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Port Askaig: 8 Year (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 8 Year: 45.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow with brackish green tinge. Fast thick streaks. Water makes very cloudy.

Nose: Medicinal. Reek of peat. Peppered beef slices. Peppercorn. Light salt. Water brings out more medicinal notes.

Body: Beef slices. Peat smoke. Overdone steaks. Salt. Slightly tarry. Vanilla. Golden syrup. Some alcohol weight and warmth. Water makes smoother. Adds vanilla fudge. Pears. More medicinal notes. Apricot. Light bread. Lime cordial.

Finish: Drying. Salt. Light vanilla. Tarry. Golden syrup. Apple pies. Water makes medicinal. Adds lime jelly and slight zestiness. Apricot.

Conclusion: This is a big ‘un. Yet water makes it oh so mellow. Ok, I am kind of lying my balls off there. It is not mellow, but there is a whole other subtle set of characteristics under the peat assault that only come out when you add water.

So, first of all let’s take a look at this without water. Whoa! This reeks, utterly reeks of peat. In a good way. It has huge intense smoke and smoked beef, mixed with peat, with medicinal notes in there as well. Without water a vanilla and golden syrup sweetness backs it up over time, but the rest of the intensity does not let up.

Now at this point it is not complex, but it does show the advantage of a younger spirit in keeping the peat intensity up. It is heaven for smoke fanatics, while utterly lacking in subtlety.

Then you add water.

It happens slowly – drop by watery drop. First vanilla fudge comes out, then soft lime notes, then finally sweet apricot creeps out from under the peat nest it is birthed in. What the heck even is this? Apart from delicious I mean.

Now it isn’t quite Lagavulin 16 level must have, but the range it runs with water – going from sheer assault, to still weighty but with a great range of fruit notes – well, that makes this a steal at the 40 quid ish price it goes for.

Both heavy duty Islay, and complex restrained Islay in one whisky. I advise grabbing a bottle and adding water to your preference. Very impressive.

Background: I had Port Askaig for the first time many a year ago at a whisky show. It was very nice, but I never did get around to grabbing a bottle of it for myself since. That mistake has now been rectified. Port Askig is not a distillery, but a bottling of one of the other existing Islay distilleries under the Port Askaig brand. So far quality has been very high. The most common guess of what distillery it is from is Caol Ila and Ardbeg. I have no idea. Anyway, I grabbed this from Independent Spirit and broke it open with some Karnivool to listen to – Sound Awake to be exact. Saw them as a warm up band once, and enjoyed them enough to grab the CD there and then. Pretty soothing music for background noise.

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Lervig: Toasted Maple Stout (Norway: Imperial Stout: 12 % ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Thin dash of a grey head.

Nose: Liquorice. Toasted teacakes. Vanilla.

Body: Treacle. Marshmallow. Maple syrup. Very thick. Toasted teacakes. Vanilla. Light butterscotch. Fudge. Chocolate liqueur.

Finish: Maple syrup. Liquorice and blackcurrant hard sweets. Chocolate liqueur. Vanilla. Molasses. Light charring. Bitter chocolate.

Conclusion: Ok, between this and the Barley Wine I had recently Lervig are really wooing me back into the fold. Why did I ever doubt them?

I have to admit the first impressions weren’t in its favour. While it had lovely toasted notes in the aroma they were matched and quickly overcome by masses of liquorice. As I think has been established over the years, I don’t mind liquorice in moderation, but I think when it is overused it can ruin a beer.

So, I was nervous as I went in to take the first sip aaaandd – this thing is intense! It is thick as heck, frothy and syrupy, but just about manages to not do those elements to excess. There is a toasted teacake breadiness as just a hint under the thick maple syrup and treacle notes that make up the main stay with other, softer, notes coming out over time. The vanilla beans and smoothness makes it feel like a barrel aged beer, but without the loss of intensity and weight that ageing sometimes brings

The finish bring in the heaver contrasting notes. The liquorice comes back, tied now to blackcurrant notes in a hard sweet like fashion that keeps in manageable. There is a light charring and sweeter notes that slowly fade out into bitter cocoa. That bitterness is just what is needed to keep such a heavy sweet beer manageable.

