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Scapa: Skiren (Scottish Island Single Malt Whisky: 40% ABV)

Visual: Slightly darkened gold. Slow thick sheet of steaks comes from the spirit.

Nose: Pears. Warming alcohol. Honey. Pencil shavings. Vanilla yogurt chunks. Apples. Vanilla toffee. Jelly babies. Water lightens the alcohol and makes very clean.

Body: Smooth but warming. Honey. Light praline. Sweet nuts. Oak touch. Apples. Slightly oily. Vanilla yogurt. Water makes clean and light. Orange notes. Bready. Pears. Slight wisp of smoke.

Finish: Brown bread. Clear honey. White chocolate. Dry. Oak. Tinned tropical fruit. Salt touch. Water adds dry rice. Slight sulphur. Mostly clean. More white chocolate. Wet rocks.

Conclusion: Only my second visit to the whisky that is Scapa and this is a fairly gentle one for a whisky from the Islands. Though admittedly that is a fairly varied area. Also, when I say gentle I only mean flavour wise – it has a mildly alcohol character that needs a touch of water to deal with it. I’m guessing from it being a no age statement whisky and the character that it has a touch of the younger whisky in it.

With just the tiniest drop of water it becomes very smooth mid body though more than a drop makes it too light. So, take just a drop and you get vanilla yogurt, green fruit and tinned tropical fruits over a honey touch. Very bourbon influenced, and a very gentle take, with just a lightly oily and sulphurous undertone for weight and Island character.

It always has a slightly young feel about it though, especially in the finish which develops a dry rice note over time, which is not great. Still, in general a decent whisky, just one with a few rough edges. Smooth overall and in general this is a great one to show the influence of bourbon ageing – the influence just booms through. It does feel like the younger spirit hurts though – it has so much good stuff in the lighter, smoother, easy drinking style that the rough edges really hurt its main appeal. In general I can dig rough edges in a whisky, but they work better in bigger, booming whisky – though this has a few of the rougher island characteristics in a pleasing way as well – some salt and wet rocks, just very subtly done as a backdrop to the bourbon style.

Decent, not a must have but decent – a tad more polish and this would be a good island take on the easy sipper with just a pinch of weight – doesn’t quite reach there but close.

Background: Scapa, bloody hell been a while since I had my one and only experience of Scapa. An Orkney Island distillery with a fairly small output if I remember rightly. So was very cool when my parents came back from Scotland and brought me this bottle of 100% first fill American Oak (so I presume bourbon casks) aged Scapa. Many thanks. Went with Svalbard: Gone Tomorrow as music for drinking to. Not much to add, this as my second Scapa, is where I try to try and start working out what parts of the spirit are distillery character and what is ageing and other such touches that alter that base.

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

Visual: Pale bronzed gold. Lots of slow, middling thickness streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Evident rum. Pencil shavings. Light sulphur. Oak. Water adds more pencil shavings. Strawberries.

Body: Vanilla and fudge. Noticeable alcohol. Spicy. Tinned tropical fruit. Thai spice. Cherries. Spicy red wine and bitter red wine. Strawberry. Water adds custard. Spicy rum. Liquorice touch.

Finish: Rum. Red cherries. Peppery. Tinned tropical fruit. Oak. Alcohol sheen. Treacle touch. Black licorice touch. Water adds more treacle. Fudge. Tannins.

Conclusion: Ok, first up, and to get this off my chest … This isn’t as good as the classic 12 Year Caribbean Rum Cask finished Bushmills that was a travel exclusive something like 15 years ago. That was one of my earliest favourite whiskeys so I have very strong opinions on this. Now, the fact that it was one of my early favourites may mean I am embellishing it in my mind. However a few elements of this new release, combined with the lack of age statement makes me think this is fairly young whisky. It has a slight rough alcohol edge neat, which is unusual for a quality Irish release, and so it definitely needs water to open it up. Considering this is over twice the price of that age statement declared 12 year release I feel it fair to be a tad irritated by this not living up to some very basic elements.

