Category: Beer Tasting Notes


Russian Doll Pale Ale

Brewdog: Russian Doll: Pale Ale (Scotland: American Pale Ale: 4% ABV)

Visual: Pale gold. Moderate tight bubbles white head that rises to a froth. Low carbonation.

Nose: Biscuity. Light resin. Custard cream biscuits. Light pineapple. Crisp hops.

Body: Nettles. Dry cardboard malt. Simple bitterness. Sherbety feel. Dry. Kumquat. Light fruit sugar sweetness. Pineapple.

Finish: Slight charring and bitterness. White wine dryness. Pineapple.

Conclusion: Hmm, not a good start for this series. Now, this could just be me and American Pale Ales, they can be a hard sell for me unless well done. However this, like quite a few APAs, feels too heavily attenuated for me. As the lowest malt expression of the Russian Doll series, the sweetness is very reined in, which creates a very dry beer. It causes the hops to come in as feel mainly, rather than flavour – with just a bitter prickle against an almost cardboard dry background. It just doesn’t seem to have the grip to deliver flavour with it.

For me, the American Pale Ale can be done well, but they seem much harder to balance than, say, IPAs, and this has to struggle against a generic recipe that has been designed to scale up and down. As such it seems it couldn’t be tailored to APAs stronger aspects. Here and now, I have to take a large swig of this beer to even get a little of the fruit sugar sweetness and flavour.

Overall it actually feels dull, there is no spark of zest. There are some flavours swimming around mid body but badly defined. Unlike the aroma, which is the strong point of the beer – while it is not wide ranging it is a few notes delivered well. Unfortunately all that lasts into the mid body is a weak call to pineapple tartness, that admittedly does rise over time, but never really becomes what it needs to be. On the bigger mouthfuls you definitely get some, but, again, the beer feels too dry for me. The flavours then come in too flat because of that.

An unfortunately weak effort.

Background: Nice idea here, four beers – same recipe, with the exception that more malt is used in each style, from pale ale, through IPA, IIPA, to Barley Wine – thus showing how the interactions with the other elements change. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers.

Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait

Boon: Kriek: Mariage Parfait (Belgium: Fruit Lambic: 8% ABV)

Visual: Large fizzy bubbles for a black cherry yogurt coloured head. Dark black cherry body.

Nose: Lightly tart. Wet oak. Tart apples. Sour cherries. Musky. Lemon cleaner air.

Body: Black cherry yogurt. Sour cherries. Sulphur. Fizzing texture. Charring. Tart apples. Wet oak. banana yogurt under notes. Cheese boards.

Finish: Drying. Wet oak and sour cherries. Malt biscuits. Oats. Tannins. Slight peanuts.

Conclusion: This is an interesting mix, or marriage if it will, and it seems they will. This really pushes a proper sour cherries and wet oak character, something that feels like it should be very deep and still, and yet it is played over an invigorating, fizzing lively main body.

The flavours and textures are remarkably complex in the body, it uses tartness, but the main character has such a solid weight that keeps it a much more restrained beer. There is oak and nuttiness that grounds it, so the tartness is used more to create refreshing edge into that drying lambic feel. Yet for all that it still sparkles and shimmers, it manages to mix dark depths and decadent dances of style, contrasting each other then diving into each other.

It is nowhere near the sweetness over those syrupy fruit lambics, nor that sheer mouth breaking sharpness of the hardcore lambic crowd. It is almost yogurty fruit in how it uses that lovely thick flavour that contains multitudes.

This, for me, ranks up with the greats of the fruit lambics. There isn’t any twist, trick, or gimmick to its quality they have just worked out to take the style to its natural apex, emphasising each characteristic without making any one the overwhelming focal point.

This is a beer that needs time and dedication, it never hits the easy pleasing buttons, but instead creates an overall experience of an excellent beer.

Background: Regular readers will know that Michael Jackson’s “Great Beer Guide” is one of the few beer ticker books I have time for. This is one of the beers from it, found at Brewdog’s Guest Beer selection. So I was excited. This is the 20111 bottling, drunk 2014. This is, according to that book, a mix of fresh young lambic, and a large proportion of older lambic, which is then aged in the bottle. Drunk while listening to Rise Against: Endgame. Holy shit that is a good album – I seriously don’t think there is a bad track on there.

Brewdog - U Boat

Victory: Brewdog: U-Boat (Scotland: Smoked Porter: 8.4% ABV)

Visual: Black. Small browned head that diminishes to islands. Still main body.

