Monday, January 31, 2011

Battle Royale No. 3: The Glass Jaw Joe Edition

Phillips Hop Circle IPA vs. Alexander Keith's IPA

Round One: Fight!

Last post, some folks thought I was being a little hard on poor ol' Alexander Keith's IPA. Let's be clear: the real Alexander Keith had a beard like a rhododendron bush and looks like he ate lightly boiled babies at breakfast. Comparing his Masonic magnificence to the current Labatt-run accountant-brewing is one way to highlight the insipidity of Keith's "IPA". I've got another.

But hang on: when I twittered about this upcoming battle, the responses from the beer-swilling cognoscenti were universal in their confusion. "Is that even a competition?" one asked. Another compared it to a "viscous (sic) lion taking on a timid mouse." Wasn't this B.R. going to be as one-sided as Mike Tyson fighting a man composed entirely of ears?

Oily felines notwithstanding, we're talking here about a huge, multi-nationally owned brand that sells thousands of hecta-liters of beer and has essentially limitless resources and funding, going up against a beer brewed by a guy who started in the business by maxing out his credit cards and making deliveries in a crap-can Subaru GL. You're damn right it's unfair.

Still, we've got to handicap David so that Goliath doesn't get the bejesus kicked out of him in the first round. As such, I'm tying one hand behind Hop Circle's back by drinking both beers right out of the bottle. I regard myself as against the winification of beer and deplore aping the oneophiles with their snorting and snuffling into their glasses like a pig after a truffle, but beer tastes better when you can smell it while you're tasting it.

I'm also going to attempt to remove Phillip's home court advantage by creating a sort of East Coast ambiance through the use of selected props. Having thought about it for a while, I planned on using a Sou'wester, a cod, a bottle of screech rum, and a Rita McNeil CD.

Unfortunately, by the time I got home today I didn't have the opportunity to get any of those things. Therefore, I reached in the freezer and pulled out a trout I caught myself (which is why it's so pathetically small), created a sou'wester by sticking yellow Post-Its to a baseball hat, and "found" an authentic Rita McNeil CD. For some bizarre reason, we had the Screech already.

All right, down the hatch!

Y'know, it's not terrible. There's an old joke that goes: "Nothing is better than Budweiser. Given the choice, I'd take nothing." That's not the case here. On first taste, the Keith's is almost like a real beer. Now the Hop Circle.

Oh. Oh wow. Okay, so what happened there in my commentary on the Keith's is that I had a problem with my brain being missing. Keith's is not beer. This is beer.

In comparison to the robust (resisted a temporary urge to say "out-of-this-world") flavour of the Hop Circle, Keith's IPA is an IPA the same way that Chinese air-to-air missile footage is real. Real IPAs are exploding with hops. Keith's has less hops than a squashed grasshopper. Less hops than a kangaroo with polio.

Less hops than a white basketball player.

Round Two: Fight?

What's the point?

Look at this man here:
This be-joweled chap is an East India Company Officer: the fat bastards that IPAs were originally brewed for. Does he look like he'd be satisfied with a watery yellow imitation? No, he Does Not. Try sending these guys Keith's IPA in the 1800s, and their reaction would make the slaughter of the Sepoy Mutiny look like high tea at the Empress.

On the other hand, if you Fedexed them a coupla six-packs of Hop Circle, I think we could all breathe easy. Just like the historical IPAs, Phillips has created something packing a far more intense experience than your everyday beer. If you think the six-packs are good, just try growling it sometime!


Anybody want a Keith's 5-and-a-half-pack?

Post-Battle Review

No surprises here, but Keith's IPA got hammered like a myopic carpenter's thumb. What a bloodbath: even with the extras it wasn't close.

Just so you know, I bought both sixers at Liquor Plus between Douglas and Blanshard: and the Hop Circle cost me all of fifty cents more. For my small investment, I got a real beer, and let me just say that the beauty of living in Canada, with all its back-asswards semi-repealed prohibition nonsense, is that you can buy a craft beer, brewed by people who are striving to produce the very best thing they can, and it's going to cost you pennies more than the heartless, soulless, greedy, conniving, cut-throat, incompetently-produced corporate swill.

