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Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Here we have a relatively special beer from Brooklyn Brewing, a craft brewery located in, you guessed it, Brooklyn. While the flavour of chocolate is quite often imparted organically in the making of a stout, some brewmasters, especially in recent times, will add chocolate into the mix, post fermentation. In this case, we have black chocolate added to give Brooklyn’s stout an extra little kick.

– Kamran

*****

I love dark chocolate, and I love dark beers: I will love this. This seems logical, right? Well, though logical, it was only partially right. I didn’t love this beer, but I did rightly enjoy it.

Beneath the malty sweetness lies a noticeable, but relatively subdued, chocolate aroma. With air and a bit of warmth, the chocolate comes out more. At 10%, the beer is heavy, and, actually, a bit harsh. The alcohol unfortunately takes away from the flavour & smoothness lent by the chocolate. However, if you hold the liquid in your mouth, like how you might do with a whisky, some of the alcohol evaporates and the beer gets some air through it, making it creamier — velvety — and more flavourful.

On the palate, the beer goes from having a malt sweetness, to being slightly tart, and finishes with a light hop bitterness. In all three respects, the sensations are quite mild. The finish doesn’t leave much, aside from the remaining malt tones; however, upon exhalation, the chocolate comes out more. So, drink this beer while breathing out your mouth!

Nose: 19
Body: 19.5
Taste: 20.5
Finish: 20

Kamran: 79 pts.

*****

I am very much a fan of solid porters and stouts as I may have mentioned in previous posts, and I for one did really enjoy the richness of this particular Brooklyn brew. At 10% alc/vol. this beer has a wee bit o’ strength to it, hidden within one of heavier and certainly blackest stouts on the market. If one considers Guinness a meal in a glass and struggles to finish one, I’d likely suggest stealing a few sips from a friend who orders this as opposed to a whole pint or bottle.

The aroma of the beer is one of malt and chocolate… as if anything else were to be expected?! The body is heavy and thick, with a velvety texture when held in the mouth. Certainly some level of complexity to balance the malt and chocolate, but the alcohol is evident and adds a little roughness to the mix – so not exactly a smooth sipper. Surprisingly, this stout wasn’t as chocolate flavored as I expected compared to stouts I’ve tried at craft pubs like the Alibi Room or St. Augustine’s in Vancouver. Perhaps it was the noticeable presence of the higher alcohol percentage, or the type of chocolate used, but I expected a more dominant taste in that regard. The finish was bitter followed what i can only describe as a brief tartness followed by a longer lasting mix of chocolate and slight hops.

While the lack of chocolate taste and the “tartness” I sensed at the end were two detractors from the beer, it wasn’t bad at all. I did enjoy the richness of it but unlike Guinness, I could not drink more than one or two of these in a night. However, while not a stout, a local chocolate porter that’s just as good would be the Phillips Chocolate Porter which is much lighter and more chocolate tasting.

Nose: 21.5
Body: 24
Taste: 19
Finish: 19

Tristan: 83.5 pts.

*****

Final Average: 81.25 pts.

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Driftwood Bird Of Prey: Flanders Red

Apparently the first of a series of sour Belgian-style beers, Driftwood released their one-year-oak-aged (American & French Wine Oak) Flanders red last fall. If you’re unaware of this style of beer, lambics are sour, acidic, wine-like beers that have undergone spontaneous fermentation/re-fermentation through exposure to wild yeasts and bacteria, particularly saccharomyces, lactobacillus, and brettanomyces. These bacteria, while not causing any ‘harm’ — toxicity — to the beers, degrade the consistency of the liquid, causing it to impart a ridiculous amount of flavour. The complexity of lambic, or lambic style beers, is unparalleled.

