Tag Archives: Beer

Market finds – beer edition

4 Jun

Twice a month, a good friend of mine does the 5 hour drive from Toronto to Michigan. Before you snicker, please realize that Michigan has a few things that we in Ontario do not have – one of which is a great beer selection.  There’s been a fair amount of coverage about Ontario government’s monopoly and our lack of freedom to choice, and, without getting into the argument, the bottom line is this: a beer lover like me can’t try  many world-class beer or discover some of the award-winning beer our US neighbours are producing.  So average Joe’s like me are reduced to finding a sherpa friend to bring back beer and re-fill my beer cellar.

This is how things usually transpire:  my friend David tells me he’s going to Michigan for a few days. I get over-excited and send him a list of beer to look out for. He calls me at work and I get increasingly excited and end up mumbling “JUST BUY IT ALL!” repeatedly.

David’s cross-border trips have eliminated all of my LCBO and Beer Store purchases. Other than buying directly from breweries like Great Lakes Brewery, I have no need to choose the narrow selection you find at the LCBO.  I have also been reunited with my true beer love: funky/sour beer. *beerswoon!*

De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva,La Trap Oak-aged Quad & Dr Fritz Breim Berliner Weiss

You’re looking at my dream beer. My beer Xanadu, if you will. I present: De Dolle Oerbier Special Reserva.  I tried this 11 months ago in Antwerp on my birthday. It was a mouthful of barrel-aged heaven. Imagine an oaky Cherry Coke, but in the form of a slightly sour and delicious beer.  I’ve spent the past 11 months trying to find a way to buy it in Ontario, New York or Michigan.  Its an incredibly hard-to-find Belgian beer that supposedly wasn’t shipped to North America last year.  My heart was broken…until I randomly asked David to see if the supermarket (yes, Ontario, civilized countries sell beer in supermarkets) had it. “They have four bottles and the beer manager just gave me a smile and the ‘thumbs up,'” he said.  I now have a birthday present for the next four years. Thanks, David!

La Trappe Quadrupel Oak Aged – Batch 6 is a blend of beer aged in New Oak Medium Toast (20%) and White Wine used Oak (80%).  The non-oak aged version of this is available in the LCBO once a year, but apparently, the flavours do not compare.

1809 Berliner Style Weiss was a beer suggested to us by the beer manager. Berliner weisse beer are the sourdough breads of the beer world. This was made with a traditional recipe and it should make a nice summer drink.

Jolly Pumpkin beer

Jolly Pumpkin is one of my favourite US breweries. They use brettanomyces, which is a slow-fermenting wild yeast that results in a funky/sour/tart beer. Think of something between white wine, beer and lemonade. Some people don’t get it, but these are incredibly flavourful and complex beer. Coors Lite, it ain’t.  Not only are these beer delicious, but I use the dregs to inoculate some of my home brews. It works amazingly well.  Some of Jolly Pumpkin beer are aged in oak barrels, giving that delicious toasted, dark, woody flavour.  As you can see from the above selection, Jolly Pumpkin with funk up any style, including stouts and ales (with cacao!!).

Jolly Pumpkin beer

Jolly Pumpkin beer

My panic email to David was about the beer on your left; its a sour, plum ale.  How delicious does that sound! It was released at one grocery chain and limited to 3 bottles per person. Hot damn!  He also found a bottle of their saison, which looks like it will taste and smell delicious.

Mikkeler and Jolly Pumpkin

Mikkeller Monk’s Elixir is a dark Belgian strong ale. I’m going to save this for the winter, since the 10% ABV might be too punchy for a hot summer day.

Leelanau Good Harbour Golden Ale

Leelanau is a Michigan brewery that ages their beer in – you guessed it – oak barrels. The Good Harbor Golden Ale is supposed to be deliciously sour, which makes sense, since oak barrels are a great source for souring yeast. The Whaleback White is supposed to be less tart, but funky nonetheless.  Man, these are sexy looking bottles.

My beer cellar’s full yet again and the pack rat in me has to try to not squirrel all of these delicious beer away.  While sour beer are almost impossible to find in Ontario (you can get Cantillon at Beer Bistro, but be warned about the price), they are part of the new wave of US beer. Sours and funky beer will eventually be brewed in Ontario. Until then, if you find yourself in Michigan, find yourself some Jolly Pumpkin. Chill the hell out of it before opening (or else you’ll need a mop for your floor), poor the beer into a wide-mouthed chalice, let it breathe and warm up and enjoy.


