Hoppily Ever After’s Top Beers of 2017

We carefully combed through our Untappd reviews and logs to see what beers stood out in 2017 for the two of us. Though we didn’t always completely agree – or, in fact, always have the same beers – we found a good list of winners. They tended to be quite complex beers, which we guess should be no surprise for people who drink a good deal of beer.

In no particular order, here’s our top 7* beers of 2017:

*Why 7? It just seemed to work with our “best-of-the-best” ratings approach.

Barnstormer Brewing – Smokin’ Skywriter Peat-Smoked Scotch Ale

Malty, smoky, and sweet. This beer was Barnstormer’s January seasonal, and we were happy to get it in the beer-of-the-month club we had throughout last year (which was from AmazingClubs.ca – thanks to Josh’s mom!). As fans of smoky beers, this peat-smoked offering won us both over with a slightly smokiness and a good dose of sweetness.

The Exchange Brewery – & Oud Bruin

One of the most complex beers on our list, this sour, malty, red wine-barrel-aged classic Belgian style (also known as a Flanders Brown) is beautiful. There’s a lot going on but it evens out very well, and has a sort of dried cherry taste overall. Their “& Flanders Red”, also complex and sour, deserves an honourable mention as well. We did a post about The Exchange and it’s now one of our favourite Ontario breweries.

IMG_20170204_181044992

Nickel Brook Brewing – Cafe del Bastardo

Josh’s sole 5/5-star beer of the year, while Jess didn’t try it (as she doesn’t like coffee). This was one of the next level versions of Nickel Brook’s Bolshevik Bastard Imperial Stout, this time barrel-aged and on coffee beans. It was a dream for Josh, as it took everything he loved about the Bastard family, and added coffee.

Bellwoods Brewery – Plum Jelly King

Jess’s sole 5/5-star beer of the year, while Josh didn’t try it (as he missed it!). Of all the Jelly Kings, this one stood a head above the rest from Jessica’s perspective, with the fruity, sour, and dry tastes all perfectly lining up to match strength-for-strength.

Side Launch Brewing – Festbier

20171108_182142

A Festbier is one of the styles we call Oktoberfestbier (the other being Marzen), and though we’ve had a decent number of these, Side Launch’s version is comparatively great. It’s got a cracker-ish malt taste and a warm caramel smell which follows up with a lightly spiced robust body with the slight sharpness that reminds you it’s a lager at the end. Though it’s probably the least complex on this list, it’s got a lot of flavour and still manages to be easy-drinking.

Great Lakes Brewery – Grimace’s Tears Milkshake IPA

Another Jess-only one on this list, and a strange one at that since IPAs are not usually her style. However, Grimace’s Tears is basically the dream come true of what a “milkshake IPA” could be. Quite transparent, but very creamy tasting with vanilla and orange tones; Creamsicle-esque.

IMG_20170401_192201907

Great Lakes Brewery – 30th Anniversary Bourbon Barrel Aged Russian Imperial Stout

With two entries on our list, it’s evident that Great Lakes had some real winners this year. This was our favourite sample while at Indie Ale House’s 2017 Stout Night . It blends flavours of coffee, bourbon, cocoa, and vanilla for this smooth and strong taste that even non-coffee lovers can really get behind.

Our Top Ten Noteworthy Beers of 2016

We went through our Untappd ratings for 2016 to find our top ten new-to-us beers for the year.

This is our combined list, and we do have different preferences, so it took some negotiation. We both love darks and sours (as evidenced by our list), though beyond that Josh’s tastes are more likely to go toward barrel-aged brews and high ABV offerings, while Jessica’s preferences run more toward the sweeter and fruiter flavours.  Neither of us are particularly into hop-bombs, which is why they aren’t well represented here.

In no particular order

Home Sweet Home – 5 Paddles Brewing – This honey vanilla wheat ale is one of their standards, and it was a stand-out for us. Creamy and sweet caramel/honey taste, it reminded us of Werther’s candies. Very crisp for a wheat ale as well, despite the sweetness. Available regularly at the Whitby brewery.

