Monday, 29 February 2016

Molson's spreads its wings

The latest offering from Molson's is this, the John H.R.
Molson and Brothers 1908 Historic Pale Ale. Make no
mistake. This is not their usual fare. In fact, given their
history as the oldest brewery in North America, I would
be surprised if they didn't dip into the history well a few
more times. This one actually caught me by surprise...
When the John H.R. Molson and Bros 1908 Historic Pale Ale came in on a Molson's delivery one Tuesday night, I was caught a little off-guard. They sent it in traditional 12-packs with 341 ml (11.5 ounces) bottles, as well as a single case of 625 ml (21 ounce) single bottles, complete with collar tags.

The collar tags explained what the beer was. It stated simply: "John H.R. Molson & Bros 1908 is a strong and unfiltered historic pale ale crafted from a recipe found deep in our archives. This limited release brew provides an inviting blend of traditional hop field notes and a malty body that is not too full or heavy."

It was signed John Molson. I assume that's the original John Molson, who founded the Montreal brewery in 1786 at the age of 22. People were usually lucky to make it to age 50 in those days so if you wanted to achieve something, you had better start the day you turned 20. Also when I read that collar tag, it maybe meant someone was speaking to me from the Great Beyond. With that in mind, I'd just like to ask John Molson this one single question. "Look, Johnny, the LottoMax is $50 million on Friday and if you know the numbers, can you slide them my way? Seriously, I'll split it with you."
John Henry Robinson Molson lived an
interesting and colourful life. I mean, he
must have. Someone wrote a book about his
"voyages and travels." So they must be good
because we've all had our big travels and
nobody's out there writing about our stuff.
(If you're gonna make promises, make them with a dead man. You never have to follow through.)

So is that John the same John on this label? Nope, that's his grandson, John Henry Robinson Molson, who also ran the brewery in the 1800s. So what's his prominence in the field of Canadian brewing history? His name was Molson. That's pretty much all it took. Some people are born into greatness. The rest of us? We buy lottery tickets.

I would suggest it's safe to say that the 1908 Historic Pale Ale recipe was created under our man, John Henry Robinson. And I can honestly say I bought this for one reason - to see what a pale ale tasted like in 1908. But I'll be honest, the fact that it was just $3,95 a bottle didn't hurt. Even if it sucked, I'm only pouring a couple of toonies down the drain.

Except here's the thing. This was actually a pretty interesting and somewhat tasty beer. Given the recipe was the turn of the century in the last century, I had anticipated this would be simply a malt-heavy pale ale. But working (slightly) in its favour was two simple things - it was 6.8% and it was unfiltered. That probably caused wide-spread panic on on the production floor of the mainstream brewery. "Unfiltered? What the hell does that mean?" No, no, no, I'm joking. They actually busted their asses to replicate the 1800-1900s formula, going as far as to research and use century-old fermentation techniques.
John Molson still walks the halls at the
Molson brewery to this day. But as a
ghost. If there's a sound in the middle
of the night, it's John going to the can.

"To try and replicate the flavours and nuances of the early twentieth century recipe, we went deep into the archives to uncover every last detail behind this historic brew," said Keith Armstrong, the brewmaster of Molson Coors Canada in a media release. "We sat down with maltsters, barley and hop breeders from across the globe to identify the correct ingredients to mix with Molson's ancient ale yeast derived from the same primordial strand John Molson used in the 1700s."

And they stood watch during the brewing process, recording the density and temperature every few hours to ensure consistency. Actually, all brewers do that - craft and mainstream alike. I've watched it first-hand. Dull as hell. "So that spot on the wall over there. What's that?" I'd ask. The brewer, looking up, "Dirt."

So down to brass tacks, what did this beer taste like? Okay, wasn't getting much distinctively on the nose. Some sweetness and grain. But on the tongue? Okay, that was an interesting and unique flavour - there was grassiness, a bit of citrus, little bit of spice and some welcome bitterness. This was actually (surprisingly, even) a very strong tasting beer. Nice colour, decent haziness. I would drink this again and probably will.
How can a beer with this rich a colour have so little in
the way of flavour? That said, I have little interest in a
low-carb, low-calory beer. My theory is that the flavour
of beer is directly linked to calories, carbs and gluten!
Take those key things away and this guy has no interest.

Now Molson's also has a couple more newbies on the market and I gotta be frank - I'm not a fan. Before I begin, let me say, I thought the Rickard's Red IPA was solid. Not outstanding but certainly a decent attempt. But we also got the Canadian 67 Session IPA not long ago. I have never had a Canadian 67 regular because it is a low-cal, low-carb beer. I have no interest in those made by any anyone. If I could describe my physique, it would go like this. Imagine a Q-Tip with a marble taped to the top. That's me. I need all the calories and carbs a beer has to offer. It might be the only thing keeping me alive.

But this Canadian 67 Session IPA? I don't know. Never had a regular Canadian 67 (a 3% beer with just 67 calories) but Beer Store regulars who drink it tell me it tastes a lot like Canadian. Okay, that I have had - everyone's had that. So basing this on my memory, this 67 Session IPA tastes like a light Canadian... with a bit of lemon squeezed it for some latent bitterness. I would suggest steering a wide berth. That said, my coworker Marie loves it so different strokes. Other coworker Jay? Like me, not so much.

I have to say that I had pretty much the same reaction to the new Rickard's Session Lager.
Hey, Molson, if you're wedded to the whole old
time recipes, I would like to see this one! I say
that because I am quite impressed with what
you did with the John H.R. Molson Pale Ale...
It's a 4% red/amber lager. I'm usually a fan of the style but this time, no, not really. I can appreciate the brewery is trying to hop on the "IPA" and "session" bandwagon. I get that. And this pours a nice amber hue. But honestly, it's like a thinner version of Rickard's Red Ale. There's a little bit of caramel on the nose (very little) but on the tongue, except for the graininess, there's nothing there really. Like the 67 Session IPA, maybe give this one a pass. I drank it so you wouldn't have to. I won't twice.

No, if I could suggest something to Molson, it would be this. Screw trying to replicate what the craft brewers are doing because you won't succeed. Ever. But you have something the craft brewers do not have. You have 230 years of history. Your 1908 Historic Pale Ale is the perfect example of that. That was a damn solid offering that truly caught my interest and one I could honestly and happily recommend to my friends. Go back into the recipe vault and tap into that rich history. You have a very precious resource at your fingertips, one that not many other breweries have - for gawd's sake, use it!!! Show that the 1908 Historic Pale Ale wasn't a tasty fluke. That you have more in your arsenal like that. I don't care that you're big, I have only ever cared about the beer in front of me. If it's good, I don't care who makes it. And that beer was damn good. You should be proud. It's in your hands now.

But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here. Until next time, I remain...