A couple of weeks ago I was sent a few of Sawdust City’s one offs to review. This was, by and large, a good thing. I like having new beers around to try and that can be a hard thing to do at this point. While there are a lot of new breweries popping up around Ontario and there are always seasonal one offs, for the most part, I’ve tried what’s on offer before. It is one of the downsides (along with spending a lot of time on GO buses) that comes with writing beer guides.
With the Sawdust City beers, there was a special sense of deja vu. I was approximately a third of the way through writing a blog post when I realized that one of the jokes felt familiar. Naturally, I had reviewed the same beer last year. I had even used the same Donkey Kong joke about The Princess Wears Girlpants Meets The Old Dirty Barrel. Since that was the beer I was apparently meant to highlight and my notes on it were virtually identical to the previous year’s I called it a day.
That didn’t seem exactly fair, though. If you’re a blogger, you can’t just throw things on Untappd and claim that you’re done with them (unless you can fit an entire review into a one liner).
For that reason, I’m going to briefly talk about the changes from year to year before I get around to reviewing the new ones.
THERE’S NO WAY OF KNOWING
Last Year: It smells like a spring day down in Toronto’s ravines. That pervasive aroma that comes with shoots breaking through the earth comes from lemon verbena, the floral Australian Ella hops and the grassy, peppery yeast. That’s entirely apropos as it’s intended as a light, Springy frippery of a beer.
Last Year’s Label Cartoonist Comparison?: Kate Beaton
This Year: At 6.2% this has specialty ingredients in the form of grains of paradise and lemon verbena. Now, typically, that ought to result in a sharp, lemon peppery character, but my impression of the aroma is not lemon so much as it is Banana Runts and sweet spring Flower Bed. Beginning at the head of the swallow this baby takes a sharp left turn into a blast of pepper which is caused, I assume, by the saaz hops and grains of paradise working in concert. BLAM it goes, dismantling the light fruity character like birdshot through an azalea.
This Year’s Label Cartoonist Comparison?: Pendleton Ward.
TWIN PINES DOUBLE IPA
Last Year: is incredibly solid. It’s brilliantly citric with this bittersweet quinine-y Tonic Water zap through the middle that just dries out down the palate. That sounds odd, but the grapefruity bitterness comes through at that level and I think it would be difficult to fit more grapefruit in the can.
This Year: I hate to say it, but for me this is less interesting than the original version. I miss that Tonic Water bitterness. Interposing versions have toyed with a note I’d compare to a practically Junipery botanical presence. This year’s model is still one of the best Double IPAs in Ontario, but a little less electric than last time out.
THE PRINCESS WEARS GIRLPANTS
Last Year: If the Princess wears Girl Pants, she also pirouettes in combat boots – the best men’s walking shoes – because the flavours here will stomp on your tongue. The mixture of hops is interesting with New Zealand Motueka, Australian Galaxy and some Amarillo just to bridge the pacific. This is a good strategy because you get a lot of orchard and tropical fruit notes out of those hops and they’re healthily represented here. There’s passion fruit and citrus but the overwhelming impression because of the beer’s colour is ripe August peaches.
This Year: A more complex version of Princess (Due to additional weight in dry hopping apparently), this is probably the best version that has been produced by the brewery thus far. Aroma is fruity with grape must, mango, passion fruit, peach and apricot. There’s a dry. Woody, practically cedar-y note just at the head of the swallow and a finish like bitter plum before some retronasal alcohol tone, but you’ve got to search for that. As it warms, dried lightly sulphured apricot and a broader peach character bolstered slightly in their impression by the fizz of the carbonation. The only downside is that a big sip results in a prodigious amount of sugar. It reminds me a little bit of Goose Island Halia and I want Sam to put it in a barrel with some peaches and finish it with Brett to dry out the residual sugars.
THE PRINCESS WEARS GIRLPANTS MEETS THE ODB
LAST YEAR: No one has been bludgeoned by barrels this much since the Donkey Kong murders of 1983.
THIS YEAR: It’s like Donkey Kong. Sam’s just up there, throwing barrels and I’m on a ladder like “Sam…. Stahp!”
Right. On to the new beers.
