Great Lakes Octopus Wants to Fight

Octopus Wants to Fight
Octopus Wants to Fight. I want to drink.

When it comes to hoppy beer, few in the Canada are on par with Great Lakes Brewery. The west Toronto operation has twice been named Canadian Brewery of the Year, in no small part because it pumps out a steady flow of top notch American-style IPAs like Karma Citra, Lake Effect, Thrust! and Robohop , to name a few.

Octopus Wants to Fight is one of the newest brews coming out of Great Lakes’ tanks. And it was great to stumble upon some fresh cans at the LCBO just as spring is (hopefully) upon us. (If you’re curious about the name, click here.)

Pouring this beer out produces lots of off-white head sitting on top of mostly clear, beautiful amber liquid.

Immediately the pungent scent of grapefruity Mosaic hops hit my nose. This is a beer you can smell from 5 feet away. Getting closer, I inhaled deeply picking up pine resin and juicy tropical fruit.

The flavour profile is very balanced. While this IPA is surely packed full of hops and delivers a firm bitterness, it isn’t overly bitter. It’s very smooth and drinkable, yet complex and satisfying with notes of dank pine, citrus and tropical fruit. At 6.2% alcohol it sits on the light end of the IPA spectrum, with a medium body and finish.

Brewing a balanced IPA — a trick many breweries struggle to pull off — has become Great Lakes’ trademark. Their IPAs go down so smooth but pack all the hop punch you could ask for.

For a while the knock against Great Lakes IPAs was that there was never enough to go around. The good news for drinkers is that the brewery seems to have solved that problem with their recent releases.

100,000 cans of Octopus will hit LCBO shelves over the next three months, the brewery announced. It should also be available at “bars and restaurants from Ottawa to Windsor, Sudbury to Toronto.”

Statistics

Brewer: Great Lakes Brewery

Location: Toronto, Ontario (Etobicoke)

Beer: Octopus Wants to Fight

Style: American IPA

Alcohol: 6.2% abv

Availability

Currently at LCBO stores around the province, the brewery store and better bars/restaurants.

What is your favourite Great Lakes IPA?

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Great Lakes Octopus Wants to Fight

Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus

One of the highlights of the LCBO’s sparse seasonal release for spring 2016 is Lupulus from MicroBrasserie Charlevoix. This hoppy Belgian strong ale is rated among the top Canadian beers and the 10th best beer in its style worldwide. Not too shabby.

I paid a pretty penny to taste this one at Winter Brewfest and was quite impressed, so I gladly purchased a 750ml bottle from the LCBO for $11.80.

Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus
I tried to pour it gently, but it still produced a massive head.

This beer is a gorgeous deep and clear yellow. And be sure to pour gently, as it yields a mammoth frothy white head (see photo). It’s well carbonated with lots of bubbles streaming up from the bottom of the glass and a little effervescent on the tongue.

The nose is really complex, there is barnyard character from the Belgian yeast, melon, citrus, lemon, pineapple as well as some peppery notes from the Saaz hops. It really is something to smell.

The taste doesn’t disappoint either with a mix of fruity esters which give way to a dry lingering bitter finish. This brew is refreshing and very hoppy, but well balanced in my opinion. It’s easy drinking for its heft, but after a glass or two you will understand its potency. The bottle says 10% alcohol but the LCBO has relabelled it as 9%, no doubt after lab testing. Either way you should sip thus one slowly, but that may prove difficult.

Simply put, If you haven’t tried this beer you should. If you like hops and Belgian ales you will love this. Be sure to pick it up while it’s still reasonably fresh. The bottle I bought was born in mid-December. I am sure you could cellar this beer but the hops will fade with time.

Hops are a horrible thing to waste, and with a name like Lupulus, derived from the scientific name for hop (humulus lupulus), the brewer clearly wants you to experience this fresh and at its most hoppy.

I think this ale could be enjoyed anytime, but goes best with mild weather and a hearty meal.

Statistics

Brewer: MicroBrasserie Charlevoix

Location: Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec

Beer: Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus (Sainte-Reserve)

Style: Belgian Strong Ale

Alcohol: 9% or 10% abv, depending on who you ask

Availability

Currently at LCBO stores around the province.

