Okay, no more excuses. The New Year has come and gone, so has Ukrainian Christmas and the Julian calendar New Year, so I’m long overdue posting my favourite brews from 2013. Let’s get started…
Beers of the Year 2013
January Phillips Twisted Oak Stillage barrel aged Scotch ale
This 6.8% wee heavy from Phillips, barrel aged in oak, is beautifully complex, full of fruity, caramely and woody nuances. First in an ongoing series of barrel aged beers, this Scotch ale truly stood out for me, it’s subtle sultry sumptuousness taking me on a journey, from a juicy maltiness to a drier understated finish with pronounced notes of smoky whiskey, vanilla, wooded glens and tobacco. This gorgeous brew would not be out of place in the Tartan highlands of it’s ancestral home.
February Paddock Wood Loki Double IPA
For those lucky enough to live in Saskatoon, the Paddock Wood Brewery is no stranger to you. Better yet, they opened a pub in 2013, The Woods Alehouse, a tap room for their line of delicious beers right downtown. But for the itinerant Beer Hunter, well, luck is what we depend on. I got to taste this lovely brew, as fresh as it comes, at their pub last winter. Loki is an 8.7% Imperial IPA that packs a wallop. It’s a perfect balance of malt and hops, invoking more than hints of grapefuit, toffee, wood and a certain earthiness that completes this hoppy story. Available now throughout Saskatchewan, but not too many other places unfortunately.
March Benelux Brasserie Artisanale Cimonak Porter
Montreal boasts an ever growing craft beer scene with some of the best brewpubs in the country. One of these is the Benelux Brasserie right on Sherbrooke West downtown. Visiting there one wintery evening, I managed to scoop the last seat at the bar of this very busy place. Fortune smiled as I was sitting next to a local regular, who graciously took me through much of their line up. In his halting English and my poor French, we managed to build a conversation that only got better the more beer we imbibed. In the end, his favourite, and mine it turns out, was the Cimonak Porter (5%), their Spring seasonal porter made with fresh Quebec maple syrup and a certain about of smoked malt. At play is a wonderful dance of smoky maltiness, subtle maple, wood, fruity tones and a subdued sweetness that floats away in the long finish. Très délicieux!
April Driftwood’s Belle Royale Sour Cherry Wild Ale
Driftwood Brewery of Victoria, BC has become one of my favourite breweries. A innovative leader in beer styles, I believe they were among the first to start experimenting with sour beers. This 8% brew is an ever-evolving style off their own, with each annual release finding the beer more mature, more flavourful and more in demand. This complex and very cherry brew is intoxicating, with strong tones of acidic fruit, toasted malt, Brettanomyces yeast and a certain mustiness more often associated with wine. It’s rich yet well balanced, coy yet brash, sweet and jammy initially, but dry as a bone in the finish. I closed my eyes the first time time I tried this current version and was transported to a dreamy, old style Belgian lambic brewery, all wood and cob webs. This beer is very much in that tradition. It sold out quickly, but I was lucky enough to score a case at a local liquor store that was forgotten on a back shelf. Many of those bottles are now forgotten on a back shelf of my own.
May Allagash Curieux Ale aged in Oak Bourbon barrels
Allagash is Portland, Maine’s original Belgian style brewer and Curieux their first foray into barrel conditioning. By aging their Tripel ale in Jim Beam bourbon barrels for 8 weeks, then blending it with more Tripel, they create a unique and stellar product. No slouch at 11%, the alcohol is well tempered by the mature character and the complex interplay of flavours. Exhibiting honey and wine-like aromatics, Curieux ascends a ladder of influences, notes of tropical fruit and candi sugar, hints of spice and yeasty wheatiness, but oak and Bourbon do set the tone. Fairly mellow and smooth for its strength, it is well balanced, a certain warming by the bottom of the glass and well carbonated, a fair amount of champagne giddiness present by bottles end. A lovely brew to share and an exceptional bottle to put in your cellar.
June Tofino Cask Spruce Tip IPA
One of the highlights of Hoppapalooza and Camrapalooza at the Alibi Room during Vancouver Craft Beer Week 2013 was this beer from the Tofino Brewing Co. Truly a refreshingly unique brew, this seemed to be the one on everyone’s lips and in everyone’s glass. Bright and fresh, a nose of, yes spruce, but fruit too, leading to a very well balanced IPA, subtle yet boastful of its bitterness and complexly, yielding hints of citrous, wood, strawberries and rainforest.
