Hamilton Spectator: OCB review

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Hamilton Spectator: OCB review

Postby sstackho » Mon Jul 14, 2008 9:40 pm

Not much to this article (there was also a similar article for the Waterloo Record, localized for the region's breweries), but figured you'd read it if you stumbled upon it in the newspaper, so here it is.

Dan Kislenko
Go Weekend
Craft beer not your usual two-four case of suds
Dan Kislenko
The Hamilton Spectator
1027 words
12 July 2008
The Hamilton Spectator
Copyright (c) 2008 The Hamilton Spectator.

You're heading out on vacation, and the thought of a cold beer when you arrive is a tempting one. So let's talk suds today.

Actually, that vacation stuff is just an excuse. Truth is, I've been tasting quite a few beers recently, and wanted to share some thoughts.

For the record, I am in no way a beer snob. In some quarters, it is still fashionable to put down the Blues and MGDs of the world. I like frosty cold North American commercial beer.

Having said that, most of the beers we'll discuss are indeed intended for the niche market.

First up: You walk into this bar and order a DeuS, and when you ask for the tab it arrives as $52. That's no mistake. Chester's Beers Of The World, on King Street across from Gore Park, is the only place in this part of Ontario that offers this specialty Belgian brew, which they obtain privately.

You may know that they take beer seriously in Belgium, and this is the granddaddy of serious beers.

The production process is similar to Champagne, except that DeuS goes through three fermentations and two long periods of aging. It clocks in at a very wine-like 11.5 per cent alcohol, more than double that of standard beer, and comes in a 750 mL bottle (that happens to jog memories of Dom Perignon) with a real cork. DeuS is intended to be drunk very cold (actually colder than Champagne), and sipped (not quaffed) from a tall flute.

The beauty of this beer is that the high alcohol is not noticeable. In the glass, DeuS is amber gold and shows tiny, rapidly moving and lingering bubbles that form a dense head. It has a sweet, peach-like quality, a smell that comes across as brioche dough and cloves. In the mouth it is smooth and refreshing, yet there is unmistakable body behind that, with impressions of yeast, orange peel, lemon and baking bread.

If you're looking for a luxury beer, this is the place.

How do you do a comparative tasting of 20 different beers when they arrive at the office? You go to a patio and make a party of it. One Saturday last month, I assembled a group of friends who happen to be into beer and we tasted through a large group of products from the Ontario Craft Brewers.

That's an association of 29 small brewers across the province dedicated to making top-quality beer along traditional European lines, and not afraid to dabble in some unusual concepts -- hence an ale infused with orange peel from Great Lakes brewery).

The tasting panel included myself, four other guys and one woman (the other women preferred white wine), and while all have been exposed to beers in Europe and elsewhere and have pretty adventurous tastes, none is a beer snob.

I divided the beers into flights of lagers and ales (the difference is in how the yeast works in the beer-making process, but generally lagers are more crisp and lighter than ales), so we tasted like against like. When the dust settled, the overall winner was Old Credit Amber Ale, made in Mississauga, with three first place and three second-place votes. It is sweet but balanced, with a sense of dry maple syrup and Halloween chewy candies.

A close second was Brick J.R. Brickman Pilsner out of Waterloo, with three firsts and two seconds. It has loads of fruit notes such as oranges and peaches, and buttered toast.

The challenge is finding craft beers. You can visit the breweries and taste and buy there, but that involves travel, in some cases considerable travel. A limited selection is available at LCBO stores, and a somewhat better selection through Beer Stores, though it's hit and miss.

Or you can pick up the OCB Discovery Pack from the LCBO, with six different bottles ($11.95, code 53181). Five bottles are the normal 341-mL size and one is 222 mL. Three were in the tasting I conducted; but Wellington Special Pale Ale, Walkerville Amber Lager and Mill Street Organic Lager were not. One beer is the Brickman Pilsner.

Here are my notes on the other two:

GREAT LAKES RED LEAF SMOOTH RED LAGER. Dark brown with a touch of bitterness, tasting of toast, muesli and molasses.

LAKES OF MUSKOKA CREAM ALE. Impression of bitter hops and mushrooms, with the alcohol, though only a normal 5 per cent, quite prominent.

One OCB member is local: Better Bitters on Drury Lane in Burlington. It recently launched a new line called Nickel Brook beers (nickelbrook.com), and we tasted their Green Apple Pilsner. It is pleasant, with a sweet impression and distinctive tart smell and taste of Granny Smith apple skins. Delightful served ice cold on a hot day.

