Tag Archives: BC Craft Beer

Howe Sound Woolly Bugger Barley Wine

At, 11%, 75 IBUs, brewed with pale, crystal, cara, chocolate and special B malts, and seasoned with nugget, fuggles, and golding hops, the Howe Sound Woolly Bugger barley wine is a highly complex, highly refined, must-see-for-yourself beer. It is thick, with bits of sediment/pebbles floating in the bottle; not to worry, decant it finely and enjoy the character it bestows.

– Kamran

*****

While not a huge fan of barley wine, and having not yet tasted one that really floats my boat, the Howe Sound Woolly Bugger blew me away. The beer is bursting with flavour, both on the nose and the palate; each individual sensation is distinct, yet well integrated, and highly pronounced. On the nose, there is a rich chocolate caramel sweetness that mingles with delicate hops — particularly the fuggles (reminds me of the Anchor Christmas Ale) — and a red wine-like acidity. The alcohol presents itself with a slightly citrus sourness that deftly complements the rich sweetness of the malts.

The beer is profoundly sweet, but the malty sweetness is balanced by robust hops, and enough IBUs to instill a crisp finish. At 11%, it is slightly heavy and the malt sticks to the sides of your cheeks. Since the flavours are so well endowed, you really can’t drink too much; one is perfect. This is currently the best barley wine I have tried, though I never got a chance to taste Driftwood’s highly regarded ‘Old Cellar Dweller’. Rogue, however, makes a close second.

Nose: 22
Body: 20
Taste: 23.5
Finish: 21.5

Kamran: 87 pts.

*****

Without a doubt, Howe Sound Brewing’s Woolly Bugger is one of the best barley wines I’ve had to date. With an 11% alcohol content and 75 IBU’s, this beer packs a pleasant and complex punch with the wide variety of malts and hops contained in the bottle. And while generally I’m not a huge fan of beers with fuggles hops (such as the Innis and Gunn Canada Day 2011 release), the mix of fuggles with other varieties was a nice counter balance to the malts. This beer had an ability to constantly keep your palate guessing as to the flavours and an ability to leave you wanting more; a feeling some barley wines lack.

On the nose, the malty sweetness is quite prevalent as in any barley wine, yet the fuggles hops really cut through to my sense of smell. Surprisingly hoppy, the floral aroma is very inviting when mixed with the malty sweetness. The body is thicker than I anticipated, but it still allows for easy drinking. In terms of taste – having been sitting in my cellar aging for over  six months – the tones of chocolate were noticeable through the sweetness. As well, the hops was adding to the rich complexity that Kamran and I both enjoyed. The finish had a flash of bitterness on the tongue with a lingering sweetness and a chocolate taste that seemed to stick to the cheeks and back of the tongue. It even had the similarity of an alcohol taste like a cognac from what we could derive.

This beer is best enjoyed alone and at a cool temperature, and is one of the only barley wines I could recommend as a session beer if the occasion arose seeing as I could easily have a few in a night. So if you happen across this beer in a store, buy it and enjoy!

Nose: 22.5
Body: 23
Taste: 22.5
Finish: 21.5

Tristan: 89.5 pts.

*****

Final Average: 88.25 pts.

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Phillips Mass Extinction Ice Barley Wine

 

This is a unique beer, if there ever was one. Phillips Mass Extinction ice barley wine “underwent a crystalline phase which distilled the remaining liquid into a naturally sweetened nectar of caramel”. In other words, this beer was literally frozen, like the late-harvested grapes used for icewine, in order to concentrate the sugars, and release a high percentage (12%), yet still highly sweet beverage.

– Kamran

*****

While Phillips Mass Extinction is flavourful, powerful, and unique, it is quite one-dimensional; it is plainly sweet and malty. Similar to their Trainwreck, the flavours are quite subdued, or contained. The beer certainly needs some air to run through it to open it up. Since it is kept in a frozen state for a relatively long period of time, I suppose they use lager or pilsner yeast. The result is a slightly metallic and alcohol filled nose — all that can really be sensed under the malty sweetness.

