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Brewdog: Slot Machine (Scotland: Speciality Grain :5.2% ABV)

Visual: Dark cherry red. Clear with an inch of browned bubbled head that leaves suds.

Nose: Malt chocolate. Choc orange. Lights nuts. Lightly creamy.

Body: Spicy, nutty and with malt chocolate. Peppery. Roasted nuts. Soft kiwi fruit. Vanilla. Toffee.

Finish: Cinnamon and dry ground spice. Coriander. Nutty. Rye crackers. Orange skin. Slight grapes and vanilla yogurt.

Conclusion: Hmm, giving this beer some time and with that some heat so it can develop, as chilled down this is really letting me down – however it has hints that makes me think it can do better – so let us see what some heat can do.

Initially this seems simple – nutty and spicy with a malt chocolate centre – a very middle of the road beer, with the grounding base but nothing done with this. I’m hoping that the fact I chilled this beer before I drank it just means it has been hiding the good stuff from me up to now.

So, how is it changing? Well it is more creamy, with some green fruit – also a touch more peppery, but the increased cream character easily balances that. Still doesn’t quite work – the sweetness comes with a vanilla character that starts as a pleasant vanilla toffee, but ends up a cloying vanilla yogurt style by the end – which is another savoury note that seems dull against the rest of the background.

It feels like it is overemphasising the grounding notes – the pepper, the yogurt, the roasted nuts – but with no high points against that. It has the roasted and bitter hop character, but few hop flavours to go with the IPA name it used. Instead it feels like a more bitter hopped Irish red. Not my thing – it feels leaden and so is not a beer I can recommend.

Background: Ok, usually disclaimer – as always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beer and this was grabbed directly from the Brewdog online store. This is one of their new seasonal releases – they call it a red rye IPA – which is a whole mess of ideas. Basically a highly hopped amber ale made with rye to my eye. I really dislike how * IPA gets so overused these days – it seems to try and shove a wide variety of styles under one hat just due to them being well hopped. Drunk while listening to Praxis – Transmutation for some weird as hell backing music.

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Beavertown: Other Half: Dead and Berried (England: Fruit Pale Ale: 6.2% ABV)

Visual: Hazy strawberry juice red. A moderate red to white bubbled head.

Nose: Oats. Flour. White bread. Mild raspberry yogurt. Light smoke.

Body: White bread. Milky. Bread pudding. Pepper. Tart raspberry. Light gooseberry. Light smoke. Blueberry. Green leaves. Slightly dry. Light strawberry.

Finish: Milk. Raspberry including the pips. Gooseberry. Flour. Brown bread. Slight peppery. Greenery and mint. Light bitterness.

Conclusion: This feels good, though I’m having a hard time pinning down what it does different to other, similar, beers that makes it so much more satisfying.

Let’s see – it is pretty to the eye – strawberry smoothie styled – but that great visual experience is pretty common to fruit beers.

So what is it then? The slight, but not excessive dryness of the body, matched with light peppery character? Two elements that contrast the tart raspberry notes and so makes it really “pop” while keeping a dry crisp ease of drinking?

Is it the tart, yet natural feeling fruit character? No artificial feeling sweet notes and matched by a bevy of other fruit notes to back it up, giving a refreshing, fruit cooler feeling, mouth refreshing Style? Could well be.

Or could it be the low level but present hop bitterness that draws a line under the whole experience? That definitely helps. Everything together makes for a dry base that uses the spice notes that come with it to make a refined and complex enough fruit beer to stand out. If it wasn’t so strong I would call it a summer refresher, but it is a few points too high abv for that – as is it is a fruit beer with a crisp hop base, that stands out from the crowd.

Background: Described as a German Style Raspberry Pale by the brewery – which certainly is a set of words I did not expect to see together, this is a collab beer made with German ale yeast, Citra hops and, well, raspberries. Don’t know much about Other Half, but Beavertown have been consistently good recently. Grabbed from Independent Spirit (That is a phrase I have not used much on the last month!) this was drunk while listening to Heavens To Betsy: Calculated. A whole bunch of the riotgrrrl music stuff feels worrying appropriate again in 2017.

