So I’m not actually Canadian, nor can I profess to be an expert on Canadian beer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Actually, I’m married to a Canadian, which means I find myself trekking to the great white north to spend all sorts of special occasions with in-laws…which means I drink a lot of Canadian beer (for obvious reasons). After nearly a decade of abusing my radials on I-89N to Montreal, I can safely say that Canadians are quite good at:
- Smoking cheap cigarettes
- Smoking while drinking.
- Paying taxes
- Failing to use those taxes to improve infrastructure, and therefore their economy.
I think that about covers it.
If you noticed that “making good beer” did not show up on that list, then congratulations. You’re smarter than you look (and Mr. Sixpack, that makes you much, much smarter than you look).
I dove into 3 less-than spectacular Canadian beers in a recent trip, starting with an old standby.
Sleeman’s Original Draught (5% ABV)
While this may be anathema to utter amongst my Boston-bred brethren, Sleeman is essentially Sam Adams: Canada. Both started out in the 1800s. Both went out of business sometime in the mid 1950s. Both were revived in the 1980s by descendants of the original brewmasters. Both are currently producing large quantities of beer, in a variety of styles, with the most generic names you’ve ever heard in your life (Dark, Light, Cream, Honey Brown, Original, Clear, Rousse, Porter, IPA, Bock…Sleeman’s most creative beer name is “Silver Creek,” and even that sounds generic). Compare that list with Sam’s varieties, and you see what I mean. Though unlike Sleeman, Sam hasn’t been bought out by Sapporo. Yet.
Anyway, I don’t have a palate nearly as refined as Brother Barley’s, nor do I have the preternatural ability to describe beer the way he does. But I’ll say that the Original Draught is a golden lager, smells like a golden lager, and tastes just like a golden lager should. Nothing fancy, it’s a blue collar beer with limited taste and little aftertaste. Something about the mouthfeel is silkier than other Canadian mass-produced lagers (especially the two bigger in-country rivals: Molson and Labatt’s). One reason for this, perhaps, is that the water around Guelph, Ontario, where Sleeman is headquartered, is reputed for being amazingly clear and clean. If that’s true, it’s not surprising that the beer would benefit.
Still, we’re talking about a mass-produced lager from Canada. I give it 2 hops. Being slightly better than Molson isn’t anything to be proud of. Right, Brother Barley?
Dominus Vobiscum Triple (9% ABV)
On my honeymoon was when I first stumbled upon Dominus Vobiscum, crafted by the Microbrasserie Charlevoix. As a general rule, whenever you can get a microbrew along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence River in the Middle of Nowhere, Quebec, you jump at it. I remember being pleasantly surprised by their formidable Ambree Belgian Pale Ale–a perfect beer for sitting on a deck chair and spying pods of beluga whales. Unfortunately, while down in Montreal last week I couldn’t find the Ambree, so I went with their Triple instead.
Mind you that this is not my favorite style, so it takes a good Triple to win my appreciation. Sorry to say that the Dominus Triple experience was not a fond one. Maybe I got a bad batch, but this beer left a cloying bitterness and alcohol burn on the palate that lasted much too long. The taste was all over the place: nothing cohesive and complex, just a taste battle gone ugly. I had to struggle through this one, lest I look like the Bitter Beer Face guy from the old Keystone Light commercials in front of my in-laws.
I will have their Ambree any day of the week. But the Triple is a 2 hop beer for me.
Dieu du Ciel: Corne du Diable (6.5% ABV)
God in Heaven!: Devil’s Horn is an attempt at an IPA that hits some wrong notes along the way. While the Dieu du Ciel brewpub in Montreal actually makes a ton of great beers (many of them cask-conditioned), their manufacturing facility in Saint Jerome produces this selection. If you’re expecting a generously hopped beer with hints of spice and grapefruit, as you would in most IPAs, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Malt rules the day with this IPA, overpowering the hints of hops that I love so well in IPAs. I look forward to tasting their other selections, but its lack of balance just didn’t impress this alehead. 2.5 hops from me.
So, I suppose the moral of the story is: don’t go to Canada (although I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some better breweries out west in BC).
Or, if you must go to Canada for some reason, find yourself a smoke shop, load up on some fine Cubans, and enjoy your whale watch while puffing on quality tobacco.