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Douglas Laing: Independent Spirit: Old Particular: Port Dundas 13 Year (Scottish Single Grain Whisky: 13 Year: 48.4% ABV)

Visual: Very pale. Brackish water to pale yellow. Fast streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Viscous alcohol. Apples. Menthol. Water makes creamy and adds light peppermint.

Body: Baileys. Green apple. Strong alcohol. Water makes more creamy. Light peppermint. Toffee. Pears. More baileys. Viscous jelly alcohol feel.

Finish: Alcohol air. Menthol. Baileys. Pear. Water adds white chocolate. Tinned tropical fruit. Creamier and with peppermint notes.

Conclusion: This is a mix of the expected and the unexpected. I had tried this in the shop before buying and I have general memories of being impressed by it. Hence why I bought it, it wouldn’t make sense otherwise, right?

On first open of this bottle this seemed familiar, but I couldn’t work out why it had jumped out at me before. It had green fruit that spoke of a younger spirit matched with a thicker, viscous body – warming with a jelly like alcohol feel, but not burning like a young spirit would be. Good, but hardly stand out.

Which is why, these days, I do notes about a week after breaking open a bottle. It really seems to make all the difference.

Now, a week on, it has a lightly creamy liqueur like set of notes which becomes distinctly Baileys like with water. It is a completely unexpected blast that mixes with the green fruit to crate a thicker and heavier single grain experience. It is still that thick, viscous alcohol character in the body that you often get of grain, but with the creamier flavours heading out into a fresh peppermint and menthol endgame.

Usually I expect single grain to show more of the cask influence, but here the whisky is very much its own thing. There is white chocolate, toffee and tinned tropical fruit notes, that say bourbon ageing to me – but they take time to come out and take the stage.

This is very good – it does have some rough alcohol edges and slight overly heavy jelly alcohol character at times which are not the best, but generally it is very enjoyable. A touch of water helps but never quite removes the alcohol character – a flaw but not one that ruins this interesting experience.

Background: Another independent bottling from Independent Spirit – this time in collaboration with Douglas Laing. This is one of 126 bottles and was aged from 2004 to 2017. Port Dundas was a single grain distillery that stopped production in 2011. I’ve tried a 20 year bottling of it before, but is my sole experience of this distillery and not quite to my tastes. This was drunk while listening to the new Arch Enemy CD for the 2nd time– seems more varied than prior albums, taking a bit of time to get used to it.

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Tempest: Attack Of The Killer Crab (Scotland: IIPA: 9.2% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow. Clear body with many bits evident floating in it. Medium sized white head.

Nose: Dried mango. Thick hop character. Musty and slightly resinous hops. Lightly bready.

Body: Creamy mouthfeel. Cake sponge. Grapes. Good hop bitterness and hop oils. Peach. Dried apricot. Mango. Light hop prickle. Thick hop feel. Resinous. Caramel.

Finish: Kiwi. Good hop oils. Dried apricot. High bitterness. Lightly bready. White grapes. Resinous. Fudge.

Conclusion: Ooohh, a nice, bitter, oily, resinous double IPA matched with sweet fruit flavours. Sign me up! This is right in my wheelhouse. There is sweetness from the malt, but it is offered up twisted and spanked by the oily hops to create a bittersweet sensation. The malt provides more a creaminess and thick mouthfeel than anything else, so everything else in this beer really grips.

To go back a moment, this is visually an odd one – not cloudy like the New England IPA style, and it definitely doesn’t taste like that style, but it has lots of floating bits in it that gives it a very odd look to the eye. As you drink the bits swirl around the glass, catching and reflecting the light. I was temporarily worried I had grabbed a bad bottle until I sipped it and found out that – nope – it still tastes great.

When I say tastes great, I mean genuinely great – I like the … sigh ok I’ll call it “dank” hop character. I love the oily and resinous style with big bitterness, but it uses the creamy mouthfeel and sweet peach, kiwi and grapes to punch through making for great contrast. This is a beer that loves balance – everything is intense, but it doing that it creates a fragile true between the elements that lets everything work without having to compromise either side.

