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Vault City: Dark Fruits Bakewell Sour (Scotland: Fruit Sour: 7% ABV)

Visual: Thick, opaque dark purple to black cherry body. A creamier, lighter black cherry inch of head that leaves sud clumps.

Nose: Creamy black cherry to black cherry yogurt. Tart apple and tart black cherry. Brambles. Menthol creamy touch. Wet twigs. Tart grapes.

Body: Tart yet sweet red grapes over tart white wine. Vermouth. Menthol. Wet twigs. Almond rounds. Burnt cake sponge. Vanilla.

Finish: Pineapple sours. Black cherry yogurt. Light creamy touch. Tart white grapes. Apple. Sour black cherry. Tiny aniseed. Bitter peppery notes.

Conclusion: This is a rewarding and wine ranging beer – far from the simple sweeter sour I was expecting from the bakewell part of the name. In case it is not clear I mean that as a good thing.

Initial notes on the nose are all black cherry – ranging from initial sweeter notes, that soon descend into tarter notes. Very fruity with hints of wet twigs and the like in a very natural way.

The body pushes the sweetness to the side, with hints of vanilla and almond notes but they are only little grace notes over a tart dark fruit body. Under that is white wine flavour and dryness underlying it. There are darker, heavier notes at the core – still very naturally delivered and with lots of fruit to reward you. It is only wine like in the underlying notes and makes a nice contrast to the more natural fruit.

The finish is where real distinct white wine character starts to develop. It is still dark fruit touched but drier, with peppery and slightly bitter notes coming out amongst the twigs. A harsher underline to the whole beer but not unwelcome. Something that really helps show beery bitterness amongst the still unusual sour notes.

Quite thick in mouthfeel, yet refreshing from the dryness. Sweet edges but tart souled. Lots of fruit, and definitely sour while still being recognisably beer. I’m very impressed by this rewarding fruit sour experience.

Background: So, Vault city have been turning out unusual yet good quality beers for a bit now. While I have found myself getting a tad weary of gimmick beers recently, these tended to feel like solid beers that happened to have odd flavours and ingredients rather than just feeling gimmicky. Even though a bakewell sour is undeniably gimmicky. As does the Iron Bru beer I had that I tried from them. They still felt beer like. Which was nice. Anyway, so yeah a dark fruit bakewell inspired sour. From Vault City. Yep I’m in. One of the last beers I got from Independent Spirit before lockdown of doom hit the UK. Trying to keep my stash going as long as poss. Went with Nine Inch Nail’s two new free albums while drinking this. No lyrics, but wonderfully moody.

Brew By Numbers: Broaden and Build: C5 India Pale Ale – Blood Orange (England: IPA: 7% ABV)

Visual: Pale grapefruit juice colour – opaque at the top, and clear around the edges. Large white, loose head.

Nose: Orange rind. Vanilla. Fluffy hops. Tangerine.

Body: Prickly hops. Malt chocolate and toffee. Bitty orange juice. Vanilla yogurt.

Finish: Tangerine to blood orange. Toffee malt character. Crisp hops. Moderate bitterness. Prickly feeling. Peppery. Nettles.

Conclusion: OK, orangey, yep this has orange notes, got that. Not 100% sure it is screaming blood orange to me, but definitely orangey.

This still manages to surprise me though. The malt bill does not come through in any way like what I expected. It hints towards East Coast style IPAs with the malt use coming through with malt chocolate and toffee styled darker sweetness. Not what I would expect for a blood orange IPA, and not what the lighter coloured body on the eye made me expect. It makes for a very solid malt base, the heavier character possibly is why some of the lighter orange notes don’t express themselves as much as they may have as they have to contend with that dark sweetness. Instead the malt provides a solid base for a prickly, nettle like hop character and moderate bitterness.

Now, its most direct competitor, or point of comparison, is Beavertown’s Bloody ‘Ell. I prefer that for its fresher and more orange emphasising character, but they are very different beers despite sharing a similar base conceit. This is more solidly beer like, really showing the base malts and the hop prickle – I can respect that. The orange is a dominant characteristic, but this isn’t afraid to let the beer do a good chunk of the work as well.

Its a very solid beer. Good use of the special character but not excessively so. I prefer a bit more out of the way malt in my IPAs but that is personal taste, this is still solid.

Background: Been a while since I grabbed a Brew By Numbers beer, and I’ve only had one, pretty decent, encounter with Broaden and Build. Keep meaning to grab more BBN beers though. They have a huge rep behind a fairly simple numbers based facade. So, I saw this, and I remember enjoying my previous encounter with a Blood Orange IPA from Beavertown, and wanted an IPA. So I grabbed it. Another Independent Spirit beer, who are, understandably, closed at the moment. My heart is breaking still. In respect there is no music listed for this tasting note, and no it is not just because I forgot to write it down.

