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Firebrand Black Saison

Firebrand: Black Saison (England: Saison: 5% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black body. Utterly massive beige loose bubbled head that is, frankly, solid as a rock. When it finally descends it leaves suds, to no one’s surprise.

Nose: Wheat. Coal dust. Bready. Malt drinks. Slight sour black cherry.

Body: Bitter. Liquorice undertones. Wheaty. Sour black cherry. Malt chocolate. Light peppery character. Light earthy and slight sour dough notes. Chocolate liqueur.

Finish: Charred oak. Good bitterness. Malt chocolate. Sour dough air. Riesen chews. Chives. Liquorice.

Conclusion: Black saisons! Hey, it makes more sense as a naming convention than black IPAs. As soon as I popped the cap on this I knew it was going to be a lively one. It wasn’t just the wisp of smoke like a recently fired gun barrel, but also the audible pop that warned you to “Go ahead, make my day”. 30 seconds later I had a mound of froth thrice the size of the body.

This beer is, at its base, a good old rustic saison with earthy and sour notes. However this is not just a saison, it is black saison, and because of the at the familiar recipe taken on a hell of an unfamiliar twist.

It has got that charred oak darkness to it, an element that I feel fits well with the earthy character – it leads it down a winding path that takes it to chocolate and sour black cherry. This is, however, a more restrained beer than that description makes it sounds. The flavours mentioned are side notes, deepening the beer rather than dominating it. It makes for a beer with that refreshing earthy saison drinkability, but with a bit of edge to it.

Overall, well the dark fruit and chocolate do a lot to add interest to this. If it was a standard saison I don’t think the base would carry it – as is it is a very drinkable walk on the wilder side of saison.

Background: Well, I listed this as brewed in England, and it is. However Cornwall, where it is brewed may disagree. They have their own flag. I like to think of them as a small English version of Texas. They may disagree with that assessment. I may also have just lost every single Cornish reader I have. Anyway, this was gift from Chris of Independent Spirit in return for a favour done. Many thanks. As always I will try to not let this affect the notes done, but thought I should say for full disclosure. This, as you can see from the photo, is just a tad lively, and was drunk while listening to Grimes: Oblivion. On loop. This may have sent a normal person insane over half an hour.

De Molen Bommen & Granaten PX Barrel Aged

De Molen: Bommen & Granaten PX Barrel Aged (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 15.2% ABV)

Visual: Dark black cherry red. An inch of creamy browned head. Carbonated body.

Nose: Red grapes. Malt drinks. Cherryaid. Sake (Nihonshuu). Raisins.

Body: Big but clean bitterness. Light greenery. Spiced red grapes. Pilsner clean hop feel. Overripe banana. Malt biscuits. Frothy mouthfeel. Malt drinks. Raisins. Cherryaid. Malt chocolate.

Finish: Sake. Clean bitterness. Pilsner dry feel. Light banana notes. Digestives. Spiced red grapes.

Conclusion: This is a very nicely attenuated barley wine. At over 15% I was expecting something insanely sweet – but this is dry and cleanly bitter. At times the clean character actually reminds me of noble hopped pilsners, but done barley wine style. if that makes any sense at all.

The pilsner feel is much more dominant when it is cool, as it warms up the fruit elements start tuning up the band, but it still uses the dryness there as a base. There is good use made of the raisin, cherry and spicy grapes flavours. With the PX barrel aging it seems to work brilliantly to mix with that fruitiness, while still letting that unusual clean easy drinking barley wine base do its thing.

Even then, with the fruit at full power, there is that clean bitterness and soft banana notes and the like that make me think of a pils. I am genuinely impressed that they managed to bring elements together from two such disparate styles. Though, and this is a minor flaw, over time the clean bitterness does alter – becoming more clingy with the texture. It is a common issue with high bitterness strong beers. That extra grip that makes them so awesome can cause the bitterness to stick and get wearing. At 330ml it manages not to wear out its welcome, but it is a notable element.

This is, for the most part, so very clean and so very fruity – it reminds of Magnum style single hopped beers in the bitterness and the cleaner flavours. The PX barrel doesn’t come in too heavy, but enough to make it worthwhile. Too many beers vanish under the barrel ageing. Overall a beer of balance, clean flavours and hop impact. A more restrained, easy drinking and yet complex barley wine than I have seen for a long time. very nice.

