Hello from the SIdelines! – Or – An Appeal to the Craft Brewers of the Pacific Northwest!

Hello again all! It’s been a minute, hasn’t it? For those who have followed me in the past (thanks, btw!), you may recall that I was going on a hiatus back in 2017. At the time, I found that I was just too busy to give the Beer Snobbery its due. Five years later, nothing has changed in that regard. If anything, I’m even busier than I was and have taken on more projects than I can sensibly handle. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to occasionally pop in to post some thoughts and updates!

In this particular case, I wish to register a complaint! To break it down, I want to address why certain styles have become the go-to of the craft brewing industry! I apologize in advance for the soap-box nature of what I’m about to say. But this gripe of mine has been building up for awhile now, and I feel this is the most appropriate forum for issuing it. So, without further ado…

Attention Craft Brewers of the Pacific Northwest

I’ve held my tongue now for years now, but I find myself unable to keep these feelings to myself any longer. There’s been a long-running and confusing (one might say disturbing) trend at work, and you are all partly responsible. I love what you do and I think the industry is a godsend that provides us with a much-needed alternative to Lucky, Blue, Bud, Molson, Keith’s, and other generic crap.

But there’s still the potential that you might ()however accidentally) fall into patterns and even develop bad habits.

Having said all that, I have the following questions/complaints:

What’s with all the f***ing Sours?

Seriously, for the past decade, every passing season brings more sour ales! I remember fondly when a few Flanders Reds and Oud Bruins made the rounds. For the most part, I found them delightful and educational. And then, the deluge began! Kettle sours, fruit sours, and other variations on a time-honored style. The question I keep asking is: WHY?

In my experience, a sour ale is a gamble. When they are done well – which is to say, small batch and barrel-aged – they can knock your socks off. But for the most part, these ales have been constant disappointments reminiscent of apple cider and balsamic vinegar. Kettle sours, meanwhile, have been consistently like totally unsweetened lemonade with a hint of vinegar.

Why are brewers making this style of beer so much? Every passing season, there are more sours, more variations on the sour, and weird combination sours. Sure, like everything else, supply and demand play a vital role in beer production, and market forces are irresistible and unavoidable. My question is, who is demanding this style? More importantly, who is demanding it to the point that craft brewers are making so much of it?

What’s with all the Goses?

Then you have Gose, a style of wheat ale with a pinch of sea salt that originated in Leipzig. This ale is not without its charm, but its proliferation in the past few years makes me wonder… This style is one that (like sours) became virtually extinct in the 20th century, and craft brewers have been trying to resurrect it.

To their credit, they are as advertised: a light wheat ale that’s slightly salty. Sometimes, sours and goses are combined to create fruity, salty, and vinegary ales. Once again, why the proliferation? Who is drinking this beer so much that craft brewers are like “oh, we got to make more of this stuff”?

What’s with all the Hazy Pales and IPAs?

To be clear, I have nothing against beers for being hazy. But why have these become so bloody common? In truth, it’s because of the proliferation of unfiltered pales and IPAs that I’ve become tired of drinking them. And it could be my imagination, but leaving the sediment in the ale has an effect on the taste that I can’t say I care for much.

There are many styles that are best when unfiltered, and (in my experience) they have always been Belgian-style ales with active yeast cultures or good old fashion wheat ales (hefeweizen and witbier). But British, German, and American-style ales, much like lagers, are best when filtered (in my humble opinion). Brewers adopted filtration for a reason, and I believe it was because it made for a cleaner and crisper-tasting beer!

While we’re at it, what’s with all the barrel aging?

It’s hardly a bad idea and works well with certain styles of ale and certain types of spirits. But there is a limit. For one, I’ve seen a lot of brewers take a beer that works well on its own and release a barrel-aged version that did nothing to enhance the experience. Second, and this is just me here, but beer should never be aged in wine barrels, red or white!

I can remember years ago when a certain brewery (no names!) did a “Double Barrell” aged ale that was conditioned in wine and whiskey barrels, and the flavor was just what you’d expect: the overpowering taste of red wine and whisky against the muted biscuit and baked bread of a nice dark ale. For years, this same brewery seemed to condition all of their limited-release beers in bourbon barrels – like they got a bulk deal on them or something!

