft beer scene. Awesome place, they even leant me a pen when I realised I had left mine at the hotel so would have problems doing notes. Notably this was my first encounter with sour beers on the trip, Vancouver seemed much more experimental in its beer scene than most of the places I had visited. It was a very hot day so a low abv, sour and thirst quenching beer seemed a good pick to go for an opening choice.

Central City Red Racer ISA

Central City: Red Racer ISA (Canada: Session IPA: 4% ABV)

Visual: Light grain to yellow. Thin white head and some carbonation.

Nose: Lemon. Quite dry. Peach.

Body: Lemon and cream. Light crisp bitterness. Lager like crisp texture. Lightly bready. Slight dried apricot. Light honey and lime.

Finish: Bready. Lightly earthy bitterness. Light lime. Shredded wheat. Honey touch. Pineapple.

Conclusion: Session IPA. Session IPA. Grrr. Then again, Central City has done so far with their Red Racer IPA range while I have been trying them here in Canada. Might as well see what they can do with this often hard to pull off style.

Actually, this is very solid. While it has that bready, shredded wheat backing in common with a lot of session IPAs, one that doesn’t seem quite as drinkable as the style should be – it benefits from the fact that it isn’t nearly as highly attenuated as most seem to be. They manage to keep a light honey sweetness and an easy drinking lager style crispness that combine to be enough to keep the beer flowing freely. A vital element in a session beer I am sure you will agree.

It feels kind of like a highly hopped lager, which is not entirely a bad thing. The hop flavour comes through very clean and citrus filled, less so mid body but it just plain explodes in the finish. The hop character is not excessively bitter but does have this very fluffy feeling. It gives the impression of a lot higher bitterness than there actually is – an impressive trick for a session IPA.

Downsides? Well the aroma really doesn’t sell the beer very well, and while it has nice flavours it doesn’t quite rock the range of Beavertown’s Neck Oil – but I still rate it very highly for a session IPA.

Red Racers continue to race ahead.

Background: Yay, I got to try one of the Red Racer IPA range! Technically I got to try several, but this was the one I did tasting notes on. This is cool for me as I always got Red Racer from Central City, and Racer 5 from Bear Republic mixed up. Now I’ve tried both. This was drunk in Dubh Lin Gate in Whistler. I was confused, Irish theme pubs in the UK are nigh invariably shit, yet this place was highly recommended. Turns out to be a good pub. Huh, everything is different in Canada. ISA stands for India Session Ale by the way, took me embarrassingly long to find that out.

Noble Pig - Mocha Porter

Noble Pig: Mocha Porter (Canada: Porter: 5.5% ABV)

Visual: Black, massive frothy cinnamon to brown frothed head. Ruby red at edges of the body.

Nose: Bitter coffee. Milky chocolate. Smooth. Light roasted notes as it warms.

Body: Smooth. Roasted hazelnut backing and low hop bitterness. Light cream cheese and chives. Bitter back. Milky coffee.

Finish: Milky coffee. Low roasted character. Light cream. Bitter chocolate.

Conclusion: I’m sensing a trend in Canadian beers so far. They don’t push against your expectations, but they do deliver on very well crafted examples of existing styles with well balanced flavours.

I base this insight on about four days drinking. I may turn out to be wrong. Let it never be said that the English are afraid to make wide sweeping assumptions from ignorance. Wait, what do you mean no one ever said that anyway? Huh.

This is a creamy coffee heavy porter, very smooth up front, but has a delicate use of hop roughness to roast it up a bit at the back end. It is a good balance, and one I respect as heavy dark beers can get sticky and oppressively hopped very quickly, but here it just complements the roasted nut character used as a backing. I’ve seen great smooth porters in my time, and far more rarely good hopped porters, but rarely something that mixes the two.

While it doesn’t break boundaries, this really pushes the strength of the porter style over its stronger stout cousin – despite the big flavours it still slides down so easily. The most noticeable flavours are from where it pushes the coffee – smooth and milky, yet still with bitterness to show it isn’t afraid of some bite to back it up.

A seriously well balanced porter, and one that shows a bit of hops in your porters doesn’t hurt and can in fact help. Very nice for that and for a decent flavour as well.