This has a very distinctive feel – half way between toasted marshmallows and toasted teacakes in a super thick beer. It has a distinctive flavour as well with the maple syrup very evident while not being too dominant. It is distinctly rewarding with huge complexity and manages to feel barrel aged but without the drawbacks.

A great beer then.

Background: Grabbed this a while back – basically saw the words “toasted” and “maple syrup”, followed by “Imperial Stout”, and grabbed it. Since I grabbed it I started becoming less enamoured with Lervig, then back totally into them again. I have been very changeable recently. Anyway, another one grabbed from Independent Spirit – not sure what is going on with the can image – looks kind of like what would happen if Mr Fantastic from the Fantastic Four burnt to death. Don’t think that was the intended imagery. Anyway, put on The Germs’ MIA compilation CD. Really stripped down punk that I got into after hearing they were an influence on Bad Religion. Pretty fun, if kind of rough sounding.

Beavertown: KCBC : Unity Makes Strength (England: Belgian Ale: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Pale, hazy peach skin to lemon colour. Moderate white mounded head.

Nose: Funky. Peanuts. Yeastie. Crusty white bread. Soft peach. Peppery. Dried banana.

Body: Peppery. Lightly milky. Good bitterness and prickly feel. Banana. Light apricot. Fluffy bready character.

Finish: Lemon. Wheaty. Peppery. Prickly. Funky yeast feel. Popcorn. Vanilla yogurt.

Conclusion: Table beers are nearly always an odd one for me to do notes on. I enjoy them for the most part, but they are intentionally a lighter beer style – both in abv and flavour ( though at 4.5% abv this actually seems like a fairly standard abv beer to me. Then again I lean old school on my views of beer strengths). Anyway, so while nice, they tend to not have much to do notes on.

So, what do we have with this one? Well, what we are looking at mainly is the yeastiness that seems to make up a good chunk of the character. It has a funky aroma, a fluffy feel in the body into the prickly hop character. It adds a level of interest to what is a comparatively Milquetoast milky middle that is the core of the beer. The yeast influence is further evident as it warm, bringing peppery flavours and light banana notes.

The rest of the flavour is much lighter – soft apricot, vanilla yogurt – quite neutral – the beer definitely relies on yeast feel and notes to rock it through. The hop prickle isn’t as light as you would imagine given all that, so the beer isn’t quite as mild as you would think – but it is far from a hop assault – more the hops’ way of keeping your taste-buds awake.

Considering the gentle main flavour this is still enjoyable. Easy going and doesn’t add any extra weight to the beer. Not a must have, keeps to the table beer style well, but is interesting enough in how it uses the yeast.

Background: After a quick google I find that KCBC is King’s County Brewer’s Collective. So now you know – a Brooklyn based brewing group. Anyway, I misread this beer’s name as Make Strength Belgian Style Table Beer on first glance, and wondered how strong it was going to be of it was “make strength”. Anyway, no, just a Belgian style table beer – though the 4.2% abv is a bit higher than I would expect of a table beer. Put on some Taiko Drumming music in the background while drinking this – haven’t seen Taiko for years – I loved the way the beats just wash over you. The CD can only capture a tiny amount of a live performance but is still good backing to drinking. This was another one grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Nick Stafford’s Hambleton Ales: Stallion Amber (England: Bitter: 4.2% ABV)

Visual: Light chestnut to gold. Clear. Moderate off white bubbled head. Small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Vanilla. Nutty. Musty sour dough.

Body: Light earthy bitterness. Fluffy mouthfeel. Lightly creamy. Palma violets. Light marmalade zestiness. Toffee. Marshmallow.

Finish: Fresh sour dough. Chives. Light earthy bitterness, that grows to moderate bitterness. Light marmalade. Very milky coffee. Marshmallow. Lightly prickly.

Conclusion: Ok, the beer I had in my hand when I first stared drinking this, and the beer I am supping on now are very different things to each other. Usually I would blame such a shift on me getting drunk while doing the notes, but since this is a moderate 4.2% ABV I think that is unlikely to be the case here.