We are early in 2018 and we already have the first truly great beer. An old school fruity, USA style double IPA with extra resin and hop oils. Just what you need when you are beginning to think you are getting blasé to the style.

Background: Been a while since I had a tempest beer, and this one’s name and art caught my attention – so it seemed like one to grab. It was only after I bought it that I worried that it may actually contain crab. Thankfully the “Vegan Friendly” label on the side made me fairly sure there is no crab in this. Unless crab got redefined as a vegetable recently and no-one told me. Which is fairly unlikely. I think. Anyway, grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to the new Arch Enemy album – “Will To Power” – which I’m presuming is a reference to the original Nietzsche not the dickhead Nazis who appropriated and misused it.

Vibrant Forest: Necropolis (England: BIPA: 8.2% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Massive brown froth head with large bubbles.

Nose: Milky coffee. Crisp hop character. Pine needles. Wet wood. Kiwi and grapes.

Body: Walnuts and cashews. Slight sour cream twist. Kiwi. Lightly creamy. Creamy chococlate. Grapes. Pineapple. Toffee.

Finish: Sour cream and chives. Malt chocolate. Dry roasted peanuts. Slight hop oils. Praline. Grapes. Pineapple and custard. Bitter cocoa and hops. Chocolate cake

Conclusion: This is fairly low bitterness for an “India” prefixed beer – well low in hop bitterness anyway, it has a decent level of bitter chocolate character, especially in the finish, which makes up for the lack of hops kick.

However, for the most part we have a fairly sweet chocolate body, matched with a sour cream like twist contrast – in an old school Punk IPA style – backed up by light use of sweet green fruit and light tarter fruit notes.

The hops seem to all be working on the fruit flavour rather than bitterness, hop oils, resin or any of that stuff. It feels like the New England take of the Black IPA world, just with a lot more body than that would suggest.

That body is what makes the beer work – a good malt sweetness, with moderate range in those sweet flavours; More importantly than that it gives the fruitier notes grip with a solid mouthfeel. The light sour cream twist makes it feel different from the BIPA range and gives contrast to keep the sweeter notes from getting dull.

The beer doesn’t quite feel like a Black IPA – the fact it calls itself an India Black Ale seems a very good call to me as it balances the malt and the hop much more than the IPA style oft suggests. It is also worth mentioning that this is dangerously easy drink at the abv it comes in at – the smoothness makes you feel like you could session it. But you can’t. Just don’t. Please.

I’m very impressed – the easy drinking BIPA of great flavour.

Background: Independent Spirit have had Vibrant Forest beers in for a while now, and I keep promising to get around to trying something from this brewery. Also I haven’t had any Black IPAs for a while, so this looked like a chance to kill two birds with one stone. Incidentally the beer calls itself an India Black Ale, which seems like better naming convention than Black IPA, but I think the fight for getting general acceptance for that naming has long since sailed. Drunk while listening to more Nightwish – the album is bloody long so I’m giving it a few listens over to get a feel for it – seems to have quite a range of styles within it.

Amundsen: Dessert In A Can: Chocolate Marshmallow (Norway: Imperial Stout: 11.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Viscous pour. Thin white dash over the body instead of a head.

Nose: Marshmallow. Condensed cream. Fudge. Milky chocolate. Praline. Pecan. Nut oils. Oily in general.

Body: Bitter chocolate and sweet cocoa dust. Cream. Walnuts. Praline. Marshmallow. Chocolate ice cream.

Finish: Cocoa dust. Marshmallow. Chocolate cream cake. Chocolate ice cream.

Conclusion: Ok, I both love and hate the fact this beer sums itself up so perfectly – it basically tastes like chocolate ice cream covered in marshmallow. It is useful that it does so, but it does leave me little left to do.

However, I am a professional (Ok, an enthusiastic amateur with delusions of competency), so I will try to describe it more than that.

The chocolate elements are well done – chocolate ice cream is dominant by the end, as I indicated before. – but there is a hint of bitter chocolate notes at the front, and a more substantial, and while sweet, less sickly sweet cocoa dust character. The marshmallow is there in the thickness as well as the taste, so it definitely fully delves into its gimmick.

