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Freestar: Alcohol Free Beer (England: Low alcohol: 0.0% ABV)

Visual: Clear light body, a slightly browned yellow colour to it. Small bubbled carbonation in the body and medium off white head.

Nose: Whisky distillery smell – wort mash. Fresh dough. Light strawberry. Light sulphur.

Body: Slight chalk. Slight strawberry. Slightly chemically. Dough. Brown bread. Peppery.

Finish:Medicinal air. Slight juniper berries. Peppery. Gherkin touch.

Conclusion: Ok, as mentioned in the background this won the UK beer award. This? THIS?! How? Why? I mean it isn’t Tesco value lager but I think they stopped making that so it wouldn’t have been entered recently. Did someone sneak in a can of that which they had been holding in their fridge for a few years? Is that what happened?

So, you may have guessed already I am not a fan of this.

Everything from first impressions onwards say that this feels like a beer that isn’t quite ready to be poured yet. Ok, saying feels like a “beer” is an exaggeration, but roll with me on this one. The aroma is like the wort smell that fills a distillery and some breweries – the smell of an alcoholic product being made, not one that is finished and ready to drink.

The flavour is a mix of juniper berries and other light tart flavours that reminds me of attempts at unhopped old traditional beers – yet also quite chemically and artificial feeling. Slightly chalky and rough over what should be a clean lager like mouthfeel, but is far from that.

There is a peppery grounding, but again without anything to work against it it feels rough and unfinished.

A terrible alcohol free beer, rough edges, off flavours and very unfinished. Unacceptable in this time of a renaissance of low alcohol bers.

Avoid.

Background: Clear bottle. Has hops. Hopefully not lightstruck. Anyway, saw this, an alcohol free, and I mean genuinely free 0.0% beer in Sainsbury’s. Gluten Free as well – not a big deal for me, but does affect some people. Looked into it a bit more and it is kind of not a beer in that it has never been fermented. At all. Ingredients are listed as Water, Malted Barley. Perle hops … and other natural ingredients. Well that last one is no help at fucking all. Thanks. Anyway, had apparently been United Kingdom winner for World Beer Awards. Having drunk the beer now I do wonder if the other entry was fermented spunk. Only explanation I can find. Marginally better than fermented spunk. Put that in your ads Freestar, I dare you. Anyway, went with Lamb Of God: Ashes Of The Wake again for music while drinking. Another gig lost this year to Covid19. Ah well.

Omnipollo: Konx (Sweden: low Alcohol: 0.3% ABV)

Visual: Hazy light lemon juice colour. Moderate white head.

Nose: Lightly tart. Pineapple. Squeezed lime touch. Quite clean, Traditional lemonade. Flour dusted white baps. Mango touch.

Body: Lemon. Pineapple. Fresh and clean feel. Squeezed orange. Tiny gherkin touch. Vanilla.

Finish: Lemon. Traditional lemonade. Flour touch. Squeezed orange.

Conclusion: So, for those who can’t be bothered looking at the whole page – short notes – This is traditional lemonade, if traditional lemonade was a low alcohol beer with a low bitterness that grows to growling over time.

See, concise.

Now for everyone who wants to read on – This is light on the beer element, but thankfully there are still some there. It feels more like an isotonic drink in some ways, but there is a subtle hop feel and light tart fruit flavours that similarly have a touch of the hop character.

That fruity character is the mainstay of the beer – traditional lemonade but with squeezed fruit drop flavours that give a tart fresh character behind. It makes it super refreshing over a lightly sweet vanilla base.

There is a flour like touch giving a slightly thicker mouthfeel, and late on a low bitterness gives some edge to the whole thing. All of that makes this not just a fruit juice like drink, but has some complexity to it.

While not super beer like, it is delicious and goes down so very easily. A tad too easily considering it is slightly more expensive than the usual low alcohol fare, coming from Sweden as it does – but it is still very nice.

If this was easier to get hold of and a tad cheaper I would go through it at a scary rate. Lovely mouthfeel, much fruit character and just about enough beer. Pretty impressed in general.

