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Container Wars

Have you ever noticed that we, the human race that is, tend to be a tribal bunch? Frankly, as statements go I would hope that to be pretty uncontroversial, yet give it time and I’m sure two sides would emerge – dug into their entrenched positions and arguing the hell out of it. Even odder the tribalism seems to be almost fractal, at every level you have smaller and smaller tribes breaking out.

Drinkers vs. Not Drinkers. Wine vs. Whisky vs. Beer. Craft Beer vs. Real Ale. Hops vs. Malt. So on and so on.

So, beer containers. They make a difference. Kegs, Casks, Cans and Bottles, plus probably others, but I’m keeping it simple(ish) here. However, for all of the fact I called this article “Container Wars” (Mainly as a geek reference to the upcoming “Combiner Wars” comics. Because I am a geek) I’d rather this not be war, more an examination of the benefits of each type.

Now I’m not a brewer, so this won’t be from the brewers side, more a set of views of someone who has drunk a hell of a lot of beers. Just a look at what seems to work better in each style – as always I happily invite feedback from people better informed than I. By necessity these sets will go by generalisations, for nearly every one I can find exceptions, but there do seem to be trends.

Casks

The old favourite, cask ale, most often hand pumped or served under gravity. For a long time cask ale was my main go to for quality ale. Well I say cask ale, cask lager is a thing, if not an overly common one. However for the most part cask and real ale are used synonymously so that is what I will be concentrating on here.

The most obvious thing with cask ales is that they have no added carbonation, and are served at cellar temperature at the coldest. Because of this I find they tend to work better with more restrained hop levels, and more malt. This isn’t hard and fast, but cask ale seems very good at having flavours last and linger on, due to texture, lack of carbonation and warmth. Hops give great flavour but large amounts tend to get sticky in a way that the other types don’t and so can wear out their welcome quicker.

The main advantage I find with cask ales is the merging of flavours, cask ales tend to allow the flavours to mix together, the malt and the hops merge when used well, each aspect influencing the others. It is a great way of holding beers that are made to be well integrated and benefit from the complexity you can get from that.

Another unique aspect is the feel, a hand pulled cask ale of any type does not feel like any other kind of beer. There can be very natural characteristics to it, a slight sourness to a bitter, slight sulphur, organic elements. In a lot of the newer style beers these can seem out of place, but used well they can create a rustic feel or can be used for contrast to the other main elements.

For these reasons, the oft maligned bitters and brown ales find a natural home, there can be a slight sourness to a bitter to make it refreshing, or a very natural blending of flavours to a brown ale which cannot be easily achieved in other ways. Even style originally foreign to the storage method, such as German inspired wheat beers can find new expressions when made with cask in mind, allowing for the extra thickness and merged flavours to create Anglo German hybrids. It is the oft overlooked choice in the new wave of brewing, but there are a lot of tricks up its sleeve. It is possibly the hardest to use though – I have seen a lot of foreign beer styles made for cask with no idea of how they will alter, resulting in lacklustre beers that seem pale imitations rather than inspired new twists. Also, cask ales need to be stored carefully, served when just right, and used quickly before they go off – at every point there is a lot that can go wrong, and cask ale with a yeast infection excessive acidity seems an ever present risk in bars without the knowledge on how to handle them.

Kegs

For years the maligned cousin of cask, now keg is standing up on its own two feet here in the UK, inspired by the USA craft beers the keg has become the beloved choice of much of the new wave of brewing in the past few years.

Kegs tend to produce sharper clearer defined flavours, there is little of the merging that you see with cask, instead each element seems to stand by itself. This can be great for where you want each element to stand alone, but not if you want the elements to complement each other more closely. Most tellingly this can be seen with hop bitterness – in the same beer tried side by side from cask and keg, the keg beer will often seem a brasher hop punch. With stouts and dark ales the chocolate and coffee notes will be clearer. This is not to say that keg ales cannot be complex, far from it, but there is less intermingling between elements, you can often sense where the malt ends and the hops begins far more easily.