5 Paddles Brewing

Collective Project: Gose – Collective Arts Brewing – We did a whole post on Gose, and this is a perfect example of the style: tangy, slightly salty, and very refreshing. It was their summer seasonal, but is still available at the brewery as of this writing, and had also been available in some grocery stores.

collective-gose

Dry-Hopped Tripel – Cameron’s Brewing – We got lucky enough to get this seasonal at the brewery, which was sweet, fruity, and not at all syrupy as some high ABV offerings tend to be (this one sits at 7.5%). They told us they were aiming for it to be a “white wine of beer”, and we thought that label fits – it even has a light grape flavour.

camerons

Brooklyn Sorachi Ace – Brooklyn Brewery – Our one non-Ontario pick, because it’s just that good. Rated highly by both of us, this saison was rich, creamy, dry, and lightly hoppy. An all-around good beer. We found this one at the LCBO, and there are still some available at certain locations.

Purgatory – Innocente Brewing Company – Don’t expect a usual cream ale, as this black “cream ale” was something a little more intriguing. Very roasted yet at the same time very smooth, with deep milk chocolate tones and a light body. We had this possible one-off at the brewery, and it doesn’t look like it’s still in production – let’s hope we’re wrong!

innocente-purgatory

Limberlost Farmhouse Ale – Sawdust City Brewing Co. – A tasty wild yeast farmhouse ale, tangy with a hint of sourness, like a lambic mixed with a saison. We’ve seen this one at a couple festivals, and we hope to see it appear again soon.

limberlost

Harry Porter – Great Lakes Brewery – This is a not a new beer, but strangely, though we’d had several of the take-offs (for example, Harry Porter and the Cherry Hoarder), we’d never had the original until recently. And… yes. Here’s a delicious porter. Smooth, dark, drinkable, rich, and delicious.

Beer 101 Pilsner – Niagara College Teaching Brewery – The NCTB has an entire line of style essentials, but the pilsner is easily the best. Malty, interesting, more robust than the colour lets on, just a little hoppy and super drinkable.

niagara-college

Russian Imperial Stout – Oast House – Josh loves his Russian Imperial Stouts so this was a no-brainer addition to his list – however, even Jessica found it the most drinkable R.I.S. she’d ever had. As rich and malty as it should be with coffee on the nose and grape on the tongue, it was also so smooth for a Russian Imperial. This was a seasonal offering in-brewery last winter, so perhaps it will be returning soon.

oast-imperial-russian-stout

Motley Cru (2016) – Bellwoods Brewery – Yes, we said this list wasn’t in order, but this was our unofficial top beer of the year. This two-year barrel-aged, funky & wild sour made with Gewurtztraminer grape juice was a big winner for both of us. Phenomenally well-balanced, blending the sweet and the sour, and bubbly on the tongue. We could definitely taste the Gewurztraminr. motley-cru

On Your Marks, Get Set, Gose!

About a year back, we here at Hoppily Ever After had a chat about what we thought would be the next big trend in local craft. Our guess? Sours. Turns out we were partially right.

GOSE (that’s like “goze-uh”) seems to really be picking up steam in the Ontario craft beer world and we couldn’t be happier. This odd little brew of German origin is often considered a sour, but that’s over-simplifying it a bit. A Gose will also often have the coriander tastes of a Witbier, and possibly also with fruity tangs. What makes it unique:  it’s also brewed with salt.

If you haven’t tried a Gose, you might not think salt would be a tasty (or refreshing) addition to a beer. And you’d be wrong on both counts.

Gose is originally from the German town of Gostar, where it gets its name. Due to the salt, it doesn’t meet the standards of the Reinheitsgebot (the German Beer Purity Law), but it got an exception because of being a local specialty. These days, we’re seeing them local to us as well! Here’s a few Goses we’ve been able to find so far:

Nickel Brook‘s Ceres Cucumber Lime Gose

Nickel Brook Gose - Hoppily Ever After BlogOne of Nickel Brook’s “Lab Series”, this Gose entered the world in July 2016. It tastes like everything you want it to taste like by reading its name. Very cucumber. Very lime. Even quite fizzy. But that sour-salty classic Gose taste evens it all out and turns this into a very drinkable and innovative experiment .

Where to find it: We got ours right from the Nickel Brook Brewery in Burlington. But we’ve also seen it on tap at the beer garden of their sister brewery in Hamilton, Collective Arts.