More than that it has a nuttiness – mixing pecan and walnut along with an oily nut character; Elements that add a savoury to bitter undercurrent to this otherwise very sweet beer.

Generally it does its one gimmick, and adds a few founding notes – doing it well. You know what you are looking for in this beer and you get it. Not a world shaking super beer, but it definitely does the job it sets out to do, and just a touch more.

Background: I’ve seen some backlash against the so called “Dessert beers” online, and while I can kind of see why, I am still a fan. Some people dislike them as they are moving away from making a beer a beer, and instead trying to copy other things. Some people just dislike them due their seeming omnipresence at the moment, which I can kind of see, but like all the others, it is just a thing in fashion at the moment. I saw it with hoppy IPAs, sours, gose, barrel aged beers, and now dessert beers – whatever is popular seems played out – but there are still tons of other beers, and this fad too will pass. Taken as an occasional treat, I enjoy the concept. This one is another beer grabbed from Independent Spirit. Incidentally the label on the can gets rubbed off pretty easily – as I found when I took it home in a bag with other beers – hence the worn down quality of the can in the photo. Is it just me or does the white line up to the “A” make it look like someone has etched a cock on the can? This was drunk while listening to Nightwish – Dark Passion Play. A mate introduced to to Nightwish over Christmas so been giving them a listen.

3 Fonteinen: Hommage (Belgium: Fruit Lambic: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Dark cherry red. Hazy. Thin white dash of a head.

Nose: Light horse blankets. Oats. Light acidic apple. White wine. Black cherry and red cherry mix. Mashed raspberries. Sherry. Cake sponge.

Body: Tart. Tomatoes. Oats. Lightly bready. Raspberries. Cakes sponge. Tart cider. Sour white grapes. Sour cherry. Sour pear. Greenery.

Finish: Tomatoes. Yellow raspberries. Cucumber. Tart air. Bitter dustiness. Raspberry. Cherry. Twigs. Oats. Sour cherry sweets. Dried raisins. Smoke. White wine.

Conclusion: Ok, something causes me to taste a tomato like character in specific lambics – I say that as it happened to me again with this one. I am starting to develop a hypothesis that it is the interaction of the sour cherry with the lambic base that causes it – as it seems to come only with beers that specifically use sour cherries. I could be wrong though, will keep an eye on it.

So, yeah this has that tomato set of notes that I don’t really find pleasant. Thankfully they are far less evident here than in previous beers I have encountered them in, so it doesn’t impact the beer too much, but it is still there.

Aside for that the base of this beer is lightly acidic, not too heavily so, instead leaning more towards a kind of cloying sourness that meshes with the tomato notes – A thick, oat, muesli and raisins kind of character, heading out into a dusty, slightly smokey bitterness in the finish

The beer is surprisingly savoury – coming into the tart raspberry and grape notes much later on that you would expect – then ending up in a light, dry white wine character that comes out. So you have a lot of savoury, backed with light tartness with a thick savoury-sour and thick, slightly musty feel to the character.

As time goes on the tomato notes recede allowing a more tart, sour cherry flavour coming out in a kind of sour sweets kind of way – it is much better here, and more full bodied, still over that more savoury than usual base though.

It is interesting, and the range of characteristics as it goes from cool to warm is very large, but I can’t overly say I like it. It feels cloying and considering the cost this goes for I really can’t recommend it for just finding it interesting. An unusual lambic, but unfortunately kind of sub average for enjoyment.

Conclusion: OK, this was bloody expensive, so I had to think hard and do a bit of research into it before finally grabbing it from Independent Spirit – it is a lambic made in memory of Gaston Debelder , the foudner of 3 Fonteinen and is made with 30% raspberries and 5% sour cherries. Sounded interesting, and had bloody good rep online, so I decided to shell out the cash for it. Continuing my attempts to put on awesome music for beer, I put on the indie pop joy that is Grimes – Visions – an utter burst of bright joy in music.

Kees: Barrel Project 17.07 S.P.X. (Netherlands: Scotch Ale: 9% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown. Creamy brown head. Some carbonation. The head leaves suds.

Nose: Sweet dessert wine. Sweet raspberry crème. Figs to figgy pudding. Raisins. Brandy cream. Spotted dick. Marshmallows.

