Beer Opinions

This section contains what it says, opinions, my opinions to be exact. I wont pull any punches with these, so if I happen to insult your favourite beer, brewer, or brewery, well, too bad. Feel free to write and express your opinion as well, Im always keen to hear what others think about the local beer scene. Thanks,
PS: I think a numerical rating system is a bit arbitrary so all reviews will be rated by one of the following: 

Excellent - This beer is incredible. It is one of the best beers I have ever had. If you see it, buy it.
Very Good - This beer is top quality, I highly recommend it.
Good - This beer is good and I recommend it, but it could be improved somewhat.
Drinkable - This beer is run-of-the-mill, and although there's nothing badly wrong with it, it's not really all that good either.
Poor - This is not a good beer. It has some glaring flaws and I suggest you steer clear.
Downright Awful - This beer is an abomination not fit for human consumption, give it as wide a berth as possible

Review - Driftwood Blackstone Porter
This is the second year Driftwood has released its seasonal Blackstone Porter. It is a London style porter, a beer that may have taken its name from the labourers, such as porters, with whom it was popular. It pours black with distinct ruby brown highlights and an off-white head that is quick to fade and has a subtle coffee-chocolate aroma from the dark malts used in the mash. Driftwood used a partial sour mash in the recipe and this gentle tartness is evident in the entry and the finish and blends well with the Blackstone's traditional dry bitterness that is often characteristic of a porter.The flavour is well balanced with a roasted and dry malt character, but the body is perhaps slightly on the thin side. Not since the days of Hugo's brewpub has a Victoria brewery produced a porter of this caliber, demonstrating once again Driftwood's ability to produce top quality true-to-style beer.

Rating: Very Good

Review - Moon Under Water Brewpub

The Moon Under Water takes its name from an essay by George Orwell from 1946 published in the London Evening Standard. In it he proclaims ten attributes that make the perfect pub, the fictional "Moon Under Water." I believe that if one looks past the veneer of the age in which it is written, this essay still strikes at the heart of what makes a great public house today, and I would encourage anyone to read the full essay here.

The proprietors of Victoria's newest brewpub aim to make this vision a reality. Moon is located on the downtown side of the Bay Street Bridge and thus immediately satisfies two of Orwell's criteria: it is located two minutes from a bus stop (the #14 stops across the street), but is on a side street, so drunks and rowdy's won't find their way to its doors. Also according to Orwell's standard, Moon now has a games room separate from the main bar, a fire burning in the hearth, and no radios (or televisions) blaring.

Don, Bonnie, and Ron Bradley, the founders of the Moon Under Water, are hardly new to the micro-brew game, as they founded Bowen Island Brewing back in 1994. This would be my third visit to the Moon since they first opened late last year and I was very excited for the chance to review their beers, as I was pleased with their first efforts. Walkng in I knew I had to leave some of my prejudices at the door. Let me say it now, I am head over heels in love with the Cascadian brewing revolution. There is little I enjoy as much as being clobbered over the head with a 10% abv Imperial Stout or slapped in the tastebuds by a 100+ IBU double IPA. But the Moon is about something different. They serve traditional English-style low alcohol session beers that are still full-flavoured and full-bodied, but without the high abv % so common these days. While ordering a couple of pints at the bar I had a chance to talk to Ron  about his recent research trip to Seattle and Portland, as well as his philosophy on beer. He said that some beers south of the border were so intense that they took him most of the night to finish and left him with heartburn. Now despite my love of extreme beers and a spot of old-fashioned beer revelry, I respect his desire to create satisfying session-beers, that can be enjoyed over an evening, without resulting in overly drunken and disheveled customers. This, I must admit, stays true to the spirit of Orwell's essay.

Before I get on to the beers let me say that both me and my girlfriend's meals were good, as they have been every time I've been to Moon, (local tip: always order the soup, its amazing) but the decor and atmosphere is a touch sparse and it is here that the Moon must truly improve to bring itself up to the Orwellian standards to which it aspires. But I digress, this is a beer blog, and so lets get on to the beer.

