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shepherd-neame-sainsburys-taste-the-difference-london-porter
Shepherd Neame: Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference: London Porter (England: Porter: 5% ABV)

Visual: Black. Creamy inch of mounded brown froth.

Nose: Grated chocolate. Brown bread. Milky coffee.

Body: Bitter chocolate. Lightly earthy. Milky chocolate. Slight chalky texture. Bitter coffee.

Finish: Bitter cocoa. Earthy bitterness. Turmeric. Slightly chalky. Coffee cake. Light vanilla. Peppery.

Conclusion: We have been discussing (well, more correctly I have been monologuing about) earthy bitters recently. While doing so it is easy to overlook that, with the mass of easily available earthy hops in the UK, the earthy beer take has turned up in quite a range of styles over here.

This is a moderately earthy porter, though not dominated by that fact. The standard bitter chocolate and coffee notes you would expect of a porter are also there. However it is a lot more grounded than a lot of porters, with an earthy and peppery finish giving it a very savoury lead out. Also it gives it a bit more of a robust texture, rather than the smooth porter style it has a slight chalky texture and a rougher, but not unpleasant feel.

Over time the earthiness does become more present though – not a bad thing for the most part to my mind, but your mileage may vary. This has a lot of notes that I would associate with a more traditional bitter than a lot of porters, and that may not be up everyone’s alley. Apart from that it pretty much does the standard porter thing. I think if this was a cask real ale I would be giving it more time, the texture feels like it would slip into a cask beer nicely.

So, pretty simple for a porter but not badly done – the earthiness could be better used – early on the balance between it and the normal porter notes make it interesting, they grow and, while working for most of the beer, by the end it still isn’t bad but the earthiness does end up dominating and doesn’t let the porter notes flow well.

So, ok, but I would be interested to see what a more polished earthy porter would end up being like.

Background: This was a Christmas gift from my mate Tony – many thanks. Shepherd Neame used to do their own beer called Original Porter which I thought was the same as this one – looking up online though their version seemed to be 4.8% abv or 5.2% abv depending on when it was brewed, so this must have at least a slightly different recipe. Broke out the porter designed craft beer glass for this. Don’t know really if it makes a difference but it is fun.

kees-barrel-project-06-2016

Kees: Barrel Project 06/2016 (Netherlands: Barley Wine: 12% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Thin off white head.

Nose: Creamy vanilla and very evident bourbon. Very smooth. Caramelised brown sugar. Chocolate liqueur notes. Fudge.

Body: Treacle. Cherries. Vanilla. Soft fudge. Massive bourbon. Very smooth. Malt chocolate. Caramel. Soft alcohol presence with a slight tingle. Brown sugar. Chocolate liqueur.

Finish: Toffee. Vanilla. Golden syrup. Smooth bourbon. Chocolate liqueur.

Conclusion: Ok, this is both smooth as sod and bourbon backed to buggery. This is nice is what I am saying. Despite the darker colour it does not lean away from the intense sweetness of the traditional barley wine – though it does express it with more chocolate and fudge as well as the more excepted golden syrup style. Still, very recognisable straight out of the gate.

If I had to dig into what exactly is the major sweetness here I would say it has a lot of caramel, backed by huge amounts of vanilla – it is delivered with the slightest amount of alcohol prickling, but in general it slips down like quality liqueur. Or, considering the range of flavours, more like a blend of liqueurs – aged in a bourbon cask of course, you cannot deny that influence at any point. Seriously this is possibly one of the most clearly and evident defined beers for showing the bourbon ageing’s influence. It has all of the vanilla, that rugged sweet undertone and slight sour mash notes – all so very clear.

It is only because the base beer and the ageing are so in line that the ageing doesn’t overwhelm the base beer. While the base beer has a lot of flavour it is not so epically big to overpower the bourbon ageing, instead it relies on the base caramel and chocolate complementing rather than fighting the bourbon notes.

