The final throwdown

blackberry porter

The dark horse of the fruit beer series — in terms of colour, if nothing else.

The Specs: Cannery Brewing (Penticton, B.C.) Blackberry Porter
6 per cent ABV; 650mL;  regular series

The problem with reviewing a really good beer is sometimes all you want to do is yell about the one facet you love.

So what’s the thing I love so much about this blackberry porter?

“It’s purple.”

Well, no, not literally purple, as you can see in the photo. But there’s no other word for me that better describes the taste.

That should be a bad thing. Purple traditionally means cough syrup and grape Tylenol and Grower’s Orchard Berry (which I rag on unduly, considering I want to make Phoebe do a taste test of the stuff one of these days…)

But here purple gets to make up for past sins. This is a beer with a deep, rich purple finish that’s all berry.

Like a raspberry beer, the blackberry is quite tart, but I’d say the berry flavour here is more robust than what I’ve experienced with most craft berry beers — in keeping with blackberries themselves, which I’ve always thought of as more of a punch-you-in-the-mouth fruit than their red contemporaries.

The berry note here is jammy and round, the way fruit flavour might present in a really good red wine. Purple.

It’s a beer that benefits from a slow, considered sipping over conversation, in part because the jam notes will stay distinct even if your palette’s like mine and not that great after the first five tastes.

Unlike most of the beers in the fruit beer throwdown, this one doesn’t need a hot summer day and a patio for maximum enjoyment, either. I can see this being very nice at the end of a long day in late October or November, when you’re looking for a gentle reminder of summers past.

[For those of you wondering, that’s right, the fruit beer reviews are at an end. For the next while I’m going to pick things based on my usual metrics of ‘something shallow about packaging’ and ‘ooh, what’s that?’]

Four Fruits, Six Opinions

Nothing but the classiest taste-testing environs for Bad Rider.

Nothing but the classiest taste-testing environs for Bad Rider.

The Specs: Howe Sound Inn and Brewing Co. (Squamish, B.C.) Four-Way Fruit Ale  
4.4 per cent ABV, 1L; regular series

The question I asked as I doled out plastic cups of beer to my co-workers one Friday afternoon sounded like a simple one: “What fruit do you think is in this?”

And for another beer, it might have been easier to answer. But we were dealing with Howe Sound Four-Way Fruit Ale, so instead I got a lot of…


“Pear, I think?”

“I’m thinking something more citrus, like grapefruit.”

And, in one case — “Almonds.”

Ok, so that co-worker didn’t hear me say ‘fruit,’ but still…

Four-Way Fruit is a mix of mango, passion fruit, pomegranate and raspberry — a combination that sounds like it could be the basis for one of those Sesame Street ‘one of these things is not like the other’ segments.

As we sipped our way through our samples, I found myself thinking about those grocery store juice blends that are advertised as raspberry cocktail, but mostly contain apple and grape juice concentrate.

In the same vein, Howe Sound’s four fruits fuse together into something completely different from the sum of their parts.

Without the benefit of the ingredients label in front of you, this could easily pass for a peach or pear beer, with an unusual, tropical edge.

But with the cheat sheet some of the truth starts to emerge. Mango is the dominant flavour, and while I’m not sure I ever did taste the pomegranate or passion fruit, but there’s a nice raspberry round off that manages to stay on the right side of the tart/sour divide.

Beyond its mysterious fruits, the brew is very carbonated compared to many of its fruit beer contemporaries, and on the lighter end of the spectrum, which keeps it from becoming cloying or sryupy.

As far as odd summer beers go, I’m calling this one a winner. Since it’s already September I’d advise drinking while you can still feel the rays on your face. Though it’s a year-round beer, I’m betting Four-Way Fruit is at its best before the mercury drops.

Oh Alberta

The Specs: Big Rock Brewing Co. (Calgary, AB) Cherry Bomber — Cherry Hefeweizen Ale
5 per cent ABV; 650mL; limited edition

Well, it only took a handful of reviews for Bad Rider’s beer side to mess up its mandate. Those of you who actually read the specs part of this post and pay much attention to the industry will note that Big Rock is not a B.C. brewery.

It’s not even a particularly small brewery — per Wikipedia it’s got more than 500 employees and is publicly traded — but the BCLC near my office was fairly devoid of fruit beers when I breezed through over the weekend and I’m not ready to give up this conceit quite yet, so here we are.

Believe you me, readers, of the bunch of us I’m the one paying the price.

I love hefeweizens, white beers, wheat beers of all stripes. And on that front, Cherry Bomber is utterly adequate: Not too heavy, smooth on the tongue and with a slight touch of sweetness. I wouldn’t say it distinguishes itself much, but it’s still better than many of the offerings on tap at your average commercial sports bar.