Background: Tried at the Noble Pig Brewpub in Kamloops – was a bit of a walk from the hotel, up a freaking hill no less, but wasn’t too bad considering I basically grew up on one big hill. Again, really friendly staff, and they had awesome mac and cheese with pulled pork. It was a lovely goopy, probably terrible for me mess of taste joy. I hadn’t seen many darker beers yet on the trip so decided to grab the porter. After this I was wandering back when I saw a coffee store with a hardcore punk gig going on in it, so I joined in. of course. Canada is cool.

Grizzly Paw Rundlestone Session Ale

Grizzly Paw: Rundlestone Session Ale (Canada: Session IPA: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Grain yellow. Thin ripe banana skin touched head that leaves suds. Clear body with no evident carbonation.

Nose: Prickly bitter hops, lightly done. Kiwi and lemon sherbet. Very crisp.

Body: Good clean bitterness. Dry malt back. Mild caramel and soft lemon. Soft toffee and lime notes.

Finish: Fudge. Hop air. Chocolate notes. Kew lime pie. Light bitterness.

Conclusion: Ok, first if I can get out of the way my ever evident pedantic and over opinionated nature. Session beers should be below 4% in my ever so humble opinion – I have given a lot of ground in this fight over the years in the fact of abv increases all around, but still I think for the perfect session beer it holds true. However, with that said, this is sessionable as hell.

It keeps the body fresh and crisp the entire way through – lager like in feel but with a real high quality crisp bitterness. It just slips down – and, even better, as seems to be common so far in Canada, the carbonation – while present – is minimal so you don’t get bloated. For that last point your experience may vary depending on where you drink it, but at the brewpub it used just enough to keep it crisp.

The trick seems to be that while it has a whole mound of flavour, it keeps it soft. The fruitiness and sweetness is gently applied, as if dragged across your tongue on a velvet cloth. Metaphorically. If it was literal that would be horrible.

It reminds me of a ramped up version of “How To Disappear Completely“, despite being a far lighter coloured beer, and the extra weight of abv really overcomes what I found to be the few weak points in that beer. The toffee and fudge notes are soft but solid enough that the feel feels like it has weight rather than feeling empty at the core. The fruitiness feels akin to a good pale ale, but without as much hop kick.

If this had been below 4% I would have called it the perfect session beer. As is it is a damn good session beer.

Background: Had to work hard to get this one, I first hit the Grizzy Paw Brew Pub on a Sunday. Which turned out to be the Sunday on a three day weekend. It was insane busy and I ended up having to give up. The next day, thankfully I managed to grab some beer and poutine. By the way their poutine was the best I had in Canada, very nice indeed. This has an IBU of 28, and I was amused that despite being called a “Session” beer, it was only 0.5% abv lower than the vast majority of their range. A lot of Canadian beers seem fairly tightly clustered around the 5% abv. Ratebeer seems not to like this beer, odd, ah well, also they call it a golden ale – possibly, but session IPA seemed closer for me so I went with that.

Banff Ave Highline Magazine Naked Nut Brown Ale

Banff Ave Brewing: Highline Magazine Naked Nut Brown Ale (Canada: Brown Ale: 4.8% ABV)

Visual: Deep brown with a thin off white head that leaves lace.

Nose: Cashew nuts and brown sugar. Malt chocolate. Nutella and Belgian chocolate.

Body: Hazelnuts. Low level bitterness. Lightly chalky texture. Milky coffee. Malt chocolate.

Finish: Lightly earthy. Hazelnuts and a very light burnt wood touch. Nutella. Brown sugar touch.

Conclusion: Brown ales from around the world unite! I find brown ales interesting (a phrases very little said) as there is such a big difference between the UK real ale interpretation of the style, and the USA craft interpretation – and yet they are still very noticeable the same style.

This definitely is geared more towards the American interpretation than the sometimes just lightly sour and refreshing UK take – however that sweetness is reined in, giving room for a far more nutty and roasted character than most.

The nose is the sweetest part of it, with real full on Nutella and hints of brown sugar. It entices you in, but if the entire beer had been like that it would have been off-puttingly sickly sweet.