As indicated before, the chilled character and carbonation often allows keg ales to play with bigger flavours that would become overwhelming in cask. This is part of the reason, I feel, why IPA beers are so popular in keg. That and they rock. Of course keg beers play a big part around the world, and a lot of beers styles around the world are native to keg and so find that as their natural habitat.

While I am concentrating on ales here, and while cask lager is a thing, I would be remiss in not pointing out that for most of the world keg is the native home of lagers – that the carbonation works to make the crisp refreshing beers that have far more flavours that the bland mass market examples back home are shamed by. Experience in Prague tells me similarly that the bottled and keg lagers show very different characteristics, which deserve to be examined, but I do not feel qualified to do so at this point. Also, while non pasturised and unfiltered beers is required for casks ales, some keg ales also can non pasturised and unfiltered, and generally are superior like that – though I have not done enough exact comparisons to say exactly what differences are, just that they tend to be cloudier and fuller flavoured.

While not as complex to keep as casks, kegs have their own quirks. Carbonation is one such issue, many pubs that are unused to craft ales seem to over carbonate their beers, resulting in Fosters like soda stream effects. In American various pubs even boasted about the exact gas mix in their carbonation – not something I could speak on myself, but you can tell a distinct difference between a well carbonated and overly carbonated beer.

Container Wars 2

Bottles

Bottles, or as I call it – 90% of the home drinking selection (though probably not market which I’m guessing may be dominated by cans). Real ale in a bottle is a thing here in the UK, and of the two take home containers I’m guessing only bottles could handle that. I would guess it is do to the fermentation in the bottle, which would not work well in a canned container. As of such the bottle market is the place to be for your real ales you would otherwise encounter in casks.

However they are definitely not just cask ales – for better and worse. Let’s face it, Trappist ales, Hefeweissens, Lambics and IPAs all come bottled, some with bottle fermentation, some without.

I think that opportunity for secondary fermentation is possibly its biggest advantage though, unique to bottles, and bottles can also be sized up – with larger bottles allegedly being better for some long term cellaring. Bottles do seem to be the go to for beers to be aged.

What happens to a beer when bottled depends on what it would otherwise be – real ale styled seem to come through smoother than their cask brothers, which can benefit some ales – they tend to have that smooth intermingled flavours, but just a touch better defined, and a lot of the beers with a wide range of hops and malts in the ingredients seem more easy to express in the bottled versions, where the cask versions can seem muddy as they try and mix too many elements. Bristol Beer Factory’s Vintage Ales are a good example of this – the wide range of elements used really don’t come through in cask, but are much better defined in bottle, without losing the ability of malt and hops to merge and benefit each other. Bottles do lose that unique feel and flavours that seem to come with cask though.

Beers that would come from keg instead tend to lose that freshness, but at the trade off of controlled carbonation levels. In each case it seems to be a compromise between the parent containers. I would say that keg oriented beers in bottles seem to differ less than their cask counterparts, hewing more closely to the parent container.

Even this is a very incomplete description. Bottled trappist ales often have secondary fermentation while I presume the keg versions do not, the trends of the UK beer scene does not map well to the wider world. However it is the beer scene within which I am most familiar, so I hope you will forgive the somewhat UKcentric view of this piece. Perhaps after more beer travelling I may return with more views of the fine beers from around the world and how they compare.

Cans

Cans were, for a long time, considered lowest of the low. Real ales that got mutilated for cans were nearly always crap. The canned lager availability was also poor. So we thought cans were the issue, not the beer that was in them.

We were, of course, wrong.