The trend has not stopped, with craft brewers turning to everything from whiskey, rum, tequila, bourbon, cognac, and wine barrels. And honestly, only a few times has this led to a beer that was better tasting for it! And if I could be a bit polemic here, only the whiskey and rum barrel-aging were good bets! Everything else has been somewhere between superfluous and “ick!”

To be fair, I understand that craft brewing works in cycles. New styles and new variations are being adopted all the time and tend to stick around until they are no longer popular. And after a certain hiatus, they’ll come back around again to satisfy consumer demand for something they haven’t tried in a while.

And I will totally profess that love the craft and creativity of it all! It’s wonderful to see beer-makers diversifying their lineups and revitalizing styles that were abandoned due to the industrialization and monopolization of the industry. Seeing rare styles become common again is part of the great resurrection of small-batch, hand-crafted, locally-sourced beer-making that has taken place in recent decades.

But this just seems excessive, and I can’t imagine there’s this much demand for these particular styles!

I’d also like to see craft brewers experiment with other styles and brewing processes. There’s absolutely no shortage of them. This is just off the top of my head, but how about doing some Bocks, Lagers, Stouts, Saisons, and good old-fashioned ales that are NOT smoked, made with yeast that results in lactic acid, involve added salt, or are aged in freaking wine barrels?

You are clearly caught in a spiral! So consider this an intervention!

Signed, a dissatisfied Great Canadian Beer Snob.

Goodbye, for now!

10665309_622255991216427_4513817090624373714_nHello beer lovers. Let me start by saying that I’ve loved using this site over the past few years to share my love of beer with fellow aficionados, or just anyone willing to read my drunken ramblings! 😉 However, due to time constraints and my busy schedule, it looks like I am having to put the GCBS on hiatus for the time being.

In some ways, this is good news. In the past few years, I quit my dayjob as a teacher and became a full-time science and astronomy journalist (for Universe Today). In addition, for the past 18 months, I have been writing a book which – as of last October – was picked up by a publisher! The book is tentatively scheduled for release this September. And since I signed a two-book deal with the publisher, I will be working hard on its sequel for many months to come!

But of course, the downside of all these developments is that I have had very little time to dedicate to beer. My reviews of late have been few and far between, and the sheer number of new beers coming out that deserve reviews has outstripped my ability to keep up with them. Hence, I figured it was best to put the GCBS on hold until I could actually give the current craft beer explosion its due.

Rest assured, I hope to come back to it in the future. Thanks everyone for their interest and support over the years. In the meantime, may your beer be cold, sudsy, and always handcrafted 🙂

Parallel 49 Brews Brothers Vol. 3

What’s Golden East Meets West IPA:

Collaborator: Green Flash Brewing, San Diego, CA
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.5%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: Straight from their third collaborative effort with other North American brewries – aka. Brews Brothers Vol. 3 – the East Meets West IPA is a golden India pale ale that combines east and west coast influences. Like the other installments in this year’s series, this beer is hip-hoped themed, and named in honor of the Jurassic 5’s famous single, “What’s Golden”.

Tasting Notes: This brew definitely has all the right elements that make west coast and east coast IPAs so palatable. That includes a nice and cloudy golden-orange hue, a nose with grassy/piney hops and citrus fruit, and plenty of the same hop flavor. The flavor department is where it is especially decent, mixing drier east coast hops with your more fruity and citrusy west coast varieties. And it rounds it all out nicely with a refreshing, just-bitter-enough finish!

Blazing Arrow, a Tawny IPA:

Collaborator: Gigantic Brewing, Portland, OR
Style: IPA
ABV: 6.0%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description:  Done in collaboration with Gigantic Brewing’s Ben Love. This beer is brewed in the style of an American India Pale Ale, and so-named because of its deep copper color. The name is a shout out to rap artist Blackalicious’ song of the same name.