Background: Been heading towards low alcohol beers for a burst – noticed I’d been hitting the high abvs a bit more than normal in lockdown, so wanted to even it out a bit and give my liver a rest. This was one of the more interesting ones found. They describe it has having a hopping rate equal to their IPAs and an expressive yeast blend. Now that is the kind of stuff I say “Yes Please” to. As an import from Sweden it is a bit more expensive than your average low alcohol beer, though not incredibly so. Another one picked up from Independent Spirit. This was drunk while listening to RTJ4 – I’d not listened to Run The Jewels before, but had heard good things and they were, and I think currently still are doing pay what you want as a donation to charity for the album. So perfect time to give it a try. Oh, and Black Lives Matter. If you disagree fuck off this site is not for you.

Anyway, in less confrontational thoughts, turns out RTJ do craft beer collaborations. That is pretty cool.

Also, Black Lives Matter. Repeating for those who missed it first time.

Kees: Multi Beer: Pohjala: 4 Wheel Drive (Netherlands: Quadrupel: 10.2% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Opaque main body. A grey dash of a head.

Nose: Dry roasted nuts. Malt chocolate drinks. Brown sugar. Figs. Dried banana.

Body: Smooth, slightly creamy mouthfeel. Light cream flavour. Raisins. Plums. Brown bread. Dried banana. Hints of cloves. Malt loaf. Lightly chalky. Light strawberry touch. Milky coffee.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Brown sugar. Yeastie feel. Banoffee. Milky coffee. Malt loaf. Big chocolate late on.

Conclusion: Ohhh myyyy, this is a complex one. Smooth, despite its high abv, with hints of alcohol at its core, but clean, lightly creamy and very smooth of body. It just slips down the throat and there are no rough edges to hide the many subtleties of this beer.

Now the smoothness is a mixed blessing in my mind. Long time readers may remember I kind of like the rough edges of a big Belgian and miss them when they are gone. The big thing that makes the difference here is that it gives you a lot in return for their absence – the level of depth to this beer is amazing and a lot would be lost to those rough edges.

At its base it is all that quad goodness – malt chocolate and brown sugar – just delivered very smooth. Dark fruit come out to play from time to time, though in an odd quirk it leans into a milky coffee set of notes more heavily than expected in an almost porter way. Though it doesn’t dent the quad character.

The coffee notes aren’t the most unusual thing though – there are lots of dried banana notes under that and a touch of cloves that give a hint of a call to a weizenbock within this quad and that is very nice. It manages to mix a very Rochfort inspired quad with subtle touches from other dark beers, while still staying super smooth, all creating an epic experience.

Different that the standard quad experience, but still faithful enough and every change from expectations gives you a range of subtle extra notes that makes for a super rewarding beer.

As long as you are happy with the smoother quad than the usual Belgian take then this is a must have.

Background: Kees have been pretty epic so far, so I Was interested in a big quad from them. Then I hear it is inspired by Rochefort’s epic quad, and my interest increased. Don’t know much about the collaborators, Multi Beer and Pohjala. Multi Beer in particular is hard to google for more info, for obvious reasons. Anyway, been a while since I put on some Praxis, so feeling for some odd jazz funk electronic guitar mix I put Transmutation on for a play. This was another beer grabbed from Independent Spirit‘s online shop. I actually did these notes about a week ago, will try to get actual notes uploaded more often!

Big Drop: Paradiso Citra IPA (England: Low Alcohol: 0.5% BAV)

Visual: Clear pale yellow body. Thin white head. Lots of small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Fresh hoppy character. Vanilla. Apples. Clean. Light flour. Cake sponge.

Body: Fluffy hop feel. Medium bitterness. Slightly light mid body.

Finish: High bitterness. Good hops. Light charred feel. Vanilla. Cake sponge. Apples. Light peppermint menthol touch,

Conclusion: I have to admit that, while I was confident, before trying this I wasn’t 100% sure that it wasn’t just a rebranded version of their Citra hopped pale ale. They have been renaming and rebranding their line as they move into cans, and let’s face it, it isn’t like it has the higher abv of anything that can immediately shout IPA.

