YULEBIER (BARREL-AGED JUNIPER RYE ESB) – TWB
The holidays have come and gone. Our pants are a bit tighter, our wallets much lighter, and the snow is a mess of slush. In these early days of January, many folks are returning to work in the post-Christmas fog, having to shower frequently and remember what day it is.
Since I’m still on maternity leave, neither of those things apply to me. But, also due to being home with two young ones, we haven’t really had much time to pack Christmas away yet either. Most of our decorations are still up (minus the tree), the last of Aunt Holly’s cookies sit lonely in the Tupperwear on the counter, and the Christmas lights still turn on at 4:30 p.m. every day.
A lot of beers were drunk this holiday, but amongst all the hustle and bustle, I didn’t have the wherewithal to write any reviews. Lucky for us, a tall bottle of Yulebier from Kitchener’s TWB Cooperative Brewing also survived to January 3. I figured we should drink this ASAP, before it becomes un-cool to drink something yuletide-y too far into January.
I had no clue what a Yulebier was, and it’s sub-description as “barrel-aged juniper rye ESB” still didn’t help me. But I poured it anyways. This beer is beautifully cloudy, and smells slightly herbal. It starts off sweet and malty, with hints of herbs and spices, but has a drawn-out, strong finish that’s sour and hoppy. After this delicious sip, I had to find out what the heck was I drinking.
There is no Wikipedia for Yulebier, but it seems there are some Scandinavian traditions with brewing a special holiday beer. The Juniper Rye part wasn’t as much of a mystery. It usually has a spicy bite from both the rye and juniper berries. The ESB stands for Extra Special Bitter, an English-style pale ale. These beers are known for their great balance between malt and hop bitterness. So, knowing this now, I’d say that TWB made Santa’s ‘nice’ list. Overall, this one-off from TWB rocks, and something I would drink regardless of holidays..
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.
HERITAGE CREAM ALE, TOGETHER WE’RE BITTER
Over a century ago, the Preston Hops Yard was one of the biggest hops farms in Canada. But few people have tasted beer connected to this former 70-acre plot in Cambridge for a very, very long time.
But thanks to a special collaboration between the Tavistock Hops Co. and Kitchener’s Together We’re Bitter Cooperative Brewing (TWB), we finally can.
TWB is selling a one-off batch of cream ale brewed with hops that were originally grown on the now-wild hops land. For that, we can thank Kyle Wynette, who grew up on Hamilton Street in Preston, just a few blocks from where the hop yards used to be.
When Wynette started his Tavistock hops farm a few years ago, he dug up some wild hops rootstalks on the banks of the Speed River, all that’s left of the old Preston site, and replanted them on his farm. Soon he had enough for a small crop, and found a local brewer willing to work with him.
TWB, run in a unique cooperative model, produced what they called a Heritage Cream Ale based on a traditional recipe that would have been brewed at the turn of the century. The result is a surprisingly tasty and smooth cream ale that craft beer fans and mainstream drinkers alike should appreciate.
You get a hint of fruit and floral in the first whiff, and a touch of malt sweetness that’s balanced out nicely by the local hops. It’s a quintessential Canadian-style cream ale. I can picture myself walking into a local pub a hundred years ago and drinking this.
The brewery only made about 750 litres of the one-off batch, so don’t expect it to last much longer. I sampled the beer at the brewery’s Mill Street tasting room, then bought a growler to take home. For now, that’s the only way you can taste this one-of-a-kind brew.
100 STEPS STOUT, ROYAL CITY BREWING
If you’re like me, these first cold blasts of winter get you thinking about hibernating indoors, and stalking the fridge for darker, more roasted-tasting beers.
One of the better local stouts on offer out there is Royal City Brewing’s 100 Steps Stout, a year-round brew that’s especially appealing this time of year as the snow begins to fly.
Fans of inky, rich Imperial stouts might find this stout too tame, but for me, it’s the right balance of roasted coffee and dark chocolate without losing its sessionable drinkability. Coming in at 5.2 ABV and 20 IBUs, it’s a good find on a cold winter’s night.