Tasting Notes: This beer strikes a nice balance between maltiness, hop bitterness and hop fruitiness. A generous dose of West Coast hops comes through, bringing plenty of dry bitterness and complexiy. The beer pours a deep copper, has notes of grass, herbs, pineapple and peach on the nose, and more of the same on the palate.

Baby Got Back, a Hoppy Hefeweizen:

Collaborator: Scuttlebutt Brewing, Everett, WA
Style: Hefeweizen
ABV: 6.5%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: Done in collaboration with Scuttlebutt Brewing’s Matt Stromberg. This is a traditional style hefeweizen brewed with a modern breed of hops hailing from Germany. And of course, it is named in honor of the classic ode to big backsides by Sir Mixalot.

Tasting Notes: This beer pours a nice golden-orange, is cloudy and has a lacy head. It has notes of banana, clover and citrus on the nose, and has plenty more of that in the flavor department. It also has a discernible mineral tang and a bitter, yeasty finish.

Gettin’ It, a Northern Farmhouse Style Beer:

Collaborator: 49th State Brewing, Anchorage, AL
Style: Saison
ABV: 7.0%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description:  Done in collaboration with 49th State Brewing’s Greg Mills. This unique beer was brewed with a Scandinavian farmhouse yeast cultivated in Norway. Tart in flavour, this ale offers aromas of orange peel contributed by the yeast and Amarillo hops.

Tasting Notes: This is a nice, light twist on the Saison. It pours a deep gold, is slightly cloudy, and produces a lacy foam head. It has a light nose with hints of yeast, melon, spices and bread. The flavor is much the same, with a  notes of melon, grains, minerals, and the mild but funky and effervescent yeast flavor that makes Saisons famous.

Driftwood Belle Royale Kriek

Brewer: Driftwood Brewing, Victoria, BC
Style: Kriek
ABV: 7.6%
IBUs: Unlisted

Malts: Pilsner, CaraMunich, Munich, Aromatic, and Dark Wheat
Hops: Hallertauer
Yeast: Brett Brux

Description: A massive dose of Morello cherries gives a rich red hue, and complemented by the cherry pie notes courtesy Brett Brux, this rich, complex-yet-dry sour beer delivers layers of fruit and funk. Aged for a year in used French Oak wine barrels. This beer is cellarable and will appreciate with age.

Tasting Notes: The Belle Royale was definitely one of my favorite of the Bird of Prey Series, which specialized in sours of different varieties. Since its re-release, it has been relabelled as a Kriek, owing to its combination  of Morello cherries and wild yeast. And the product is just as good as I remember – rich, robust, sour, with a strong nose and flavor smacking of sour cherries, tart lactic acid, and an oaky aftertaste.

Tofino Super Tuff Imperial Session Ale

Brewer: Tofino Brewing, Tofino, BC
Style: Imperial Ale
ABV: 10%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: To celebrate 5 years of brewing beer in Tofino, we bring you the Super Tuff. This is an Imperial take on our brewery staple, the Tuff Session Ale.

Tasting Notes: This is another limited release that I’ve been long on wanting, slow on trying. And it is what is advertised – an imperial version of their session ale. The beer pours of a deep ruby-brown, has a rich malt nose and powerful notes of west coast hops, and packs a punch in the flavor department. Like a good barely wine and/or imperial ale, this is characterized by sweet/coarse malt that has notes of syrup, caramelized sugar, and notes of tropical fruits.

Driftwood The Last Aurochs Weizenbock

Brewer: Driftwood Brewing, Victoria, BC
Style: Weizenbock
ABV: 8%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: The Last Aurochs Weizenbock takes a traditional approach to the Weizenbock style, mixing hefeweizen yeast with the classic Bock malt profile for a bold, powerful beer. Complex flavours of dark fruit, spice and banana bread round out it’s effervescent body and deliver a delicious finish.

Tasting Notes:  Weizenbock is one of my favorite styles, and this brew is a reminder of why that is. It pours a dark brown, smells of roasted malt and banana, and has smooth velvety mouthfeel, hints of banana, brown sugar, and plenty of date and raisin notes in the mouth. Another limited release that knocks it out of the park, and by a brewery that is renowned for them.