Deschutes: The Dissident: 2016 Reserve (USA: Sour Ale: 10.9% ABV)

Visual: Hazy cherry red. Thin off white head. Still.

Nose: Massive cherries and black cherries. Smoke wisps. White chocolate. Malt chocolate. Raisins. Oak. Vanilla. Buttery shortbread. Sherry trifle. Bourbon.

Body: Figs. Cherries. Apple pie. Pears. Smooth. White chocolate. Gummed brown paper. Vanilla toffee. Malt chocolate. Bourbon.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Raisins. Sour red wine. Port. Light oak. Figs. Gummed brown paper. Tinned tropical fruits.

Conclusion: Ok, going to have to take some time to unpack this beer – first impressions are a big, very sweet beer, barley wine in style more than a sour red. Considering the abv a big beer is unsurprising, but the sweetness did take me a bit by surprise. There are big chewy cherry notes, port soaked raisins – lots of dark fruits and even an unusual smoke wisp acting a a lead in to the second big element of the beer – the oak influence. The oaken notes themselves are fairly low – instead it shows itself as white chocolate, toffee, vanilla and tinned tropical fruit notes similar to what I expect from bourbon aged whisky. Together they are very big, very chewy, very flavoursome, but stills feels like a big barrel aged barley wine. Good but not what I expected.

Time exposes what was previously missing elements – a mix of malt chocolate and gummed brown paper that gives hints of the Flemish brown base. Even here there is barely any sourness or tartness, just light backing notes that gives a slightly more vinous feel backing the sweet notes and an even more chewy character. While not heavily done that light tartness and distinct gumminess final makes it stand out from the barley wine it otherwise feels like. Late on you start getting those odd flavour mixes you would expect from a more sour, acidic, beer – soft green fruit starts coming out along with sour red wine notes – all the odd flavours, but without the harshness.

Here, it now has all the sweetness and big flavours, all smoothly delivered, but with that slight freshness so that each sip feels now with renewed decadence. It is so dangerously easy to drink for the abv, you can feel the abv hinted at in the flavours, but it is so smooth you don’t care. The oak aged Flemish bruin and barley wine mash up you never knew you wanted. Very impressive. A decadent dessert treat for yourself.

Background: Grabbed this a short while ago from Brewdog’s guest beer selection – I figured as a sour beer of high abv it was unlikely to go off so could save for when I wanted something big and good – getting back from the China trip seemed to deserve something like that to welcome me home. This is a sour Flemish style bruin made with cherries and with 40% of the beer aged in French oak. I think the ageing varies year by year so your experience may vary with future years’ releases. I’ve tried Deschutes a few times at Real Ale festivals, and some of their collabs, but this is the first time I have done notes and tried them in an environment where I have not ruined by tastebuds beforehand. Drunk while listening to a mix of cheery Jonathan Young tunes – mainly Ducktales and the Zootropolis tunes.

Gweilo: Pale Ale (Hong Kong: English Pale Ale: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow. Clear. Large amounts of carbonation and massive bubbled white head.

Nose: Grapes. Apricot. Crisp hop character. Vanilla custard. Light lemon. Orange jelly. Light strawberry and slight dry spice.

Body: Peppery bitterness. Creamy backing body early on. A dry bready character later on. Light grapes. Vanilla yogurt.

Finish: Peppery. Brown bread. Good hop bitterness. Grapes.

Conclusion: With my recent, hugely impressed encounters with Hong Kong beer, especially in the Kowloon Taproom, I was looking forwards to break this one open – and boy, first impressions yanked me right in.

Huge solid head over a clear body made this impressive on the eye. The aroma is similarly fantastic – crisp hops, subtle fruit notes and soft vanilla variants for sweetness. Subtle and layered, I was anticipating that first sip.

