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Rochefort 6

Rochefort: 6 (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 7.5% ABV)

Visual: Light cloudy brown with overripe banana skin touches. About a centimetre of white tight bubbled froth for a head.

Nose: Raisins. Wheat. Quite crisp. Brown bread and brown sugar. Fruitcake.

Body: Raisins. Brown bread. Restrained bitterness. Frothy feel. Very smooth. Peppery. Dry and wheat. Malt drinks.

Finish: Some bitterness. Nan bread. Dry feel. light pepper. Slight funky yeast effects.

Conclusion: The restrained Rochefort, welcome back, how are you? Ok, it is only kind of restrained – it is a Rochefort after all. Actually, no, it is pretty restrained all things considered. The heavy intense fruity notes that are so telling of Rochefort have been reined in here – pushing forwards but never really pushing past the background of the beer.

It is instead marked by a quite dry, bready front with a bit of an orval feel to it, albeit with much less funky yeast effects. It is the most sessionable a totally unsessional 7.5% abv beer will get.

Now it is not as strong or as intricate as the eight or ten, but there is something very much moreish about it. The malt base is solid, but restrained, as is the bitterness. There is a lovely frothy front to the mouth feel, smooth, but soon becomes contradictory and drying towards the end into a pepperyness that is by far the longest lasting element. It really does invite another sip.

Quite a few people seen to find this a let down compared to the other two, but for a long while it was actually my favourite Rochefort. Lots of fun, very easy to drink without the boozy alcohol notes of the others. In recent years I will admit I have been taken by the weight of the aged versions of eight and ten, but even now returning to this reminds me what a charmer it is.

If you go in expecting a heavy duty Trappist ale you will be disappointed, but I think this is worth giving a try for something high quality but a bit different from the monks.

Background: You know, I have never done a note on Rochefort 8. I was convinced I had. I thought picking up the six for notes would compete the set, but no. Turns out for all the times I have drunk the eight, I never got around to noting it. Huh. Anyway, Rochefort is my second favourite of the Trappist ales, after Westvleteren. I had found this at Corks of Cotham a while back so grabbed it.

Wild Beer Co Sourbeest

Wild Beer Co: Sourbeest (England: Sour Ale: 5.9% ABV)

Visual: Very dark black cherry red to black. Small off white head.

Nose: Chocolate. Sour cherries. Bourbon. Vanilla. Tart fresh cut apples. Sticky toffee pudding.

Body: Tart apples. Vinegar touch. Sour cherries. Chocolate liqueur notes. Vanilla.

Finish: Malt chocolate. Sour apples. Tart. Bitter chocolate. Bourbon.

Conclusion: Yayz! Bottled sourbeest. As mentioned in the background I’ve had this on keg a few times already so these notes will be mainly discussing the bottled version, but I will do a few comparisons to the previous keg tries.

The sour stout is one I have not had many of yet, in fact I think it is a fairly new style but a welcome one. The heavier notes of a stout seem to work excellently to back the real mouth tingling freshness of a sour beer. It is a spectacular contrast to the more dry and wine like examples of sour ales.

Here the nose is the thing, it is absolutely excellent – balancing sour acidic freshness, luxury chocolate and soft bourbon vanilla notes. In both bottle and keg the aroma is a thing of beauty.

The body, in bottle at least, as a more simple thing – there is big tart apple and a very fresh front- with the promised notes from the aroma used far lighter and more subtly behind. Here the keg did it better – the chocolate, sour cherries and tart apple all had equal weight that created a superb beer. This definitely plays a similar game, but the balance is off – turning it from to excellent to *ahem* merely good.

The finish balances up better – the tart apple meets rising milk and bitter chocolate and that does a lot to restore my faith in the bottled version. It reinforces the character of the stout notes that had been dislodged in the body.

Over time the faith proves true – the stout notes seem to rise from that finish, reinforcing the body and creating a much more balanced beer as it builds up over time. Sourness, sweetness, fresh and smooth all mixing in unexpected and delightful ways. Keg may be better but this is still a lovely example of the sour stout.

Background: A sour stout – a fascinating style that seems to have popped up recently. This one, picked up from Independent Spirit is made from the second runnings of Wilderbeest then aged in oak barrels for nine months. I have tried this on keg a few times and loved it, so was glad to see it finally bottled. Drunk whilst listening to Some Dead Kennedys having seen them live recently.

Connoisseurs Choice Ledaig 1998

Connoisseurs Choice: Ledaig 1998 (Scotland Island Single Malt Whisky: 16 Years: 46% ABV)

Visual: Light grain gold.

