Monday, 24 October 2016

An East Coast beer wrap-up

The whole fam-damily! This would be the bride's side of the big day,
from left, my nephew Thomas, niece Nora, my sister/their mom Carly,
bride Genny, father Paddy and Maid of Honour Emily. Lookin' good...
Before I flew out to Halifax a few weekends back with my Mom and my son, David, in tow, I was telling a few people how I was at that weird age where I am, in essence, a parent to both my own child and my mother who just turned 87. I was the part of that three-generational trio that would make sure we got to the airport on time. I was the guy who got our boarding passes out of the touch screen machine in the airports and make sure our luggage got properly checked in. I was the guy who was basically given the job of getting us all to the east coast safely for the nuptials of my oldest niece Genny.

I was the guy in charge; I was the parent. Or at least I thought I was. As it turns out, I'd be somewhat useless at the smaller things, such as starting a rental car or even making an unfamiliar shower work, without David there to guide me. I kid you not.
Our Halifax "Beer Fest" companion Jeff is shown
happily at the bar with our four-sample paddle at Good
Robot Brewing. Or I suppose muffin tray in this case. 
When we landed in Halifax, the three of us went directly to the Dollar Car Rental kiosk (believe me, they understated their prices a little with that name) and picked up our reserved car. Whereas I am used to hatchbacks and small sedans, this was a fancy-ass Chrysler mid-size with a lot more horses under the hood than I am used to. That too-big-for-me engine came into play when we were driving back to the airport three days later through the tail-end of Hurricane Matthew. But I'll get to that later.

When they handed me the key fob, I recognized it as one of those keys that pop up like a switchblade when you press a button. So as my Mom hopped into the back and David climbed into the passenger seat while I loaded the luggage in the trunk, I was pressing little buttons, trying to pop the key up. Sliding into the driver's seat, I was having little luck. "Hmmm," I told my Mom, "I can't make the key pop up." David piped up: "There is no key. You push the brake and the button." I chuckled lightly, "I don't think so, buddy. Every car has a key." And I continued to struggle with the fob, pressing every square inch of it. I just could not make that key pop up and it was getting a little frustrating.
Our Propeller server Adam manned the bar when we
stopped in. He explained to us how the brewery had
expanded to nearby Dartmouth (just across the bay
from Halifax) and that the bulk of their production
was done at the newer brewery with good reason.

But the thing about David is that in the end, he will make sure his voice is heard. "Daddy," he said with some sternness in his voice, "Push that button and press on the brake!" Since I was getting nowhere with the key fob, I did that. The car started up. "How did you know that, buddy?" I asked, genuinely astonished. "It says so right there," he replied, pointing to the high-tech dashboard. *Heavy sigh* I used to know stuff but now, it seems the student has surpassed the teacher. And it was more of the same at the downtown Prince George Hotel. Neither my Mom nor I could make the shower work. It took David to come into the bathroom and show us both how.

But anyway, I'm here to talk about the Halifax breweries that David, myself and our new friend Jeff visited during our "Beer Fest" tour on Saturday. (For the record, David named our little excursion, too.) Last time, I spoke at length about both Unfiltered Brewing and Good Robot Brewing in north-end Halifax. This time, I'm looking at our first two stops - the big guns, Garrison Brewing and Propeller Brewing in the south end. These two breweries basically created the craft beer wave in Nova Scotia when they both opened back in 1997.
This is a good bird's-eye view of Garrison's front patio
and to the left (but not seen) is a much longer patio
along the south side of the building, which is actually
much larger than this picture indicates. This is just
a shot of the front where you go into the retail section.

Now in this space, I chronicled the history of both these breweries in September 2015 after my young friend, Megan, sent me a handful of their beers. I'll include that link at the bottom if you wanna brush up on some east coast beer history. So for now, let's jump straight into their beers, many of which were damn impressive.