Background: Wax on bottles. I used to be a fan, as it made a beer feel a bit special, but it is getting overdone. Then again, for once this one was easy to open despite the wax. Bought on a sweltering day, the wax was damn near melting off onto everything near it by the time I got it home. It was pretty much early morning by the time I drank this – my sleep patterns are fucked. Drunk while listening to some Crossfaith and some B. Dolan – a tad eclectic mix I know. De Molen have been exceptional so far, so a PX barrel aged barley wine sounded awesome. grabbed for the ever reliable Independent Spirit.

Brewdog Dog D

Brewdog: Dog D (Scotland: Imperial Stout: 16.1% ABV)

Visual: Black and still. Fizzing up brown head. A viscous sheen left on the glass. After a few moments the head becomes just a chocolate brown froth at the rim of the glass.

Nose: Rye. Thick caramel. Habanero chilli. Black cherry. Bitter chocolate. Riesen chocolate chew. Chilli seeds. Nougat.

Body: Smooth. Bitter cocoa. Light chilli tingle. Coconut. Chocolate liqueur. Caramel. Grapes. Black cherry. Nougat. Choc orange. Cadbury’s creme egg centres.

Finish: Bitter chocolate. Coconut. Black cherry. Chocolate chews. Bitter coffee with a touch of milk. Light greenery.

Conclusion: 8 years, 4 dog *s. one AB04, and – for me at least – they seem to have finally hit the balance just right for this beer. AB04 was lovely but sweet as hell – Dog A-C were more towards the Speedway Stout end of the spectrum, a tad too heavy on the bitter chocolate and coffee while still being a very good imperial stout. All good beers, but the Imperial Stout category is a hard fought one.

Here in this beer the bitter chocolate and coffee base is still there, but the barrel ageing has brought back a big chunk of the sweetness, which allows it to merge and bring out a lot of the classic dark fruit flavours – while not letting either side get too dominant.

The chilli does take a back seat because of this, and let’s face it, it was never the strongest element in this beer. Now it is but a soft tingle and a bit of greenery notes but not much more. The heat was never really a strong point. For me generally that is fine, as I find a little chilli goes a long way, though even I think this could handle a touch more.

As you get used to the beer so many elements rise up out of the depths – a nougat thickness, touches of my beloved coconut – what initially seems a delicious but comparatively simple beer grows in stature until it goes head to head with the greats.

As a side note, I wonder what they used to age this. Smart money would guess some kind of lighter end of the scale Scottish whisky, however from the flavours I could swear they used bourbon. There is a huge heap of those toffee and vanilla notes brought out that associate with that ageing. Though, as I say, smart money is on Scottish Whisky – with Brewdog being in Scotland it would seem the obvious pick.

Overall – oh come on, you’ve guessed it by this point – it is excellent. Boozy enough for my tastes, but smooth enough for those who hate tasting the abv, bitter enough to give character, but sweet enough to be so easy to drink. This beer finally see one of the Dog *s as one of the best in the style.

Background: The … erm, 8th anniversary imperial stout from Brewdog. Initially Based on AB 04, it has shifted a bit over the years. Made with cocoa, coffee and chillies, this version has added to that some barrel ageing as well. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. Drunk while listening to B Dolan’s Kill The Wolf. Pretty solid album.

Almanac Golden Gale Gose

Almanac: Golden Gale Gose (USA: Gose – Traditional: 5% ABV)

Visual: Golden yellow clear main body. Small white head that fizzes and diminishes quickly.

Nose: Dough. Salt. Cucumber. Chilli seeds.

Body: Sherbety fizzy feel up front. Salt. Sweet lemon and lemon curd. Squeezed lime. Dried banana notes. Doughnut base and rustic notes. Weak orange notes.

Finish: Cane sugar. Earthy bitterness. Lemon and fresh lime. Vanilla ice cream. Carrot and coriander.

Conclusion: Gose gallantly gallops greatly going on. Ok, that was just gratuitous alliteration. So, here the gose goes more towards a slight sour and doughy base that most of the style seems to express, rather than the very fresh example I found in the recent Westbrook take. In fact, while the beers are sour wheat beers at the base, this actually reminds me more of the rustic saisons that are out there- it has that earthy and rough edged touch to it.

Not that it seems that way initially – the aroma is actually quite dull. Slightly vegetable like and uninteresting. The first sip comes in fizzy and excitable but without much flavour. It is only as the beer starts to calm down that the interesting sour dough and rustic saison starts to come out, along with a light spice that also calls to the saison character.

While it doesn’t have the thickest feel the use of the lemon and lime freshness means it works with rather than against that. It doesn’t seem to need much weight to make it work – it has a slightly cordial style and it gives a freshness that belies the solid sour base.