Nose: Smoke. Cured ham. Dry roasted peanuts. Beef brisket.

Body: Slight medicinal. Smoke. Dried beef. Light vanilla and caramel. Salt rocks. Dusty touch. Malt chocolate and coffee. Slight sour cream. Soft lemon underneath?

Finish: Bitter chocolate and smoke. Smoked beef. Light salt. Pulled pork. Bitter coffee.

Conclusion: Ok, high concept review. This is Alice Porter, but smoked. Boom! Job done. You are welcome.

What? You haven’t drunk Alice Porter?

Fuck.

Guess I’d best do a proper review then.

Up front the smoked character is evident, lots of smoked meat, with even a slight salt rock character, reminiscent of Islay whisky style, but lighter. However under that is a solid porter, though the chocolate and coffee notes are actually quite at the back – informing the character without being the character. Instead there is that kind of sour cream character that Alice Porter had, backed by caramel sweetness which combines in a soft of salted caramel way with the main notes, a nice kind of swing to the beer.

So, we have here a smoked, salted caramel, porter chocolate and coffee, contrasted by sour cream kind of beer. Try saying that three times fast.

It is good. Surprisingly moreish for the high abv and the weight of flavour, that slightly cloying sour cream manages to make it very drinkable by taking off the edge of the harsher characteristics . The salt elements give it a nice tingle of harshness, but not too heavy – just enough to dry the mouth and make you want to indulge more.

An evolution, not a revolution of the style, but a very good one.

Background: You can ferment a porter with lager yeast? Apparently so. At least if you use smoked malt as well. This is the latest in a long line of Brewdog collaborations – as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. Drunk while listening to Rise Against’s Endgame. Yes Rise Against are definitely growing on me.

8 Wired Semi Conductor

8 Wired: Semi Conductor (New Zealand: Session IPA: 4.4% ABV)

Visual: Lemon yellow. Small white head that leaves white suds. Low carbonation in the body.

Nose: Peach and orange. Kiwi and prickly hops. Touch of brown sugar and dry malt.

Body: Grapes. Unleavened bread. Bitter. Soft texture. Gooseberry and pineapple. Toffee malt. Prickly nettles. Apricot and peach. Vanilla.

Finish: Unleavened brown bread. Some charring. Grapes. Pineapple. Kiwi. Nettle prickle. Apricot. Dry.

Conclusion: 8 Wired and hops. 8 WIRED AND HOPS IN AN IPA! Well, hellloooo nurse. This is a very soft and gentle beer. Well, it feels soft and gentle as a texture and base flavour , hop wise it prickles with bitterness.

Now, it, of course, cannot live up to the sheer joy and weight of hopwired and superconductor. Its bigger cousins have the advantage of having larger range to play with. Here the flavour is a mix of soft toffee malt and vanilla, to juicy fruit and slight tartness, that styling that 8 wired excel at.

Now, for all this is sounding awesome so far, there is a very noticeable drawback that seems to have been brought in by the session style. There is a not exactly unpleasant, but not enticing unleavened bread style mid body, that becomes a harsher burnt charring at the end. It feels like a side effect of unhandled hop bitterness, kind of like the runoff from the main body. It isn’t terrible, but it doesn’t help the session style, and is far from the polished masterpiece that make up their other IPAs.

Still, it is very easy drinking for the bitterness, and it is still well done for flavour. It does the job ok, but does highlight the problem in trying to make a good session IPA, a style that is still a bit of hard sell for me.

Background: An IPA, from 8 Wired you say. On tap. Seriously I could not order my schooner fast enough. Or my 2/3 of a pint for those of you who hate the term schooner. Yeah, 8 Wired have a very good rep with me. This was drunk while chatting with friends in the midday sun outside Brewdog Bristol. I still hold that session IPA is an odd term, but that fight may be long lost. Oh, and the term for someone electronically breaking into a computer system is cracker not hacker. #stillfightingoldlinguisticbattles.

Brau Kunst Keller Mandarina IPA

Brau Kunst Keller: Mandarina IPA (Germany: IPA: 6.1% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy yellow gold. Large white mounded head.

Nose: Tangerine. Vanilla custard. Moderate hop character. Lemon sherbet. Touch of greenery.

Body: Moderate to high bitterness and hops. Grapefruit and pineapple. Madeira orange. Prickly. Light vanilla sweetness.

Finish: Tangerine. Bitter hops. Digestives. Tart lemon. Toffee malt touch.