Have you tried Lupulus? Does it deserve high praise or is it over-hyped?

Charlevoix Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus

Nickel Brook Maple Porter

Nickel Brook Maple Porter
One of the more appetizing cans I’ve seen.

As a lover of porters and all things maple I’ve had my eye on Nickel Brook’s Maple Porter for some time now.

I’m generally hesitant when brewers add sugar to beer, as I often find such concoctions overly sweet. However, I seem to have an unlimited tolerance for maple syrup.

Over the years this brew has had some mixed reviews. It was also a little pricey at $9.00 for a 750 ml bottle, so I never bought it.

This year the Burlington-based brewery opted to release it in a more convenient and reasonably-priced format, so I gladly picked up a couple tall cans for $3.00 apiece.

First off, I must say I love the label on this beer. It looks just like a can of maple syrup and instantly made be crave a stack of pancakes.

The beer pours out a solid black with a beige foam head, which receded to nothingness quickly.

The scent of maple syrup hits the nose intensely, as the sweet sugary notes rise up from the glass and dominate the aroma, with some coffee and roasted malt lingering in the background.

On the first sip it’s clear the maple is less intense on the taste buds — and that’s a good thing. No doubt this is a sweet beer, delivering shades of tiramisu as the sugary syrup blends with the beer’s roasted malt foundation. But as I work through the pint I find myself wishing for more maple.

After drinking and thinking some more on the maple levels I think the brewer may have got the balance right. A full glass of this beer went down pretty easy. And while the maple syrup was present in every sip along the way, I can’t say it was cloying. I could have easily popped open another can after finishing the first one.

But the maple flavour can get tired and most of the time I would probably prefer a regular, unsweetened porter. I’d love to see a maple porter with more of a roasted malt presence, or perhaps with some chocolate or coffee thrown into the mix.

If you like maple and porters, or are looking for a beer to pair with breakfast, Nickel Brook’s Maple Porter is well worth a try.

Statistics

Brewer: Nickel Brook Brewing

Location: Burlington, Ontario

Beer: Maple Porter

Style: Robust Porter

Alcohol: 6% abv

Availability

Seasonal. Currently available at the brewery and LCBO stores around the province.

Have you tried this beer or other maple beers? What do you think?

Nickel Brook Maple Porter

Review: St-Ambroise Vintage Ale 2011

For this review I reached deep into the depths of the cellar and pulled out the oldest beer I’ve ever tasted, McAuslan Brewing’s St. Ambroise Vintage Ale 2011.

For some perspective, when this bottle was produced: planking was a thing, people said “winning” a lot and Donald Trump was on TV bossing around Jose Conseco, La Toya Jackson and Gary Busey.

St-Ambroise Vintage Ale 2011
St-Ambroise Vintage Ale 2011

At that time I was still blissfully ignorant of craft beer, quenching my thirst with macro swill and gin and tonics.

I picked up this bottle in 2013 when the Montreal brewery released a gift pack through the LCBO for the Christmas season. The box contained a bottle each of from 2011, 2012 and 2013 vintages. I intended to buy a new bottle each year, and one day do a side-by-side tasting to study how age affects the beer.

However, the 2014 and 2015 vintages never made to Ontario, and the trio languished in my cellar for two more years before I finally cracked the 2011 bottle for this review.

This beer is classified as a barley wine, which is a very strong English-style ale, and is brewed just once a year. Characterized by high alcohol content, many prefer to let barley wine rest for a year or more to smooth it out and calm any boozy heat that may be present in a fresh batch. Some say barley wine can be stored almost indefinitely, in a cool, dark place.

As it comes out of the bottle the half-decade old liquid looks a lot like apricot nectar. Some chucks of sediment loosened from the bottom of the bottle and, despite best efforts, a couple globs sneak into the glass at the tail end of the pour.

The beer smells wonderful. It’s very malty with bright, fruity and floral esters. There are also strong notes of grains, wood, caramel and brown sugar. The 10% alcohol can be detected with a mild sting that hits the nostrils.

