Drinking Canadian beer makes me think of college. Molson and Labatt's and Moosehead were gourmet treats back then, bold trips beyond the domestic beers that we drank for effect rather than for taste. And even if I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was different about those beers, they just carried an aura to them that made them something special - until, in time, we forgot about Canadian beers.
About a month ago, one of those beverages from the north invaded America. Alexander Keith's, which has been brewed in Nova Scotia since 1820, broke across that largely unguarded border and moved into 22 states, including Colorado. A minor media blitz heralded its arrival. And those of us who once saw its countrymen as some sort of superheroes began thinking just a little bit again about what being a Canadian creation meant.
Alexander Keith's presents a twofold hurdle to returning to that innocent time of Canadian beer worship, however. First, it brings little, if anything, new to a party of American beers that has only blown up in the past 15 to 20 years. And second, it's not really Canadian.
Let's deal with the latter fact first. Alexander Keith's is the most revered brewery in Nova Scotia. But the beer it's sent stateside is actually brewed in Baldwinsville, N.Y. That beer is marketed by Anheuser-Busch, whose Labatt subsidiary owns Mr. Keith's business now. And the three beers introduced in America are made strictly for America; you'll find them on the brewery's new website
, but not on the site anchored in Canada
So, once you get past the new "world of beer is flat" reality of global mergers and regional brewing, you ask instead: Is the beer flat as well? The good news is that it isn't. But there's something oddly fruity about Alexander Keith's three American offerings, none of which is marketed as a fruit beer.
The best of the lot is Alexander Keith's Nova Scotia Style Lager, which has a slightly English nose but a more German taste accenting a sharply hopped but subtle-tasting beer that brings with it a heft. Yet, as the beer warms, it takes on a toffee-candy sweet flavor that moves this from fully pleasant to a bit too heavy.
The Nova Scotia Style Pale Ale (and, yes, every offering wants to beat into your psyche that it's Canadian) is very lightly hopped but surprisingly fruity, carrying with it an underlying berry taste. This succeeds fully in being an easy-drinking beer appropriate for balmy American summers, but it lacks the typical characteristics of a pale ale.
And finally, there is the Nova Scotia Style Brown Ale, a beer reminiscent of Newcastle with brown sugar notes to it. The cascade hops in this offering are buried beneath a syrupy honey body that makes this a one-and-done beer for the sake of your taste buds.
It's been so long now since I've had a Moosehead or Molson that I can't compare these new invaders to the beer immigrants I knew in my early 20s. But, like them, Alexander Keith's feels destined to fade into memory quickly, offering little besides a cool-looking picture of a stag on the label that makes you want to go back for seconds.