#30 – Headstock IPA & Dead Elephant IPA

Around the World in 80 beers episode 2: Canada

Name: Nickel Brook Headstock IPA
Style: IPA (surprisingly enough)
Brewed by: Better Bitters Brewing co., (Burlington, Ontario, Canada)
Alc: 7% abv.


Name: Dead Elephant Ale
Style: IPA
Brewed by: Railway City Brewing co., (St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada)
Alc: 6.5% abv.



The keenly observant will notice that I have again been absent. Now I could say it was due to a bout of consumption, general lethargy or a family crisis involving the antichrist but I’d also have to admit to some trepidation in doing this beer – or rather beers because there are two of them this time – a couple of badass Ontarioian IPAs bequeathed to me on a recent visit by Kim, site godfather and beer and music guru. I had better tread carefully here for I am a stranger in a strange land. I have to say though that any lingering thoughts I had of Canada being filled with mooses, manic flappy-headed farters and, worst of all, ghastly lightweight American-style pale lagers are, thankfully, not quite entirely accurate. These are both fairly big beers; filling, warming and ever so slightly boozy, all of which is good.

The can provides a website, detailed address and even a telephone number. Oh, and a catchy slogan that, as it turns out, hints at a deeply disturbing psychological wound. “A jumbo legend with an unforgettable aftertaste”. Indeed.

The Dead Elephant IPA, with 46 IBU might in some ways seem the lesser of the two (the Headstock coming in at 80 IBU). It’s also lighter in colour, a slightly hazy, viscous copper with a fairly quickly disappearing cream coloured sudsy head. There are hints of apricot, peach, sweet malts and something else fruity in the aroma, and a slight pepperiness in the flavour as well. There’s a fair bit going on here, maybe even a touch of perfuminess (yes it’s a word, I checked) none of which is overpowered by rampaging hops or over-the-top booziness. With medium carbonation, a full, satisfying, slightly sticky feel, this is probably the more sessionable of the two, not at all harmed by a relatively gentle, slightly warming finish.

The Headstock is certainly more intense. Darker, almost bergundy or chestnut with a stronger aroma of grapefruit and lemon-pine, presumably from the nugget hops, a stronger, yellowish head and a much more pronounced hoppiness in the flavour with malt, grapefruit, toffee, and some other undefinable fruits in there as well, It also has a more noticeable, um, sedimentiness about it. There are freakin’ rocks of yeast in it!

Penny for your thoughts/Nickel for your thirst”. I don’t quite get it. Mr. Vaughan seems unconcerned either way.

Now as a lifelong Coopers drinker I rarely even notice these things any more but damn…that’s some impressive sediment they got going there. Slightly higher carbonation, less stickiness, it is still filling and nowhere near being thin, and surprisingly a bit restrained in the the finish, bitter but fairly short. It’s the rampant hoppiness of this one that gets you. Switching between the two it makes the Dead Elephant seem sweet and bland, which it most definitely isn’t on its own.

Musically I tend to associate hoppy beers with jangly, indie stuff (as opposed to the classic, earthy grunginess of a malt monster, perhaps). Beyond that though I admit I’m not as familiar with whatever the hip young things of Canadia are listening to these days as I should be. It helps though that the Better Bitters Brewing Company sponsor Canada’s largest free music festival which starts in a couple of days as it happens, and unlike the folk festival sponsored by the Black Sheep Brewery (#27) most of these bands actually seem to not totally suck. Among this years’ headliners I reckon the poppy, noisy but still very chart-savvy sound of San Sebastian is a decent enough match for the Dead Elephant. For the Headstock I’m going with the Arkells, a bit less trendily poppy, a bit more intense and maybe a bit darker, a band who apparently got their big break at an earlier festival and are back for more this year. Although, you know, there may well be better choices than these available, say, to some locals who might have some better awareness of the Canadian music scene and perhaps access to these and other fine Canadian beers. But hey, at least I didn’t just say Nickelback. Give me some credit.

A fine pair.

Verdict: The Headstock seems to rank higher for most people and it’s easy to see why because it’s a proper hop bomb, and probably the superior beer with more intensity than the Dead Elephant in most areas. I preferred the Elephant though, not by much, granted, because of an unusual (to me) kind of fruitiness and delicacy. I’d happily have both again should I ever get the chance…which I probably won’t. Solid mid-70s or higher for both, can’t be more exact since they were gifts and I have no idea on price…which is always a consideration for a miserly old sod like myself. _____________________________________________________________________

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