While it is quite complex, the potential for pleasant flavours is all but restricted. The malt and alcohol overpowers the character of the sweetness; I could not even taste the caramel that Phillips claims on the bottle is prominent. That said, despite the lack of flavour, the sweetness itself, if tasted in just the right way, gives a beautiful sensation on the tip of one’s tongue. For this reason alone, I can enjoy the beer.

While the body is kind of heavy, it’s not quite as bogging-down as some other barley wines, such as the trainwreck. However, the alcohol at 12% is certainly noticeable. The sweetness kills the alcohol on the finish, making it not so harsh to go down. There is a slight sickly sweetness that sticks to your gums; at first it is quite pleasant, but the lingering of it is not appreciated. While Phillips is my favourite Vancouver Craft brewery, I have simply been underwhelmed by their barley wine.

Nose: 18.5
Body: 19.5
Taste: 20.5
Finish: 19.5

Kamran: 78 pts.

*****

I’ve had this beer on a couple of occasions now, and I have to admit… when compared to other barley wines this does not appeal to me at all. I’d much prefer the other Phillips barley wine, Trainwreck, over this for a few reasons. First it’s sickly sweet for my taste-buds. Secondly, I am unable to determine its complexity or if it really does taste plain. Lastly, again it is just too damn sweet. Now I understand that this beer would appeal to some sections of the population, but most of those who do like it must have lived on candy through their childhood and pound back sugar with their coffee and cream – any chance I can work in a lyric from the Beastie Boys is a good day! I appreciate the effort that went into making this beer. It has a very cool process of creation which takes some serious dedication, but the quality just wasn’t here for this particular brew.

As for the review, the nose is super sweet like a caramel with a metallic note to it. I sometimes get the same smell from lagers and pilsners so perhaps it’s the variety of yeast used. The body is a medium heaviness, with nice colouring and beading of carbonation. The taste is a caramel rich sweet, with perhaps notes of roasted chocolate malt hidden away. The finish is lingering malt that haunts your palate for an unwanted amount of time. It took some water and a few tic tacs to get a more pleasant taste back into my mouth.

While I do really like Phillips and their products, this did shake my faith in them. If someone were to ask me if I could recommend it, I probably would say don’t waste your time. I know I’m going to stick with the regular Phillips beers from now on.

Nose: 15
Body: 15
Taste: 13
Finish: 15

Tristan: 58 pts.

*****

Final Average: 68 pts.

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Phillips Trainwreck Barley Wine

A seasonal by Phillips brewery, this 10% barley wine packs a punch. For those unfamiliar, a barley wine has nothing to do with wine, except that it has a strong alcohol percentage — likening the percentage of wine. It is still, of course, fermented from grain — barley — rather than grapes, and, though many other styles of beer, such as a Russian Imperial Stout, may boast a high alcohol percentage, barley wines are a distinctly unique class of ale. They tend to be complex, earthy, fruity, a touch sour — winelike — and malty.

– Kamran

*****
I must admit, despite my current familiarity and experience with complex beers, such as barley wines and lambics, the Trainwreck, tasted about a half of a year ago, broke my barley wine cherry. Because of this, my initial impression of the beer was certainly flawed. I have since seen the err of my ways. The complexity of a barley wine surprised me, and I gave the beer extra credit simply for its uniqueness. Fact is, it’s really not unique, and after trying several other barley wines, the initially strong impression once held in my mind — of the Trainwreck — faded away.

The nose has a slight florality that is masked by delicate hops, lots of complex malts, and a slightly sour, wine-like — reminds me of a 1989 Chateaux Musar I once tasted — aroma. It’s quite heavy, and, therefore, a sipping beer; however, you couldn’t tell it was 10%. I certainly couldn’t drink more than one bomber bottle, though. Like with other complex beers, familiarity causes the flavours to grow on you, and I found myself enjoying it more as I continued drinking it. I think it was better warm, too. That said, the flavours are quite subtle, and nothing jumps out at you. In all its complexity, the flavours are muddled together, sending rather incoherent sensations on the palate. This results in what I find the weakest aspect of the beer: the finish. It lingers in an awkward, bitter-sour way. Still, a relatively enjoyable beer overall.

