Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Walkerville Brewery revisited...

The entrance to the Walkerville Brewery retail
store. Marie and Ernie have walked through that
door on many an occasion. They're like regulars.
Okay, for the record, I have been to Las Vegas six times in my life. On each occasion, I bet exactly $20. Five times out of six, that $20 bill was swallowed by the slot machine faster than the music career of Dexys Midnight Runners. Eileen got her 15 minutes and not much more. But one time, that $20 turned into $107 within about two minutes and sensing I was pushing the laws of mathematical probability, I cashed that out before it got eaten back up by the one-armed bandit.

So in terms of gambling, I am into Vegas for all of $13 or in terms I understand because I have little concept of the value of money - a six-pack. Given that, it is highly unlikely I will ever be comped a room or be given the VIP treatment while there unless I somehow save the front desk staff at Caesar's Palace from an armed gunman one day. This, too, is unlikely as I would be busy breaking the land-speed record for running in the opposite direction. I go to Vegas to drink beer, people-watch and bask in the heat. So, if you looked at Don's List of Vices and Addictions, gambling doesn't even crack the Top-Ten.

That said, my co-worker Marie and her fella, Ernie, take their gambling a little more seriously than me. They pop down to Windsor to visit Caesars Windsor, usually on a whim.
Chris Ryan, who co-founded the brewery with partner
Mike Brkovich in September 2012, holds up a growler
of good stuff with his brewing equipment behind him.
While I, of course, will always believe that Vegas trumps Windsor, the truth is they can drive there where I have to fly. And having been to the Windsor version of Caesars several times, I will say I am convinced it is Canada's best casino. Being as you can see Detroit across the river from their front door, the casino is eager to lure those American dollars across to the Canadian side of the bridge so it's pretty upper-scale, kinda classy and unlike some Canadian casinos, actually fun. So I understand its appeal to Marie and Ernie.

That said, the big winner when they visit Caesars is not the casino or them. It's me. You see, just down the street from the gambling mecca is Walkerville Brewery, a craft beer outlet that is really finding its legs these days. And whenever Marie is headed to Windsor, she is armed with a shopping list from me. I knew that they had a milk stout and dunkel I hadn't tried yet so there you go, that was my list. Short and sweet - dark and darker, please. When she and Ernie pop in, they sample everything but to this point, I think I had only had their Geronimo India Pale Ale and Loophole Ale. both of which were pretty good. That IPA was exactly halfway between a session and a hop bomb so I quite enjoyed it.
When I wrote about Walkerville Brewery last year,
they had started with a different brewmaster.  Now
this smiling fellow, Blayne Caron, is the head guy...

Okay, I wrote about these guys back in May 2014 but a quick bullet-point recap on Walkerville Brewery from that piece. Opened in 1885 by whiskey baron Hiram Walker. Then opened and closed about a dozen times through the 1900s. One of the biggest bootleg booze suppliers to Detroit during Prohibition. (The Motor City was considered the wettest in all of America during those dry, desperate days with a lot of the credit due to Walkerville.) Old brewery was demolished in 1962. Reopened in 1998 but went bankrupt in 2006 - the local Windsor Star cited the poor quality of that ownership's beer as the main reason. Partners Chris Ryan and Mike Brkovich step up in 2012, reopen it and... so far, so good.

Their line has more than doubled since I first wrote about them just 19 months ago with the inclusion of one-offs and their specialty Roadhouse Series. These boys know what they're doing. But Marie came back with a little more than I expected. Given the business that she and Ernie were bringing to them, they gifted her with a two-litre (64 ounce) growler of their Amplemann Dunkel (which she, in turn, handed over to me). She also got me a one-litre (33 ounce) growler of their Collaboration Pale Ale, a specialty beer created for a local Windsor restaurant, The Willistead.
The Collaboration Pale Ale was a decent starter but
honestly, things just got better and better when I dove
into the latest offerings from Walkerville Brewery...
But it was their Milk Stout that came with a little bonus. Marie phoned me to tell that there was a separate barrel-aged version of that beer and would I prefer that one? I said, "Yes, please!" so fast that I'm fairly certain I forgot the "please" part. Or it sounded like "Yease!" Not sure.