You already know where this is going right? We have been down this path before. The body is …ok .. that dry, bready style that is so common of pale ales – normally I associated with the American takes, while this is generally listed as an English pale, but same point applies – a bit more grounded than the American style I guess – more peppery with good bitterness. At this point the difference between a slightly hoppier pale ale and a so called session IPA becomes even more blurred as they seem to have a lot of similar characteristics here. The main difference here seems to be that it has better body and mouthfeel than most session IPAs of similar abv.

It has vanilla yogurt flavour and thickness at times- good bitterness as mentioned, but nearly all that fruit subtext of the aroma is lost. It feels like a solid but dull base – the yogurt notes feel like they flatten the rest of the beer rather than enhance it. Promises a lot more than it gives and falls into the same trap as a lot of APAs I’ve seen (yes, EPA, I know, point still holds) in that it is overly dry and has not enough range. It has a lot of promise from the good mouthfeel for the abv but does too little with it. A weak end to what was an awesome beer trip.

Background: I saw this in a mini supermarket thing while I was looking for Tim Ho Wan Restaurant (Call me a Yorkshire stereotype if you want, but when I heard it was the worlds cheapest Michelin star restaurants I said – “Right, I’m trying that”). Their IPA was listed as part of ratebeer’s top 50 beers of Hong Kong, but I had hit IPAs pretty hard this trip, so decided to go with the pale ale instead. Drunk after getting back to the UK, this is the only beer I brought back, so the final beer of the trip. This was drunk while listening to some Testament – I had seen they were touring soon so was using youtube to check out what they sounded like.

Malt Musings: Hong Kong Beers: The Lightning Round

Ok, so after doing notes on Cereusly I decided to do a tasters rack to try as many beers as I could, since I only had a few nights in Hong Kong. I quickly realised that Hong Kong had a far better beer scene than I expected – I had done quick googling before heading out and found that even the best beers from HK didn’t seem to have too much buzz, or high scores in review aggregators. By now I really should know not to put too much faith in those. Anyway, I decided that I needed to do some quick notes just to help illustrate what good stuff is coming out of Hong Kong, even if I couldn’t do full notes for each. So, here we have a few quick overviews of some great beers.

1st in rack: Hong Kong Beer Co: Big Wave Bay IPA: 7% ABV

This one is citrusy and creamy with green fruit notes in kiwi and grapes style. The hop character is smooth and generally with restrained bitterness until the finish, where a solid hit comes out. The use of green fruit and bitterness reminds me of 8 Wired’s Hopwired. It isn’t as good as that masterpiece, but even the comparison is a high complement and it is still is a very dangerously easy to drink IPA.

2nd in rack. Yardley Brothers: Quit Your Job! 6% ABV. 28 IBU. Is this a wit beer? Googling on getting home says Saison, and I guess I can see that, but it definitely has wit beer influences. The description given by the bar really got this one spot on – Banana split sweetness with black pepper backing. This is bloody lovely. It is smooth as can be, wheaty and lightly bitter with a tasty pepper finish. Genuinely a gorgeous beer – the spice notes are well used, and the light bitterness gives an offset from the brilliantly done dessert like banana notes. Reminds me of “Not Just Another Wit” but, as it turns out, a saison. Which is a seriously high complement – if you like wits or saisons, and you see this, it is a must try in my opinion.

3rd in rack. Yardley Brothers: Mum’s Rhubarb and Orange Crumble Sour: 6% ABV. This is fairly gentle as a sour – Still rather than fizzy with only light acidity and sourness, instead concentrating on the flavour – pushing lots of fruit character – I am very impressed in that the rhubarb comes across very well – which I think is the first time I have seen that in a beer. With low sharpness and sourness it ends up feeling pretty full bodied for a sour- which could be because of its higher than average abv. Tasty in itself, it worked very well to use as a refresher between the other beers on the rack.