Photos and text by Richard


De Struise Brewery, Oosvleteren, Belgium

6 May

When I planned our Belgium itinerary, it included one West Flanders brewery tour day. Due to brewery logistics, we had one day where we could arrive in Poperinge, rent bikes and head up to Abbey Saint Sixtus in Westvleteren and De Struise Brewery in neighbouring Oosvleteren. The logistics appeared to be quite simple; as long as the weather held up (which is never a guarantee when in Belgium), we would have a few kilometers of biking to take us from one brewery to another.  Logistics, of course, don’t account for drinking a few chalices of strong beer, buying eight bottles of beer and glassware and storing it on the back of your bicycle.  The one thing working in our favour? Belgium is, for the most part, flat as hell.

Biking through Belgian countryside near Westvleteren

Using a hand-drawn tourist board map from the Poperigne tourism office and a series of street signs, we tipsily made our way down seven kilometers of back roads and hop fields to the sleepy town of Oostvleteren.  With some difficulty, we finally found a subtly-marked doorway that lead us to the promise land: De Struise Brewery.

De Struise Brewery, Oostvleteren, Belgium

Located down an alley and in a former school house, De Struise is a subtle brewery that makes not-so-subtle beer. They’ve quickly gained a cult following and have been named one of the world’s top brewers.  Being from Ontario, we never had the chance to try Struise’s beer before going to Oostvleteren and based our visit solely on adventure and reputation. Before we arrived, I emailed Carlo Grootaert, one of the brewers, to see if we can get a tour.

"The classroom" at De Struise Brewery

Before our tasting began, I had to make a bathroom pit stop.  The bathrooms are a (semi)converted old stable!

With my mind and my bladder liberated, I was ready to taste De Struise’s beer.

Carlo Grootaert pouring a beer at De Struise Brewery

Carlo met us upon our arrival and brought us to the classroom.  This wasn’t your typical tour; Carlo talked to us about his beer, gently opening bottle after bottle for us to taste, carefully eying, smelling and tasting his wares.  Behind him was a blackboard that explained (kind of) the brewing process. It was like an alcohol-inspired version of Einstein’s theory of relativity.

blackboard at De Struise Brewery, Oostvleteren, Belgium

The best part about our visit was how casual it was. Here we were, a brewmaster and two Canadian visitors, sitting in an empty classroom, sipping world-class beer and talking about beer.  Two locals popped into the room and, knowing Carlo, told him about a French Trappist brewery they just drove to across the border. Out came a bottle for all of us to taste, and our party of three briefly became a party of five.

Mont-Des-Cats trappist beer (from France)

They brought a bottle of a new trappist beer, Mont des Cats. We split it among the room and, while it wasn’t earth shattering, it was a nice, clean drink.

It was at this tasting that Robin was introduced to one of her favourite beer in the world; Pannepot.  Named after a traditional fishing boat from the De Panne area,  Pannepot was a beer made based on what the brewmaster imagined that his family had brewed in generations past. Its a Belgian strong ale that has the characteristics of a stout without any stouty bitterness.

Pannepot beer being poured

This beer is a real winner. It has nice, chocolately and fig flavours but is incredibly gentle and light on the palate. It has delicious herbal notes of cinnamon and coriander. Its smooth and not overly sweet, but is overly delicious.  If it was available in Toronto, it would be our go-to beer. Its best served slightly below room temperature so the flavours can pop in your mouth.

Pannepeut beer by De Struise Brewery

Next we tried Pannepeut and Roste Jean. Pannepeut is slightly higher in alcohol than Pannepot and is a traditional old monk’s ale. This was a 2007 vintage (yes, you can age some beer very well) and it was interesting to do a horizontal tasting versus Pannepot. Roste Jean (“Red Haired Jean”) is brewed with Westvleteren yeast, so the yeast is what represents the beer.  It has a delicious candy sugar taste to it and was another interesting offering from De Struise.