Okay, let's start with the milder styles and work up to the stronger (meaning I had to get through three litres of beer before hitting that stout. No sacrifice too small.) That means first on deck was that Collaborative Pale Ale. This is pretty nice. Not quite as hoppy as I like (think Nickel Brook Naughty Neighbour) but still a damn solid brew. Their use of Australian Galaxy hops gives it a nice citrus aroma with some fruitiness on the tongue. It's a milder pale ale at 5.3% and 40 IBUs (international bitterness units) but still, a tasty one. I would have no problem recommending this.

So moving onto that Amplemann Dunkel. Well, anyone who knows me knows that dark lagers are my favourite... well, after IPAs, stouts and porters, that is. (And imperial versions of those. And probably some other stuff.) Licorice on the nose, coffee on the tongue, this might not be the best dunkel I've had (that would be the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissebier Dunkel out of Freising, Germany) but it's a damn good one. I happily plowed through that growler. These guys know how to make a solid dark lager. Nice job.
Holy crap, this was tasty! Lots of bourbon
goodness in this bad boy, giving it a tummy
warming sensation as it slid down the pipes

Which brings us to the barrel-aged Milk Stout. Marie said, "I'm not sure what kind of barrel it was aged in." Me when I smelled it: "Bourbon." I don't even drink liquor but I know the taste of bourbon all too well from the many barrel-aged beers I had. Not all of them were aged in bourbon barrels - just the best ones. That said, I honestly wouldn't know actual bourbon if I tripped over it. (Jack Daniels: "I'm in the room. Sitting right here. You know that, right?" Me: "Shut up. You're dead. I've had too many beers.") Okay, straight off the top, Walkerville may have a tough time topping this beer. But I certainly welcome any attempts to do so. This 8% bad-ass is a little vanilla but mostly bourbon on the nose, a nice chunk of chocolate with bourbon warmth on the tongue. While most breweries put their stouts, porters, what-have-you in the barrel for a year, the Milk Stout was bottled after seven months. Only a brewer could tell me why the year mark for barreling is the industry go-to because damn, this worked. With the clock running down on 2015, this is absolutely the best stout I've had this year and with just 22 days left, I suspect it won't be one-upped. I'm done with Walkerville for this edition... but I am far from done with them yet. A trip to Windsor is in order. I have $20 to blow in a casino... and considerably more to spend at this brewery.

Okay, this next beer was meant to be a bit of a lark. Our good friends at Molson's recently dropped the Rickard's Red IPA on us, marking their first foray into the IPA market.
So how was the Rickard's Red IPA? Truth to tell,
after the Rickard's Lederhosen (which is quite nice),
this just might be the best in their Rickard's line. 
So I purchased three of them, one for myself and the others to gift to Rib Eye Jack's Ale House general manager Steve and their beer technician, the lovely Kylie. Now these two have very discerning tastes when it comes to beer, particularly IPAs so the "gift" was meant as a bit of a joke. Stopping in one night, I presented Steve with his, prompting a giggle-fit from Kylie. Oh, not so fast, young lady, I said, as I reached into the bag and presented hers. "Guest beer!" she quickly called, referring to the fridge's bottom shelf where we all keep the guest beer. Mine is presented stocked hard with Miller Lite from the USA in what is apparently a futile effort to discourage visitors. But as Kylie had, in fact, called it, she was safe. Steve, not so much. "You are drinking yours!" I quickly told him. He promised he would start it but made no guarantees about finishing it. Fair enough. There was also swear words. I forget which ones. But I had mine because, well, this is what I do. And how was it? Actually, I kinda liked it. At 5.7% and just 55 IBUs, this is a milder IPA, to be certain, but think of a slightly hoppier amber lager/red ale and this is what you have. Pouring a nice red as you can see (I think - colourblind), it has a bit of citrus and caramel on the nose, a bit malty but still dry on the tongue, I am impressed by the big brew crew. A solid transition beer for those looking to get away from the mainstream fare. So props to one of the big boys.
Just as I avoid pumpkin beers, I shall now
avoid any beer with the word "cherry" in its
name, even if it's free. This was truly awful.