Unibroue A Tout le Monde Megadeth Saison

Brewer: Unibroue, Chambly, Quebec
Style: Saison
ABV: 4.5%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description:  This saison ale was brewed at the request of Dave Mustaine, lead singer of heavy metal band Megadeth. It uses a cold (aka. dry) hopping technique and, to date, has the lowest alcohol content of any Unibroue beer.

Tasting Notes: This is not the first Saison I’ve had by Unibroue (the other being their Blonde de Chambly), but it is one of just a few new beers that I’ve sampled from this brewery in recent years. And it was a bit light in terms of alcohol and flavor – which is surprising, given the brewery’s reputation. But certainly came through in terms of it being crisp and refreshing. It also has the characteristic yeasty effervescence of a Saison, with hints of spice, lemon and a bitter soapy finish.

Addendum: This beer recently won a gold medal by the Beverage Testing Institute. With a score of 93 points, the beer qualifies as “Exceptional”.

Moon Under Water Ancient Ale Series Gaelic Ale (ca. 1700)

Brewer: Moon Under Water, Victoria, BC
Style: Old Ale
ABV: 6.9%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: “For 9000 years our history has been shaped by the myriad of ingredients used to create fermented beverages. This series pays homage to the variety of starches, spices, fruits and whatever else civilizations of the past have used to satisfy humanity’s lover affair with alcohol.”

This year’s installment to their Ancient Ale Series is decidedly Irish in style (as the name would suggest). And consistent with brewing done at the beginning of the 18th century, it is made using smoked and peated malts, is not bittered with hops, and is then fermented with different strands of yeast, and then barrel-aged for a year.

Tasting Notes: This beer has some familiar notes for those accustomed to craft brewing, and have sampled some of the recent revitalized styles. For instance, you have notes of sour fruit and lactic acid (consistent with wild yeast sours), a hint of smoke and peat that is consistent with Rauchbier (smoke ale) and/or a good Scottish ale, and some oaky flavor that is consistent with barrel aging. Altogether, quite smooth and not overly acidic or overpowering.

Dupont Saison Dupont

SaisonDupontBrewer: Dupont Brewery, Tourpes, Belgium
Style: Saison
ABV: 6.5%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: The Saison Dupont is a top fermentation beer with refermentation in the bottle. Since 1844, this beer has been brewed in our farm-brewery, during the winter time. Then this beer became a second refermentation in the barrel. During the next summer, this very thirst-quenching beer was served to the “saisoniers” which were working on the fields.

Tasting Notes: Saison Dupont is considered a classic when it comes to this style of beer. And it certainly hits all the right notes. Its has a golden-orange and cloudy hue and grows a thick head upon pouring. It has an effervescent, bubbly quality that is indicative of bottle fermentation, its strong yeasty backbone compliments with the taste with a hint of spice and bitterness, and its mellow malt base is highly drinkable and refreshing. Add to that a hint of lemon and coriander, and you have this brew.

St. Feuillien Tripel

Brewer: Brasserie St. Feullien, Le Rœulx – Belgique
Style: Belgian Tripel
ABV: 8.5%
IBUs: Unlisted

Description: This beer has a white, smooth and very compact head. Its pale amber colour is very characteristic revealing a distinctive maltiness. It has a rich aroma with a unique combination of aromatic hops, spices and the typical bouquet of fermentation – very fruity. Secondary fermentation in the bottle gives it a unique aroma due to the presence of yeast. St-Feuillien Triple has a very strong and exceptionally lingering taste thanks to its density and its long storage period. Whether served as a refreshing aperitif in summer or savoured during the winter months, the Triple is a connoisseur’s beer par excellence.

Tasting Notes: This beer is certainly consistent with what I’ve come to expect from a Tripel, and in some ways, reminiscent of Duvel. It is straw golden in hue, semi-cloudy, and has hints of clove, honey and spice on the nose. These come through in the flavor department as well, starting subtle and lingering on the palate, and with a yeasty tang to punctuate things. A good sipping beer, refreshing despite its strength.