That being said I will be damned if I can taste any cherry flavour in it.

I’ve raised this complaint before, back when Fernie’s What the Huck was up for review, but this isn’t that situation. At least with Fernie there were licks of berry flavour around the edges — “a faint hint of Growers Orchard Berry Cider” in my uncharitable assessment.

This time, I got nothing.

As I made my way through the first few tastes of Cherry Bomber I thought I detected a certain cherry sweetness in the finish of my sips, a slight, fruity aftertaste.

But, by the time I’d finished half a glass of Cherry Bomber it was gone, never to return.

I can’t help but feel cheated. But that’s what I get for trying to cheat.

It wasn’t all bad news on the fruit beer drinking front this week, however, and since we’ve already strayed off course, let me recommend an American sip I had the pleasure of trying: Lost Coast Brewery’s Tangerine Wheat Ale.

Brewed in Eureka, California, this vivid orange beer had a taste that I can only describe as ‘Tang in a beer — but not what you’re thinking. Like, in a good way.’

It’s super refreshing and super bizarre, and absolutely a candidate for my weird beer hall of fame.

A message to you, Frambozen


For some reason Frambozen only photographed colour-true on my oven. Go figure.

The Specs: Steamworks Brewery (Burnaby), Frambozen
650 mL; 7 per cent ABV; seasonal

Steamworks, I don’t know if it’s you or me, but this relationship isn’t working.

I like so much about you in theory. Your beautifully designed bottles, your intriguing and varied seasonal choices, but there’s always something… off. We don’t fit together, Steamworks. It’s not you, it’s me. Unless it’s you.

Frambozen, the company’s summer brew, is a pretty good case in point. Raspberry ale is an old standby for me — the first craft brew I ever drank, as a barely-legal 18 year old in Alberta.

With its gorgeous gemstone hue and a prominent, but not-overpowering berry scent, and less carbonation than some of the more commercial B.C. breweries (a plus to me — beers that fizz like soda wig me out a little), Frambozen seems like the ideal beer.

And it’s not bad. The raspberry is nice and centred in the sip, with a flavour that is recognizably found in nature. The beer is not too sweet, another death trap for berry beers.

But, like every Steamworks beer I’ve tried, this one has some odd, overly-assertive notes.

While the bitterness up front is fairly pleasant once you’re acclimated to the brew, the tart — no, sour finish of the beer never seems to get less jarring.

Even most of the way through the bottle, every sip ended with a jolt to the tastebuds. Though the fruit flavour in Frambozen is far, far superior, I couldn’t help but think of the Sour Puss Raspberry concoctions of my misspent youth, which finished with a similar zing.

I enjoy a challenging beer… to a point. But 650 mL of strong beer that keeps smacking me in the mouth is too much.

This is how I feel about every Steamworks beer, alas, whether it’s bitter notes in the wheat ale or soapy hops in the Pilsner. It’s just not meant to be.

Bottom line: If you like berry beer and want something to wake up your taste buds, this ought to do the trick.

As for Steamworks and me, it’s time we tried seeing other people.

The strange tale of Peach Cream Ale

Peach Cream Ale

Penticton, you sure know how to confuse a lady.

The Specs: Tin Whistle Brewing Co. (Penticton, B.C.) Peach Cream Ale
650mL; 5 per cent ABV; seems to be year-round

Guys, I want to bathe in this beer. Or maybe not bathe — stickiness factor — but daub it behind the ears and on wrists, perfume style. I would buy candles that smell like this beer. Junior high-aged Andrea would buy large bottles of a body mist version of this beer for dousing herself with after gym class.

When Tin Whistle claims to have captured the aroma of peaches, they are not screwing around. Within a minute of popping the top off the top of the bottle, my workspace smelled like I was being a responsible adult and eating fruit, instead of making tasting notes about beer after eating popcorn for dinner for the second night in a row.

The peach flavour is natural, not chemical like candy, and dominates the beer.

It’s not so much the fruit is overwhelming, as there’s very little to taste in the way of malt or hops. I feel like it’s what you’d get if you soaked sliced peaches in Pabst Blue Ribbon, spa-water style. What didn’t work for me so much is that this beer also lives up to the cream part of its name. The milky finish took some adjustment for me and felt a bit strange in a beer that was so un-beery in taste.

All told, I’m not sure if this was pleasant but not really my thing, or if I want to buy 50 bottles of Peach Cream Ale and mail one to every beer drinker I know to try to get some consensus.

But if you like very pale ales and want to try something unusual, I think it’s worth the $6 or so it’ll set you back, if only for the cologne factor.


What the Heck, What the Huck?

What the Huck

Lens flare! The most exciting thing happening in this photograph, alas.

