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Boston Beer Co Samuel Adams Barrel Room Collection New World

Boston Beer Co: Samuel Adams: Barrel Room Collection: New World (USA: Abbey Tripel: 10% ABV)

Visual: Deep overripe banana to gold. Thin white dash for a head.

Nose: Resin. Light aniseed. Caramelised brown sugar. Passion fruit. White pepper. Watermelon jolly ranchers. Golden syrup cake.

Body: White pepper. Frothy lemon sherbet taste and feel. Slightly sour grapes – both red and white. Brown sugar. Peach. Candyfloss. Hop oils. Syrup texture at back. Banoffee and vanilla.

Finish: Red grapes. Madeira cake. Slick hop oils. Blackpool rock. Banana.

Conclusion: Ok, first impressions – this is balanced nicely. It is smooth like a lot of the American takes on the Abbey Tripel, but has just enough genuine rough edges to remind me of my preferred Belgian take on the whole thing.

I think it is partially the raw sugar feel on the sweet side of things, and the pepper character behind it all. The little spark of sugar gives the impression of being a little unrefined, and a little less attenuated than it could be- while the pepper adds a little kick to the end. Both give it the charm it needs to not feel over polished.

I’m not getting a huge amount of obvious elements from the oak, I mean there is sweetness, but it is a Tripel that is expected, that is kind of a no duh. It is smooth, but yeah, it is an American take on Belgian beer, that is also a no duh. I’m sure the oak will have had its influence, but I couldn’t say what without having access to the unaged version to compare.

There is a large chunk of tropical fruitiness, though it feels somewhat more artificial than what you would usually get with the hops – it could be the slightly syrupy backing, it makes it feel like hard sweets rather than the more natural take which would have suited the beer more.

It is an impressive beer, maybe a bit too sweet – the artificial feel hurts it a bit but the mix of tropical fruit, rough edged tripel and spice strikes a rounded and impressive balance.

Not the best, but very solid, and the mix of character means it is not just a clone of what the Belgians do, but neither does it forget its roots. A very bright fruit tripel, rough edged but too sweet. Still well worth a try.

Background: I very much enjoyed my first experience with the Barrel Room Collection, so I decided to grab another one from the range from Independent Spirit. This one is a take on the abbey tripel style, and was shared with friends.

Stone Baird Ishii Japanese Green Tea IPA 2015

Stone: Baird: Ishii: Japanese Green Tea IPA 2015 (USA: IIPA: 10.1% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow. Inch of creamy head. Some carbonation.

Nose: Minty. Pinecones. Pineapple. (Ok, yes, high quality green tea) Wet rope. Ice cream and chives.

Body: Apricot. Moss. Good hop oils and bitterness. Tannins. Green tea. Mandarins. Vanilla fudge. Slight frothy thickness. Palma violets. Acrid bitter core.

Finish: Peppermint. Hops. Hop oils and good bitterness. Green tea. Tannins. Tea bags.

Conclusion: Ok, I am very aware that for, say, seventy percent of the people reading this me just saying “this tastes like quality freshly made green tea” will not actually be that helpful. Even though it totally does. Me saying “This even tastes like that green tea I had in a garden in Tokyo” would be even less helpful, mainly because I didn’t specify which garden. It would also be true though. It was awesome.

So I will try to use other comparisons, so to attempt to be vaguely helpful. Because I am nice.

Ok, initially, as I took my first sniffs of the aroma I was wondering if I was getting slight psychosomatic influence on the whole green tea thing. There was this kind of we rope aroma, a real thick rope, like you use in PE class, along with a greenery with some mint notes over a more standard resinous IIPA base. Nice, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was imagining things.

The body helped set me right. It has that froth green tea feel somehow, along with the greenery and tannins. The hop bitterness backs it nicely so you don’t just have alcoholic green tea. The hop bitterness is met and raised by the more acrid, herbal tea bitterness at the core. While less obvious there are other elements of the IPA base there. The sweetness is drier than usual, more fudge than toffee, and there is hop fruitiness, but very subtly so. Its more a matter of pushing enough contrast to end up emphasising the green tea.

The finish closes off the image perfectly, a kind of mix of peppermint and hop oils along with green tea. Again, I am surprised at how well this works – the green tea is given pretty much free rein, but the hop oils, resins and bitterness mix with it to make this very much a beer and very much an IPA.

This is a unique beer, to my experience, and one of the best tea based beers I have encountered. It really shows all that tea and hop bitterness, and the difference between the two – while using them together to create a distinct IPA experience. Probably the only flaw is it is too heavy duty to have too often, there is very little softening the beer.