After we got settled into the Prince George on the Friday - a day before Beer Fest - I headed out to the closest Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) to grab some crafties for the room. Since the closest NSLC was in an underground mall, it wasn't particularly large (I was since assured the stand-alone NSLCs are huge) so their craft selection was somewhat limited. It was also on a separate, non-refrigerated shelf, which very much sucks. So I grabbed myself a handful of singles, some of which I've had plus a few newbies. But I would need a beer that I could drink at room temperature while the others chilled in my room's mini-fridge. Fortunately, Garrison had their Irish Red Ale in six-packs on that shelf.
Call this the Propeller's "Starter" brewery as their main
brewing is now done in nearby Dartmouth. But this little
brewery still pops out one-offs in their small basement vats
for a reason. They have to brew here for this to continue as
their main retail outlet. Same rules as Ontario's, it seems.
Not many of the craft beer drinkers I know are huge fans of the red ale style but I have always enjoyed it and frankly, it's an easy drinker, almost especially at room temperature.

And this little 5% banger gave me exactly what I wanted in my red ales - some Crystal and Carastan malts on the nose, giving it a light fruit and caramel aroma with just that nice touch of apple on the tongue. Like I said, I love a good red ale and this one certainly was. It was the perfect "stand-by" beer while the others chilled. So well done, Garrison, on a not-complicated but always-satisfying style.

After a few of these disappeared (Scottish accent) into mah belly, it was time to graduate to a big boy - the Propeller Double IPA. As one of the few beers in my fridge I hadn't tried, I was looking forward to this one.
Okay, this one hits all the right bells and
whistles. In a funky 500-ml (17 ounce)
bottle, the Double IPA was my first blast
of anticipated hops in Halifax. Delicious!
As I explained last time, while their regular IPA is readily available in Ontario, I have had it a handful of times and enjoyed it just enough but I am an exceptionally tough sell on IPAs as I have enjoyed many outstanding ones. With Propeller's, there was no "wow" factor for me.

However, in absolute fairness, I discovered their Pale Ale on this trip and that landed me right back on Team Propeller as I loved it. It became my go-to brew at the hotel's bar where it was bottle-served. So we need a tie-breaker.

Their Double IPA did not break the tie but rather, it smashed it. And thus, my first IPA on Nova Scotia soil was a real beauty. Using a truckload of Pacific Northwest hops and aggressively dry-hopping it, the 8.2%, 85 IBU (international brewing units) brew hit all the keys (unlike my rental car.) Big pine, floral and citrus notes on the nose, a slick hop finish with a noticeable malt backbone, this was a perfectly balanced Imperial IPA. So "Welcome to Halifax, Donny" as this beer gave me all the creature comforts in my new home away from home. If my executive jet (the one I'll own after my impending lottery win with the huge Avengers logo painted on the side) ever has to make an overnight emergency landing at Halifax's Robert Stanfield Airport, I'll simply have my limo chauffeur scoot me over to the brewery, knowing I'm among (much poorer but still pretty nice) new friends.

Revolution is bang-on! The Propellor
Russian Imperial Stout was a YUGE
favourite as Jeff and I split it in the
hotel room. While I am a hophead,
Jeff is a stout sipper and this one was a
winner for both of us. Some dark gold!
More Propeller offerings in a moment but first an interesting sidebar gleaned during our visit to the brewery. When David, Jeff and I landed in the brewery for a visit - Stop #2 of Beer Fest 2016 - we were served by the very knowledgeable Adam, an enthusiastic, easy-going young man. After peppering us with the traditional "where are you from?' and "what brought you here?" openers, he had little problem answering my questions about the brewery. When I noted how small it was, given their output, Adam explained that they were unable to keep up with the demand for Propeller and in 2013, they opened a much larger second brewery on Windmill Road in nearby Dartmouth to keep up.

