Faithful readers may recall that your globetrotting liquor reporter is travelling in Eastern Canada. Since last week’s column, I have travelled from Halifax to Fredericton, making sure to visit all the local beer slingers along the way.
The most popular microbrews in Fredericton are the Picaroons Traditional Ales, which have been lovingly handcrafted on the outskirts of town since 1995. You will find them on tap in most pubs in the city, as well as in bottles at the local liquor retailers in New Brunswick, and a few specialty booze merchants across the country.
For those curious about the name, a picaroon is a tool used by lumberjacks, and looks like an axe with a hook where the head would normally be. Picaroons Brewery chose their name to recognize the rich heritage of forestry in the province of New Brunswick that it calls home.
While the brewery is still quite small, it did win two gold medals at the prestigious Canadian Brewing awards for different brews, as well as the coveted Brewery of the Year award, so it is on the radar of beer snobs across the country.
Of perhaps only passing interest to the typical brewer, but fascinating to the beer nerds in the audience, Picaroons is one of only a few Canadian breweries to use the traditional open fermentation technique. This method uses a fermentation vessel that is open on the top, or has an easily removable lid.
This allows the brewer to more closely inspect the mixture during the fermentation process, make more frequent samples, skim yeast, and so forth. The reason most brewers avoid this method is because it requires much more attention to sanitation to avoid introducing bacteria to the wort.
The main advantage of open fermentation is that the yeast is able to produce greater amounts of aromatic esters, which improves the flavour of the beer, making the extra effort worthwhile.
But enough of the jibber-jabber about brewing techniques – let’s talk about the beer!
With more than a dozen different brews, your intrepid liquor reporter was unable to get through all of them in one night, but I gave it the old college try!
Starting out with their most popular beer, appropriately called Best Bitter, I found it to be a splendid example of the English Standard Bitter style, with a full malty body nicely balanced with a tangy hop finish. This is a session beer that you could drink all night.
Moving on to the Irish Red, I was pleasantly surprised to find the slightly sweeter mouth feel that so well defines this beer style, offset with just a subtle hint of hops. For those who enjoy this beer style, it has a doppelganger in the form of Lanagan’s Irish Ale from the Brewster’s chain of brew pubs that are all over Alberta.
The Maple Cream Ale is the local version of Alberta’s own Big Rock Honey Brown. The brown ale gives the beer a rich malt base, and the dash of New Brunswick maple syrup provides just a slight accent of sweetness.
I skipped the novelty Melon Head beer that is brewed with watermelon extract, due to my overwhelming masculinity. Even the aftertaste of that fruity beer on the lips of that wanton harlot I was chatting up at the bar was unpleasant, so I was indeed fortunate that her lips were occupied elsewhere for the next little while.
The Dark and Stormy Night was made in the Dunkelweizen style, which is a dark wheat beer. Think of it as a darker version of Big Rock’s Grasshopper Ale. It has a crisp and refreshing taste that is typical of wheat beers, with the dark malts providing the fuller flavours of a stout. This was my favourite of the evening, and I even took away a 2-litre growler to enjoy in my hotel room, and perhaps even to share with the aforementioned wanton harlot.
Sadly, these beers will not be readily available when I return to Alberta next week, so your long-suffering liquor reporter will be carrying home a few six-packs in the checked luggage.
On a brighter note, with the accolades of the 2011 brewery of the year award still fresh, there are plans afoot for expanding distribution into other provinces, and Alberta’s privatized liquor market makes it easy to get into. Let’s hope we see Picaroons in our local stores soon!