Nose: 20.5
Body: 20
Taste: 18.5
Finish: 17.5

Kamran: 76.5 pts.

*****

Now when it comes to barley wine I’m the first to admit, probably not a beer choice you’ll want to session all night long unless you find one that blows you away, and while the Phillips Trainwreck isn’t exactly one I’d recommend for a night session it does grow on you to the point where one or two of the 750ml bottles are a nice way to spend an evening with company. Certainly a beer that improves as you drink it, whether it be to the increase in flavours as it warms slowly or that your palate adjusts, this brew is likely my favourite of the two Phillips barley wines we’ve tried.

On the nose it has all the tell-tale signs of  barley wine in regards to sweetness with faint hops, and the body is fairly typical as well. The beer is savoury, smooth, and heavier compared to most barley wines, but certainly no liquid meal like some people find with stouts.  The flavour is caramel tones, with a slight hops tucked away. The finish is smooth with a slight bitterness/tang after you swallow it, with a lingering sweetness that you’d expect.

While I’ve certainly had better barley wines I could see myself ordering this at a pub or getting another bottle at the store for a night’s one-off beer. Not a wow-factor contender overall though, but the scoring is reflective on something above average at least.

Nose: 20.5
Body: 22
Taste: 19
Finish: 18.5

Tristan: 80 pts.

*****

Final Average: 78.25 pts.

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Fernie Brewing Company: First Trax Brown Ale

The fourth and final installment of the Fernie Brew Co. mixer pack that we tasted. The First Trax is interesting in that it claims to use eight different malts in the mix! It is a heavier beer than the other Fernies and tastes better the longer you drink it. While not overly complex, I can see this beer being more well received than some of the others in the mixer due to it’s richer flavours and full nose.

– Tristan

*****

Having tried this one before, and enjoyed it a fair bit, I expected it to be my favourite of the mixer, and looked forward to tasting it again. While I estimated correctly that it would be my favourite, I didn’t enjoy the First Trax nearly as much this time around — simply the victim of a proper analysis.

Boasting a wide variety of malts, the First Trax Brown Ale is rich, fairly complex, and on the darker end of the spectrum. The chocolate-cocoa-toffee sweetness on the nose is quite pleasant, and certainly more appealing than the malt derivatives of the Big Caboose. On the palate, it tastes and feels like a traditional nut brown — think Cannery Nut Brown or Howe Sound Rail Ale. While it’s got a fairly robust body, it’s not nearly heavy enough to be filling, and I could, quite easily, drink several of these in a short period. The finish leaves one with a lingering chocolatey sweetness that is somewhat enjoyable, but gets tiresome.

Having done the Big Caboose Red and the First Trax Brown back to back, I have realized that a good red ale requires a certain amount of hops — and a good brown ale requires a certain amount of malts — to make it appealing. The First Trax, with a sufficient amount of malts, is simply better integrated than the under-hopped Big Caboose.

Nose: 19.5
Body: 19
Taste: 21
Finish: 18.5

Kamran: 78 pts.

*****

While this was better than the Big Caboose Red Ale, in my opinion this beer wasn’t as impressive as the Griz Pale Ale or the Buck Wild Ale. Personal opinion I know, but I do see more people enjoying this one as its nose, body and flavours could be more in line with the majority of people.

The nose was sweet as a result of the malts used, but it also had a caramel-esque, chocolate, almond and pine smell from the varying malts. Intriguing yes, but a wee bit sweet for my liking. The body was a little surprising as the bitterness took the first swing at my taste buds when I was fully expecting it to be sweet as sugar. It was thicker than the prior beers from the mixer pack, so I’m not sure if I would recommend people buy a 6-pack to consume for a party or event unless they enjoy a filling beer. The Taste was bitter, almost like an espresso or dark roast coffee behind the malts. The finish was actually drier than expected, and of course… malty.