Conclusion: Ok, this is a beer that earns its name, or probably more appropriately, a hop that earns its name. This is basically bracingly bitter hops, made manageable by … well, ok it is more tangerine than mandarin for the most part to my limited knowledge, but still very orange. Ok, I just did some research, apparently tangerine is a close cousin of mandarin – so that explains that. That is also backed by a set of tart fruit hop notes which works very well to make a very big, and yet balanced, IPA.

That is taking into account that if you put a massive weight on either end of the scale it is still balanced. Trust me, there are huge weights here.

The bitterness starts moderate and rapidly becomes large, the fruit is strong throughout – always favouring the sharp over the sweet, but with elements of both. The malt body? Well it must be in there somewhere holding the whole thing up – you don’t see much in the flavour but the beer never feels light, so it must be doing its job.

This is very nice, though, maybe, just a little bit single minded. Ok, who am I kidding? it is very single minded, but very enjoyable with it. The sharpness of the fruit is what does it – the hops of the beer feel very drying, and I have tried similar beers that ended up unpleasant because of that styling, but here the sharpness keeps you going.

This is an assault IPA, as I like to call them, less about the IBU that the lack of restraint from the malt to hold that bitterness back. This is fresh hop assault with not a thing holding back that fruit and bitterness. My kind of beer.

Background: Hmm, rate beer says 5.9% abv, my bottle says 6.1% – Who do I trust, rate beer or my lying eyes? I suspected Mandarina was a hop name, and on checking it is, and quite a new one from Germany it seems – admitted 2012, or so says the first google link I clicked. My research-fu is lazy. Anyway, picked up from Independent Spirit as a bit more of that craft burst from Germany sounded interesting. Drunk without music. Yes shocking I know.

This Is Lager
Brewdog: This. Is. Lager. (Scotland: Premium Lager: 4.7% ABV)

Visual: Pale light grain. Medium bubbled white head that leaves suds. Small amount of carbonation.

Nose: Floral. Palma violets. Vanilla. light lemon.

Body: Brown bread and soft vanilla. Soft banana and apricot. Toffee malt. Soft cake sponge. Palma violets.

Finish: Bready. Light dried apricot. Light banana and custard. Cake sponge. Light hops and pepper. Pineapple.

Conclusion: Oddly, as lagers are generally served quiet chilled, this actually needs just a bit of time to warm up. Not a lot, but chilled way down this was actively dull. Can something be actively dull? I’m going with yes. Anyway…

Then, when you let it get just a tad warmer, you get a very soft cake sponge texture, then banana starts coming out. It is very smooth as a lager, a touch of that Palma violets that I associate with bohemian pilsners, but not otherwise heavily calling to that style. Instead it seems to be a soothing rather than a crisp beer. The finish doesn’t have quite as much finesse, a bit bready and peppery, still some of the same notes but rougher done.

If you let it get closer to room temperature, late on for the beer, it gets rougher edged again, which loses a lot of the more delicate characteristics that define the beer, though in exchange you do get a more citrus character. I think the main element against the beer is the pepperyness – the main flavours are so soft that the pepper seems out of place and a bit roughshod over it.

As I seem to say a lot with Brewdog lagers, it is ok, definitely better flavour and texture than previous examples, but the offset notes that I don’t enjoy are also more present. So, both better and worse than before in different elements. It could do with maybe making the main body flavours a bit bigger against the pepper, but it is progress.

Not up their with the top German or Czech pilsners, either for crispness or flavour, it is a different take – much softer and that soft main body is nice, just not the showstealer they are looking for.

Background: Brewdog have a varied history with lagers, none have been bad, but they keep seeking for the show stealer lager. This is their latest attempt. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. Whether good or not, this seems to have been successful, I have barely seen it in stock on the Brewdog store for more than an hour so far. This was drunk in Brewdog Bristol, they were giving away free third pints as a promotion, which I bought up to 2/3rds size to make for a fair review size.

Buxton Double Axe
Buxton: Double Axe (England: IIPA: 13.6% ABV)

Visual: Hazy apricot to browned. Large off white head made of small froth bubbles. Some sediment in the glass.

Nose: Very resinous. Heather. Bitter hops. Brown bread. Shortbread. Dried apricot and pineapple.

Body: Very bitter. Golden syrup cake. Resin and hop oils. Pineapple. Apricot, and peach syrup. Slight alcohol air at the back of the throat. Lemon cakes. Kumquat.

Finish: Lots of bitterness. Buttery shortbread. Hop oils and resin. Grapefruit. Lemon cakes. Brown bread. Light spirit air.

