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Angel’s Envy (USA: Bourbon/ Whiskey: 43.3% ABV)

Visual: Quite deep gold.

Viscosity: Slow but thick streaks.

Nose: Minty. Peppery. Banana candy sweets. Rye crackers. Banana syrup. Spicy red wine. Light cherries. Vanilla. Topical fruit. Water adds pear drops.

Body: Big. Orange crème. Dry raisins. Madeira. Water adds banana and pear drops and light Blackpool rock.

Finish: Butterscotch. Peppery. Brown bread and rye crackers. Orange crème. Madeira. Dry raisins. Rum soaked fruitcake. Water adds pear drops and dried banana along with hints of malt chocolate.

Conclusion: Right – I really do like this one – it feels like a mix of traditional bourbon vanilla and rye characteristics matched with the unusual fruity raisins and dry spicy wine notes. At this point it feels like a sherry aged bourbon (Yes I know legally you can’t sherry barrel age bourbon, run with me on this one) – and like that I definitely enjoyed it.

However this is not just a good, but in fact an excellent whiskey and what makes it that is it feels like a whole host of traditional sweet shop notes have been mixed in with that – notes of pear drops on the light end, chewy banana sweets for thicker notes and a sparkle of Blackpool rock sweetness above that – lots of lighter and sweeter notes than adds a real easy going character into the bourbon style. It is a huge contrast but not in a way that creates any unpleasant dissonance of character.

This has so many subtle, interesting notes around the solid bourbon like base, and sherry aged whiskey highlights – and these are then subtly enhanced again by adding a drop of water. It calls to mind high quality bourbon, but playing with a range of complexity that normally it would not be allowed to handle.

An excellent whiskey/bourbon – one that I genuinely recommend you grab if you ever get the chance. It has been a few years between tries for me, and I hope it is not that long before I can try it again.

Background: OK, a quick explanation first on why I put both bourbon and whiskey up above. In most fashions this is a bourbon best I know, but, again as a far as I know, legally bourbon has to be aged entirely in fresh casks. This has been aged in port pipes for about 3-6 months after initial maturation, so I think it is technically not bourbon. Any which way – yep – an experimentation that I approve of. I first tried this years ago during the “Road Trip Of Awesome” in America, but did not do notes at the time. So, when I saw that it was in Independent Spirit’s “Mediocre Whisky Tasting” line-up I was a very happy bunny (Disclaimer – I am not actually a bunny). As before this was done in a more social environment, so my notes may be a tad more scattershot that normal – apologies.

Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye (Canadian Blended Whisky: 45% ABV)

Visual: Light gold.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Rye crackers. Light orange. Menthol. Peppermint. Vanilla. Water adds coconut, white chocolate and light praline.

Body: Vanilla toffee. Rye crackers. Coconut. Slight bitter chocolate. Light smoke. Water makes much smoother and slightly more oaken.

Finish: Brown bread. Vanilla. Peppery. Menthol. Peppermint. Buttery shortbread. Tropical fruit. Coconut. White chocolate. Quite dry and with an alcohol air. Water makes more oaken and more menthol, with some charring to it.

Conclusion: This is one of those ones that ends up as a tale of two whiskies. Initially it shows a dry, spicy rye kind of thing; Lots of rye bourbon styling, while this is a whisky it has both the rye and a light set of orange crème notes that are definitely a call to bourbon style.

However, under those dry notes is a light vanilla sweetness matched with some white chocolate character. Items that usually would be very sweet notes, but since they are delivered so dryly they instead just add more of the flavour, with just some sweet hints to them as well.

Neat it has a light amount of menthol to peppermint that is fresh, however it doesn’t seem to match the other elements well. Thankfully even a few drops of water removes this, leaving more influence for the dry spicy and peppery backing.

Even like this is still has some slight vanilla sweetness – just enough to keep it from getting too wearing. Now this leaves me in a bit of a bind – usually very dry whiskies aren’t my thing – however even as such I can respect the complexity this has and the range it brings. Even with that the character makes it far from easy drinking so I’m more appreciating it that fully enjoying it.

