Sunday, December 30, 2012

Third Best Gift

I don't care if it sounds hackneyed, contrived, trite or provincial: the two best gifts are 1) family, and 2) the opportunity to spend time with them.

Even in a motel room, with only a miniature tree, and hastily improvised decorations.

Even when there aren't enough seats, so you have to open your gifts on a bed.

Even when your sister is distant, and can only participate by phone. (But you take pictures of your mum opening gifts and email them to her so she she can see them before she is even off the line!)

Even when you have to sing for your Christmas supper, as Fenya did for the pot luck at Mum's RV park.

Even when you have a thirteen hour drive across the mountains, and only a day's respite before getting to cook Thismas dinner (similar to Christmas dinner, but served after the fact) for two sisters and their families, but can not only pull it off, but look elegant while doing so.

But actual factual gifts can be fun too. Like this Nerf Mjolnir I got in my stocking!

Or this hand painted bowl my nephew lugged back from Mexico for me.

But if I was forced to pick a single coolest gift, it would probably have to be this t-shirt my sister picked up while we were in Jasper together for Thanksgiving:

One of my favourite sentiments, even if it is particularly topical during the holidays. Dad was fond of saying it, along with aphorisms such as "Attitude determines altitude" and the like. His absence is felt particularly sharply as the year draws to a close and family is near, but we will make it through, strengthened and comforted by each other in turn, the way he clearly would have wanted, and enjoying all the myriad gifts we get from each other.

Merry Thismas, and Happy New Year to all my friends and relations, near and far. May God stand between you and harm in all the empty places you must walk, until we meet again.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Advent Beer 24: Rudolph Winter Warmer

I'm not sure how they decided which beer coincided with each day of this magnificent calendar, but the last two were probably my favourites, although, in the case of tonight's final beer, that may be situational.

Bad Attitude's strong beer, Rudolph Winter Warmer, tops out the scales at 8.34%, and pours out a murky amber colour, like a rich apple cider. Very sweet in how it presents, there are hints of caramel, and the warming notes hinted at in the name are definitely there. Other web sites describe this as an American strong beer, but I've never heard of such a style. It reminded me of some of the Belgian style ales (dubbels, triples,etc) than anything else. It is representative of a type of beer you would probably not have more than one of in a sitting, but a great way to end an evening.

The lovely lady holding the bottle is my mum, Helen. This is our first Christmas without my Dad being around since he passed in May of this year. We have travelled to her snowbird home in the southern Okanagan, at the edge of the Sonoran arid bio-zone, which for all intents and purposes, is a desert.

We sat in a church unfamiliar to all of us tonight, hearing familiar songs and stories, and when the minister spoke of how some people might experience a difficult Christmas, with an empty seat at the table, it obviously sank home pretty soundly.

Still, even traversing Rogers's Pass in the dead of winter in order to experience Christmas in a motel room is pleasant enough, if you do it for the right reasons, and with the right company. After church, we went back to Mum's RV, and had some ham, and cheese, and spinach dip, and an amazing salsa made with cabbage (cole slawlsa?), and the garliciest home made dill pickles I have ever had. I had my beer, and we all had some port, and we talked about what a great Christmas this one had been, and some good ones from the past, and it was awesome.

So when I tell you that this Rudolph Winter Warmer was one of my favourite beers of the two dozen I got to experience over Advent, please bear in mind that there is a multitude of situational context that contributed to that enjoyment that would be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate.

I really hope this doesn't put anyone else off trying, however, and hope all of you enjoy your Christmas beverage of choice, and the people you share it with, in the spirit of the season.

Merry Christmas, and God bless.


"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew. "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

Excerpt from "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens

Monday, December 24, 2012

Advent Beer 23: Chimera

The penultimate beer, my second from Italy's Birrifico del Ducato, is no less delightful for having been sampled under trying circumstances: jostled about in a car all day, opened by improvisational means, served in a plastic motel cup, etc. It probAbly has the best presentation of all the advent beers so far, with its stubby, almost wine shaped bottle and gorgeously illustrated label.