Early on it is fairly earthy, with sour dough like notes amongst the earthiness – so a fairly standard earthy hopped British bitter dressed up in light calls to amber ale style clothing then. Then, over time it gets … creamier .. or maybe fluffier, then light marmalade notes and toffee sweetness comes out while still being nestled in the earthy bitter heart.

It feels marshmallow like in fluffiness, but without the sweetness you would associate with that. It has all the elements that make an earthy bitter work, but then a bit of extra, more unusual note such as palma violet like notes which call to more noble hop styling, and marmalade notes that give it a bit of extra pep late on.

It is definitely not a must have, but it is more than it first appears. Ok, nice progression definitely, but far from a world shaker.

Background: Nick Stafford’s Hambleton Ales – man it has been a while since I drank one of these – anyway, my family were visiting from Yorkshire so they brought down some good old northern beers for me to try. This being the first. Many thanks! I am a tad biased towards the North, but not so much as it should affect the notes. Not much to say – put on Foo Fighters – The Colour and The Shape to listen to, which had been on my mind since Scroobius Pip mentioned them in his podcast.

Lervig: Barley Wine 2017 (Norway: Barley Wine: 12.9% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Small grey-brown dash of a head.

Nose: Vanilla, liquorice and fudge. Caramelised brown sugar. Treacle. Almonds. Light strawberry.

Body: Light charring. Chocolate liqueur. Heat at the back of the throat. Chocolate toffee. Brown sugar. Toasted teacakes. Toasted marshmallow. Vanilla fudge. Light strawberry. Black cherry. Quality bourbon undertones. Sticky toffee pudding.

Finish: Sticky toffee pudding and treacle. Fudge. Liquorice. Vanilla. Toasted teacakes. Toasted marshmallows. Charred touch. Bourbon.

Conclusion: Ok this smooth. Has big flavour. Has evident but not overpowering bourbon ageing influence. Huge and rewarding range if you hold the beer on your tongue. We have here an entry for the fuck-yes-this-is-how-you-make-a-barley-wine contest. They were only allowed one word for the name of the contest so they cheated by using hyphens.

So, this is deeply sweet with sticky toffee pudding, treacle and chocolate liqueur at the base. It somehow has those very sweet flavours restrained so as not to become sickly – as would be very easy to occur with a barley wine of this type and strength.

I think that some of that restraint is due to toasted teacake undertones – bready but still slightly sweet matching but also grounding the flavours. Similarly a toasted marshmallow character gives some sweetness against light burnt notes that segue nicely into the light charred character into the finish.

All of this delicious character and I’ve not even touched on the bourbon influence yet. Early on it just shows in how damn smooth the beer is, then comes out in vanilla and fudge notes, then finally it shows in its rawest form in smooth but present actual bourbon spirit flavours – coming out as subtle elements beneath the rest of the beer.

So what downsides does it have? Well, I’m not a huge fan of liquorice notes in beer, and this does use it heavily early on , but a) it actually isn’t used half bad here and b) the liquorice notes left before they started to wear on me. Shockingly they were actually used to add to, not detract from the beer.

So, that is the worst I have to say, this is a great beer. Buy it. Drink it.

Background: I’ve had a few Lervig beers over the past year – some have been awesome, some have been ok but not stand out. I was beginning to think I was mainly grabbing them for the odd names and labels. However enough have been good that I don’t regret grabbing them. Decided to grab this to see how they do with the non hoppy beer styles – especially as this one has spent 12 months in bourbon oak. Put on Jack Off Jill – Clear Hearts, Grey Flowers – a mix of melodic, screaming, anger and sorrow in a gothic punk style. Such an awesome album.

Wiper and True: Amber Ale: Red Orange (England: Amber Ale: 4.8% ABV)

Visual: Treacle to dark brown. Only amber hints at the edges. Large browned mound of forth head.

Nose: Malt chocolate. Bright oranges. Pine needles. Passion-fruit. Grape touch,

Body: Good bitterness. Palma violets. Vanilla toffee. Mandarin orange. Prickly hops. Gooseberry. Greenery. Light resin. Pine. General oranges. White bread.

