• Jason van Rassel

Major brewery releases limited-edition historical pale ale


“Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.” – Ice-T

With an existence as sheltered as mine, gangsta rap isn’t a place I often — if ever — find a lot of relevant advice about life. On a daily basis, I don’t need to worry about getting “got,” for example.

Craft beer is a pretty genteel scene overall, but nevertheless, Ice-T’s words are ones I keep in mind when reviewing beer. I rate the beer in front of me on its own merits, regardless of who made it. Unfortunately, not everyone shares the same philosophy: scroll through reviews on the popular beer rating sites and you’ll find even a sub-par offering from a well-regarded craft brewery will get raves from fanboys and fangirls. Meanwhile, when a decidedly unhip mainstream brewer makes something decent, there’s no shortage of people who will pan it simply because of its macro-beer pedigree.

Which brings us to John H.R. Molson & Bros. 1908 Historic Pale Ale, a limited-edition beer recently released by multinational brewing leviathan Molson Coors. In days gone by, before “Molson Coors," and before moronic fratboy advertising campaigns that have nothing to do with beer, there was just plain “Molson,” a Canadian brewery with roots in this country dating back to 1786. This beer is said to be a faithful reproduction of a recipe found in 400 cartons of company archives dating back to that time. The company says the pale ale will be the first in a series of historical re-creations.

There’s certainly a wider discussion to be had about why Molson is taking this trip down memory lane — and it’s got more to do with money than nostalgia. But should that really shock anyone? And what’s wrong with that? Molson Coors is in business to make money. So let’s focus on what’s in the bottle — and what’s in the bottle is pretty interesting.

The company says it consulted experts from around the world to ensure the ingredients and techniques used to brew the beer were as historically accurate as possible, selecting established hop varieties from Britain, Canada and the U.S. and a strain of yeast derived from a primordial strand used by John Molson in the 1700s.

Clocking in at 6.8% ABV, this beer is stronger than the standard 5% brews that Molsonchurns out for mass consumption. It’s also unfiltered, adding a cloudiness to its copper-tinged gold colour. There’s a lot of grain husk in the aroma, but the malt flavour is more delicate — a nice, soft biscuity malt. This beer is not at all bitter by today’s standards and there’s next to no hop aroma – but that doesn’t mean the hops aren’t there. The hops have an earthy quality not uncommon in traditional English varieties and there are also some spicy notes that help give the beer a crisp, dry finish.

Is it a faithful reproduction of a 1908 pale ale? Who knows? It’s not like there are any 1908-era beer drinkers still alive to tell us. Ultimately, this is well-made, eminently drinkable pale ale — and a bit of a conversation piece to geek out over, if you’re so inclined. (In addition to six-packs, the beer comes in 625 mL bottles that lend themselves to sharing.)

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