So, a complex but just slightly harsh edged whisky. Enjoyable, chocolate backed dry coconut and peppermint spice – it is good, but not great.

Background: Now, recently Independent Spirit did what they called their “Mediocre Whisky tasting” Now the first whisky was this – what Jim Murray listed as his best whisky in the world for 2016, so you may have guessed they were being a tad flippant there. It was an amazing line up of very hard to find whiskies – including Hibiki 17 and Yamazaki 12, amongst some others – the notes of which will be turning up in the next few days. Now, accepting that Jim Murray’s picks may be slightly…political shall we say, I was still very interested to try this. A blended whisky made with 90% rye. Because of the tasting environment my notes may be a slight bit shorter than normal – hopefully they should still make sense.

Downton: Pumpkin Ale (England: Spice/Vegetable/Herb: 4.2% ABV)

Visual: Hazy ripe banana to gold. Some sediment. Large mounded ice cream float looking off white head.

Nose: Pumpkin. Earthy hops. Cinnamon and coriander. Low but present bitterness.

Body: Earthy bitterness. Slightly peppery. Some pumpkin comes out if held. Greenery. Soft soil. Orange zest. Slight brown sugar.

Finish: Peppery. Earthy. Moderate bitterness. Paprika. Soil.

Conclusion: This is a fairly earthy beer, almost soil like at times. Not something I would generally associate with a pumpkin ale, but there you go. While pumpkin isn’t a super fragile flavour, it isn’t exactly a dominant one either. And here it really seems to suffer against the earthy bitter weight that this brings.

It is odd that the pumpkin gets such short shrift in the body as the aroma manages to push those notes very well – they just get lost very easily when you start sipping the beer itself. If you hold the beer on your tongue for a while it does start time come out, but basically you have to seriously dig to get the element to be anything but the lightest of notes.

So, as a pumpkin beer this is definitely a fail – but how does it do just as a beer in itself? Fairly dull; It is a soil dominated, earthy bitter – which, let’s face it, is a style that is hard to do in an interesting fashion – not impossible, just hard.

This is a bit dull, a bit leaden, a bit too much earth and too little pumpkin. As both a beer in itself and a pumpkin beer it is a let down. Avoid.

Background: This beer was kind gift from my work college Matt – Many thanks. He informed me that he had it for a while before giving me it, however looking at it the best before date is still way in the future so it should be ok. Then again,as a pumpkin ale I’m guessing this came out Halloween last year, so damn that must be a long best before date. Anyway, in some act of insanity I bought the Afterbirth+ DLC for Binding Of Isaac in the latest steam sale. This was drunk after I finally managed to stop playing that stupidly addictive game. Why did I do it? WHYYYY? Anyway, drunk while listening to some Rob Zombie to keep in with the macabre atmosphere of playing that game!

Brewdog: Hazy Jane (Scotland: IPA: 7.2% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy stewed banana to apricot. Medium sized white head.

Nose: Moderate hops and bitterness. Lightly milky. Apricot. Banana. Light greenery. Mango.

Body: Banana. Mango. Slight pineapple. Cloying centre and slightly bready. Light grapefruit. Slightly milky. Tart peach. Hop oils.

Finish: Greenery. Sage. Moderate bitterness and hop character. Mango. Slightly bready. Tart peach. Grapefruit. Hop oils. Slightly wheaty.

Conclusion: OK, this seems to set the balance nicely for a New England IPA in my eyes. Not literally in my eyes, I didn’t pour the beer on my face or anything. Anyway … After trying the nearly zero IBU efforts that seem every common with the style, and after trying the ultra heavy bitterness one from Odyssey, I come to this one that keeps a moderate amount of hops, but definitely concentrates on the fruitiness.

It is still slightly milky in texture and taste, giving that thicker mouthfeel that is in most of the NE style – but what dominates is not that, but a set of lightly tart fruit; From grapefruit, lots of mango and banana and ever some tarter than usual expressed peach.

While this has a super short best before date of barely a month, I am glad that I waited just under a week to do the notes. The first can I had still had a touch of roughness that I have found with super fresh IPAs some times; A few days was all it needed to sort that out and now this has some kind of wheaty style extra grip to it, but with no extra roughness for that grip.