The body then smartly takes it towards a much more roasted way, with the slight chalk texture giving it a nice rough edged feel in the mouth. Here the beer makes itself known as much by feel as it does by taste, roasted and kicking – but backed by the malt chocolate and milky coffee – the sweet Nutella is there but taken down a notch to make it manageable.

The finish keeps the roasted, but brings back up the sweetness, slowly revealing itself as the roasted character fades out. It treads a fine line between the two characteristics to round it off nicely.

Overall this is a really balanced brown ale. Able to push heavier sweet notes and then pull back from it when it needs to. A very sessionale brown, for the abv, and very enjoyable.

Background: Ok, a quick google tells me Highline Magazine is a Canadian magazine. Apart from that I’m not sure what the relevance is. Drunk at the Brewpub in Banff while hiding from the sun, again. The beer there is dispensed straight from the beer tanks, which is kind of as fresh as you can get. Which is cool. Also this is 12 IBU – The Canadian craft beer scene seems all about telling you info about the beer, including IBU, which is also cool. Banff Ave also have an absolutely brilliant Ella hopped Double IPA, like one of my favourite beers level good. I didn’t have a chance to head back to do tasting notes, but if you are around check it out. It is awesome. Also thanks to the staff in general for being awesome, and also for letting me into the brew area to take some photos.

Banff Ave Brewing Equipment

Earls Rhino Pale

Kamloops Brewing: Earl’s Rhino Pale Ale (Canada: American Pale Ale: 5% ABV)

Visual: Clear amber to gold. Thin ambered head, but not much carbonation in the main body.

Nose: Peach. Crushed biscuits. Cream. Dried apricot.

Body: Peach. Light hop tingle. Custard cream biscuits. Vanilla. Slightly muggy hops.

Finish: Light popcorn feel hops. Light lemon air and a very light earthy touch. Light greenery. Toffee.

Conclusion: Ok, time to run straight up against the expectations of style descriptions. This is described as a pale ale, and for a lot of the elements I can see that, but it has a fuller, thicker body than I would expect from an APA – without that dry attenuation. Is this then a rare example of an EPA? Well it doesn’t feel like that either, with a bigger hop character than an EPA. It doesn’t push into IPA territory either, despite the bigger base, the fruitiness is there, yes, but the actual hop kick is pretty low.

Odd, but I guess best just look at what we actually have then – it really isn’t very complex, but it does go down very easily. The flow of the beer is just bright peach fruit and in that it is akin to American IPAs – so that part is generally good. The hops however, possibly due to the thicker base, actually feel quite muggy – which hurts a beer that could do with a fresher feel. The crushed digestive sweetness buffets it a bit, and protects the beer from the worst excesses by rounding the flavour off, so it doesn’t hurt it as much as it otherwise would.

Where this flaw shows most is in the finish, as there it is quite dry, with less compensating sweetness so you end up with a real muggy character over time, hurting the easy drinking character which is its primary characteristic.

However, while it isn’t a great beer I’m not going to be too down on it, possibly because I’m on holiday, but also because it does balance a nice mouthfeel with the peach hop flavours – while not complex it is a solid enough mix, for all its flaws.

A fair robust beer then, nowhere near top of the hop, but enjoyable enough for what it is.

Background: I’d seen Earl’s Kitchen and Bar turn up a few times around Canada, so when I found out they had their own beer line I decided to go out on a limb and do some research. According to ratebeer this is made by Kamloops brewing, though they list it as an amber ale. Despite my noted being unsure with exactly where the beer style lies I will go with their description and say APA as it seems in the right ballpark to me, despite the oddities. When in doubt I tend to go with brewers description and rate it as that. This was drunk while in Banff and hiding from the sun in the Earl’s Kitchen and Bar. It was hot. Very hot.

Tree Mellow Moon Pineapple Hefeweizen

Tree: Mellow Moon: Pineapple Hefeweizen (Canada: Fruit Hefeweizen: 5% ABV)

Visual: Hazy banana to apricot. Thin white head.

Nose: Pineapple. Light peach. Banana and cloves.

Body: Wheaty. Banana and cloves. Fresh tart notes. Apricot. Pineapple. Vanilla sweetness. Blueberry as it warms.

Finish: Dry feel but still light pineapple freshness. Cloves. Vanilla and light blueberry.