As for the thing that seems ever present in a gose – that being the salt – it is here but gently done. It feels more a flavour enhancer that the thirst inducing element that it can be in some beers.

Overall, pretty robust despite the lighter fizzy textures. The matching of the lighter done citrus fruit character over the grounding of the saison like base and the sour base keeps you going rather than drying you out, and the spices allow for new character to come in late on in the beer. It all makes for a solid beer, not exciting but solidly sippable.

Background: Gose Time. Or, how time gose by. I have terrible puns. Anyway, after missing out on heading to Germany to try the few remaining goses in their home country, I have tried to make up for it by trying a lot of the craft beer examples. This one, made with sea salt, lemon verbena and coriander turned up in Brewdog’s guest beer selection. So I grabbed it.

Brewhouse and Kitchen Bristol - Yankee Cabot

Brewhouse and Kitchen (Bristol): Yankee Cabot (England: IPA: 6% ABV)

Visual: Hazy off gold. Thin browned to off white head. Still main body. head leaves suds.

Nose: Dried apricot. Kaffir lime. Soft lemon. Light cream.

Body: Lightly creamy. Kaffir lime. Bready. Low bitterness. Kiwi fruit. Dried apricot.

Finish: Bready. Starting low, but rising to middling bitterness. Key lime pie.

Conclusion: It is a pity that they didn’t have the keg version of this on as well – I would love to have done a head to head comparison. unfortunately as they are just starting out the keg availability is limited. Still, a real ale IPA – been a while since I have done notes on one of these. Should be fun to be back.

The base of this reminds me a bit of Acer from Bristol Beer Factory. It has a fair bready and solid base – not as much bitterness as I would expect – it is there but plays the long slow build game rather than hitting you up front. Over that bready base the flavours are soft gentle green fruit that use the real ale style to blend together nicely.

For an IPA the bready base does feel a bit too heavy – I compared it to the Acer from BBF which is a bitter and the base feels a lot closer to that. I think it needs a bit more room to let the hop flavours roam. However despite that it does manage a good dried fruit sugar sweetness that pokes through nicely. It is more the softer fruit elements which are held back by it.

With the hop level and base I do think more pale ale than IPA – apart from the abv it doesn’t seem to own the style it is using. I think it would work better like that, flavour wise it is more towards the session end of the scale. It is a solid beer though – and has a good flavour profile for the most part. If they can tinker with the base this could end up as a very good ale. As is it is a solid but unspectacular one.

Background: I heard that this had opened up a while back, a new Brewpub in Bristol – part of a group of Brewhouse and Kitchens – though it seems each brew their own unique beers. So, when my friend and I were in Bristol I decided to give them a try. This is the cask version of the beer. Bias disclaimer: The people at Brewhouse and Kitchen gave a great friendly reception, and some free beer after I had done the notes – As always I have tried to not let this affect the notes, but feel full disclosure if always for the best. Many thanks to them for the hospitality.

Rodenbach Vintage 2012

Rodenbach: Vintage 2012 (Belgium: Sour Red/Brown: 7% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy and hazy dark red. Browned tight bubbled head.

Nose: Sultanas. Fruitcake. Acidic and tart. Cider apples. Cake sponge. Cherries. Malt chocolate. Almonds.

Body: Tart white grapes. Fruitcake. Cherries. Sugared almonds. Lemon sherbet. Cider. Malt chocolate. Vanilla and caramel.

Finish: Grapefruit. Lemon sherbet. Acidic apple. Sour wine. Raisins. White wine. Fresh apples.

Conclusion: I think I have finally found peak Rodenbach. While still tinged with the extreme sour, almost vinegar touch of the Grand Cru, it has been mellowed down just enough with age for it to have a bit more room for each element to develop. Now, rather than a holographic range each one gets the time to develop a distinct identity.

As mentioned there are hints of that almost vinegar touch, but when mellowed down it feels more like a real sour wine style used as a base for the range of fruit flavours to grow within. Some of the sweetness of the default Rodenbach is brought back here as well, again mellowed giving malt chocolate for much welcome contrast and release.

This really is a fine thing. Wine like with full on grape flavour into a more beer like grapefruit flavour. It is sharp, fresh, and often cider like which mixes nicely with the white wine notes. While these all call to white wine there is full on raisins, fruitcake and cherries as contrast which call to red wine. Together they make for one of the most complex and rewarding beers that exist.