Body: Figs. Cocktail bitters. Prunes touch. Sour apples. Calvados. Smooth. Raisins. Malt chocolate. Brandy cream. Marshmallows. Raspberry yogurt. Dessert wine.

Finish: Sour dates. Sour wine. Calvados. Slight bitterness. Charring. Earthy hop bitterness. Malt chocolate. Dessert wine. Brandy cream. Spiced grapes. Marshmallows.

Conclusion: I spent a lot of time digging into this before before starting this conclusion. This initially seemed another one of those beers that was overly dominated by the barrel ageing – but only initially. You get a real fresh and sweet dessert wine like character from the sherry ageing on first sniff and sip, but it soon dispels the illusion that this is all it has.

What is notable, for me anyway, is that the Wee Heavy is a style that is very easy to make a simple beer – packed with enjoyable dark fruit notes, but one note in that and so quickly dull. This does have part of that description – it packs in the dark fruit, but beyond that it has a slight sour apple and figs set of notes against that sweet base. Not a heavy set of notes, and not in an acidic fashion – instead akin to stewed, fruit stone sucked, sour notes under the heavy malt. This is all then underlined by a solid, low level, earthy hop bitterness.

The dessert wine style character keeps adding to this, bringing sweet high notes and also mixes with the base to create interesting concoctions such as Calvados like sweet notes as the sherry character mixes with the sour fruit to create rewarding combinations.

To me this is both Barrel Ageing, and Wee Heavies, done right. It has added complexities to the base of what you would expect from a scotch ale, then topped that up with extra notes from the ageing. So, it seems I am back on the barrel ageing fan bandwagon again!

Background: I had a try of a bunch of Kee’s Barrel Project beers about a year back I think – generally enjoyed them, so decided to try this from the new batch. The fact it was a wee heavy interested me – you don’t see a huge amount of them around, and less so of experiments with them – so was definitely worth a try to my mind. This has been Pedro Ximenez barrel aged – I haven’t had much experience with the sherry, but beers and whisky aged in it tend to be fabulous. This was another one grabbed from Independent Spirit and was the first beer drunk in 2018! Whoop Whoop! Drunk while listening to Rise Against – Endgame, seriously an album without a single bad song on it.

Heller: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen (Germany: Smoked: 5.1% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown. Brown good sized frothy and bubbled head.

Nose: Smoked bacon. Smoke. Malt chocolate. Beef broth. Blue cheese.

Body: Beefy. Malt chocolate. Light chalk. Smoke. Vanilla. Light salt and medicinal notes. Thick mouthfeel. Slight treacle and toffee. Light fruitcake.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Smoke. Medicinal notes. Ash. Dried beef. Charcoal. Dry air. Chalk.

Conclusion: First time I tried a smoke beer I had to give up half way through as it tasted like an ash tray. Aecht Schlenkerla have generally been on the smokier end of the spectrum in my experience, which made me a tad nervous going into this, but I actually found it much more rewarding than those first, early, experiences would ever have indicated.

The aroma holds all the best of the good stuff that smoke can bring to a beer – you get smoked bacon, blue cheese and some other meaty, beefy notes.

The body is more restrained in the big flavours – it is still kind of beefy, with malt chocolate in the main base. The raw smoke comes out more than the smoked bacon or cheese notes, however it also brings mildly medicinal, slightly salted notes that call to Islay whisky. It is heavy duty, smooth mouthfeel – but, unlike some other Aecht Schlenkerla beers it feels like it lacks the awesome notes of the aroma.

The finish comes in closest to the ash tray like beer style I couldn’t finish before. It has big smoke, light chalk and lightly charred – theough still with hints of the chococlate and beef. It is harsh but well made for the level of ash like notes.

It is ok by me, but could be a little overly harsh for people not into this level of smoke. The ash tray like notes that are a flaw to me, are still well made notes for those who enjoy them – just a touch too intense for me. However even with that the mouthfeel is smooth and this is packed with flavour.

Very enjoyable overall, not an introductory smoke beer, and will definitely be too heavy duty for some, but still a genuinely good beer.