Viscosity: Very slow moderate sized streaks.

Nose: Peat smoke and beef broth. Radishes. Smoked fish skin. Light salt and medicinal. Cinder toffee. Water makes more grassy.

Body: Peach and peat. Light alcohol burn. Lime notes. Melted chocolate. Smooth texture. Dried apricot. Vanilla custard notes. Water makes grassier, with more peat. Sea weed.

Finish: Oily fish skins. Dry beef. Peat and smoke. Light alcohol tingle. Water adds salt and rocks.

Conclusion: Ledaig – always good to return to this, one of those in the unusual set of a smooth ,fruity, peated whisky. Peach and peat is not exactly a tasting note I expected to ever need, but there it is, clear as day.

It doesn’t open up that way, the aroma is all peat smoke and beef broth – but as soon as you get to the main body those fruity Tobermory notes are there – evident as can be. They work easily with rather than against the peat, creating the impression of a wonderfully fruity sauce layered over thin cut smoked beer. Very nice.

I always find it odd to have a whisky where the water actually makes the whisky harsher – however it does that here. Though it doesn’t make it harsher in the alcohol rising, but in that the flavours tend to wards the harsher end of the spectrum. It becomes more grassy, and the peat becomes much more evident. The grassy character that comes out makes me think of some of the Springbank expressions that exist – Overall I’d say take it easy with the water – it works much better as a peat touched fruity whisk than as a sub optimal more heavily peat touched whisky with water.

Taken as that it is a lovely whisky, smooth, balanced – forceful and fruity. This continues to expand my respect for both Ledaig and Gordon and Macphail.

Background: Another chance to grab miniatures to try a wider range of whiskies. This one from Gordon and Macphails excellent Connoisseurs Choice range. Ledaig is the peated version of Tobermory. This was bottled in 2014. Ok, I think that about covers it.

Malt Musings: Scattershot Thoughts From Bristol Whisky Festival 2015

Bristol Whisky Festival Colston hall 2015

So, we had another Whisky Festival in Bristol recently. The second one in Colston Hall over three years. It felt slightly smaller than the first year, only using one floor whilst the first event used some of the available space upstairs. It still had a good collection of displays, and a very packed atmosphere. Not quite enough to do a full article on, but I thought it would be worth typing up a few musings.

• The exhibitors were excellent, happily telling you all about the spirit, chatting, adding details and recommending items to try based on your preference. I did hear a few people complain that this meant that they had to queue for a long time to get served while they waited for the person to stop chatting. I didn’t run into this problem myself – then again I was perfectly happy to just lean in as they were talking, tap the bottle I was interested in, and let them pour a measure without breaking the flow of their conversation. This may be a British being too polite problem.

• I’m still a bit torn on the whole buy tokens for rare whisky thing. You didn’t even get a single token this year with the ticket, unlike previous festivals. It does mean that they can bring in rare whiskies which would otherwise not be cost effective for a smaller festival. On the other hand, some of the “rare” whisk than needed a token didn’t quite seem worth the slot. I did a quick mental calculation and worked out the £2.50 a token Highland Park 18 (with a standard measure of 10ml) would possibly be cheaper just to grab a measure at the local Brewdogs which had it available, and without needing a thirty quid ticket. I think that some distributors were putting too many whiskies in the token range that didn’t really deserve it. Others, like a 25 year Springbank, or a historical recreated whisky seemed much more worthwhile. Something special. Overall the selection available was pretty good.

• I finally found a Penderyn that agrees with me. Generally the Welsh whisky doesn’t really appeal to me, but on trying a few side by side I found that, for me at least, it just seems the heavier finishes seem to hurt it. The Madeira standard bottling isn’t my scene, and the sherry finish didn’t quite excite. The pure bourbon aged Myth expression though actually was quite nice, the unusual feel of Penderyn matching with lighter fruity notes.

• The camaraderie feel of the show was excellent – I bumped into old friends, contacts and caught up – but also ended up randomly chatting with several groups – everyone joined in a love of whisky and overall it felt much more social than the equivalent beer festivals I have been to. To everyone I spoke to, you were all great and helped make the show feel special. thank you to you all.

• The Ardbeg stand had an unusual wee gadget. The haar. Basically, as shown below, a carafe that uses ultrasonic vibrations to turn the whisky to mist. It was a fun experience, and also allowed a lot of the more subtle flavours of Ardbeg to come out which would normally be hidden behind the huge peat including real sweet peppermint cream flavour. Wonder what other whiskies would taste like in it?