But where a Canadian giant succeeded to a certain degree, an American craft giant fell badly. That would be the Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat. How did I end up with two of these beers? Lemme tell you. My upstairs neighbour, Amy, who is the least discerning beer drinker I've ever met, looked at them, went "ewww" and gave them to me. I offered one to Rib Eye Steve, texting him a nice picture and everything. More swear words ensued from his end. (Not really. But there were hard questions about my mental faculties. Some people are just hard to "gift".)

Was Steve right to question my intellectual and emotional well-being over a single beer? Ummm, yes. This was really quite horrid. For a cherry beer, not seeing much red in that colour. (Yes, colourblind but even dogs aren't that colourblind.) While they claim that actual cherries were used, I have my doubts. I have some no-name cough syrup here that is cherry-flavoured and strangely, it has that same vibe. Nothing on the nose (and I mean, zero) and a light medicinal cherry on the tongue. I wouldn't give this out as guest beer and please remember, there's actual Miller Lite on the bottom shelf of my fridge.

So how can we redeem this rendition of Brew Ha Ha after the cherry wheat debacle? Gonna need something good, I think. Something strong... something like a saison?
Meh, who's afraid of a saison? Well, in this case,
perhaps a little caution is in order. This is not a beer
you're gonna want to be shotgunning at a frat party. 
Wait,,, what? A saison? The mildest, meekest style of beer going? Usually, yup, but everything has its exception and in this case, it's an imperial saison brewed up by Nickel Brook's Ryan and Sawdust City's Sam, the respective brewmasters of their domains. You see, November 5th is their shared birthday and every year, they cook up a new brew to commemorate the big day (which is also Guy Fawkes Day if you happen to be British and a fan of explosives that never actually detonated.) Two years ago, their annual concoction, dubbed 11-05, was a barleywine ale, which I had and quite enjoyed. Last year, it was a triple IPA, which was only available at Sawdust's Gravenhurst brewery, meaning I did not get to try it and was pretty much cursing the fates because... triple IPA. This year, they went in a different direction with an imperial saison that came with ample warning. You see, these annual beers have had the same ABV - 11.05%. Not for the faint of heart. "Sit down when you drink this," warned Nickel Brook's Robbie as I purchased it. Added coworker Jay-Dawg, who had sampled one after he cleaned the brewery out of their limited double dry-hopped Naughty Neighbour Pale Ale, "It's really strong, basically rocket fuel in a beer can but tasty." To quote Hans and Franz, this is not a girly-man saison.
While we all did our part during Movember, Highlander
Brewing's brewmaster Brian Wilson went one step
further as he also chose to grow antlers for the month.
Up there in South River, it's best to adapt to the elements

The verdict? Aye carumba, this was the powder-keg that Guy Fawkes failed to ignite under the House of Lords back in 1605. Like most saisons, very fruity on the nose - pretty much all the fruits though I did single out orange - and very lively on the tongue. The high ABV lead to a lot of warmth in the throat. Does this beer make up for the fact that I missed last year's triple-IPA? Hell no, that's a wound that will never heal. But damn, it was very good. It didn't so much cleanse my palate after that gawd-awful cherry wheat - it basically trashed it. What Guy Fawkes couldn't do in England, he did instead to Samuel Adams - blew him up real good. As tasty as it was strong.

Okay, that's it for this edition but coming up next is a mixed 12-pack of Okanagan Springs beers that had a couple of surprises in it. What mini-cask was a two-hour sell-out at Rib Eye Jack's, setting a new record? And will I ever get over that missed triple-IPA from last November 5th? Yes, I've learned to laugh and live again. You gotta laugh at your problems because if my friends are any indication, everyone else is. I'm kidding because they're all great and if they ever needed me for anything that doesn't involve heavy lifting, I'm only one unanswered phone call away. Have a Miller Lite on me, rat bastards. But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...