A quick sip tells me I was wrong, this is definitely an IPA. I found it pretty impressive that they made the difference between this and their pale so evident and distinct at 0.5% ABV. This is especially true when you take into account the amount of session IPAs at higher ABV that end up feeling rough hopped due to the lack of malt backing.

There is a distinct hop feel, and a solid but not harsh bitterness against a gentle vanilla backing. The low abv doesn’t seem to give enough grip for the citra hops to really fully show through but there are still some distinct apple notes top and tail. It isn’t perfect – it is a tad light and slightly towards the watery side compared to a full IPA – again it seems the abv limits how far you can push things, but it is a very easy drinking IPA if not an exceptional one. Still impressive what they manage for what they were working with.

I slightly prefer Big Drop’s Pale Ale, as that is a great pale as well as a great low abv beer. This by comparison is a decent IPA for low abv, and a great low abv beer, but could not stand up against full abv IPAs. Still, considering that one of the selling points is the high abv and what they can do with it, it is a bigger challenge, so not matching the Pale Ale is not terrible criticism.

Another great low abv beer fro the masters of that niche, Big Drop, even if it is not their best.

Background: I’ve had a lot of Big Drop’s beers – they only do low abv 0.5% beers, and as a beer nut having something that low as a go to is a life saver. Possibly literally. Their Pale Ale is one of my favourite low abv beers and a bloody good beer in its own right. I tried their citra variant of their pale ale, but I am was fairly sure this is a new beer and not just that. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to The Royal They: Foreign Being. Yes I grabbed another album off them after my last set of notes.

London Beer Factory: Zia Tiramisu Imperial Stout (England: Imperial Stout: 9.2% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Medium sized creamy brown head that doesn’t last long.

Nose: Cocoa. Cream. Chocolate dust. Tiramisu. Creamy coffee. Light liqueur touch and light alcohol. Chocolate cake.

Body: Chocolate liqueur. Alcohol prickle. Creamy coffee. Tiramisu. Honey. Cocoa dust. Lightly peppery.

Finish: Honey. Cream. Chocolate liqueur. Light pepper and bready notes. Milky coffee. Caramel.

Conclusion: Ok, this is a Tiramisu stout, that much is unmistakable. Yet it has honey notes. That was Flavourtown’s thing! Stop your beer gimmick infringement darn it!

Comparing the two actually makes for some interesting points though – so I think I’m going to follow that idea and see where it goes.

For all I started talking about the honey, as it was unexpected, this really has a lot of the tiramisu that it promised, so I will give it points for that.

Compared to the Imperial Porter of Flavourtown, this is thicker (as you would expect) with a creamier character, mixing cocoa, cream, coffee and, well, tiramisu. It isn’t solely dominated by the concept, but it definitely pushes it. It is generally sweeter and thicker, but doesn’t have any one flavour as strong as the honey was in Flavourtown, so despite being sweeter overall and having more alcohol, it feels more balanced.

It has a similar slight peppery contrast, but generally this rides heavier on the sweetness, so much so that it seems honeyed (despite the lack of any ingredient like that being used). However it never feels sickly.

Overall it feels like what a dessert stout should be – definitely a stout, definitely a dessert, and most importantly wears its beer characteristics on its sleeve. They are a few off notes, the alcohol is a tad present, and it could do with a touch more range, but generally it does exactly what it promises and is well worth a drink.

Background: I have a mixed relationship with Dessert Stouts. As an occasional treat I love them, something big, sweet, different and decadent. However sometimes they seem to overly dominate the beer scene, especially ones laden with many ingredients that overwhelm the base beer. Thus this one caught my eye, boldly boasting that “No tiramasus were hurt in the making of this beer”, and odd ingredients limited to oats and lactose from the look of it, so looked like a nice balance of dessert and beer, in theory at least. Anyway, first encounter with London Beer Factory here, and they have those completely pull off lids, which, despite being a good idea, always unnerve me for some reason. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, I went back to The Royal They’s self titled album for this. I should buy more of their albums.

