As Monday was the official start of the LCBO Fall release (aka. Autumn Ales – Alliteration & Alcohol), it is time to take a closer look at the list to help you make an informed purchase when you see them on the shelves. Having sampled most of the release last Friday, I am now the all-mighty authority on all of these beers. These are some quick notes rather than full reviews, which will hopefully be just enough info for you to decide if you want to pick up a couple of bottles to try (SPOILER ALERT: This is one release where you will probably end up trying most beers.) I reserve the right to change my mind about any of these beers based on the fact that it became progressively harder to judge them as I went through the samples, especially when finishing with the stouts.
Best of the Bunch: It probably helped that this was an early sample, but the intense hops of the Garrison Imperial Pale Ale (LCBO# 173658, Ratebeer) really stood out. The aromas really woke me up with the olfactory equivalent of a caffeine jolt. Lovely peach hues. Heavy aroma and taste of pine, alongside lots of citrus and grass. Fruity, tropical undertones leading to a resiny finish. Bitterness fades nicely on the tongue, making you crave the next sip.
Hmm… (Part One): Coffee-flavoured beers tend to be love/hate in the beer world, but the Dark Star Espresso Stout (LCBO# 177568, Ratebeer) did not taste like most other beers brewed with beans. In my experience, most coffee beers have come out tasting like a coffee drink (be it a weak cup of joe or double shot of espresso – luckily no Starbucks half-soy vanilla shot macchiato beer yet), but it is the elements of the roasted bean that comes through the Dark Star, rather than the taste of a brewed cup. Strong vanilla and wood characteristics, with some grape skin tannins. My problem with the beer lies in the thin body and low 4.2% ABV, both of which undermine the strong flavours. Not to sound like one of those beer geeks, but this needs to be bigger and badder to counteract the strong espresso bean elements. (And for those that care: nicest looking bottle of the lot.)
Hmm… (Part Two): Innis & Gunn beers have their fans and seem to always sell well but they don’t appeal to me, a trend continued by the Innis & Gunn Limited Edition Highland Cask (LCBO# 172957, Ratebeer). Terrible aroma combination of butter, pear, and caramel and roasted malts. Really sweet tasting, with lots of caramel, light fruits and oak. Not much of the scotch-whiskey characteristics. The flavours grew on me a little, but it is a pass in my books.
Lost in Stout Land: Trying to finish with four different stouts is a tricky problem, so please excuse my lack of detailed notes for the Southern Tier Choklat (LCBO# 173534, Ratebeer) and Belhaven Scottish Stout (LCBO# 177550, Ratebeer). The Choklat is exactly what it sounds like – a big glass of cocoa beer, melding different layers of fine chocolate into one drink. The beer is very sweet, so you probably want to share the 650mL bottle with a couple of people, much like last year’s ST Creme Brulee (the 11%abv also makes sharing ideal). The price-point won’t be for everyone ($10.75) but think of it as a special occasion beer, one to open after a holiday meal with the family. The Belhaven is a nice, solid, by the book stout. There isn’t one quality that overwhelms, just a smooth beer with a lot of roasted qualities. The one thing that does concern me is that the beer comes in clear glass bottles. Does anyone know if clear bottles affect stouts as much as they do pilsners and other lighter-coloured beers?
Welcome Back Old Friends: As with most LCBO seasonal releases, there are a couple of returning bottles that have been featured before. You can never go wrong with the Dieu Du Ciel Péché Mortel (LCBO# 125401, Ratebeer), returning for the second year in a row. Always a treat and a nice beer to put away for a year or so. And returning after an extended absence is Orval (LCBO# 439992, Ratebeer), which is a real grower for me. This bottle blew me away, beginning with aromas of hay and horse blanket through to the yeasty start and dry finish of this complex Trappist ale. The last of the usual suspects was the Trafalgar Smoked Oatmeal Stout (LCBO# 54106, Ratebeer), which was a lot more burnt than smoked.
Failed to RSVP: The one beer missing from the tasting was the Muskoka Harvest Ale (LCBO# , Ratebeer), which was disappointing. But the Harvest Ale still deserves a plug for using 100% Ontario malt and hops this year and because it is probably delicious.
A Quick Note About the Hallowe’en Release: The Hallowe’en beers should be showing up in late-September, but they get a short mention now. For the most part pumpkin beers aren’t my thing, though the Southern Tier Pumking (LCBO# 182287, Ratebeer) is definitely the one to try. Sharp ginger and nutmeg character, caramel malts, biscuit, cracked pepper and earthy. Repeat all the Choklat comments about sharing.
The Mt. Begbie Nasty Habit IPA (LCBO# 201665, Ratebeer) has lots of grapefruit, matched by a flowery aroma. I find it to be a bit sweet, lacking in bitterness and finish. The Dieu Du Ciel Rigor Mortis Abt (LCBO# 186775, Ratebeer) was overly boozy and needs to be aged for some time to let the alcohol calm down. The raisin and stewed fruit flavours were overmatched.
Overall, the Autumn Ales release is really solid with a lot of beers that warrant multiple purchases. It is not a cheap release though, with no beer costing less than $3 so plan purchases wisely. And now I am going to eagerly await the list of Winter Warmers.