Tasting (Mostly) New Brews From Moosehead, Innis & Gunn, Sam Adams

We visited Moosehead Brewery’s sales and marketing offices in Toronto to try some new products which are or will soon be available in Ontario. (Disclosure: two gratis entries were provided). The offices are in a massive, early-1900s pile which once made munitions. The area, called Liberty Village, was a manufacturing enclave for much of the 20th century. It is now redeveloped as a condo/commercial centre and has quickly assumed an image that speaks contemporary, urban, cool.

The visit revealed some fine beers and a surprise or two. Brews from Scottish-based Innis & Gunn and Boston Brewing Company (Sam Adams) were included as Moosehead distributes them here.

Some impressions.

Moosehead Anniversary Ale

Labelled a limited release, one hopes it will be permanent. It has a full, natural beer taste. New-generation hops give a citric and piney blast and lots are used. It’s the kind of beer I prefer in general, many beer drinkers do today.

The Anniversary name salutes both the company and Canada, as each is 150 years old. Moosehead is still based in New Brunswick and family-controlled – a factor in its favour (but making good beer and the right beer must always come first!).

Anniversary Ale fills a gap as it has a frankly craft taste but bears the Moosehead name. Moosehead has not ignored the craft segment, its unit in Brampton, ON has issued lagers and ales of craft style for some years, but under the Hop City moniker. I like its 8th Sin Black Lager, a beer that should be released under the Moosehead brand.

Using the Moosehead name for top-range craft-styled beers is the way to go IMO. Moosehead has the name, the history, the expertise, it can win big if it makes increasingly characterful, full-flavour products. At least the customer base should be offered the option. And it would offer a leg up over, say, Molson-Coors which doesn’t offer craft beers under the Molson label in Canada.

Moosehead Pale Ale

Moosehead’s main products are the well-known lager, and pale ale. The pale ale is again being introduced to the Ontario market. The Beer Store had it a couple of decades ago but this time an extra marketing push is being made.

The intended market is likely the one that buys Alexander Keith’s India Pale Ale or Labatt 50, and probably too the Bud-type drinker looking to scale up. Moosehead Pale Ale is the older style of Canadian ale, I’ve often written about the type. It emerged in the early 1900s to compete with the burgeoning lager market.

Moosehead states the pale ale recipe is the same as in 1933 when the brand was launched. It is lager-like and in the mass-market zone. I’ll say straight off it’s not my preference, I prefer the much fuller taste of craft ales which themselves are a throwback to 1800s brewing. But there is a sizeable potential market, and Moosehead is going for it, which makes sense.

Innis & Gunn Session IPA

Soon available in cans, I had this on draft and was wowed by the clean, punchy-yet-natural taste. Everything was right, the alcohol, not far under 5% abv, the malt quality, the hops.

As it happens, I had it in Paris a few weeks ago. Nic Rennie of I&G told me the Session formula was devised for Canada but a few kegs were sent to France to test the waters. He said the beer was not pasteurized for the trip here. I’m glad it wasn’t as it promotes a full, real beer taste, perhaps one reason I liked it so much. The best part for me was the lack of a woody/vanilla/coconut top-note, a signature of I&G Original and numerous other beers in the line. Obviously a lot of people like it, but offering new options is a smart move. Session IPA is a winner out of the gate.

Innis & Gunn IPA

This IPA iteration also is new. Like the Session, it avoids a notably sweet woody taste, but at 5.6% abv is not just “bigger brother”. It has a big roiling hop taste, more “tropical” as well as the label states. These should be distinguished from I&G’s Oak-Aged IPA released some years ago, and are much better beers in our view.

A great duo, I&G’s Session IPA and regular IPA.

Innis and Gunn Maple and Thistle Rye Ale (Bottle-Conditioned)

A special release to commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday, it was aged in 150 oak barrels for 150 days. It uses three malts including one from rye. An addition of maple syrup and thistle is made before bottling, a gracious nod to the special and historic relationship of Canada and Scotland.

So lots happening in this beer. It’s a clear success with medium malt, herbal notes and a faint aftertaste of the maple.  The ferny thistle shows through very nicely. The I&G woody quality is not much apparent, maybe offset by the mix of ingredients. A great digestif, with cheese and nuts, or with a cigar or vape for those who indulge. A beer like this is as good or better than a Madeira or port, people need to think of these options.

Sam Adams Fresh as Helles

A recent release, I had it on draft in Toronto a couple of months ago. On this occasion I tried it in bottle, and was much more impressed. (Sometimes beers evolve in the early stages, or maybe something else was in the pipe that day or mixed, who knows).

Orange blossom is added and used with a single hop, Mandarina, that is already citric as the name implies. It’s an interesting tweak for a lager. Mandarina is a cross between the American Cascade and two German hops, one established, one experimental (Hüll Melon). A delicious drink chilled, and against type so to speak as many would think of Mandarina and a floral addition in ale terms.

Sam Adams Summer Ale

This perennial had a sharp lemon note, stronger than I recall. The peppery spice addition, grains of paradise, is perhaps downplayed now.

The beer is well-named, and will please many on the patio at a BBQ.

Sam Adams, if you’re reading: please bring Boston Stock Ale to Ontario. It’s a perfect recipe, a genuine English flavour which needs distribution here. Few local beers really deliver the classic flowery/woodsy ale palate like Stock Ale does.

Tea for Two or…

I didn’t get to taste Twisted Tea, a tea-flavoured “malternative” from Sam Adams, but will review it as the opportunity arises.

Summary

Most of the beers were excellent, and showing good progress by those concerned. Moosehead put out a cheese table, I might add, that would be the envy of any haute Toronto eatery. Numerous cheeses were Canadian including a superb Quebec blue.