Phillips Hop Circle IPA
Recommended if:
-you like a hoppy west-coast IPA (who doesn't?)
-you're going to see this movie
-you want something one step lighter than Red Racer's IPA

Not Recommended if:
-you've been probed
-you don't like hoppy beers
-you own a REAL sou'wester

Alexander Keith's IPA
Recommended if:
-there's a fire and you need to pour something on it
-that's pretty much it

Not recommended if:
-you own a working tastebud
-you understand that IPA doesn't mean International Police Association
-Zima is also available

Friday, January 28, 2011

(Canada): Bracketing the country with a pair of kickass IPAs

I love being a Canadian. In fact, if you'd like to read how much I do, click here to find an essay I posted on a previous very badly put-together blog.

Anyway, when I was watching that epic Crosby goal, I was seated front and center at the Howe Sound Brewpub, a pint of Diamond Head in front of me and surrounded by a group of craft-brew and hockey enthusiasts. It was amazing and epic and united the entire country in a single hoarse-throated cheer.

And then the next day, I went back to living in the greatest place on Earth, and I'm sorry, but the greatest place on Earth is not Thunder Bay, Ontario.

You'd never get me to relinquish my clutches on B.C.; no golden carrot nor nail-studded stick would induce me to move East. Barnacle-like, I'll cling to this craggy coast with my last breath.

But if I had to, if I had to move, I'd be an East Coaster. There's a warmth and a generosity and a charm about the East Coast of Canada, and I can see the appeal of living neck-deep in newfies, although I'd imagine the constant fiddle music might get a bit wearing.

Buck 65, those funny yellow hats, Ashley MacIsaac, screech rum, Rick Mercer, that "I'se the bye" song: I can't imagine Canada without the Maritime provinces, and quite frankly, I don't want to. As an Irishman, the West Kerry lilt of a Labradorian is proof positive that this land was discovered by Brendan the Navigator in his wee leather curragh. That's a type of boat, FYI, not a cod-piece.

I realize Canada has quite a large middle bit. That middle produces oil, wheat, cattle and Alex Trebek, (which is good). But it also produces pollution, Avril Lavigne, Conservatives and Maple Leafs fans (which is bad). Let's face it, all the best stuff in this country is from the Coasts, and there's no better example of this than to look at another type of gold medal winners: Central City's Red Racer IPA and Propeller Brewing's IPA.

First, the Propeller. Often times Alexander Keith's IPA is touted as "the pride of Nova Scotia" which, not to put too fine a point on it, is utter crap. Alexander Keith's IPA is the pride of Nova Scotia like December 6, 1917 is the pride of the Halifax Association For Harbour Safety.

What Halifax should be (and is) proud of is this UK-style IPA. It's not always available out here, but it's always a good buy, being a gold medallist at the Chicago World Beer Championships. Find it, buy it, drink it: it's citrus-y and sessionable, and quite different from hoppy kick of a West Coast IPA.

...which is best exemplified by this beer: Central City's Red Racer IPA.

I'm happy to report that CAMRA Vancouver has yet again placed the laurel wreath upon the brow of this incredibly hoppy IPA, awarding it the 2010 Gold Medal for best beer in BC. It comes in a can, it has the same bicycle-riding pinup as all the other Central City brews, but this beer is hoppier than some other labels' Imperial and Double IPAs. Finding out that there are people who haven't tried this beer, which is all of 10% more expensive than Lucky Lager, is like discovering that there are people who think the high-pitched noises Justin Bieber makes are "music": it's confusing and bewildering and frankly makes you weep for humanity's prospects.

So there you have it. Want to try the best beer in Canada? Try going coastal.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bad Day, Good Beer

What a crap day.