Now, while I am putting it through the screws it is still fairly decent, just overpriced for what it is. Anyway, let’s look at what flavour qualities it has. Well, it is quite spicy, and, as you may expect, it has a very evident rum character. It mixes that rum style with similar but different bitter and spicy red wine characteristics over time. There are some more gentle and sweeter vanilla and fudge notes, but generally the rum has free rein. Again, to go back to comparing to the 12 year rum finish, that was mainly aged in bourbon casks which gave it lots of time to smooth out and gain a good base to work from, which the well balanced use of rum added to, giving subtlety and complexity – while this feels much more one note and just slightly rough around the edges.

It may feel that I am being unfair comparing the two – but it does emphasise that, nice as this is, it feels like a real price gouge for lesser quality compared to what they used to turn out – even taking inflation and such into account. The original wasn’t that much more than a Bushmills 10, this is more expensive than Bushmills 16 is now.

Anyway it has moderate thickness but it is still reasonably easy to drink – though more weighty and harsher than most Irish whiskey. A lot of that weight is used to express the rum flavour, very spicy and well expressed but does overpower the more subtle sweetness and tinned tropical fruit notes.

Enjoyable, good rum character, but very overpriced for what it delivers. A pity that this didn’t use a bit of extra time to smooth and balance it into what it could have been.

Background: As I mentioned in my main notes, The 12 Year Caribbean Rum Finish Bushmills was one of my first favourite whiskeys. Thus when I heard about the steamship collection doing different aged Bushmills again, after years without, I was hoping for a rum release. Then when it was released, I spent ages searching for it in airports, but never finding this travel exclusive release. I finally found it at Master Of Malt when it finally got released from travel exclusivity. Woo. Master Of Malt have gone downhill a bit recently, but since they were the only place I could find it, that was where I grabbed it from. Rather than just finished in rum casks, this has been entirely aged in first fill Caribbean rum casks. Not much else to add, went with Miracle Of Sound – Level 10 for background music – his collection of his 2019 tunes Always good. Oh, and happy new year everyone – enjoy your drink!

Hepworth: Pullman (England: Bitter: 4.2% ABV)

Visual: Bronzed gold. Large mounded loose white head. Lots of small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Lightly earthy and peppery. Orange skin. Perfume. Vanilla and cream. Cinnamon.

Body: Earthy, peppery bitterness. Lightly sour gummed brown paper. Creamy. Light creamy lime. Light creamy toffee. Subtle apple.

Finish: Earthy, peppery character. Gummed envelopes. Cream. Mild toffee. Very long lasting earthiness.

Conclusion: Well, this is definitely back in the earthier, peppery side of the best bitter. Oddly a style that I used to find dull due to overt exposure, but now seems like an interesting, intense burst in the midst of this wall to wall world of super fruity milkshake beers.

Weird how things change.

So, how does this do? Well it has a high level of dry, peppery bitterness which is the predominant front of the beer. There is a light touch of that sour, gummed brown paper feel that helps the drinkability in a lot of the well made best bitters, which is nice. Similarly it has a light, sweet, creaminess – a heavier note than the sour touch, but still nowhere near as predominant as the bitterness. It gives a subtle set of creamy fruit notes – very low and subtle, almost lost under the bitterness, but gives the slightest release from the earthy front.

It’s a decent balance – the sweeter cream is very understated but grows slightly throughout the beer so that the earthiness doesn’t get too harsh despite its heavy peppery and bitter kick.
It is a pretty well made beer, not world shaking but has enough variety to keep your attention during a pint. Not the best best bitter that I’ve had – but as something to have once in a while to revisit the earthy best bitter style, it is a welcome, well balanced bitter kick.

Background: Was up north visiting the family over Christmas again this year. As before they got in some beers for me. Many thanks. This best bitter was one of those. Not much else to add, you may notice things look a bit prettier in the background. Again, up north. I like the north. Anyway. Hope ye all had a good Christmas. Cheers.

Lervig: Shiga Kogen: Yuzu Raga (Norway: Fruit Lager: 5.5% ABV)

Visual: Pale grain to yellow. Clear body with a good sized off white head. Lots of small bubbled carbonation.

Nose: Tart lemon to jiff lemon. Tart grapefruit. Yuzu? Fresh. Yellow raspberry. Lightly yeastie.

Body: Lemon curd. Yellow raspberry. Yuzu? Flour touch. Palma violets.