"So do you still brew anything here or is this just your retail component now?" I asked him. Well, he explained, they have to continue to brew on-site in accordance to Nova Scotia law. So the smaller 1,000-litre (264 gallon) vats in the basement are now brewing one-offs so they can continue to use the original Gottingen Street brewery as a retail outlet. Also, the brewery was once upon a time (back in the 1950s, I believe) a strip club - it's likely the only one in Canada that can make that claim.

While the interior of the brewery and its tasting room is not as flashy and new as, say, Good Robot Brewing, it is cozy and old school with its long, worn wooden benches. It is exactly the atmosphere that would appeal to the university crowd as my nephew, Thomas, confirmed. During his stint at the local Dalhousie University, he and his gang of thugs were constantly landing at the Propeller doorstep to party the night away. "Had a lot of fun at Propeller over the years," he told me at some point on the weekend. "Some great times in that old place."
When I checked RateBeer to get a commercial
description for Garrison's Hoppy Buoy IPA, I did
notice that it was really undervalued with a score of
66 out of 100. Ignore RateBeer. This is a solid IPA.

With that said, let's look at a couple more of their specialty brews. One thing was established early into "Beer Fest 2016." While I am a renowned hophead, Jeff is a notorious stout sipper. He likes his beers rich, black and meaty. So basically, the same way the Kardashian sisters like their men. And hey, that's cool with me because I'm also a dark beer fan. So while I was at the Propeller retail desk, I grabbed a Revolution Russian Imperial Stout, as well as a Nocturne Dark Lager - a seasonal followed by a one-off. (For the record, David likes iced tea, apple juice and bottled water if anyone's keeping tabs on the group's one responsible person.)

When he returned to the Prince George (Jeff and his girlfriend Jackie were staying there for the wedding, as well), we all went up to David's and my room where Jeff and I split that Revolution. Holy Blin! (That's Russian for "shit" - more on that in a bit.) Beautiful tan head on this 8% thick, rich stout which fairly explodes with deep coffee and roasted malts on the nose. On the tongue, bitter (really bitter) chocolate with a lighter touch of vanilla and dried fruit. Both Jeff and I loved the hell out of this one. This is one of the better Imperial Stouts I have enjoyed in Canada, which tells me, again, I would make a perfectly good easterner should my sweet-ass Avengers Quinjet land there.
Propeller's Nocturne Dark Lager was a nice but
not dangerous in the least dark lager. Obviously,
a lot thinner than their tasty Revolution Russian
Imperial Stout but that's what dark lagers are...

Propeller's Nocturne Dark Lager actually made the flight home to Donny's Bar and Grill so I could enjoy it in the luxury of Burlington's bountiful splendor. (Not really - I just ran out of time in Halifax for all the beers I bought.) As expected, this dark lager was much lighter and thinner than their Revolution Imperial Stout but then again, it's supposed to be. At just 4.8%, it pours with a deceptively white head for a dark beer and offers up just gentle whiffs of coffee on the nose. On the tongue, there's some nice smoky chocolate and in the end, this is a nice representation of what a dark lager should be - the skinny awkward cousin of the stout. I quite enjoyed it as you could knock these back for an afternoon and still make it to work on time the next day.

When we made Garrison Stop #1 on the tour, it was simply because it was the southern-most (or was that eastern-most) of the breweries. That said, the brewery beautifully set the tone on this Summer-like October day. Splitting a paddle, Jeff and I both sampled their Raspberry Wheat, a seasonal one-and-done, while I opted for their Tall Ship Amber Ale and Jeff seconded with their Nut Brown Ale. Asked how it was, Jeff replied simply, "It's a brown ale." Say no more. Not an inspiring style. However, that Amber ale was a decent one with some malt and nut on the nose and a touch of apple on the tongue. I preferred their Irish Red but this was quite nice.
The front door of the Prince George Hotel in downtown
Halifax. This is the spot where you could regularly see
me wandering out front for a smoke in my Superman
pajama pants, Batman t-shirt, flannel over-shirt and, of
 course, my dollar store flip-flops. Stay classy, Halifax!