Tilquin: Gueuzerable Tilquin (Belgium: Gueuze: 10% ABV)

Visual: Light caramel to toffee body. Lots of small bubbled carbonation in a clear, if slightly hazy body. Large caramel to off white head.

Nose: Clean. White wine. Subtle milky coffee. Subtle dry fudge. Funky yeast character. Honeycomb.

Body: Tart green grapes. Very dry. Subtle maple syrup. Dry white wine. Tannins. Oak. Subtle toffee.

Finish: Maple syrup. Dried apricot. Dry white wine. Wet oak. Tannins. Yeast funk.

Conclusion: Ok, I wasn’t sure what to expect from a lambic made with maple syrup. Would there be much maple syrup character left after the sugars had been converted? Would it just be a high abv lambic? Well now I have drunk it I am still not 100% sure what I got. Also I am still in coronavirus UK lock-down. Still, I have booze so I am ok for now.

I mean, at the base it is a dry lambic. Very dry, which I found surprising considering the considerably beefed up abv that I was expecting to bring a bigger body.

There are lots of white wine notes here, dry and backed by a touch of tannins and funk. Not mouth puckeringly dry like a Cantillon, but very distinctly dry.

And yet…

There is also more sweetness to this than the average lambic – possibly residual non fermented sugar? Possible maple syrup? Both? Magic? I dunno. It is a kind of dry toffee and fudge character, with some maple syrup notes in there as well, but still all deathly dry.

So, is it any good? Generally, yes. There are some hints of the alcohol, but not much – which is a mixed blessing. It makes it dangerous to drink, especially with the dry character – but it means that an alcohol air is the only rougher element marking the flavour.

The sweetness is subtle, dry, but makes for a a very different take to what would otherwise by a very dry white wine lambic. It adds a little something that makes it stand out.

Not a must have, and very heavy abv for the flavours it brings, but very interesting and satisfying as a lambic.

Background: Soooo, a lambic made with Maple Syrup. What the actual fuck? Yes of course I bought it. I had to see how it worked. It is made with a mix of 1,2 and 3 year old lambic, and oh, yeah is fermented with maple syrup for the sugars! Anyway, grabbed this from Independent Spirit and was fascinated to see what change this could make to a lambic. Went back to Miracle Of Sound: Level 10 for music for this. Such a good mix of music styles in video game inspired music. Check it out.

Crate: Sticky Toffee Stout (England: Stout: 5% ABV)

Visual: Black and opaque body. Still. Thin brown dash of a head.

Nose: Oh yeah, sticky toffee pudding. Roasted notes. Sticky toffee sauce as well. Chocolate.

Body: Light charred bitterness. Bready. Golden syrup sponge. Burnt sticky toffee pudding. Burnt brown sugar. Unleavened bread.

Finish: Sticky toffee pudding. Charring. Brown sugar. Slightly earthy. Golden syrup. Peppery.

Conclusion: This tastes slightly burnt. I mean it tastes super sticky toffee pudding styled, but also kind of like they burnt it while it was cooking. So, very much a good news / bad news kind of situation.

Chilled it also feels too thin, but give it a bit of heat and that sorts that out sharpish. It is still not thick, but feels very much present.

The main core is that sticky toffee pudding – a bit heavy, a bit burnt, but definitely recognisable as the dessert it is emulating. It is rounded out by earthier, breadier notes. They come across as what would be grounding notes in a sweeter beer, but here it seems very heavy as what would be the sweeter notes are instead delivered in a very dry and slightly charred way.

So, that sounds quite harsh on it, it is ok as a beer. I mean, very good at delivering its core conceit, but feels like it leant in too hard on trying to counterbalance the dessert style with dried, charred and earthy burnt notes when it was already fairly heavy and results in feeling a bit stodgy, and never hits the high notes that would help it rise to the occasion.

It’s ok, again I say that but I feel I must emphasise that as I feel like I am really slagging on it. It is ok but doesn’t really grab me. It doesn’t really deliver the standard stout notes that would work as nice rounding here, nor willing to go full crazy with the sticky toffee sweetness.

Great on implementing the idea, only reasonable as a beer.

