Tag Archives: Review

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Beer

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Beer

Ebulum Elderberry Ale

Last in our Historic Ales Of Scotland collection from Williams Brothers. This review came later than the others since, considering how dark it is — Guinness black! — we tasted it later in the evening. As you ought to know now from what we’ve said about the Williams Brothers collection, it uses a specific historical ingredient — one which was used for centuries of beer fermentation before it inexplicably ceased. In this case, elderberries are used!

– Kamran

*****

The nose is quite inviting. As one would expect of a dark beer, it’s relatively malty, making it fairly sweet; however, complementing the sweet malt smell are notes of fruit — elderberries, blackberries, blackcurrants, etc.. Moreover, the beer must be using roasted malt, because there are notes of coffee and burnt chocolate. This is typical of stouts and porters, but a beer need not be a stout or porter to contain roasted malt. These flavours likewise fall on the palate, with notes of blackberries — probably elderberries too, but I don’t recognize them as well — and roasted malt being the clearest expression of the beer’s unique character. While I initially found the nose quite profound, the taste blew me away — this is a highly flavourful, well integrated beer.

Although quite dark, even darker than the Big Smoke Ale we just reviewed, it is fairly easy drinking. This is likely why it’s not considered a stout/porter — the body just isn’t there. In other words, there are flavours typical of stouts/porters, but the texture just isn’t there. While I’d prefer a bit more body to it — the flavours deserve some extra substance — it’s refreshing to have such a dark beer that doesn’t weigh you down. The finish is quite long and pleasant; however, after just a few seconds the sweetness instilled by the elderberries — the fresh and fruity sweetness — dies off and leaves only the taste of the malt.

The Ebulum Elderberry Ale is quite delicious, and one of the best beers we have tasted thus far. Also, it’s the beer we have come closest to meeting each other’s scores, with the diversity of our scores being merely a few points apart; this certainly speaks to its approachability, since we clearly have different tastes. While I prefer the Fraoch Heather Ale, the Ebulum Elderberry Ale is a close second from the Williams Brothers. It’s too bad that they don’t release singles of this guy; I’d love to try it again, and I guess I’ll just have to wait until the collection comes back next Christmas.

Nose: 21.5
Body: 20.5
Taste: 23.5
Finish: 21.5

Kamran: 87 pts.

*****

My favourite of the mixer pack, this beer was such a unique surprise that its originality won me over! While I have not had much exposure to elderberries outside of their incorporation into certain bake goods, this beer changed my opinion of them. And it’s not just elderberries, as mentioned by Kamran there are a variety of fruity/berry flavours contained in this dark beer.

The fruity sweet nose is also herbal and malty and frankly the best part of this beer. Only a couple of beers have beat the score I gave for the scent of this beer which says a lot. The darkness of this beer makes it appear to be heavier then it actually is, but in reality it is a smoother less creamy texture than Guinness or other stouts or some porters. However, if asked what type this beer more closely resembled, either a stout or porter, I would have to say it is closer to the latter. The taste of the berries is unmistakable amongst the  malty tones, allowing for a sweet refreshing ale. The finish is not prolonged. It is smooth and almost chocolaty from a roasted malt, yet simultaneously herbal. A unique and enjoyable combination.

This beer is more than a one-off. It’s complex, smooth and it’s memorable! Good for a session ale with friends, it further proves that not all black coloured beers need be “liquid bread” and super filling.  I look forward to its return in Canadian stores.

Nose: 24
Body: 20.5
Taste: 21.5
Finish: 20

Trisan: 86 pts.

*****

Final Average: 86.5

1 Comment

Filed under Beer

Storm Brewing/Russell Brewing Big Smoke Ale

This limited release collaboration beer between Storm Brewing and Russell Brewing has been around for just a few months. Producing one of the first of a slew of collaboration beers that have been released over the past several months, brewmasters Jack Bensley (Russell Brewing) and James Walton (Storm Brewing) are pioneering a kinsman-like spirit for the Vancouver craft beer community.