Salt: The Queer Brewing Project: Flavourtown (England: Imperial Porter: 8% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Thin brown dash of bubbles instead of a head.

Nose: Fresh dough. Slight crushed bourbon biscuits. Crushed crunchies chocolate bars.

Body: Smooth chocolate fondue. Light mead. Peppery. Caramel. Clean texture and mouthfeel. Honey.

Finish: Light earthy character. Watery chocolate. Honey sheen. Caramel in a Twix bar style. Milky coffee. Sheen of choc toffee. Cocoa.

Conclusion: What makes the difference between an Imperial Porter and a higher abv stout? That is the eternal question. Technically there are style guidelines, but in practise it seems to vary wildly. In this case I would say the difference is in mouthfeel and general weight of the beer.

While this is not a light beer by any means, it is only late on that it ever starts to show the full weight of the 8% ABV and even then it is very smooth for the style. That is in mouthfeel anyway, flavour wise this booms all the way. All the way to …flavourtown. Haha. Haha.

Ha.

Anyway, this is smooth chocolate with honey and mead notes – in the finish those honeyed notes especially linger. Despite the strength and lasting flavour it doesn’t feel artificially intense or sweet, which feels a tad confusing. You have big long lasting flavours, but somehow restrained.

It has a little in the way of earthy and peppery notes, but at its core it comes in with that rich cocoa and honey, with only subtle influence from the common coffee porter notes. Despite the sweet notes it it quite dry, especially into the finish. It is odd, like a lot of the beer it feels slightly contradictory in its ways.

The beer does get thicker over time, feeling slightly honey thickened by the end – still not Imperial Stout like weight – more like a thicker mead, but so different from the start. Still not quite sure how that happened.

But, is it good? Kind of. Feels like it is honey balanced over a gentle sweet core at the start, but by the end it is honey on full blast which gets over powering. I enjoy it, but is an occasional drink, not a frequent one. Starts subtle, ends outrageously mead filled. Decent if unbalanced.

Background: The Queer Brewing Project! Cool idea, with some of the profits going to LGBTQ charities and Salt are a good brewery to match, so it was an easy choice to drive into Flavourtown! Whoop whoop! So what did they go for? An Imperial Porter made with honeycomb dust. You don’t get many Imperial Porters, possibly because of the confusion in what exactly one is, so it was an interesting one to grab from Independent Spirit. Went back to the 90s with Faithless: Reverence as backing music while drinking.

Arbor: Tiny The Welder (England: IIPA: 8.5% ABV)

Visual: Dark yellow to caramel brown body. Two inches of caramel touched frothy head that leaves suds. Body is semi clear.

Nose: Pine needles. Light vanilla custard. Pineapple. Slightly resinous hop character and bitterness. Quite clean. Fresh cake sponge. Palma violets. Creamy peach. Crushed custard cream biscuits. Jelly babies.

Body: Big bitterness. Big hop character. Light charring and sulphur. Apricot and peach. Pineapple and grapefruit. Palma violets.

Finish: Peach syrup. Good hops. Growling low level bitterness. Pineapple. Custard. Pink grapefruit. Palma violets.

Conclusion: Ohh, this is a big one. While its name is (I am 90% sure) a reference to Pliny The Elder, I get the feeling that they aren’t trying to duplicate that beer as this is a very different beast.

Whilst dry, this doesn’t skimp on the malt load. It has slightly dry vanilla and custard that gives a sweet and yet well attenuated base that allows a real growling hop bitterness to get going over it. The hops and bitterness are high but not super brutal and the sweetness mellows the heavy hops, creating a flavoursome but not harsh character.

Beyond that it teases you with sweet apricot and peach hints, in that USA, mid 2K hops way, and then BOOM pineapple and tart but not overwhelming grapefruit. Big fresh notes over that sweet malt base – the drier base really giving the flavour room to roam. Love it.

It feels like a wonderful call back to the tart hopped big bitterness double IPAs that used to be omnipresent when I was first investigating the USA craft beer scene. Lovely malt use that is just dry enough, and just slight sweetness, aided by tart fruit notes with great hop character.