Moonlight Blonde Ale    4.2%
This is not a style that I'm naturally inclined to and on my first two visits this beer was by far my least favourite, but since then it has definitely improved. Its newest version is very dark, to the point of being indistinguishable from their pale ale, and thus probably the darkest blonde I have experienced. It is nonetheless surprisingly refreshing and would make a great introduction to micro-brew beer for the lager enthusiast.
Rating: Good

Lunar Pale Ale    4.2%
This beer cascades into the glass a classic pale ale amber and its aroma is a wonderfully blended mix of malt and hops. The unusual combination of Goldings and Cascade hops have been used to dry-hop this beer, a process where hops are added while the beer is fermenting to provide hop aroma. I was highly impressed with this beer until I tasted it. Its body was quite thin, and its flavour bland, with somewhat unpleasant sour notes. The great balance of hops and malt so evident in the aroma was totally absent in the flavour, and this beer that started out so promising, ended up my least favourite.
Rating: Drinkable

Blue Moon Bitter    3.8%
This Best Bitter bitter pours a highly attractive deep amber with a thin, creamy head which sits atop the beer to almost the end of the glass. It bears a mild, yet inviting hoppy bouquet and is truly an attractive beer before ever being tasted. It has a beautiful, silky mouthfeel and an incredibly full body for being 3.8% abv. This is the beer that will keep me coming back to Moon, and its session strength means I can have a few without fear of the new drunk-driving laws.
Rating: Very Good

Belgian Chocolate Porter    4.6%
This beer is highly limited, and is likely to not last the weekend, so if you want to try it head to Moon soon. It enters the glass a very dark black with a totally non-existent head and a delicate chocolate, malty aroma. Its body is full and satisfying with a roasted, yet somewhat bland and quick finishing aftertaste. If you're at Moon its worth a try, but if you're keen for a top-notch local porter, go for a Driftwood Blackstone.
Rating: Good

It has to be said that for Moon Under Water to become the pub of Orwellian vision is still going to take some work. The atmosphere is lacking, the menu needs consistency, and above all the beers need to get better. But this being said I believe the people of Victoria should get behind this establishment. This is not a tired old brewpub, resting on its laurels of years past and producing beers of consistently mediocre or worse quality year after year. This is a new business actively looking to understand and produce the beers desired by a changing marketplace. Coming in February Moon will have an IPA on-tap with an abv of 5.5%. They will soon be selling off-sales, including some beers of higher strength not offered on-tap. They will also be featuring a series of very small batch beers in order to gauge what people are looking for. I cannot think of an approach more dedicated to improving Victoria's already good beer scene, and this is why I believe that if you love quality beer and want to continue to see Victoria uphold its reputation as the beer capital of Canada, you should give Moon Under Water a shot.

Review - Battle of the Russian Imperial Stouts: Phillips Hammer vs Driftwood Singularity

Now that winter is here with its cooler climes we have officially entered dark, heavy beer drinking season. In this spirit two of Victoria's best breweries, Phillips and Driftwood, have brought out competing versions of one of the more intense beers around, the Russian imperial stout.

Russian imperial stout, like India Pale Ale, was originally brewed in Britain with high amounts of alcohol and hops to preserve it during shipment by sea. Its destination however, was not India, but the Baltic states and Russia, where it was said to be popular with the Imperial court.

Both versions have the high alcohol content typical of the style; the Hammer weighs in at 8.3% abv, and the Singularity a whopping 11.8% abv. Singularity has spent four months being aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, whereas Hammer comes in two versions: both barrel-aged and not. Both come in 650 ml longnecks, but price is one big difference between the two, Hammer costs around $6 in most specialty liquor stores; Singularity will set you back a fairly hefty $12. Anyways, let's get to the tasting.

Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout (no barrel)
This beer pours a deep black, with a pleasing dark brown head that quickly fades and has an aroma of roast barley and malt. It has a heavy, yet silky body and a flavour dominated by roasted barley. It is smooth on the palette with a clean and not overly bitter aftertaste, despite being such a heavy, intense beer. For an Imperial stout it is perhaps a touch bland, and could use a little variation in its flavour other than roasted barley. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this beer and could easily have more than one, a credit to its smoothness and drinkability, despite its high alcohol content.
Rating: Good

Phillips Hammer Imperial Stout (barrel aged)
Similar to its cousin in appearance and aroma, in taste it differs considerably. This beer is a more complex and interesting stout, its flavour more nuanced from a mild sweetness taken from its time in bourbon barrels. It does have some sharp notes in its entry from the sweetness, but with a bit of aging these should mellow. I will be laying a few of these away for the future, however this beer is great enjoyed straight away.
Rating: Very Good