Despite the lack of what I call “Holographic” flavours from the acidity each element still progresses with impressive complexity. It just progresses in more predictable ways. Caramel and vanilla come from the sweetness, sugared almonds from malt chocolate. It is less haphazard and thus feels a more integrated package.

If you like sour ales then this is the top hat wearing, monocle eyed, full suit and waistcoat ensemble of the distinguished sour category. A beer of champions.

Background: Rodenbach – another love/hate/intrigue brewery. Their Grand Cru was intriguing but harsh as heck – and other beers from them seem to be easier to access but lose the mass of character that comes with the Grand Cru. So this, the aged Vintage Ale was of interest to me. Picked up from Independent Spirit, this was drunk while listening to some Scroobius Pip: Distraction Pieces. Yes, yet again. It is a great album.

Brewdog Hop Fiction Pale Ale

Brewdog: Hop Fiction Pale Ale (Scotland: American Pale Ale: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Pale grain yellow. Moderate carbonation. Small white bubbled head.

Nose: Crisp. Popcorn hop style. Dried pineapple. Kumquat. Cream. Apricot.

Body: Pumpkin. Dry biscuits. Kumquat. Pineapple. Dry but robust texture. Oats.

Finish: Wheaty. Light bitterness. Cream. Oatmeal.

Conclusion: Welcome back Hop Fiction. I thought you had promise, so what has changed. Oh, you are Hop Fiction Pale Ale now? Ok – rebranded, new boy band look eh? Down to 5.2% abv? Ok, let’s see how you rock it.

Hmm, again, like when you were Hop Fiction IPAS, you ain’t doing too bad. You feel thicker and drier now. Probably due to the abv drop and style change. APA’s do tend to feel drier and more attenuated to me. The fruitiness is nice, but a bit understated against the muesli styled oat notes of the base – however it does work together to mange to feel like it hasn’t been over attenuated – an often seen flaw of APAs to my mind.

It is pretty balanced, but while it is easy to drink it also feels slightly reined in – it could afford to push the fruit character a little more. However as an APA it does earn its position in the line up more than when it was going up against Brewdog’s very packed IPA range. Despite that it still doesn’t feel exceptional.

So it turns out this beer is one of those hardest of things to do notes on – an ok beer.

It is ok.

Background: No I am not repeating myself again – This is a different beer to the prototype Hop Fiction. That was an IPA for one, this is an APA. Apparently it is also a very similar beer to Deaf Mermaid, which I got to try but never got around to doing notes for. Anyway this is a whirlpool hopped beer, at least if it is the same as before. I am a tad suspicious about the drop in abv – Brewdog have dropped the abv of most of their seasonal to keep them sub six percent, so I’m not sure if they are doing it to make a better beer, or to keep to their seasonal guidelines. Anyway, as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beers. Drunk while listening to some old tracks from Space. Doesn’t quite hold up to memory, but still like some of the quirkier tracks. their new stuff seems a bit weak though.

Siren Evil Twin Even More Jesus VIII

Siren: Evil Twin: Even More Jesus VIII (England: Imperial Stout: 11% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Inch of creamy brown froth.

Nose: Bitter chocolate dust and cocoa powder. Red grapes.

Body: Smooth. Bitter chocolate powder. Frothy. Vanilla. Toffee and fudge. Muscatel grapes. Slight spice. Brown sugar. Cinder toffee. Nougat.

Finish: Liquorice. Frothy hot chocolate. Brown sugar. Big bitter chocolate. Spicy grapes.

Conclusion: Even more “Even More Jesus“. Yep, I’ve managed to get around the fact I have already done tasting notes for Even More Jesus by taking advantage of the fact that Siren have done a British version. Ha. Rules lawyering. I win.

So, again we have the aroma – one that doesn’t really give anything to get excited about – fairly standard chocolate notes. The body though…. Oh yes the body is exciting. Slightly less viscous than the original. I think. It has been a while. Still a big frothy beast of a beer.

A different frothy beast though – the liquorice is evident here, while I never noticed it in the original. Also it seems to tend more to each of the extremes – the chocolate is more bitter, the spice is more warming, the vinous notes are more grape like and the sweetness is full on brown sugar. It is less integrated than the original, more individual flavours that stand out.

While this is still lovely I do prefer the original – it is more balanced, more integrated – but this is still epic deliciousness. It is sweet as hell in the individual notes but that bitter chocolate backbone swamps around them, leaving the sweet notes as island poking out from within.

Lovely, not the best, but lovely. A very impressive take on a a legend of a beer.

