Category: Beer Tasting Notes

Brooklyn Black Ops

Brooklyn: Black Ops (USA: Imperial Stout: 11.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Moderate coffee brown layer on top.

Nose: Vinous. Sour grapes. Vanilla. Chocolate dust. Bourbon. Bitter chocolate. Bitter coffee. Hazelnuts. Creamy ice cream. Vanilla and chocolate. Slight chilli warmth.

Body: Hazelnuts. Caramel. Frothy. Bitter chocolate. Molasses. Vanilla toffee. Grape and white wine notes. Sour cream. Light black cherry.

Finish: Coffee. Chocolate ice cream. Hazelnuts. Vanilla. Toffee. Bitter chocolate. White wine.

Conclusion: Yes, I am blasé. Very blasé when it comes to Imperial Stouts, but despite that Brooklyn’s Black Chocolate Stout holds a place in my heart. No it isn’t perfect, yes it is boozy, but it is just so damn earnest. Rough as a badger’s arsehole at times, but such a kick of flavour.

Anyway, that’s a review for another time – I bring it up as I was expecting the base of this beer to be roughly similar, instead this thing is smooth as silk. Froths up easily and feels very easygoing for 11.5% abv. In fact it has an almost ice cream or milkshake chocolate character in both feel and taste. There’s a big bitter chocolate flavour that comes in after as well, mixing luxury chocolate with that cheap guilty joy of thick unhealthy milkshakes.

The bourbon notes in this are actually quite subtle, it comes across more as vinous, white wine like notes than anything I would usually associate with bourbon. I mean there are vanilla and toffee notes, but nowhere near as heavy as I would have guessed. It gives a surprisingly fresh feel to the beer. The strange things is that the vanilla, while not a main note, can still gain an almost cloying edge near the end of the beer, not quite sure how it manages that.

It is very nice, very big, big bitterness, big roasted character and subtle oak ageing. The usual problem with beers this price comes up. For example, quality wise, this one is in the same ballpark as, say Bristol beer Factory’s Ultimate Stout, or the whisky aged variants of their Russian Imperial Stout. Those on the other hand are much cheaper and just as good. I repeat, this is nice, smooth and complex to a great degree. It is well worth trying, just be aware for the cost you can get quite a few similarly good beers.

A very chocolate, roasted and subtly oak aged beer that makes great use of its milkshake like texture. Not the best, but very complex and very nice.

Background: Didn’t think I would find this in the UK, but once again Independent Spirit of Bath came through for me. I love the bottle label text on this

“Brooklyn Black Ops does not exist. However, if it did exist, it would be a robust stout concocted by the Brooklyn brewing team under cover of secrecy and hidden from everyone else at the brewery. Supposedly, “Black Ops” was aged for four months in bourbon barrels, bottled flat, and re-fermented with Champagne yeast, creating big chocolate and coffee flavors with a rich underpinning of vanilla-like oak notes. They say it’s vanishingly rare. We have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Anyway, that pretty much explains what it is. This was drunk with friends, while being very amused at my friends’ confusion on playing Antichamber for the first time. Oh that game is a complete brain fuck.

Neither Imperial IPA

Siren: Cigar City: Grassroots: Neither Imperial IPA (England: IIPA: 8.3% ABV)

Visual: Yellow to orange. Large sudded yellow to white head and some sediment in the body.

Nose: Pink grapefruit. Pineapple. Fluffy hops. Custard cream biscuits. Rhubarb. Tangerine.

Body: Grounded bitterness. Slightly earthy. Rhubarb and gooseberry. Light raspberry. Tangerine. Creamy feel. Vanilla and toffee. Grapefruit. Strawberry notes. Honey.

Finish: Earthy hops. Soil. Robust bitterness. Gooseberry. Malt chocolate. Raspberry notes. Light toffee. Honey.

Conclusion: Hmm, odd one this. Reminds me a bit of Shiga Kogen SOBA. It has a similar texture and those rhubarb like notes. It has that slightly thicker creamy texture that makes the earthy bitterness used here a bit more grounded and clinging.

Contrasting that earthy bitterness in the finish the main hop usage is fresh. (No and I don’t mean in a 1980’s slang fashion..ok, ok, well that as well, but that wasn’t my first intent). It has slight tart pink grapefruit and rhubarb. This element comes through clean as a whistle in the aroma, but the more grounded feel of the body calms the hop freshness, turning it into a dessert like mix with creamy and toffee notes. Less sharp, more rounded. The finish then feels old school English IPA in its slight soil character, pushing the tartness to the edges. You also get a discernable honey element that can be discovered early on in the beer, even if it never becomes a front note – more just increasing the sweetness to make up for the reduced malt.