A little bolder in the malts, this beer has a slight complexity to it, but perhaps more hops are needed to even things out. Or I’m just knit-picking… either way it’s a good beer, but I prefer the first two of the Fernies we tried to this and the latter, red ale, in the box.

Nose: 16
Body: 16
Taste: 15
Finish: 15

Tristan: 62 pts

*****

Final Average: 70 pts.

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Fernie Brewing Company: Big Caboose Red Ale

Three Quarters done the mixer and we get to the Big Caboose Red Ale from Fernie Brew Company. One of their newer beers — added to the lineup in November 2011 — this is a typical red ale, straddling a fine balance of malt and hops — somewhere in the middle of the beer spectrum.

– Tristan & Kamran

*****

Similar to the Griz Pale Ale in that it doesn’t really standout, the Big Caboose Red Ale is a fairly plain, yet inoffensive dark amber ale. Unlike the Griz, though, I found the Big Caboose to have just a little bit more going on.

As with virtually all red ales, the Big Caboose has conflicting tones of malt and hops. The goal of brewing one of these beers is to perfectly integrate and balance these tones — this is the concept behind Phillips Double Dragon, a seasonal that is released once a year. In this case, though, the malt is a bit overdone, and the hops don’t shine through. As a result, the malt lends itself to a slightly sickly sweetness; it’s not heavy or dark enough to give it that roasted flavour, and not roasted or hopped enough to give it a balancing level of bitterness.

That said, it certainly doesn’t taste bad — it could be a lot worse — but it’s rather lackluster. The body is fairly rich and textured, but, again, it doesn’t really stand out, and the finish leaves one wanting.

Nose: 19
Body: 18.5
Taste: 19
Finish: 18

Kamran: 74.5 pts

*****

Well this beer was the lowest of the mixer in my ratings… but not by much. While it wasn’t bad in the slightest, I just felt it was fairly pedestrian and underwhelming. It’s heavier than the Griz Pale Ale, and less exciting in flavour than the blond Buck Wild Ale.

The nose is malty, and almost spiced from the way the roasted malt was incorporated. The body was plain, and interestingly the colour upon reflection was more similar to Dr. Pepper than a usual red ale. In flavour, the malt sweetness and roasted malt taste combine on the palate but really didn’t impress me too much. The aftertaste is short, with a lingering malty sweetness that just kinda sticks to the mouth.

Like I said, it wasn’t a bad beer, but it didn’t remind me of anything spectacular or unique. It receives a passing grade however, and i wouldn’t be opposed to drinking another in the future… so long as I’m not buying it in a six-pack.

Nose: 16
Body: 16
Taste: 14
Finish: 15

Tristan: 61 pts

*****

Final Average: 67.75

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Fernie Brewing Company: Buck Wild Ale

Probably the most dynamic of the additions to the Fernie Brewing Co. lineup, the Buck Wild Ale is a golden blond ale that leaves a mark on the senses. Available in the mixer pack, it was the second of four Fernie beers we have tasted.

– Tristan

*****

As some of you may know, I’m not the keenest fan of Belgian/Belgian styled beers. Although I love lambics, fruity Belgian ales don’t typically appeal to my palate — of course, there are exceptions to this (Guldendraak, Piraat, The Stoic Belgian Styled Quad etc.). That said, while I appreciate that the Buck Wild Ale is the most complex and flavourful of the four Fernie beers we consumed, I found it the least pleasant — exactly opposing Tristan!

The nose shares a potent fruity, slightly sweet, wheat-like aroma. It is of noticeable Belgian — or Uniqbroue (Quebec) — style, and likely has wheat added, giving it a rather hefeweisen-like flavour. In fact, the wheat is what stood out to me the most, even more than the fruit notes, and, since I wasn’t eating anything, I found the taste rather unappealing. I think Belgian beers are essentially made for pairing with rich, diverse meals;  I don’t often enjoy Belgians on their own.