If you are travelling and want to stop at a craft brewery, information including locator maps, beer lists and recommended LCBO and Beer Store outlets is the OCB website: ontariocraftbrewers.com.

OCB will have a strong presence at the Toronto Festival of Beer, Aug. 7 to 10 at Old Fort York. For details, go to beerlicious.ca.

There was one more, separate flight in that beer tasting.

You've no doubt seen the advertising for the new Stella Artois Light (or Légère as they call it). It's a 4 per cent alcohol version of the normal 5.2 per cent famous Belgian brew, available in Beer Stores.

We tasted the two side by side, and split evenly over which we liked best.

The regular Stella is hoppy, quite masculine, with a biscuit feel to it. The Légère has more of a North American feel, with a lighter texture and sweet finish.


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Postby Ale's What Cures Ya » Mon Jul 14, 2008 10:13 pm

That article is fairly lame.
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Postby boney » Mon Jul 14, 2008 10:32 pm

If anything, this article speaks to the absolute abysmal state of craft beer and places to drink craft beer in Hamilton. I love Chester's like family members begrudgingly love the underachieving slacker brother...it could be so much better and always ends up costing you rediculous amounts of money. And no mention of the Winking Judge? Go figure they don't mention the only place worth mentioning.

I know this article was reworked for various regional papers, but it's hilarious that Old Credit Amber Ale was included in the Spec. In my two years in Hamilton, I've never seen it anywhere in the city and had to grab a bottle from the Cooper street store in TO just to try it (for the record, it took up more trunk space than it was worth.....how the hell was it the "winner" of the OCB brews anyway?). Thers are so many actually good OCB beers out there that just never get to Hamilton...LCBO or pubs. I know, I know, I can order them if I want....but sometimes you just have cravings that need to be satisfied right then.

Interestingly, from what I remember from the LCBO stock, there were only about 24 six packs of Dead Guy and 24 six packs of ST that ever made it into Hamilton, a city of 500,000.

Sorry for the rant, this thread just gave me the oportunity to lament the black hole of brewing that is Hamilton. God I miss London and Chaucer's. Why did I move here again?....I need a beer.
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Postby JerCraigs » Tue Jul 15, 2008 7:39 am

One the one hand, any promotion of local breweries is always nice, but that was not a particularly well written article regardless of content.
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Postby GregClow » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:07 am

JerCraigs wrote:One the one hand, any promotion of local breweries is always nice, but that was not a particularly well written article regardless of content.

I was thinking the same thing. Beer picks aside, the quality of the writing itself is pitiful for a mainstream newspaper.
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Postby Bobsy » Tue Jul 15, 2008 8:26 am

Firstly - I hate the term 'beer snob', its banded around like there are two groups of people: snobs who drink fancy beers, and normal folks who enjoy an ice cold frosty Canadian. I like how he begins by saying that he is not a beer snob, and then that the beers reviewed are intended for their niche market. And what's more, isn't this like a food critic saying I don't really like those fancy michelin starred meals and I don't understand them. I prefer a big mac anyday. Nonetheless I'm going to give you my uninformed opinion about these funny meals the snobs eat?

Secondly - Deus. I'm pretty sure that's available elsewhere in Ontario.

Thirdly - Stella Artois - hoppy? Did the dude leave it too close to a pack of southern tier and some miracle of nature happened? And WTF is a masculine feel, and does this stand in contrast to the less masculine north american feel? Is a masculine beer assertive and aggressive? Get a Ruination down your throat and then tell me that Stella has a masculine feel.

Fourthly - Nickelbrook. I like this brewery, but saying they recently launched their beer is really stretching the definition of the word recent.

Fifthly - can someone explain to me why some women only drink white wine? Is it because they lack adventurousness when it comes to trying something new and unusual? Is it because they've had a bad experience with beer in the past? Can they tell the difference between a cheap bottle of plonk and a glass of Napa's finest? I know its their perogative to drink what they want, and I would never impose myself on them, but I just don't understand. When I was a kid my parents used to make me eat things that I screamed I didn't like, and over time I grew to like and then love those things. Its just so goddam vanilla.

I appreciate there are good parts to the article, and that these things are appearing, but when they are off the mark they do so much more harm than good.
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Postby Hamilton Brian » Thu Jul 17, 2008 6:04 am

Still in Ireland but as I read this I was struck with the lack of mention of Winking Judge. Whatever one's thoughts on Bill's schtick, the place serves great beer. I wonder if he's pissed off hamilton's media.

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