Driftwood Singularity Russian Imperial Stout
Like all Driftwood's offerings, Singularity is well-marketed. Its jet-black label with a single fuzzy dot in the centre, suggesting a black hole, or singularity, makes you want to buy it immediately. It cleverly proclaims itself, a "beer of infinite density",a claim not actually far from the truth. In the glass this stout is an impenetrable shade of midnight with no head and has a potent aroma of masses of malt with sweetness around the edges. Similar to the barrel-aged Hammer, it has sharp notes in its entry, but to a much larger degree. Its flavour is quite complex with waves of intense malt and bourbon sweetness and has a fairly smooth aftertase considering its strength. It finishes well with coffee notes and reasonably strong alcohol warming. This beer is certainly intriguing, but a bit intense to be honest, and I like intense; it took me and my girlfriend some time to polish off a bottle. I'm sure with a fairly long aging process this beer would mature into something fantastic, and there is something to be said for nursing a glass into the wee hours, but if you're looking for something with a touch of drinkability right away, look elsewhere.
Rating: Good

Review - The Saison, Beer of the Farm Labourer

The saison is a beer I have little experience with, but the more I learn about it the more interested I become. It was traditionally brewed in farmhouses in the French-speaking region of Belgium for farm workers bringing in the harvest. It was made in the cooler months, and thus had to be sturdy enough to last through the summer, but refreshing enough to quench the thirst of the labourers. Beers that combine elements of both lagers and ales are a particular interest of mine and its mix of both the robust and the refreshing reminds me of steam beer and my ownOvercast Island Ale. In this post I'll be reviewing three very different saisons: the Saison de Dottignies from the Brouwerij De Ranke in Belgium, The Saison du Buff, a collaborative effort of three American breweries, and Victoria's own Deckhand, from Lighthouse Brewing.

Saison de Dottignies - 5.5%
The Saison de Dottignies from the Belgian Brouwerij De Ranke is an intriguing beer. It is produced by two passionate home brewers in West Flanders, Nino Bacelle and Guido Devos. For a few hours every Friday and Saturday they take control of a local brewery and produce what many consider some of the finest beers in Belgium. Saison de Dottignies pours a deep golden, nearly orange hue, and has a pleasing bouquet of noble hops, possibly Saaz. It is refreshing and crisp, with a pleasant dry finish that is slightly bitter. It could almost be a pilsner but for the light character of Belgium yeast that just shows up on the palette. This beer is incredibly refreshing, but never boring, which is a difficult line to walk indeed, I can only imagine a farm hand's satisfaction at downing their first pint of such a brew after a hard day in the field. This beer has a delicate and yet captivating flavour whose memory, more than almost any other I can remember, has stayed with me long after the glass was empty. It is not cheap, at nearly $5 for a standard sized small bottle, but is well worth the expenditure. In Victoria it is available only at Cook Street Village Liquor.
Rating: Excellent

Saison du Buff - 6.8%
The Saison du Buff is a collaborative effort between three fine US breweries: Dogfish HeadVictory, and Stone. The Buff in the name stands for Brewers United for Freedom of Flavour, an organisation formed by the three brewery's owners "with the goal to highlight the uniqueness, passion, and camraderie of America's craft brewers." Despite this beer's pedigree I was pretty skeptical going in as it is a most unconventional beer that is brewed with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. However, this turned out to be one of the most surprising and fascinating beers I've had in a long time. The Saison du Buff is a pale, cloudy gold with a nice head of fine bubbles and has a very light fruity aroma. As expected it has an unorthodox taste with flavours of aniseed and mint, but these flavours do not overpower but blend subtly with light fruit and spice from the Belgian yeast. It is quite effervescent, with a dry and spicy finish, and is incredibly drinkable, reshreshing, and above all fascinating. I brought this beer back from a recent trip to the States and am not aware of any local outlets selling it, but if you do see it, buy it. You will not be disappointed.
Rating: Excellent