Roste Jean beer by De Struise brewery

Part of appreciating De Struise’s beer is looking at its beautiful appearance.  Hot damn…this picture’s making me thirsty.

Tasting table at De Struise Brewery

We ended our tasting session before our legs were too wobbly. After all, we still had a 15 km bike ride back to Poperinge and had to protect our backpack full of delicious beer. We weren’t sure what to expect when we arranged to visit De Struise. We ended up leaving there with a great appreciation for their beer and for their bathrooms.  Besides the excellent hospitality, we discovered that De Struise is one of our favourite breweries and look forward to the day when their beer will (somehow) make it into Ontario.

Carlo and the braintrusts at De Struise

Photos by Robin

Text by Richard

Half Pints Brewing Company (and our beer collection).

6 Nov

We were in Winnipeg last week visiting some family, and we took the opportunity to make a visit to Half Pints Brewing Company. We’ve been fans of Half Pints since 2009 when we first tried their Little Scrapper IPA and their Burleywine, a seasonal brew that they are sadly not making this year.

We got a little tour of their brewery and picked up a few bottles of their ultra hoppy double IPA, Humulus Ludicrous.

The brewery is a modest size, and they’re constantly finding new ways to keep up with the growing demand for their products.

Skids of Little Scrapper IPA, ready to be distributed at Half Pints Brewery in Winnipeg MB

Brewmaster Dave checking out a batch of Stirstick Stout

Transistor 66 gig posters

Half Pints sponsors Transistor 66, a Winnipeg record label. I loved these gig posters hanging in the hall.

We tried one of the bottles of Humulus Ludicrous and even though I’m still acquiring a taste for hoppy beer, I really liked it. The other bottles are waiting patiently in our wine/beer fridge for consumption.

Speaking of our wine/beer fridge… We made some modifications to it (with some help from my Dad who actually knows how to do this kind of stuff) and we finally put it back together today and put all of our beer and wine in it. It’s quite a beautiful sight if I do say so myself:

Beer Fridge

Beer Fridge

Beer Fridge

It currently has beer brought back with us in our luggage from several countries (including some Westvelteren and Cantillion from Belgium) as well as a good stash of De Dolle and Rochefort purchased through a wonderful new relationship with a private importer. I will admit that we’re lacking in the local craft beer area, but we drink enough of that when we’re out at bars in Toronto. When we’re at home we like to pretend that we’re at a well-stocked bar in Belgium. 🙂

Belgium: The Goods

8 Jul

Richard and I went to Belgium for a week at the end of June. We love beer and I’d by lying if I said that we went for any reason other than to taste all of the trappist, lambic and microbrewery beers that we can’t get here in Ontario. Don’t believe that we love beer? This might convince you: We lugged about 17kg of beer home. Here’s what we got:

The Goods: All of the beer we brought home from Belgium

From left to right: A pile of coasters that I collected from various bars, a really cute bottle opener from a store called “Broes” in Bruges, 2 Trappist Westvelteren “Degustatieboxes”, 3 bottles of Pannepot 2009, 2 bottles of N’Ice Chouffe, 2 bottles of Cantillon gueuze, one bottle of Les Rulles Triple and the bottle with the gold foil top is Black Damnation V.

3 bottles of Westvleteren

The caps of the 3 varieties of Trappist Westveteren beer

Might as well talk about the most interesting and elusive one first: The two tasting packs of Trappist Westvleteren beer. Each pack came with 2 bottles of blonde (green cap), 1 bottle of 8° (blue cap) and one bottle of 12° (yellow cap), plus a cool chalice (see above). I’ll refrain from saying too much about these now because I’ve got a whole post lined up about our trip to Abby Saint Sixtus to buy them and have a bottle with some ice cream made with the yeast used to brew the beer… But these are among the most coveted and hard-to-buy beers in the world. Have a look on eBay and see what a single bottle is selling for. It’s crazy. And it’s all because in 2005, Westvleteren 12° was rated the best beer in the world by RateBeer.com and it got some press in Belgium and abroad. Suddenly everyone wanted to try it, but the monks continued to brew only small batches and distribute them only directly from the abbey on certain days. To buy this beer you either have to go to the abbey with a car and buy a case (after reserving one many days in advance) or you can do what we did and go to the cafe next door and try your luck with their little shop. I’ll reserve my opinions about the taste for the full post about our visit to the abbey.