I adore this one. Now I hope it sticks around, and we see more beers like this so the style makes a comeback.

Get it.

Background: A few reasons why I grabbed this one. 1) Arbor have been pretty good as of late, showing both a respect older beer styles and a willingness to experiment. 2) The name is, I am fairly sure, a pun on Pliny The Elder, the very well reputed American beer, which amused me. 3) From that pun name I was fairly sure this would be an older school take on an American IIPA, which is exactly what I was looking for at the time. I went with Bodycount: Bloodlust as music while drinking – not really linked to the beer, just really been listening to No Lives Matter and the like a lot recently. This was another beer grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Kees: #05 Anniversary (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 9.5% ABV)

Visual: Opaque black. Creamy coffee brown head.

Nose: Cocoa dust. Rich roasted coffee. Dry roasted peanuts. Sour cream.

Body: Creamy chocolate into bitter cocoa back. Sour cream and chives touch. Creamy coffee. Hazelnuts.

Finish: Creamy coffee cake. Bitter cocoa. Creamy coffee itself. Pecan pie. Crushed peanuts. Earthy, slightly peppery bitterness.

Conclusion: Ok, looking up at the notes I know that from them it sound like a fairly standard imperial stout fare. So, now I need to use this section to convince you that this is in no way a standard stout.

Ok, first up, best I can tell this has no extra special ingredients – no coffee beans, no cocoa, no barrel ageing, you get what I mean? This is just a beer. Fucking fantastic isn’t it that people still remember how to do that, right?

Because of the lack of odd ingredients I know that when this is so thick, creamy and smooth, that when it has not only a wonderful mouthfeel but also shows the abv with malt weight while never getting boozy of any alcohol harshness, that all of that is from the brewing and not from time in the oak to smooth it.

Similarly when it has bitter cocoa, rounded, rich coffee or when it brings pecan nutty notes – again that is all the work of malt, hops, yeast and water (ok, and oats, I’ll give you that one, and oats). Yet with the rewarding, well rounded and developed notes it brings in those categories it easily matches those “throw everything in the brew” style beers.

Yet that isn’t all that makes this beer great, there is a solid grounding beery earthiness and bitterness, which makes this very much feel like a beer and not just a collection of popular flavours. There is also a slight sour cream savoury touch which gives thickness and again gives a more recognisable beer nature against the richer notes.

Masterfully crafted, easily matches the bigger and fancier ingredient filled Imperial Stouts. I have drunk so many of these before I finally got around to doing notes on it and I have regretted none of them.

A wonder of an Imperial Stout.

Background: So, this is one of those beers I have bought many times, and keep drinking before I get around to doing notes on. As you may guess from the name it was brewed for Kees 5th anniversary. Shocking eh? Anyway an Imperial Stout, made with oats, but apart from that standard ingredients. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, over and overt again. Went with Rise Against: Appeal To Reason for music while drinking, took a while for this album to really grow on me, but definitely has now, even if Endgame is still my favourite Rise Against album.

Fierce: Magic Rock: Black DIPA (Scotland: Black IIPA: 8.3% AHBV)

Visual: Black. Massive chocolate froth brown coloured frothy head that leaves suds.

Nose: Roasted nuts. Chocolate dust. Slight charcoal. Bitter coffee granules. Mocha. Good hop bitterness.

Body: Good bitterness. Bitter cocoa. Slightly creamy mouth feel and taste. Kiwi fruit. Chocolate. Mild choc orange. Bitter hop character. Chilli seeds, with slight heat. Slight pineapple.

Finish: Chocolate dust. Bitter cocoa and chocolate cake. Bitter hops. Peppery. Earthy and turmeric.

Conclusion: This claims on the can to have pine, citrus and tropical notes from the hops. Not the set of words I would have picked I have to admit.

On examination there are fresher hop notes that could justify those descriptors, but they generally just put a general fresher, slightly easier drinking feel to a heavy, hoppy bitter BIPA.