Finish: Rye crackers. Vanilla toffee. Orange crème. Menthol notes. Mint leaves. Tangerine. Chocolate dust. Pepper.

Conclusion: You know, for a beer called an Amber Ale, this is murky brown as hell on the eye. I’ve seen bike and trolley filled ponds that were easier to see through than this. Still, I can live with that as the beer tastes bloody great.

There is an odd mix of a grounded hop character, pine and resinous hops which are used as a prickly, grounded base – which then put against a real bright burst of mandarin, tangerine, and just, well, orange notes.

On taste I would say it doesn’t fit quite under what I would expect of an Amber Ale either – for all that the style definition is loose in the first place. It has IPA style hop flavour in places, and a real ale ESB style use of malts. However, whatever the hell it is, it does well. The more down to earth malt usage brings out almost rye beer style dry spice and pepper – it pushes both the bright and the grounded characteristic out as far as it can without feeling overdone for a general drinking beer – and it manages to define them very well.

Really malty, really orange hopped with mild, but solid bitterness and prickly hop character. Just a tiny touch away from being a favourite, but genuinely a beer worth a try. You don’t get something that push the grounded and the bright so well without compromising either done so well often.

Wiper and True pull out yet another really good beer.

Background: Been a while since I have done notes on Wiper and True beers -still grab them regularly on tap when out and about, just never done notes. So decided to grab one of their Amber Ales again from Independent Spirit – W&T really seem to have the nack of the Amber Ales down pat. Wiper and True are one of those great quality breweries that use kind of generic labels so it is really hard to tell at a glance if you have tried the beer before or not. Ah well, it works for The Kernel, so should work for Wiper and True. Which reminds me, not done notes of Kernel beers for ages either. Anyway, put on the electronic mathcore oddity that is “The Algorithm” while drinking this. Not to everyone’s taste but weird intricate, computer sounding music that works for me.

Cardhu: Gold Reserve (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 40% ABV)

Visual: Honeyed gold with thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Caramel. Thick. Stewed apple. Sugar dusting. Honey. Menthol touch. Cake sponge. Water brings out lemongrass.

Body: Apples. Honey. Pears. Light alcohol sheen. Cake sponge. Toffee. Water makes thinner and lightly grassy.

Finish: Honey and pears. Cinnamon. Alcohol sheen. Raisins. Water adds menthol and peppermint. Grassy. Light pear drops.

Conclusion: Huh, this is actual one of the rarest things I can encounter in drinking. A whisky where water did not improve it. That really is a rarity. In fact it really is fairly weak with water. Thankfully the base without water is pretty solid. A good thing or this would have been a right wash out of a whisky.

Neat it is fairly simple, but pretty joyous in what it does bring. It is honey struck layered over green fruit in the form of apples and pears. Feels wise it has a light alcohol sheen – not really a burn, more a hint of blended whisky style sheen. Now this is not a blended whisky, it is a single malt, so at the risk of sounding like a total whisky snob I can but attribute it to some young whisky having been used to make this no age statement whisky.

So anyway, to finish the notes I’ve gone and poured myself another measure – it is better this way – the original measure had been so thinned by the water that it had lost the bright flavours and become just a grassy, menthol touched thing. Not terrible, but kind of empty.

Now with a neat measure back in my hand it has a bunch of big flavours, a nicely thick feel – though with slightly young spirit style rough edges. The grassy and menthol notes still come out over time, but now just as backing notes.

Overall, better than my previous expedience with Cardhu – some simple, crowd pleasing notes, but rough edged. Not worth the RRP of 40 quid. At the significantly cheaper price I dropped on it – yeah , it is a simple fun whisky at that cost. Nowt special, terrible with water but an ok general drinking experience neat, with a few rough edges.

So, an ok fallback drinking whisky, but nowt special.