Finish: Lemon curd. Tart lemon. Yuzu? Tart grapes. Clean sheen feel. Touch of bitterness and hop oils. Flour. Lightly gritty bitterness. Peppery.

Conclusion:Soooooo. Have I ever eaten Yuzu? I honestly can’t remember. I know I have had a variety of Yuzu based and infused drinks. Deffo had them. I just cant remember if I have ever had the thing itself.

Anyway, the tart fruit character is very up front here. Very fresh, mixing lemon, grapefruit and yellow raspberry like notes. Or probably just tastes like yuzu and I would know that if I could remember trying it.

Probably.

The lager styling beneath the fruit is clean, with a slight hop oil sheen. It has a good, slick texture and slight noble hop feeling palma violet notes. The mouthfeel is slightly bohemian pilsner like, but generally the lager is only here as a mouthfeel, the yuzu is here as the flavour.

Because of that it is kind of simple, but refreshing and smooth. One point of note it it uses a slightly gritty, and initially light bitterness. It rises to moderate bitterness, though restrained in mid body and builds to a nice kick in the finish.

It is a simple 1-2-3 punch. Good texture, good fruit usage, good underlining bitterness. Simple. Refreshing, exactly what it says on the tin. Hints of Bohemian pilsner, but with tart fruit and light bitterness.

May not be world shaking but bloody drinkable. I am happy with it.

Background: Shiga Kogen, been a while since I had anything from them. Tried a good chunk of theirs during my visits to Japan. Mixed bag, some great stuff, some average. Lervig on the other hand tend to be spot on. Anyway I’m guessing Raga is the Japanese spelling of lager when adapted to their katakana alphabet, what with this being a lager and all. Yuzu is tart citrus fruit. I may or may not have tried it. My memory is fucked. Another beer from Independent Spirit. Went with Ritualz – CDR for music. Wonderfully weird and haunting music.

Frau Gruber: Hybrid Moments (Germany: IIPA: 8.3% ABV)

Visual: Mango milkshake colour and thick, cloudy character to the body. A yellow-white creamy head.

Nose: Bitty hop character. Light resin and oily hop character. Moderate bitterness. Mango. Slight toffee. Fresh white bread.

Body: Creamy. Peach. Banana custard. Slightly oily. Sweet, light strawberry. Prickly tingle. Mild golden syrup. Some pineapple.

Finish: Light resinous character and bitterness. Banana. Hop oils. Light charring. Golden syrup. Prickly hops. Sweet pineapple. Some tart grapefruit.

Conclusion: Goddammit! Cans should be legally required to say if they are a New England IPA on the packaging, on pain of loss of kneecaps and life for failing to do so. I was very deliberately trying to avoid the NEIPA style when I picked this one from the line up.

Sigh.

Thankfully this has some bitterness to it, but more importantly a moderate use of resinous hop character that gives a nicely IPA feel to the beer. I can live with that. I just would have preferred to have been prewarned what I was buying. Sooo, NEIPA ranting aside….

This is thick and fairly sweet and creamy. Lots of those sweeter notes are expressed as sweet fruit – with peach, banana and the sweetest beer expression of pineapple I have seen for a very long time. However what starts as a low bitterness matched to good hop oiliness and resin character early on gets more and more bitter as time progresses until it is a solid kick backing that sweetness. I approve.

It’s still that creamy thick thing that was not the beer style I was looking for, so take that into account, but it is a decent beer, even with that said.

So, uses the creamy style, but manages a surprising level of hop bitterness by the end. From a discrete hop touch in the sweet fruit dominated front, it feels like very good progress into a mouth filled with bitter, resinous hops by the end.

It is a sweet milkshake IPA that punishes you with resinous hop pain as a reward. Not quite what I was looking for but enjoyable all the same.

Background: There were three Frau Gruber Double/Imperial IPAs on the shelves at Independent Spirit. So I looked at them and decided that this, with its BRU-1, Galaxy, Motueka and Mosaic BBC hops was most likely to be to my tastes. Also, I thought it was unlike to be a NEIPA. I was wrong on that last point. Can image was decent stylised image and eye catching, and Germany has a good brewing heritage so I had high hopes. Also, Gruber, Ya know, Like Die Hard. I as always, am a simple person. Anyway, had just been to see IDLES recently, and discovered a new great artist called Billy Nomates, so was listening to her music during the drinking session.

