It’s Maple time… Reviewing 3 maple beers: Trafalgar’s, Nickel Brook’s and Lake of Bays


Thanks to my wife for the shot and my neighbors for the props!
Thanks to my wife for the shot and my neighbors for the props!

Maple syrup time is here again and this of course, means maple syrup beers are popping up on store shelves but for me, the best part of maple syrup season is that spring is just around the corner. When you think about it, what is so hot about maple syrup season? Personally I have yet to find a sugar shack that hasn’t been bastardized by the commercial aspect of it all. My family on my mother’s side comes from the Eastern Townships, south east of Montreal, in a city called Racine near Waterloo and the sugar shack that was passed down from generation to generation to my mother’s cousin’s is the real deal sugar shack. Sugar shacks aren’t supposed to have disco mirror balls and a 900sq’ dining area. We just happened to go to a commercial sugar shack yesterday to celebrate my sister’s 50th and quite frankly the food wasn’t bad but the maple syrup served at the table was too dark; it felt more like a grade 3. What’s more is the owners got clever too, no more huge plates with an abundance of pancakes. Yesterday, the 3” pancakes and the 6” size plates were clearly designed to pace the amount of maple syrup one will pour. Plus, commercial sugar shack owners figured “if we also serve them “Poor Man’s Pudding” and Sugar Pie which are sweet as f&%k… they won’t eat as many pancakes, therefore less syrup will be used.” So unless you like drowning your eggs and bacon in maple syrup, which I can’t say is my thing, then you’re really not using much maple syrup. Clever, but I’m on to you!

Back in the days, my mother would bring us to her cousin’s sugar shack and we’d ride the huge sleigh and help collect MANUALLY the water from the trees, then we’d warm up our hands by hanging around the huge cast stove equipped with a serpentine duct apparatus in which the maple water flowed and evaporated into maple syrup. The eggs, bacon, ham, desserts and “Oreilles de Chrisse” were made by my aunts and cousins and we’d go home with a dozen bottles of maple syrup at a price we could afford. The sugar shack from yesterday wanted 8.99$ for a pint of maple syrup. Ridiculous, considering our local grocer want 9.99$ for it.

So besides spring being around the corner, maple syrup beers are out and I took pleasure in reviewing 3 kinds over the last couple of days.

Lake of Bays Spring Maple Belgian Blonde

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LOOK:  This beer poured a hazy light orange with good off white head and good retention.

SMELL:  I can’t say that I got much of a beer aroma but that’s not necessary a bad thing. Sweetness is what made up its nose; maple syrup –obviously-, caramel and a hint of hazelnut.

TASTE:  Its taste was much like the nose yet somewhat inconsistent. Different sips delivered different flavors. Maple syrup is a main ingredient that made it taste good but the grain was kind of hidden and at times clashing with a little too much sweetness. I did enjoy it.

FINISH:  Some floral notes and alcohol presence.

FEEL:  Creamy, caramel-like. Medium body with okay carbonation.

CONTEXT:  Spot on. Nice mix with a Belgian Blonde Ale when most go for a strong beer or a stout.

REPEATER:  Yes but only in the context of a maple meal o sugar shack. Not in a bar where many options are available.

Pairing: Sugar Shack food, desserts, stronger cheeses.

Score: 70%

Price: $8.95 / 750ml

Availability: Seasonal

Beer type: Belgian Pale Ale

Alcohol/Vol.: 7%

Brewery: Lake of Bays Brewing Company

Country / Region: Ontario, Canada

—–

Trafalgar’s Maple Bock

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LOOK: Very dark brown almost black like a stout. Amber hues come through. No head, like pouring a flat cola.

SMELL: The beer is very “stouty”, malts, coffee, chocolate. Not much of a maple syrup flavor.

TASTE:  Pleasantly surprised but not satisfied. I got to say Trafalgar disappointed me a few times. However, I can’t say this one makes up for the past. Pleasantly surprise doesn’t mean redemption or outstanding. Thing is, the first sip is interesting but soon after, all I could taste was a watered down stout in which maple syrup had been dropped in. Roasted malts and chocolaty notes also came through but everything was sort of tainted by metallic and astringent notes that came through and made me clench my jaw.

FINISH:  Bitterness. The maple syrup flavor that kicked off things rather well faded and it was left to a watered down chocolate stout.

FEEL: Perhaps the most disappointed aspect of this beer. Mouth feel is so important for taste. This beer feels like a flat cola that’s been watered down and flavored with maple syrup. Carbonation is next to zero and my mouth felt dirty after. I needed something to wash down the gunk and take the tension out of my jaw. Ouch, I know… but that’s the way it felt.

CONTEXT:  Maple syrup? Yes but that won’t get you point because adding maple flavor to a beer is not a huge tour de force. Bock? Not really.

REPEATER:  No

Pairing: Sugar Shack food, desserts, stronger cheeses.

Score: 56%

Price: $4.95 / 650ml

Availability: Seasonal

Beer type: Strong beer

Alcohol/Vol.: 6.5%

Brewery: Trafalgar Ales and Meads

Country / Region: Ontario, Canada

—-

Nickel Brook’s Maple Porter

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LOOK:  Maple Porter looks like a very dark brown. It’s not quite black. A thick beige foamy head tops it like a rootbeer.

SMELL:  It has nice aromas of roasted malts, chocolate and maple. I got a little raisin on my last inhale. As always, in an effort to get more aromas I stuck my pointy nose in enough to get froth on the tip… Hum.

TASTE:  It doesn’t taste too much like maple and it is quite a refreshing approach from the two previous beers. What I mean is, Trafalgar and Lake of Bays may have gone a little too maple whereas Nickel Brook found a good middle ground. Notes of chocolate, roasted malts, some hops and a right amount of bitterness is detected in the after taste. Good job.

FINISH:  The more I review large format beer, the more I question this aspect of tasting. An entire beer doesn’t fit in one glass and when you pour your second glass, it’s not exactly like the first glass yet it’s not the finish… I’ll have to figure this out. My second glass is slightly creamier and sweeter. Hops and bitterness is less present.

FEEL:  Mouth feel is fine, medium with okay carbonation with a nice coating of sweetness.

CONTEXT: Spot on.

REPEATER:  Yes even if not in a maple context.

Pairing: Sugar Shack food, desserts, stronger cheeses.

Score: 79%

Price: $8.95 / 750ml

Availability: Seasonal

Beer type: Porter

Alcohol/Vol.: 6%

Brewery: Nickel Brook (Better bitters brewing Company)

Country / Region: Ontario, Canada

So that’s it for this week end. Have a great time and sorry I couldn’t review any St-Patrick’s day beers folks. Maybe next year. In the mean time, don’t turn your beer green please. Don’t do it. Just don’t.

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