Their are many styles of lambics: geuze, which is a blend of young (1 year) and old (3 years or more) lambics; faro, a blend of lambic and freshly brewed beer; kriek, a lambic where sour cherries have been added and the beer undergoes spontaneous re-fermentation within the bottle; and several others, including other fruit added variations, are also considered lambics . Technically, Belgian sours such as Flanders red and Flanders brown, also known as Oud Bruin, are not lambics; they are traditionally produced in a different area of Belgium — West Flanders — use indigenous bacteria to that region, and may use a different strain of malt, such as red malt for Flanders Red. Comparing Flanders red and traditional lambics, such as geuze, is like comparing Cognac and Armagnac — essentially it’s the same thing. In the end, all undergo spontaneous fermentation; all are sour; all are aged in oak barrels; all utilize wild yeasts and bacteria; and all Belgian sours, despite having a similar effect on the palate, are intricate, complex, and, ultimately, unique.

– Kamran

*****

When I first had this Flanders red, I was still a novice when it came to sour beers. I had just recently grown accustom to their flavours, but I still wasn’t fully enveloped in the world of lambics. The Driftwood Bird Of Prey Flanders Red is the beer that put me over that edge. Ever since tasting this delectable beer, brewed by my second favourite Vancouver craft brewery, I have looked for lambic or lambic style beers everywhere, and each time I see them on tap — Alibi Room serves Storm Brewing’s Flanders Red as well as a seasonal Oud Bruin from Ian Hill, the Brewmaster at Yaletown Brewing — I jump for joy, knowing I will get to try an incredibly complex, highly flavourful, and relatively obscure beer.

When it comes to aesthetic appreciation, of anything of perceptible qualities, even beer, I believe that one must familiarize oneself with the medium and formal intricacies of the work. I typically discuss this notion when referring to art, such as music or film (see my film blog: Aesthetics Of The Mind), but I believe the same fundamental notion applies when it comes to taste as well. From a cognitive perspective, it seems that once one has experienced a particular impulse a few times, it becomes easier for synapses to get the message across clearly — something like muscle memory. So, familiarizing yourself with something, especially something as complex as a lambic-style beer, makes it more approachable, and ultimately, more pleasant. In the end, one may cultivate an appreciation for something that first appeared disturbing; one’s mind just needed to break it down, simplify it, and make it understandable.

That said, if you’ve tried a lambic or Flanders red before, and didn’t like it, keep trying. Some people frown at the saying, “you just don’t get it” — it appears condescending — but sometimes it’s appropriate. And it’s not a negative thing, it simply means you’re missing out on what makes this thing great. I know, personally, that sour beers are a taste one cultivates; they grew on me.

Now, to the review. Driftwood’s Bird Of Prey: Fanders Red opens with a strong tartness. A reason many may not get into sour beers is that they don’t let themselves experience anything more than the tartness. Amidst this acidic flavour though, are notes of yeast, barnyard, sour fruit, sweet fruit, sour candy — think cherry warheads — oak, orange peels, wildflowers and bacteria — think rotten fruit or moldy bread, but in a pleasant way, complemented by acidity (yes, I’m serious).

The level of sourness differs between all the styles, and even within particular styles; Driftwood’s Flanders red is certainly highly sour, but not extraordinarily so. The sourness is not overwhelming, and I actually find tamer lambics quite boring, so Driftwood basically hit the nail on the head with this one. Despite the sourness, which makes it more of a sipping beer, it’s quite light and easy on the palate. Though I never got to do it with this particular beer, I have had several instances at Albi Room where I drank sour beers all night without tiring of them. While the tartness remains, the level of acid makes the finish extremely crisp. It’s kind of like the crisp finish that a highly bitter IPA imparts, except with a remaining sensation of sour sweetness rather than bitterness — quite an appealing pleasantry. I really wish I had realized it at the time and bought a case while it was available.

Nose: 24
Body: 23.5
Taste: 24.5
Finish: 24

Kamran: 96 pts. 

*****

Well what’s left to be said after an expose like that?!?! Lambic 101 and a review! I’ll keep this short and sweet. This was my first foray into lambic beers and by God did it make a damn fine impression. Even when I first tasted this beer I noted, “a privilege to drink!”, and to the others agreed. While I applaud some of the other lambics available in Vancouver, as mentioned by Kamran, Driftwood’s still stands out as a memorable beer.