I’m mixed in my opinion, the variety is impressive, the contrast interesting and frankly works better than most beers that try to mix earthy and sharp characters, so in that they have done good. That earthy finish though is just a tad too heavy, it doesn’t leave you appreciating what came before as much as it tramples upon it.

Still, interesting up until that point and so I will not linger too much on it, much as it is a notable flaw. The rest of the beer shows a mix of styles from American IPA aroma, hybrid body and English IPA finish. The hybrid body is where it peaks as the best of both worlds, and so it does earn its place as a beer to enjoy. So despite the flaw it is well made enough and interesting enough to be worth it.

Great aroma and body. Crap finish. It does enough to pull beyond that.

Background: Siren, upcoming UK Brewery, Cigar City, USA Legend. Grassroot. I dunno, I’ll have to look into them. Anyway, put it together and I just had to grab this Imperial IPA. Yes Imperial IPA, it still counts to round off IPA week. This is made with the adjunct corn which is usually avoided by most brewers – here used in a call back to early post prohibition ales. Also honey, because, well, honey. Drunk while listening to “Gold Teeth” by Scroobius Pip vs Dan Le Sac.


Brewdog: IPA Is Dead: Kohatu (Scotland; IPA: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Gold. Overripe banana yellow bubbled head, some carbonation to the body.

Nose: Passion fruit. Eggplant. Peppery. Purple peppers. Moderate hop character. Dried apricot. Big feel. Toffee malt.

Body: Big bitterness and good hops. Peppery. Kumquat. Tangerine and dried apricot. Elderberry. Passion fruit. Light toffee. Crisp feel. Jolly ranchers.

Finish: Hops and bitterness. Sour grapes. Elderberry. Pepper. Watermelon in a jolly ranchers style.

Conclusion: Fruit-damn-punch (all one word). Damn, it really is fruit punch. If anything shows how much the malt level of this years IID fades into the background it is this thing. This is nigh pure fruit hops.

The aroma is wonderfully pungent and full of lovely dry textured fruit (Can an aroma have a texture? For now I am saying yes, but don’t hold me to that). The body has that same crisp style that was so evident in Comet and so it almost seems to light in feel, the beer just doesn’t seem to grip at all. However this somehow manages not to impact the flavour which comes in just wonderful, like a blend of crushed fruit jolly ranchers and bitter hops, in a punch bowl, a pepper punch bowl. One day my reviews will make sense in their analogies. Honestly, just ya know, not today.

I mentioned pepper as the beer is just slightly peppery, an odd contrast to the fruit for the rest of the experience. Overall the hop feels like one that would be a great late boil to dry hop addition. It has a great aroma and great fruit characteristics. The beer itself? Well as a hop demonstration the thinner malt body works well, as a beer in itself it could do with just a touch more grip I feel. Therefore how well the beer works really depends on which of the two elements you find more important.

Anyway, this is basically jolly ranchers the beer, and thinner body or not, that is cool.

Background: So, we have the New Zealand entry into this years single hop IPA range. I do love a good NZ hop, they just feels so fresh and bright. This was drunk while listening to a good chunk of the * meets metal series of youtube. Because they are metal. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. This is..erm I think day 5 of IPA WEEK!

Derail Ale

Box Steam: Derail Ale (England; IPA: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Clear gold. Small white head and some carbonation.

Nose: Lightly tart. Elderberry. Hops with a light earthy character. Malt chocolate drinks into choc orange into orange skin.

Body: Bitter hops. Vanilla toffee. Apples. Doughnuts. Greenery middle. Elderberry. Pepper.

Finish: Earthy hops and cider apples. Slight nettles prickle. Slight sour dough. Cheesecake. Peppery. Vanilla toffee.

Conclusion: Either my palette has changed over the years or this beer has changed over the years. Or maybe both. That is always possible.

This comes in more malt orientated than most IPAs, the vanilla toffee middle is very evident and makes for a solid, if not overly exciting base. What seems to have altered over the years is the hop usage. In the early days I remember it being very earthy hop dominated, and for all it has changed I will admit the element is still present in the finish.

It now has other elements coming in around the edge – a mix of elderberry and tart cider apple freshening up and slightly adding tartness to the beer. The beer feels cleaner in implementation as well, allowing more subtle notes like the peppery character to come out. The pepper and apples elements mix to give a surprisingly spritzy character and a refreshing middle to the beer before you reach the earthy finish.

