Quick take: Black Hefe

Well aren't you a tall drink of weizen?

Well aren’t you a tall drink of weizen?

The Specs: Red Collar Brewing Co.‘s Black Hefe
8.5 per cent ABV, by the pint/jug/growler


Short bit of a review for you this Saturday, but I felt like I had to sing the praises of last night’s pints at Red Collar.

Black Hefe, which so far looks like a brewery exclusive, is the brightest heavy beer I’ve tasted — all those light, crisp and fruity notes you’d expect in a hefeweizen in a rich, black package.

On Facebook, the brewery’s referred to this one as its dubbelwizen, which makes sense. It’s very similar in mouthfeel and weight to the dubbel, which I’ve praised before. The head on this one is spectacular too — about an inch of dense foam that gives the brew a milkshake appearance. The whole thing takes about seven minutes to pour, but it’s worth the wait.

If you’re a hefeweizen fan it’s a great early spring take on the style and a good reminder that it’s really worth leaving the house to drink your beers some times.

Eaglemount Cidery – Homestead Semi-Sweet

Eaglemount Homestead Semi-Sweet

Eaglemount Homestead Semi-Sweet

For a couple of months I’ve been collecting up a) resealable bottles for my own experiments in homebrewing, and b) cideries that have tasting rooms or visiting hours — be on the lookout for reports from the field, coming this summer to Bad Rider Reviews. Eaglemount is a case of catching two birds with one stone, and I’ve added them to my prospective list of places to visit as the weather improves.

The Eaglemount Semi-Sweet is a respectable 8% ABV and cloudy amber in color; it came with a positive recommendation by the fellow working at Schilling Cider House when I bought it, but when I first poured it I got worried — it smells deep and tangy, like the overly-vinegary Troy and Cascadia Dry. However, the overlay of funky cheese and white sugar was a reassuring distraction, and I forged ahead.

Happily, the flavor doesn’t deliver on the threat of vinegar that had me worried; it’s a little tart, but more than balanced by a musty sort of sweetness, just enough acidity to keep it from getting heavy, and a juicy, fruity aspect. I saw a review that described it as having strawberry notes, and while I wouldn’t quite go that far, it’s definitely reflective of some sweet dessert apples in the cider blend.

Eaglemount doesn’t have a locator on their site, but you can check out their offerings and order online. Personally, I’m really looking forward to trying their apple mead and cyser at some point.

Blue Mountain – Peach

Blue Mountain Cider Peach Seasonal

Blue Mountain Cider Peach Seasonal

Every time I think “one of these days I’m going to run out of cider,” I realize there’s a cidery I haven’t reviewed anything from in months, if ever. In this case: Blue Mountain Cider.

Blue Mountain’s Peach seasonal cider is 6% ABV and clear with a definite orange hue, presumably owing to that extra boost of peach.

It has a light aroma, with a little tart acidity drifting in at the back. The flavor is much more sweet than dry, but acidic and tangy, the peach more or less blanketing the apple.

Try this cider with a pork dish, I think, or maybe salmon – it’s probably too strong for a mild seafood dish and not strong enough for something with rich red meat.

Blue Mountain has been around for a while, slowly growing and expanding their operation over time. They don’t have a cider locator, but you can buy directly from their online store, and they even have a cider club membership you can sign up for (I am sorely tempted).

Over a barrel

You can tell it's spring because there's a possibility of natural lighting in these photos now.

You can tell it’s spring because there’s a possibility of natural lighting in these photos now.

The Specs: Phillips Brewing Co. (Victoria, BC), Puzzler Barrel-Aged Belgian Black IPA
7.3 per cent ABV, 650mL

So, let’s talk about barrel-aging. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. This is awkward, because if you throw a rock in your average craft-beer-fancying liquor store right now there’s a pretty high chance you’re going to hit at least one bottle that boasts some time in old wood (and a small chance you’ll instead hit a liquor store employee. Don’t throw rocks in liquor stores.)

I’m not exactly opposed to the taste barrel-aging seems to impart — a sort of rich, funky-fruity warmth that reminds me a bit of those super high-alcohol styles like tripel — but the second I notice that tone in a bottle, odds are good I’m going to lose the ability to taste anything else going on.

Which brings me to the barrel-aged version of Philips Puzzler, where I really, really wanted to taste something else.

