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.

Slam Dunkel

Normally I take the photo before I take a sip, but this smelled so unique curiosity got the better of me.

Normally I take the photo before I take a sip, but this smelled so unique curiosity got the better of me.

The Specs: Whistler Brewing Co.’s Winter Dunkel
650 mL, 5 per cent ABV, limited release

So, Bad Riders, how do you feel about chocolate oranges?

Depending on how you answer, you’re likely either going to love or hate Whistler Brewing Co.’s Winter Dunkel.

When I say chocolate oranges, I don’t mean any old orange and chocolate combo here. I’m thinking specifically of those foil-covered, milk chocolate, “whack and unwrap” balls that tend to appear in the candy aisle as the holidays get nearer.

If you’re in any way unenthusiastic about a beer version of that candy, Dunkel is probably not the brew for you.

On the nose, the beer is all fresh orange zest and milk chocolate, and there’s plenty of the same on the tongue. I say milk chocolate for a reason. The flavour’s on the sweet and creamy side, withs none of the bitterness or deeper cocoa notes you might expect with a darker chocolate.

There is, however, a little bit more going on with this beer than pure candy.

Thanks to the addition of coriander, this sweet-to-start beer actually has a finish that walks the line between savoury and spicy. Typing that out, I feel like it shouldn’t work. But it’s somehow right, in the same way that Mexican hot chocolate benefits from an infusion of chili pepper.

Without the coriander I suspect Winter Dunkel would be a little too sweet, verging on artificial. But, with the movement from candy to spice in each sip the beer stays interesting far longer, to the point where I was disappointed when my testing bomber ran out.

Another surprise — compared to Whistler’s other annual cold-weather offering, Chestnut Ale, the Winter Dunkel isn’t nearly as sweet or as heavy as I was expecting. That’s a relief. Dunkel has enough going on without piling on the richness.

(Sorry about that punny headline. I couldn’t help myself.)

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…