Background: Sticky Toffee Pudding. Yep I’m a fan of that, so despite the fact I am slightly worn out on the dessert take on stouts I was attracted to this one. Helps that it was a normal abv stout, rather than its imperial variant as most of the dessert beers are. Noticed that Warren Ellis had put out another Spektrmodule, so listened to that while I drank this. This was another grabbed from Independent Spirit. Good luck to them in these hard times!

Boxcar: Mills: Best Bitter (England: Bitter: 4.6% ABV)

Visual: Caramel brown. Slightly hazy main body. Beige touched thin head that leaves a sud rim.

Nose: Malt drinks and crushed malt biscuits. Light orange zest. Lightly earthy. Caramel. Apple.

Body: Caramel and toffee mix. Orange skin. Lightly earthy. Hops prickle. Choc limes. Nettles. Light grapefruit. Moderate bitterness.

Finish: Choc orange. Orange skin. Caramel. Grapefruit. Peppery. Malt chocolate drinks. Earthy. Tart grapes.

Conclusion: Man, this isn’t what I think of when I think of a best bitter. Ok, correction, it somewhat is, but also heavily isn’t.

Why are things so hard to explain? Probably because I drink. Anyway, let’s give this a go…

This has a solid caramel to toffee base, which is in line with what I expect from the style, but delivered sweeter and more evident. I can see how a lot of places are listing this as an ESB with the heavier malt sweetness.

More notably best bitter like, this has the earthy, slightly pepper bitterness and hop character. Initially milder than I expected, giving the malt a lot of room to show, but it gets more present as time goes on, leading into a very earthy filled finish.

What makes it more unusual is that it leans more into the hop fruitiness – most best bitters have some fruit notes, but generally they are subtly used. Here it starts subtle with orange notes, but gains apple and grapefruit freshness. These are especially evident early on but struggle against the late earthy character as it sinks back into more traditional best bitter stylings.

It gives some range and progression to the beer without fully sacrificing the base bitter – it makes for a refreshing yet earthy bitter with just a touch of sourness. A lovely dash of a few extra layers over a traditional take. Nice.

Background: You don’t see many of the newer small brewers do Best Bitters these days. It seems to be a style that has fallen out of fashion with the new wave of brewers – though it is still fairly easy to find existing examples in real ale pubs so it is not like it has gone away. Still, that made this catch my eyes, and I quickly grabbed it. I know Mills better for their sour beers, and I don’t think I’ve grabbed anything from Boxcar before, so it is one I was really not sure what to expect from. Went with Arch Enemy: Will To Power for music while drinking. Mainly as their tour has been delayed due to the Coronavirus and I wanted to listen to them. This was a beer grabbed from Independent Spirit after I got back from India.

Bulleit: 95 Rye (USA: Straight Rye Whiskey: 45% ABV)

Visual: Deep dark gold. Fast thick sheet of streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Rye crackers. Black pepper. Orange zest. Planed mahogany wood. Sulphur. Brown sugar. Water adds a honey touch. Apricot skin. Smoke. Peppermint touch.

Body: Thick. Leather. Rye crackers. Black pepper. Dry toffee. Water adds Chilli seed. More leather. Buttery. Vanilla. Soft lime.

Finish: Black pepper and rye crackers. Water makes leathery. Sulphur. Smoke. Dry fudge.

Conclusion: I’ve been sitting here for a while thinking about how best to describe this. Usually rye heavy whiskies are one I find fairly easy to sum on. This is just different enough from those for me to have to take a bit more time and thought on it.

Ok, despite what I said above it is noticeably rye heavy. Possibly even 95% rye heavy. Yes I know, ha fucking ha, ha. Anyway, you get lots of rye crackers, peppery spice and some sulphurous smoke – but there is more to it than that.

I think it is that this is slightly, only slightly, sweeter than your average rye. Gentle but dry toffee, slightly buttery thickness that leans almost savoury but with a sweet touch. All this makes it a slightly more gentle and open rye than most, but again only slightly.

I mean it is still leathery, giving a thick mouthfeel, with a slight chilli seed heat that gives pep – but it is not the one note spice bomb that often comes through with a rye. A drop of water really exposes the contrast, but it is even there neat.

It is … pleasant. Not a masterpiece but pleasant and comparatively easy to drink for a rye.

Spicy, but just eased up a bit for a sweeter rye. I can spend a chunk of time with this. Not a must have but very decent for the price.

Background: I heard about this one a while back, it was recommended as a good, easy to get hold of rye. Since it was available in supermarkets for a while I thought it would be super easy to pick up. My mistake, no-one here seems to have it. After months of searching I gave up and ordered it from The Whisky Exchange. Not much else to add, did these notes after returning from India – I put on At The Drive In: Relationship of Command while drinking. I’m sure At The Drive In also did other albums. Probably.