The beer itself is described as a doppo malto which I can only assume to mean double malt. At 8% abv, there is almost no discernible bitterness, making this Chimera almost more akin to a barleywine than proper beer, but it has a gorgeous reddish brown colour, and a foamy head I can only describe as luxurious. Delicate and complicated, even my palate could discern fruit, nuts and maybe a bit of caramel. This makes it both a seasonally appropriate beverage for Christmas Eve Eve, and after 10 hours in a car, it was also the perfect way to end the day. Looking forward to tomorrow's final selection!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Advent Beer 22: De Molen X-mas Hop

In addition to making me rethink my perspective on hoppy brews, De Molen has totally converted me in terms of appreciating Dutch beers. This strong beer pours out a lovely gold colour, with the most pronounced head of any advent beer to date. X-Mas Hop has a tart and lively hop flavour with hints of citrus (maybe from the bergamot fruit listed on the label?) which balances out the 'hot 'and sweet taste of a 6.2% abv beer. At this point, I would be happy to try anything this brewer has to offer, so I hope to encounter more of these old fashioned typeface labels in Sherbrooke.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent Beer 21: Rieder Helle Weisse

Even by wheat beer standards, this Weissbier is an amazingly cloudy pour, a golden yellow haziness that looks almost like a special effect when backlit.


I toyed with the idea of squeezing in a bit of lemon, but thought better of it. Unlike a lot of wheat beers, Rieder's Helle Weisse can stand on its own. The distinct tanginess is not unpleasant, and neither enhanced nor hindered with spices. Definitely one of the better examples of the style.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent Beer 20: Original Schlenkerla Smokebeer

Or in the original German, "Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier", is another type of marzen, but one in which the malted barley is then smoked, imparting a very distinct taste and aroma to the beer.

Some years back, I got to try Alley Kat's Smoked Porter, and it was very good, but far more subtle in aspect. Whereas in Alley Kat's you had to search for the smoke, and found it more in the head and the aftertaste than in the beer itself, the Schlenkerla brings it right up front. It pours a dark coppery brown, with a beige head that regrettably doesn't stick around. Another great winter evening finisher, as opposed to a session beer like the other marzen.

The 500 mL bottle makes for a perfect serving size, and I would definitely pick this one up again if I stumbled across it at Sherbrooke.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Advent Beer 19: Horny Betty

"(Snort) An advent beer calendar? Seriously? How many varieties of Pabst Blue Ribbon do you get?"

It's not like that! They're craft beers! European! It's pretty classy, actually...

"Yeah? What's tonight's beer called?"

... uh...I'm not sure, it's in another language and tricky font...

Horny Betty is a "tripel bockbier" from Austrian brewer Brauhaus Gusswerk. It pours a deep, rich-looking golden brown, with almost no head to speak of. At a staggering 9.2%, I anticipated it being a little sweet, and it was, but not offputtingly so. Very aromatic, and not too heavily carbonated, with more of the taste appearing in the nose than on the palate. Overall, a pleasant and warming beverage on a chilly night.

Also, full marks on a compelling and label design that I find somewhat evocative of the saucy old Monster Manual 'Succubus' illustration...

But that might be the 9.2% talking...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Beer 18: Schleppe Marzen

Marzen, or March beer, originated in Bavaria, but is Austria's most popular type of beer. A light coloured lager, compared to the darker German version (apparently), Schleppe is another passable beer, but not compelling enough to make me seek it out again. Still, it is great to try a new style, and now I want to try the darker Munich variety.


Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent Beer 17: Hirter 1270

There is nothing particularly distinguishing about this beer, but it pours a delightful amber colour with a wispy head, and is a smooth, malty lager with a nice mouthfeel. The malt gives it that nice 'liquid bread' character I love about German and Austrian beers, but there is a hint of caramel near the bottom of the glass as it begins to warm.

Austria has been extremely ably represented in this advent calendar, and this beer continues this trend. A nice sampling from a brewery big enough to have its own iPhone app.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Advent Beer 16: Eggenberg Festbock (+ Dave's DIY!)

The more of this style I try, the more I like it. Maybe it's the festbock's seasonality; I'm festive... Or the esthetic afforded by the golden amber pour... or possibly the 7.1% alcohol content. Whatever the reason, I intend to seek out more festbocks after the calendar is done.

You can usually count on the higher abv beers to have a bit of sweetness about them, but the Eggenberg Festbock is pretty well balanced, and a great way to finish a meal, rather than accompany one. I'm also a big fan of the black typeface style they used for the name of the beer.
We can also take a third look at the do-it-yourself advent calendar Shari and I put together at the end of November. I'm not too familiar with the specific MkKeller she picked out, but that is a brewer with a strong rep, so it probably doesn't even matter which one she got!

