Monday, February 20, 2012

Wuchak: Not Bad At All

I've been missing my wife over the past week, as she's away on business in Taiwan. She left before Valentine's Day, so we didn't spend that romantic day together. Instead, I watched our kids eat chocolate.

I miss my wife's home cooking. She's a great cook with a wonderful repertoire of dishes, yet loves to experiment and try new things as well. She loves to get us to be adventurous with her.

When my wife cooks a new meal and I dig in, she'll ask, "how is it?" Unless I really don't like the meal she's prepared, I'll give a non-committal response: "It's not bad."

She's used to this response. She hears it a lot. When she does, she knows me. She knows that I didn't hate the dish but she doesn't know if I like it (if I love it, I state it loud and clear). So, with my ambiguous answer, she'll follow up with another question.

"Would you eat it again?"

She knows that I'll answer honestly, with a simple yes or no. If I give a yes, she knows she has a new addition to her repertoire.

Because she's gone, I may not be eating as well as I would with her here, but I'm an okay cook and so my girls and I are getting along all right. And just because she's gone, I'm not about to stop my weekend routine of trying new beer. (You were probably wondering when I'd get to the point, weren't you?)

This weekend, I thought I would try another local brewery; this time, one that is much closer to home than Beau's. And so I visited a brewery that I pass several times a week and picked up their seasonal brew.
That brewery is Kichesippi, and the beer is their Wuchak Black.

Wuchak Black Cascadian Dark Ale
Kichesippi Beer Company
Ottawa, ON
$11.75 + $4.00 deposit, 64 fl. oz (growler); 6.4% alc/vol

Wuchak, according to the brewery's Web site, is a First Nation's word. Unfortunately, Kichesippi's Web site doesn't say what the word means, but it does say that over time the word transformed into woodchuck. Wikipedia offers a little more information, saying the word is originally Algonquin, or possibly Narraganset, and is the word for those gopher-like animals that we in the Ottawa area affectionately know as groundhogs. So it makes sense that the brewery would release this ale on Groundhog Day.

This Black IPA is a seasonal beer that is only available at select pubs* and restaurants in Ottawa or from the brewery directly. If you want some to take home, you'll have to buy it at the brewery, where it is only available in 64-ounce growlers. Not that that's a bad thing.

Unless you're alone, like me, and have to drink it all yourself. Not that that's a bad thing.

Wuchak Black is dark brown in colour, with only a slight trace of red—and only visible when you hold it up to bright light. The head is a creamy brown and not very thick; it dissipates quickly but leaves a thin lace on top.

On the nose, I detected dark chocolate and roasted malts, but the nose needed to open up over time. I consumed my growler in three sittings over Saturday and Sunday, and I found the nose was the strongest when I poured my fourth and final glass.

In the mouth, I was met with a rich, roasted coffee and traces of burnt walnut. The malt flavour and coffee carried through to the finish, which I felt seemed short, but clean.

For a dark ale, though, I found it a little light in body, especially with my first two pints. I expected a little more from this beer, and perhaps that was due to my anticipation with this dark ale and with the fact that Kichesippi had purchased an Ottawa brewery that had a few years ago itself purchased another local brewery.

Remember my first beer review? The 2005 Imperial Stout from Scotch-Irish Brewing Company, founded by my good friend and brewmaster, Perry Mason? Perry was the king of dark ales. He made that fabulous vintage stout that held up after six years; he also made his Black Irish Porter, perhaps one of the best porters I've ever had. Perry made a few other dark ales over the years; one of the last dark beers that Perry made, after he had sold his brewery and recipes to Heritage Brewery, was one final Imperial Stout: John By.

When Kichesippi Beer Company bought Heritage, my hopes were that they would keep and use some of Perry's old recipes. When Wuchak was released, I was very excited and had high hopes for this beer. When I visited the brewery and had the lady in the store fill a growler for me, I asked her what had happened to Perry's beer. Sadly, she told me that the line of Scotch-Irish beers had been retired.

Had Kichesippi bought Heritage to crush them? Perhaps. Who knows? Something had already been lost when Perry left Heritage and was no longer making his beer for them. Maybe the retirement of the line at this point was not as great a loss as when the master was no longer brewing.

But I had high hopes for Wuchak. Were my hopes dashed when I drank my growler? A bit, but not really. Though I was hoping for something more, in the end I did enjoy Wuchak. It's a good, easy-drinking dark ale. And though it has a somewhat high alcohol content, it's not overpowering. Wuchak drinks very well and I imagine that it will have a strong appeal to those who try it.

So, what did I think about Wuchak Black? Not bad, not bad at all.

The all-important question: would I drink it again?

Yes, definitely. While it lasts.

* For information about pubs and restaurants that carry this beer, contact Kichesippi Beer Co.

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