Wednesday, 15 May 2019

#356: Utepils

The first real utepils of the year came, as ever, during a brew day, with two appropriately spring-worthy beers.

I was making a saison, lazily copying the trappings of Dupont, but it was another saison I chose for accompaniment here; St Feuillien Saison. Despite pouring with ugly as hell with heavy, flaky sediment, there's a beautiful lemongrass and menthol noble hop aroma to the fore alongside the typically Dupontian spicy yeast character that I was hoping for. In all, it scratches the itch that makes me usually reach for Dupont, perhaps even to a greater extent with added hop flourish without harming the dryness of the style. Super stuff.

For a more Teutonic take on spring I picked up Ayinger's Frühlingsbier, part of the expanded offering from the brewery now that they are imported by Premier. Hopefully this will pave the way for the entry of their superb (and my beloved) Altbairisch Dunkel. In the meantime, this beer pours pale and slightly hazy in kellerbier fashion with a faint noble hop nose, suggesting grass and earth. Ultimately though it's a rather malt-forward beer; clean and fullsome if a tad sweeter than expected, all syrupy and almost bocklike. While it wasn't as bright or airy as I for some reason thought it would be, it's a wonderfully satisfying old world sustainer for lager fanciers.

I recommend both. 

Saturday, 27 April 2019

#355: Impérialisme

As a long-time and lifetime fancier of any beer supposedly 'abbey'-related and Belgian it's always a pleasant surprise to stumble across a new one. I recall Abbaye des Rocs beers from the Abbott's Ale House around eight years ago but this classy looking one was not among them. It came to Bradley's in a mixed Belgian pallet last year.

Abbaye des Rocs Triple Impériale is a dark rendition of the style, one of that lacks the oomph and spice of better, paler versions. There's light banana and estery stuff in the mix but otherwise it's a simple but warming caramel concoction. The body is very thin for its 10% abv and arguably the most interesting flavours occur in lingering moments after each sip, in the form of rather Bavarian-tasting raisiny melanoidins, the likes of which you'd be delighted to find in your dunkel.

Far from being a classic or even an especially satisfying version of this type of Belgian beer, the Triple Impériale is still an easy-drinking sugary malt nightcap for the alcoholic child in your life. 

Thursday, 25 April 2019

#354b: Bristol Part Two

This is continued from part one, here.

Across the road from Small Bar resides the King William, a Samuel Smith pub spread across a number of rooms and levels, a large yet cosy sprawl or dark wood and leather, and the last place one might choose to spend an exceptionally warm an sunny June afternoon. I was one of two or three patrons at the time, and strictly here for beer.

My first choices (any mild or pale bitter or stout on cask) were unavailable, so I ordered an Old Brewery Bitter, a brownish blend of tangy toffee and apple. I'm not sure about this one; is it archaic authenticity or is it just a bit iffy? If you can't tell, it's probably not great. Perhaps the cask was tired, but I was unimpressed.

I moved to the bottles for the next and last one, and opted for a beer I've known of and coveted for a time, but seems to be unavailable in Ireland. That beer was the deeply unseasonable Yorkshire Stingo. Kind of a barley wine or strong ale, it's aged in oak and carries a thumping malt weight with its 8.5%-ish ABV. In fact, it's rather homemade tasting; a thick caramel wortiness works up rich  and fully realised fruitcake characteristics which would be perfect for the fireside, but rather bizarre in the summer heat. Still, it's clearly quite good, even if it is a bit heavy and unsophisticated. I didn't quite need the full imperial pint, so regretfully left the last third behind.

Hickey the Rake
A few steps down the street will find you at The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer, which seems as old and sprawling as the King William but with a more modernised interior and, for that matter, beer selection. No brewery ties here, just a broad selection of craft across keg, cask, can and bottle.
I started on keg with Wiper and True's Huckleberry, an amber ale with plenty of caramel backbone propping up juicy grapefruit skins. I rejoice that it's bitter but balanced, straddling approachable sugary cara-malt sweetness and robust ripe bittersweet citrus highlights.
Wylam's Hickey the Rake was on cask, and has a strangely twiggy or stalky background to it, but with plenty of satisfying orange and lemonskin juiciness atop, making a perfectly pleasant and quaffable cask pale ale.
The last beer here is the ugliest, a keg DIPA from Electric Bear by the name of Surface Area. Not only is it opaque, but it's dull and greyish too, looking rather unappetising. Thankfully it's eminently tropical to taste, a big dense fruit smoothie of pineapple, citrus and stone fruits laced with a bit of hop acid buzz. This is sharp and effective stuff, even if it isn't quite as moreish due to its intensity and texture.