Cans have turned out as the take home younger sibling of the keg era, the recyclable metal container of the craft beer wave. The keg is therefore most definitely the closest cousin for flavour comparisons. They have similar more distinct clear elements, as of all the containers I’m guessing this would handle fermentation in the container worse. I’m not sure it is currently possible with cans. I could be wrong, but I feel their entirely sealed nature would be a pressure nightmare for additional fermentation. However this sealed nature is also cans advantage. No light, less ways for the beer to spoil. Hopped beers are preserved very crisply in cans, which is what has made them beloved of the craft scene.

So IPAs, APAs and the like come out very similarly to kegs with the can diversions, very crisp hops, very clear defined flavours. Stouts and the like don’t seem that different, and possibly psychosomaticly the bottle versions seem to be more complex. Pale beers seem to be the cans friends and their raison d’etre. They are, however, the least well examined so far of the four so I have a lot to learn on them.

Growler

You may notice I am studiously ignoring growlers up to this point, but before I go they do deserve a slight mention. Just starting to show up on the UK for the past few years, they have been a solid entry in the USA for a long time. The thing is, for flavour, they seem the weakest entry to me. As soon as they are filled you have a risk of air contact (newer technology seems to be working on this issue) – If you drink over the next few days it should not be an issue, but in every case, you are taking keg or cask beer and adding an additional element of potential infection. On the other hand they are the only way to get those beers home with you, so they have a place – but you will never get an equivalent or better experience than a fresh pulled pint.

Final Thoughts

No you can’t carry beer in thoughts. Yet. I am working on it. Though there is an argument that the beer only truly exists in our mind, so maybe, anyway I digress. Any thoughts? I’m sure many of us have had different experiences, and those of you with a bit more hands experience on the production side can add a lot. let me know what you think, and until next time…

– Enjoy your beer!

Michael at Wiper and True Tap Takeover Beer Emporium

Hey everyone, sorry updates have been irregular, one of those weeks. The ever great Wiper and True did a tap takeover at the Beer Emporium and I got a chance to try a bunch of their beers, as well as chat with Michael of Wiper and True (Many thanks for the info and for the photo). No notes unfortunately, so I’ll do a quick summary as they were very interesting.

Wiper and True beers seem to handle cask and keg better than bottle, nearly every beer I’ve tried of theirs works just slightly better on tap. Milk Shake was there on cask, thicker and as such living up much better to its namesake. they had a new recipe Sorachi Ace IPA which I beg them to keep as the recipe, it was spot on, with more sweetness than before and excellent expression of the hop character. As a Sorachi Ace nut I may have drank more of that than I should that night.

They had Ella Amber Ale on – I’ve run into this one a few times – Ella is quickly becoming another favourite hop and it matches well with the Amber Ale, which seems to be a style that W&T really have a handle on. I’ll try and grab full notes some time as it is really fresh and fruity. To prove the point they also had a Rye and Citra Amber Ale which was even fresher and with wonderful feel. Seriously, if you see a Wiper and True Amber Ale try it, they have a rock solid record on these.

For something even more special they had a single keg of Sour Cherry on keg – tasting like a sour porter with cherries it was an excellent smooth and fruity nightcap. All in all a seriously good night. One Wiper and True member even took to serving behind the bar to really give the beer the personal touch.

Anyway, more notes, and hopefully a full article up next week. Enjoy your beer!

Boston Beer Co Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection Stony Brook Red

Boston Beer Co: Samuel Adams: Barrel Room Collection: Stony Brook Red (USA: Sour Ale: 9% ABV)

Visual: Dark black cherry red. Browned thin bubbled moderate sized head.

Nose: Acidic apple. Vanilla bourbon notes. Malt chocolate. Dry oak. Port soaked raisins. Figs. Strawberry and red cherries. Shortbread.

Body: Figs. Bitter back. Chocolate syrup. Oak. Spicy mulled wine. Toasted teacakes. Red cherries. Chocolate cake. Brown bread. Sultanas.

Finish: Red wine. Raisins. Mulled spice and spiced orange. Acidic apple. Vanilla. Oats. Chocolate drops and chocolate cake.