Also the apples mix with the toffee malt base to give a toffee apple feel which is a nice additional element. As an example of the style it is not too great, but as a beer itself it is nicely thirst quenching and tasty. It does feel like a beer playing it a bit safe, there is no big hops or bitterness. It actually feels a bit more like a higher hopped ESB than anything else, but it does satisfy.

A noble thirst quencher.

Background: Rate beer lists this as an ESB. The bottle calls it an IPA. This is IPA week. I tend to go with what the brewers say, so despite my comments in the review, I’m going with IPA for style listing. So, DAY 4 OF IPA (and sod ratebeer when it says otherwise) WEEK. This was a gift from my friend Sharon. Many thanks. I have the greatest friends. I’ve had this in bottle and tap many a time over the years but never got around to reviewing it, IPA week seemed the perfect time to rectify that. This was drunk while listening to a bit of “Plan B”…mainly Ill Manors admittedly but still.

IPA Is Dead Comet

Brewdog: IPA Is Dead: Comet (Scotland: IPA : 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Gold. Some carbonation and a slightly browned/off white medium bubbled head.

Nose: Apricot. Pepper. Resinous. Palma violets.

Body: Bubble gum. Pepper. Apricot. Bitter but low prickly hop feel. Vanilla. Light toffee. Light strawberry notes. Pineapple.

Finish: Peppery. Some greenery. Bitter. Hop oils. Palma violets. Vanilla. Light strawberry. Pineapple.

Conclusion: This feels like one of the “noble” hops, I don’t know if it actually is but it feels that way. Anyway, that makes it feel like a good entry point to examine the new IID run for 2014 after the weak showing last year.

The malt backing is more discrete this time showing itself in light vanilla and toffee notes, mostly though it seems to get out of the way and lets the hops do the walking. Some of this can be attributed to the mouthfeel, somewhat crisper and less thick than in years before.

The hop itself comes in quite resinous and hop oil filled, the bitterness comes in quite cleanly with only a low level, slightly prickly, hop character. In fact, clean is a good way to describe the feel of the hop overall. The elements are all very smooth edged and delivered in such a way that they are all clearly distinct.

There are a few fruit notes involved but they are generally understated, instead predominately you get a kind of palma violets ambient aura to the whole thing. Again, this element is very cleanly and clearly delivered.

The style of the hop does mean that this isn’t the most fascinating beer I have tried, but it does lend slightly lager like drinkability to a heavy bitterness and hop oiled beer. So, very drinkable and it seems a good hop example, but not the greatest of IPAs. Does bode well for future entries in the series though.

Background: Last year’s IPA Is Dead series was somewhat lacklustre to say the least. From a bit of research I thought this was USA hop and apparently originally it was, but looking at Brewdogs site informs me this is from a resurgence of the hop in Germany. IPA Is Dead is a range of single hop beers, each year 4 beer same made with the same recipe, with only the hop used changing. As a hop fan and a fan of seeing what goes into beer I always find this a fun experiment. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. This is Day 3(ish) of (kindof) IPA WEEK!


Bevog: Kramah IPA (Austria: IPA: 7% ABV)

Visual; Just slightly hazy peach. Large sudded off white head that leaves lace.

Nose: Dried apricot. Wood chip dust. Bitter hops. Nettles. Dry malt. Coffee remains.

Body: Gherkin. Solid bitterness and hops. Apricot. Cucumber. Tart apples. Slight sour notes. Vanilla. Sour dough. Orange chocolate malt drinks touch.

Finish: Dry bitterness and such growling hops. Cider. Slight tartness. Granite and hops. Sour dough. Malt drink. Dry coffee remains.

Conclusion: There is a lot of images on the beer’s label that reflects the nature of the beer itself. No, not the greenery at the back, I mean the utter disjointed monster up front. There are a lot of big elements to this beer but none of them seem to match together in any way.

There is sour dough, gherkins, tart elements and many other elements that are unusual for an IPA. Also it is slightly cloying and has this out of place dried coffee remains flavour, though that does go up against the big brash bitter hops that you would expect. There are also some dried fruit notes from the hops, but less than you would expect. None of these elements mesh or complement each other, and so they do not come together into a coherent tale to tell. It all leads to a beer that, while you can drink it, you don’t really enjoy it, it never settles into a groove.

While the coffee like elements are bitter it isn’t really IPA style bitterness, it reminds me a touch of Mikkeller Koppi IPA, another beer that I didn’t get into too much. I am starting to think that coffee and IPAs just shouldn’t mix – the two bitterness types don’t complement each other. I’m normally one for odd things, but here I feel it needs more traditional fruity hop character. In fact a lot of elements from the coffee notes, to the choc orange all feel like they would better complement a different style.