Yasigi is the third in Paddock Wood's 'Beer Gods' series, and despite the African name, is a spiced Belgian style of ale. I have never had Yukon Gold, but Yukon's Deadman's Creek cranberry wheat ale is a great holiday tipple. Bad Attitude was added for the label, but I believe it is from the same brewery that makes Dude Oat Soda, so it should be interesting. Lastly, Lakeland lager was selected for having the same a similar name as Dave's university in Ontario, which is as good a reason as any.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Beer 15: Core Kurbiskernbier

Well, back to the dark beers again! The back label describes this as a stout, but also lists amongst its ingredients "specially selected pumpkin seeds from the STYRIA" , which it turns out is a state in the southeast of Austria. I was not altogether sure what to expect; well, other than a bit of pumpkin seed flavour, that is.

It pours as a deep, chocolatey brown, with a small head that dissipates all too quickly. First impression is that it is just a touch on the sweet side, but with representation from some of my favourite porter notes: roast coffee, bitter chocolate, and maybe even a hint of molasses or toffee. It doesn't have a pronounced pumpkin flavour, unlike some of the other pumpkin ales I've had, but this has a nuttiness at the base of the finish that distinguishes it from many other stouts I've sampled.

This Austrian pumpkin seed beer is a real treat, and I would happily sample it again.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Welcome Return to Middle-Earth: The Hobbit

I had an opportunity today to watch The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and while I am not quite up to giving a full review, I did want to relay a few of my thoughts about it.

Three movies? I was very glad to hear Peter Jackson would have more than one movie to fit this epic tale into, but three seemed a bit excessive. So far so good though; the extra film means we can spend more time meeting the dwarfs of Thorin Oakenshield's company, and actually get to hear a couple of songs sung before the journey even begins. I think three movies will work out just fine; this one certainly didn't feel like it suffered in any way, and the running time flew by.

I don't remember another wizard... Because you never meet him. But where Radagast the Brown gets mentioned almost offhandedly in the books, you not only get his perspective on trouble in the Mirkwood, but he even gets to lend a hand at a critical point. Trading luck and coincidence for another (ahem) colourful character seems like a good deal to me.

Why does it look so different? Probably due to High Frame Rate projection, where the movie is shot and shown at 48 frames per second, as opposed to the traditional 24. It does give things onscreen a somewhat crisper look that will be all to familiar to people who transitioned to 120hz televisions and found everything looking a bit soap opera for a while. It really works well with the 3D, and I stopped noticing it fairly early on, but it does make a lot of the computer composite effects very discernible. I hope to see it again in IMAX so I can get a comparison (and watch 9 minutes of the new Star Trek...).

How's the new guy? Martin Freeman as Bilbo? Brilliant. He brings a lot of the same endearing and sometimes infuriating qualities to the role that Ian Holm did in LOTR without being a copycat. I can see why Peter Jackson suspended production for two whole months to allow Freeman to shoot season 2 of the BBC's Sherlock rather than try to find another actor.

And the old guys? Ian McKellen is awesome, as always, and it was great seeing (or more importantly, hearing!) Christopher Lee as Saruman as they expand the back story of The Necromancer of Dol Guldur.

The best part? The dwarfs, no question. With a baker's dozen of them, even three films won't be enough time to make well rounded characters out of all of the company, and Gandalf himself is reduced to counting them at a couple of points. A good and entertaining job is done in establishing the range of experience, prowess, and couth they all bring to Bilbo's table, made all the more compelling by their tragic backstory and lack of a homeland. (In fact, I found myself wondering if there were any intentional parallels between them and the biblical Israelites...)

The biggest surprise? That, given the differences in both tone and scope between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, that there would be so much consistency between the films, especially having been filmed a decade or more apart. Having the same director, location, art direction and film score are a big part of that, but the blending of danger and whimsy, of beautiful fantasy and daunting reality, is done so deftly, that this movie feels like a real return to a place we've never been. I'm looking forward to going back for the next two instalments!

Advent Beer 14: Kubelbier

My second vollbier experience in this calendar, and like some of the others, is also unfiltered, giving it a cloudy, reddish blonde appearance, with not much head to speak of. Aromatic with a bit of a caustic aftertaste, but not unpleasantly so. A good session beer, I would think, since it is flavourful without being very sweet at all.