July Le Coup de la Corde a Linge IPA
In Quebec they are called ‘IPA américaine’, and L’espace Public, one of Montreal’s newest brewpubs, makes a dandy. At 6%, le Coup de la Corde a Linge is a really great hoppy house IPA, deep gold colour, herbally aromatic, full bodied, good balance of bitterness floating over a bulky malt base, long and satisfying, crisp with a dry finish. This friendly out of the way pub is worth looking for. Frank Privé makes really good beer and has guest taps featuring some of Quebec’s finest brews.
August Trou du Diable MacTavish American Pale Ale
This is a very exceptional pale ale from Shawinagin, Quebec’s Trou du Diable brewery. Although only 5% ABV, it starts with an herbal malt nose, is dark gold in colour with fresh hops singing right through. it Underpinned with good malt values, this beer is bitey but balanced and very moreish, with a nice, long, dry finish. I was first recommended this beer at Saint Bock on Rue St. Denis in Montreal by our friendly server. On tap is seems more delicate, long, rich and smooth. I also found several unique 600 ml bottles to bring home with me, and it lost none of it’s ample charm served several weeks later to my hop loving homies. Look for this brewery when you can. Perhaps when the stupid trade barriers between provinces come down, we can all enjoy the great bounty of beers in this country, from coast to coat, because we sure do have a lot to share.
September Moon Under Water Year One Red Wheat Wine
Moon Under Water was starting to get a reputation not long after it opened, but it took new owners this past year to really put the place on the map. With the backing of his family, brewmaster Clay Potter makes some very tasty beers indeed, concentrating mostly on German styles, with his excellent IPA the one exception. Well, there’s another – their first anniversary brew – Year One Red Wheat Wine. This single batch 11.5% ABV ale is as big as a wheat beer can be I think, with coy spicing and a sweet wheatiness dominating the nose. Tropical fruit leads on the palate, with notes of coriander, dried fruit, heavy wheat malt delivering a surprisingly balanced brew. Hints of orange peel, earthy hop bitterness and a creamy sweetness completes the story, with enough hops to dry out the finish wonderfully. Congratulations are in order on his success, but also on his New Year’s marriage to partner Chelsea Walker. 2014 is already looking bright for Moon Under Water.
October Hogs’ Head Hop Slayer IPA
A new brewery opened near Edmonton last year, the Hog’s Head Brewing Company, actually in St. Albert. They came online with a couple of good brews, Clockwort Orange, their Belgian Witbier and Baby Back Hops IPA, a zingy little 74 IBU number that immediately caught my palate. On another of my many trips to the City of Champions (sic) I went looking for a six pack to take home with me. The Sherbrooke Liquor Store is the best place to do this, but they were sold out. Instead, they had something new from the brewery, Hop Slayer IPA. This is a 7.5% ABV/105 IBU deep amber ale with a slight haze and a frothy off-white head. Heavy citrus hop nose balanced with toasty bread malts, hints of caramel and yeast. Smooth, hoppy bitter, well-balanced, lingering northwest hops, just how I like it.
November Bone Shaker IPA
Ontario finally comes of age with this big beer from the Amsterdam Brewing Co. of Toronto. Now, the Amsterdam has been around for a while, first starting as a small brewpub in 1986, but making a big splash with its delicious line of craft beer. It morphed into a second location, the Rotterdam on King St. W., then moved there completely in 1993. It wasn’t long before they outgrew this location, moving the production brewery down to the Lakeshore and more recently to Leaside. They also have a great taproom pub on the lake at Queen’s Quay (which I had a chance to visit and tour with the brewer). Through all of this they continued to make excellent beers. This unfiltered 7.1 % ABV IPA was born from a continuous hopping method that blends Amarillo hops with seven different malts to produce this big character brew, but is not for the faint of heart.
December Flying Monkeys ‘The Matador” Imperial IPA
Another great Ontario brewery comes of age. Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery celebrated their 8 years in business by releasing this incredible brew. Aged on Spanish cedar, The Matador is an unfiltered 10% ABV Imperial IPA with 88 IBUs worth of hops swirling through its veins. It pours a hazy amber with a huge rocky head that eventually settles down and laces lovingly right down the glass. Big hops and wood, some fruitiness in the nose, caramel malts focused, earthy bitterness, some grapefruit citrous-ness, hints of tobacco, pepper and tropical fruit. Quite smooth for a beer of this strength, good carbonation, complex bitterness, long with a very dry finish. This one is also not for the faint of heart. Olé!
Well, if there’s anything to be learned from this list, it is that I like hops and wood in my beers, That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy a lot of other styles and types of beer throughout 2013, I did. But what stood out were these 12 brews, all exceptional in their own ways, but with one common denominator – they all tasted really good and they all made me smile.
Hoppy New Beers!