Conclusion: I like to describe those shifting odd flavours found in tart and acidic beers as “almost holographic flavours” – talking about the fact that they seem like an illusion caused by the tongue’s response to the mix of the acidity and the base beer.

Oddly this has those flavours despite the fact that the beer isn’t that tart or acidic. Well it is a little, but generally whatever harshness it had has been mellowed by the barrel ageing – yet still it somehow has a magnificent range of those holographic feeling flavours.

Initially acidic apple seems the main course to this beer, but after a while you realise a slightly bitter chocolate cake is the solid core that has been marked by drying oak ageing. Then from that core the fruit and tartness seep out into the outer edges.

What seeps out is brilliant dark fruit, full of figs, vinous red wine and raisins – that dark fruits mix gives the beer a real depth. The acidic apple that seemed so prominent early on floats above it all adding acidic freshness to what would otherwise be a heavy beer.

The oak ageing works here nigh perfectly, adding toasted teacake flavours, vanilla notes and smoothing everything together. It gives a cask ale style feel with the intermingling flavours, which makes it wonderful to dissect and examine.

So a very mellow sour red ale, but still with a lot of life that would come with the sharper and more challenging elements that make the style stand out. It walks a thin line between accessibility and quality and marks well in both. A lovely toasted texture, just enough sharpness and a rock solid core. Very much worth getting.

Background: Samuel Adams rarities are getting easier to find in the UK, though not hugely so. Thus Independent Spirit brought through a few cases of their Barrel Aged selection and I grabbed this one, what seems to be a Flemish style red that has been aged in Bourbon barrels. Drunk with friends, this has a surprisingly easy to get out cork. Which I appreciate. Oh, also how cool is the bottle shape? – kind of like a telescope – I may be easily pleased but that is just fun.

Weird Beard Sadako Ardbeg Barrel Aged

Weird Beard: Sadako (貞子): Ardbeg Barrel Aged (England: Imperial Stout: 9.2% ABV)

Visual: Black. Thick creamy brown head of half a cm size.

Nose: Chocolate. Iodine. Beef slices. Peat and smoke. Brown bread.

Body: Thick. Brown bread. Charring. Iodine. Drying salt. Greenery. Sour dough. Some malt chocolate behind. Meaty back.

Finish: Brown bread. Smoke. Drying. Bitter chocolate. Salt and rocks. Sour dough. Iodine.

Conclusion: When you have a cask as booming as Ardbeg, you really need a big beer to go against it for cask ageing. For a case of it being done right check out De Molen’s Hemel & Aarde Octomore Barrel Aged (Yes I am aware that Octomore is from Bruichladdich – I’m just comparing intense whisky casks).

This, well oddly it tastes more Laphroaig than Ardbeg to my eyes – possibly because the barrel ageing only lets the harsher and more medicinal elements through, without the weight of the base whisky to contrast. Ardbeg was always a peaty beast, and you get that here, but it never was as medicinal as Laphroaig, which is why this is such a surprise.

The aroma is sheer quality Ardbeg, with the depth that entails, but the body comes in more as an assault of medicinal, salt iodine and the like. As I say, very Laphroaig. The feel backing it is a thick bready character – a heavy texture but flavour wise it feels quite neutral as a base for the whisky influence to work from. As it warms you do get a much needed peat meatiness that comes out, the whisky aging now giving it the backing it needs.

Now, you may notice at this point I’m talking a lot about the whisky influence but very little about the beer influence. There is a reason for that. The beer is damn near killed here – on the finish there is some bitter chocolate, and all throughout there is some sough dough, but generally? The beer just can’t compete.

Overall it is a hell of an experience, but not overly a great beer. For Ardbeg and Laphroaig fans this may mix things up a bit for you by delivering flavour but in a thicker, longing lasting experience.

For most everyone else – it just doesn’t gain much from the beer side of the equation. Just backing Ardbeg with brown bread. Meh I guess, it definitely shows the Islay style, but doesn’t add anything to it. Ah well.

