The Russell Brewing Company is a strange dichotomy. On one side, under the Brewmaster Series, Russell produces some of the best local beer available in British Columbia. The popular Brewmaster Series includes IP’eh, Blood Alley Bitter, Black Death Porter, Angry Scotch Ale and a few other seasonal releases offered in 650 ml bomber bottles. Opposite to the Brewmaster Series, is the substandard Session Series, where mild beer is sold in a standard six or twelve pack format.
When Russell Brewing first opened, all that was available was a relatively tame offering of Cream Ale, Pale Ale and Light Lager. As the brewery grew a number of their original flagship products were placed under the Session Series category and have remained a Russell Brewing staple to this day. Aside from the the Session Series’ timid nature, quality and consistency has been a common problem – off flavours, including soured or stale beer are standard complaints. It has been a number of years since I last purchased anything from Russell’s Session Series, and I can’t say whether these problems have remained.
When Russell first released 650ml bottles of IPA, Porter and ESB, I was sceptical. Having had a number of disappointing experiences with other Russell products, my expectations were low. It turns out my scepticism was unwarranted – the Brewmaster Series has been a great success since its launch a number of years ago. Consistancy has not been a large problem and the flavour profile across the entire series is excellent.
Having achieved enough success with Blood Alley Bitter to justify a larger scale offering, Russell began selling their near IPA strength ESB in standard 341ml bottles. This is most likely a move to appeal to the much larger six-pack beer drinking segment. On my way home from the office this afternoon I picked up a six pack of the new Blood Alley Bitter. Having recently opened the first bottle, I am disappointed. The aroma is minimal, and the beer tastes mildly oxidized with an unpleasant sour finish. It is Friday, I’m tired from the work week, and perhaps I am just plain wrong, but I am quite certain the 341 ml offering is of a lower quality than the limited release bomber offering. Anyone else have a similar experience? It seems whoever is responsible for Russell’s larger scale brewing operations has not put the same level of work and care into the new large scale Blood Alley Bitter.
I’m hoping this is a rare one-off situation. However, I would not be surprised if corners have been cut in order to make the new Blood Alley Bitter a more large scale friendly product – lets hope this is not the case.
Looks tasty, goes well with lemon ale
This blog has a history with Russell Brewing. We had a bad experience, which they corrected admirably. I really liked the people I met there and I really want them to succeed. I also really like their Brewmaster Series, which includes their Black Death Porter, IP’eh!, Blood Alley Bitter, and Angry Scotch Ale. They were involved with the tasty VCBW collaboration ale and they do other solid seasonals as well.
Recently they did something incredibly rad. They held a home-brewing competition last year and then this year they commercially released and distributed the winning beer. That’s right, Rick August Russian Imperial Stout is available in and around the lower mainland. It’s an 11% beer and I’ve heard it’s packed with flavour. Quote from the Russell press release: “The recipe uses more than 10 types of malts, two types of hops, a special yeast strain, juniper berries and licorice root”. Sounds interesting, no? I haven’t tried one yet, but I’ve heard good things. I’m going to pick up two tomorrow, drink one and cellar the other. I mean really, what they did here is incredible: they made the home-brewing dream come true for a guy.
Russell has this really awesome side to it, but then this crazy awesome beer/story isn’t mentioned on their website besides in a stuffy press release. They continue to pump out extremely mediocre beer from their regular lineup, both in cans and on draught. I despise their lemon ale and lime lager with the very fabric of my being. And what’s up with Rocky Mountain pilsner? I just don’t get how they can be so polar. I’ve heard a couple rumours lately, one that they have two brewmasters (one who does the good stuff and one who doesn’t) and that they are nearing the brink financially. Whatever happens, I hope they keep pumping out the good stuff.
The irony that I’ve moved from Surrey near Guildford in Canada to Surrey near Guildford in England (at least until we head up to London next week) isn’t lost on me. This time I’m not talking about Central City, Russell Brewing, or Big Ridge, but Hogs Back Brewery. Much to my surprise, I learned of Hogs Back Brewing through Google Buzz. It was recommended to me by a friend of friend in Canada who originally comes from Surrey. Without a car, I was trying to figure out how to get to Hogs Back when a random Google Buzz user let me know of a few pubs in Guildford that carry their brews. Who knew people used Google Buzz? Anyway, I eventually found Hogs Back’s beers at a small beer and wine shop in Shalford.
I picked up TEA and OTT, which stand for Traditional English Ale and Old Tongham Tasty (Tongham is the town Hogs Back is based in); both are bottle conditioned. I’ve only tried TEA so far and I quite liked it. As the name says, it is a traditional bitter. I found it to be pleasantly malty and full of flavor, if lacking in hops for my tastes. So far I’ve found that English brewers tend to focus on malt and its subtleties, versus North American brewers who make much more use of hops to provide bold flavors and bite. While both approaches have their merits, I’m currently enjoying the excellent session brews the British brewers are brewing (most bitters weigh in at 4% ABV). I’ll definitely buy TEA again and I can’t wait to try the other interesting beers that Hogs Head has to offer.
I received an email from Russell Brewing today announcing their new Cactus Lime Lager, to be sold at Cactus Club restaurants. This news depressed me. Does the market really need more lime flavored beers? I hope the Cactus Lime Lager is better than their Russell’s Lemon Ale, which I have previously tried and, similar to Bud Light Lime, found it to taste like bad Sprite. I thought I might enjoy the taste of “real lime flavor” in beer because I enjoy the occasional fruit wedge dropped into certain brews, but I really, really don’t. Those of you that do like lime flavored beers, what is it about them that you enjoy? Some say it is easy to drink, but so too are many other lagers (also water). I just don’t get it.
I really thought that Russell was going in the right direction with their recent IP’eh release, which I found to be a very tasty beer. I hoped they might introduce more well brewed limited edition beers (like the Blueberry Wheat they had at the Dix Caskival) to the market, but am instead disappointed to find them jumping on the lime flavor band wagon led by Bud Light Lime. It must make good business sense to be brewing this kind of beer, because they aren’t the only ones. In addition to BLL, Michelob brews a lime flavored beer, as does respected Canadian craft brewer Big Rock. I can only hope that other brewers don’t follow suit.
Russell Brewing emailed me today announcing their first limited release beer Russell IP’eh, a Canadian IPA, eh? We have a significant history with Russell (which you can read about here, here, and here); one of the criticisms we had of them was that their beer was rather uninteresting. It is for this reason we are happy to see Russell branching out with a bolder limited release. Erik and I actually tried a cask of Russell prototype IPA at a Dix Cask Thursday in the not too distant past. The beer we tried was delicious, hoppy, and well balanced. If this limited release is of the same recipe, then I eagerly await this beer. Of recent BC IPA releases, it would surpass Granville Island’s Brockton IPA and give Central City a run for their money. We are only speculating at this point, but we have our hopes and we’ll definitely be giving this one a try.
No specific release date was mentioned, but we were told that the IP’eh will be available in draught form. There will also be 1500 650ml bottles sold at Brewery Creek, Darby’s Liquor Store, Firefly Fine Wines and Ales and Liberty Wine Merchants in Vancouver. If you see it, purchase this rare bottle and give it a shot.