Once in a blue moon I receive a mysterious package in the mail.
Most times it’s stuff I’ve ordered online, or care packages straight from Quebec — or most recently, a sampling of Big Rock’s newest beers.
Calgary’s Big Rock Brewing has been busy experimenting with different styles of beers in the past year or two as the craft beer craze is booming more than ever.
Big Rock is essentially Canada’s answer to Sam Adams. They have beers that cater to just about every beer drinker out there — lagers and pilsners for the masses, experimental and one-offs for the beer geeks.
My favourites so far have been Fowl Mouth ESB and Dead Reckoning IPA (previously known as Monkey’s Fist IPA).
Most of their beers are released to appeal to as many people as possible, but once in a while, they will brew something that is just a bit out of the ordinary.
Big Rock sent me a few samples of their newest beers now available in Manitoba, including a Honey Mead that’s not yet available in this province.
Most of the beers were from their newest taster pack — "The Swinger Pack," which includes three cans of Grasshopper Wheat Ale, Saaz Republic Pilsner, Juniper Berry Mild Summer Lager and Cracked Pepper Wheat Ale. As Grasshopper and Saaz have been available in Manitoba for quite a long time now, I will only focus on Juniper Berry and Cracked Pepper.
I’d never tasted juniper berries before, but the first time I ever sampled anything made with them was at Souris River Brewing in Minot.
Their JunIPA was made with fresh juniper berries, a somewhat sweet, quite bitter India Pale Ale that really intrigued me. So I was hoping Big Rock’s Juniper Berry Mild Summer Lager would bring back memories of JunIPA somehow.
Juniper pours just like your standard prairie lager — golden straw yellow, lots of micro-carbonation, a minimal amount of white head and a slight orange hue to the body.
Juniper Lager has an aroma of juniper berries, which gives it a light sweet backing and a light-to-medium amount of bitterness which I attribute to the rye malt. For me, it brings back memories of nearly every lighter rye ale I’ve ever had in my life.
There’s a hint of pepper, which I’ve been told is from the juniper berries themselves. And it doesn’t have any sort of corny aroma that most lagers tend to have, so that’s a huge plus right there.
For the flavour, I got a bite of pepper right from the beginning, followed by a light sweet berry from the junipers, a touch of rye malt, a touch of bitterness from the hops and just a bit of grain from the barley.
Juniper Berry Mild Summer Lager was a bit different for me. The aftertaste left a bit of a light pepper burning sensation and a light berry aftertaste that lingers and lingers. The use of malted rye, juniper berries and a sprinkling of hops certainly differentiates this beer from your standard lager.
For most beer drinkers, this will be easily drinkable. But those who are squeamish about the idea of pepper in your beer, this is probably not for you — though it’s no where near as scary as you would think.
5.0 per cent ABV
Next up, Cracked Pepper Wheat Ale. This is the kind of ale you would love to have on a hot day, something light, refreshing and well balanced, with a touch of black pepper.
Now, black pepper has never been used in my vocabulary for beer to relish on a hot summer day, but seeing how Juniper Berry Mild Summer Lager was pretty decent, you just never know.
Cracked Pepper pours a clear golden honey ale, reminiscent of a Grasshopper Wheat Ale. A thick amount of foam starts off the beer, but quickly fizzes off — in fact, it’s quite carbonated at the beginning, but not as it finishes settling.
The aroma has notes of malted wheat, giving it a slight honey sweetness, a spiciness of peppercorns, and a slight amount of grassiness.
In the flavour department, Cracked Pepper Wheat Ale has a light sweet straw flavour — a bit more than Grasshopper — plus a hint of hops to give it a light bitterness, and a dash of black pepper that leaves a tingling sensation on the tongue. Surprisingly, you don’t notice the pepper flavour as you’re sipping it — instead it just pops up as a bit of heat on the tongue.
Cracked Pepper was better than I expected. I feared it would be skunky, as if someone just dumped pepper into a wheat ale. But this is a nice sweet summer-time wheat ale, with the pepper slightly warming the tongue at the end of the sip. It’s a light wheat ale — but not too light, thankfully.
4.5 per cent ABV
Juniper Berry Mild Summer Lager and Cracked Pepper Wheat Ale are only available in the Swinger Pack, which you can find at Liquor Marts in Minnedosa, Roblin, Virden and all three Brandon locations. It’s $22.79 for a 12-pack of 355mL cans.