And speaking of Collective Arts…

Collective Art‘s Collective Project: Gose

Collective Arts Gose - Hoppily Ever After Blog

They went for the classic Gose taste with this one, also categorized as a sort of experiment (or “project”, at least), this beer succeeds perfectly. If you are new to the Gose world and want to try that beautiful salty sour taste in its original style, go looking for this. Great for hot weather.

Where to find it: The brewery and beer garden in Hamilton is, of course, a good bet. But they’ve got these canned. We haven’t seen them in the LCBOs, but we have seen them in local beer-bearing grocery stores!

For something quite different again….

Refined Fool‘s You Are Lazy Susan Rosemary Gose

Refined Fool Gose - Hoppily Ever After Blog
Photo Credit: Katie Hurst

It has a salty pucker and a strong rosemary taste. Josh, who grew up on homemade French and Italian cuisine, thought this was amazing (one of his winning sample at Because Beer). Jess associates rosemary a bit too much with roast turkey, but still this beer managed to impress her.

Where to find it: We found it at a local beer festival. Then, there’s always the brewery in Sarnia.

The Ghost of Gose Past

  • Beau’s made two gose, neither of which are currently available (at least where we can find them):
    • Opa’s Gose apparently even came with an attached sea salt bag. Jessica would have loved to try this, isn honour of her own Opa.
    • Boom Gose the Dynamite was in last year’s Oktoberfest mixpack. Perhaps we’ll see another one day! (But not in this year’s Oktoberfest pack).
  • And we’ve heard about Muskoka’s mysterious Moonlight Kettle. Apparently they made a mysterious Gose called “Gose ‘Round” in March of this year

Gose Just Across the (Buffalo) border

We’ve also ducked across the Buffalo border and found some Gose at breweries beyond:

  • Mangose (a mango gose, get it?) at Resurgence Brewing right in Buffalo, NY
  • Blackberry Gose at Hamburg Brewing Company, in an idyllic farm-brewery setting 20 minutes out of Buffalo

Brew Roundup: Russian Imperial Stout

There’s no middle-ground with a Russian imperial stout – you either love them or hate them. Pitch-black in colour with a rich, bitter flavour, these brews are most commonly found and best enjoyed during the depths of winter.

800px-Alexander_II_of_Russia_photo
Czar Alexander II

Despite the name, this style was created by the English. In the 18th Century, they created this style to be exported to Russia, to be enjoyed by czars and their families. To ensure that the beer would make the trip without going bad, these stouts were brewed with double the alcoholic volume of a typical stout, and loaded up with hops.

The Russian royals enjoyed the beer despite the changes to the brew, and Russian imperial stout has a small-ish but dedicated following today, including us at Hoppily Ever after – Josh in particular.

Choosing your brew

Like many specific styles in the craft beer community today, Russian imperial stout has a surprising amount of variance. In our very scientific description, the brews range from “kinda-heavy” to “super-heavy”. What we mean by that they typically start at 8% ABV, but can easily drive right on up to 15%, or even higher.

A deep, dark stout*

Because these beers have to be aged for several months to develop properly, breweries often create uniqueness in their products by aging their brews with added ingredients like fruit or roasted coffee beans, or in specialized containers such as wine or whiskey barrels.

Let’s start with some basics

To get a taste of what Russian imperial stout is, here’s a list to try that follow the basic style guidelines.

Grand River Brewing – Russian Gun

This is probably the best to start with, as it’s among the lightest and least bitter. A dark, malty taste and only light roastiness. It’s named after the cannon in downtown Galt (Cambridge), where Grand River brews from, and in commemoration of a tragic story surrounding the cannon itself.

Russian Gun Imperial Stout - Hoppily Ever After

Wellington Brewery – Imperial Russian Stout

That’s not a mistake – they just reversed the name. Rich and bold,  with notes of coffee and chocolate.

Sawdust City – Long, Dark Voyage to Uranus

Great name for a great beer. For a high-alcohol beer, it has a surprisingly dry finish (think Guinness), but still a rich flavour and refreshing bitterness – if you find bitterness refreshing, of course.

Sawdust city Imperial Stout - Hoppily Ever After

Nickel Brook Brewery – Bolshevik Bastard

It’s another big, bold brew (not surprising with Russian imperial stouts). On the roast-ier side, Bolshevik Bastard is brewed with a flavour reminiscent of dark chocolate.

And now for something a little different…

Some interesting offerings from Ontario craft breweries that play with the style description a bit.