So, I enjoy this massively – thought not quite enough for it to be one of the rare “my favourites”. It is classy as all hell – smooth and with full flavour – the only thing it does not have is that unique element that pushes it to the very top and makes it an all time great. Still, that is possibly the weakest criticism there is. It is still great.

So, genuinely great, even if not an all time best, but there is no way you will regret this if you are a fan of bourbon and barley wines. Full on bourbon. Full on barley wine. Full on beer.

Background: This is the third of the Kees Barrel project beers I grabbed, and probably the one I was most looking forwards to. You seem to get less barrel aged Barley Wines over here, so this – aged in Barton Bourbon barrels looked like just the thing for me. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, it was drunk listening to the every energetic indie pop electronic tunes of Grimes for a bit of extra fun.

brewski-brewing-persiko-feber-ipa

Brewski Brewing: Persiko Feber IPA (Sweden: IPA: 6.5% ABV)

Visual: Lemon juice colour. Moderate white head. Moderate carbonation.

Nose: Peach. Slight musty hop character. Soft pineapple.

Body: Slight musty feel. Pineapple. Dried peach. Good level of bitterness. Slightly chalky. Slight sour dough and sour cream. Dried mango.

Finish: Moderate bitterness. Nettles. Good hop feel. Quite dry. Slight granite. Slight sour dough. Dried mango.

Conclusion: I have to admit, I expected something very juicy based on the fact that actual peaches were used to make this beer. The mackoff peach on the label kind of reinforced that impression as well. This is fruity, but in a very dry and clinging bitter fashion. Especially on smaller sips – like that it goes all sour dough and bitterness which really doesn’t let the fruit out.

Larger mouthfuls seems to give more room that you can get more of the fruit. However even with the enhanced fruit there seems a strong cloying sour twist to it – nothing like what I would have anticipated – felt kind of like sucking the peach remains off the stone at its heart.

So, as you may have guessed, I am not overly taken by this. The fruit seems less peach most of the time, and closer to a dried mango flavour. The body feels closer to an APA dryness than the bigger character of an IPA. Finally the aforementioned sour dough notes are very long lasting into the finish, and the bitterness seems rough. It is fruity, aye, but in a way that seems cloying and closed.

So, considering this is a fair popular beer I wonder what I am missing? The bitterness is impressive I will admit, but without a balanced back it just makes it wearing over time. It just feels too closed for me. Used in moderation a sour twist can be a nice break in midst an IPA, but this seems dominated by it. So, not for me I’m afraid.

Background: This brewery was recommended to me as the “Hipster beer” due to the little top hat, monocle and moustached man on the front. Grabbed from Independent Spirit this brewery seem to have a very good rep. This one is an IPA made with Peach. Looking online after I had finished the notes, most people seem to be having a very different experience with this than me. Odd. Bad bottle? Or just me not being in line with the rest of the world yet again? Beats me. This was drunk after coming back from a Chaos Wrestling event which had been great fun, so was in a generally chipper mood.

brewdog-hop-shot

Brewdog: Hop Shot (Scotland: IIPA: 22% ABV)

Visual: Apricot colour, some bubbles. No real head. Mild amounts of carbonation.

Nose: Peach. Musty hops. Kiwi. Apricot. Thick. Solid bitterness and hop oils. Light floral notes.

Body: Thick and syrupy. Golden syrup and honey. Good hop oils and some bitterness. Custard. Kiwi. Big peach. Syrupy alcohol. Pineapple.

Finish: Big kiwi, grapes and pineapple. Big hop bitterness. Thick sheen. Alcohol gin air. Big peach. Drying. Passion fruit. Hop oils.

Conclusion: This is actually a lot better than I expected. After the atrocious misstep that was Watt Dickie I feared that this would be similar.

Instead this actually feels roughly akin to an Imperial IPA, albeit one that has been crossed with golden syrup and had the alcohol feel turned way up. That may not be the most promising sounding description when I put it that way, I will admit, however I’m enjoying it. It has calls to Sink The Bismarck – but while that was was a raw onslaught of a beer, this is smoother and more refined. Now don’t get me wrong – you can totally tell the alcohol – but the very thick, very sweet texture compensates surprisingly well to control it. It feels like slightly thinned golden syrup slowly oozing over your tongue – dispensing varied honey to custard notes as well as its native syrup character. Very, very sweet indeed.