4th: Hero Beers: Black IPA : 6.8% abv 55 IBU. A smooth beer with chocolate, roasted notes and slight sour dough before a bitter chocolate finish. It has bitter hop character, but comparatively low for a black IPA. Not super aggressive like Cereusly but a solid BIPA. Quality wise this feels in line with the best beers of mainland China, so a very competent example of the style, but nothing stand out. Good use of cocoa and bitter chocolate notes, but feels like it needs more hop use with it. Still, if the weakest of the four tasters is this, then it is a great rack.

Heroes Beer: Cereusly +50DB IPA (Hong Kong: IPA: 6.2% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow. Thin white head over a clear body.

Nose: Lemon. Gooseberry. Good hop character.

Body: Juicy. Kiwi. Solid bitterness. Hop oils. Big hop character. Vanilla toffee. Gooseberry and tart grapes. Lemongrass. Frothy mouthfeel. Bready middle.

Finish: Good, heavy bitterness and hop oils. Charring. Dried black tea to gunpowder tea. Lemon sherbet.

Conclusion: This, at the end of the trip, is the first big, utterly stand out beer I have tried. I make no secret for my love for big hops in an IPA and this has that in spades.

This opens up juicy and fruity, a slight pause of kiwi before hitting with the aggressive bitterness afterwards – The green fruit of the early moments quickly falls to bitterness, charring and gunpowder tea like notes which last a long time. Late body tart gooseberry and tart grapes comes out, a refreshing release of fresh character, before it descends back into bitterness and bitter tea in the finish. It is a roller coaster ride of peaks and troughs, throwing you between sensations and only slowly letting the vanilla toffee straights of the ride show through as moments to catch your breath.

It is raw edged, yet does not feel unpolished. An assault IPA that keeps you interested to the end. It even manages as much subtlety as such a raw, assault beer can, far more than the average beer this intense, which makes for a sense awakening but not single note beer.

The Jackhammer of Hong Kong, but, if I may say so – even more intense, and more complex. Hop heads in HK, check this one out – it is the one you are looking for. I seriously hope this gets a wider distribution so more people can enjoy it. It deserves it. A proper great, intense IPA.

Background: I hunted out the Kowloon Taproom to try some more Hong Kong craft beer, and it did not disappoint – all decorated up for Halloween, with the staff in costume. It is a fairly small place and filled up fast, but the staff were great, very friendly and so enthusiastic about their beer. Had a chance to chat with some patrons and tried a fair range of beer. Some seriously good stuff. This, promising to be a big IPA, caught my eyes instantly and so was the first beer of the night.

Moonzen: Monkey King Amber Ale (Hong Kong: Amber Ale: 5% ABV)

Visual: Clear apricot. Thin white head.

Nose: Strong toffee malt. Cinnamon. Malt chocolate. Dried apricot. Fruitcake. Lemon sherbet.

Body: Sherbety lemon. Light chalk. Peach. Peanuts. Peppery. Mild toffee. Mild bitterness.

Finish: Lemon. Figs. Malt chocolate. Bitterness and a mix of praline and nuts. Gunpowder tea. Peanuts. Chalk.

Conclusion: This is a very different amber ale experience, examined and explained right here in the streets of Hong Kong! *cheap pop* (For some reason wrestling is on my mind right now, so I am being mildly self indulgent in my writing)

Anyway, most amber ales I’ve encountered have had at least a degree of being malt led. This does show strong toffee and therefore malt influence in the aroma, but the body is instead a fresh sherbety lemon led thing with peach notes behind. The malt body shows itself more as a nutty character, with a chalky backbone rather than a heavier toffee or malt chocolate base. There are hints of heavier malt notes but the fresh hop notes definitely rule the roost and push the rest to the back.

It is an odd beer in that it does not match anything I expected going in – so I must just take it as a beer in itself – fresh, citrusy, hints of peaches, but with a chalky grounding base. Let it warm and more balancing malt comes out, hinting more at the expected style concepts along with a growing peppery to gunpowder tea bitterness that adds some pep.

While it is slightly off when cool, heat balances the citrus notes with the malt and it becomes a good amber ale with just a touch of heat. The characteristics are odd – matching almost British ale grounding notes to American peach sweetness – a pretty good and different amber ale that it worth a try if you happen to be in Hong Kong.