Nickel Brook Brewery – Winey Bastard & Kentucky Bastard

Nickelbrook Imperial Stouts - Hoppily Ever After

Both of these are simple alterations on their Bolshevik Bastard. The first is aged in local Pinot Noir barrels, giving it a subtle red wine taste. The second is aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels, blending a sweet bourbon oakiness and a warming feeling throughout.

Beau’s All Natural – The Bottle Imp

Many Russian imperials are brewed to resemble roasted coffee – here’s one that’s actually brewed with roasted coffee. It has a maltier finish, probably to offset the added bitterness from the coffee, and a subtle anise taste. This one definitely stands out from the pack.

 

*Photo Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/10413717@N08/15933479008

Pumpkin Beer Taste Test

Pumpkin can be way more than just pie. It can hit the sweet or savory notes. Bread, desserts, vinegar, sauces, soup, pasta, molasses… the list goes on. But you might be surprised to learn that one of pumpkin’s earliest uses was for beer.

Pumpkin beer is on a short list of styles that originated right here in North America. For the earliest European settlers, good beer malt wasn’t an easy find. So they tried everything they could as a substitute, and finally found a winner: pumpkin.

Love it or hate it, pumpkin beer is a growing trend in the craft world today. Just take a look at the sea of orange labels that washes in each autumn! The most common type is a Pumpkin Ale – usually a brown or pale ale, brewed with the star ingredient itself, and often with added “pumpkin spices” (cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, etc.). But pumpkin can be used in almost any variety of beer. 

Pumpkin Beer

To show some of its versatility, we’ve taken a variety of pumpkin beers off our local shelves and put them through a taste test.

Grand River Highballer Pumpkin Ale

Grand River Highballer Pumpkin Ale

On the paler side, the taste and aroma of fresh, raw pumpkin runs right through this brew. Jessica’s immediate reaction: “It tastes like the smell when you carve a jack o’lantern.” Although the flavour of the pumpkin itself was clear and fresh, it lacked an accompaniment that could have brought it to the next level.

Overall: 6/10

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale

Great Lakes Pumpkin Ale

This was not the pumpkin ale we were looking for – but that wasn’t not necessarily a bad thing. The pumpkin taste was very subtle, but it focused on the roasty, savory flavour of the pumpkin, instead of the sweet side. Some extra points for going a slightly different route.

Overall: 7/10

St-Ambroise Citrouille (AKA the Great Pumpkin Ale)

St Ambroise Citrouille

This ale is definitely on the darker side of pumpkin beer, similar to an amber or Irish red. Unsurprisingly, the flavour is pleasantly rich, and reminiscent of your grandmother’s pumpkin pie. It’s got the spices, the subtle sweetness, and the mouthwatering tartness of a proper pumpkin treat. We were glad it came in a 4-pack. Great product!

Overall: 9/10

Mill Street Nightmare on Mill Street

Nightmare on Mill Street

We were missing the gourd in this one: it just wasn’t particularly pumpkin-y at all. Some pumpkin spices lifted it out of the general ale category, but it just didn’t have that oomph for us.

Overall: 5/10

Black Creek Pumpkin Ale

Black Creek Pumpkin Ale

We’ve had it twice, once in a recent bottle and another on draft at the Hamilton Beer Festival in August, and it was a vast difference. In the bottle, it had a slightly burnt taste, like when the edges of your pie get blackened. With all the sweet flavours too, that slightly burnt taste seemed a bit syrupy. On draft at the festival though, we found it flavourful and smooth, with a not-too-heavy pumpkin flavour. We’re averaging out our score, on the off-chance that we got a bad batch. 

Overall: 6/10

Beau’s Weiss O’Lantern

Beau's Weiss O'Lantern

Very light with just a little of that weiss-like cloudiness. Had a very distinctive tart pumpkin flavour, along with a sweeter flavour from the wheat. Unfortunately, neither flavour really complemented the other as much as we’d hoped, so we didn’t love this one. 

Overall: 5/10

Great Lakes Saison Dupump

Saison Dupump

A quality saison with a hint of uncooked pumpkin. The tang of the saison with the fresh, vegetal taste of raw pumpkin worked really well together. Like a blend of summer and fall flavours, appropriate for either season. 

Overall: 8/10

*Pumpkin patch photo from: 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bake_these_(pumpkins_in_Toronto).jpg