Background: I tried to guess this thing’s translation without looking – I failed. I recognised the second Kanji as “Child” so, knowing this is a barrel aged beer, guessed it may be barrel or oak child. Then I found out there was a non barrel aged version so that screwed up that idea. Anyway, turns out Sadako is a women’s name, with literal translation of Chaste Child. In my defence I really haven’t needed to know the Japanese letter for “chaste” much in my use of Japanese. I’m fairly sure it is also the name of the antagonist ghost in “The Ring” but I may be wrong in that. Anyway, yes Ardbeg aged – Ardbeg is one of the heaviest duty Islay whiskys, so this should be interesting. Drunk while listening to early era Slipknot. No mocking me, I was a kid when I got into them and I like to listen and reminisce sometimes. This beer was grabbed from Independent Spirit. Incidentally, wax on bottles of beer was amusing for while, now so many beers have it that it just gets annoying. Stop putting tests between me and my beer damnit.

Hohenthanner Holzhacker Hefe-Weisse Dunkel

Hohenthanner: Holzhacker Hefe-Weisse Dunkel (Germany: Dunkelweizen: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Ruddy brown. Large brown bubble mound head.

Nose: Cinnamon. Carrot. Coriander. Wheat. Malt chocolate. Light spicy nutmeg.

Body: Blood orange zest. Nutmeg. Wheaty. Light bitterness. Nutty. Sweet malt chocolate. Carrot and coriander.

Finish: Fresh lemon sharp note. Low bitterness. Wheat. Orange peel. Nutmeg. Light toffee.

Conclusion: Often I really want to enjoy a Dunkel Weisse, I really do, but so often, instead of bringing a malt load to back up the awesome weisse flavour I end up with muddy malt shitting all over everything I enjoy in a wheat beer.

Bit of an ominous start to a tasting note, no?

However, be not put off all ye intrepid beer hunters, this is one of the good ones. I think this is one of the few situations I can say no, no this is “one of the good ones” without it coming across as massively racist.

Anyway, cleverly this takes the citrus weisse flavours, but instead of that easily muddled lighter flavours you instead get strong blood orange, for the spice you get coriander and nutmeg – the elements are familiar but tweaked so to kick against the larger malt background.

Speaking of the malt back, it is a nice mix of soothing nuttiness and sweet malt, with that slight roughness of wheat character. It keeps the refreshing nature of a wheat beer, but gives a bit of a grip for the darker malt beer lover.

Another interesting quirk is a slight call to Belgian wit with a carrot and coriander set of notes, not heavily but it gives a more rustic rounding which both gives range and a balance against the fresher notes.

Overall a solid Dunkel weizen, different, rounded and making good use of both the dunkel and the weizen. A good effort in an oft ill handled style.

Background: I had to look up how to spell that. I am really, really bad at reading German lettering it seems. I haven’t had a good dunkelweizen for a while, so grabbed this from Independent Spirit when I saw it. Drunk while listening to a violin version of the Attack On Titan theme. No prizes for guessing what I’m obsessed with currently.

Three Floyds Mikkeller Hvedegoop

Three Floyds: Mikkeller: Hvedegoop (USA: Barley Wine: 10.4% ABV)

Visual: Mahogany red. About half an inch of browned forth. Hazy body.

Nose: Cinnamon. Tangerine. Wheaty. Chocolate malt drinks. Toffee. Pineapple. Glacier cherries.

Body: Cherries. Malt drinks. Tangerine and white grapes. Light hop character. Light wheat thickness. Light bitterness. Some milky coffee. Lemon.

Finish: Moderate bitterness and hops. Toffee and malt drinks. Shredded wheat. Slight rocky touch. Light bitter coffee. Lemon touch.

Conclusion: Wheat wine. Sounds awesome. Unfortunately this is not quite the half way point between a hefeweizen and barley wine that those words call up. We could but hope.