Kees: Caramel Fudge Stout: Pedro Ximenez Edition (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 11.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Thin brown rim instead of a head.

Nose: Creamy caramel. Spicy red berries. Strawberry. Dessert wine. Fudge. Cream chocolate.

Body: Creamy chocolate. Thai seven spice. Spicy rum. Sulphur. Peppery. Fudge. Milky chocolate. Fatty butter.

Finish: Thai spice. Cocoa dust. Bourbon biscuits. Peppery. Brown bread. Fatty butter. Rye crackers.

Conclusions: Wow, I always knew that PX barrels carried some weight to them, but the flavours from it utterly pound over the base beer here.

Now, the base beer still shows itself – creamy and thick with lots of weight to it – but the sweeter caramel notes shown by the aroma seem to be overwhelmed by the time you hit the body and only a little of the fudge shows through. So the name of the beer seems slightly misleading in that it has now become a PX delivery system.

It is slightly sulphurous, dry spice and peppery in a rye kind of way into solidly bitter character. Pretty much the opposite of the base beer, and with surprisingly bitter red wine character hanging throughout. I always thought of PX as a very sweet wine, and sweet in its influence. Here there is very recognisable wine influence but it is more savoury, spicy and sulphury in its influence. Nothing is going as I expected with this beer.

The sweetness tries to swell below, but it is always a second string to this bow, to mix my metaphors. I mean 1) This is still good. But 2) This is nothing like what the name “Caramel Fudge Stout” would make you think. Instead you get what is left of the sweetness used to deliver a slightly bitter, spicy red wine character into heavy spice.

So, very spicy, very intense. I prefer a more subtle spice usage, and barrel ageing, but I am still impressed by it.

People into spicy beers will definitely get more from this than I did, and it is perfect for them.

Background: Don’t think I ever did notes on the standard Caramel Fudge Stout, so jumping right in here with the Pedro Ximenez barrel aged version. Done a lot of the barrel aged beers from Kees and they tend to be impressive for the most part, so was hoping for good things from this. This was just before I went to see IDLES live so put on IDLES: Brutalism to get in the mood. Oh, in related news. Fuck the Tories. Fuck Boris Johnson the fucking piece of shit. Also, this beer was bought from Independent Spirit. Who are nice people.

Green Spot: Chateau Leoville Barton (Irish Single Pot Still Whiskey: 46% ABV)

Visual: Deep, rich, slightly reddened gold. Fast and thick streaks comes from the spirit.

Nose: Brandy cream. Toffee. Noticeable alcohol. Peppermint cream. Shortbread. Pencil shavings. Light sulphur. Water lightens giving gentle toffee and white grapes.

Body: Honey. Fudge. Red berries. Alcohol air. Brandy cream. Toffee. Slightly spicy. Water makes smoother. Slight sulphur. Sherry trifle. Spicy red wine. Green grapes. Cake sponge.

Finish: Red cherries. Fudge. Slight alcohol air. Warming spice. Water makes smoother. Sherry trifle. Spicy red wine.

Conclusion:This is a lovely dram. It takes the already impressive, easy drinking, Green Spot and polishes it up with extra notes from the time in Bordeaux wine casks to give it a depth that makes it the whiskey it always had the potential to be.

With the standard Green Spot I had wondered if a few points extra abv would help it out, or would hurt it. With this being a tidy 6% abv stronger we fine out that the answer is help. Definitely help. Now, oddly, I recommend adding a touch of water to open the whiskey up – but only a small amount so it is probably still above the 40%. Taken like this is has extra grip and flavour but loses the small but noticeable alcohol touch it has neat.

Anyway, as indicated, neat this is slightly – just slightly – alcohol touched. However there are nice red fruit notes and sweet fudge backing. It is slightly sulphurous which was unexpected. Probably something from the wine barrel finish, along with the slight spicy notes. Here it is good but not exceptional.