Pannepot 2009 by De Struisse

This little guy was my favourite beer in Belgium and thus probably my favourite beer in the whole world: Pannepot by De Struisse. This beer is everything I love in a beer: For a start, it’s dark, dark, dark. It’s almost completely opaque. It’s full of flavour. You can taste chocolate, malt sugar, molasses and dried fruit. It’s sweet, slightly bitter and full of alcohol. It’s a perfectly well rounded beer. This is the kind of beer I dream about at night.

N'Ice Chouffe

This is another beer that’s very much my style: Dark, spicy and 10% alcohol. I tried this at Cafe Gollem in Amsterdam in 2009 and I fell in love. I haven’t had it since because, like so many Christmas beers, it’s hard to find in Belgium and basically impossible to find in Ontario. I can’t wait to taste this again!

Cantillon Gueuze

Here’s one that’s totally different from everything else we bought: Cantillon Gueuze. It’s a sour lambic beer, and when I say sour I mean it! If you’ve ever had a gueuze then you know that they can be sour, but Cantillon is even more sour because they use absolutely no sugar in their brewing process. We visited the brewery in Brussels, so once again I’ll save most of my descriptions for the full post. When I first tasted this I wasn’t sure what to think, but then we ordered a bottle on a sunny day and drank it on an outdoor patio on the water and then it all made sense. This is a wonderful summer beer and I wish that we could have brought back more than just 2!

La Rulles Triple by Brasserie Artisanale de Rulles

This is a beer that I know absolutely nothing about. It’s an abbey-style triple and the guy at a fabulous store called The Beer Temple in Brugges recommended it to us when we asked for something that we wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else. Sometimes you just have to take a chance.

Black Damnation V by De Struisse

This one, Black Damnation V, is 26% alcohol. Yes, 26%. Ours doesn’t have a label because we bought it directly from the brewery (De Struisse again) and they didn’t have any left. They promised to mail one to us, and for the price tag on this thing I think that’s the least we could ask. I don’t want to tell you what we paid for it, but let’s just say that it was more than 40 euros and I don’t regret it for a second. We met more than one enthusiastic Belgian beer lover who heard that we’d bought a bottle and started to rant about how impossible it was to get. It sold out in a few hours! The brewmaster, Carlos, is active on Facebook and when we told him that we were coming to the brewery he kindly put a bottle aside for us. I haven’t tasted it yet, but when we open it we’ll have to have a party because there’s no way that 2 people (or even 4 for that matter) could drink a 750ml bottle of 26% beer alone.

Curry Ketchup and Speculoos spread

We didn’t JUST buy beer. We also brought home some Belgian oddities: Curry ketchup and speculoos spread. Curry ketchup is exactly what you’d expect. It’s ketchup that has a curry bite to it. We had it on frites early in our trip and when we saw in the grocery store we had to get some to bring home. Speculoos is just wierd. It’s a spread that tastes like those Arrowroot digestive biscuits that parents give to toddlers when they’re teething. But it’s strangely delicious! The first time I tasted it was on our first morning in Belgium. We were staying at a bed & breakfast in Brussels and it was on the table with the jam. I thought that it was peanut butter so I spread some on my toast and when I took a bite I thought, “Ew, the peanut butter here is so sweet!” After taking another look at the jar and seeing the cookie I understood what I was eating and after the 3rd bite I was in love. Imagine a crepe with this stuff and nutella in it! Oh, heavenly.

Pralines from Chocolate Line in Antwerp

We didn’t eat much chocolate while we were in Belgium. You have to pick your vices, and we chose beer. But we did bring a lot of it home to give to our families as gifts since we weren’t about to share the limited amount of beer that we were able to legally bring back! We did buy one tiny box of chocolates for ourselves from Chocolate Line, which has stores in both Brugges and Antwerp. The chocolatier is known for doing ground-breaking things with his chocolates. When we were at the store we tried one that had soy sauce in it! In our little sample box, the one on the top is a Buddha that had ginger inside of it, and hidden on the bottom is one that’s flavoured like Earl Gray tea. The little ball on the left is currently unidentified, but we’ll soon eat it and change that.