Mill Street’s Spring Mix Pack is a sweet reminder of late winter
Toronto’s Mill Street Brewery is making inroads in the Vancouver craft beer market. Recently, they released a Spring Mix Pack, featuring two seasonal beers crafted by brew master Joel Manning. As a brew master, Manning is deeply conscious of seasonality. As such Mill Street has dozens of beers in their repertoire, most of which are only brewed seasonally.
In our conversation, he tells me how he believes that beer is the sort of thing best enjoyed amongst friends. The beer needs to be great, but it should not presume to take over the conversation. He confides in me that young brewers often want to make, in his mind, too strong a statement. He does not believe in challenging the palate just for the sake of challenging the palate.
When you think about spring, it seems there are two ways you can go: anticipating summer, or playing out the last bit of winter. These two beers definitely lean towards the latter. Both the Spring Imp (which is a bock) and the Spring Thaw (a maple brown ale) lean towards heavier malt flavours and a more pronounced sweetness.
The Spring Imp reminds me how long it has been since I had a bock. It is a strong beer (7%), lightly hopped, with a rich body and sweetness up front. With its deep flavour, it tastes darker than it is. The first sip may seem a bit too sweet, but as you drink it, the flavour evens out into a rich but very drinkable beer. It is a far cry from the ubiquitous, ultra-hoppy West Coast IPAs.
Manning notes how bock is a traditional spring beer. German monks traditionally make this variety of beer in the springtime. It is also a beer which takes up a lot of cask space, as it takes longer to age than an ale or a lager. Most craft breweries simply lack the space to justify brewing a bock. However, Manning boasts that Mill Street has more capacity than your average craft brewer, so they can afford to brew something that needs a bit more time.
The Spring Thaw Maple Ale was a surprise. I expect anything that says “maple” on the label to be sweet. Cloyingly sweet, in fact. Yet the Maple Ale is less sweet than the Spring Imp. This has actually led some customers to contact Mill Street, insisting that they had put the labels on the wrong beers. But this is no mistake. Manning wanted to avoid the aggressive, all-consuming maple experience, and left it subtle. The sweetness is also mitigated by the aggressively malty character of the ale.
The Maple Ale is made with smoked malt (20% of the malt used in this recipe is smoked). The result is a very malt-forward beer. Smoky notes are very subtle, like the maple. They ride along with the deep maltiness which, just as the sweetness of the bock, fades into a smooth overall richness as you continue to drink.
Sweet beers are not usually my thing. That said, I found these quite drinkable. It was surprising to me that I actually preferred the maple over the bock, as it had a less pronounced sweetness and a compelling malt character. They are not patio beers, but they are curl up on a rainy night beers. I can imagine sipping on one while listening to the rain patter outside.