New beers! Seasonal Releases! But are they worth it? My quickie reviews of new brews to Ontario pull no punches, so you know what to seek out, and when to keep your wallet zipped.
The Four Star System: This is inspired Stephen Beaumont & Tim Webb’s Pocket Guide to Beer‘s 4-Star System, but tweaked to better suit most of the brews I’ll be reviewing:
No stars – not recommended
* Dependable quality but unexciting
** Above average character
*** Highly impressive, worth seeking out
**** One of this country’s great beers, a champion
LONG DONG PILSNER, 5% ABV
GREAT LAKES BREWERY, ETOBICOKE, ON
Don’t be fooled by the dumb-ass name. This bready pilsner is more versatile than a khaki trench coat. It’s grassy, floral bite, from Saaz and Sorachi Ace hops, compliments everything from spring’s first garlic greens and asparagus bunches, to grilled salmon.
Grab it at: Great Lakes Brewery retail store
WHITE OAK WHEAT BEER, 6.4% ABV
INNIS & GUNN, SCOTLAND, (SPRING SEASONAL)
The concept sounds cool: a Kristalweizen with Earl Grey notes thanks to the late addition of Bergamont oil and blood orange. But the signature Innis & Gunn oak treatment—this time in bourbon-infused North American white oak known for big vanilla—dumbs down the delicate citrus flavours. Instead a honeyed and orange nose gives way to a palate of floral, honey and vanilla, with the latter outlasting the refreshing spicy hop bite and leaving a silky semi-sweet aftertaste. Not my cup of tea.
Grab it at: Coming to LCBO shelves soon
HOPS & THE GRAIN MERCHANT, 6.5% ABV
KENSINGTON BREWING COMPANY, TORONTO, ON
This Cascadian Rye Ale mixes three different styles together; a potentially disastrous concept that’s pulled off brilliantly in this chestnut-hued ale. A lightly citrus and melon nose erupts into a rich trio of dark rye bread, grapefruit peel and subtle spice on the palate. Hop bitterness is calmed by the beer’s rich malt character and offset by a hit of sweetness on the end. The medium, almost chewy body, refreshing carbonation, and depth of flavour make this a spring “must-try” beer in my books.
Grab it at: On tap now at GTA bars and restaurants, including Rose and Sons, WVRST, Bar Hop, Thirsty & Miserable and Handlebar.
GOOSE ISLAND IPA, 5.9% ABV
GOOSE ISLAND BEER COMPANY (OWNED BY AB-IN BEV), CHICAGO, USA
This beer has a supermodel’s body: lithe, svelte and effortlessly weightless—and that’s what I love about it. An English-style IPA, it’s got great balance, subtler hop notes and a long, medium-bitter finish. Drink with: lighter hopping makes a food-friendlier partner than many of its counterparts—not to mention knock-em-backable.
DUNKEL BUCK, 6.8% ABV
BEAU’S ALL NATURAL BREWING COMPANY, VANKLEEK HILL, ONTARIO
I have a weakness for weizenbocks and there aren’t many kicking around Ontario. Beau’s knows German-style brewing, and didn’t let me down this year: the bubbly brew drinks like banana bread that’s baked with molasses. The body seems creamier and bigger due to the higher booze factor, but otherwise you’d struggle to know this is nearly 7% ABV. Drink with: fresh-baked banana bread.
GRAB IT AT: Select LCBO locations across Ontario