Conclusion: I was given good advice on this one, chill it down, but let it warm a touch before drinking. It is true, there is a syrupy alcohol feel when it is chilled down, but just a small raise in temperature reins it in and lets the beer really show itself. Thanks for the heads up to the guys at Independent Spirit.

This feels like an even higher abv take on “I hardcore you“, it uses a similar intense bitterness and resinous character against a mass of sweet fruit hop flavours that boom mid body. The contrast is both intense and enjoyable, though the alcohol does come in from the back of the throat to the finish just a bit too high, and it does give a spirity air.

The fruit is really pushed mid body, emphasising the apricot and lemon cake, it saves the harsher elements for the way out. There in the finish you get the pleasurepain of very bitter notes, more an experience than discernable individual flavours.

So, a very fresh fruity mix of apricot and peach for sweetness, then pineapple and grapefruit for sharpness. Not the most original mix, but there is a reason it is a classic. The resin and hops are really fresh, and really intense – I imagine it will reduce with time, but here and now it is massive. It isn’t used as efficiently as, say “Enjoy By IPA“, but this wasn’t designed with that goal in mind.

However, as you may have noticed, I am describing this beer in relation to two of my favourite IIPAs. So is it as good as those two? Just below actually, but still pretty darn good. It’s just a touch too alcohol touched, but does give great intensity in exchange for that. It feels raw, which does give it charm, but the alcohol touch that comes with that feels unnecessary. Despite that minor flaw it is well worth a bottle.

Background: Double Axe Handle is the name of an aerial wrestling move. Not sure why the name brought that to mind, but it did. This was literally pressed into my hands by the guys at Independent Spirit. Apparently it is quite a hard one to find, therefore it was my duty to buy and review it. Good sales technique, and as you see, it worked. This is pretty damn fresh. Bottled on 19/08/2014 and drunk 01/09/2014. I think that is fresher than the Enjoy By IPA I had. Drunk while listening to the Pottymouth album by Bratmobile.

Alesmith Wee Heavy

Alesmith: Wee Heavy (USA: Scotch Ale: 10% ABV)

Visual: Dark mahogany to black. Small brown bubbled head.

Nose: Chocolate liquore and chocolate dust. Figs. Raisins, in fact, rum soaked raisins. Boozy. Brandy cream.

Body: Frothy. Shortbread. Rum soaked raisins. Figgy pudding or Christmas Pudding. Chocolate and chocolate fondue.

Finish: Bitter chocolate. Sweet red wine. Slight spice warmth. Rum soaked raisins and brandy cream.

Conclusion: Scotch Ale. Now, there is always one awesome thing about having a scotch ale. It gives me an excuse to break out the thistle glass! However, often scotch ales are not to my taste. Yet I keep returning to them. Call it indestructible optimism. Or sheer bloody mindedness. Anyway, this one is from Alesmith, and while I don’t always agree with the view that their beers are some of the best USA beers, they are generally very good. So, it was with anticipation I took my first sip, and , it is very evident – this one is coming in big and boozy.

What stands out initially is how quickly the beer froths up into a very nice chocolate fondue feel. The texture and sweetness eases off a lot of the bigger boozier elements. It does have a lot of those bigger elements to offset – rum soaked raisins, red wine, brandy cream – it is never burning, but there are a lot of warnings about the alcohol level you are taking in.

It really does taste like Christmas pudding in a lot of ways, lots of dark fruit, the brandy cream. It takes a lot of the natural Scotch ale elements and harmonises them in a way that is stronger than the sum of its parts. It doesn’t go far from the scotch ale elements, but it does them very smooth and well – even better, it doesn’t get sickly, which is one of the common failings for the style.

Because I am not the biggest fan of the style, and it does play it fairly straight, I merely find it a very good beer rather than a great beer. However considering my bias against the style, I think that bodes very well for fans of the style.

So, very enjoyable, and, trust me, it is a beer than can compete with anything you drink before it. I have had it before at the end of a session and it never suffers for it. A well crafted show of the style.

Background: DOCTOR WHO DAY! This was drunk while waiting for the second Doctor Who episode to be available on Iplayer. As you can probably guess from the glasses in shot, this was drunk with friends, who declined doing a guest tasting. Which makes me sad. I have drunk this before, shared with groups in bars, but never got around to reviewing. It’s always been near the end of a session as well, so I was never sure if I was giving it a fair crack of the whip. Oh, also, I picked this up from Brewdog’s Guest beer selection. Because it is a nice selection.