Background: This beer may look a tad familiar. That is because it a take on the Evil Twin Beer “Even More Jesus”, and is made in collaboration with Evil Twin themselves. An imperial stout made with liquorice and muscovado sugar. I was a huge fan of the original beer, so when I saw the limited bottle release in Independent Spirit I grabbed it.

Stone Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard Ale

Stone Brewing: Bourbon Barrel Aged Arrogant Bastard (USA: American Strong Ale: 7% ABV)

Visual: Deep black cherry red to black. Toffee touched thin head. Still main body.

Nose: Cherries. Vanilla. Toffee. Bourbon. Fruitcake. Dry liquorice. Muggy hops. Malt chocolate.

Body: Smooth. Vanilla. Bready. Moderate bitterness. Caramel. Fruitcake and raisins. liquorice. Prickling nettles. Menthol.

Finish: Liquorice. High bitterness and some hop character. Brown bread. Some peppermint. Malt chocolate. Fudge. Bourbon alcohol air.

Conclusion: Hmmm. You know, I really do start a lot of conclusions with “Hmmm”. I Should stop doing that. Hmmm. This is a mix of a bunch of things I really like and a few bits of stuff that slightly disappoints.

What works? Well the bourbon is very evident without overwhelming the base beer. The base is smoothed out with lots of sweetness added – a mix of toffee notes and an alcoholic bourbon character laced throughout.

The hop character is the main weak point – age in the oak seems to have made it much more muggy and clinging – based on my little experience with ageing hoppy beers I would guess it could probably do with some more time in the bottle to help smooth and even it out.

With the hops lessened, well slightly – there is still a good bitterness to this, you see more of the malt coming through with raisins and fruitcake emphasised. It is still a backing though behind the bitterness and now the bourbon as well.

It is still a good beer – big brash flavours and the bourbon adds to that – it just needs to commit to one or the other. Either keep the fresh hops or give it more time to let the muggy hops die down – the half way point seems a ill compromise on both. It is, however, a sign of the quality of the base beer that despite that I still quite enjoyed it.

Background: I have yet to review Arrogant Bastard Ale. By which I mean standard Bastard, not any of the variants. This despite the fact I have had the bottle a few times, and on tap last time I was in the USA. Anyway, this version was in Brewdog’s Guest Beer section so I grabbed it. Drunk while listening to more Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Scroobius Pip. I am getting unimaginative in music picks in my old age.

Westbrook Gose

Westbrook: Gose (USA: Traditional – Gose: 4% ABV)

Visual: Hazy lemon juice yellow. Large loose white bubbled head.

Nose: Mixed tropical fruit juice. Fresh. Grape skins. Dried apricot.

Body: Sharp. Lemon juice. Salty. Cider and sharp apples. Dried banana. Carrot. Pineapple. Slight sulphur. White wine.

Finish: Sharp lemon juice. Pineapple. Salted biscuits. Carrots.

Conclusion: You know, after the utterly wonderful De Molen Muhle and Bahnhof Barrel Aged Gose every other gose I have had have been interesting¬† but not really enamoured me with the style. I was wondering if I just don’t get the non barrel aged version of the style. This, thankfully, put me back on track as it is a lovely gose – I have no idea how authentic or not it is, but what matters to me is it is a damn enjoyable beer.

It has a lambic like dry and sharp fruity base, with lots of tropical fruit and some cider apples style. In a way it reminds me of Wild Beer co’s sour beers, mainly in the cider styling. The flavours seem surprisingly consistent for a sour beer as well, with non of the holographic flavour tendencies. A lot of the time it can feel like a very dry alcoholic fruit juice, but one that really enlivens the mouth.

The gose style shows its own twist that comes in with that slight thirst inducing saltiness – not too heavy, but it gives a real urge to drink on and adds to that slight sulphur feel mid body that gives it some weight. For closest comparison it seems like a Wild Beer co Sourdough style base, and then makes it so it drags you into drinking more and more – enhancing rather than quenching your thirst. Each mouthful you take gives the illusion of slaking that thirst before it comes anew.

I am impressed – for me it is far more robust that most goses I have encountered and it means the special elements are not the only elements that stand out. Lambic, cider, salt, fruit juice and white wine all meet and mix to make this a great beer.

Background: Ok, here we gose again. Seriously I should stop doing gose puns. Anyway, the salted wheat beer sour, thing, from Germany – it is getting a nice resurgence from the craft beer movement after damn near dying out. When this turned up on Brewdog’s Guest beer selection I figured it was, again, time to expand my gose experience. Drunk while listening to even more Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Lovely drinking music.

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