The first couple sips of this beer were exactly what I was hoping for from something with the words “black IPA” on its label — a broad swath of hoppy bitterness traversing a more classic dark beer full of toasted grains and just a whiff of coffee. Mild sweetness, thick head, nice, dense mouthfeel a bit beyond the usual IPA. All-around, a fantastic beer I was intensely excited to drink.

And then the barrel aging kicked in around sip five and I lost all sense of the hops… and everything else besides.

To be fair, Philips does prime you for this a bit on its website, where the special aged Puzzler’s hop character is described as “a more subtle presence” than that of the non-aged garden-variety stuff. From my experience so far, I’m guessing the original is more my line. If I can track a bottle down somewhere in Kamloops, I’ll report back.

Moral of this story, I guess, is don’t buy barrelled beer unless you mean it. While I’m sure there’s a place for it that I enjoy, it’s going to take some more tasting for me to figure out just when that is.

(An aside that’s not really here nor there: It’s interesting how the flavours of barrel-aging really change your perception of a beer. After a pint of this, I was sure it must be about an 8 or 9 per cent, but it’s a relatively mild 7.3. That bourbon-y wood really amps up the boozy flavour, if not the ABV.)

Snowdrift Cider – Seckel Single Varietal Perry

Snowdrift Cider Seckel Single Varietal Perry

Snowdrift Cider Seckel Single Varietal Perry

I am having the best of all possible problems with pear ciders: enough cideries are making them now that some are actually making pear ciders I don’t like. Which is quite a feat, let me tell you, given my penchant for perry.

Snowdrift’s Seckel doesn’t fall into this category, but it’s very different from other pear ciders I’ve tried. At 8.6% ABV, it’s pretty substantial, and the color is a light amber closer to apple-based ciders than to the paler, more yellow appearance common to fully pear-based ciders.

The aroma is minimal — a little bit of yeast and cool spice. The flavor is very — well, very. It has a distinct character. I might have guessed this was a single-varietal perry even without being told.

With an ABV so high, it’s no surprise that it’s not particularly sweet even though it comes from a pear that’s known for its sweetness; the flavor is dense and strong, a little acidic. It’s much more like an apple cider than other pear ciders I’ve had, in the sense that it’s lacking the sort of cool, crisp, airy flavor I tend to associate with pear ciders.

Snowdrift really needs to update their website to include their latest offerings, but you can check their website for a distribution location near you.

On that one IPA (you know which one)

Wow, I really short-poured myself on this mug, didn't I?

Wow, I really short-poured myself on this mug, didn’t I?

The Specs: Driftwood Brewery (Victoria, B.C.), Fat Tug IPA
7 per cent ABV, 650mL, regular series

Turns out, there’s a down side to becoming less of a dumb baby beer fan running around the liquor store grabbing bottles at random. At some point, it becomes impossible to ignore The Consensus — you know, those opinions of more seasoned craft drinkers repeated in so many Untappd reviews, blog posts, and friendly conversations that one can’t help but accept them as gospel.

And when it comes to Fat Tug, The Consensus is pretty darn devoted. Chances are, if you’re a seasoned beer drinker who likes IPAs, you already have an opinion on this one, and it’s probably fairly positive

I’ve had it described to me as B.C.’s best IPA, and a cursory Google turns up rapt reviews from across the country.

In the face of such praise I did the only natural thing — develop an intense paranoia that I would hate this beer.

Longtime blog readers already know about my deep-seated hops ambivalence. That I’m even drinking and sort of enjoying some IPAs these days is a shock, after years of thinking your average India Pale tasted like a pine cone, and not in a good way.

Fat Tug pours a pretty gold and smells mostly of grapefruit off the top. And, after a couple sips, I breathed a sigh of relief, because this beer does exactly what it promises to.

There’s a very juicy, grapefruit start, which slowly levels off into a lingering bitterness. Driftwood claims mango and melon flavours as well, but it’s really grapefruit’s show. I appreciate how controlled the bitterness is here, never overwhelming your palate to the point where you miss the upfront flavours.

It’s an IPA, but it’s an IPA I might conceivably drink again, under the right circumstances. For this style, that’s a victory.

(I’ll also note for the record I like this stuff a heck of a lot more than another of Driftwood’s hoppy offerings, New Growth Pale Ale, which I attempted to review back in January but just couldn’t work up the momentum to write about. Objectively it’s a pretty good beer, but I shouldn’t have to talk myself into appreciating something, you know?)

Methow Valley Ciderhouse – Honey Bear

Methow Valley "Honey Bear"

Methow Valley “Honey Bear”

I’ve been a fan of this cider since I first tried it at my first Seattle Cider Summit, but I’ve never been able to find it in bottles around here — at least, until I dropped by the Schilling Cider House and spotted it.