Cerana: Bira 91: White (India: Belgian Wit: 5% ABV)

Visual: Dark cloudy lemon juice. Large yellow white bubbled head.

Nose: Orange zest. Lemon cream. Vanilla. Creamy. Quite sweet. Lemon curd.

Body: Lemon curd. Wheaty. Orange zest. Vanilla pods. Peppery. Grapefruit.

Finish: Wheaty bitterness. Sour lemon juice. Peppery. Grapefruit. Dry lemon.

Conclusion: This is the best Indian beer that I tried during my holiday in the north of India! Ok, admittedly that is a low bar to clear considering that the competition has been varied Kingfisher beers and Boom Strong. So, instead of damning it with that faint praise how about we just ask the question, is this any good then?

It is sweet on the nose and fruity, which resulted in me expecting a very Hoegaarden like sweet and heavy wit beer – however what I got was a body that leans more toward a traditional wit with drier lemon and lightly peppery touches. Interesting.

There’s some orange zest, which is not unexpected for a wit, but it goes into light grapefruit notes which is a bit more new hops than I would expect. Nice touch and it takes it a touch tarter and sour at times, refreshing, but always returning to that dry lemon base.

It is very slightly rough edged around the wheaty and peppery notes, but generally pretty decent, if still on the lower half of Belgian style wits. It isn’t bad – and if fact if you are looker for a non lager beer in India this is a pretty inoffensive one. It is just it is nothing special compared to the wide range of awesome wits out there.

Does the job though.

Background: Found this one near the end of the holiday in India, a few days after being violently ill which seemed to be the common tourist event for our group in India. I had been wandering and spotted an alcohol store. As always there were not many local beers, but they did have this from Bira 91, and since it is not part of their Boom line I had hopes it would be more interesting than that, cheaper, more mainstream aimed, line. I had been hoping from something from a brewery I had not tried yet but ah well, ya can’t have everything.

Martens: Buho Strong (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 7% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow. Lots of small bubbled carbonation. Massive white head that leaves lace.

Nose: Cane sugar. Clean. Candyfloss. Naan bread like hops. Lightly earthy. Brown bread. Watermelon. Nail polish.

Body: Banana sweets. Cane sugar. Jolly ranchers. Earthy bitterness. Brown bread. Coriander. Apple sweets to apples. Vanilla.

Finish: Apple hard sweets. Candyfloss. Unleavened bread. Earthy bitterness touch. Watermelon. Vanilla.

Conclusion: This beer I took to be a strong lager on first pour. It was pale, fizzy, and let’s face it lager is by far the most popular beer style in India so I wasn’t exactly betting against the odds by thinking that was what I had here.

A quick sniff told me that I was way wrong. While this has a touch of nail polish oddness around the edges this is very evidently a strong Belgian blond beer, with even hints leaning towards a Tripel interpretation. Though the abv tells me that it most definitely is not that.

It has those cane sugar notes, and is quite fruity, though in a quite artificial kind of hard sweets styling. Like crushed fruity sweet had been dissolved in the drink. It leans very heavily into banana sweets in the sweetness even more so than the cane sugar – and, considering the abv, I was surprised there were not any custard like malty notes here, all of which remind me again of a tripel.

Despite the abv and those sweet notes it actually feels quite well attenuated and dry in the mouthfeel. Very drinkable in feel, even if that comes with a few rough edges in the flavours, though thankfully not too many. The big thing to stop it being an easy drinker is, you guessed it, the high abv.

Shock that.

It is pretty well balanced, with the dry mouthfeel working well with the sweet and artificial main flavour so neither gets too heavy. It has a slightly earthy, bready hop character and light spice that grounds it nicely through that. Not the most polished Belgian beer but it shows all the expected characteristics in nicely contrasting layers.

Not a must have, those few nail polish like notes that I think are hints of alcohol don’t show the beer at its best. However here in India where I am doing these notes I am happy to find something a bit different, and it is a well enough done release from all the lagers I see that I am enjoying it.

Background: Ok, googling gives me very little info on this. I had grabbed it at a beer store in India thinking it was another untried local beer, but a quick check of the can shows that it is actual made in Belgium. Which is odd as I have never heard of it. The can says it is part of Martens set of beers, but I can find nearly no record of its existence, and what little I do is from in India, so maybe it is a beer they brew for that market? No idea. Anyway with these notes I am doing my little bit for increasing its web presence a tad for future searchers.

