Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tastes for Summer

Patio season has finally arrived in Ottawa! The temperatures, while not yet summer-like, are warm enough to drive the masses outdoors and bask in the glory of double-digits.

Many breweries across Ontario and elsewhere are introducing special beer to quench the thirst of the outdoor crowd. This is the time of year when flavoured wheat ales and other lighter brews flourish.

Mill Street, for example, has launched it's summer sampler, a six-pack that includes not only its flagship beer, Tankhouse Ale (my all-time favourite), but also some other favourites like the Organic Lager and Stock Ale. It also features a summertime pleaser, the light-bodied, refreshing Lemon Tea beer. But what I like about this sampler is that this year, it is offering two beers that previously were only available at the Ottawa brew pub location: the Walker's Blueberry Wheat Ale (which I haven't yet tried) and Ambre de la Chaudière (my favourite of the Ottawa brews).

Run—don't walk—to your nearest LCBO store and pick this sampler up.

I've had this sampler in the past, and one beer that used to come with it was their Ginger Beer, a ginger-flavoured ale that still retained a bitterness with a clean finish. While this beer is no longer available in the sampler, I found it on tap at the Ottawa brew pub. The LCBO does not list it.

The other week, I was shopping in my local liquor store, looking for a summer beer to sample, and a bottle caught my attention, immediately reminding me of the Mill Street Ginger Beer. And with a thistle on the logo, I immediately and correctly guessed that this brew came from Scotland. That bottle was Crabbie's Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

A taste comparison was in order.

Here are the details:
John Crabbie & Co.
Glasgow, Scotland
LCBO: $3.65, 500 ml; 4% ABV

In all honesty, there should be no comparison. Crabbie's isn't beer. Indeed, the LCBO classifies it as a wine cooler. I didn't know that until I tasted it.

On the pour, Crabbie's is a deep brass colour: sort of a coppery gold. The head is a white foam, which dissipates after a few minutes. Looking at it in my glass, it looked like a beer to me.

It's on the nose that everything changes. With the Mill Street Ginger Beer, I get hops with a tinge of ginger. The ginger is faint, but there. On the Crabbie's, I was hit with intense ginger that tickled my nose and almost made me sneeze. And I thought, whoa... this smells like non-alcoholic ginger beer. I could detect a strong candy-like smell. No hops on this stuff, mates.

On the palate, it all came clear to me: the intense ginger beer flavour carried through. Crabbie's is sweet. There is nothing that remotely identifies this beer with the hoppy goodness of Mill Street's Ginger Beer. Mill Street tastes like a beer; Crabbie's tastes like pop. The alcohol in Crabbie's is totally lost in the sweet cloying richness. You could drink it very quickly, though the intensity of the ginger might burn your throat. Mill Street, at 5% ABV (I think), blends well with the flavours of the beer... actual beer.

Did I like Crabbie's? Absolutely, once I got over the disappointment of knowing I wasn't drinking beer. I love ginger beer: I love the bite and the aromas. On a patio this summer, Crabbie's would fit in nicely. The LCBO got it right in classifying this beverage (it actually says "Beverage" on the label, but without my glasses, I missed it in the store) with the wine coolers. It has that feel to it.

If you're looking more for a beer, go with Mill Street Ginger Beer. It's perfect for a hot day on the patio.

Bring on summer!

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