Some Beer Notes, Spring 2019

Some notes on recent beers tasted.

Muddy York’s MY Bock is a 7% maibock or heller style, so not the dark brown, cakey Doppel Bock associated with colder seasons. Maibock is lighter in colour and taste, a pale-leaning tawny. This was the style of our large brewers’ bocks 30 years ago, e.g., Super Bock from Labatt. Think slightly sweet, relatively mild, hop-spicy from a noble hop addition.

My Bock is a better beer than those but reminds me still of them, possibly due to common use of Canadian malt(s). There is a certain “taste” common to both, in other words.

MY Bock is perfect with German food, and most food for that matter, due to its strength yet light body.

Another winner is good old Lug Tread, the lagered ale from Beau in eastern Ontario. This beer has definitely improved in recent years. It occasionally had “green” tastes (in our estimation) but now drinks clean yet rich and tasty for the style offered. It is best consumed cold, and really is a craft version of Canadian sparkling ale, the filtered, carbonated ale type that replaced naturally-conditioned, stronger, and more hopped beers after World War I.

Side Launch’s Midnight Lager, the new name for its Dark Lager, is also at a peak of quality. In the past I thought it had a tendency to over-dryness but the last samples showed a richer taste more attuned to the Munich origins of Dunkel Bier.

I’ve tried Fat Tire Amber Ale, licensed to Toronto’s Steam Whistle by a well-known Colorado craft brewery, a few times now to ensure a fair trial. I find it very light-tasting, was the American original always like that? I only had it a couple of times and can’t really remember.

I’m sure the producers know the market they want to attract, ditto for Steam Whistle’s Von Bugle from its Etobicoke plant, so fair enough for them. For me though, these beers are bland, not enough happening. It’s particularly unfortunate for Von Bugle whose inherent taste is excellent, it just needs more of it.

I revisited 1870 Amsterdam AK Bitter, our collaboration with Amsterdam Brewery in Toronto earlier this year, and it tastes fresh as a daisy at about three months from canning. The taste is seemingly deeper than earlier. Even though the beer is roughly filtered, some development must go on in the cans I think. Of course too IPA, of which this beer is broadly an example, was “built to last”, so it all ties together really.

Henninger lager, brewed still in its historic Frankfurt home but by former competitor Binding, impressed with its toasty malt and spicy hop flavours. It did remind me of Henninger when brewed in Ontario under license in the 1980s-90s, more than the Henninger in the black can imported by The Beer Store in recent years.

The current can has a new white design, and is being sold at LCBO. I don’t know if the formulation changed or the freshness of the stock explains it, but the beer seems better now, more craft-like and richer.

Henninger used to be available here in pilsener and export (Dortmund) variations, the current label simply states “lager”. I’d guess it is export-style due to the well-defined malt quality.

Henninger, with other influences I’ve been discussing in recent weeks, is a key part of Ontario craft pre-history. That it is just “another import” vying for consumer favour is kind of ironical in historical terms considering that Henninger carved the path many later followed here of all malt, European-style lager.

Try the beer, Ontario beer fans, not only is it history in a glass, it’s a rock solid brew, more substantial than many German names of renown.

Finally, Nickle Brook’s Winey Bastard, an Imperial Stout aged in Ontario red wine casks, stored at least 6 months since purchase, wowed diners who tried it last night at a catered dinner that was BYOB. It was perfect with an Italian, steak-based meal with its edgy yet approachable rich palate. Certainly one iteration of the old stock porters of the 18th and 19th centuries.





3 thoughts on “Some Beer Notes, Spring 2019”

  1. I really wonder what is going on with Steam Whistle. I have also tried the Von Bugle Munich lager in hopes of giving it a fair chance and came away wondering why they even bothered. It’s so unremarkable. I’m disappointed, because here is Ontario we have a dearth of well made craft lagers in the continental styles. There is an opportunity to stand out.

    On the Fat Tire, I’ve never really been attracted to this beer, but have had it often on US travels as it is sometimes the only craft option available in many places. It is not a bad quality beer, just not really my thing. Out of curiosity I’ve tried the contract version here a few times now. It’s definitely different and also a pointless effort. I’d swear it was brewed from a Coopers malt extract kit, and that’s probably an insult to Coopers.

    Can’t Steam Whistle hire a brewer to develop a few solid recipes? There is so much talent to draw from who would jump at the chance to work at an established well equipped brewery that claims to have the patience to lager.

    • My theory is, and I could be totally wrong, the taste parameters of the two products you mentioned were carefully worked out to appeal to a broader, essentially non-craft market. Perhaps the thinking is a more assertive beer won’t make much craft impact given the large number of beers in the market, hence to try to take market share from the Rickard’s Red crowd.

      It’s too bad because as I’ve said a number of times, Von Bugle has inherent good qualities, excellent malt and hop flavours, but they are too timid and need boosting – IMO.

      As to Fat Tire, my recollection is the U.S. beer was more impactful in taste, and perhaps here it’s more a question of adjusting to a different brewhouse and environment til they get it right. Or maybe they like it as it is, with the idea again of trying to capture part of the mass market franchise.

      I have now tasted the new Steam Whistle Pale Ale and find it much better than those two beers. It does have a well-defined taste and its own personality, with some malt resemblance IMO to the Steam Whistle lager. It is not certainly on the impact vector of an IPA but has more than enough taste for the style. I take hope from that that the other two products will be improved in time, but who knows…

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