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Students didn’t sleep through English Bitter class

Students didn’t sleep through English Bitter class

ENGLISH BITTER, NIAGARA COLLEGE BREWERY

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I’m adding Beer 101 English Bitter to my list of favourite summer beers.

This 4.4 per cent sessional out of the Niagara College Teaching Brewery is the kind of homework I like to labour over on the weekend.

Beer 101 English Bitter is instantly likeable, in its light hoppy taste (barely discernable, actually), fruity aroma and rich amber appearance. It’s in the style of a traditional English pub cask ale, but considered a sessional because the alcohol content is low. What a great combination!

Beer 101 English Bitter is refreshing from the first gulp. And hallelujah, it’s a sessional that actually tastes like something. The bitter taste reminds you you’re engaging meaningfully with something other than national brand dishwater masquerading as light beer. Sorry, this always annoys me, especially on a Friday when you know it’s selling by the truckload somewhere while craft beers should, but aren’t.

Someone learned their lessons brewing Beer 101 English. Cheers to you Niagara College Teaching Brewery.

With Strong Patrick, you can!

With Strong Patrick, you can!

STRONG PATRICK IRISH-STYLE RED, BEAU’S 

favicon2-4-beersI believe Strong Patrick might be the perfect beer for March 17 festivities, with friends or by yourself cheering on the green in front of a good Christy Moore concert video.

Here are 10 reasons why:

1. It has an ultra cool Irish name. If Strong Patrick was crappy beer, the name alone would never be enough to carry it. It would be insulting, in fact. But the name fits.

2. It’s has great parentage. Strong Patrick is brewed by Beau’s Brewing Co., Ontario craft brewer extraordinaire, the best thing to happen to Vankleek Hill since Better Farming magazine took hold there some 20 years ago.

3. It tastes great! It has a fine, substantive body, not gimmicky whatsoever. And that’s just the first gulp. Then…

4. It has an unusually light aftertaste. So, when you crack open your second one, you won’t feel like you’ve swallowed an entire barley field and hop yard. And…

5. It comes in 600 ml bottles. All beer should come in 600 ml bottles. It’s a meaningful, respectful volume. It’s like the brewery knows this is good beer and wants you to enjoy it uninterrupted, for a longer period of time than normal, before you are required to head back to the refrigerator.

6. It packs a wallop. It’s deemed a strong beer, weighing in at 6.9 per cent. However, it doesn’t taste exceptionally sweet or prompt a phlegm response in your throat (see point #4 above).

7. You only need one — see points #5 and #6 above. But you’ll want two. It is very easy to drink.

8. If you buy more than two and drink them, then need to rest your liver, Strong Patrick stays fresh for four months. Right before St. Patrick’s Day, I had a bottle from a batch brewed January 24. Very fresh indeed.

9. It’s brewed with organic hops and organic barley. I don’t care about this, but some pro-organic people will take comfort in it and say organic ingredients positively influence the taste. I don’t think so; I think the key is in the brewer’s ability. A poor brewer could screw up anything, organic or conventional.

10. You want to support local craft breweries, even on a milestone occasion that has traditionally called for an import. With Strong Patrick, you can.

Skip the chocolate, head straight for the fridge

Skip the chocolate, head straight for the fridge

If it’s the bitterness in chocolate that attracts you to it – or simply the taste of chocolate — you will love Lake of Bays’ Midnight Bock, from its one-off Wild North series.

This comparatively low-alcohol bock (5.5 per cent) is a chocolate lover’s dream — so much so, that I could hardly stop nosing it.

Really smells like chocolate, right? Sure, but I’d better be certain.

Inhale, just once more.

Or maybe twice. No need to hurry. Have another hit.

And that’s even before the first sip! Superb.

Taste-wise, Midnight Bock starts with a cool sweetness, followed by a chocolate bitterness that grows from mild to medium-strong. It lingers much longer than I expected. And it all contributes to a distinct, full taste that I’m attributing to in part to what the company mysteriously calls “specialty malt.” Probably molasses has something to do with it, too.

And while there’s no mistaking this for an entry-level bock, the overwhelming chocolate presence and moderate alcohol content will make it accessible to a wide range of beer lovers.

Lake Of Bays reminds us that bock was originally brewed to sustain fasting monks through self-imposed, intense periods of no food. Who knows when we might be faced with that perilous situation again? Better stock up.