Background: You know, I always though the brewery was “Aecht Schlenkerla” – a quick google told me I was wrong, it is Brauerei Heller. Now I know, and knowing is half the battle. The other half is kicking the shit out of someone. That is the less fun half. Anyway, this was kindly brought back from Germany for me by my parents – many thanks. Drank it while I was visiting them over the winter holidays. Aecht Schlenkerla were one of the first smoked beers I ever encountered, back before I became acclimatised to them, so I was intrigued to go back to them and see if I could cope better now – I’ve tried other variants over the years, but this is the first time with the classic Marzen. If you are wondering about the odd glass choice – I originally had it in a different glass, and had put the cap back off the bottle while I took a photo. The cap promptly popped into the air, and landed right in the pint and refused to leave, necessitating decanting over into this new glass so not to end up doing tasting notes on a metal cap.

Haand: Narke: Birrificio Del Ducato: #1000 (Norway: Quadrupel: 10.4% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown. Thin brown head. Still body.

Nose: Bitter almonds. Raisins. Sour wine. Wholemeal bread. Malt drinks. Slight sulphur. Nutmeg. Light musty air.

Body: Almonds. Vinous – sour red wine. Seven Thai spice. Fruitcake and sultanas. Figs. Cocktail bitters. Earthy bitterness. Marzipan. Marmalade.

Finish: Almonds. Cocktail bitters. Malt biscuits and malt drinks. Port. Earthy notes. Slight funky yeast feel.

Conclusion: Maybe I need to walk away from barrel aged beers for a while. I keep feeling like I have to dig and fight through the ageing to get to the beer. Or maybe I don’t need to go that far, it is just on my mind after drinking this. I do have a lot of barrel aged beers in the cupboard right now, and it would be horrible to waste them. Anyway, as you may have guessed this is very barrel aged influenced, very vinous, with additional notes in cocktail bitters like character and bitter almonds taking the front.

Now time does help to get the beer out and about, with malt chocolate and fruitcake character coming out. Also the mix of base and barrel ageing seem to create a marmalade like character which I would more expect of cognac aged beer that I would expect to find it here.

While it is always very vinous dominated, I did soften to the beer over time. For one, what seemed like a slightly thin mouthfeel early on develops into a light, creamy thickness as you get used to the vinous element that seems to block the feel of the main body. Similarly the aroma gains a slight sulphur, bready thickness to it as the vinous element simmer down – calling to memories of a hand pulled real ale in some ways.

The latter half of the beer still has a heavy, bitter, sour wine influence, oddly mixing with the sweet marmalade base. However with more hop character and earthy bitterness coming out, matched with more dark fruit below that, which gives a more satisfying beer base.

I think a lighter touch on the oak ageing would benefit this a lot. That is presuming the base beer is good, it seems so, but it is hard to tell at this point. If the base beer is not good – well good job blunting it with the vinous notes then!

So, basically, if you are interested in the barrel ageing this is reasonable, if not massivly influenced by the base beer – it leans on an eathy, yeast influenced base more than anything else. If you are more interested in the beer it loses much of that, so it is probably not for you.

Simple, eh?

Background: So, a quad aged in Amarone casks, done in collaboration with the awesome Narke, and Ducato – who I didn’t get along with the last beer I encountered from them, but generally have a good rep. Also I don’t think I have ever tried Amarone , so don’t expect any wise comparisons to the original wine from me today. This beer was grabbed from Brewdog’s guest beer section and saved for when I wanted something big and booming to try. So, on going with awesome music for backing my drinking – went with Anti-Nowhere League – “We are … the League. May not be everyone’s choice of punk, but I love their over the top stylings.

Wild Beer Co: Yokai (England: Sour Ale: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Very clear, pale, yellowed colour. Thin white head. Still.

Nose: Popcorn. Flour. Peppercorns. Lime cordial. Wet cardboard. Grapes. Slight yeast funk.

Body: Tart. Lime cordial. Lightly sherbety. Light chalk. Warming peppercorn sauce. Mild chilli. White grapes. Slightly oily – eel sashimi. Slight peach.

Finish: Tangy. Slight chalk. Mango. Mild chilli. Lime cordial. Yeasty funk.