This one is interesting to me because I’m getting it the second year in. (Alert brewer Sam Corbeil would like me to point out that while Sawdust made a beer called Limberlost last year, it was available only at Session and was brewed in collaboration with Johnny Faye from the Tragically Hip. How did he get me to acknowledge Johnny Faye? He twisted my arm and there was a certain amount of grace, too.) I think that the notes I made on it two weeks ago are maybe illustrative of a problem with the format so I’m going to include them here for educative purposes.
This is fun because of the locality of the project. The hops are from Ontario’s Clear Valley and the yeast is a new variety that was plated in the Limberlost Forest and Wildlife Reserve. That means that the only thing not Ontario grown in this beer is the malt and that’s fair enough because the local suppliers are only just getting going. The hops are apparently Wild Turkey (theoretically mango and peach character at a high alpha acid), Santiam (tangerine/clementine) and Pele (which is probably a typo for Perle and which Clear Valley says contributes mint and lemon character.)
TWO WEEKS AGO: There are two immediately noticeable factors in this 6.1% farmhouse. The first is the texture. It’s actually a good deal creamier than any farmhouse I’ve ever seen and practically milky in consistency although finely carbonated. The second is a character that will be familiar to you if you’ve ever been in the Muskokas. The yeast character seems to me to have a slightly dusty, funky character reminiscent of slightly damp boathouse, which makes sense because that’s exactly the kind of place where wild yeast strains would congregate. Beyond that the character seems to be of apricot and lemon on the aroma while the finish has a drying touch of brett.
NOTE: The peril of can conditioning would seem to be that it is a little harder to remember to decant the beer carefully into the glass. When I sampled Limberlost it had been sitting for 24 hours which was the recommended amount of time, but I’m going to tell you to double or triple that. The can which I’ve just poured is a great deal clearer in colour and consistency. I noticed when taking out the recycling that the Limberlost can did rattle, so they are pitching a buttload of yeast into that when they condition it. Forewarned is forearmed, Junior Ranger.
ALERT BREWER NOTE: The yeastiness is due to the fact that the beer goes unfiltered because Brett B is one of the strains used (Brett in a lenticular filter is like nudes on the internet. Once it’s in there, it ain’t coming out.) Meaning that while the overall amount of yeast in the beer is indeed higher, the pitch for conditioning is actually half the usual size.
TODAY: The beer has actually changed somewhat in character in the two weeks that it has been sitting in the fridge in can #2. The yeast has taken on a little more clove character that charges ahead of the funky boathouse rafter character. The finish is drier and the whole affair is a little less fruity, leaning instead towards herbal possibly thyme-y or tarragonish character.
It’s weird. I liked the dirty version better. I like the idea of Limberlost, but I’m not convinced by it in practice. The slightly shaken or unfinished version was somehow more characterful and played to the romance of the concept. Hey. Instead of a farmhouse ale, call it a boathouse ale. Yours for free.
SPOOKY ACTION: A Spiced Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout, Spooky Action’s label features a stylish bulldog and his rumpled human and is, as yet, the only Ontario beer that dares to ask the provocative question: “Yes, but who is the master?” Seriously. Look at the lasers on that label. Somewhere a Tron cosplayer is without a background.
This beer is part of Sawdust’s Winewood series and is spiced with Cinnamon and Vanilla, my two least favorite toothpaste flavours. It is 10% alcohol, which at this point in my drinking career is something of a yikes. The aroma is a big, luscious smear of leftover Valentine’s candy. Chocolate and cinnamon fight for their place up front and the clever bit here is that the vanilla really only breaks through on the palate. “The marshmallow valentine that got stuck on her clothes.” Elvis Costello, ladies and gentlemen.
This is a very good example of a Spiced Imperial Stout. I think that eventually the finish breaks woody as a combination of cinnamon and barrel, but I can overlook that because the roundness of the mouthfeel and the slightly pepperminty inhale after the sip cover that. This is about seven separate confections in a bottle, so if you’re a dessert lover this just might be the thing for you. It’s a sharer for sure.
LAST YEAR’S SAM CORBEIL JOKE: The brewer most likely to be blocking traffic on the 400 sans pants.
THIS YEAR: I don’t think anyone’s laughing at Sawdust City at this point.