Saturday, September 14, 2013

Red Racer Sampler Pack Review

Aaaah, Red Racer....the makers of my favourite IPA. Well, they finally brought a new whack of beers to the LCBO in the form of a cool looking sampler pack. I say cool looking because it is the only 355 mL sampler pack you can get at the LCBO at the moment.

Red Racer Pilsner

Just a touch hazy, light golden in color and pours with almost no head. The aroma is mostly of sweet malt with just a subtle hint of citrus. The taste is crisp and refreshing with a light toasted malt flavour and just a little bit of hops at the end. In addition to the hops, the finish has a subtle citrus note that lingers alongside the malt.

Refreshing, crisp with no adjuncts...very drinkable, I like.

Taste - 8/10
ABV - 5%

Red Racer Craft White Ale

Straw colored, hazy and pours with a very thick and creamy head. Immediately you get a noseful of tropical fruits and spice...heavy on the banana and citrus. The mouthfeel is creamy, the flavour is of a very smooth wheat beer with a lot of fruits and spice. Banana, papaya and citrus are predominant with a little bit of spice coming in towards the end.

Pretty damn good wheat ale. I wish these were sold on their own so I can get more.

Taste - 8.5/10
ABV - 5%

Red Racer Pale Ale

Copper/golden color, pours with a short to medium head. As expected hops are dominants in the aroma and are the source of the inviting tropical fruits notes. The taste is a a toss between a British and American style pale ale since it is not as heavy on the hops as I thought it would be, but there are plenty of malty notes. Sure, some tropical fruits are present here and there and there is a bit of hops near the finish, but I was expecting the flavour to be as hop heavy as the aroma. Oh well, this is still a very good pale ale, just the aroma is a bit misleading.

Taste - 8.2/10
ABV - 5%

Sunday, September 8, 2013

BC Craft Brewers Guild Natural Selection Review

Finally, an interesting variety pack at the LCBO. Just look at that selection. Well, why the heck am I still looking at it? I am ready to drink it.

Steam Works Pale Ale

Unsure where to start, I just grabbed one nearest in the line...also the tallest in the line. No wonder why one of the box corners had a bulge.

First off - I love the design of this bottle and I especially love the list of ingredients on the side:

Malts: Pale, Carapils, Crystal and Caramalt
Hops: Zythos, Cascade
Colour: Copper
IBU's: 35

OK, these are not all ingredients, but you get the idea.

So how is this one? Well, pretty good. It has a copper color (obviously) and pours with a short head that quickly recedes. The aroma is subtle with a bit of sweet malt, caramel, nuts, light citrus and a touch of hops. The taste is bittersweet and heavy on the malt with notes of caramel and roasted nuts appearing here and there. The hops come out in the end and linger well into the finish along with some of the caramel. The flavour starts off rich, but towards the end it thins out and I thought the beer felt watery at times. Odd.

Though the bitterness is nice at first, it tends to quickly build and towards the end of the bottle, I thought it was too much. I liked the malt/hop balance, though.

Russell IP'eh!

OK, not sure who started it, but someone should be suing someone because when I first saw Russell's IP'eh!, all I could think of was Beau's I.P.Eh?.

Russell's has a dark copper color and pours with almost no head. The aroma is sweet and full of caramel, but has very little hop aroma. The taste is quite opposite - more bitter (and watery) than sweet. The hops do not jump out and punch you in the face, but if you taunt them for long enough, they will come out (I mean if you have a few sips, you will start noticing the hops). The beer is a bit watery, but fortunately that keeps all the bad players in check - you know, the ones that can ruin the flavour if they are allowed to take the lead - the caramel sweetness, the hops, the grassiness, etc. The watery flavour actually mellows out the IPA and turns it into a pretty good session ale...except it does feel a bit heavy.

I was a bit disappointed, but I guess I was expecting a hop bombed I guess I should be disappointed with myself because I was automatically expecting this to be an American IPA and it didn't even cross my mind that this can be an English one...I have been ruined.

Whistler Paradise Valley Grapefruit Ale

Aaah, I remember the days when I made a pomelo ale. Why? Because I love pomelos, that's why. So how does this stack up against my own brew?

