ENGLISH BITTER, NIAGARA COLLEGE BREWERY
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.
THE STARTER SESSION IPA, FOUR FATHERS BREWING
The folks behind Four Fathers are proof some of the best craft beers in the province are coming out of small places.
Rockwood, Ontario isn’t known for a whole lot other than its annual Farmer’s Parade of Lights, when neighbours deck out their combines and harvesters in a pile of Christmas lights and rumble down the village’s main street.
Four Fathers, which began commercial production in late 2015, have given tiny Rockwood another claim to fame: good craft beer. But that’s about to change.
Brewery co-founder and general manager Mike Hruden says Four Fathers is moving to Hespeler, where they’ll soon be opening a new production facility and long-awaited retail storefront.
If you want to get to know Four Fathers, one of my favourites is their flagship beer, The Starter Session IPA. This brew, which started appearing on LCBO shelves last fall ($3.10 for a 473ml can), is a strong entry into the session IPA category. It’s got everything you’d expect from the style – citrus fruit aromas, solid bitterness and a dry finish despite a subtle malt backbone that’s not always present in IPAs.
Ontario’s craft beer fans have been flooded lately with so-called session IPAs. But this one holds its own against some of the best in that style.
Another favourite from the Four Fathers stable is their nutty, malty and complex Shevchenko 9, a fine Ukrainian-style dunkel. If you’re a fan of dark, European beers, this is a can’t-miss.
What the brewery says (About The Starter):
“With a crisp and citrusy profile, our Galaxy hop driven IPA screams high draft pick beer stud, while its low 4.8 % ABV gives it the stamina to go the whole session, no matter how formidable the competition.”
WARD HEAVY, ROYAL CITY BREWING
The Scottish call it ‘wee heavy,’ and it’s an ideal beer for these grey, cold, rainy days when spring still feels a long way away.
The folks at Guelph’s Royal City Brewing must have had miserable March weather in mind when they concocted their take on the traditional scotch ale style – a rich, malty, sweet, caramel-infused beer that has a distant smokey flavour.
I picked up a growler of the seasonal beer direct from the brewery ($16 for a 1.9-litre jug), after sampling it on location. This Royal City version of that staple of Scottish pubs is cloudy and deep amber in colour, kind of like a glass of iced tea.
I had gone to the brewery hoping to get a growler of their Juice Wayne IPA, but it was sold out (here’s hoping they make more, and soon). But the Ward Heavy, named after the Guelph working-class neighbourhood where the brewery is based, was a pleasant consolation prize.
Scotch ales are kind of like the IPA of the malty world. They’re typically boiled longer in the kettle, which caramelizes the wort and bumps up the alcohol content (this one comes in at 6 per cent ABV). The brewers at Royal City say they use only British Isles hopes and malt to make this beer, which is kinda cool, too.
As someone who generally likes drier beers, I found it sweet without being too sweet, and mildly boozy without it being overpowering. In all, a very nice brew.
What the brewery says:
A scottish wee heavy by style, this deep amber ale is made entirely of UK malts and hops. Strong, assertive, and a little rough around the edges it’s just like the Ward, the part of Guelph we call home.
STRONG PATRICK IRISH-STYLE RED, BEAU’S
I 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.
BALL’S FALLS SESSION IPA, BENCH BREWING
Ontario’s Niagara Region has long been known as our province’s wine making heartland, and for good reason. But lately, a small crop of talented brewers have been turning heads in the shadows of all those vineyards.
From Oast House to Silversmith to the brewers-in-training at Niagara College Teaching Brewery, the Niagara Region’s craft beer scene is producing some excellent brews, and giving us another reason to detour away from the wineries that have made the area so famous.
Enter Beamsville’s Bench Brewing, and their top shelf Ball’s Falls Session IPA. It stands heads above the increasingly crowded bunch of so-called session IPAs that have been rushed onto the market lately. Think about sticking your nose into a basket of peaches and citrus and then sipping a well-hopped, nicely balanced dry pale ale with a subtle hint of nectarine, pine and mango, and you’ll start to get there.
I was introduced to Bench by my brother-in-law in London, before their beer started appearing on Guelph shelves (it’s since been selling out at LCBOs around town). Unlike some watered-down-tasting session IPAs, this is full flavoured but still a drinkable 4.5 per cent ABV.
At $2.95 for a 473 ml can, it’s also a bargain for a high-quality craft beer. I’m looking forward to trying more stuff from these guys.
What the brewery says:
“Named after the historic waterfall located in the Twenty Valley, our Session IPA has a juicy hop aroma of peaches and citrus. It’s highly sessionable with a low bitterness, and finishes dry with a hint of cedar.”
WATERLOO 1815 RYE SAISON – INNOCENTE BREWING COMPANY
It had been one of those weeks – the kind that have you start dreaming about Friday evening on Tuesday morning. The toddler battles seemed overwhelming and I needed to give myself something to look forward to, to help get through the week. An Ontario craft beer could be the ticket, so I grabbed a bottle of Innocente’s Rye Saison and placed it front and centre in our fridge. Every time I’d open the fridge after that, it reminded me that we’d crack this bad boy open once the kids were asleep on Friday evening. We finally got there, and celebrated (as many parents do) with “Netflix and chill”. I’ll let you decide what the “chill” part entailed.
I’m a fan of Belgian brews (Greg tells me that ‘Saison’ is a Belgian style of beer), and this one was a delight. It smelled sweet, with a note of bubblegum, and was a gorgeous amber colour. It was slightly flat, however, likely because it was bottled in October (Innocente adds the bottling date to their packaging). It’s very drinkable and light, but keep in mind it has a higher alcohol percentage (5.7%) that can hit you faster than you expect.
Innocente, based in Waterloo, brewed this beer to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in Belgium in 1815 with ingredients from the home of each of the seven armies who defeated him. As I sipped my beer, I reflected on that historic battle and wondered how it would compare to my particularly tough week managing a certain independent toddler who refuses to wear snow boots and pokes her baby sister in the eyes.
I’m not quite ready to admit defeat or run from the battle in tears (as Napoleon did, apparently), but I will continue to call on my allies (husband, grandparents, friends, strangers at Costco), take out my frustrations on the volleyball court and lastly, keep exploring this delicious world of craft beer.
Cheers to Innocente for this Rye Saison. I can’t wait to taste more from this brewery.