I  also made a repeat visit to the particularly pleasant Brewdog bar in town, and punished myself with Brewdog's quite horrible Vienna lager Interstate. It's paler than expected, which is fine, but what's not fine is the mess of plastic, chemical and medicinal odours masking almost all of the grassy aroma that constitutes the only acceptably normal beer smell. Bad.

I got better mileage from their AB:23, a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine that wears its bourbon influence on its sleeve, with sweet vanilla wood enrobed with raisin and chewy caramel. This develops into dates and figs with brown sugar sweetness and real plum pudding characteristics.
From the fridge, Wiper and True's Kaleidoscope, a good pale ale brimming with plenty of peach, apricot and juicy passion fruit. Quite pleasant, which I couldn't quite say about the saison on tap, which was Leaf Peeper from New Bristol Brewery. It's super sweet with overwhelming bubblegum phenolics. Absolutely not my jam, least of all from a saison.

Just up the road from the Brewdog bar is The Old Fish Market, a Fuller's pub that I entered on impulse in the hope of cask London Pride but got something rather more exciting - cask Nor'Hop from locals Moor. I never made it to the brewery tap so was happy to settle in to this smooth, silky, light grapefruit and fruit salad chews pint. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy.

It was the Sober Destrier's work that brought us to Bristol in the first place. Much like our trip to Manchester, I don't think either of us expected to be so enamoured with the city, but we were. It should go without saying that Bristol comes highly recommended as a destination for their beer, their zoo, and their all-round pleasant city goodness.

#354a: Bristol Part One

In what has become an unintentional tradition for us on a British trip, our first beery stop in Bristol was the particularly pleasant branch of Brewdog on Baldwin St, overlooking the northern tributary of the Avon; it was on the way to our intended destination, and lured us in with promise of vegan pizzas and riverside outdoor seating.

As such, the only extant photograph of the first beer, Brewdog's Hazy Jane, is this enticing pizza shot. It was the perfect beer for the occasion too, delivering all the juicy tropical mango and passionfruit stuff you expect from a New England IPA without falling into the traps of thick chalky sweetness I can't abide in other examples of the style. For enthusiasts of the form this might be a bit light and thin and lacking in the dank arts, but I'm on board for its dangerous drinkability and skirting of the sweaty cream problem that I despise in modern IPA.

Some hours later in the Burger Joint I received a bottle Bristol Beer Factory's Independence, a US pale ale, accompanied by the grubbiest, dirtiest glass I've ever encountered. When I politely asked for a new one, I was given the same glass hastily rinsed; the squirt of water wasn't enough to remove the 'thing' clinging to the outside of the glass, which I had to scratch off myself. Something to bear in mind. 
Thankfully the beer was delicious, a caskalike, low-carbonation, earthy kind of IPA with plenty of tangerine highlights to enliven things. It's smooth and sinkable and really does deserve to be served from the cask, though the bottle is quite lovely.

That was it until the next day when, with the Sober Destrier off at work, I had some pre-pub time to kill and a belly to fill. A wrap and a can of Oakham's DDH Citra, specially canned for M&S, did the job. The beer is rather delicious, a good mix of what's best about more 'traditional' English IPA and more modern (but not too modern) American west coast stuff; a touch of crystal, orange rind and grapefruit, Tanora and a cleansing bitterness.

The prime destination for the trip was Small Bar, which isn't as small as you'd think, with the front bar being neat and cosy with bright wood reflecting plenty of glorious June sunlight from the large windows high up the walls. Through a small walkway there's an extended tavern-like seating area with darker wood and lower ceilings, looking like just the place to hunch over bellywarming beers in the colder months. It was empty now, in the early afternoon sunshine, and for my purposes the bright and airy benches opposite the taps were more appropriate.