Well, it is hazy and has an amber color and pours with no head. The aroma is malty with some bitter/citrus grapefruit notes. The taste is pretty darn good. It has a strong grapefruit flavour upfront, followed by a bit of not-too-sweet malt, followed by more grapefruit, followed by a touch of hops, followed by more grapefruit, followed by...well, you get the idea. The grapefruit comes and goes, but it is always there somehow. The flavour seems very real too. The finish is of grains, with subtle grapefruit base and a touch of hops. Man, the grapefruit is well done. Did not expect this, but yeah, I am quite impressed.

Dead Frog Pale Ale

Amber color, thick and creamy head, fills the room with a strong hop aroma. Up close caramel malt and a light citrus note. Oh Dead Frog, you had me at the hop aroma.

The taste....well, not as good as the aroma, but still very tasty. It is a bit watery, but a very nice bittersweet malt flavour is present along with a light citrus note. Have a few sips and the flavour starts to feel a bit less watery. The finish is similar - bittersweet with light hop and citrus notes.

Overall, the beer lacked the body, but because of that it was easy to drink and would make for a decent session ale with decent flavour.

Sea Dog Amber Ale

This one has a dark amber color and pours with a short head which recedes quickly. The aroma is heavy on the malt and roasted nuts with very little hops lurking underneath. The taste is a bit less malty and a lot more nutty, especially near the end. This is a lot bolder than I thought, but overall it is pretty simple...but bold. The finish is also nutty, but has a touch of coffee and some hops.

Pretty good this one is and that's a lot coming from me because I am not huge on ambers.

Switchback IPA

Whoa, for an American IPA, this one has a super pale color...or am I too used to the amber/copper color of 99.9% of the other IPAs? The aroma carries a load of hops, pine and citrus notes, but that color?

The taste? Pretty damn good. It is a bit dry, extra hoppy with delicious pine and citrus notes, but this is where you see that the color carrying malts are also the color carriers and their presence lacks. Sure there is a bit of sweetness, but this IPA is less sweet (and drier) than most others of the same style. The finish is long and very hoppy. I feel like this is a pretty good "session" IPA since the sweetness will probably not build up that much after a few...I just wish I had a few more to test this hypothesis with.

Bottom line - excellent sampler pack that is a few notches above the Ontario ones available in Canada. I don't mean that BC beers are better than Ontario beers, it is just the variety and what has been assembled is much better than the standard packs at the LCBO. If someone wants to make a few bucks, they should reach out to the non-LCBO retailers and get a bottle from each...aaah, one can always dream.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Mike's Shandy Hard Lemonade and Lager Review

The weather is perfect for an ice cold shandy right now, but I just wish I knew about this earlier in the year when the summer was starting. Still, better late than never.

Mike's Shandy comes in 355 mL cans and is available in packs of 6 or 12 at The Beer Store for $11.75 and $21.95, respectively, and it is out NOOOOOOW (or has been out for some time depending on when you are reading this).

So, the taste! Well, the aroma is a bit raunchy at first, but if you give it a moment or two, you will pick out 2 distinct notes - beer (OK, some grains) and lemon. Give it a taste and you will find that the two notes continue on. At first the taste was also raunchy but I soldiered on and after a third of the can, it grew a little bit on me, but I do have a few things to say.

The marriage between the beer and the lemon juice is not quite there yet. Mike's Shandy has a bright future, but right now I don't think the right type of beer, or lemon juice has been picked. I found that quite often the two flavours battled for dominance rather than compliment one another. I think with such strong lemon flavour, the beer base should have been a hefe or something similarly mellow. On the other hand, if Mike's insists on using a lager, then maybe the lemon should be dialed down a bit.

Aside from the balance issue, Mike's Shandy is super easy to drink, not too sweet and at 4.2% (I was expecting something a lot higher to be perfectly honest), you can keep on drinking these. The finish is very refreshing and feels like you just had a lemonade and not an alcoholic drink. I really enjoyed this at the end of the second can...very surprised. Definitely a good product, but not quite there yet for my taste.

If Mike's are reading this, try using a hefe as a base...or give me a call, I would love to drink a bunch of experimental brews for you guys...if they are free, of course.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Black Fly Beverages Review

Long Island Iced Tea

This one is lightly carbonated and surprisingly heavy on the tequila...and I love tequila. Shockingly, it is not very sweet. I kept drinking and expecting the sweetness to hit me, but it never happened. Yeah, I guess the claims are correct.