Water really opens it up, bringing more to both the sweetness and the red wine character, revealing depth in both while soothing the alcohol. Sweeter trifle notes meet spicier wine notes, and if you are light with the water touch it is still slightly thicker than standard Green Spot with cake sponge weight and that sulphur giving a slightly darker, heavier feel while not making this smooth whiskey harder to drink.

Not the super easy sipping Irish, but still easy going and now so rewarding and with room for a lot more play and examination. A very impressive whiskey that balances character with ease of drinking.

Very highly recommended.

Background: Soo, first and most relevant to these notes. Boris Johnson is a piece of shit. In so many ways. So very many ways. Anyway, super relevant. So, I generally enjoyed my experiences with Green Spot – but at the BrizDram meet up a few years ago I got to try one of the unusual barrel aged versions and it blew my mind. So when I got the chance to try this Bordeaux wine cask finished version at Independent Spirit I grabbed it. It comes with a little leaflet detailing the history of Chateau Leoville Barton Wine. Apparently it is super good. I have never tried it. If anyone wants to donate any to me for research purposes I will happily drink it. Before the wine cask finish this was aged in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks. Not sure of age statement – regular green spot is ten year according to some sources – or a mix of seven to ten according to others, and googling says this spent 18 months in the finish barrel – I presume on top of standard ageing. Soooo 8 years? 11 year? Ish? No idea. Anyway, went with The Eels: End Times for music while drinking. This was before finding out the election results so the appropriateness is completely coincidental.

Brass Castle: Kingdom Of The Sparkle Pony (England: Table Beer: 2.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale, just slightly hazy yellow coloured body. Lots of small bubbled carbonation. Massive white mounded head that leaves some suds.

Nose: Bubblegum. Cane sugar. Fresh brown bread. Crushed Blackpool rock. Fresh nan bread. Sugared orange sweets.

Body: Bubblegum. Yeasty feel. Candyfloss. Unleavened bread. Lime sweets. Sugared orange sweets.

Finish: Bubblegum. Soft banana sweets. Peppery. Brown bread. Candyfloss.

Conclusion: Darn it – I thought I had found my perfect beer when I heard the description for this. A moderate to low abv, so very sessionable. Candyfloss flavours and “Sparkle Pony” in the name. I was excited. Turns out it is ok, nothing special, and as you might expect it is a bit gimmicky. Darn it.

So, aye, it is ok. At its base it hs that drinkable, slightly bready and yeasty table beer style. Solid enough. It gets fairly lost under what comes next, but is still a solid table beer base.

Soooo, the candyfloss. Now I knew going I that the beer would be at least slightly gimmicky. It is a candyfloss beer for fecks sake, the question was how well was it going to pull off the gimmick? And this …. eh. It’s pretty bubble gummy – reminds me of Sorachi Ace hops in that way but without the additional lemongrass notes. Sweet in flavour, not syrupy, but a kind of dry sweetness that really lingers. It has varied sugared fruit notes that come out over time, but feels very, very artificial.

Which, ya know, candyfloss. What did I expect? I guess I was hoping it would be used with a more subtle touch. This is a very silly beer, kind of fun as any silly bit of fluff can be, but not really a good beer in that. It really emphasises the long lasting sweet notes, where a more present table beer character would have let the sweet notes sparkle more in comparison rather than wear out their welcome as they do here.

It is still a laugh. It does what it says on the tin, but is pretty flawed as a table beer as it doesn’t have any sessionable character, and suffers as anything else due to lack of depth. Ah well. A laugh, but a shallow one.

Background: Ok – I did not just grab this because it is called “Kingdom Of The Sparkle Pony”. Though that did help. Nor just because of that and the fact this is made with candyfloss. Which is ridiculous but also sounded kind of fun. It was also because of the can art, which was super cool. I am shallow. Yes we established that a long time ago. Anyway, this is a table beer made with candyfloss. Because of course. Didn’t want anything too heavy musically to go with this one, so listed to the Celeste: Farewell soundtrack. So much good music in that game and a perfect match for the beer. Another one grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Lervig: No Worries (Norway: Low Alcohol: 0.5% ABV)

Visual: Slightly cloudy, light yellow. Large loose mounded white head.

Nose: Mango. Lightly wheaty. Low bitterness. Crisp hop character. Soft lemon. Vanilla. Mild pomegranate. Cake sponge.