100 Steps is a dry, traditional Irish stout modelled after Guinness’s iconic brew, but a lot fresher because it’s brewed in town. We picked up a growler direct from the brewery, and weren’t disappointed.
The beer pours with a frothy brown head, and has good malt body, and feels slightly creamy, without being too sweet or over-carbonated.
What the brewery says:
“This beer starts off with a dry roasted taste, akin to coffee or dark chocolate. It then follows with a hint of malt sweetness immediately after. This then yields to more dark chocolate notes and slight herbal finish from the hops.”
COLLECTIVE ARTS BREWING, RANSACK THE UNIVERSE
Like a lot of people, I had to learn to love India Pale Ales.
IPAs, the best-selling style of craft beer brewed in North America, are bitter and demanding at first blush. There’s a reason why my wife acts like she’s had a mouthful of cough syrup whenever she drinks one.
But it’s that robustness and boldness that what makes the style so beloved. And once you get used that stronger taste, and the world of flavour that comes with an IPA, it’s hard to go back to anything else.
Luckily for us, there’s no shortage of Ontario brewers who offer up excellent examples of the heavily-hopped IPA style. For my money, one of the best is Collective Arts’ Ransack the Universe IPA out of Hamilton.
Weighing in at 6.8 ABV and a hefty 85 IBUs, this IPA is a surprisingly drinkable, hazy orange brew. The smell is one of the best features of an IPA, and this offering from Collective Arts – already turning heads for their label collaborations with emerging artists – doesn’t disappoint with aromas of nectarines, apricots and something close to peaches.
The first sip starts almost sweet, and grows bitter. But a tropical citrus and pine tang cut down the hops from being overwhelming, resulting in a nicely balanced IPA. A great place to start if you’re looking for an introduction to the style.
What the brewery says:
“Galaxy hops from Myrtleford, Victoria in Australia and Mosaic hops from Yakima, Washington, USA, deliver aromas and flavours of tropical fruits, mango and citrus. Light malt body lets the hops shine through, and finishes crisp but not bitter. A hemispheric hop mashup.”
KING STREET SAISON – BLOCK THREE BREWERY
The scene: it’s Friday night and the kids are in bed. Dishes are done and there’s an hour and a half before one of the grownups falls asleep. We open the fridge, and ‘ta-da’ (as our 2 year old likes to exclaim), there’s a beautiful tall bottle of Block Three’s King Street Saison looking at us. At 500ml, it’s the perfect sized beer to share. So, fittingly, Greg and I are posting our first double review.
What Kate says:
Based in St. Jacobs, Block 3 calls this their flagship beer, a Belgian Saison, with notes of citrus, coriander, peppercorn and bubblegum. I’m a sucker for most Belgian brews, and since Greg had tasted this before, he warned me that, “this is a ‘Kate’ beer, through and through”.
It certainly is. The beer smells much sweeter than it is. And the forethought of bubblegum makes it stand out on your palate. (Sidenote: I now wonder if it’s that bubblegum taste that I love about all Belgians. Hmm…perhaps I should do some further sampling.)
This is a smooth, light, easy drinking saison at 4.6% Alc/Vol, and it made me salivate for more after the first sip. It’s strange to think of citrus and bubblegum flavours together, but it works, deliciously.
You can get this at most local LCBOs, but I suggest taking the fun country drive down Crowsfoot Road into St. Jacobs if you have some spare time.
What Greg says:
This is a pleasantly dry saison, and a nice change of pace for as guy who likes hops-forward beers. It smells sweeter and more sour than it actually tastes. Of course, I drank it with a head cold, so my senses were a bit muted.
Traditionally, Belgian saisons, also known as farmhouse ales, were a style of beer brewed in the winter months and intended to refresh farmers working in the hot summer months. But with its notes of coriander, spice and almost apple cider-like smell, this brew reminds me of Christmas.
It poured with a frothy, clean white head, and tasted fresh – hats off to Block Three for actually putting a bottling date on this beer, so we knew it was brewed up just six weeks ago.