Background: Hmm, we handed Hong Kong back to China in what, 1997? Should I list it separately, or under China? I listed it under Hong Kong based on 3 main considerations. 1) I needed to go through customs to transfer between the two. 2) they have their own money and 3) Most locals still view themselves as a separate entity culturally in the discussions I had. The whole scene seemed different enough that a separate listing from China seemed to make sense. Anyway, this was a random find – I was heading back from viewing the definitely legit items selling night market towards the hotel when I saw the Funky Monkey Bar – seeing that it had a few craft beers I decided to drop in for a quick one. Quite a cool aesthetic to the place.


RAN Craft Beer: IPA (China: IPA: 5.6% ABV)

Visual: Dark caramel brown. Thin off white to cream coloured bubbled head.

Nose: Creamy caramel and toffee. Light sulphur. Dried mango and kiwi. Dried apricot.

Body: Caramel. Sulphur. Creamy. Kiwi. Grapes. Kinda thin. Low bitterness and hop character. Dried apricot. Slightly muggy.

Finish: Caramel. Tart grapes. Apples. Kiwi. Sulphur. Some hop character. Slightly watery. Fudge. Cream. Dried apricot.

Conclusion: This is pretty disappointing as an IPA, to use a certain degree of understatement. There is some hop character, but it is kind of muggy with low present bitterness. So a bad start.

Part of the problem, I think, is that it doesn’t seem to know what kind of IPA it is aiming for. It has that light sulphur character that can come with a British real ale IPA – and here that feels like an off note out of its natural real ale habitat. It has the caramel sweetness of an east coast IPA but with a much thinner body so it doesn’t deliver it well, and without pushing the fruity notes as well as such an IPA tends to do. It feels too wet and lacking in hop bitterness for a west coast IPA and distinctly lacks the fruit punch and creaminess for a New England IPA.

So, instead of comparing it on and on to the other IPA variants it doesn’t match I ask – how does it do as a new take on the IPA on its own, is it any good?

Well, sub par shall we say, to be kind. Too watery, a few off notes, muggy bitterness and low clarity of fruit flavours. It has elements that could be improved to make a good beer, but pretty much everything needs pushing up a notch. More body, more hops, more flavour. As it is, it is one of the more disappointing IPAs I’ve had and one of the more disappointing beers of the China trip. Not the worst beer, I’ve had – especially considering some of the wet air pale lagers I have run into, but definitely more disappointing as this shows hints that could be made, with a lot of effort, into something decent,

A definite avoid.

Background: I genuinely can’t find shit on these guys online – I randomly wandered over their pub while walking around Yangshuo. So, erm, yeah it is a brewery I ran into and had a beer at. Went for IPA as it tends to be a good go to beer for an unknown brewery. That’s about all I can say really.

Le Votre: Black Beer (China: Dunkel: 4.7% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy and brown with a thin browned head.

Nose: Malt chocolate. Cocoa. Light chalk.

Body: Roasted. Nuts. Cola bottle sweets. Light chalk. Slightly light. Slight charring.

Finish: Roasted. Malt chocolate. Slight liquorice. Chalky feel. Cocoa dust. Light charring. Low level bitterness and hops. Hop oils.

Conclusion: There seems to be a lot of lagers around China, with each region seeming to have a different common bottled pale lager, and a lot of places have their own lagers brewed for their taps it seems. So, here at Le Votre I decided to do notes on their dark beer – hadn’t tried a dark lager yet this trip.

It is fairly middle of the road – better than a lot of the inoffensively dull pale lagers I’ve run into though – a lot of the pale lagers feel like they are designed to be wet backgrounds to a meal than have any real flavour themselves. This at least does have flavour.

This has a mild roasted base, with low level malt chocolate backing and touches of cola bottles and liquorice. There seriously have been a lot of liquorice touched beers this trip. There is low level but present bitterness and hop character, which makes this feel like it is a German inspired dark lager – which make sense considering how popular German beers are in the local region. It similarly has light noble hops oily feel on the way out, further enhancing the comparison.