The Black IPA side is quite balanced between the stouty and IPA styled notes – showing solid chocolate and roasted notes, but the bitterness feels IPA like bitterness, backed by the slightly bitter chocolate, but definitely the hops are the main bitterness maker here. A lot of BIPAs end up feeling like just a more roasted bitter hopped stout, but, in fairness to the can’s description, the fresh notes makes this definitely a Black IPA, not just a hoppy stout.

However I would say that more than those fresh notes this emphasises instead the peppery, earthy, chilli seed heat character to make it more grounded and warming. It is less showy than say, to pick a random example and definitely not just picking my favourite BIPA, Stone’s Sublimely Self Righteous Ale. This feels more like a British IPA, made into a BIPA and with just a few American hop influences showing.

There is some sweeter chocolate character to offset, some creamier notes, which are welcome against the grounded hops. It is slightly creamy in mouthfeel as well – slightly fresh in taste over that – but at its core it is bitter hops, bitter chocolate and an earthy, peppery touch.

Very solid, very well brewed. Could do with more of the lighter notes it claims, but still a solid grounded BIPA. I wish there were more BIPAs, but I am happy enough with this one.

Background: Black IPAs! I freaking love Black IPAs for all I complain about the nonsensical naming convention. They seem comparatively rare at the moment, so I grab a new one whenever I can. Haven’t seen Stone Brewing’s Sublimely Self Righteous ale this side of the pond for ages. Beer shops, importers, whoever, pretty please get it back in again. Anyway, yeah I grabbed this mainly because it is a Black IPA, helps that this is a collaboration with Magic Rock who are decent. Anyway, went with the Algorithm: Brute Force for music to back this – techo, electronic, mathcore, whatever the heck they are tunes to again help burn off some energy in covid lockdown.

Brew York: Big Eagle 2020 (England: IPA: 7.1% ABV)

Visual: Browned gold clear body. Lots of small bubbled carbonation and a huge off white head.

Nose: Pine needles. Moderate hop character and some bitterness. Quite clean. Slight resin. Soft apricot.

Body: Bitter. Peppery. Slightly charred. Acrid hops. Soft watered down caramel back. Soft fudge. Very dry.

Finish: Acrid hop burn. Gunpowder tea. Dry toffee. Watered down caramel. Heavy bitterness. Charred. Very dry. Peppery. Moss and other greenery.

Conclusion: OK, like Natalie Imbruglia I am torn (and that is a reference that shows my age). On one hand this is better as fuck and nicely dry. Two things missing from so many IPAs these days.

On the other hand, this is a tad acrid, with hop burn very evident early on. It feels like they let it out a few months too early and is suffering from that. The welcome bitter character keeps leaning into over burnt and charred notes.

Flavour wise it is very peppery and it eschews brighter hop flavours to concentrate on the bitterness, which is the primary hop influence here, along with the evident hoppy mouthfeel. The malt is nicely out of the way but not full west coast dryness, with a gentle caramel and dried toffee sweetness evident, though very subtle and way below the hops.

There is a lot of good work in the base – the dry but slightly sweet malt use balancing very drinkable character with just a touch more body- the OH GOD hop kick – but apart from that there is basically just a pine needles and pure hop assault character, which leans too much towards a pepper, charred and burnt character.

I’m still kind of enjoying it, but it is flawed as fuck. They need to ditch the hop burn and make it a big polished hop kick, or balance it out with some complexity added to the pepper hop feel. It just needs something else.

As is, I respect the old school take but it is too unpolished to recommend.

Background: I love York, the place that is. Best place in the UK IMHO. Brew York has been so-so so far, but this one caught my eye as one to give another try. A brewed up version of a very well reputed hoppy pale ale they did a while back. Though I must admit I am never quite sure why brewers keep noticing a beer they did before was well received, so they bring it back with a different recipe. Surely the point is people want the same beer they loved before. Anyway, not tried the beer before so no big deal, just something I notice popping up a lot. Went with New Model Army again for some punk tunes – The Ghost Of Cain to be exact. Need somewhere to vent my energy in lockdown so punk tunes it is. This was grabbed from the reopened and home delivering Independent spirit. YAYZ!

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