Background: I had tried Cardhu 12 year along while ago, and wasn’t really impressed with it – been looking for a chance to do notes on something from them recently, but was a tad nervous about investing a chunk of change into something that I may not enjoy. Thus, this no age statement which I think is one of their new core range, which was on sale cheap at Morrisons, seemed like a good chance to give them another try without breaking the bank. Being childish that I am, the fact the bottle says “The Cummings of Cardhu” in reference to its founder John Cumming, and the Cumming family who have run it since, did make me snigger. I will grow up one day. Put on a random bunch of Madness when drinking – nice light ska tunes, nowt too heavy (heavy monster sound, the nuttiest sound around..etc..etc.).

Staggeringly Good: Post Impact Porter (England: Porter: 5.4% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Large creamy brown loose bubbled head that soon has large holes in the bubbles as it collapses.

Nose: Roasted character. Light lactose. Crushed peanuts. Milky coffee. Charred oak. Slight musty brown bread. Mint leaves.

Body: Bitter coffee, with milky notes behind. Frothy feel. Bitter chocolate. Light chalk touch. Light sour cream and chives crisps. Light toffee.

Finish: Lactose. Chocolate milk. Sour cream and chive crisps. Light milky coffee, into bitter coffee.

Conclusion: This is a nicely solid porter. Now, despite the oddity of a real ale in a can, I will say – flavour wise at least – porters seem to be a style with little difference between the craft and real ale interpretations. However in the mouthfeel this definitely delivers that bit extra thickness that a real ale tends to give, so it does seem to be doing its job there.

The beer opens up in a very roasted way and keeps that a a solid layer of the character throughout. It is that base that the mix of bitter to milky coffee character works from – a kind of lactose touched element but far from as sweet as a milk stout would be. Though it does have another layer of weight behind it apart from the roasted character, an element that I am going to give up and just describe as “like sour cream and chives crisps” It is a light savoury and sour mix that really helps the feel of the beer. The nice savoury elements especially work well to give a more neutral middle between the other elements.

Overall it is solidly flavoursome – creamy with lots of coffee and chocolate notes against that savoury and roasted backing. Nothing too unusual but does the job of standard real ale porter well.

Background: OK, I bought this because it has dinosaur on the can. Can anyone fault me for that? Dinosaurs are awesome. Also if you look closely, you realise that, while the dinosaur in the picture is holding the same can it is on, its fingers are over the pictures of the can that the dinosaur on that can is holding – so to prevent infinite recursion of can images I would presume. A cleaver design choice that I approve of. Now, the can calls this real ale – it doesn’t have the CAMRA logo, but based on the experience I had when drinking it I trust them. Real ale in a can, oh what a future we live in that has such things in it. Went a bit into the past for music with this one – A best of Meat Loaf CD. While I enjoy Meatloaf, people have pointed out what I actually enjoy is Jim Steinman music as sung by Meatloaf. Which is fair. His non Steinman songs tended to be nowhere as near as good. Anyway, this was another one grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Bushmills: Steamship Collection: Port Cask (Ireland Single Malt Whiskey: 40% ABV)

Visual: Deep honeyed gold.

Nose: Brandy cream. Christmas pudding. Plums. Sweet red wine. Pencil shavings. Cake sponge. Water makes lighter and brings out almonds.

Body: Very smooth. Raisins and sultanas. Creamy toffee. Cake sponge. Malt chocolate. Dry port. Dry fudge. Light orange crème notes. Water adds sweet plums and slight grapes.

Finish: Creamy. Sultanas. Christmas pudding. Madeira cake. Vanilla toffee. Rye crackers. Malt chocolate. Light menthol touch. Orange crème notes. Slight coffee. Water adds plums.

Conclusion: This is very good indeed – it has that full, rich, port aged character, yet still manages to keep the smoothness of Bushmills, and even hints of the lighter Bushmills spirit character under the heavy dark fruit notes of the ageing. It makes for a dangerously drinkable, yet heavy flavoured mix.

Neat it is a tad closed in character, but it is still good – showing a range of raisins and sultanas character, leaning into heavy Christmas pudding notes. There is a light sponge backing and over time slight rye whisky like notes comes out with spice and light orange crème styling – these are however, just light backing notes.