Instead this is a fairly solid barley wine a like with a slightly thicker wheat influenced texture, though it does have slight lemon fresh characteristics like a good weisse.

The flavour leans towards the more hopped USA interpretations of a barley wine, almost all the expected elements of that are here – Bright citrus going from tart orange to grape and pineapple. beneath that is an oddly unsweet barley wine, more malt drinks or at times milky coffee rather than the more usual big syrup sweetness.

There is still some sweetness, but less than you would expect – possibly this is from the wheat, giving less residual sugar that a pure malted barley drink, but that is just a guess. I have no idea if that is how it works.

It’s a pretty solid beer, quite attenuated – the malt base tastes closer to the way I would expect an APA to be, with hop flavours closer to an IPA, and a texture like a weisse. It is an odd wee mix.

So, yes a solid barley (wheat) wine style. If this had more than just the lemon hints to the wheat then this could have been special, then again I don’t know if a true half hefe half barley wine is even possible. As is there are no regrets to drinking this beer, the attenuation is not my scene – and that is the main flaw to my mind, but overall it does not disappoint with big flavour and a lot to experience.

Background: The *goop series! A bunch of kind of barley wines, but brewed with a different adjunct. This one I did not think I would get hold of, a wheat wine from the early days of the series. I’m guessing they did another batch as it has started turning up again. The series has been pretty good so far, with some stand out entries, so I was looking forwards to this. Picked up from Independent Spirit. Drunk while listening to some Alanis Morissette – used to be a huge fan as a kid, still stands up in my old age – a bit more chilled than my usual far.

Wild Beer Co Bibble

Wild Beer Co: Bibble (England: Session IPA : 4.2% ABV)

Visual: Reddened amber. Thin white dust of a head. Cloudy. Leaves lace.

Nose: White grapes and hops. Malt drinks. Dried apricot.

Body: Moderate bitterness and hops. Malt drinks. White grapes. Cream. Big apricot. Slight sherbet meets cream feel.

Finish: Malt drinks. Good citrus hops and bitterness. Kiwi. Key lime pie. Light lemon sherbet. Apricot. Grapes. Pineapple.

Conclusion: Keg vs cask, the eternal debate. Well, I say eternal, its only really been a debate in the UK for about five years at a guess. Keg before that really didn’t have very many defenders due to the poor quality beers it was used for, but I digress.

Anyway, the reason I bring it up is that I’ve tried this a few times on cask before and it is great fun. Maybe not an all time best, but definitely a go to for a night’s session drinking.

So, review kit in hand I encounter it on keg, and it shows a very different character here, if still recognisable as the same base beer. So, this will be part the usual tasting notes and part comparison of how the two versions hold up.

First up, let this warm a bit – the cooled down character in a keg kills the best elements – It made me think that this was intended first as a cask ale, though the fact they are releasing this soon in cans does make me reconsider that. Here it is a crisp beer with good green fruit flavours and a moderate bitterness.

An interesting element, and one that holds over from a more pronounced expression in the cask’s version, is a slight creaminess to the beer. Here it is only a side note but an interesting one, in the cask it really mixed with the fruit to create a very solid base for the beer. Here the crisper nature seems to mean that the malt base is more evident as a separate component – the blended nature of the cask shows off the combined elements to better effect.

The hops are a tasty mix of kiwi, grapes, pineapple and the like – a bright and fresh expression as benefits the advantage of a keg. Here they are used as a fine wake up call, the keg was more soothing in its flavours – though in both they are backed by a big apricot sweetness.

So, here you get a slightly over malt emphasised beer but with a nicely done set of hop flavours, in cask you instead get a relaxing well balanced beer that slips down nicely and indulges you as it does so. So I would say, in keg – not bad – but on cask well worth hunting out for a night’s enjoyment. Like that it is definitely a beer that doesn’t get dull.