Ardbeg Haar

• Oh, and the humour award of the day goes to the person who served me Laphroaig select. When I asked what it was like, he said that since I loved 10 year and quarter cask I would probably find it like lemonade in comparison – and later when I extended my hand and asked to have some lemonade please he happily poured a small measure, whilst other in the crowd looked on bemused. Well, I was amused anyway.

Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

Nikka: Coffey Malt Whisky (Japanese Malt Whisky: No Age Statement: 45% ABV)

Visual: Heavy gold.

Viscosity: General slow thin streaks with a few quick ones breaking out.

Nose: Banoffee. Coffee granules. Heather. Light but sharp lemon notes. Water really opens up with coffee cake and walnuts plus some Belgian chocolate.

Body: Smooth and lightly oily. Coffee cake. Dried apricot. Lemon notes. Water makes more coffee cake, vanilla. Cream and some lemon cream comes out along with banoffee.

Finish: Coffee cake. Soft lime juice. Belgian chocolate. Waters gives more fresh lemon sponge like notes and marmalade.

Conclusion: ok, before we go into this in any depth, I have one thing to say … I am pretty much sure that I am not being psychosomatic here. Yes this thing is called Coffe(e)y malt whisky, so yes I am thinking about coffee, but I am sure that is not the reason I caught coffee notes in this. I had tried the Coffey Grain Whisky just before and that was fresh faced, fruity, light and utterly lacking in coffee. So, when I try this, and I swear to Hagen that it tastes seriously like coffee cake, I am fairly sure I am not fibbing.

There are still hints of the fruitiness that I saw in the grain whisky – I presume attributable to the fact they were both made in the same style coffey still. Despite that the core is very close to what I think of as a highland malt texture, but smoothed to within an inch of its life. Still slightly oily, but definitely no burn, just slick as can be – definitely leans heavily in the dessert flavours as an inspiration – Coffee cake, Belgian chocolate and vanilla notes, The is especially true with even just a little water, it isn’t that this needs smoothing – I don’t think it could be smoother -but it opens up lighter, creamier and rich flavours.

Water also helps some of the heavier and thicker fruit notes to come out – you now get bright and zinging marmalade amongst the main body. I’m actually writing than I less than I should be at this point as I am too distracted just enjoying it – Banoffee notes come out late on in the body to match their earlier show in the aroma. This is wonderfully smooth, rich and complex with lovely contrast of fruit notes to coffee sponge cake.

A wonderful experience from a wonderful whisky experiment. Now the big question. This isn’t really grain, it aint single malt due to the still type. It is excellent, but what the hell is it?

Background: Ok, this is a pure malt whisky made in Coffey column stills. AKA grain whisky stills. So, technically not a single malt whisky, but neither exactly grain. Anyway, I tried this at Bristol Whisky Show 2015 and liked it so much I grabbed a bottle to take back. So, completely unbiased notes today. Drunk whilst continuing the 8 bit music kick with some Andrey Avkhimovich.

Drygate Outaspace Apple Ale

Drygate: Outaspace Apple Ale (Scotland: Fruit Beer : 4% abv)

Visual: Clean gold. Some carbonation. Large sudden mound white head that leaves trails.

Nose: Apple. Vanilla. Bitter and wheaty. Lemon.

Body: Smooth. Golden syrup. Banana syrup. Apples. Hop oils. Syrupy texture. Floral touches. Honey. Dried apricot. Dessert wine.

Finish: Hop oil bitterness. Golden syrup and hops. Apple. Mead. Rising hop feel.

Conclusion: Holy shit this is so bloody sweet. Like, pass me a syringe and some insulin level sweet. This thing is thick, like a mix of honey and golden syrup – then dosed with hop oils, so kind of like a hopped mead.

No it doesn’t really work – with a description like that did you really expect it to? I mean it is odd, and fascinating as all get out. Fresh apples dropped into the mead mix, fresh notes all on top of the thickest, sweetest thing I have run into for a while. Fascinating, but for once fascinating can’t win me over.

It is just too sweet, too one note – the big difference is the hop oils but they seem to flow separately from the sweet mead flavours – so instead of getting one integrated beer you get two disjointed ones.

That said, while pretty much every note was wrong I didn’t, ya know, hate this. Each element was done well – the brewing led to a clear delivery of the elements – nothing is indistinct. It is just, well, none of the well made elements are the ones that should be there. They managed to brew just right all the wrong elements to put together.

Probably the best crafted beer that I just plain don’t get along with. Yes that is damning with faint praise.

