I’m always happy to receive beer from Grand River Brewing. I got to know Bob Hannenberg a little bit during a stopover in Philadelphia on the way to the craft brewing conference in San Diego last year. I like Bob, and generally speaking, I like much of the beer that he produces. I like the grainy heft of Galt Knife Lager and I think that if I could only choose one Ontario beer to drink in perpetuity, it would probably be the Mill Race Mild. Part of the attraction there is that it is a beer that you can have two of and then go do something afterwards. Welsh style Dark Mild. Gotta love it.
This time around, they have sent me two beers, which are sort of outside the brewery’s mission statement of lower alcohol beers. They have sent the Jubilation Winter Warmer and the Russian Gun Imperial Stout.
Jay Burnett, who dropped the beers off for me, has thoughtfully provided a fact sheet. I would like to share with you the story of Russian Gun.
The Russian gun, (or Gun as we call it) is named after the Queens square cannon that sits in downtown Galt, Cambridge. The cannon was awarded to the town of Galt for its support of the English troops during the Crimean war which ended in 1856.
That year, to celebrate the victory during Victoria Day, the Cannon was fired at noon. The men firing the cannon successfully fired three shots. However, during the fourth, the powder prematurely exploded, killing both men, charring their upper bodies beyond human recognition and dismembering the arms and hands of both men; Two children were lightly scratched.
That right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the darkest backstory on any beer in Ontario. I mean, I considered calling a sumac beer Wendigo which refers to a psychosis in which people come to believe they’re possessed and turn to cannibalism. I thought better of it, since no one is ordering Sweeny Todd’s Red Ale.
Still, Russian Gun is a good name conceptually for a Russian Imperial Stout. It’s got the Sevastopol connection from the Crimea and it represents a local history that helps define the brewery. That’s something. Plus, those two children got away comparatively unscathed.
The beer itself pours a completely opaque black with a resilient tan head that laces nicely. The aroma contains more smoke than I remember from previous years. One of the strengths of Grand River is that they can alter recipes from year to year on their seasonal beers without causing too much fuss. I think the 2010 version had more cocoa character to it. It’s a solid Imperial Stout with quite a bit of character.
The bottle I have here was packaged on the 19th of December and it’s my impression that this could do with a little bit of time to round out the rougher edges. I’m getting a lot of roast character off of it ranging from chocolate to coffee to a small amount of char, which is not entirely unappealing given the small amount of smoke in the aroma. There’s a note of drying fruit in the middle of the aroma; Like apples drying out in a root cellar. It’s in LCBOs at the moment. If you pick some up now, it will probably be in even better shape by the end of February. The fact sheet says it’s 9.0% alcohol, but the bottle says 8.0%. I’d be inclined to believe the fact sheet, based on the slight heat.
I know people who set aside bottles of Russian Gun for vertical tastings, which seems weird to me because the recipe seems to tweak annually, thus defeating the purpose somewhat, but it probably makes for a nice evening.
Jubilation Winter Warmer is available at the brewery this year, and you’re going to have to go down to Galt to get it. It’s 7.0% and it is, for my taste, cinnamon heavy. It contains too much cinnamon for its own good, becoming unbalanced. I think that the Highballer Pumpkin Ale did that this year as well. Like I mentioned earlier, since the recipe on the Jubilation Winter Warmer changes from year to year, this is not really a condemnation. Next year it will probably not contain so much cinnamon.
The thing that Jubilation represents is a switch in packaging. For the first time since I can remember, the bottle is not a 500ml bottle with the typical Grand River labeling. It’s a 650ml bomber with a much improved label that speaks to the fact that there are changes occurring at Grand River. I don’t doubt that just about every blogger or journalist that has talked to them over the last few years has mentioned that they needed new labels. That’s happening.
Of course I’ve thrown out the bottle, so I don’t have a picture of it. Trust me, it’s a marked improvement. It’s interesting to see how Grand River is evolving, and one of the things I like about them is that the change is comparatively unhurried. Some breweries, if told that their labels were sort of hokey looking, would panic and try to change things immediately. Grand River is content to change things slowly, and I suspect that’s partially because they know they have a good product and that their clientele are not going anywhere.