Cerana: Bira 91: Boom: Premium Super Strong (India: Strong Pale Lager: 6-8% ABV)

Visual: Pale banana yellow. Lots of small bubbled carbonation. Clear. Rapidly descending large loose white bubbled head.

Nose: Clean. Brown sugar. Vanilla. Custard slices. Malt biscuits. Soft peach.

Body: Smooth. Vanilla toffee and vanilla custard. Slight wet cardboard. Golden syrup. Banana. Palma violets. Peach.

Finish: Vanilla toffee. Slight hop character – hop oils and low bitterness. Slight liquorice touch. Wet cardboard. Light chalk. Fluffy popcorn hops.

Conclusion: First non Kingfisher beer of the India trip has been found! And it isssss … fairly nondescript actually. It definitely has more character than Kingfisher by a mile, but that isn’t really saying much.

It is smooth, while being thicker than the average lager and more malt led, but thankfully doesn’t really show any alcohol burn considering the abv. Whatever actual level that abv is.

On the downside there is that slight wet cardboard, slightly muggy hop rough edge that tends to come with the more dull lagers, and it has a slight artificial feeling touch to it despite that lack of alcohol burn. So, imperfect but not overly harsh, just unrefined.

There are hints of palma violets and hop oils that call the German and Czech noble hops styles. Even smaller hints of peach and banana that call to the fruitier American hops. Nothing too well defined, but hints that it is trying for something more than the most standard lager.

Over all nothing stand out bad, but just generally sub average. The slight rough edges and lack of stand out character means that it doesn’t rise to be recommendable – just generally inoffensive.

Not worth hunting down, and considering where I was in India I had to really hunt for non Kingfisher beers not worth that hunt. Sub optimal but not horrible.

A bit meh and hard to find for that meh.

Background: So the full name is Bira 91: Boom: Premium Super Strong Rich and Malty Munich Lager. So, Cerana is the contract brewer, Bira 91 the beer company, boom the sub category for their more mainstream line so the beer name is? I dunno, Munich Lager? Super Strong? Don’t mix up your descriptions and beer names people, it makes things complicated for me! Similarly, while I tend to go for the description the brewers use, Munich Lager can fall under a bunch of categories, – due the beer strength just general Strong Pale Lager seems right as it doesn’t seem to have characteristics of a dopplebock or Imperial Pilsner despite its strength. Life is pain. Also the can lists the strength as 6-8%. Fucking helpful. Anyway, first non Kingfisher beer I found in India, so grabbed it do notes. Simple. Being on holiday I had to use what glassware I could find.

Back From India!

Sorry for delays again, as you may have guessed from the title I have been in India for a few weeks – wifi was pretty spotty out there so couldn’t get anything up. As you may have also guessed the arranging for that has been why updates have been so spotty recently. Apologies, I will try to get a better turnout now.

I was hoping to do one of my “Beer culture of a country” articles on India, where I try to sum up what a learned from my short time over there. However, in North India, mainly in a large circle around the Delhi area, there wasn’t much of a beer scene, so I feel even less qualified than normal to do a full commentary. I will do a few quick notes though.

For one thing there are no beers in most stores, with only zero abv beers in supermarkets and the like. Looks like alcohol can only be sold from bars, restaurants and dedicated licensed stores. From the stores I did find, most seemed to stock mainly imports and in that mainly spirits, with very few local beers – though I did manage to grab a few. Similarly I found very little of Amrut, Paul Johns and the like – instead most places bringing in Scottish Whisky over their own local product. I did get to try a few of the local blended whisky in a restaurants though – quite cheap and varied from poor to actually pretty decent, but was not in the position to do notes on them with food.

There does seem to be an India beer scene though – googling lists about ten non Kingfisher beers that are apparently easy to find, though I found but one of those. Similarly some areas such as Mumbai and Bangalore look to have a really decent scene. I was just nowhere near there. Oops. Still not every holiday has to be a beer holiday, and I had more than enough sights to make up for lack of beer and whisky.

Anyway, to actually do some beer talk here – rapid fire thoughts on the varied Kingfisher’s I encountered out there.

Kingfisher: Very mediocre. Slightly chalky, not much flavour.

Kingfisher Ultra: Smooths away the rough edges of standard Kingfisher, but still lacking in flavour.

Kingfisher Strong: Actual malt flavours made this my preferred of the three, even if there was more noticeable alcohol roughness that the flavours earned

There was also a Kingfisher Ultra Strong I saw but did not try. As you may have guessed from the above they basically did the job of giving you something wet and beer like to have with meals, but no great shakes.

Anyway, actual beer notes should be up soon. Until then, enjoy your drink!

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