The fruitiness is the second biggest thing this has to offer, layered over the syrupy sweet notes. It is exploding with peach and kiwi notes, amongst a smattering of others. There is nothing subtle, subtlety would not work here. It all has to be big, all the time.

That is why I find it odd that of all things, it is the bitterness that is comparatively restrained. There is a lot of hop character, and definitely a lot of hop oils feel, but the bitterness? Well, with the exception of the finish, it is always restrained. Even in the finish the bitterness gets overwhelmed by the indomitable momentum of the sweetness over time.

So, it is a party piece rather than one to have often. Too insanely thick and strong to have several of. Despite its huge flavour everything is up front so it is not one to contemplate either. It is very fun though. So a sugar shock, fruit hop heavy, golden syrup thick thing of an Imperial IPA. You will either have great fun with it, or hate it. Either way you will only ever probably have a couple then go back to more balanced drinking fare. Still – fun!

Background: Grabbed from Brewdog Bristol, this tiny bottle is Brewdog’s latest attempt at freeze fortifying beer. Generally they have been pretty good, but the last attempt – Watt Dickie was freaking terrible. As always I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beer. I grabbed the smallest glass I had for this one – a third pint glass from the Great British Beer Festival – at 110 ml the bottle still barely made a dent in the glass. Still, plenty of room for the aroma to roam. Drunk while listening to the hauntingly wonderful Alver album – atgclvlsscap

wadworth-6x

Wadworth: 6X (England: Bitter: 4.3% ABV)

Visual: Ruby brown. Creamy inch of slightly browned froth that leaves suds.

Nose: Caramel. Lemony hops. Creamy. Light turmeric and orange peel.

Body: Earthy. Caramel. Slight liquorice. Thick. Popcorn hop styling. Corn Pops cereal. Malt chocolate. Chalky over time.

Finish: Corn pops cereal. Vanilla. Earthy character. Caramel. Orange.

Conclusion: I talked recently about earthy bitters and the value thereof – this is the other way an earthy bitter can go. It doesn’t have the slight sourness I associate with a good sessionable bitter; Instead it goes for a much sweeter malt base. It goes bigger and more malty, and with that it seems it brings out more flavour from the hops as well. Some fruity lemon and orange float out from amongst the earthiness.

It is easier to get into than the Black Sheep Bitter as it has that immediate sweet hook – but without the light sourness I found that the earthiness got wearing more quickly.

It is a fairly standard beer, gets chalky over time, which can be used well, but here is again slightly wearing. So, it starts off pretty good with the sweetness and the nice fruitiness with balanced earthiness – but that earthiness and chalkiness gets a bit one note by the end.

It feels like it needs something to make the good qualities last, something normally provided by the light sourness. It doesn’t have a bad opening for a sweeter styled bitter, but can’t keep the game up. Ok, but by the end is just doing the minimum I would expect from a beer of this type.

So, not a great ale. Ok to start, even slightly good, but a rough end.

Background: Quite a quick set of notes this one – This was a beer given to me by a colleague at work – many thanks. This used to a be a regular pint in my early twenties at our local, so some fond memories. Also people keep punning its name as sick sex. Because of course they do. That is all.

ailsa-bay-eponymous-bottling

Ailsa Bay – Eponymous bottling (Scottish Lowland Single Malt Whisky: 48.9% ABV)

Visual: Clear yellowed gold.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Big smoke. Chinese stir fry vegetables. Moss. Salted rocks. Vanilla. Peppermint. Water cleans out the vegetable notes.

Body: Vanilla. Smoke. Light fudge. Salt. Slightly medicinal. Water smooths. More vanilla. Slight lime. Slight bready character. Malt chocolate.