Keller Pils

First up was Lost and Grounded's Keller Pils, arriving very pale straw colour. The aroma is a kellerly wet grass and malted biscuit delivered with a satisfying, grainy fullness. Much is said about this beer and rightly so; its simple, understated beauty is testament to the brewers' accomplishment, being an elegant and clean yet intriguingly earthy lager. It's no Jever, of course, and fans of hoppier pils may be slightly disappointed, but Keller Pils delivers exactly what it should without over complicating things.

Next up is New Bristol Brewery's Subnatural, an IPA served on cask. It's golden-orange and delivers orange toffee Eclairs a first, developing a beautiful finish of ripe citrus marmalade which is only slightly spoiled by some overzealous caramel stuff turning a bit buttery at the very end. It's good, but no Hoppiness.

Better luck was had with Sonny Boy from fellow locals Left Handed Giant. This is wonderfully bittersweet, again showing ripe orange and orange rind, its juiciness enhanced by an unusually slick, almost creamy texture, suggesting the possible inclusion of oats. There's a fair sweetness there too, giving the impression of a particularly zesty and mouthwatering marmalade. 

A later trip to the same venue yielded Saison Printemps from Unity in Southampton. This isn't my kind of saison, all sweet banana and warm estery mischief. Dupont it ain't.

My last beer in Small Bar was Big One, namely Chicxulub from Vibrant Forest. There's an incredibly complicated genesis to this beer involving multiple barrel ages variants and additions and blending thereof, but it was sold to me rather simply as a kind of sour imperial stout. It's rather delicious too; a symphony of wood and tart blackberries laced with syrupy chocolate and red wine.

For the purpose of staying under the permitted character length for labels, this post is continued in part two right here, right now.

Tuesday, 23 April 2019

#353: Brooklyn Heights

Three thumpers from Brooklyn today (well, some time ago, I'm not insane), two of them once-off or recurring seasonal brews that may or may not be available anymore but some of you will read on anyway because, like me, you have an inexplicable and insatiable thirst for The Knowledge of Beer.

First up is Black Ops, a bourbon barrel aged version of the inimitable Black Chocolate Stout. The first impression upon getting it into a glass is that there is a serious wood influence here, with a strong and enticing maple syrup and vanilla aroma leading the way for an unsurprisingly sweet flavour to follow. The base of Black Chocolate Stout is there, with roasty sweet chocolate forming the core, but there's a pleasantly surprising strain of woodsmoke livening things up and cutting through the sugar. I enjoyed this, even if the inherent richness of the stout combines with the bourbon to produce something a tad sweeter than I'd usually look for in a barrel aged stout.

Next is Cuvée Noire, which seems a kind of a variant of the  Black Ops. There seems to be two versions of this beer; a draught version of 8.7% ABV, and this limited bottled version under their BQE tagline, with a more generous strength of 10.6%.
The catch with this stout is it's Belgification; a higher attenuating Belgian yeast and the inclusion of brown sugar and sweet orange peel. For all that, thick dark chocolate is still the main flavour component, like rich mousse that finishes in a dried fruit flourish. There's considerable bourbon influence too, the vanilla wood propping things up nicely and helping smooth out a beer that is otherwise surprisingly spritely in it's carbonation. Disappointingly there's no real suggestion of orange that I can find, which leaves me with the impression that, soft yeasty dried fruitiness aside, I'm not sure there's much here that won't be found in Black Ops, but with added slickness. It's good, but I was hoping for a liquid Terry's Chocolate Orange that isn't there, and I guess that's more my problem than the beer's.

Sticking with bourbon barrels but moving away from black malts finds us another BQE release, their Hand & Seal barleywine from 2014, almost five years old at the time of cork-popping last month. This pours clear ruby with a thin cap of yellowy foam, not unlike my most indulged-in barleywine Bigfoot. Unsurprisingly it's sweet; a plush bouquet of red summer fruits leads to brown sugar and raisiny port. The flavour is much the same but with a good deal more woody vanilla. Thankfully there's none of the harshness or cloying effects of lesser bourbon aged beers, as this remains a shockingly easy to drink, sweet, boozy fireside sipper. 

