Some may think that "Shawinigan Handshake" is a strange name for a beer, particularly if you're not well-versed in Canadian politics. For that, let me take you back to those grand old days of the 1990s--specifically February 15, 1996. On that day, Prime Minister Jean Chretien found himself confronted by a group of anti-poverty activists, and reacted as anyone would expect Jean Chretien to act. That is, he grabbed one of them, Bill Clennett, with a chokehold and broke one of his teeth. Perhaps not the sort of thing you'd expect just any politician to do--I mean, you'd think they would have people to choke protesters for them, so they don't have to get their hands dirty--but hardly out of character for Chretien. I mean, just look at the soapstone thing. Appropriately enough, the bottle's label depicts a highly-caricatured version of Chretien executing the famous chokehold on the Devil, and you can't say he doesn't deserve it, either.
Now, though, for the beer.
Shawinigan Handshake describes itself as a "pugnacious strong ale," but this didn't tell me much--hell, I bought it because of the name and the political undertones. What it means is that it's a rather hoppy pale ale, though not verging on the extreme bitterness of IPAs I've had in the past. I found bitter notes present, though not particularly strong, in the taste from the start, but as I progressed through the stein (which wasn't able to hold the entire bottle at once--a first) I found that there was a definite hoppy taste building up on my tongue, and the more I drank the stronger the bitter taste came to the forefront. This beer wastes no time in wrapping itself around your throat.
The beer itself is bright with a thick head, but I have to take issue with the label's description--the beer claims to have "notes of bread, banana, and spruce," but aside from a vague scent of spices just after I poured, I didn't detect any of this. Perhaps it's time to replace my tongue with some sort of super-capable bionic tongue, able to pick up and magnify the slightest tastes... but I can imagine how that could quickly go awry.
Nevertheless, Shawinigan Handshake is a firm hitter. At 6.5% alc./vol., and especially with me not having eaten very much at that point in the day, the one bottle left me spinning for a while afterward. Personally, I wouldn't recommend having it alone; particularly with the bitterness, this is a beer that's best paired with food. Considering its brewpub origins, that's hardly a surprise. Available in 600 mL bottles, you can find it at the LCBO for $6.05 per.
It sort of makes me wonder how Harper will be commemorated in beer form. Tar Sands Stout, perhaps?
ANDREW'S RATING: 4/5
Previous Quaff Reviews
- #27: Red Racer Pumpkin Ale
- #26: Betty Stogs
- #25: Polygamy Porter
- #24: Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale
- #23: Secession Cascadian Dark Ale
- #22: Asahi Black
- #21: Howe Sound Rail Ale
- #20: Olympia
- #19: Eel River Açaí Berry Wheat Ale
- #18: Bah Humbug
- #17: KLB Raspberry Wheat Beer
- #16: Mana Energy Potion
- #15: HE'BREW Messiah Bold
- #14: Mackinac Pale Ale
- #13: Ola Dubh Special Reserve 40
- #12: Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale
- #11: La Loubécoise
- #10: Summer Honey Seasonal Ale
- #9: Earthquake High Gravity Lager
- #8: Route des épices
- #7: Sparks Plus
- #6: Hurricane High Gravity Lager
- #5: L'Indépendante
- #4: Antigravity Light Ale
- #3: Nektar
- #2: Innis & Gunn Original
- #1: Abbey Belgian Spiced Ale