Best in the West tasting – April 2, 2015

Albertans are still seeing a huge influx of craft beer from all over the world enter the market, with no signs of slowing down. The craft brewing industry has taken the world by storm in both industry and culture. With so much sheer brewing talent out there, and so much of it making its way into the province, how do we possibly try them all?  You could pick a style and just try a bunch of products, or you could choose by country to see how each style varies from region to region. There really isn’t a wrong way, you just need to expose yourself to all of the styles, old and new, and immerse yourself in the positive, welcoming and very social culture of craft beers.

Tonight I had 18 wonderful people join me in tasting some of the best beers in our market from one of the busiest and most talent filled regions for brewing: the west coast! The styles ranged from light and crisp, to dark and complex, and everything was complimented by some amazing cheeses and charcuterie from our friends and neighbors at Peasant Cheese Company. A few of the beers are rarities that may not be in the province for long, but some have found a loving home and a permanent spot on our shelves. Here’s a little more information on what we tasted why they are so superb.

Gramarye Pale Ale by Heretic Brewing.
One of the hottest style trends of the past year and a half has its newest participant. While most breweries are focusing on making the so-called ISA, a few others know what makes a real session ale. It’s not all about the hops, the malt is oh so important in making a light, and balanced beer! Not only has Heretic made a thirst quenching and well balanced session pale ale, but with the addition of rye into the mash bill, and moderate but specifically selected hops, they made one of the most balanced, mildly spicy and fruity session ales this beer geek has ever had! ($7.99 for a 650mL bottle)

Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale by Lagunitas Brewing.
Not everyone knows that Kensington Wine Market was the first store in Alberta to carry Lagunitas’ beers back in 2001. The beers of one of the top 3 craft breweries (in terms of growth) in the whole US was exclusive to us back then! Sorry, I always get a little giddy when I think about that. Anyways, I’m sure most of you know Lagunitas’ modus operandi right? Big beers, big malt, and big hops (mostly). Here we have their main variant on their Little Sumpin’ line. Tons of citrus and piney notes are laced throughout the robust sweet malts and mild wheatiness. The malt, hops and alcohol work harmoniously together, showing that big beers can be balanced too! ($22.99 for a 6-pack of bottles)

Enjoy By 04.20.15 by Stone Brewing.
Simply a powerhouse from the brewing titans of Escondido California! The “Enjoy By” series was brewed not to last. They’ve utilized a number of relatively new hopping techniques that pump the beer just full of super flavorful and aromatic (though quickly decaying) hop compounds that are meant to be enjoyed within 35 days of bottling. They’ve used Ahtanum and Galena hop extract for bittering, then using a technique called “hop bursting” they added simcoe, delta, target, amarillo, calypso, and cascade hops. Then, if that’s not enough for you, they dry hop it with galaxy, nelson sauvin, moteuka and helga hops (all from the southern hemisphere). I could go on… but do you really need me to? Stay tuned to the next shipment anticipated in June! ($13.49 for a 650mL bottle)

Highway 128 Blood Orange Gose by Anderson Valley Brewing.
For those who are unfamiliar with the style, a Gose is a German regional beer from around the town of Goslar. The style was all but lost until just a few years ago when it experienced a huge resurgence. It’s a sour wheat beer that is brewed with salt. Sound weird? I guess it is a little strange, though with the growing popularity of sour beers, it’s easy to see why this one would be brought back from the grave. Aside from the tart and lactic, but very citrus fruity characteristics of this beer, I also chose it in order to A) introduce people to sour beers, and B) use the high acid content of the beer will help cleanse the palate of the oily hop compounds of the last 3 beers, and thus preparing us for the malty beauties to come. ($19.19 for a 6-pack of cans)

Evil Twin Red IPA from Heretic Brewing.
Big bready malts, with hints of toffee, caramel and earth are all over this American strong ale. Generous hops give it a pleasant and citrusy bitterness that do an excellent job at balancing out the rather robust malts. As I said before, Heretic is a new brewery to the province, and being from California and also being pretty darn great, I had to include all three of their offerings into this tasting. And Honestly, the best is yet to come! ($7.99 for a 650mL bottle).

Double Bastard by Stone Brewing.
On the subject of American strong ales, I couldn’t really have a west coast tasting without adding at least one more from Stone brewing. This is the big brother of their iconic Arrogant Bastard ale, and boy does it pack a punch. The malt profile is just riddled with dried fruits including prune, raisins and other berries. Though also plenty of bready and toffee notes along with lots of caramelized sugars. The beer is heavily hopped to boot! Bright tropical fruits including pineapple and grapefruit help the caramel malt dominate the aromas, and provide an excellent bitterness on the finish. ($13.29 for a 650mL bottle)

Torment by Heretic Brewing.
We touched on so many styles this evening, but I had to round it out by adding something Belgian to the mix. Torment is a dark Belgian strong ale, but you wouldn’t need me to say it. One smell of this heady brew and the fruity esters and bready notes will tell you exactly where this style comes from. This rich dark beer is just full of dried fruits and Christmas cake with little bitterness to cut though the malty sweetness. Traditionally strong Belgian beers make use of a converted sugar called candi sugar to up the alcohol content without increasing or altering the already sweet flavors. That method, combined with a wax sealed top, make this beer suitable to stash away in the cellar for a little while and see how it changes. ($10.29 for a 650mL bottle)

With all of these amazing beers, how could we possibly settle on winners for the night? It was tough, but there were definitely a few that stood out. In third place we have Enjoy by 04.20.15 by Stone Brewing, in second place there was Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale by Lagunitas, and in first place by just 2 votes was Torment by Heretic. I was a little surprised by this, honestly. I thought the Enjoy By or at least the Double Bastard would have taken it. I mean those were MY votes. It’s always nice to be surprised by the results in these tastings and see the different styles people gravitate towards.

I want to thank everyone who came out and to make this night a blast! Thanks again to Peasant Cheese Company for the giant platters of cheese. Remember to take a look at our latest tasting schedule and book a ticket for the Holy Smoke and Beer BBQ tasting, or the Canada Day Quebecois tasting (or both!). and lastly, follow me on twitter @ShawnsBrewsCGY to see what we’re tasting in store, and to keep in touch!


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