The name Big Smoke is derived from its unique approach to beer fermentation: using peated malt! Well, some peated malt — 10% to be exact. If you’re unaware, peat is vegetation that is primarily used in Scotland to dry barley malt. This technique, using peat fires, is especially used in Islay single malts, and gives it that characteristic vegetal flavour — grass, moss, dust, dampness, etc.. It’s a little difficult to describe, but quite obvious once you’ve tried a peated whisky. Because of its association with drying of the malt in peat fires, peat flavours often come in tandem with a smoky quality. Peat is, in fact, often mistaken for smoke; truth is, while these two aspects typically come hand in hand, they are not inextricable — there are some very smoky, lightly peated whiskies, as well as some highly peated, lightly smoked whiskies, but this is all relative.

When it comes to beer, peated malt is unusual, but can be quite the pleasantry for a whisky drinker. Some other peated beers include Unibroue’s Raftman, Williams Brothers Fraoch Heather Ale — where the peat and heather come in part from the water sources of Scotland, and, though not actually using peat, (whisky) barrel aged beers — Phillip’s Double Barrel Scotch Ale, Driftwood’s Singularity etc. — tend to give off some peat flavour. Besides the peat, the Big Smoke is a heavy, malty, thick, dark, high percentage beer; a true sipping beer that’s not for the faint of heart.

– Kamran

*****

Amidst the light, effervescent peat smoke aroma is a solid malt backbone. As a single-malt enthusiast who loves his peaty scotches — Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Ileach, etc. — I was rather disappointed that the peat does not shine through as much as I’d hoped. In fact, the malt all but overwhelms the notes of peat. That said, with careful concentration, one may extract moments where peat instilled flavonoids connect with one’s receptors. The feeling is quite pleasant, however, this is much too much work, and I don’t want to have to pay such careful attention to access the best parts of a beer; these parts should be the forefront of the beer.

While the body is enjoyably creamy, the beer is quite heavy. You certainly don’t want to be drinking more than one of this tallboy bottle badboy. Though not considered a stout, it reaches certain stout-like parameters — heaviness, thickness (the definition of stout), and darkness. While the malty taste is excellent — especially the initial flavour — it does not last; the finish, while retaining the taste of alcohol, loses its sweet malt flavours.

All things considered, the Big Smoke is an exceptional beer, and while not fitting for all occasions, there are some instances — perhaps while sitting in front of a fire on a cold night — where it would be perfect. So, don’t miss out on it while it’s still around!

Nose: 20.5
Body: 21
Taste: 23
Finish: 21.5

Kamran: 86 pts.

*****

As you can tell, Kamran has left little room for expansion on this particular beer; I suppose he really enjoyed it!  Just along the basics of this beer then, I found it to be one of the best beers we had that night.

The nose was a rich malt that, while stronger than the peat notes, was still an enticing factor to salivate for this beer. The body was a thick and heavy combination that went down creamy and smooth, much like certain stouts. The taste was naturally malty and slightly peaty to my senses, but it also possessed a slightly cocoa-like flavour. The finish is a brief encounter to say the least. It fades rather fast for my liking, but it is a smooth malty presence that is enjoyable prior to dissipation.

This beer is one I’ve had on a couple of occasions since the tasting, and I have to say, it is a nice treat to have and even share late at night. Well done Russell/Storm, but you’ve now set a high standard for any future collaborations!!!

Nose: 21
Body: 24
Taste: 22
Finish: 20

Tristan: 90 pts.

*****

Final Average: 88 pts.

Leave a comment

Filed under Beer

Beer Reviewer’s Lament

Unfortunately, we have all-but-lost one of our contributors. Our friend, James, has gone to England for an indeterminable amount of time. As a result, he, of course, will not be able to join us for tastings, or even access the majority of (Vancouver Craft) beers that we will be imbibing. James has agreed to continue contributing as a solo reviewer, guest writing on some of the beers and spirits he may taste there.

In a way, this may benefit the site. We have not been entirely productive, especially in the last few weeks, and a major cause of this is in coordinating three people — both for tastings and reviews. From now on, since there will just be the two of us, Tristan and myself,  you may confidently expect a higher level of activity and enthusiasm. At least until July 4 when I leave for Europe.

Rather than saving drafts and publishing only once all reviews have been written — a feature which has certainly slowed us down — we will now post as soon as one of us has written our review. This should give you something to engage yourself with, as well as indicate that another review — written by the other person — will arrive soon. With two people rather than three, the game of catch-up should be quicker, and we will more easily be able to motivate each other.

Thanks for visiting the site, and expect plenty of reviews to come soon!

Leave a comment

Filed under Miscellaneous