Anyways, back to the taste - the tequila is the heavier of the alcohols while the vodka takes a backseat. Normally long island iced teas also have gin, rum and triple sec, but in most you cannot tell the gin and rum are present...OK, maybe a bit of the rum. The triple sec really gives the beverage a touch of sweetness and an orange note, which this cocktail does have so I guess this one has been pulled off successfully.

Soon after the tequila comes a sour, and slightly sweet, lemon flavour which lingers well into the finish cleansing a good chunk of your palate after each sip and hiding traces of the booze very well. The coke (which is another standard ingredient) comes in the form of a caramel note towards the end.

I also got a bit of salt which comes immediately after the tequila. That came as a bit of a surprise, but it goes very well with the tequila.

Overall, a very decent pre-mixed long island iced tea, which yes, is not very sweet.

Vodka Cranberry

Well, the title should pretty much explain this one...also the color gives it away.

Or does it? When I first got a whiff of the drink from my glass I was expecting a strong cranberry note, but what I got instead was Sprite. Oh yeah - Sprite. Or maybe like the red Mountain Dew...with a little bit of vodka.

And does it taste like Sprite or Mountain Dew? Nope, it actually tastes like a strong vodka cranberry mix. The cranberry flavour comes in light both before and after the vodka hits you. After the vodka appears, the cranberry taste becomes very tart and dry as it should and helps the drink finish on a very refreshing note with lingering flavours.

The taste is light and comparable to mixing vodka, cranberry juice, club soda and some lemon/lime at home. I kinda liked it...I actually liked it very much. And if you don't normally add that much vodka to your mixed drinks, add a splash of cranberry juice to tone it down.


Tequila Margarita

The beverage does look like a margarita with its hazy, pale lime green color. Poured in a blender with ice, and then blended gives it a picture perfect margarita look. I strongly recommend the blended approach, but if you are feeling lazy, drink it out of the bottle.

Black Fly's aroma is very inviting with salty, lime and tequila infused scent. The taste is pretty solid, in fact, better than the Jose Cuervo Golden Margarita we reviewed a while ago. The cocktail is salty with a strong tequila lime punch which develops into a very sour and refreshing finish with a warming tequila sensation.

There is very little sweetness at first, but with time, it does start to build up. I do not recommend drinking more than a few of these unless you are planning on ending your night prematurely.

The saltiness adds another dimension to this drink, one that could not have been achieved with the Jose Cuervo if your glass wasn't salt rimmed.

Overall, this is a pretty decent margarita cocktail which I recommend if you are feeling too lazy to make your own.

Vodka Citrus

And last, but not least - Black Fly's Vodka Citrus. Vodka citrus is one of my favourive mixed drinks and I make it as so - 1 part vodka, 1 part freshly squeezed lemon juice. That's it. At these proportions you will not taste any of the vodka, but your stomach will probably pay a hefty price with all that acid you are ingesting.

Now, onto the beverage. The aroma tells me that there is a lot more than just lemon - like lime and maybe some orange here and there. The flavour is refreshing, and yes, it mostly consists of lemon and lime...with some boozy vodka notes here and there. There is a bit of sweetness to balance out the sourness, but it lays low at the start and does truly emerge until you are half way into a bottle.

This is a simple beverage, but it is extremely refreshing and will get you good. I liked this one the most so I strongly recommend it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest

So this was a bit poorly planned, but I decided to write a quick review of the Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest and compare it to the Toronto Festival of Beer, which I went to for the last time a couple of years ago.

For those who don't want to read - the conclusion is go to the Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest instead of the Toronto Festival of Beer - less crowded, there are actual good beers, it is much cheaper and the food is better....also the crowd is more mature and I don't mean in terms of age, but in terms of behavior.



Entry to the Roundhouse fest cost me $20 for 2 tickets, which I got in advance online. The tickets included a sampling cup each (so 2 in total) and entry into the festival (weekend long I might add). The cups are made of glass and feel great. In fact they remind me of a small measuring glass I have so using that I was able to estimate that the sampling glasses hold around 4 oz. You may think it is not much, but each sample only costs $1...soooo...for about $4 you can get a pint of a very decent beer.

