Re-Blogged from my Rare Republic Column
The festive period is a time for reflection and as such it’s time to take a look at my top five beers at this moment. This is in no way a definitive list and, in fact, will probably be different this time next year.
So lets get to it:
#5 Westvleteren XII
One off the bucket list
Simply speaking, Westvleteren 12 is one of the hardest beers to get a hold off and not just here in Ontario. One of only a handful of certified Trappist beers, this beer is brewed by monks and is widely considered to be one of the top beers in the world. When it came to Canada last time, it sold out in minutes at most LCBOs–and bare in mind that was for a six pack that cost over $75.
Why is it so hard to get hold off? Well here’s an excerpt from the brewery’s Wikipedia page: “As with all other Trappist breweries, the beer is only sold in order to financially support the monastery and other philanthropic causes. Whilst the brewery is a business by definition (its purpose is to make money), it does not exist for pure profit motives, and they do no advertising. The monks have repeatedly stated that they only brew enough beer to run the monastery, and will make no more than they need to sell, regardless of demand. During World War II, the brewery stopped supplying wholesalers and since then they only sell to individual buyers in person at the brewery or the visitor’s centre opposite. These methods all go against modern business methods; however, as stated by the Father Abbott on the opening of the new brewery, “We are not brewers. We are monks. We brew beer to be able to afford being monks.”
In fact, the only reason it came to Ontario was because the monks needed to repair the roof of their monastery so they brewed a little extra to ship out here to cover the costs.
On top of that is the process of buying the beer which must be a completely unique process: “Buyers were originally limited to ten 24-bottle crates of the beer per car, but as the beer increased in popularity, this was first reduced to five, then to three and now to two or one crates. For the Westvleteren 12 in 2009, it was limited to one case. When making an order now, the type and quantity of beer available for sale are revealed. Sales are limited to one order every 60 days per person per license plate and phone number. Also, the beer must be reserved on their “beerphone” beforehand. The monks do not sell beer to individuals who drive up to the abbey hoping to purchase beer. The reason for this is to eliminate commercial reselling, and hence give all visitors a chance to purchase the product.”
I was lucky enough to try this beer in Belgium in what appeared to be a somewhat shady back alley deal. It was a great beer and the Trappist style is one of my favourites as the smooth taste for a high alcohol beer is a winner for me. There are a few bottles available for sale at certain locations in Waterloo Region … if you know where to look.
#4 Dead Now
Favourite local beer of the year
This past year has been a great year for beer in Waterloo Region. We’ve seen Innocente open and are watching as Descendants and Elora Brewing become a work-in-progress with openings imminent and even The Abe Erb Brew Pub bring something new to the table.
Beers have been flying out left right and centre, but it’s the boys from the Block that have made my beer of 2014. As previously mentioned Belgium beers are by far my favourite style so when the Block 3 Dead Now Dubbel came out, I had to give a go. Best enjoyed after it has been allowed it warm up for a while, the beer is nice dark brown colour with a chocolatey taste accompanied by dark fruits and fig on the finish and all with the familiar Abbey ale yeast aroma. It’s rather strong at 8.4% but the alcohol is hidden well. I’d recommend trying this over Christmas dinner with your Christmas pudding.
#3 No Marzen for Eror
A while ago, I wrote about the Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest and how it would be an embarrassment for any German to visit. I co-founded and ran the Craftoberfest movement (which we’ll be looking to bring back bigger and better in 2015), but it was the breweries in the Region that stepped up to the plate making some outstanding Oktoberfest beers.
My favourite was Innocente’s No Marzen for Eror. Its malty, smooth flavour brought about a realisation that we don’t have to be stuck drinking MolsonCoors during Oktoberfest. Times are changing and supporting our local breweries during Oktoberfest is going to be a great way to secure their future and our great beer.
Sometimes it isn’t the beer itself that makes it onto the list but the memories it invokes. On a summer day-trip out to the always well-stocked Bent Elbow, I noticed Jaipur was on offer. With it being from the relatively small English Brewery Thornbridge, it was unexpected to see it on tap but the Elbow always throws out these nice surprises once in a while.
A solid if unspectacular beer for an IPA, Jaipur has won a tidy number of awards and the blurb on their website reads: “The immediate impression of this wonderful, award winning, India Pale Ale is soft and smooth but this builds around the mouth to a crescendo of massive hoppiness accentuated by honey. This converts into a powerful but pleasant, enduring bitter finish.” That indeed is an accurate description.
Jaipur makes it on to my list for 2014 as it always reminds me of great drinking session with two friends which culminated in a good old fashioned English pub “lock-in” (imbibing after hours) with a cask of Jaipur. So, seeing it here gave me a little reminder of home (I’m still not going back, though! Sorry Mum).
#1 Heady Topper
Although my pseudonym is the Original Hopster, I’ve found my taste in craft beer has gone from floral-tasting IPAs to much more malty tasting beers. However, Heady Topper by The Alchemist is probably the best beer I’ve drank to date. I heard about all the hype with the Alchemist Brewery bringing to a stand-still the Vermont town where it’s brewed on release days and thereby forcing them to relocate. So, in a market flooded with IPAs it must be something special to garner all that attention.
Interestingly, it is recommended you drink directly from the can rather than pour into a glass. And I will assure you that the design on the can isn’t just for illustration purposes: it’s literally how my head felt drinking the IPA. An initial citrus taste is overtaken by a mind-blowing second wave unlike anything I’ve tried before. This may be down to the majority of the hops being added near the end of the boil when brewing but whatever it is the results blew me away.
Sadly I don’t think this will be making its way to the LCBO any time soon. Heady Topper is only available at the brewery and sells out quickly, not unlike the Westvleteren 12. So your best hope of getting to sample it is to head down to Vermont or hope someone can bring you one back. If you can get your hands on a can though, I would highly recommend it.
How has your year in beer been? Let me know your favourite beers from 2014!