Conclusion: I have often found it difficult finding a good hefeweizen outside of Germany. Other places seem to be able to make good beers, but they often don’t quite feel like they match the style – pushing too big hops or too sweet base, and they lose the natural balance that I love in the best examples of the style. The balance that make them just so very drinkable.

This, with the extra of infused pineapple, had me nervous but intrigued. I love odd twists, but wondered if it would further move it away from the elements I love in a good weisse. I shouldn’t have worried, they have got the balance on this spot on.

Initially I was actually disappointed instead in how little the pineapple was shown – it was just limited to the aroma, but did finally show itself as the beer warmed. What this did was allow a lovely crisp wheaty hefeweizen to establish itself first – showing lots of banana and cloves, all used to good and just slightly dry affect.

Though good as just a well made hefe, it is the pineapple that is added as it warms that gives it the lovely summer thirst quenching character. Even better it lets the contrasting flavours mesh to create the almost hallucinatory flavours I love so much – in this case a light blueberry like note.

While it is predominantly quite traditional in how it approaches the base, there are still some, mild, calls to the sweeter interpretations, here using a subtle vanilla. It seems, used very carefully that extra sweetness can enhance rather than hurt the style.

Overall this is a very impressive first beer of the trip, and a great mix of hefe and fruit. Definitely check it out if you get the chance.

Background: First beer of the Canada trip! Hefeweizen and fruit infused beers both seem popular during the hot Canada summer, so this seemed an appropriate first one to sample. Drunk at Beer Revolution craft beer and pizza bar. By the way, not only are their staff awesome and friendly as hell – their pizza is fucking amazing. Seriously. Try it. Notes will be a tad shorter for these notes than usual as I was spending time chatting a lot with other people in the bar during the holiday. Not my greatest photo, still getting used to using new camera out in the field as it where.

Epic Armageddon IPA

Epic: Armageddon IPA (New Zealand: IPA: 6.66% ABV)

Visual: Burnished gold. Large mound of off white head that leaves suds. Some small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Popcorn hops. Light kiwi fruit. Resin. Slightly musty. Crushed malt biscuits.

Body: High bitterness. Custard cream biscuits. Bready. Tinned topical fruit. Large hop character. Toffee. Lemon sherbet. Froths up easily, carrying hop oils. Pineapple tartness. Lime notes. Marmalade.

Finish: Bready bitterness. Good hop character and resin. Mango juice with pulp. Dried apricot. Lemon sherbet. Hop oils. Gooseberry and pineapple.

Conclusion: Ok, an NZ IPA that concentrates more on the big bitterness than the tartness that you can get with NZ hops. Interesting. Risky as well, as it plays down what is NZ IPA’s big selling point. Let’s see how well this gets over.

Initial impressions is that it may have lost a bit of freshness on the way over to the UK – the hop character is impressively large, but just slightly musty – an element I normally run into in an IPA that has been around a few months. Even with that it is impressive with the level of hop bitterness and hop oils. Not to Stone Brewing level excellence, but considering Stone are the kings of hop beers, it does well to be compared with them.

The tart flavours, even though they are played down, are still here. There is more dried apricot sweetness that tart notes, which reminds me of American hops. The pineapple tartness comes in third in emphasis, just keeping everything fresh enough that the big hops don’t wear out their welcome too early.

As it warms it keeps a similar balance of flavour, but the fruit character does become clearer. It is impressive how they deliver that flavour without letting it get too sharp. Overall, even muted as it is by the journey this is a big IPA and well made. It can’t compete with the layered subtle complexity of 8 Wired’s Hop wired, it is more a straight up hop assault, but it is very good at that.

Not as good as Enjoy By IPA for sheer hop assault, then again that was fresh as can be, not as complex as Hopwired – but it mixes the two well enough to be a very good IPA to enjoy.

Background: Woo, Epic back in the house. Unlike most previous Epic beers this was not brought back from NZ for me by craft beer sis. Instead it is one of a batch of NZ beers that turned up in Brew Bristol. A fine shop that has a whole wealth of home brew stuff, including all the fun malts and hops. So, having had to come the slow way here it is slighter older than previous NZ beers I have tried, but still seems to be doing well. Drunk while listening to LukHash – Falling Apart. As I am still on a chiptune kick.


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