Background: Grabbed this from Independent Spirit as it looked interesting, an apple ale made with Calypso, Nelson Sauvin and Citra hops. Was drunk to try and refresh me during the absurdly muggy heat we have had recently. Well absurd for a Yorkshireman anyway .. bloody heat. Drunk while listening to Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces album.

Isle Of Arran Dark

Isle Of Arran: Dark (Scotland: Bitter: 4.3% ABV)

Visual: Dark mahogany red. Thin off white head. Clear and still body.

Nose: Chocolate cake. Roasted hazelnuts. Fresh brown bread. Slight sour cherry touch.

Body: Good bitterness and bitter chocolate. Sour dough touch. Light earthy note. Sour tang. Roasted nuts. Light cherries and fruitcake.

Finish: Bitter coffee. Earthy touch. Slight sour dough. Slight refreshing sour note. Light charring.

Conclusion: Sometimes, for all I love the big intense new wave craft beers, sometimes the old ways are the best for that moment. This is one of those times. This is a dark, malt led beer with lots of roasted notes, chocolate and coffee that almost call to the lighter end of the porter spectrum in style. Yet for all that it has the light earthiness and refreshing sour tang of a well made rounded bitter to match.

It is soothing in feel, yet with big mouth filling flavours and refreshing sour back. The contrast continues with the sweetness against the earth touch. They really have pulled out all the stops in balancing this one. There are even some fruitcake notes, lighter than you would get in an ESB style beer but still calling to that as well. This isn’t one of those beers that instantly grabs you by the face, but it does not make it any less of a good one. At 4.3% it is not quite session abv in my mind, but in these high abv days it will do in a pinch.

The quintessential soothing beer for kicking back with friends. Well worth having and well worth sharing. A show of the old beer ways done good.

Background: Third of the Arran pack that my parents gave to me as a gift. Many thanks mum and dad. It is great having a beer friendly family! This one was broken open in the vain attempt to get me to stop playing Binding Of Isaac Rebirth for a while. That game is addictive as hell. So much so that alcohol seemed the safer addiction. Go fig.

Lost Abbey Carnevale Ale

Lost Abbey: Carnevale Ale (USA: Saison: 8% ABV)

Visual: Clear ripe banana yellow. Inch of mounded loose bubbles. Good chunk of carbonation.

Nose: Feed bag. Earthy. Wheaty. Paprika. Pepper. Slight sour dough.

Body: Banana sweets. Blackpool rock. Some bitterness in the midst. Rustic centre and oats. White pepper. Sherbet feel. Lime. Hop oils. Soft apricot.

Finish: Lime sorbet. Good clean bitterness. Lightly earthy. Some hop character. Barley.

Conclusion: A blond ale saison. Ok, when they called this a “Saison-style blond ale” I was kind of expecting them to be calling it that so to make sure it was differentiated from the recent black saisons that have been popping up. But no, it turns out this does have a lot of Belgian blond in there. Probably more influenced by the blond ale style than the saison style, if only just.

I think that what puts blond influence in the lead is that this is a very clean tasting beer. You get the more earthy stuff top and tail, but the middle is very clean and sweet with lots of raw cane sugar notes. The bitterness is similarly quite clean and neutral with only a few notes of the hop character with it. Overall it is a big slab of blond sandwiched between two saison buns. The contrast it brings is fascinating, entering and leaving earthy and rustic, and shining away very bright between that. With banana sweetness and clean bitterness the centre does have calls to the excellent Dupont saison style, while the pepper and rustic rest of the beer calls to other saisons in my mind. The balance does shift over time as the beer gets warmer and you progress through the glass – more rustic fills the whole experience, more oily and heavy. It keeps things interesting.

The American hops don’t seem to have a huge impact, unless it is them that are responsible for the clean bitterness. There is a soft lime and apricot, with lime being more prominent in the beer – but, rightly, the native Belgian style characteristics are given more play.

Overall, no real complaints but also not quite a shining example. Reasonable enough to share, and definitely to enjoy, with interesting stylings. Different and tasty – enough to be worth a try.

Background: Ok, research has made me more confused. Rate beer has two versions of this listed. A 2008 and earlier version without Brett. A 2009 onwards version with brett. But both are 6.5% ABV. This is 8% abv. So is this an even newer version? The date on the bottle is nigh illegible so I’m not sure what year this was made. Feh. Anyway, this was grabbed from Independent Spirit and drunk while listening to Dubmood: Lost Floppies Version 2. yes I’m still on an 8 bit kick.

Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt

Nikka: Taketsuru: Pure Malt (Japan Blended Malt: No Age Statement: 43% ABV)

Visual: Bronzed gold.

Viscosity: Thin fast streaks.

Nose: Gingerbread. Alcohol burn. Sultanas and perfume. Rose wine. Dried blueberries. Shortbread. Water brings out almond notes.

Body: Smooth. Honey. Warming. Caramel. Lime cordial. Drier base. Water adds a treacle touch and sweet orange.

Finish: Subtle liquorice. Honey. Slight alcohol. Malt drinks. Lime cordial. Rice crackers. Waters adds treacle notes.

Conclusion: Ok, first note: I am not going to go into the whole “no age statement controversy” thing here. I can’t be arsed really.

Note 2: How can something with an initially quite alcohol touched aroma be so smooth on the main body? For that matter how does something with such a smooth texture manage to feel so heavy after it has gone?

Note 3: I am mildly addicted to making numbered lists of notes.

Anyway, this is surprisingly heavy for a vatted malt – and with more rough edges than I would expect for the style (Maybe it is due to the lack of age st…ok,ok, just kidding). Now, this is an interesting thing for me, as I appreciate the smooth character of vatted malt, but one reason I oft go with single malt is the intriguing rough edges you can get. At the front it hits all smooth caramel and delivered as I would expect from a vatted malt – the back is where it hits heavier with treacle than that general, well, whisky feel. That kind of middle of the road Highland malt sweetness, with a touch more alcohol feel than is good for it.

So how well does it work? Ok, but not much more – I like rough edges, but despite being interesting, these rough edges don’t bring the charm – they are more the rough edges of a standard whisky. The front of this is nice, but nowhere near, say artists blend.

I blame the lack of age st…ok that joke got old quick.

It is ok, but you can get far better for your money.

Background: So, this is a no age statement whisky. Apparently there is a bit of controversy about non age statement whisky. I say apparently as I managed to mostly miss the blazing firestorm of discussion that has been the internet for years now. Meh. I have opinions on the whole thing, but frankly it has been beaten to death by now. This was drunk while listening to some 8 Bit Zoo by Snooglebum! Which may ruin any metal or punk cred I may have had. This had been found at Independent Spirit.

Art Brew Aged IPA

Art Brew: Aged IPA (England: IPA: 5.8% ABV)

Visual: Orange with amber hints. Some small bubble carbonation. Massive off white mounded head that left lots of lace and suds.

Nose: Ginger. Crisp wheat. Lemon. Brown sugar.

Body: Earthy and bitter. Light orange. Mild brown sugar. Vanilla. Smooth. Toffee. Dill pickle and lime prickle. Ginger.

Finish: Earthy. Paprika. Soil. mango. Pineapple. Zesty orange. Malt chocolate. Bitter. Slight cane sugar.

Conclusion: What the fuck is that head? I swear I tried to pour carefully. This is a touch of a lively one boys and girls. Also, are they trying to cram every Art Brew beer I have ever tried into this thing? There is a Spanked Monkey IPA ginger notes, and ,well, IPA notes – there is a heap of lovely vanilla like IBeer, sweet notes, earthy feeling hops and subtle American fruit notes.

Lots going on.

Initially it comes across as only a simple earthy bitter IPA – odd considering it was made with four USA based hops, and even as the rest of the beer grows that earthiness remains a stubborn characteristic of the finish – feeling very Brit soil hop IPA style.

But the rest of the beer does grow – the soft main body texture becoming layered with fruit and the robust toffee backbone becomes the mainstay of the beer, with light spice and ginger notes giving a gentle warmth to the whole experience. Oh and a touch of vanilla. Did I mention I love the vanilla heavy IBeer?

It, far all that, feels closest to a Brit styled IPA. For all the American fruit flavour, the ageing seems to have led to a diminishing of the brash hop forward characteristics but kept the soil notes. However in exchange it gains a very smooth character and a very good range, even becoming very sweet by the end as the toffee body takes centre stage.

It isn’t setting the world alight but it has a whole host of elements I love (*cough* vanilla. Ibeer) and all mashed together into a satisfying beer that keeps your attention to the last drop.

Background: Welcome back Art Brew! these guys were one of my regular pints back when I started doing notes, they’ve had their ups and downs over the years, but they are back again now. I had to grab this one, Art Brew back, doing a one year aged IPA (An unusual style to age) and one of only Sixty bottles. Yeah, I grabbed it. from Independent Spirit, to no ones’ surprise. Drank while listening to the Gunflowers EP and some Shadows Fall: Fallout From The War.

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