The Specs: Fernie Brewing Company, What the Huck 650 mL; 5 per cent ABV; year-round brew

It started well enough.

Oh, it’s What the Huck, I thought at the liquor store. I’ve been meaning to try that.

The first indication this taste test might not be headed in a great direction came about five minutes after returning home, when I discovered an empty What the Huck bottle at the top of my recycling box. I have no memory of drinking this beer, and yet the evidence was there.

Amnesia beer. Not a good sign.

What the Huck pours slightly pink, which is about as much a concession to its name as I can come up with.

I’m not saying that I want a fruit beer to taste like a wine cooler, but beer with a just a faint hint of Growers Orchard Berry Cider is… not ideal and makes for sad tasting notes:

“It’s fairly sweet — is that the huckleberry?”

“I get a faint taste of something at the back of my tongue — if I lick the roof of my mouth enough times will I determine if that is the huckleberry?”

If you stop trying to psyche yourself into tasting berries and just drink the darn pint, What The Huck is basically a sweet but thinner winter ale, with the usual hints of caramel and vanilla. Not bad, but pretty forgettable. Nice to know it’s the beer and not me.

Props for the name, though. You saw an opportunity and you seized it, Fernie Brewing Co.

Rhubarb beer: good for drinking, bad for puns


If nothing else, Rhubie wins the cute beer label contest hands down.

The Specs: Lighthouse Brewing Co. (Victoria), Rhubie Rhubarb Wheat Ale
650mL; 6.2 per cent ABV; seasonal

While I’ve been trying not to prejudge any of the beers I drink for Bad Rider, I didn’t have high hopes for Lighthouse Brewing Co.’s Rhubie, which I’d heard some bloggers complain didn’t taste anything like the fruit it’s supposed to contain. After the whole What the Huck experience I’m wary of fruit beer that seems to sub sugar for flavour.

[Ed. note — What ‘What the Huck’ experience you might ask? Check back Tuesday afternoon to find out…]

Thankfully that’s not the case here.

I think what may make it easy to discount Rhubie’s rhubarb flavour is that rhubarb in its raw, unsweetened, unseasoned form doesn’t appear on a lot of menus. Sure, the internet tells me it’s a thing (in smoothies — of course), I can’t say the idea of eating what amounts to a sour, tough and pink celery knockoff really appeals. Fruit crisp all the way.

But that’s the place where the rhubarb flavour in Rhubie is coming from, and here it’s a welcome addition.

If you’re looking for it, the rhubarb seems to show up most at the top of a sip as a very green, almost grassy flavour, that gives way to a crisp wheat beer with some Pilsner affectations.

It’s not a particularly aggressive fruit profile, and if you’re looking for something on the Peach Cream Ale end of the fruity spectrum you’ll be disappointed. Ditto if you’re picking it up mainly for the novelty factor of hey, rhubarb in beer.

But if you’re a wheat ale fan more than a fruit beer fan this is actually a pretty solid pick.

Remember that green top note I talked about? It has the benefit of making the beer very, very drinkable. The lighter, tart flavour of the rhubarb seems to break up the sips, making it one of the more refreshing wheat beers I’ve had recently.

For only 6.2 per cent ABV, this seemed to have one heck of a kick to it as well, but that might have had something to do with me finishing the bottle in what is now record time for one of these reviews.

Whistler Grapefruit, light of my life

Whistler Grapefruit Ale

Normally bright yellow, an iPhone 4s and a dark fan in the background can do mysterious things to the colour of a beer.

The Specs: Whistler Brewing Co. Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale
Available in 6 packs of cans or bottles; 5 per cent ABV; seasonal offering

If there’s one thing to know about my reviewing style up front, before we get this sucker going, it’s this: My ideal beer is Whistler’s Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale.

Over the course of the month I’ll have more to say about fruit beers, but in the back of my head I’ll be comparing everything to Whistler’s cult summertime favourite.

For those uninitiated, Whistler Grapefruit is, I’m convinced, the beer Anheuser-Busch wants you to believe you’re drinking when you sidle up to the bar for a Corona.

Bright yellow in colour, W.G. is similarly smooth while also retaining that bite and snap of citrus right off the top — even without a lime slice shoved down the neck.

Of course, I wouldn’t love it the way I do if there weren’t differences. Rather than the high-acid sourness of lemons and limes, W.G. aims for grapefruit’s earthier, bitter notes.

When I read Whistler Brewing Co. brews this particular ale with grapefruit rinds a lot about W.G’s taste profile snapped into place for me. This is closer to the effect of scratching your nail across an unpeeled fruit than sucking down a slug of grapefruit juice, which helps the beer shine in an area where other fruit beers can fail: actual beer flavour. And believe me, you’ll see a few of the opposite over these next few weeks…