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.
Craft beer not your usual two-four case of suds
The Hamilton Spectator
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.