The nose was appealing and similar to Belgians I had had before (sweet, fruity, even citrussy), but unique unto itself. From the scent alone you could not determine this beer was packing a sourness to it. The body too had a nice mix of sourness and floral belgian fruity combinations that tickled the tongue. It was not overpowering and a nice light consistency.

The taste was “zingy” as my notes recorded. In finish, the beer lingers slightly over a brief period (I wished it would last longer), but is light and makes you wish you could open another once the bottle is finished.

Overall this beer put me on the path to try other lambics, which are my favourite variety of Belgian beer. I do hope that Bird of Prey will return again later in 2012 but somehow I feel I shouldn’t set my hopes too high on that as sources say this was a one-off production. I’m just glad I could get my hands on it!

Nose: 25
Body: 23
Taste: 24
Finish: 22

Tristan: 94 pts.

*****
Final Average: 95 pts.

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Tree Spiced Reserve

During the holiday season, Tree Brewing, a relatively-larger-but-still-craft brewery from Kelowna releases their Spiced Reserve. It is one of only a few products they release in tallboy bottles — what is typically considered part of a Brewmaster special. In the case of their Spiced Reserve, Brewmaster Stefan Buhl uses a variety of Christmas-themed spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and whatever else Buhl throws in on a whim.

Upon first opening, Tree Brewing was larger than your typical craft-brewery. Using shaftebury’s old equipment, and going through several management and ownership changes, they have become larger still. In fact, they are one of few BC craft breweries that have product available across Canada — Ontario in particular. As a result, of course, the quality of their product has lessened to a degree — brewing on a large scale seems to necessarily yield some loss of quality — but I have to give Tree credit where it’s due, since they have managed to expand without losing their characteristic flavour — something I feel Granville Island and Okanagan Spring have all but lost.

– Kamran

*****

Tree Brewing is certainly up there with my favourite craft breweries, despite the fact that I don’t really love any of their beers. While their Hop Head Double IPA — enjoyed on tap at the alibi room, since it’s not bottled — is my favourite, I am quite pleased but rather indifferent to the rest of their beers. I think the Cutthroat Pale Ale, Thirst Beaver Amber Ale, and Kelowna Pilsner, although not ostensibly ‘great’, are some of the best everyday beers out there, and, in tallboy form, some of the most economical as well.

The Spiced Reserve opens up with a strong spice character. Under its copper-brown hue lies a myriad of holiday flavours; notes of various spices, such as nutmeg, clove, and pepper, amidst a robust floral-citrus hop profile come clear on the nose. Although there is a reasonable amount of hops, there is a sufficient amount of malt to balance the flavours; in fact, in terms of its hop-malt balance, I’d compare the Spiced Reserve to Phillips Double Dragon Red Ale, a seasonal that attempts to perfectly balance its hops and malts. This feat gives the beer much richness, but the body is still rather light and smooth.

The spices are quite abundant, but not too overwhelming. Still, because of the spices, I wouldn’t want to drink more than one of these. Nutmeg and cinnamon, I would say, are the most liberally spiced, while the beer finishes with a long, slightly bitter, cinnamon-hop aftertaste.

Nose: 20.5
Body: 19.5
Taste: 20
Finish: 21.5

Kamran: 81.5 pts.

*****

Well as I may have stated before, I’m not the biggest fan of overly bitter beers…. Combined with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, two things I tolerate sparingly, this beer was doomed from the moment of pouring. That might be a slight exaggeration, but still I felt a little let down by this beer.

The nose was initially malty, with the spices and hops aromas. In body it was bitter and not so smooth. It had a malty sweetness to taste  that was not unappealing, but nothing special in my opinion. The finish was short lived and consisted of spices and hops.

Unlike Kamran, I did not fully appreciate this beer. It wasn’t my style. I’m sure other found it great seeing as Tree is a very respectable brewery, who made the best winter ale I’ve ever had, but this sadly was not one I enjoyed. I look forward to trying more of their beers in future, just less bitterness and spice for me please!

Nose: 18
Body: 18
Taste: 18
Finish: 15

Tristan: 69 pts.

*****

Final Average: 75.25 pts.

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