Finish: Peat. Malt chocolate. Light salt. Vanilla. Slight greenery. Water adds honey sweetness. More malt chocolate to choc orange. Quite drying. Slight Chinese stir fry vegetables.

Conclusion: This is another whisky that I am glad I gave a while to open up before doing notes. When I first broke this open about a week ago, it seemed very dominated by a stir fry vegetable character behind the smoke. A very bad look for nearly any whisky. Anyway, these days where I can I give the whisky a week or so before I do notes, time for the vapours to roam the now less than full bottle. It often helps, so, we now try the whisky in that state.

This is still very peat forward, drying and smokey with slightly medicinal and salted notes – though it is not overly tied to those last two concepts. Instead the main backing to the peat is a gentle, smooth toffee sweetness. Neat it still has a bit of the stir fry in the aroma, but that goes with water. With a lot of water that stir fry returns to linger in the finish- so it is a balancing act to find the sweet spot on this one.

Still, in the middle, with just enough water you get a nice balance of both worlds. You get the sweetness, the peat – a good intensity backed by a good sweetness. Despite the texture it is never easy drinking, but it is not due to any fire or harsh spirit notes – in fact it plays very smooth, and even enhances itself with some chocolate notes as the water comes in.

So, with water, does it have any problems? Well, a couple – a big one is the cost. For all the peat and sweetness it brings, and the impressive texture, it is still a young whisky. It lacks a certain complexity – I find the Ardmore does sweet and peat better and with more subtlety – or if you want the intense side, for this cost you can get Laphroaig Quarter Cask – which is a legend that shows how to really get the most out of small cask ageing.

This is a good show for a first release, though marred by those stir fry notes mentioned – but it does not match the complexity or quality you would expect for the price. There are much better, similar whiskies. I anticipate good things from this distillery, but unless you really must try the first release, I would hold out for a later, richer, expression.

Background: This was a Christmas gift from my parents – many thanks! This is a no age statement bottling, but the Ailsa Bay Distillery has been part of the Girvan distillery since 2007, so it with this being released in 2016 it would probably have a max age of about 8 years, and probably less. This highly peated whisky has been “Micro matured” by which I presume they mean aged in a smaller cask so there is more contact with the wood. The label lists this as having a pppm of 21 (peat raing) and sppm of 11 (google tells me this is the sweetness rating -not seen that before). Drunk while listening to Ulver – atgclvlsscap, a weird experimental mash up that gave a lovely haunting backdrop to the drinking.

berliner-kindl-weisse

Berliner Kindl: Weisse (Germany: Berliner Weisse: 3.0% ABV)

Visual: Hazy lemon juice. Large white head.

Nose: Musty and oats, yet tart feeling. Slight lemon.

Body: Tart. Light chalk. Oaks. Lemon. Slight syrupy lemon core. Slight milk to cream. Slight bitter greenery. Light mint leaves.

Finish: Oats and muesli. Thick sheen on tongue. Lemon syrup. Vanilla. Light greenery. Light salt. Slight grapes.

Conclusion: This is a lot less sour than I remember. Then again I have drunk a lot of sours in the intervening years. Also I don’t have a fucking tooth cavity this time. Which may explain things.

Anyway, this is fresh, with a tart lemon in a kind of traditional lemon juice style and feel – what I don’t remember from last time it it having a kind of oat and muesli roughness to it. Nor do I remember the greenery touched gritty bitterness it the back. It feels quite nature touched, with a pre hops bittering agent style to the taste. Though all this is background to the main lemon freshness. By itself fit is refreshing, but slightly empty. I can see why most new beers in the style add fruit, or most drinkers add syrup to the traditional base. This feels like a very good start to a beer, but not an ,and nowhere near an, end point.

Still, taken as it is it still works the refreshing side well and delivers a good texture while waking up the taste-buds. In fact, to concentrate on that aspect for a moment – it really is an interesting texture progression. It feels kind of light when it firsts touches your lips, gains tart but gritty as you hold it, until it finally finds a slightly thicker syrup touch at the centre. It may be a base that needs something extra, but I can see why it is so popular as a base.