So, not an anytime beer, but one you should try – well as long as you like bitterness, and not just hop bitterness – but it is a delight and great beer alchemy. It doesn’t quite get the favourite tag, only as it is a beer for rare occasions, but on those rare occasions – seriously it is one you should experience.

Background: Ok, I’m a fair fan of Japan, and did enjoy the green tea when I was over there – especially when we got to try some of the good stuff. I’m also a huge fan if IPAs, especially the huge American style. So, yeah It was pretty much inevitable I was going to buy this when I had a chance. Picked up from Brewdog’s Guest beer selection, this is the second brew of this beer, with different hops and slightly different recipe to the first batch. Drunk while listening to Rise Against – Endgame, yes, again. I am predictable some times.

Paradox Islay

Brewdog: Paradox Islay (2015 Edition) (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 13.8% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Caramel coloured dash for a head.

Nose: Smoke. Iodine. Salt. Tar. Brown sugar. Toasted tea cakes. Fresh cooked brown bread.

Body: Thick. Liquorice. Tar. Molasses. Salty rocks. Peat. Toffee and fudge. Sweet chocolate liqueur.

Finish: Salt. Brown bread. Bitter chocolate. Medicinal character. Coconut.

Conclusion: Oh fuck yes. Ok, for ninety percent of the people reading this, you have probably worked out where I stand on this. Some of you may even feel you don’t have to read any further. That is ok. I may have kind of summed it up. for everyone else, let’s go.

The trick with Islay ageing, I find anyway, is making sure it doesn’t overwhelm the base beer. So, I initially found it odd that at 13.8% this is slightly lower abv than most of the Paradox range these days. Despite that the base beer still manages to rock the casbah in a big way.

There is sweet chocolate liqueur into molasses level flavour along with big toffee. This is an important thing to mentioned, as it is a miracle that it could kick hard enough to be tasted beyond the tarry, medicinal beast that is the Islay influence.

If you like the heavier end of Islay then it is all here, from the big aroma to the medicinal finish. If you like big imperial stouts, then it is all here, from the fresh bready opening to the bitter chocolate end.

So, basically if you like big beers, it is all here. Thick, big, yet somehow balanced. One of the best Paradoxes Brewdog have turned out, and one of the best Islay aged beers ever.

That is saying a hell of a lot, no?

Background; I was worried I had missed this one, I had tried a sip of this a few weeks ago, before I realised that it looked like this may be a keg only release. So I made sure to run back and try it properly. The Paradox range is Brewdog’s Imperial Stout aged in an almost silly range of varied casks over the years – it started at 10%, is now 15%, yet this release comes in at an unusual 13.8% – not sure why. Drunk at Brewdog Bristol – as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers.

Brewdog Pilot Brew 003

Brewdog: Pilot Brew 003 (Scotland: IPA: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Bronzed gold. Slightly hazy. Off white dash of a head and some carbonation to the body.

Nose: Stewed apricot and pineapple.

Body: Passion fruit. Pineapple. Toffee and caramel. Eggplant. Turmeric. Creamy but bitter – like hop ice cream? Light strawberry.

Finish: Pepper. Rye crackers. Spicy. Just slightly dry. Cumin. Purple peppers. A good level of hop bitterness. Shortbread. Lemon. Touch of candyfloss sweetness.

Conclusion: Rye is an interesting ingredient in beer, to my eyes at least. It can add so much with so little, adding spice and body or it can be used as the main punch of the beer dominating the character.

Here it is used to add a bit of backing to a big IPA. there are (as is expected by this point) a ton of hop fruit flavours, tons of sweet toffee malt character. Despite the rye they haven’t skimped on the base sweetness and it provides big base for the sweet and tart fruit that mix above it, with a growing level of bitterness. The sweetness is less so in the finish, but still it occasionally glows with a kind of candy floss light touch. It definitely uses a standard but high quality IPA as the base but here it is backed with a touch of pepper and warming spice, into a touch of rye crackers’ dryness in the finish.

There is a touch thicker body than usual, a creaminess that mixed with the hop oils to make an almost hop ice cream effect. You really get the grip for the oils and flavours. and I need to get better grip on beer similes.

There is even a vegetable savoury character, one that seems to be a common Simcoe hop element, and here it works as a grounding that works as a stepping stone between the sweet malt and fruit, and the rye spice. It comes between them easing you from one element to the next, without it seeming a too sharp transition.