However, their retail outlet offered beer lovers a chance to create their own Mix-Six so I grabbed a couple more Tall Ship and four of their Hoppy Buoy IPA. I was quite impressed with the Hoppy Buoy. While a huge step below their Imperial IPA and quite light at just 50 IBUs, the 6.5% brew poured a nice light copper colour with a bit of mango on the nose. On the tongue, it was lightly bitter (as befits that low IBU) with some nice fruitiness and sly malt on the tongue. It kinda gets pounded on RateBeer and I'm not exactly sure why because I thought it was a pretty solid performer.

But that Halifax Beer Fest was hugely enjoyable for me, Jeff and David. One part of it that Jeff quite enjoyed was me regularly getting called out on swearing by my young son. While I seldom employ the F-bomb, unfortunately I tend to over-rely on "shit" in my vocabulary. It's usually followed with an exclamation point. David used to say, "Daddy, swearing!" when I spat out the word. Now it's simply, "Language!" I can tell you exactly where that comes from. In the opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron, our good heroes are zeroing in on a Nazi fortress, which suspends the belief that any remaining Nazis would be like 115-years old.
Captain America - and my son David - would
like YOU to watch your language now, please

As they're moving in, a missile is fired at Iron Man, who exclaims, "Shit!" before deftly dodging it. At that moment, Captain America says through their collective head-sets, "Language!" Poor Cap is roundly mocked by his teammates for that during the remainder of the movie. However, David has picked up the clean-language mantle that was quickly discarded by Steve Rogers. As we proceeded through Halifax Beer Fest, David piped up "Language!" several times throughout the day but as Jeff happily noted, he never got called on it once. Yeah, I set one helluva good example. Real Father of the Year stuff.

Unfortunately, I got called on it several more time as we drove back to the Halifax Airport through the tail end of Hurricane Matthew. Sheets of water coated Highway 102 while high winds pushed the car like it was a ping-pong ball filled with helium. It was so bad that one car got blown into the ocean. We passed by the scene that was riddled with both tow trucks and news crews. While we breezed into town on Friday, we practically crawled out on the Monday as I white-knuckled our entire way back to the airport. I even pulled over once just to calm myself, worried that a strong gust would send us hydro-planing. Fortunately, both my son and Mom were blissfully unaware of my rapid heart movement. But "Language!" came into play several times during that journey.
See that oblong building in the foreground, across
the street from the Halifax Seaport Farmers'
Market and a couple of cruise ships, sitting in the
Atlantic Ocean. That would be Garrison Brewing

And that, my friends, is a wrap for both my niece Genny's wedding and the rowdy fun that was Halifax Beer Fest. We hugely enjoyed the four-stop tour that included Garrison, Propeller, Good Robot and especially Unfiltered Brewing, which treated me to some of the best IPAs I have ever enjoyed.

Next up is the Rib Eye Jacks' annual Beer Fest, which I attended yesterday and am still shaking off today. A stellar line-up of breweries for this year's charity event. (Yes, I drank for charity and no, you're wrong because it was noble.) After that, I'll be looking at the beers my high school sweetie, Christine, brought me up from California. Then the beers college cohort Glenn brought me from Niagara Falls, New York. And then the beers coworker Marie brought me from the tiny St Jacob's brewery Block 3. In other words, I'm about 327 miles behind on my beer news.

One final parting note on our Halifax adventure would be the image of my Mom glued to CNN all weekend as they breathlessly reported on the Donald Trump-Billy Bush bus incident that invoked a powerful image of Mr. Trump grabbing kittens or something. I gotta tell you, America, your election is a lot rapier than I thought it was going to be. Oh, and that link to my first look at Halifax beers last year is here and called: Megan's East Coast Challenge But guys and dolls, that's it, that's all and I am outta here! Until next time, I remain...