Total cost for 2 - $20 (+ tax and service fee if buying online) = ~$24

Toronto Festival of Beer

Ticket prices haven't changed in the past few years (though there are expensive packages you can get now). The cost was $39.50 per ticket, but you did get 5 tokens. I opted for the "hoptimized" tickets, which cost an extra $10 each, got you an extra 5 token per ticket and allowed you to enter an hour earlier. Again, you get a sampling cup (4 oz), however, this one is plastic (last time I went).

At the time I thought hoptimizing will be awesome - "hey, I get to beat the crowds and come in an hour early, why not?" WROOOOOONG. Everyone else had the same idea so when we showed up an hour early, there are already hundreds of people waiting in line. Great - $20 down the drain.

Also, the tickets were only good for a single day.

Total cost for 2 - $99 (+ tax) = $111.87 (no service fee when buying online when I went)



Unfortunately your entry fee does not get you any tokens, however, they are $1 each and you can get them in bundles of 10s and 20s. Any unused tokens can be sold back to the organizers. I got a bundle of 20 for $20 and that was enough for a single day.

Almost all samples were only 1 token. The stronger brews (near or above double ABV digits) were 2 tokens for a full sample or 1 for a half sample.

Total cost for 2 - $20

Toronto Festival

We got 20 tokens in total with our tickets but we had to get an extra 10 for $20 due to reasons outlined in the following "food" section.

Samples cost anywhere from 1 to 4 tokens each. The mead was the most expensive at 4 tokens per sample, but some of the cheaper beers (like Blue) were 1 - 2 depending on the sample size.

Total cost for 2 - $20



This year (2013) there were a bunch of food trucks selling AMAZING items for anywhere from $6 to $10. Tokens are not accepted so you have to bring some extra cash. We spent $15 on 2 slices of pizza (wood oven baked) and a fried chicken-triple waffle stacked sandwich. Though this will satisfy you for a couple of hours, I would probably budget an extra $10 if you want to stay longer.

Total cost for 2 - $15

Toronto Festival

Last time I went there were only a handful of food vendors, some of which did accept tokens, while others only cash. There was BBQ, which was pretty good, but pricey at around $9 for a rack of ribs. There were also some hamburgers and fries, but last time the food felt just so generic and overpriced. This year I heard there was some grilling event, but again, not much variety.

So here is where we spent a good deal of tokens - 6 and $9.

Total cost for 2 - $9



At first I was a bit skeptical because the exhibitors included larger local craft brewers like Amsterdam and Great Lakes Brewing, but fortunately they weren't only selling their most popular brews - they had a lot of one-offs and experimental brews. I noticed that 50% of what all brewers were offering were rare brews that you can only find in some pubs for limited time, or one-offs. The other 50% were the flagship beers, some of which you can get at the LCBO and others you can always get at most pubs.

I tried over 10 new brews and had some of the flagship ones.

Toronto Festival

Though there were over 100 brewers, they were brewers that sell their products at the LCBO and The Beer Store. It took a lot of walking around to find the "smaller" craft brewers and try the 1 or 2 "rare" beers they had on tap. Larger craft brewers like Flying Monkeys had a decent presence, but at the time they only had 1 non-flagship beer they were offering (they also had another one, but had run out already - Saturday morning).

There were some interesting brews, like a bunch of meads I was able to try (I was nice to the guy at the booth so he let me have a couple of sips of each without asking me for tokens).



Roundhouse Craft Beer Fest is geared more towards those who want to venture out and find unique beers. There were some interesting brews that would have not appealed to the general audience, but there were also some staple craft beers. The audience is mature, the atmosphere is very laid back and the place didn't start to get crowded until 3 hours after the gates opened. We managed to get a picnic table since we were one of the first ones in and we shared it with various people that came and went. The beers were good, the food was good, the entertainment was OK. I would definitely go again.

Total Cost - $59

Toronto Festival

This one is geared more towards the general public and though the organizers try to get folks who enjoy Blue and Bud to try something different, the macro brews have such a large presence that the craft brewers get lost. The macro brewers also have tons of contests and give away so much free swag, that I noticed people hovering around their booths waiting for free stuff so much so that there were no lines at most of the craft brewers.