Overall a complex IPA with a lot of range, without deviating too far from standard IPA expectations. It has a lot of character as it mixes the smooth base with the rye spice – the warmth of which acts as a warning in place of any alcohol burn. It isn’t radically different, which is about the biggest flaw I can pick, but it is a rock solid beer and well worth taking forwards from the pilot batch. Just a touch more to give it a more distinct identity and this is a winner.

Background: Huh, guess I haven’t been to Brewdog Bristol as much as normal – they have got to pilot brew three without me noticing. I’m slacking. This is a rye IPA, made with Citra, Amarillo and Simcoe hops and apparently about 85% malt. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beer.

So, just under a year ago I did a map of all the breweries and distilleries I had tried, and I’ve been updating it ever now and then. So, nearly a year on and…

Not as much has changed as I had expected

I’ve got a bit of the Czech Republic and Poland covered now, though they deserve a lot more attention. Poland especially. A tad more tried from Sweden, Denmark, etc, but not hugely so. Guess I’m slowly creeping around various parts of Europe.

I think it can probably be attributed to two things

1) The British beer scene boom – we have been getting vast numbers of new breweries in Britain, and with a couple of excellent bottle shops in reasonable distance to me it is very easy to try them. It wasn’t like we were lacking for breweries before, but we are getting a lot more experimentation going and different styles in recent years.

2) The availability of the big names – for brewers outside of Britain, it is easier than ever to get hold of beers, but we do seem to get just a lot of the big names. I’m not complaining, we are getting Mikkeller, Boston Beer Co, Stone, Cantillon, De Struise – all great names, and lots of great beers are being tried, just not adding much variety to the map. It really is first world problems. “Oh no, I’m only getting some of the really well reputed beer – woe is me.” Guess I am never quite so happy as when I’m hunting down the completely new to me.

Unfortunately the planned Germany run has fallen through for now, so I won’t be adding a nice chunk to Germany as hoped for, but I have other travel plans which may fill some of the blank space in the coming year. Oh yes.

Apart from that – well Scotland is getting even busier, between the aforementioned beer scene breakout, and my attempt to hunt down the distilleries I had yet to try, that place is covered with new markers.

All in all a good year, but not the most varied. The craft beer scene here seems to have found the breakout names, especially with foreign beers, and tend to stick with them. While the beer list for a pub can not be predicted easily, often what breweries will be there can. May have to do some hunting further afield in the coming year to see what else is out there.

Until then, enjoy your drink!

Girardin Gueuze Black Label

Girardin: Gueuze Black Label (Belgium: Lambic Gueuze: 5% ABV)

Visual: Hazy deep gold. Thin dash of off white head.

Nose: Horse blankets. Lemon. Dried apricots. Nuts.

Body: White wine. A mix of stewed and dried apricot. Sharp. Alpen cereal. Charred oak. Dried banana hints. Grapefruit juice.

Finish: Raisins. Dry white wine. Drying feel. Muesli. Charred oak. grapefruit. Lemon.

Conclusion: I remember not being too partial to the filtered “White Label” version of this. I remember it tasting like a charred oak core and overall a too harsh drying and generally unwelcoming beer. And not in a good way.

Well this still has the charred core, and it is still a bit harsh in that element – for me at least. However here that core is wrapped in a tart fruity blanker, and that makes all the difference.

It still has a drying white wine feel at times, but above that it has this lovely tart grapefruit juice feel that is much more common, and sparks this beer to life. More than that you have stewed and dried apricot mixing that gives a sweet relief from the heavier elements.

That fruit flavour seems almost like the new wave, new world hopped takes on the lambic concept – but here it is backed by a solid traditional lambic with a real almost oaty centre, and that unusual feel you only get with a lambic and that combination is great.

There are still a few rough notes at the core, but in some way that is part of the charm of the style – those uncontrollable edges. Despite the rough edges, and the fact it is such a wide ranging lambic, it is very easy to drink – and comparatively easy to approach for newcomers.

It feels slightly thicker than most lambics as well, most of them don’t grip that much, with close to dry white wine feel – but here there is an actual viscous core despite the dryness. This beer is definitely worth a try for anyone from a seasoned veteran to newcomer, and each will be rewarded in a slightly different way by the experience.

A good beer then.

Background: One of “100 Belgian Beers To Try Before You Die” – I nearly passed this one by, as the white label (filtered) version of this didn’t appeal to me. however unfiltered beers can make a big difference so I grabbed a bottle from Independent Spirit to give it a try. Lambics are odd beers, and it took me a long time to get a handle on them – they are made with ambient yeast in the environment, and create quite sharp and acidic beers. Drunk while listening to more Against Me!. Because they are awesome.

Bristol Beer Festival 2015

Malt Musings: I’m Not Bitter, and Neither Are Fucking They.