Body: Energy drinks. Good hop character. Slight bitterness. Prickly. Soft lemon. Fluffy feel. Cake sponge. Mango.

Finish: Glucose energy drinks. Gritty bitterness. Soft, fresh lemon. Soft mango. Vanilla. Cake sponge. Heavier bitterness over time.

Conclusion: OK, lots of good point to this. So I am going to start with the main bad point. I’m just kind of contrary like that.

The bad point is one common to a lot of low alcohol beers – and it is actually not tannin like notes this time. For once. Instead this leans more towards a soft glucose energy drink style. Not the worst element but a very clear tell that the beer has less weight to it than a higher abv would.

Against that is a moderate, prickly hop character that pushes only moderate bitterness bit in a kind of gravely way that makes it feel heavier than it otherwise would. The bitterness slowly raises in the finish to give a solid kick to the end. It feels quite dry in the finish, giving an attenuated APA kind of feel to the hops.

The fruitiness of most IPAs these days is there as well, though not as heavy. There is slight dry mango and very soft lemon which make up the main thrust of it. A bit of a different take to a lot of the IPAs these days, let alone low alcohol IPAs, decent if not world shattering in taste.

Generally another decent low alcohol beer. We are spoiled for them at the mo. This one could do with a few tweaks, but generally does the job in a satisfying fashion.

Background: Low alcohol beer! Yep, that is a common thing on this blog now. Live with it. Another one grabbed from Beercraft who always seem to have a decent low abv selection. Lervig have done me solid so far, so hope they can bring their A game to a low abv beer. Though admittedly most of the stuff from them I have tried was on the higher end of the abv scale. Went with Nine Inch Nails: Further Down The Spiral for drinking music. Their version of Hurt was the original and is still the best.


De Molen: Decadent & Dutch (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 10.1% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown, with red hints at the edge. A thin off white head.

Nose: Treacle. Charring. Liquorice allsorts. Fresh waffles. Toffee. Salted caramel. Smooth chocolate.

Body: Very smooth. Thick mouthfeel. Creamy toffee. Liquorice. Chocolate liqueur. Salted caramel. Pancake.

Finish: Toffee liqueur. Salted caramel. Candyfloss. Liquorice touch. Thick American style pancakes. Sugary honey.

Conclusion: Ok, this manages to be super smooth on the tongue, yet present a decently weighty mouthfeel, while still allowing out a gentle showing of alcohol to warn of the danger of over 10% abv. A hard balance to get right, but done well here.

On things that are not balanced though – this is very sweet. Which admittedly is unsurprising considering the inspiration. Having now had freshly made warm stroopwafels in the Netherlands, I can say that it is not as stupidly sickly sweet as those are though. It is still very sweet.

It is a fairly simple mix of flavours – caramel, toffee, chocolate and thick pancakes. All sweet, all done kind of liqueur style, and all done in a salted variant fashion. That is a big sweet beer.

There is a bit of savoury liquorice in there, though that can tend to a sweeter liquorice allsorts style at times. Not my favourite note in beers in general but the savoury touch it brings is very much needed here.

I love it. Very one style – so concentrating on the sweetness that I cannot have it often, so it cannot be a favourite, but a smooth, sweet beer that just warns of the alcohol and is toffee heavy and makes for a wonderful occasional treat.

It is going to be a Marmite love or hate beer for people – but if you can manage a salted sugar shock assault of a beer then this is as well made as you will get of them. After all that is said, hopefully you will know if it will appeal to you.

I’m a simple soul. I love it.

Background: Stroopwafels! De Molen! Despite being bought up by Swinkels Family Brewers, De Molen seems to be still going strong. Then again looking at the other breweries Swinkels own, they mostly seem to have held up. Which is nice. Anyway, I don’t get to try as many Barely Wines as I would like, Stroopwafels beers always intrigue me, even if they don’t always work out and De Molen are reliably great. So of course I grabbed it. This is made with actual syrup waffles according to the ingredients. And sea salt. A shorter list of odd ingredients than I expected, but definitely an odd one. Bought from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to IDLES – Brutalism. Yes I finally grabbed their first album. Seeing them live soon!

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