The audience going to this event was largely people who would wait for 2 hours at a crowded club, pay $20 to get in and get a watered down $10 cocktail or a crappy $10 know who you are. No wonder I refuse to go back to the festival.

The macro brewers were crowded, but there was plenty of room near the craft brewers. One place I didn't go to was the caskapalooza tent, which cost another $20 per person to get in and there were only 10 casks for which you had to pay even more money to sample.

Total Cost - $140.87

$140.87 VS $59!!!! Not to mention that the Roundhouse passes are weekend long.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Retsina Malamatina Dry White Wine Review

Soooo, this is the CHEAPEST wine you can get at the LCBO. I paid $5.20 for the bottle, but do keep in mind that this is a 500 mL bottle so comparing it to a 750 mL, the equivalent price should be about $7.80...which still makes it the cheapest bottle around.

OK, so how is the cheapest wine? get what you paid for. The aroma is terrible and comparable to stale farts, wet dog else along those lines. Underneath it all you still get hints of grapes, but maaaan, the rest of the

The taste is even worse. I could only stomach a sip and from it I got a lot of bitterness, raunchiness and other fermented things...with a nice grape finish.

I hope this was a bad bottle because no one should be selling this. Do yourself a favour and spend the extra $3 to get a 750 mL bottle from Eastern Europe or South America.

Yea, that thing near the bottom of the glass is a cap and you do need a bottle opener.

Cost - $5.20
Taste - 0/10
ABV - 11%

Overall - 0/10...cheapest bottle of wine at the LCBO

Monday, July 29, 2013

Weekend Tastings - Ugly Beer cans and Shandys

The title says it all, yes, I am trying a beer that caught my eye because of its ugly label. Well, it worked. What also caught my eye was the Hockley 100 and Rickard's Shandy that were sitting beside it. Who says you have to make an attractive label when this ugly one got me to buy this product.

Old Style Pilsner

So lets start off with the ugly can, are probably most interested in it. Before I get into the beer, I have to say one thing - this beer is made by Molson! This isn't a small mom and pop shop (err...brewery) brew, this is something made by a giant corporation.

So the label is ugly, so what? You know what is not ugly? The price! That's right, this beer was only $1.90, which is one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest tall boy you can get at the LCBO, it is even about the same price as a PBR.

The beer itself has a pale straw color and pours with a bubbly head that recedes very quickly to a thin ring around the glass. The aroma is typical of such macrobrews - sweet and malty with a hint of adjuncts. The taste is what I was expecting - malty, very sweet, some adjuncts and boozy. Tastes a lot like a regular Molson, except a little sweeter I think. Over time a grassy taste builds up as well as an odd sweetness at the back of my throat.

I wasn't disappointed by this one, but I wasn't expecting much know it is drinkable and some may enjoy it, but...blaaaaargh. Even if I wanted to have more than one, the sweetness will easily stop me.

Taste - 4/10
ABV - 5%

Hockley 100

Here is another light beer for the hot summer nights...except that this one tastes like sweet malt water with some adjuncts tossed in there. The aroma is veeery strong with a lot of sweet malt and butter. The flavour is similar, but with more of the buttery flavour and the finish is more of the same.

I like Hockley, but this just isn't a good brew. Sorry guys. But hey, on the plus side there is no nasty build up of any flavours like the beer above.

Taste - 4/10
ABV - 4.3%

Rickard's Shandy

Sooo, saving best for last? Best by comparison to the previous two.

The beer is slightly hazy (from the lemonade I assume) and pours with a lingering bubbly head. The aroma is strong and veeerry lemony. You can tell there are lemons in this thing from miles away (OK, like many, many centimeters). Also a little bit of sweet malt pokes from underneath.

The taste is disappointingly light and mediocre. The aroma led me to believe I was going to get a lot of lemons and some beer, but what I got instead was a watery beer taste at the start with a light lemon flavour. The finish is refreshing with the medium length lemon notes...and some sweet malt. Overall the beer is light and easy to drink, but the aroma was so misleading. I can see this being hugely improved by squeezing half a lemon in the beer.

Taste - 5.5/10
ABV - 4.5%