Few weeks back I hit the CAMRA Bristol Beer Festival for the first time. It is slightly crazy that thing, it sells out remarkably fast and had insane queues for the early tickets. So, I tried it for the first time and…well it is pretty much similar to most fests, a big bunch of beers, but not much else. In fact a lot of the issues I listed with the Bath festival back in 2009 are still present in festivals today, which is a pity.

But that is not what I’m talking about today – what got me was when I saw a beer – that listed IPA in its name, was categorised as a bitter by the label on the cask. They knew IPAs existed, other beers were marked as IPA, but this one was not. So my friend and I started perusing. Basically it seemed any beer they were unsure about was listed as a bitter, no matter how little it matched that category. The term “Golden Ale” did not appear once best I could tell, despite a couple seeming to fit that nicely – most tellingly Oakham’s Dolphin Dance, No sign of an American Pale Ale, probably therefore shoved under bitter as well.

On dark beers they did better, Stouts, Porters, Milds and Black IPAs all get their turn. Lighter beers – fuck it, probably a bitter.

Maybe most of them were bitters, I didn’t try all of the beers, but based on the blatantly misidentified beers I did see I am wondering, At a beer festival, a collection of massive beer geeks – labelling a beer called “IPA” as an IPA should not be too much to ask. I know there is often debate over the lines of various beer styles, but this seemed to just be half arsing it.

When you have fifty, a hundred, or more beers to choose from, basic information like that is vital to help you make a choice at a glance. The guide book they gave you did better, but still this is basic stuff here. Lots of people don’t like bitters – and, at a glance, there were very few beers for them to enjoy it seemed. Because so many beers seem to be mistyped.

Help people enjoy beer. You are a beer festival. It is pretty much your entire purpose.

Please.

Wild Beer Co Tom Yum Gose

Wild Beer Co: Tom Yum Gose (England: Gose: 4% ABV)

Visual: Reddened to amber. Thin off white dash for a head.

Nose: Ginger. Salted bread. Touch of sulphur.

Body: Dry. Ginger and paprika. Sour dough. Unleavened bread. Warming. Sharp lime behind. Fizzes heavily in the mouth.

Finish: Paprika and pepper. Salt water. Warming. Carrots. Light lime.

Conclusion: Gose experimentation time again. When I say experimentation, well, this is one hell of an experiment. Unfortunately it seems the hypothesis being tested is “Will I enjoy this” and the result is “not overly, no”.

These tests were rigorously conducted. I plucked eyeballs from two people before starting, so it is a double blind test. That is how it works. Science that is. So my findings cannot be disputed. That is also how science works. Wikipedia will agree with me as soon as I get around to editing it.

Anyway, there is a very heavy ginger flavour to this, and accompany spices, and they really dominate the game. I’m sure that there may be more going on in this beer, possible even a lot – I mean the list of ingredients is impressive – but as your mouth recovers from the warmth all you really get is salted water with squeezed lime. So, overall, salted water filled with chilli power and a single squeezed lime then. Not really something I would recommend having as a drink. I’ve not had the soup it is inspired by so I can’t speak for accuracy, but I hope it has something to give it a bit more body, as that is what this feels like it needs, a bit more in the middle for the other elements to add the heat to.

Very oddly this beer feels fizzy, not initially, but held in the mouth I could hear it fizzing against my teeth vigorously. Again interesting, but not really what suited the beer.

Now, I will admit I have been umming and ahhing about the gose style overall in my recent experiments with it, but they all encouraged me to try more – this didn’t. then again this is really not standard for a gose best I can tell.

I’m not taken by it I am afraid – it really feels like spice dumped into a beer not ready to handle it. A rare swing and miss from Wild beer Company.

Background: Gose hunt 2015 continues! Oddly, apparently a USA brewery called Tomoka makes a beer with exactly the same name. Even for the odd style that is the salted sour wheat ale thing that is gose, this is double odd. Made with chilli, galangal, lemongrass, coriander, kaffir lime and lime zest – this is an attempt to make a beer like an old soup recipe. Craft beer, ya have to love it. Drunk while listening to Against Me!, who I may never get bored of.

Brewdog Restorative Beverage For Invalids And Convalescents

Brewdog: Restorative Beverage For Invalids And Convalescents (Scotland: IIPA: 8.7% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow to gold. Large white bubbled head. Clear body with some carbonation.

Nose: Pineapple. Hops. Resin. Strawberry. Toffee. Peach. Digestives. Lots of hop oils.