Miserable damp weather, dragged into work early where there's nothing but a litany of complaints to sort-out, car dropped off to be fixed and returned slightly more broken, and when I went to get my lunch I got stuck behind some addled twit who insisted on arguing with the clerk for twenty-five minutes about the fact that the cherry pound-cake he was trying to buy wasn't on sale when the regular kind was (a savings of $0.79, I might add), and when I tried to switch lanes 400,000,000 people appeared at both other tills, all with carts brimming as though they were shopping for the Apocalypse.

But during the whole rotten day (slightly mitigated by the catharsis of beating a man to death with his own pound-cake), there was one shining beacon waiting for me at home. What kept me going? I knew I had beer in the fridge, and what's more, not just any beer.

This is Southern Tier's Unearthly Imperial IPA, and it tastes like a backrub feels. If life has handed you a great big drawing of a raised middle finger all day, coming home to crack one of these babies is like giving the ethereal etch-a-sketch a big ol' shake. Suddenly, All Is Well Again, and you can relax in a golden cloud of hops and lysed brain cells.

If you have not tasted this beer, then please download an iPhone app so that I can reach out over the Interwebs and slap you in the face. Then, go to your local private store (as you won't find it at the BCLDB) and buy one. Buy several, in case of emergency (shout-out to Cook St Liquor for carrying it).

Somehow, Southern Tier has created a beer that's packed with more hops than a rabbit smoothie but carries none of the bitterness you'd expect. It's a citrusy, chewy, stewy juggernaut that packs a wallop but never stings or bites, like being round-house kicked in the face by Chuck Norris while he's wearing cotton-candy slippers.

Unearthly indeed: with every sip, I can feel the accumulated slings and arrows of this earthly plane washing away, leaving only the transcendent carbonation of a well-made beer.

"Setting at eye-level with Snorri Sturluson
Who has come to bathe in a hot spring
And sit through the stillness after milking time
Laved and ensconced in the throne-room of his mind."
-Seamus Heaney

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Serving Suggestions: Three Beers For Robbie Burns Day

Jan 25th is Robbie Burns day, a time when the definition of "Scottish" stretches to include 3rd generation Scots Immigrants, utility-kilt enthusiasts, and pretty much anybody who's ever seen Braveheart. It is a time of drinking fiery liquor, eating cuisine that seems, as Mike Myers once said, based on a dare, like intestines stuffed with more intestines, or the Scotch Egg (which is worse for your health than a close range shotgun blast), and it's also a time for Scotch Beer.

Despite my Gaelic roots, I'm not Scottish, although I have read several collections of the comic strip The Broons and I've always had a deep-seated desire to travel back through time and kick Dr. Samuel Johnson very hard in his fat gouty shins.

As such, I won't be partaking of any particular libation this eve, but I have stocked the cupboard with a few choice brews for the weekend. If you're doing a last-minute shop, these should all be available at your local BCLDB, and if you're going the private route, feel free to get a recommendation, as these aren't the only kilty brews out there (a wee Heavy'd be nice).

Innis and Gunn is a go-to gift beer that I enjoy giving to people who've no experience of craft brews. It's delicious, and small enough that you could just have the one for a quick toast.

Fraoch (which cannot be pronounced without heaving up a gob of phlegm) is a golden heather-infused ale, and should remind us all that the vaunted hop is nearly modern in terms of its use as an additive for beer. The heather imparts a slight floral nature, but there's next to no aftertaste: it's as sweet as a lowland milkmaid.

Granville Island's Scottish Ale is your typical malt-forward Scots Ale. It is as deep brown as a pair of tweed trousers and'll have you rolling your rrr's in to time at all, ye ken?

Not pictured: Saltspring has a Heather Ale, which is light and airy, a wee, sleekit cowerin' timorous thing of a brew. Well worth tracking it down.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Battle Royale No. 2: All Hands on Deck!

Lighthouse Deckhand Belgian Saison vs Driftwood Farmhand Belgian Saison

Round One: Fight!