Horizon Tokyo Black

Nøgne ø: Mikkeller: Brewdog: Horizon Tokyo Black (Norway: Imperial Stout: 16% ABV)

Visual: Black. Grey dust over it in the centre, and brown bubbles at the edges.

Nose: Real bitter chocolate. Real roasted nuts. Sour dough. Resin. Alcohol touch.

Body: Cherries. Chocolate liquore. Black cherry. Jelly babies. Bitter cocoa. Sugar cane. Orange liquore. Toasted tea cakes.

Finish: Bitter chocolate and milky coffee. Cream. Nuts. Alcohol air.

Conclusion: I was expecting to be mainly making jokes about this being a superfluous review, having already reviewed a different version of this. However, it turns out this is pretty different. This is heavier and darker, with more bitter flavours. It has some of the big sweetness, especially mid body where you get lots of fruit and jelly babies, but top end and tail it is much more raw bitter cocoa and coffee. It still had that noticeable alcohol air, but I think the heavier bitter emphasis helps offset that an makers for a better beer.

Here the sweetness mid body is a treat, not a sugar shock and, while it grow over time, the heavier sweetness doesn’t hit until the end when it is more manageable.

Overall this is a lovely imperial stout, like its Brewdog predecessor it could probably do with some time in a cellar to let the alcohol air lighten a little (I have tested with the Brewdog version, it works – two years in it was smooth as silky and lovely)

So a big gun of a beer, a bit alcohol touched, but apart from that a lovely mix of dark bitter chocolate and coffee, toasted tea cakes, dark fruit and jelly babies. Even better at 25ml it is the perfect size for beer of this strength. Now both versions of this beer I have had are excellent, but I will give the nod to the Nøgne ø version this time.

Which, considering my massive Brewdog bias, is saying something.

Background: Some of you may be thinking “Hold on, haven’t you revived this before?” In which case can I be the first to say … holy shit you have a good memory. I have reviewed the Brewdog version of this, which has slightly different abv This is the Nøgne ø version, so I thought it would be interesting to compare the two. Anyway, broke this open with a bit of “Rise Against”, because I finally pulled my thumb out and picked up one of their CDs.

Alchemist Melgian Tripel

Alchemy: Melgian Tripel (Scotland: Abbey Trippel: 9.5% ABV)

Visual: Mahogany touched gold. Thin dash of off white islands for a head. Still and clear of main body.

Nose: Hard boiled sweets and candyfloss. Strawberry sweets and soft banana sweets. Brown sugar.

Body: Caramelised sugar. Crème brulee. Pear drops. Fruity esters. Brown bread. Vanilla slice. Treacle.

Finish: Crème brulee. Candyfloss. Brown sugar. Hard boiled sweets. Bready. Banana chews.

Conclusion: OK, i will put my hands up and confess that for the dubbel and tripel styles I am massively biased towards the common rough edged diamond Belgian take on the style as opposed to the smoother craft wave interpretation. This, therefore, grabs my affections early on by its very evident rough edged sweet flavours. The texture is smooth, but the flavour isn’t afraid to leave a few unpolished edges.

It is very sweet, more so than the Belgian takes, and while it does have the same nice funky yeast and esters, it doesn’t use them as heavily so doesn’t have as much contrast to give it the counter balance it needs.

Still, saying that, I am slowly getting more pear drops now. Admittedly pear drops, dropped in treacle and coated in banana chews, but it is that kind of flavour mash up that I love from the style. The big sweetness you get from the brown sugar and crème brulee make for a backbone which it uses as a base for exploding into more subtle elements.

Over time that pear drop style gets bigger and bigger until it finally becomes the proper contrast the beer needs, and it is in the final third of the beer that is where it finally shines. It manages to both show respect to the style and bring its own quirks.

So, it has flaws, it is a bit too sweet, but it does give you a rough edged ride with green fruit against dessert and hard sweets in exchange. Which is awesome.

I am wondering how it will age now. Probably well, though I fear it would smooth the rough edges too much and lose some charm. You can’t tell until you try. As is, it ain’t perfect, but it is a joyous wee burst of a tripel.

Background: This was brewed with Melissa Cole, I thought I had encountered the name, so I did a search and she made the Thai Bo with Otley a few years back. She also does a very good beer blog, which you should check out. This was drunk while listening to a mix of some Heavens to Betsy and Grimes. I had just rewatched Peter Capaldi’s first Doctor Who episode on iplayer, so was in a right chuffed mood.

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