Body: Dry. High bitterness. Peach. Digestives. Pineapple. Shortbread. Sugar dusting. Toffee touch. Peach. Lots of hops. Strawberry. Bubblegum. Lemongrass.

Finish: Bitter. Big hops. Apricot. Lager like characteristics in feel. Slightly gritty. Charring. Bubblegum. yeast extract.

Conclusion: Like Ruination IPA, oh so many years ago, this is not as harsh as I expected. This probably says more about me than it does of the beer. The description on the bottle promises something brutal, instead we get?

Well it doesn’t lie when it describes it as “Dry”. This is dry, and I would guess from that, that it is very highly attenuated – and it is that character that gives the bitterness some kick. Some says I, the master of understatement. However for all they say “Screw any semblance of balance”, there is, quite thankfully, balance. It just doesn’t come from the expected place. There is some small malt sweetness, but mainly you get real fruity sweetness from the hops which make it dangerously drinkable.

Still, this is a big and bitter beer – lots of resin, hops and hop oils. The aroma has an almost cannabis touch, such is the influence of the raw hops. The dryness makes it almost lager crisp and clean bodied – there is nothing to get in the way of the hop character – this is especially noticeable in the finish, which comes in just slightly gritty. Thankfully due to the weight of flavour it doesn’t ruin the beer, instead just emphasises a rough edge, without being dominated by it.

The hop flavours are the main game then, since the malt sweetness is restrained, as well as more expected pineapple and peach, there are more unusual notes. A slight strawberry, not huge but there. There is a much bigger character of lemongrass – not what I would expect from the hop choice listed but in blends in excellent with the resin and natural hop character. The whole range works very well together, creating a lively but grounded experience.

So, you have restrained sweetness, good level of fruit, big bitterness and huge hop character and lemongrass. It is possibly an acquired taste, but it is hellishly easy to drink. It is so very dry, but has just enough offset to keep bringing you back. If you think you can deal with the high abv, good level of bitterness, and restrain yourself from drinking it silly, then this is a great beer.

Background: As I type this up, I am down with a cold. How fucking appropriate. Anyway, as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog. Drunk while listening to Crossfire – Mainly their cover of Omen. Which is fucking awesome. I am going to go back and hide under a warm blanket again now.

Carlsberg Sverige Backyard Brew Bee 17
Carlsberg Sverige: Backyard Brew: Bee 17 (Sweden: Premium Lager: 4.7% ABV)

Visual: Clear banana skin to gold. Moderate creamy bubbled head. Low carbonation.

Nose: Soft lemon. Soft hops. Coriander spice. Palma violets. Meringue.

Body: Honey touch. Some hop character. Lemon. popcorn feel. Hop oils. Slightly bready. Reasonably thick texture. Light pepper.

Finish: Light bitterness and hop oils. Slightly gritty. Lemony. Pepper.

Conclusion: Ok, let’s deactivate craft beer snobbiness. Hmmm. This beer is ok. No seriously, it’s ok. Fairly soft, lemony feel, light spice, fairly crisp. A honey touch. Now, like their previous beer, the finish is a bit of a let down. It is a bit gritty and rough, though thankfully nowhere near as bad as the Amber Lager had it. It is just a bit of a rough ending – not nice, but no so bad that it is pissing all over the rest of the beer.

The rest of the beer is fairly standard, drinkable though not special. It puts me in mind of a rougher take on This. Is Lager. – it has the same mix of soft body and light spice. If they could work out how to ditch that rough feel, especially in the finish, then I would be able to easily recommend it as a beer for chilling out and easy drinking. Hmm, wonder how long the beer is lagered for? It feels like it is relying more on the hop character than the natural lager character, so I wonder if they are cutting corners on that aspect. I could be completely off base, it just feels like it could have done with more time to smooth and round out.

As is, well it is flawed, but still does a nice job with the soft main body braced by a higher hop and hop oil character than usual, along with a bit of noble hop spice. It is actually pretty drinkable despite its sins.

I can’t say it should be a go to, but it is a pleasant lager with a bit of hops – they just need how to work out how to put a decent finish on their beers.

Background: Again, a disclaimer – knowing this is made by the big Carlsberg group I am torn between worries that I am biased as it is a macro lager, and bias because I am overcompensating for that. hopefully I hit a happy medium. This was donated for review purposes. Drunk while listening to the Super Meat Boy Soundtrack. It has been long enough since I completed that, that I no longer shudder in memory on hearing some of the tunes. That game was hard. Also, random plug. An old friend of mine has a book out, Nemesis by Bec and N.J Pearce. Available in paper back, and super cheap Kindle edition at amazon.co.uk and amazon.com Maybe give it a look please.

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