Confession time: I'm not a big fan of Belgian-style beers, and already I can hear the satisfying *gasp*-plop-clink as beer snobs everywhere widen their eyes in surprise and their monocles fall out into their tulip-stemmed glasses of Chimay. Well, stuff it anyway. I don't mind admitting that I'd rather have an IPA or a Stout, given a choice.

Thus, I figured it would be a good idea to spread the work around a little for the critiquing of a new beer from Lighthouse Brewing, as it's easy to hijack the credit and even easier to shuffle off the blame.

Lighthouse is well-known for what I'd refer to as workmanlike craft brewing. Their Beacon IPA is not as punchy as Phillip's Hop Circle, or even Granville Island's Brockton, but you're assured of consistent quality if you order a pint at your local, and I'll have you know I had two flats each of Beacon and Race Rocks as the beers at my wedding, and I'm still happily married. Coincidence?

Well, yes, absolutely. Marriage is about communication and commitment, not beer.

Anyway, Lighthouse's new "Small Brewery - Big Flavour" series aims to take that conservative brewing style and chuck it out the window. Shipwreck Triple IPA, Navigator Doppelbock and now a new Belgian Saison dubbed Deckhand all aim to take on the premium craft brewers at their own game.

What better match-up, then, than a head-to-head with Driftwood's well-established Farmhand Saison?

I dragooned both my better half (Katie), her crazy French-Canadian friend Lysanne, and Lysanne's annoyingly handsome boyfriend Todd (you won't find any pictures of him here as he makes me feel extra insecure in my ginger pudginess) into being associate judges. To avoid a priori assumptions, I didn't tell them which beer was which, and they were eager to begin...

While they're tasting, a quick word about the beer labels. The Farmhand sports the sort of interesting art we've come to expect from Driftwood. It's colourful, distinctive, and the pitchfork theme will appeal to fans of American Gothic, though it might alienate Frankenstein's Monster.

Whoever drew the artwork on the Deckhand label, however, has obviously been watching a lot of anime, and I don't mean Pokemon. Talk about your huge tracts of land.

Anyway, let's hear from the judges:

"Wow! They're totally different. This one [Farmhand] has much more flavour, but this one [Deckhand] is a much easier drinking beer"
"Yeah, this one you can just drink this [Farmhand], that one [Deckhand] you have to think about it."

Consensus? Round one to the Farmhand

Round Two: Fight!
Lysanne (on the left) thinking hard. My wife, the amorphous blob.
Note: do not call your wife "the amorphous blob". Not even once. Divorce is expensive, and receiving a sharp kick to the gentleman's area is painful.

"At first I'd say, this [Farmhand] is just a beer to enjoy, to go with a meal..."
"Yeah, this one [Deckhand] I like it, I like it, but you can only have one."
"It's more Belgian-y, which is surprising, because it's the Lighthouse." [see, this is why I enlisted help]
"Yeah, no I really like it!"
"I kinda think the-"
-Me (interrupting and being pedantic)
"Well, they've got three, the Navigator, which is a Dopplebock, and the Shipwreck, which is a triple IPA."

Consensus: Round two to the Deckhand!

Round Three: Tie-breaker!

"I don't think we liked this [the Deckhand] last time as much as we do now."
"I think it's going better with the cold cuts [prosciutto and others from Choux Choux Charcuterie]
"I liked it better, but I could only have one."
"Deckhand it is!"


Deckhand narrowly wins by decision!

Post-Battle Review

Farmhand remained everybody's go-to favourite for everyday quaffing, and the bottle was emptied first, but it's a surprising upset win for Lighthouse's Deckhand! It might have a silly bottle adorned with ludicrous boobies, but the beer inside has a flavour that's full and rounded and perky and... sorry, what were we talking about again?

Oh, right. Well, it's a victory for Lighthouse's Deckhand, and I'm happy to say that if you're looking for that authentic Saison flavour, it's your go-to beer du jour.