While the body is rich, the beer is not too heavy, like some darker — or more alcoholic — Belgian beers. In spite of this, the beer is not too easy to drink, and I don’t think I’d be able to finish more than two in a night.

Nose: 18.5
Body: 16.5
Taste: 17.5
Finish: 16.5

Kamran: 69 pts

*****

I really liked this beer, and the marks I gave indicate as much. It’s light, fruity, refreshing, but I wouldn’t be able to drink more than a few at a patio party or bbq. Perhaps the flavour just gets to be overwhelming as the night goes on, but it is still well worth picking up!

The nose is sweet and fruity, something that carries on throughout the beer, which appeals to a summer afternoon setting. This blond is actually reminiscent to a Belgian or Quebec style beer, as it’s heavier than the colour would indicate and is rich in body. It’s also crisp, but don’t let it get too warm or the taste will change noticeably; best to have this one cold. The malted barley and malted wheat are evident underneath the fruitiness of the beer, and the aftertaste is shorter than I would have hoped.

This beer is certainly one I would recommend people try, even if blonds aren’t your favourite style brew. On a hot summers day/evening it would really accompany any salad or fish dish that lands on your patio table.

Nose: 22
Body: 20
Taste: 22
Finish: 18

Tristan: 82 pts

*****

Final Average: 75.5 pts.

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Fernie Brewing: The Griz Pale Ale

Fernie Brewing Companyis located in the town of Fernie, BC, tucked next to the Rockies. While it’s not the most well known of local brewers in the Pacific Northwest, they do produce some solid standard year-round beers and always interesting 650ml regular/seasonal bottles on the market in government and privately operated liquor stores. The Griz Pale Ale was the first we tried in the mixer pack of beers available year-round, and it certainly made us take notice of the brewery that has seemingly come out of the woodwork up here.

–  Tristan

*****

The Griz Pale Ale is nothing special, but it’s inoffensive; one may drink several of these in a row without qualm. The nose boasts a mild hop profile, and some citrus notes, but nothing really stands out. In a similar vein, their is not a whole lot of flavour once the liquid hits the palate; the beer is relatively plain. In this way, it’s actually quite refreshing. The lighter body makes it easy to drink, and, although there isn’t an appealing quality to the beer, there isn’t an unappealing one.

It’s not unpleasant to drink,  and is relatively cheap, making it a good alternative from the typical Caribou, Pabst, or Old Mill that you might choose if you’re going to a party or playing a lot of beer pong. The slight bitter aftertaste doesn’t linger, so you don’t get that nasty aftertaste you might get from chugging one of the aforementioned three.

Nose: 17.5
Body: 19.5
Taste: 18
Finish: 17

Kamran: 72 pts.

*****

Without any sense of trepidation in picking up this mixer-pack from Fernie, a company I hadn’t really seen or heard of in my area of the Lower Mainland, I was immediately surprised at how good the Griz Pale Ale was. It was sufficiently malty and hoppy (with a few varieties including the noticeable Cascade hops of many regional brews), and to be honest it tasted better than Granville Island’s pale ale of late. It was a rich caramel colour, well flavoured, not too complex, and certainly easy for a patio 6-pack session.

The nose possessed a sweetness that was complemented by the floral hops that gave it that good pale ale kick. The body was smooth and crisp, ideal for a bbq as it wasn’t one that would leave you feeling full and bloated. While the taste wasn’t overly complex, the ideal amount of malt and hops kept the sweetness and bitterness in check and allowed for that easy drinking sensation many big names beers proclaim to have but fail at. The finish is short and subtle as it fades from the palate.

Nose: 18
Body: 18
Taste: 16
Finish: 15

Tristan: 67 pts.

*****

Final Average: 69.5 pts.

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