So, yeah, disjointed, the elements clash and too dried coffee heavy. I cannot really recommend this IPA. While it is definitely interesting, in fact almost fascinating, it just isn’t one I enjoy. Very different to most IPAs but for once that is not a good thing.

Background: When I reviewed Bevog’s pale I got two kinds of responses. People who agreed whole heartedly and said most of the range was equally as mediocre, and people who said I had to at least try the IPA as it was awesome. I am an eternal optimist so I decided to give it one more try. So once again I hit the trusted Independent Spirit and grabbed a bottle to try. Oh and this is IPA (more than a) WEEK DAY 2!.

Madness IPA

Wild Beer Co: Madness IPA (England: IPA: 6.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale hazy gold. Large white to yellow mounded bubbles.

Nose: Pineapple. Hops. Apricot syrup. Custard cream biscuits.

Body: Bitter. Huge hops. Pineapple. Gooseberry. Digestives. Grapefruit. Prickly. Apricot. Dense feel.

Finish: Shortbread. Huge hops. Bitterness. Granite. Pineapple. Passion fruit.

Conclusion: I tried this back when it was first released, back in late 2012, back then it had a very dense, slightly soured taste that reminded me of the very traditional take on English IPAs. By traditional I mean the real old school beasts not the low abv low hop fests that got called traditional for a while. Anyway, over the past 18 months I’ve revisited it a few times on bottle and keg and each time has been better than the last, developing into a very NZ tart citrus hop bomb while still keeping that thick dense mouthfeel that made it stand out.

A very fresh beer now, it absolutely belts the bitterness out of the park and the flavours glitter along the roof of your mouth. The dense feel is yeasty and everything blooms up and then sharpens into focus as you drink it.

If it has a flaw it is that it isn’t a beer that changes much as you drink it. That fresh hop burst you get in the first mouthful is exactly the same hop burst that you get in the last gulp. Then again that is a tasty burst so it is both its strength and its flaw.

While it is the same in style for each gulp, it does change in style between each times I have bought it, I presume as they tinker with the recipe, and I keep coming back to it to see how it is going. A great wake up call of an IPA, a great burst of bitterness, just not one you need to think about much after the first few sips.

Background: This is possibly the easiest to find Wild Beer Co drink, having turned up in Bath, Bristol, York, Bournemouth and London. Yet I have never reviewed it. UNTIL TODAY! I would happily list Wild Beer Co as the best new British brewery of the past few years, and this was one of their beers from day one, so I finally picked up a bottle from Independent Spirit for review. This was meant to be day 1 of IPA WEEK. However a bunged up nose half way through the week means that this may be more the first review of seven that take a bit longer than a week. I’ll see what I can do.

Real Ginger Ale

Kiuchi: Hitachino Nest: Real Ginger Ale (Japan: Spice Herb Vegetable: 8% ABV)

Visual: Dark hazy cherry red. Medium cinnamon to brown tight bubbled head.

Nose: Ginger. Cinnamon. Barley.

Body: Ginger. Toffee. Barley. Brown sugar. Cinnamon. Cherries. Brandy cream. Raisins.

Finish: Digestives. Ginger. Toffee. Raisins. Fruitcake.

Conclusion: This is indeed a ginger beer. A real one even. Despite the time it must have taken to hit these shores it still feels raw and fresh in its expression of the ginger. When you drink the beer warm that is pretty much all you get. Ginger. That’s it. It pretty much dominates.

Chilled down you get something similar to a British ESB or maybe a lighter interpretation of a Belgian dark ale backing it up; There is those cherries and raisins and other such dark fruit below the surface. So definitely another beer better chilled.

Man, I can remember back when I hated chilling beer, how times have changed.

Anyway, chilled I kind of dig this, a dark fruitcake and sweet brandy cream body under sharp ginger spice is a surprisingly good combination. Even with that it still isn’t the most complex of things, it still basically is an alcohol ginger beer, but they have used the extra abv to give it extra weight and depth. You can spend longer examining and enjoying it than with most of its ilk.

As it warms the ginger comes back to the fore, subsuming the more malty elements. Overall it wont convert a non ginger beer fan, but it is far more beer like than most and gives you a lot in trade for the increased abv.

Worth a try.

Background: I have joked for a while that the more simple the name of a Hitachino Nest beer, the more likely it is to be good. Pale ale and Amber ale were more fun for me than Ancient Nipponia. This then misses the chance to drop the word real and just call itself “Ginger Ale” for a better chance of success. The ideal Hitachino Nest would probably just be called “beer” or maybe would have a blank label. Anyway, this was a gift from my mate Matt – many thanks guv. This was drunk while listening to some “Hate In The Box”, you know, for cheery times.