The flavour is a very smooth, well integrated malty blend of fruits like figs and apricots with brown sugar and grains. This is very sweet, as close as a beer can get to liquid candy. It has a thick, chewy consistency that leaves a sticky upper lip after each satisfying sip.

This is a potent and indulgent brew, best enjoyed when you have nowhere to be anytime soon.

Statistics

Brewer: McAuslan Brewing

Location: 5080 St-Ambroise, Montreal, Quebec

Beer: St-Ambroise Vintage Ale (2011)

Style: Barley wine

Alcohol: 10% abv

Availability

Very limited. This beer has not been available in Ontario since 2013. New batches may arrive in the future. It can be found in Quebec.

Do you cellar any beer? What’s the oldest beer you’ve tasted?

Review: St-Ambroise Vintage Ale 2011

A buck an ounce: Thoughts on Toronto Winter Brewfest

Even if you weren’t there, by now you’ve may have heard that the inaugural Toronto Winter Brewfest didn’t go off without a hitch.

If you attended, you felt the pain. It stung your wallet early and often. Tickets were a dollar each. Most four ounce samples cost four tickets.

A buck an ounce. What?

That works out to $20 a pint or about 65% more than a beer inside the Rogers Centre.

Price was by far the biggest sore spot, but there were plenty of others. Almost as soon as it kicked off on Friday, complaints began flowing out of the Enercare Centre via social media about crowding, service, lineups, glassware, the venue and beer availability.

The Gainsbourg setup before the crowd swarmed at Toronto Winter Brewfest.
Best in show. The Gainsbourg setup before the attendance swelled.

The complaints continued on Saturday, and the throughout rest of the weekend about what was dubbed “Winter Screwfest.” (More reading here, here, here and all over social media.)

As a ticket holder for the Saturday night session, I followed the drama with some anxiety. Event representatives thanked critics for the feedback (read: flak) and vowed to remedy the situation where possible. My suggestion was ignored. Instead organizers grew the event space by 25% for Saturday and provided free bottles of water.

An excited winner at Toronto Winter Brewfest.
An excited winner at Toronto Winter Brewfest.

From what I can gather, the Friday session was a bit of a disaster, with equipment breakdowns reducing the availability of beer, large lines and a cramped space. Add the high beer prices to the mix and people were understandably upset.

Personally my experience on Saturday was great. I arrived around 5:30 and there was plenty of space, all the beers I wanted were available with minimal waiting. A lesson I’ve learned more than once: the early bird gets the beer.

The DJ at work.
The DJ at work.

As the evening wore on it did get increasingly crowded and kegs began to tap out. Even with 25% more floor space, walking from one end to the other started to feel like I was in a packed nightclub. As the crowd grew it got a little sloppy and I heard a lot of glasses shattering. I decided to hit the toad around 10 after ensuring there were no glass shards in my shoe.

Thankfully, I already had my fill.If I had arrived at 10, as many did, I would have probably left unsatisfied and frustrated.

There were some really good beers to be had. I was able to sample all of my top beer picks. My favorite of the night was Gainsboug’s Orange Tie Wrap. I sank 12 tickets into this complex saison-IPA hybrid to have my cup filled three times (including some generous pours from

People at Toronto Winter Brewfest
Starting to get a little crowded.

the very knowledgeable server). It had a lot of lime and orange going on and a healthy dose of unmistakable Neslon Sauvin hops.

Another standout was Bilboquet’s MacKroken Flower, which is an indulgent 10.8% scotch ale brewed with wild flower honey. And Charelvoix’s Dominus Vobiscum Lupulus was a phenomenal blend of hops and fruity esters. I was lucky enough to get the last pour.

The good

Beer selection: From my experience, this was the biggest and best selection of Quebec and Ottawa brews ever offered on tap in Toronto.

Atmosphere: I like the venue, the interior/exterior brick wall on one side gives it an outdoorsy feel. I enjoyed the lighting, music and decor/fixtures. Also, having ample restrooms and drinking fountains is a big plus.

Pre-purchased tickets: I took the opportunity to buy food/drink tickets ahead of time online for a 20% discount. That means my overpriced beer samples only cost me just $3.20 apiece. This is a great idea I’d like to see at every beer event.