It is slightly light at the start, but gains just enough weight to the mouthfeel over time. It is a bit too chalk touched for the lower weight though, so it never quite balances it perfectly. The best part is definitely the finish, as the air roams the mouth it seems to have more time to develop tasty hop oil and chocolate notes that never seem to find their way in the mid body.

A better beer to enjoy alongside a meal than most here, in that you can enjoy it for its own flavours – an average stand alone beer though. Not bad, not great, just a dark lager.

Background: Turns out Yangshuo has more of a beer scene than my initial research suggested. Ratebeer listed only Le Votre restaurant, which where I tried this, and a quick google only found a few more. Turned out the place if packed with bars – a lot concentrating on import beer – especially from Germany with a couple concentrating on craft beer – but there are a few local brewpubs as well. I decided to do notes on this one as a representative of the many local breweries around the country that basically brew their own lager (sometimes just pale, sometimes a dark lager as well) – it is fairly common for an area to have its own locally brewed lager, often tied to a restaurant, even if there isn’t really any other beer scene. So – here I grabbed the dark lager. When I was trying to ask about the abv I was unable to get the question across despite my best mime attempts, so this info was taken from googling after getting back.

Tsing Tao: Stout (China: Stout: 4.5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Dark red if held to light. Good sized browned bubbles in mounds for a head.

Nose: Liquorice. Caramel. Oats. Vanilla fudge. Mild milky coffee. Marshmallow.

Body: Liquorice. Creamy. Slightly light. Nutty. Fluffy marshmallow flavour and mouthfeel. Touch of chalk.

Finish: Liquorice. Marshmallow. Chocolate liqueur. Light dry roasted peanuts.

Conclusion: I must admit this is better than I was expecting. I don’t mind Tsing Tao , or at least the version I have tried in the UK, but the “draft” bottle version I’ve had here in China lacked a lot. This ain’t perfect, but it is definitely the more flavoursome creation.

It feels like halfway between a black lager and a stout – slightly light, smooth mouthfeel, both notes that say an easy drinking black lager – but then it develops a fluffy marshmallow thickness at time which is more at home in a stout.

Flavour wise it opens up with big amounts of liquorice, which seems to be popular in China’s stouts in my (vary small sample size admittedly) experience. Similarly stouty is the solid roasted character it brings, and the light chalk finish calls to the more grounded end of the stout style. The sweeter chocolate and heavier coffee notes you would expect of a stout are only really subtle hints here – the liquorice is the main thing.

It is still slightly light for a stout, even late on, so it feels like a solidly stout flavoured black lager. The marshmallow character giving rise to a slight sweet contrast to liquorice as time goes on really helping it from getting too dry by the end. It is decent, and probably the easiest to get decent Chinese beer, if far from the best. Not great, but since you can find it in a supermarket it is the Chinese beer to grab for a decent experience when you can’t find a more dedicated craft beer merchant.

Background: Tsing Tao turns up quite a bit in the UK – it is an ok lager – nowt special but I can drink it. In China there are so many different versions of the lager, varying in abv and quality – some ok, some bleeding terrible. The most common one at restaurants seemed to be Tsing Tao draft, which was a less flavoursome version of standard Tsing Tao. Anyway, being in China I figured I should do at least one set of notes of its most famous brewery – so, when I saw this stout in the supermarket I decided to grab I can. I didn’t even know they did a stout. Also, while I was in China I asked locals how this was pronounced to settle a long standing debate we have had – the best way I can write the response given is “Ching Dao” which is quite close to how I thought it was. Go me! Then again, I’m guessing the answer would vary by area and and accent so don’t take that as the definitive answer. This was another one done on the boat in a room I shared with another random traveller from China. Since he didn’t speak English and I don’t speak Chinese I do wonder what the heck he thought I was doing when I started taking photos of my beer.

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