Abstrakt AB 15

Brewdog: Abstrakt: AB 15 (Scotland: American Strong Ale: 12.8% ABV)

Visual: Very dark burgundy red. Small layer of off white head.

Nose: Trifle. Salted toffee. Liquorice. Port. Cherries. Chocolate. Fruitcake.

Body: Treacle. Salted fudge. Madeira cake, Cherries. Liquorice toffee. Liquorice. Black cherry. Dessert wine. Trifle. Shortbread. Raisins.

Finish: Raisins and cherries. Rum soaked. Salted toffee. Vanilla slice. Shortbread.

Conclusion: So, salted caramel popcorn beer. Well it is definitely salted, and while I would have called fudge or toffee the sweetness is definitely in the caramel milieu. Popcorn? Well no one element really calls popcorn, but there is a dryness to the body despite the high sweetness levels, and that does give a style you could just about describe as popcorn. Maybe. So, analysis of the high concept album styling of the beer done, is it good as an actual beer?

Hmm. Very sweet and fruity as a backing to all the concept elements. OK, maybe more than just a backing, the flavour has big wine, fruitcake and fruit which makes up the real mid range of this beer. Very smooth though, the saltiness and a well used and understated liquorice gives some contrast, but there are very few harsh edges. It makes for an exceptionally sweet dessert like beer. More than anything else the mid notes come together in a trifle like fashion, fruit, alcohol, creamy and smooth.

If you let the beer get too warm the individual elements start to get a little disjointed and the beer suffers. Slightly chilled down it all integrates wonderfully. It is almost too sweet, no actually it is too sweet at times, but for the most part that salt character keeps it in check.

A bit too big and sweet but still a very flavoursome dessert beer, and as a dessert wine replacement it is a rich alternative. Very good.

Background: Every time I think beers have hit the limit of their oddness. A salt caramel popcorn ale. What does that even mean? Well in this case that it has been part aged in bourbon and rum barrels, and I dunno about the rest, if they actually used salted caramel. It wouldn’t really surprise me. Anyway ,as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. This was drunk while listening to 8 bit zoo, snooglebum. Because I am a geek. SUPERSHARK AND TINY LION!

Backwoods Bastard

Founders: Backwoods Bastard (USA: Scotch Ale: 10.2% ABV)

Visual: Dark cherry red. Moderate off white to brown head.

Nose: Shortbread. Malt chocolate. Custard slice. White wine. Alcohol soaked raisins and fruitcake. Spirity.

Body: Sherbet lemon. Toffee and vanilla. Shortbread. Rum soaked sultanas. Lime notes. Smooth. Aniseed. Red grapes. Chocolate liquore. Slight chalk.

Finish: Red grapes. Aniseed. Liquorice toffee and treacle toffee. Vanilla and bourbon. Touch of charring. Lemon meringue. Slight sour notes. Chocolate.

Conclusion: I like how the imagery and the beer itself match together here. The dark and slight rough edged notes, the hidden hints of illicit bourbon, the charming off kilter elements. It all brings to mind sheltered backwoods and their distilling inhabitants. Even the look of the beer has that dark and depth filled style. On and the fact it is a good beer is important as well.

The rough cut bourbon notes take a few moments to seek out, but are obvious when found, from the vanilla notes to the less often seen in barrel ageing expression of spicy notes in the form of aniseed. More than that it has a distinctive bourbon character feel and air, it really does show the oak ageing well.

This actually works brilliantly to offset the usual complaints I have with scotch ales. The base beer is smoothed out and give up cleanly its raisin and cherry notes. The dark fruit is offset by a light sherbet touch that adds fresh lemon and lime notes. It turns what can be often a one notes style and turns it into something expressive, indulgent and varied.

The odd thing is, you can see a lot of Dirty Bastard in here. But while I didn’t rate that, this gets all the elements just right. The mix of old ale to scotch ale feel of Dirty Bastard is smoothed so to work better together here with the sweetness matched with the bourbon spice. It all just hangs together so much better.

Very impressive, even more so for not being in what would usually be a favoured style.

Background: I’m not sure, I dislike the word Bitch, but am perfectly fine with the word Bastard. Does that make me a hypocrite or just aware of context? Anyway, I found this at independent spirit, and decided to grab it for a try. This, best I know, is basically a bourbon aged version of Dirty Bastard. Despite not being the biggest fan of Dirty Bastard, I had enough trust in Founders to give it a go. Drunk while listening to my entire music collection and posting the results to facebook. No matter how embarrassing. I must have been drunk.


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