Star Bright: Big Hop Delivery


Once in a while a bright star of a beer flashes over my desk and lands in a tulip glass ready for tasting. Such a beer is Life Sentence IIIPA Southern Hemisphere, 10 percent abv, brewed in collaboration with the Great Lakes Brewery and the Amsterdam Brewery, both of Toronto.

 It has a purported 100+ IBUs from a hand selected 150 kilogram bale of Pacifica hops grown in Nelson, New Zealand, specifically bale # 47-4214.


This wondrous beer pours a soft veiled amber colour, while releasing intoxicating aromas of fresh green hops and alcohol on the nose. On the palate, juicy malt is relieved of its quantum load of hop bearing inner goodness as the mouth happily succumbs to a defining hop bitterness.


Still, while the hops are big and brassy and very much in charge, unrelenting in nature even, this wonderful and playful ale has enough malt backbone to keep it all in check. It’s a revelation in big beer delivery without killing the happy recipient’s joy of beer drinking!


The Exchange Brewery: Winner!

exchange exterior


The Great Ontario-Hopped Craft Beer Competition was won by The Exchange Brewery of Niagara-on-the-Lake less than a month after opening.


Teaming up with Clear Valley Hops of Nottawa, the Exchange Brewery brewed an American amber ale that clearly wowed the judges.



Owner Robin Ridesic hired brewer Sam Maxbauer from Michigan to oversee beer production at this well fitted out brewery that has both a main floor and an upstairs bar

The brewery is located in a heritage building dating from the 1880s and was formerly the site of Niagara’s first telephone exchange, thus the name of the brewery and the use of numbers in the naming of its beers. exchange brewery brewhouse


The Left Field Brewery, Toronto: Hits it Big time

DSC00158The Left Field Brewery of Toronto has come out swinging for the fences with beers such as Resin Bag, 6.9 percent abv and 50 IBUs, an American style IPA. Dressed with stylized home plate-shaped neck labels with illustrative art on the flip side, there is nothing but big league here on deck.

Resin Bag pours a rustic burnished chestnut colour, and it is way better than a resin bag on the mound, as it is a hop bag full of fresh green aromatic hops. It leads off with a starburst of hop bitterness down the line, sliding safely in to second with a well-played hop dynamic. The sprint to third is as easy as another sip of this hoppy brew. The finish is sharp and decisively bitter, with an un-tagged run over the plate. This is a fine and well executed beer of the style, that is, without malt overstepping its role as a sturdy backbone for the plentiful hops.
Well, I have to say I wasn’t that fond of this beer in its original incarnation brewed at an away-facility, but now with home field advantage, they’ve nailed it to the fence!
DSC00157Another beer in the hearty Left Field Brewery lineup is Maris Pale Ale, striding in at 4.5 percent abv, and yes, obviously brewed with Maris Otter malt. It’s brewed in honour of Roger Maris who hit 61 home runs in 1961, breaking the record of legendary NYY Babe Ruth. Maris, while not revered by some Yankee fans, did get the job done. Maris PA delivers, much like its namesake, an early hit of malt that is capably backed up by a smack of hop bitterness in a sustained attack that is both balanced and forthright. Free of constraints, Maris clears the bases and trots home to a warm reception early in his career.

Originally appeared as part of my column in the Great Lakes Brewing News, June, July 2015.

Niagara Oast House Brewers, NOTL

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, brewmaster Kevin Somerville, the co-ordinator of the brewery program at Niagara College, and partners, Mike Berlis and Cian MacNeil, have opened Niagara Oast House Brewers in a big red barn, the former Forum Gallery building near to the old town, at 2017 Niagara Stone Road.

The brewery has installed a brand-new 20 barrel (23.4 HL) brewhouse from Specific Mechanical of British Columbia, with 4 X 20 barrel fermenters and a bright beer tank.

The brewery will be offering some bottle conditioned beers in 750 mL bottles under cork and cage. They plan to grow a small amount of hops at the brewery, and to partner with other people to grow hops locally.

It’s been quite a transformation from my previous visit when it was all gypsum board and powdery white dust to its present state of a large bar in the tasting room and the spiffy new reception area. The upstairs function room overlooking a vineyard (surely you mean hop yard?) is still under construction.

Kevin Somerville brewing Barnraiser County Ale. Image: Caroline Hughey

“We are brewing more seasonals than there are seasons,” said Kevin Somerville.

Barnraiser Country Ale, 5 percent abv, has a polished golden colour, with fresh malt and a whiff of hops on the nose. On the palate, a refreshing hop bitterness is released from the grasp of succulent malt, with just a hint of grain. The finish is led by a refined hop bitterness neatly over-layed on a crisp malt base. Barnraiser is not a big bold beer but rather is of the type that grows on you with each successive mouthful. Moreish, which after all is what a beer should be all about.

The Saison, 6.4 percent abv, part of the Farmhouse Ale Collection, is brewed in the Belgian style. A milky white head of dense foam caps a hazy golden coloured beer. Zesty and spicy aromas rise distinctly from the glass. On the palate, this refreshingly crisp and fruity ale,  has a tickle of alcohol and a gentle nip of carbonation. The finish of this bottle conditioned beer happily delivers more of the same.

Hop Rubbing, Toronto

ImageWhen 25 different varieties of leaf hops are being rubbed at once, releasing essential oils and volatiles, the air at the Black Oak Brewery, Toronto, was redolent with pungent aromatics of spicy Comet, earthy English Fuggle and floral Legacy hops. Palms were turning golden and green in equal measure as attendees at the second, ‘We love hops technical event’, gleefully rubbed their way to release the heavenly compounds of hops.

Hop rubbing is quite simply the best way to get to know what a particular hop variety has to offer the brewer. By placing a few hop cones in the palms of the hands and rubbing vigorously, literally pulverizing the cones, and then cupping the hands to contain and direct the resulting aromatics directly into the nose, is a technique that never fails to deliver the goods.

Nicholas Schaut, president of The Ontario Hop Growers Association, spoke on behalf of the 18 hop growers who are working diligently to grow the industry in this province. This was followed by Evan Elford, OMAFRA, speaking about the need for hop research in Ontario and relationship building between microbrewers and hop growers.

Following some tasty burgers catered by Brock Shepherd of the Burger Bar of Toronto, Diana and Stacy Puterbaugh, Hops Direct of Washington, spoke about the U.S. Hop Acreage Report and hop growing techniques.

Seven unique single-hop beers and Black Oak Pale Ale and Nut Brown, as well as Augusta Ale from the Kensington Brewing Company were available for sampling.

The well attended event was organized by Bob Latimer of Beer and Wine Filter and importer of Puterbaugh hops, and James Tien of the Muskoka Brewery in Bracebridge.