Deckhand Belgian Saison - 8%
This beer is the third in Lighthouse's "Small Brewery - Big Flavour" series. I was skeptical about this beer as the first in the series, Shipwrecked, a so-called "Triple" IPA, was only a shade above undrinkable, a 10% abv beer absolutely dominated by the taste of alcohol. Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised as this turned out to be one of my favourite offerings produced by Lighthouse in some time. In the glass Deckhand is golden and lightly cloudy with a faint aroma of Belgian yeast. The flavour has elements of fruit and spice with emphasis on the fruit, but this is not overpowering. It is refreshing, as a saison should be, and does not have the strong flavour of bubblegum that plagues many North American produced Belgian beers. It is quite effervescent and has a medium to light body with a mild alcohol taste on the finish, but otherwise it finishes well with fruit and spice. Deckhand lacks the subtle complexity of the Saison de Dottignies and the Saison du Buff, but this is somewhat of an unfair comparison as these were two of the best beers I have tried in a long time, and the first ones I have given a rating of excellent . Deckhand is a great local example of a saison and is interesting as well as drinkable, especially considering it is 8% abv. It is also fairly affordable being available at most local liquor outlets for less than $7 for a 650ml longneck. If you have any interest in this style I recommend you give Deckhand a try.
Rating: Very Good

Book Review - The Complete Joy of Home Brewing - by Charlie Papazian

If you're interested in getting into home brewing, or taking your home brew skills to the next level, I strongly recommend reading The Complete Joy of Home Brewing by Charlie Papazian. I've read a number of books on the subject and have found many to be lacking in some way. Some are filled mostly with recipes, others are overly technical or too simplistic. This book however, often referred to as "the homebrewer's bible," strikes just the right balance.

Charlie Papazian is seen by many as the father of American home brewing. He founded the Great American Beer Festival and the Association of Brewers, and has been its president, as well as president of the Brewer's Association since 1979. InThe Complete Joy of Home Brewing, his comprehensive knowledge of the subject from more than thirty years of experience, is evident. He covers every topic from beer styles and history, to buying and building your own home brewing equipment, to breakdowns of beer's four main ingredients: malt, hops, water and yeast. The Complete Joy takes you from beginner through to advanced home brewing with recipes for every level along the way. He provides great beer geek information for interested parties (such as myself) but never loses his firm basis in the practical application of home brewing. The only criticism I can offer is that this book contains somewhat limited information for the advanced home brewer, but Papazian has written another book, The Home Brewer's Companion, specifically with the experienced brewer in mind. If you have any interest in taking up the brewer's spoon or advancing your home brew skills then this is definitely the book for you.

Rating: Excellent

Review - Vancouver Island Double Decker IPA

I can remember the days when Vancouver Island Brewery ruled the Island. Feel like something dark and refreshing? Have a Hermann's Dark Lager. Want something with a bit of kick? Try a Wolf's Scottish Cream Ale. Don't know what you want? A Piper's Pale Ale is good anytime. But those days are long gone. With the emergence of more innovative local breweries, VIB has not adapted but has instead depended on its earlier successes, producing the same beers for the same customers of 2 decades ago. That is one of the reasons I was skeptical when I read they were producing a new IPA.

Double Decker is a "British Style" IPA, a style that is almost non-existent in the UK, but meaning one that has more of a malt emphasis than most highly-hopped North American IPA's. When I read that they were using Cascade hops, the quintessential North American hop, I was somewhat confused. If you're making a British IPA why not use world-renowned British hops such as Goldings, Brewer's Gold, or Northern Brewer? All these are easily available in North America. Was this whole "British IPA" claim merely a front to explain why this beer would be another dull offering, not having the superb hop character of modern IPA's? I put these concerns aside as I sat down to try the Double Decker. Prejudging beers is something I want to avoid so I gave this beer the benefit of the doubt. Maybe this could be the first great offering from VIB in years, something to bring their old fans back into the fold with a new take on the IPA that was actually a vision of IPA's of the past. As I opened the bottle I was ready to like this beer.

The Double Decker pours an attractive golden amber with a white head that immediately fades. On the back of the bottle it states "we hope you enjoy its assertive hop aroma" so I was surprised when there seemed to be virtually no hop bouquet. The aroma had some fermentation character, but almost no hops. The emphasis on this beer is definitely on the malt, it has that same malt flavour that seems common to all VIB beers. But any IPA should have some hop character and this beer has almost none. There are virtually no front-end, or flavouring hops detectable at all. It does have a mildly bitter finish, and this is really the only thing that sets it apart from pretty much every other VIB beer on the market. If I had to pick two words to sum up this beer the first one would be drinkable. The second one would be boring.

Rating: Drinkable

1 comment:

  1. Nice tasting notes - I have to try those belgians!

    I found that the Deckhand goes very well with smokables and really takes on a more complex character. I wonder how smoke affects taste buds?