Not one I will return to often, but it has given me a new respect for the base of the style.

Background: Years ago, back when I was first trying sours, it turns out I had a cavity – It was around that time I was trying Cantillons, and this – the Kindl Berliner Weisse. I cannot remember which exactly it was that caused me to realise I had a cavity, but let us just say it was painful. So, with that in mind I returned to this beer, grabbed from Independent Spirit, for a hopefully less painful experience. To psyche myself up I broke out a mix of Iron Maiden tunes. Often Berliner Weisse is drunk with syrup such as raspberry or woodruff for added sweetness, but for this tasting I took it au naturel.

de-dochter-van-de-korenaar-peated-oak-aged-embrasse

De Dochter Van De Korenaar: Peated Oak Aged Embrasse (Belgium: Belgian Strong Ale: 10% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black.

Nose: Malt chocolate. Smoked meat. Brown bread. Smoke. Mature cheese. Beef broth soup. Light toffee.

Body: Brown bread. Big smoked meat – mainly smoked ham. Beef slices. Soft vanilla. Slight funky yeast feel. Brown sugar and malt chocolate.

Finish: Smoked beef and dried beef slices. Malt chocolate. Nuts. Slight salt and medicinal notes. Soft vanilla. Brown sugar.

Conclusion: This is a big, meaty beer. Yet somehow the peated boom still leaves room for the base beer to show through. First impressions therefore are that this is going to be massive – either in a good, or a bad way.

The base beer seems a solid Belgian brown ale, lots of malt chocolate, very smooth, slightly nutty with hints of brown sugar and some of that funky Belgian yeast feel. Good, and pretty much straight in the middle of what you would expect from the style.

It is hard to say more about the base beer – it feels very smooth, very high quality – but where it leads out from that base, the barrel ageing comes in with intensity. Big peat, big meat, and slight medicinal elements that make me think they probably picked something from the Islay end of the table for this. I am sure there is more to the base, it has a quality feel that says that there would normally be a lot more – but it is lost under the weight of the barrel ageing. Frankly I’m impressed so much of the base came through anyway – a big bready weight that gives room to set everything else up.

This is smooth, booming, manages to get a lot from each side of oak and base – feels like a beer that would have been better shared, rather than greedily devoured by just one person as I did. By myself I found it getting a bit over bready and peat dominated by the end – at the half way point it still felt great – just working enough to make it feel like a medieval feast of bread, meat and alcohol. In fact, while you are sharing it, might as well make a feast – break out some greasy meat, some bread to mop it up with, and this beer. Think the combination would work well.

Background: So, is this 9% or 10% abv – bottle says 9, the cardboard attached says 10. Looking into it, I think the base beer was 9%, but time in the oak has shoved it up a percent. So, 10% it is. Anyway, grabbed from Brewdog’s guest beer selection, this is a new brewery from Belgium on me. I do love Belgian dark ales, and since this is aged in peated whisky casks that also is a big plus point for me. Drunk while listening to some ultra heavy metal from Meshuggah – hoping to see them soon. Hoped it would work out as heavy metal for heavy beer.

odyssey-imperial-hop-zombie-blood

Odyssey: Imperial Hop Zombie Blood (England: IIPA: 9.2% ABV)

Visual: Deep black cherry red. Thin off white head.

Nose: Cherry pocked biscuits. Clean hop character and hop oils. Fresh pineapple and pink grapefruit. Caramel shortbread.

Body: Black cherry and red cherries. Caramel. Shortbread. Good hop bitterness. Pink grapefruit. Hop oils. Kiwi.

Finish: Hop bitterness. Clean hop oils. Black cherry yoghurt. Pineapple. Pink grapefruit. Dried passion-fruit.

Conclusion: Fucking yes. 4 days into 2017 at time of drinking. Seven days in by time I upload this, and we have already the first truly awesome beer of 2017. That was fast.