Roll-a-Ball: Anyone reeling from the prices could take a seat at this carnival game and try to turn a ticket into five.

Self-serve beer: This is a bit of a gimmick, although I do take much joy in pouring my own pint. The real value is that you could fill your 16 ounce glass up to the brim for 9 tickets. I didn’t try it, but that’s actually decent value.

Service: Specifically the generous server who — for a measly four tickets — dropped about 13 oz. of Beyond the Pale’s Govern Yourself Accordingly rye porter into my glass. It must have been my charm!

The bad

Beer selection: More stouts, big Belgians, barley wines, scotch ales please. This is Winter Brewfest. I could count the imperial stouts available on one hand.

Food: The wait for food was long and I wasn’t even there for the busiest hours. It cost $10 for a trio of two-bite fish tacos. They need more options and more quick-serve snack items. I should be able to get a soft pretzel with mustard at every beer event.

Service: On Friday there were reports of people getting stingy pours. I think this was remedied with some retraining for the Saturday session. Still, at these prices servers should have been instructed to be generous from the start.

The ugly

Prices: A buck an ounce! How dare you?

Crowding: The sheer amount of people there by around 10 hastened my exit. Had I arrived later, I wouldn’t have stayed long at all. Clearly, too many tickets were sold or maybe the event’s layout should have been designed better.

The takeaway

I think most shortcomings would have been forgiven if the beer prices weren’t so outrageous. Conversely if the event was executed better, people wouldn’t have complained about the price as much.

This was the first Toronto Winter Brewfest, so, I’ll give the organizers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe there were unforeseen circumstances that necessitated the high prices and/or overselling of tickets. That doesn’t make it right, but it is understandable. And for every complaint on social media, there are probably a dozen posts from people who had a blast at the event.

To me the beer selection alone made this worth attending. Such a wide selection of interesting brews from Quebec and Ottawa is hard to find in Toronto. Hopefully the people behind the event learn from this experience and return much improved in 2017.

Were you at the event? How was your experience? Would you attend again?

A buck an ounce: Thoughts on Toronto Winter Brewfest

Review: Muddy York Brewing — Gaslight Helles

Beer
Muddy York Brewing’s Gaslight Helles

Lagers are usually the subject of ridicule among craft beer drinkers — often rightfully so — in a market so flooded with the bland, pale variety.

But a good lager can be refreshing, complex, satisfying and downright delicious.

The best ones traditionally come from Europe and often wash up on our shores well below their prime, after pasteurization and the long journey robs them of taste. Most North American lagers are mass produced with rice and other adjuncts to dilute the flavour of barley malt.

As such I am always on the lookout for local, fresh, unpasteurized lagers and had high hopes for Muddy York Brewing’s Gaslight Helles lager.

Since it was established 2013, Muddy York has focused classic beer styles. You won’t see coconut or cacao nibs listed on their ingredients lists. Muddy York boasts of taking a “less is more” approach to brewing. To me, that sounds like the perfect approach to make a great lager.

As I poured my bottle of Gaslight Helles into glass I knew this was going to be a winner as an appetizing aroma of sweet grassy malt wafted up to my nose and caught me off guard. This is no average lager.

Upon taking my first sip my enjoyment continued. The flavour follows the aroma with a delicately complex grainy malt presence dominating the palate with sweet grassy, almost lemony notes.

I did notice this beer is a little under carbonated. I think it would benefit from a few more  bubbles, but it didn’t take away much from my enjoyment.

Gaslight Helles is seriously tasty and refreshing. It pairs well with just about any meal and would hit the spot on a summer afternoon, as a good lager should!

Details

Brewer: Muddy York Brewing

Location: 22 Cranfield Road, Toronto, Ontario

Beer: Gaslight Helles

Style: Munich Helles

Alcohol: 5.2% abv

IBUs: 18

Ingredients: Malts: Bohemian Pilsner, Munich, Melanoiden, Carafoam. Hops: Northern Brewer.

Availability

500 ml bottles at the brewery’s bottle shop (call or email before going).

On tap at better bars around Toronto and the GTA.

Review: Muddy York Brewing — Gaslight Helles