Conclusion: This is a hard one to pin down. It is lightly tart, with slight yeast funk that suggest a hint of a Brett yeast kiss, but not more than that. It brings tart fruit flavours, dryly delivered; A kind of sweet peach meets tart lime cordial kind of thing. It could be that is just me trying and failing to describe the yuzu that was used in making this. Been a while since I last ran into it, so I don’t have it quite fresh in my memory. That lightly tart, fruity note is then set against a savoury backing – slight chalky dryness, and slight chilli warming with the peppercorn character.

Everything is done gently – a kiss of yeast funk, a light peppercorn warmth, a waft of tart fruit. It is a very unusual beer, but kind of refreshing in the tart and dry mix, matched with a satisfying, well they call it umami and who am I to argue with that, kind of character. It gives a slightly oily gripping centre to an otherwise lighter beer.

Unusual and nice. Kind of gentle, but satisfying in what it does.

Background: Ok, I couldn’t find the o with a dash over it to indicate a long o sound You can see it on the can, you know where it is. We are all happy with the pronunciation, right? Ok, cool. Been grabbing less Wild Beer Co beers recently as their hit to miss ratio on experimentation has been going down a bit, but this new canned release sounded pretty cool. It is made with yuzu, seaweed and Szechuan peppercorns. Now, the can says that this beer is inspired by the Japanese folklore – but Szechuan, and therefore Szechuan peppercorns, is from China. Which is odd. Maybe they still get used a lot in Japan – I frankly have no idea. It just stood out, having had my taste-buds blown out by a Szechuan hot pot in China this year. It was bloody warm, and turns out the guide had ordered us the mildest version available. Anyway – continuing the trend of drinking beer with classic music albums, put on the collection of The Prodigy Singles for this one. Yes I’m a 90s teen. Another one bought from Independent Spirit.

Lervig: Cloudwater: There’s a Cold Beer In My Fridge And I Need A Drink (Norway: IPA: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Murky dark apricot with a massive yellow-white head. Lots of small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Pine needles. Resin. Oily hop character. Pineapple. Vanilla and custard cream biscuits. Watercress. Wheaty air.

Body: Sticky, oily hop bitterness. Apricot. Kumquat. Soft grapes. Love heart sweets. Thick creamy texture. Peach juices.

Finish: Stewed apricot. Sticky oily hops. Solid bitterness. Moss. Raw eel sashimi. Resinous. Brown bread.

Conclusion: On first glance I rolled my eyes at this one, as this came out looking like the prototypical New England IPA. It is all cloudy and hazy on the eye, which is a nice look I will admit, and the NEIPA is not a bad style, but it is not my favourite style due to often taking a light, low bitterness take on the style which is not what I was looking for right now.

This beer quickly kicked that idea into touch. Pine needles and oily hops come out in the nose, then into sticky, oily bitterness in the body, and a solid bitter kick on the way out. This packs in all the nice alpha acids and oily hop character that I like in an IPA. Obviously if you like the low IBU, smooth NEIPA style, your mileage may vary significantly.

Beneath that the fruit is juicer and thicker than in most NEIPAs – using the creamy texture for extra mouthfeel but not tying the fruit character to a similar smoothness. Instead they give sticky stewed apricots and grapes to match the sticky hops punch for punch. There is good use of a savoury kumquat style backing and moss like notes underneath – mixed with a umami, kind of eel sashimi, hard to place kind of character – basically savoury grounding notes against a big peach syrup sweetness that adds range around the solid bitterness.

All together a great IPA – uses the creaminess of NEIPA, the “dank” hops of current popular trends, and the fruit use of a more traditional USA IPA. What keeps it from classic status is a lack of range to come out throughout the beer- it just lacks extra notes to dig into as time does on, but that is about all. Another great IPA.

Background: Ok, this was basically pressed into my hand at Independent Spirit, and I was told to grab it. So I did. Let’s face it Cloud water know their hop beers, and Lervig have a good rep – plus the can looks like someone vomiting up green. Which is nice. Always the best reasons to grab a beer. Anyway, made with rye in as well, so that is an actual thing about the beer.

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