The tag line on the back of the bottle reads "heldenhafte rettung aus der tiefe!", which Google informs me might mean 'heroic rescue from the deep!' I don't claim to understand it, but at least I know the standing this variety of beer might hold in its homeland.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent Beer 13: Donder & Bliksem

As the picture amply illustrates, Brouwerij de Molen from Holland don't bring a whole lot to the label party, but they more than make up for it with what's inside the bottle.


Donder & Bliksem (Thunder & Lightning) is listed on a couple of sites as a Bohemian Pilsner (consistent with the backstory of their other beer in the calendar, Nood & Deugd), but I am at a bit of a loss as to how to characterize it, other than being a simple but very well executed beer.

A tangy bitterness that is complemented by the slight sweetness of the higher alcohol content (6.2% abv), it is a smooth, strong brew. Between this and Nood & Deugd, I am pretty much committed to sampling anything else from de Molen that happens to cross my path.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Beer 12: Birrificio Del Ducato's Golden Ale

True to its name, this Italian beer pours a pleasant, hazy gold, with a generous head. It has a strong presence of hops that put it firmly on the border with IPAs (Italian Pale Ale?), but I didn't find it quite as crisp or refreshing as yesterday's Hopfest. Still, a very tasty brew, in a style that is growing on me very quickly...

I'm not at all sure what they are getting at in the copy on the back of the bottle, since my pidgin Italian is even sketchier than my Germanic version, but this Golden Ale probably has the best looking label of the calendar so far.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Advent Beer 11: Ugly Duck Hopfest IPA (+ Dave's DIY!)

After the oversweet offerings of the last couple days, this brisk India Pale Ale from Denmark was just the palate cleanser the doctor order: crisp, citrusy, tons of hop flavour without so much bitterness that you want to die. A great example of a proper IPA, unlike the Canadian east coast offering so rudely mislabeled.

Also, we can now look at the next five of Dave's hand crafted and artisanally wrapped beer advent calendar:

I'm still largely keeping up to this point, having sampled three of these: the two from Sherbrooke's Beer gods series, and Pumphouse Cadian Cream Ale. I fully expect to try Darn Tartan, a scotch ale which I think was formerly known as Kilt Twister, until it turned out someone else was already using that name for a beer.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent Beer 10: Kirsch Porter

Management of expectations is important; just as you would want to approach an unfamiliar style of beer with an open mind, you should prepare yourself for the possibility that one of your favourites might fall short of where you anticipated. Such is the case with the Kirsch Porter I tried tonight.

Kirsch is a type of cherry liqueur, while a porter is one of my favourite dark ale types. I am also fond of flavoured porters, like Phillip's Chocolate Porter or the seasonal Cherry Porter put out by Wildrose. The Kirsch Porter was just too sweet, even for me. Similar to last night's S'honig, it tastes more like a beer cocktail than a beer proper, and obviously I am not saying that as a purist.

My pidgin German parses the label's tag line of "das fruchtige schwarze" as 'the black fruit', but in this case 'beer candy' might be more appropriate. This is not to say it is wholly unpleasant, but as a dessert beer, I I would be far more inclined to drink Alley Kat's Neapolitan ice cream stout.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Advent Beer 9: Frastanzer S'honig

Of all the beers in the advent calendar this far, this Austrian brew is the first one I wouldn't have a second bottle of if given the chance, and not because I didn't like it. Other beers may require some sort of prequisite (like a very hot day) or an accompaniment (a warm, German-style pretzel), but the two best ways to enjoy S'honig in my estimation is either as dessert or breakfast.


I was pondering the golden haziness of the beer after pouring; the label gave no indication of it being a wheat beer or Hefeweizen, even though there was a slight citrus or floral affect to the aroma. The bee on the label tipped me off: it was a honey beer. The word 'honig' would also be a dead giveaway if you spoke the language, or were even halfway intuitive, I suppose.

I am a big fan of Tin Whistle's Killer Bee dark honey ale, but where that one is rich and a little sweet, this S'honig is sweet and a little rich. In one of those rare situations that mandates a beer before the sun crosses the yardarm (out at the cabin, Gaming & Guiness, end of an all-nightwear, etc) this beer joins a select few that includes Edmonton's own Sap Vampire Maple Lager (from Amber's Brewing) and Rogue Brewing's Voodoo Donut Maple Bacon Ale. (Yes, seriously. Don't judge me!)

S'honig tastes almost more like a beer cocktail than a beer proper, which is no bad thing if that's your fancy. It sits somewhere between a sweet ale and a mead, with gentle carbonation, complex aromas, and a daunting array of flavours. Definitely not for everyone!