Background: Bibble! Seriously, why do I never have my review kit around when this is on tap. Or did I anyway, now I have got notes on this. This is brewed with Vienna malts and oats along with Amarillo and Mosaic hops. Found on keg at Brewdog Bristol, the day after they had a Wild Beer Co tap takeover.

Black Metal Brewery Yggdrasil

Black Metal Brewery: Yggdrasil (Scotland: IPA: 6.6% ABV)

Visual: hazy toffee to brown. Yellow to toffee creamy bubbled head that leaves suds. Moderate carbonation.

Nose: Toffee and custard. Mild gingerbread. Dried dates.

Body: Greenery. Dry digestives. Solid bitterness. Slightly dry overall. Toffee and vanilla custard. Kumquat. Hop oils.

Finish: Moderate bitterness and hops. Shortbread. Light granite touch. Light toffee. Dry. Light malt drinks. Kiwi hint.

Conclusion: Sometimes an average beer is kind of the hardest one to write about. Well, that was one way of giving away the end of the notes, wasn’t it? Ok, let’s see what I can make of this.

This seems similar to many American Pale Ales in that it feels quite heavily attenuated. There is a dryness to it, and the sweetness, while there, is not exactly overt. The abv and hop level says IPA, but if I had gone in blind I think I could have been forgiven for guessing APA.

The hops, as indicated above, are more intense than the average APA, and is probably the part that most says IPA – there is a solid bitterness to this, probably more notable because of the lack of an equivalent level of the sweetness. The hop character seems to be primarily simple bitterness and hop oils. There is a kind of kiwi and kumquat surrounding but that settles into the background quickly, leaving the forefront less interesting.

So, what you get is a pretty dry toffee back, a moderate but unopposed bitterness, and some not well defined rounding flavours.

*shrugs* It’s drinkable, kind of a third British Pale Ale, a third American Pale, and a third IPA. That should be an interesting mix, but ends up not really being so.

Well, I have talked about it for a while now, it’s ok but – when you get down to it, in this age we are spoiled for availability of good to great beers. I can’t really see much room for a merely ok beer like this.

Background: Ok, I admit it. I only bought this because it was from someone called “Black Metal Brewery”. Listen, the same logic led to me buying my first ever Punk IPA, so the method does have some past success. Named after a Scandinavian metal band, Yggdrasil is also the name of the world tree in Norse mythology. So, I’m fairly sure that is what the band is named after. Probably. During drinking I broke out some Svalbard to listen to. It seemed appropriate. Check them out, they are well worth a listen. Anyway, this beer was picked up from Independent Spirit. Pretend to look surprised please, for me.

Miltonduff 10

Miltonduff: 10 (Scottish Speyside Single malt Whisky: 10 Year: 40% ABV)

Visual: Light gold.

Viscosity: A mix of fast and medium speed medium streaks.

Nose: Slight sulphur. Cake sponge. Heather. Coriander. Water adds oats and dried raisins.

Body: Sharp lime. Honey. Light oak. Energetic feel. Slight bready middle. Orange crème. Apple liqueur. Water smoothes and integrates elements. Some fudge comes out.

Finish: Orange liqueur. Light oak. Apple liqueur. Pepper. Water adds toffee, aniseed and a floral air.

Conclusion: This is quite the pleasant whisky – everything I had heard before trying it seemed to be damning the distillery with faint praise. So, with that in mind I was very happy to find it a pleasing experience.

It has a lot of fruit spirit and fruit liqueur flavours, sweet but without becoming syrupy. It is like a mix of sharp and creamy fruit liqueurs laid over a solid whisky template, In fact it reminds me of what would happen if those very bright flavours you often get in a make spirit managed to keep themselves present into a fully aged spirit.

Without water it is tasty but a bit over energetic which gives a slight fire to it. With water a soft toffee character rises, but more importantly the fire softens and the characters integrate together creating a very bright and cheery whisky.

I think what ties it together is the solid middle. The touch of sulphur in the aroma seemed out of place to me, but in the body it became a thickness, along with the bready character, which provides not so much a flavour, but instead a stability of character under the sweet elements.