What the brewery says:

Get lost in the midnight dark chocolate and ruby toned colours, capped with a soft tan foam. Pairs perfectly with gentler cheeses such as provolone or mozzarella, seared or cured antipasto meats, and chocolate-covered almonds Brewed with malted wheat, specialty malt, and molasses, this smooth-sipping, full-bodied treat will carry you through a long winter’s night.

The Les Paul of IPAs

The Les Paul of IPAs

HEADSTOCK IPA – NICKEL BROOK BREWING CO.

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It’s Friday night.

The Celtics are playing the Raptors.

The Raptors are struggling; they’re down by seven at the half.

I pop a top on a Headstock IPA.

The Raptors catch fire and dominate the third quarter 33-18.

Coincidence?

Of course.

But it’s a coincidence made me feel even warmer and fuzzier about this excellent beer than I did already.

Headstock, by Nickel Brook, is one of the most enjoyable beers I’ve tasted. I love how it combines superb taste and reasonable potency – a pronounced tingly citrus flavour, and a light-heavyweight reading of 7.0 per cent alcohol. One of these, and you’re relaxed without feeling full.

On the label, Nickel Brook list the four hops that account for the distinct citrus taste: Simcoe, Amarillo, Equinox and Mosaic. “We especially adore the science of hops…we conclude that hop science is one tasty passion,” it says. “No additives. No Preservatives. Just Science.” Bravo to the brewers for promoting beer science; it’s especially refreshing in an era where fact and proof is quickly, shallowly and nefariously dismissed as corporatism.

Headstock’s funky label features a logo meant to resemble the headstock of a Gibson Les Paul, one of rock’s finest guitars (think Jimmy Page, Gary Moore, Slash, Duane Allman, etc.). It’s very classy and very enticing to guitar-playing beer drinkers who appreciate quality. The promise of quality inside comes through in spades.

I won’t wait until spring to pop another Headstock. But I’m already declaring it my official beer of the NBA playoffs.

Here’s what the brewery says:

“The flowering humulus lupulus top-cone provides us with the vital acids, essential oils and resins that permeate throughout our IPA. The result is a deliciously obscene wallop of tropical fruit, citrus and pine hop flavours.”

A ‘stout nouveau’ to warm the winter

A ‘stout nouveau’ to warm the winter

SHINNICKED STOUT, MUSKOKA BREWERY

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As beer tastes become increasingly refined, and ingredients are better understood and described by brewers, discerning drinkers can have a blast dissecting the minutiae of whatever they’re tasting, and comparing tasting notes with buddies.

That’s not to take anything away from the occasional chug or guzzle.

But what a world of incredibly complex, entertaining recipes we’ve had laid in front of us by craft brewers.

In that light, one of my new favourites, being released in December, is a stout from Muskoka Brewery called Shinnicked. I’m partial to the quality Muskoka Brewery is renowned for. Shinnicked follows the long line of my other favourites, especially Muskoka’s Cream Ale and Detour.

Shinnicked (5.2%) takes its name from what the company says is the shivery, numbing feeling you get when you jump into the freezing lake in the winter or gasp for breath when -20C temperatures fill your lungs.

Those conditions are more likely to be found near the company’s HQ in Bracebridge, than they are in Guelph. But you get the idea – it’s a cold-weather beer, meant to warm you up when it’s freezing outside.

Some people may find Shinnicked a bit thin, for a stout. And I’d certainly describe it as more subtle than heavy. No spoon will stand up in this beer; neither will Shinnicked stand up to heavier stouts if that’s what the occasion calls for, or if you’re the kind of beer drinker who wants a more traditional stout.

Rather, it’s what I’d call a stout nouveau, a stout that has a fresh personality and leans to the lighter side. It’s great way to introduce fledgling or formerly reluctant stout drinkers to the variety…especially if they’re coffee fans.

Muskoka teamed up with a local coffee company there, Muskoka Roastery, for the coffee quotient in Shinnicked. I thought its presence was pleasing and inviting. It complements the brew’s chocolate tones, and while it doesn’t overwhelm them, it’s clear that coffee is the boss in this relationship.

I’m a softy for a craft brewery using imaginative ingredients from local suppliers. That said, the brew still has to taste good. And Shinnicked satisfies on both counts.

What the brewery says:

“Shinnicked Stout is a rich, velvety beer brewed in collaboration with local coffee company Muskoka Roastery using their signature Lumberjack coffee. Shinnicked is infused with flavours of dark chocolate and hints of coffee, toffee and dried fruit.”