This has super clean hop character delivering solid bitterness and hop oils without any rough characteristics. There is a moderate malt sweetness, but a lot of the impressions come from the hops bringing tart fresh notes in everywhere; Though there is also a big cherries flavour which I am pretty sure is from the base malt. The two mix, cherries and tart grapefruit hop notes, giving a sweet and fresh mix that sparkles.

There are no off notes here, no rough edges – the flavours are big but polished to an inch of their life. Often I miss rough edges in the beer, but this keeps the intensity – bitter, not harsh. It feels like a super cherry touched amber ales meets Hardcore IPA. It really balances the sweet, bitter and tart fresh notes. In fact, on the Hardcore IPA comparison – this feels like what Brewdog wanted to do with their Hop Kill Nazis and similar but never quite reached.

Odyssey have always impressed me in all my, few so far, encounters with them – this is where they really hit the big time for me. If they can keep up this quality then they will become a legend of brewing -if this is a one off high then they have already more than justified their existence amongst the greats.

So, a polished cherry malt beer with solid shortbread weight to keep the base ready to handle everything else – allowing a huge mix of tart fruit flavours to do their thing. Find this. Grab it. Drink it. Maybe even keep the bottle label after you drink it is it is awesome as well. Try this if ever you can.

Background: So, I was wondering if I should shove this under Amber ale or IIPA? It is very Imperial Amber Ale like, but hop style is straight IIPA. They describe it as a *grinds teeth* Double India Red Ale. So, guess IIPA it is then by the “sticking as close as possible to how the brewer calls it rule”. Anyway, my last experience with Odyssey was good, and the bottle label for this is awesome, so I grabbed this from Independent Spirit. Drunk while listening to Dead Kennedys: Plastic Surgery Disasters – something about the album cover seemed to match the bottle label for this – and I do like a good bit of punk.

black-sheep-ale

Black Sheep: Black Sheep Ale (England: Bitter: 4.4% ABV)

Visual: Yellowed brown. Clear. Still. Small grey head.

Nose: Earthy. Caramel sweetness. Palma violets. Sulphur.

Body: Slight fizzy feel. Nettles. Earthy notes and palma violets. Lightly sour. Light chalk. Soft vanilla back. Light cherries. Sticky brown envelopes

Finish: Dry roasted peanuts and chestnuts. Earthy notes. Light bitterness. Palma violets. Sticky brown envelopes. Turmeric.

Conclusion: You know, earthy bitters catch some shit. They get overlooked so much. I can see why – they aren’t bursting with tropical fruit. They don’t have huge malt sweetness to sooth. They are work-a-day beers. Not to mention they are, by definition, earthy. That is a hard sell. No one likes the idea of drinking earth, right?

The thing is, while it isn’t going to set the world alight, when done right a bitter has a slight sourness, very mild but just there, that makes it refreshing. It is why they are so good as a work-a-day pint.

This is one of those beers that does it right. It is earthy, with that slight sour refreshing note – and in a unique element for this one, matches that with a kind of palma violet cleanness to the whole thing – if that makes sense. Also, if it doesn’t make sense. It makes the earthiness feel less wearing over time, which solves what is oft a flaw of those type of bitters.

Now, it is pretty one note, a one trick pony; It never changes from that beer it is at the start, but it balances itself well – even using a slight vanilla sweetness and slight chalk grounding to polish the edges. I’m not going to rave about it as a beer – I’ve yet to run into a solidly earthy bitter that can make me rave about it. That may be your breweries challenge for 2017 if you are reading this and want to take a run at it. This does do the job though.

Not fancy, but hopefully from my meandering writing of the past few paragraphs I have shown why I’m glad beers like this exists, even if they are an oft overlooked style.

Background: Second in my “Sheep” themed tasting notes. An intentional theme. Honest. Anyway, this s part of a Christmas gift from a workmate. Many thanks! Drunk while listening to the latest Spektrmodule podcast. Black Sheep brewery is actually close to where I used to live once up North. Never visited it though. Possibly should do that one day. I am minorly biased towards the North for beers, cos I love the North, but try not to let it affect me.

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