Even in the wacky world of craft-beer naming, "Elvis Juice" seems bound to stand out. What's wackier still is how the Scottish ale's two creators responded after receiving a trademark-infringement notice last year from lawyers working for Elvis Presley's estate. James Watt and Martin Dickie, co-founders of celebrated BrewDog brewery in Ellon, near Aberdeen, legally changed their first names to match that of the King of Rock and Roll.
"We shall be marking this particular message 'Return to Sender,' and put it in the mail along with our official deed-poll forms," the pair posted on their company website along with photos of their deed polls (or legal change-of-name applications).
Even as the newly minted Elvis Watt and Elvis Dickie await response from Elvis Presley Enterprises, they continue to push ahead with export efforts for the brew. Already a hit in the United States, the citrus-infused American-style India Pale Ale just landed in Ontario LCBO stores as a limited-time release.
At $3.25 per 330-millilitre bottle, Elvis Juice is bound to leave any building quickly. "We did a couple of small batches of it last year to some specialty bars in Toronto and it flew," said Jared Wells, Ontario Draft Manager with Premier Brands. I suspect it's not entirely because of the name. It's a fine beer, with a silky texture and uncanny blast of fresh grapefruit flavour owing not only to hops but also to the addition of fresh peel.
Measuring 6.5-per-cent alcohol and a moderate IPA bitterness level of 40 IBUs, it certainly goes down easier than a few of BrewDog's other offerings. Founded in 2007, the cult brewery has soared in popularity thanks to a self-described punk ethos, provocative product names and its sensational embrace of outrageously high alcohol. Besides the flagship Punk IPA, its portfolio has included Tactical Nuclear Penguin, an imperial stout measuring 32-per-cent alcohol by volume, and The End of History, a 55-per-cent blond Belgian ale described as the world's strongest beer.
Elvis Juice was one of several dozen intriguing British beverages featured recently at a Toronto trade tasting organized by the UK Department for International Trade, which has been nudging Canadian liquor monopolies to expand selections from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Herewith a few other highlights.
Innis & Gunn IPA
The Scottish company best-known for oak-mellowed beer has been giving the wood a wee rest. It started with an oak-less lager sold in – egad! – cans. This is the second barrel-free foray, an American-style India Pale ale. As one would expect, it's got considerable bitterness (measuring 60 IBUs) as well as plenty of citrusy hop flavour, but the brew displays a malty backbone that betrays its British genetics. Smartly balanced, unfiltered and bottled at a moderate 5.6-per-cent, it will be followed later in the summer by a 4.6-per-cent counterpart, Innis & Gunn's entry into the increasingly popular light-IPA category. Available at $14.50/6-pack in Ontario and at varying prices in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and New Brunswick.
Badger Fursty Ferret
One of the top-selling bottled-beer brands in the United Kingdom, Badger is produced by Hall and Woodhouse, a family-owned company in Dorset founded in 1777. This coppery-gold, 4.4-per-cent brew is named after the "fursty," or thirsty, ferrets that reputedly would sneak sips from barrels at the back door of a local inn. In keeping with the British pale-ale style, it's malty, to be sure, yet decidedly dry, with a creamy texture and nutty overtone. Available in 500-millilitre bottles at $3.95 at The Beer Store in Ontario, various prices in Alberta and at $4.95 in New Brunswick.
I have not exactly been one to applaud or encourage the rise of sweet vodka, but for readers whose eyes may have just lit up at the sight of the word toffee, let me say this: Thunder is a well-executed beverage. The original formulation was concocted by a ski-resort bartender in Val d'Isère who had been serving up martinis flavoured with a house-made toffee. A few deep-pocketed patrons were impressed enough to put money where their mouths were. Wisely, they stuck to a pretty clean formulation for the commercial version, basing it on triple-distilled British wheat and natural Caribbean cane sugar and butter, with no extraneous chemicals. It's bottled at 29.9-per-cent alcohol.
As the product's Canadian importing agent, Laura Dijana Higgins of Amethyst Wine Agency, accurately described to me, it tastes like Mackintosh's Toffee in adult-beverage form. The sweetness is relatively restrained, too, at just 56 grams/litre of residual sugar, or about one-third that of Martini & Rossi red vermouth.
Why "Thunder"? "They were sitting around the resort in the summer while discussing a possible name and there was a 16-foot-long window beside them when a storm rolled through," Higgins said. "Lightening hit the window, cracked it from top to bottom, and one of the investors was Norwegian. He stood up and said "Thor!" And they finally came up with 'Thunder'."
Released in Ontario three weeks ago, it comes only in a mickey-shaped, 375-millilitre bottle, pasted with a bare-bones label. "The LCBO refused to buy the large format for a new brand," Higgins said. "This is the only bottling in the world in a 375-millilitre bottle. … that's why it pretty much looks like it was printed off their home computer." Serve it ice-cold if you plan to drink it on its own. Priced at $23.95.
Bloom London Dry Gin
Created a few years ago, Bloom is a premium offshoot of Greenall's, the self-proclaimed "original" London dry gin, born in 1761. They're both made by G&J Distillers in Warrington, between Manchester and Liverpool in the northwest, under Joanne Moore, who is just the seventh master distiller in company history.
Where Greenall's displays the classic forward-juniper profile of the London dry style, with support from citrus and coriander (and which is a smart buy at less than $30), luxury-priced Bloom tones down the shaving-cream essence of juniper with the addition of floral-fruity honeysuckle, chamomile and pomelo. It's elegant, aromatic and warm, and while it's fitting for a gin and tonic, I'd prefer to let it bloom in a dry martini. Available for $43.85 in Ontario, various prices in Alberta.
Hush Heath Balfour 1503 Cuvée
It seems as though every wine critic in the English-speaking world has proclaimed British bubbly as The Next Big Thing. Quick lowdown: Parts of southern England share the same prehistoric soil composition as Champagne in northern France, and global warming has been (with apologies to Al Gore) a good thing for grape growers in marginal northern climates.
This white blend based on the Champagne grapes pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier impresses with its bone-dry profile and notes of white table grape, grapefruit and yeasty bread. It received a gold medal from England-based Decanter magazine. Though not available in Canada yet, it's expected to sell for about $45 in Ontario when it becomes available in October through the limited-inventory Classics catalogue.
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