Driftwood Farmhand Belgian Saison
Recommended if:
-you're looking for an easy-drinking Belgian
-you're a pitchfork enthusiast
-you want your beer on tap

Not Recommended if:
-you have a collection of tulip-shaped glassware
-you've been stitched together from corpses and re-animated by a mad scientist
-you know the Belgian national anthem off by heart

Lighthouse Deckhand Belgian Saison
Recommended if:
-mmm, boobs
-you want a ester-packed big Belgian
-you're in the navy, but not the Village People kind

Not recommended if:
-you're embarrassed by labels
-you don't even like Belgian chocolate
-you live in a land-locked country

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hot Damn of the week: New Beer From Pretty Things

This Sunday, I had intended to be posting about the hyper-intensity of Southern Tier's Unearthly IPA (more on that later), but my trip to Cascadia resulted in a cheerful surprise: a new beer from Boston-based Pretty Things.

On a recent trip to Boston, I had the good fortune to meet Dann and Martha at an art show of the funky labels that adorn their excellent beers, and I'm happy to report that they're the sort of lovely people that are scattered throughout the brewing community like rainbow sprinkles on a beery doughnut. From that same trip, I can also tell you that their Fluffy White Rabbits hopped triple is the perfect accompaniment to spinach and ham eggs benedict at 10 in the morning. Hey! I was on my holidays!

The coolest thing about Pretty Things is that they're a sort of nomadic brewery. They use space in other established breweries to create crazy beers and then move on, like a hermit crab going through a mixer six-pack.

The beers are something else too: I let my wife have a sip of this one and she went "WOW! mmm... Crazy! Ohmygosh it'ssoweird! Bah! Yecch!" (to be fair, she's not a bitter hop fan).

How the hell am I supposed to follow that?

Here's the beer in question:

It's a historical recreation of a recipe first brewed on November 15th 1901, or at least that's what it says on the bottle. As such, it's an opportunity to drink beer like Sherlock Holmes would have done, in-between intravenous cocaine injections, and being a fictitious character.

It pours as coal-black as the face of the guy who stoked the boiler aboard the Flying Scotsman, with a chocolate foam that recedes from the edges like the fading glory of an Imperial domain. Put it another way: it's dark and cloudy, like British weather.

Hops. This beer has more hops than a re-enactment of Watership Down done by the Harlem Globetrotters. First you get smacked in the mouth by a soot-cloud belch of black maltiness, and then there's swelling bitterness, like that felt when losing to Australia at the cricket. Quite simply, it's delicious, and makes me want to don spats and trade in my Subaru on a locomotive.

Pretty Things "KK"
Recommended if:
-you enjoyed "The King's Speech"
-you're interested in drinking history
-you own a steam engine

Not recommended if:
-you're married to me
-you like your beers to be modern, fizzy and yellow
-you're Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Legend Of the Beer Pie

Let's be real here for a moment: I'm not a very good cook. I mean, yes, I'm good at a few things as long as either a frying pan or bbq is involved, but in the kitchen, I'm no Gordon Ramsay.

Except for the swearing part. That I've got down pat. It's like Tarantino writes the recipes.

However, there is one huge exception here, and that's my ability to create amazing meat-and-beer pies. Here's one:

Baaaaaaam, son!

Even though I've inexplicably cropped the bottom off the picture by making sure the Alcan tinfoil box is clearly visible in the background, you get the idea. That pie weighs more than the moon. Five different types of meat, a pound of mushrooms, onions, garlic, peas, two pints of beer and I forget what else. Everything, probably.
It's like the Ark, but with a crust. The Health Canada Nutrition label would either read, "4000% of your recommended dose of everything" or possibly just, "NO. BAD." It's the sort of pie about which even Caligula would say, "A second slice? No thanks, that would be a bit excessive."

Here's another one:

Epic, n'est-ce pas? You can just imagine scarfing the whole thing down and then bloatedly clambering into that papasan chair in a (vain) attempt to digest it, much like a boa constrictor that's swallowed a whole antelope. Made of butter.