Honey Bear is 6.8% ABV, and its color and clarity depend on whether you leave the considerable sediment at the bottom of the bottle or swirl it up and around. The former, and it’s an almost clear light yellow; the latter, and it approximates the opaque amber-brown of good unfiltered non-alcoholic cider.

It will come as a terrible surprise when I say that the highlight of Honey Bear is the honey. I know. Take a moment to recover. Behind the aroma and under the flavor come the apples, with a little tartness and acidity, but really this show is about the honey.

I don’t know where Methow Valley gets theirs but I’m betting it’s somewhere local, as both the aroma and flavor show off a honey that’s got a far more complex personality than your average supermarket plastic bear. (Bad Rider encourages everyone to support your local bees and beekeepers by buying local honey.)

That said, this cider manages to stay well away from being cloying or syrupy; yes, it tastes distinctly like strong honey, but it’s light and fresh enough to drink by the full-sized glass, unlike the thick, intense sweetness of something like an ice wine or ice cider that calls for a smaller serving size.

You can order Methow Valley online, or look for someplace local to pick some up (where local in this case means near Winthrop, Mazama, or Twisp, WA – site seems perhaps a little out of date). If you happen to stumble across this cider elsewhere, I encourage you to give it a try!

Ghost of beers past


I thought about calling this review ‘Younger Tusk’ but figured that maaaaybe a pun on a Japandroids song was a little out there, even for this hipster.

The Specs: Whistler Brewing Co., Black Tusk Ale
5 per cent ABV, 650mL, year-round


It’s interesting the difference a couple of years can make.

When Whistler’s Black Tusk Ale and I last met, I was pretty new to craft beer’s more interesting forms.

In fact, the purple-labeled bottle might have been one of my first bomber purchases, besides all those pumpkin beers back in the halcyon, pre-Pumpkindrome days of 2013.

While pretty much every local craft beer snob I know gives me shit for liking Whistler (which, the newest edition of Craft Beer Revolution* reminds us, is mostly brewed in Kamloops, funnily enough), they’re the brewery who really made me take note of the more interesting things you can do with beer, and for that I owe them a debt of gratitude.

And while Black Tusk doesn’t match up to the nostalgic taste in my head – I’d remembered something just a bit more plush, a little richer, a little more flavourful all-round — it’s still pretty ok.

Like your average darker beer, Whistler hits the usual notes: Chocolate? Check. Coffee? Also check. It’s on the fizzy side and straight out of the fridge I found it a bit more acidic than I’d remembered — which isn’t actually my thing with beer so much, so I’d suggest waiting for it to warm up a few degrees. At its coldest, it seemed to retain a little bit more of a bitter, slightly hoppy edge than some dark beers, like a less pronounced version of some of the English-style mild beers I’ve had.

It’s not bad. Just, not as exciting as it was in 2013 and not quite as delightful as similar beers I’ve tried since then. There’s probably some kind of metaphor about nostalgia in there, isn’t there?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend several months paranoid that Whistler Grapefruit, summer beer of my heart, is not as good as I remember. Tastebuds, you better not.

*The new edition drops this weekend, but an advance copy showed up at the KTW offices this week, so more on that front to come.

Crispin – Lion Belge

Crispin Cider Lion Belge

Crispin Cider Lion Belge

Remember my peeve about Angry Orchard’s expensive Cider House Collection — that you could do so much better for the price? Crispin is precisely the opposite. It’s taken me this long to review their Lion Belge because every time I get some, I get too wrapped up in enjoying it to fiddle with careful smelling and pausing and sipping and writing.

Lion Belge is the kind of pear cider that’s entirely from pear juice, fermented with Belgian Wit yeast and flavored with orange peel and coriander. It comes out of the bottle a lovely, pale yellow, more or less cloudy depending on how much if the sediment is suspended or settled. Don’t worry about being careful to pour it off the lees, Crispin encourages it to be tipped up and swirled around for maximum dispersal.

The aroma is light — a little of the orange, a little of the yeast, a very little bit of the coriander. The flavor, mild and complex, all the elements in good balance. There’s an edge of sweetness, the bitterness and citrus of the orange peel, the light touch of the yeast; all in all a quality drink with a much more reasonable price tag than Angry Orchard.

You can locate yourself some Lion Belge on Crispin’s site, and I thoroughly recommend you do so.