It is a remarkably cheery whisky, easy to drink and a joy to do so. It I may fear to damn it with faint criticism, it does not do anything really to make it a stand out whisky – no fine polish or unique character. However it is a joy to drink for a night – I would guess anyway – I may have to test the theory with a larger bottle some time.

Background: Last of the set of miniatures I grabbed from The Whisky Exchange, a set I had grabbed to try sample whiskys from distilleries I had yet to do notes on. This one was drunk while listening to Rise Against: Endgame. Yes, recent comments in reviews made me return to more albums with “against” in the name.

Wild Beer Co Hanging Bat Blackfriars Nanban Yadōkai

Wild Beer Co: Hanging Bat: Blackfriars: Nanban: Yadōkai (England: Speciality Grain Saison: 13% ABV)

Visual: Clear still apple juice.

Nose: Apple juice. Alcoholic raspberry trifle. Sake. Shaken up bag of liquorice allsorts. Light toffee. Fresh apples.

Body: Apple juice. Sake(Nihonshu). Shoochuu. Earthy base. Grapes. Vanilla. Toffee. Coriander and carrot. Bright raspberry pavlova. Apricot. Thick. White chocolate. Rye. Pancakes.

Finish: Banana. Shoochuu. Liquorice. Apple. Carrot. Raspberry spirit. Seaweed wrap. Lemon. Dry white wine. Dried apricot. Pepper.

Conclusions: Oh my, very interesting indeed. I’ve had issues with high abv saisons before (yes, best I have heard this is, at its base a saison). I have found them either too light, or the inverse, too alcohol touched. This beer is weird as fuck, but awesome.

This has very little of your traditional saison character – a slight rustic base and coriander notes, but the strength of it gives a far more viscous feel. While sake is listed as the inspiration for the beer, and that is very true for the flavours, I find the viscous feel puts me much more in mind of another Japanese spirit – Shoochuu.

It all works though – you get good quality sake flavours from both dry and fruity sakes. It many ways I can see calls to the sake I tried at the Sake Jam hotel in Kyoto, and that was fine quality stuff.

That isn’t the main element though – what you have lying under that is a very Wild Beer co apple cider calling to styled beer, matched with an almost liquorice allsorts and earthy base, bringing in contrasting vanilla and toffee sweetness with the higher abv.

The thickness really makes it hang together, the extra weight and Shoochuu style does give it a rough edge at times but, for me, I will happily take extra rough edges for extra complexity – and sometimes I even prefer a rough edged over polished charm as long as it can justify it.

So what do we end up with? A remarkable beer, to say the least, with tons of layers to examine. There is definite umami, with seaweed wrap notes showing up in the finish, plenty of nihonsu and shoochuu flavours of all kinds over a sweet and yet somewhat saison based beer – it is utterly different to most beers out there.

It’s abv makes it one to share, but its character in not dull even by the end of a shared bottle, if it was lower abv I could keep examine its intricacies for ages. If you can, try it, this beer is worth it.

Background: Ok where to start? Readers of my blog probably know Wild Beer co by know. Hanging Bat is a very new brew group I don’t know much about. Nanban is the masterchef winner Tim Anderson, and Blackfriars is a restaurant … I think. When I first saw “nanban” I thought it translated as “what number?” which seemed an odd choice, but then I realised there may be other readings as I was only seeing the hiragana, not the kanji. A quick search revealed that it can translate as “southern barbarian” which was the term for the first arriving Europeans, which makes more sense. Yadōkai was a term for a set of mischievous monks – a quick google indicates there is quite an interesting background to this, which I may have to look into later. The beer is made with flaked rice, saison yeast, sea buckthorn, yuzu juice, and two types of seaweed. Whew. This was shared with friends as we chatted and discussed the flavours. Bought at Independent Spirit, if you hadn’t guessed.

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