Water is needed to really open it up – but only the slightest tough – this is a very easy whisky to flood and ruin. However, just a touch of water really opens it up into sweet plum notes and also lets the base Bushmills feel and light green fruit to come out to contrast the heavier flavours. More-so than neat it also becomes smoother and easier to drink.

What takes it from good, to great is the subtle heavier backing notes – starting at vanilla toffee and going into malt chocolate before ending with mild roasted coffee notes. It is a subtle weight that lets the dark fruit notes have hints of heavier backing without sacrificing the smooth and light core. The aroma also carries a lovely brandy cream note, but it doesn’t follow into the body so much.

My only disappointment with this is that it isn’t a touch higher abv – at 43-46% abv this would have has a bit more play and room to use water and that would have made it awesome – right now the water becomes too much, too quickly and doesn’t give you room to experiment. Some room to play would have made it so awesome. Still bloody good.

Background: Another hard effort trying to get hold of this one. I adored Bushmill’s 12 year Caribbean Rum cask finish many years ago and was sad to see it vanish – sadder still that Bushmills seemed to move away from unusual ageings completely for many years. Thus this Steamship collection was right up my alley – espeically since I loved their earlier Sherry edition. Both are travel exclusive so you can only find them in airport duty free areas. I saw this on the way out to China, but knew there was no way a bottle would survive my three week holiday and return home – so ever since then I have been trying to get it, to find that every duty free my mates and I hit was too small to have it in. In the end The Celtic Whiskey shop saved my hide as it looks like they got the chance to sell some of it. So I grabbed it. FINALLY! So, fully port aged Bushmills , that is a new one on me. Put on AFI, Burials while drinking this. Mainly because “I hope you suffer” is Jimmy Havoc’s entrance theme in wrestling. I am shallow.

Wild Beer Co: Dr Todd (England: Sour Ale: 9% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy apricot. Thin off white head.

Nose: Thick honey. Peat. Smoke. Salt. Ginger. Chilli air. Marmalade. Wet rocks.

Body: Heavy. Honey. Salt. Chalk. Treacle. Smoke. Dry back. Ginger. Medicinal. Crunchy medicine tablets. Brown bread.

Finish: Honey. Dry beef slices. Medicinal. Salt. Crunchy tablets.

Conclusion: Ok, I can definitely see why the drink this is based on is called Penicillin if this beer is anything to go by. Under everything is a dry note, like crunched up medicine tablets, chalk backed by a medicinal Islay note. It it wasn’t such a terrible idea to take painkillers with booze I would imagine this is what it would taste like.

Probably. I, of course, have never tested that. That would be silly. Don’t mix booze and painkillers everyone!

The other element that stands out in this beer how how strong the special ingredients used show through; There is a ton of honey, and as indicated before the Islay ageing is really obvious -from the salt to the peat smoke, to the medicinal character, it is all there. Then there is the definite ginger influence that comes though into an almost mild chilli air at some times. Subtle this thing ain’t.

So you get a real honey sweet Islay whisky poured over the corpse of a thoroughly crushed paracetamol, into a beer and you end up with this. It is definitely interesting, and actually – for all the taste goes to the harsher end of the spectrum – it is also enjoyable. Not one to have often though. It feels like it is deliberately challenging you and daring you to still enjoy it.

Now you can step up to that dare and enjoy it, and it is worth it, but it is not a general drinking beer in any shape or form. In fact this calls to the feel of an actual complex cocktail more than any other beer I have encountered – if that is a good or bad thing is up to you.

Hard to get used to, but ultimately enjoyable – however the crunched medical feel and taste is for very specific occasions only and for very specific people only.

Background: Ok, so this was inspired by the “Penicillin Cocktail”. Something I have never tried so cannot really compare it to. To give you an idea, this is made with lactose, honey, lemon, ginger and then aged in Islay whisky barrels. This sounded like the type of experimentation in beer I could get behind, so grabbed a bottle from Independent Spirit. Put on Scroobius Pip vs Dan Le Sac – Repent, Replenish, Repeat while drinking – a nicely dark edged spoken word to hip hop styled set of tunes that I though deserved returning to.

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