02 November 2018

The last blast

Last Friday I mentioned the horror that comes with discovering you can't drink your own beer on a Canadian train. The disaster is partially offset by the fact that trains do serve beer, and in first class you can have as much as you like at no extra cost. As a result I became well acquainted with the limited selection on our way around.

For the most part, for me, that meant Mill St. Organic Lager, a fairly ubiquitous beer, coming from an undercover AB InBev brewery in Ontario. Despite the high-end presentation, it tastes exactly like a macro lager, watery mainly, with just a faint corn-syrup sweetness and a tinny tang of hops. It's pleasingly unfizzy so at least works well as a thirst quencher, but that's about all it has going for it.

On our way back from Québec City I chanced a Molson Coors stalking horse, Rickard's Red. I found this mind-blowingly sweet, rich like a hunk of expensive fudge. There's a buzz of ripe summer fruit -- raspberry and strawberry -- finishing on a stale and sweaty sort of bitterness. These sorts of beers are usually thin and fizzy, but this one isn't. Which isn't to say it's any good: the weighty calorific quality gets difficult to drink very quickly.

I scored better on the Ottawa-Toronto leg with Chipie amber ale from Archibald, another clandestine AB InBev brand. It's a deep copper shade, despite which it leans more heavily on the hops than the malt. The flavour opens on a zesty burst of fresh lemon, settling to a more floral buzz which lasts long into the finish. A smooth texture helps it along and there's just enough malt to balance it without making it sweet per se. Very nicely put together overall.

Mill St. has a large brewpub in the Distillery District of Toronto, a Victorian factory that has been repurposed as a shopping and entertainment zone. We dropped in late in the holiday, since we were passing.

Always up for some historical drinking, I had a Stock Ale. This wasn't the super-strong proto-IPA I was expecting, but a hazy dark yellow beer, heavy and sweet with an overtone of floral honey. Its simple and tasty stylings reminded me a little of strong eastern European lager, though the ABV was a very modest 5%. I'm not quite sure what the brewers meant it to be, but I liked it.

Brown Brick is Mill St.'s brown ale, brewed there at the pub. Though 5.5% ABV it looked a bit wan and watery in the glass, more red than brown. The flavour is nicely complex, however, showing mocha, rosewater, cinnamon and raisin at various points, finishing on a roasty spice. My only criticism was that it's a little flat, but otherwise an excellent interpretation of brown ale.

Back in Montréal, one of the beers I tried was the house pale ale at Reuben's Deli. In my review here I speculated that it was a rebadge of something dull by Molson Coors, and I think I found the same beer again in Toronto, in the humongous Real Sports bar in the Scotiabank Arena complex, where we happened to be staying. Real Sports House Ale, then: golden, sticky, with a sickly headachey perfume. None of the good things about ale or lager feature here.

This place also had a Granville Island beer on tap: a pale ale called Old English. This is a pale copper colour with a sweet and smoky aroma. Burnt caramel and candyfloss form the flavour; an autumnal mix of toffee apples and popcorn. I guess this is a Canadian take on English brown bitter. If so, they've nailed the essential boring sugary quality of most of them.