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Oakes Weekly - January 15, 2004
Nova Scotia pt 2...
January 14, 2004
Written by Oakes
Before I get into the meat of this week's column, I just wanted to announce that I've published a book of short stories. They are four quite different stories, all non-genre pieces. I'm very excited about this, in no small part because it gives me an opportunity to showcase my work to the public at large. For more information, check out<P><P>
<P><P>Obviously, I didn’t break my neck beerhunting over the holidays themselves. But I did manage to bring a few out with me. Among them were two examples of last year’s big fad, the barrel-aged brew. I think that for the time being brewers are still very much in the experimental stage when it comes to these. I had ‘t Smisje Calva Reserva, from De Regenboog in Belgium (a good brewer) and Old Engine Oil Special Reserve from Harviestoun in Scotland (an excellent brewer). Both spent six months in the barrel – calvados for the Smisje and whisky for the Engine Oil.
<P>Going in I reckoned the strong Belgian beer would be better-suited to handle such treatment. But I was wrong. The Calva Reserva is way out of balance. Many feel that for beers like Madison (the grand marnier beer from Gayant of France) or any of the other liquor-beer hybrids, it is best just to buy the real thing. So, too, with the Calva Reserva. I like calvados, but if that’s the flavour and potency I want in a drink, I’ll buy it. The Reserva is an all-out alcohol assault – fair enough in a liquor but unacceptable in a beer. Old Engine Oil, despite its relatively modest gravity, is a full brew with enough backbone to stand up to six months’ worth of abuse in a whisky cask. Though I prefer the original to the Special Reserve, at least the latter has balance, which is more than I can say for many of the barrel-aged creed.
<P>It does prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that making good beer by this method can be done. It just requires a great beer underneath, a deft touch, and the willingness to bottle when the flavour is right, no matter how unimpressive that might make the age statement on the label. Three days may not be an age statement to instill respect, but in some cases I swear that’s about right.
<P>The last component of the trip, and a rather mandatory one at that, was a short pub crawl thought Halifax with OKBeer (Bobby). I started out by trying to get a first-hand look at some of the damage that Hurricane Juan left behind down at Point Pleasant Park. The park was closed to all, but even from the edge I could see that half the trees had been felled. Sad to see for Haligonians and ex-Haligonians who liked to spend time there.
<P>Rogue’s Roost was the first stop on the crawl. For the winter, they’ve got an Imperial Stout on tap. It is one of the lighter examples of the style. All the required elements are there – roast, chewiness, raisin notes – but they are gracefully restrained. An enjoyable imperial for those times when you want more than one. Storm King fans will probably dig it more than Dark Lord fans, mind you, but lighter imperials do have an appeal.
<P>I also grabbed a pint of Bulldog Brown. I didn’t remember having tried this before, though I’m sure I did when they first opened back in 1998 (I stopped in on their second day of operation, and a few more after that as well, as that was my Halifax era). You’d be inclined, if you didn’t know any better, to question if they poured the right beer, this is so dark. No worries, though, it still looks good and what’s more it tastes good. The malt development is complex and hits all the right notes, at least until the slightly overbearing English hop notes bugger up the finish.
<P>Next stop was Maxwell’s Plum. Because Maxwell’s carries just about anything you can buy in Nova Scotia, it kind of has to be on the crawl. But the prices aren’t so wonderful, and all the new, rare stuff they have really isn’t very good. I had a lousy Australian beer called Oz Lager, while Bobby made the smart choice and arranged Propeller London Porter for himself. Back to the Oz Lager for a minute, though. I have to say that these types of mystery beers piss me, as editor, right off. You know you’re in trouble when a beer hasn’t been tasted by anyone from the country it’s supposed to be from. Worse yet, the brewery has a vague name that doesn’t seem to correspond to any known brewery. And of course, our labeling laws here are toothless. Oh, they’ll nail you to the cross if your alcohol figure is off by 0.2%, but if you really don’t want to tell people where the bloody thing is made, no worries there. So I have a bit of work to do to make sure some of these beers I’ve had this trip (Kingston Lager being another one) are actually something different. What’s not surprising, however, is that almost all of the beers that fall into this category are of the dime-a-dozen variety anyway.
<P>Next stop was Ginger’s Tavern. This was the original name of what later became known as the Granite Brewery. The Ginger’s name was dropped for a number of years when the Granite relocated to the Henry House, a historic building on the edge of downtown Halifax. The Granite has now sold the Henry House, and restored the Ginger’s name to their new location, in the heart of downtown. (I stopped by the Henry House earlier in the afternoon and am happy to report that you’d never know it was sold. Granite beers are still the only taps and their sign is still hanging out front). The upstairs component to the downtown location is really just a big room, and more bar-ish than the showpiece pub that is the Henry House. Atmospherically, the Henry House is wonderful while Ginger’s reminded me of my student days drinking Moosehead and shooting pool. I can’t say that I understand why they made the move, which also took away the residential customer base enjoyed by the Henry House, but that’s their business. As long as it’s not the end of their business. The one saving grace of Ginger’s was that they had four cask ales on, two more than the Henry House. The IPA was actually served on nitro at the latter, but was on cask at the former. No contest there.
<P>The final stop was down at John Shippey’s. This brewpub has a rather unique atmosphere as I may have mentioned before. It is located in a food court. There aren’t any chains in this food court, which I guess makes it a really good food court, but it’s still a food court. It’s right on the waterfront, and portions of the outside deck (not that I was going to sit there anyway) were destroyed in the hurricane.
<P>Beerwise, they rather sucked when I visited in August, save for a killer Stout. Well, they had two new beers on the menu and both were tasty, raising the profile of this brewery quite a bit in my eyes. They had a smoked schwarzbier called BlackHook Lager. That was pretty good, as the black malt character of the schwarzbier worked as best it could in a smokey environment. Not the style best suited to being smoked, but it worked well enough. In the summer, they do this as a smoked porter because turnover is such that lagers aren’t really feasible, but in the winter they indulge in the extra aging.
<P>The other one was an unfiltered IPA. Given that the IPA at Ginger’s is classically English – fuggles, Ringwood yeast, etc – I was in the mood for something a little more American. I got an admittedly uncreative take on the American IPA theme – I probably don’t have to tell you what hops they used – but it was well-made, had just the right amount of bitterness for session drinking (~45 IBUs) and proved a very satisfactory finale to the crawl.
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You’d be inclined, if you didn’t know any better, to question if they poured the right beer, this is so dark. No worries, though.
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