I've long been a fancier of Brooklyn's wares, their Black Chocolate Stout being a watershed moment for me in my discovery and subsequent obsession with strong stouts. For this reason there's a considerable amount of goodwill stored away in the memory bank, but it's good to see there's something to it. These beers range from 10.6% - 13.3% and none of them come off sticky, sickly or heavy. I appreciate that.

Take that as a tacit recommendation for all of these, especially the Hand & Seal. 

Sunday, 21 April 2019

#352: Tsjee Party

A holy trinity of De Struise's Tsjeeses variants were entombed for a number of years in the cupboard before being miraculously unearthed in the past few weeks. As is only proper, all three were opened at once and, with the help of the Sober Destrier, a fully blind tasting was conducted to parse the influence of wood (or lack thereof) on the beer.

Kerstbier 2013
The three varieties opened were the 2013 Kerstbier, a Bourbon BA, and a Port BA. All three date from 2013, and were given different coloured labels for note-taking purposes.

First up was Green, though it pours a slightly hazy ruby-orange. It's rich and raisiny on the nose and has the fruit and sweet spice of a wintery fruitcake to taste. It's lightly boozy throughout, as the touch of brown sugar turns to a caramelised malt afters. There's no discernible wood character and the light spice and sweetness makes it a logical Christmas beer, so the Kerstbier is my guess.

Pink pours clearer and with less foam, and produces a darker, richer and almost pungent aroma. It seems dryer too, at least at the finish, with some tell-tale wood-related oxidation, all sherried with dried dark fruits. There's also some real bourbon hints with this one - the typical vanilla and wood shaving stuff that plagues lesser bourboned beers but compliments others quite nicely. This is beer occupies the latter category for the most part, though I feel the bourbon character in particular adds a pungency that hampers the richness and fullness effect evident in the other two beers. Of course, my guess for this is the Bourbon B.A.

Port B.A.
Last but not least is Orange, which is sweeter on the nose than the previous but in a darker, richer sort of way, all jammy fruits and booze. This appears in both aroma and flavour and has throwbacks the the Green (Kerstbier) with its plum pudding and raisin depths. There isn't much port character here exactly; no tawny aged character, no woody leathery maturity, but on the strength of the straight-up dark-rich-sweetness (as well as by process of elimination) I'm emboldened to think this is the Port B.A. rendition.

It turns out my guesses for all these were correct, but it must be said that in practice this was rather easier than expected. As for my preference, I would lean toward the Kerstbier for being arguably the most complex despite and apparent lack of wood interference, while the Port B.A. does offer the straightforward quad-like fullsomeness that sometimes you just need.
All that being said, the high quality is apparent across all three versions, even if they don't quite inspire me in the same way as the Pannepot (new or old) or XXX Reserva from the same brewer.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

#351: Mother Derp

Summer is upon us, which in Ireland means it's nearly springtime, which means it's time for saison. This from Glazen Toren arrived in the shop last year alongside three or four stablemates, and is presented in an attractive and only slightly annoying paper wrapping. 

Saison Dupont is still pretty much my touchstone for the style and, as well as matching its abv of 6.5%, Saison d'Erpe-Mere has a similar white pepper-laced wheat biscuit character. This is further improved by a big, pillowy and fluffy body, enhancing those estery qualities before finishing peppery and dry. 
This is endlessly drinkable, like a saison should be, even if that abv would suggest otherwise.

In a completely different vein of saison is Northern Monk's Patrons Project 7.01, a DDH Saison. I was hooked by the label, which is as good a reason to buy a thing as any. What I didn't know until I had the beer in my glass and the label peeled back for info is that this is a New England saison. IPA had it coming, but who knew they would do this to a saison. As such, the beer pours pale and milky as you'd like and gives plenty of sweet and thick citrus fruit, as well as  the also anticipated savoury edge that has flashes of wild garlic. However, these boffins know what they are doing and the Wallonian yeast brings maturity in the form of pepper and, more importantly, does a great job drying the beer up and keeping it sharp and bright above its dank depths.
New England is not really the place I want my saison to be going but, for all my aversion to Brewer's Armpit™, this works rather well and puts to the sword many recent exercises in gluey, sweaty dankness chucked together by the best and brightest in modern craft brewing.