So how do you get two pints of beer into a pie? Well, you reduce it, then reduce it, then reduce it some more. It basically takes me 3+ hours to make the filling, finishing off by adding a roux to the remaining liquid to enhance inner pie solidity. If you don't know what a roux is, it's basically how a Frenchman commits seppuku.

Anyway, if you want the recipe, there really isn't one. You basically need to approach the creation of pies of this magnitude in the same way you would master a martial art. First start out with some light combat pastries and work your way up.

*Note: this Pie not recommended by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C.
** This one neither.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Battle Royale No. 1

note: from time to time, and I can't be any more specific than that, my liver will become a battleground where two brews will go toe-to-toe to see who will be crowned the victor. It will be just like MMA for beer, except without the implied homoeroticism. Two beers enter, one beer leaves. (Actually, strictly speaking, both beers leave, after processing.)

Phillips "Hammer" Barrel Aged Imperial Stout vs Driftwood "Singularity" Russian Imperial Stout

Round One: Fight!

There are stouts, and then there are Imperial stouts, and like most things, the Imperial means "better". Imperial pints? Better than regular pints. The Chrysler Imperial? Better than a K-Car. The Empire Strikes Back? The defense rests.

What we have here are two Imperial stouts in the Russian style, both barrel-aged, and both as serious as an aneurysm. Which I'm probably going to have by trying to drink both. Phillips have barrel-aged their already-excellent Hammer Imperial stout, a personal favourite, but they're going up against Driftwood's Singularity, a hugely intense beer from a company that's grown aggressively over the last two years, and has my go-to IPA in their lineup with Fat Tug. Ah, yes, I really do enjoy a good Tug.


Anyway I have paired these two heavyweights with a nice nigiri sushi. This is not a recommended pairing, I just happened to have it, and this exercise is not for empty stomachs.
Both pour insanely dark, making the soy sauce seem about as black as some insipid herbal tea.

The Hammer is smoother and more balanced than its non-barrelled version. Still packs a wallop though. Now the Singularity...

Ye Gods! I can see time! Just how strong is this stuff?

8.5% and 11.8% respectively, but that's not the whole story. The Hammer seems almost quaffable now after the insane intensity of the Singularity. To compare it to the well-known density of Guinness, the Singularity is like blackstrap molasses next to a teaspoon of sugar dissolved in a large quantity of water. Like the Pacific.

Round One to the Singularity.

Round Two: Fight!

I seem to have lost the ability to use chopsticks. Makes sense, as a significant portion of my medulla oblongata has dissolved.

The Singularity could not be more aptly-named. It's like drinking neutrino star with a hint of bourbon. By comparison, the Hammer seems as mellow as a smooth jazz bassline.

Round two to the Singularity.

Round Three: Fight!



Singularity wins by K.O.! Of me.

Post-Battle Review

For fans of Phillips, the new barrel-aged version of their excellent Imperial stout is a must-try. It's mellow but complicated, and is a great slow sipper.

However, for sheer complexity, Driftwood's Singularity is as dense as sub-atomic string theory, and I have to award it the prize for being the top quark. It's simply a huge beer, trying to drink a whole one by yourself is something only an idiot would do. An idiot like me.

Phillips Hammer Barrel Aged Imperial Stout
Recommended if:
-you own parachute pants
-you're a closet-communist
-you wanted a bit more complexity added to the regular Hammer

Not Recommended if:
-you're questing for the ultimate imperial stout
-you're a whiny little pipsqueak who throws himself down airshafts just because his dad cuts off his hand
-you think Molson Canadian has flavour

Driftwood Singularity Imperial Russian Stout
Recommended if:
-you need to tear a hole in the space-time continuum
-you really hate your brain/liver
-you want an intense taste experience

Not recommended if:
-you can't spell "continuum"
-you have feeble tastebuds
-you don't have any friends to share it with