Having spent some time with this I am finding it a good IPA that uses the New England style without being beholden to it and for that showing the best of a more traditional American IPA (If you can call an American IPA traditional in any way).

Still not 100% sold on why everyone is raving about NEIPAs, but this is closer than most to converting me – it is a very good beer. Now If only I can find that Cloudwater NEIPA I tried up in Manchester – I had it mid way into a session, but if doing notes holds up to my memory that may be the one to do it. Anyway, digression aside this is good, but not so super shiny good that it is a must have.

Background: So, the usual disclaimer – I am not an unbiased actor on Brewdog beer – also shareholder’s like myself got a six pack of this free for keeping their shares – in my case grabbing them from Brewdog Bristol. So, yeah, disclaimer out of the way. Yet another New England IPA – everybody is doing them these days. Anyway, decided to go for a bit of Two Step’s From Hell while drinking this – Archangel again. Great epic music for drinking

Hanssens: Oudbeitje (Belgium: Fruit Lambic: 6% ABV)

Visual: Clear and still, with a gold to apricot skin colour.

Nose: Strawberry in a creamy fashion. Rose wine. Vanilla. White grapes. Acidic apple. Horse blankets and oats.

Body: Very tart. Oats. Mild strawberry. Dry cider. Acidic at the back of the throat. Slight nail polish imagery.

Finish: Strawberry. White wine. Lemon juice. Dry cider. Fresh apples. Slight vinegar. Tart raspberry. Slight nail polish air. Rose wine.

Conclusion: Ok, strawberries in a lambic – I was expecting this to be pretty unusual, so was excited going in. The excitement continued as I popped the cork out – there was lovely creamy strawberry aroma, matched with the tart rose wine character from the base lambic. It looked like this was going to be a brilliant balance of the lambic and the fruit.

What did surprise me at this early stage was how little colour the fruit seemed to add to the beer. It was possibly a little darker than the standard lambic, but not where near as bright or as colourful as the usual fruit lambics.

The initial flavours are promising – with slight strawberry into tart raspberry notes alongside a dry cider style lambic character. It is harsh at the back of the throat, but otherwise a good start.

Unfortunately over time a thicker, slightly unpleasant character emerges. The best way I can describe it is akin to breathing in the fumes of wood or nail polish. It’s thick, kind of gas fume like and far from pleasant. As time goes on even more this element gets heavier and heavier. This one element very much hurts the rest of the beer, and even made it feel like a chore to finish the last quarter of the beer.

So, a nice start, with promise, but by the end it was genuinely a bad experience. Maybe strawberries are not generally used in lambcis for a reason then. A pity as it showed such promise to begin with.

Background: Been looking for this one for a while – I hear about it in a 100 Belgian Beers To Try Before You Die, and it seemed interesting. A lambic made with the unusual choice of strawberries for the fruit choice. After many years of looking I finally found this in Manchester in the very well stocked Beermoth. Friendly staff as well, had a nice chat about lambics in there. I had hoped to go back to grab more beers, but time did not permit. Drunk while listening to Svalbard again – had just grabbed their Gone Tomorrow album off bandcamp.

Odyssey: The Cult (England: IPA: 6.7% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy apricot skin to brown – very dark for a New England IPA. Massive amount of darkened bubbled head.

Nose: Mashed banana. Crisp hops. Milky to creamy. Slightly bready.

Body: Good bitterness. Slight dill pickle and a prickly hop feel. Hop oils. Kiwi. Dried apricot. Muggy, thick hop centre. Slight sulphur. Slight toffee to caramel.

Finish: Dill pickle. Creamy notes. Kiwi. Good bitterness and hop character. Dry peach. Greenery. Bready. Sulphurous. Apples.

Conclusion: Whelp, this is pretty much unlike any other New England IPA I have encountered, which could explain why – in general – I quite like it. Man that sounds like I’m really hating on the NEIPA style – I’m not, I just think I haven’t quite found the one for me yet. Anyway…

From the New England side of the style we have the cloudy main body and with that an accompanying kind of milky character to the beer – generally smooth, but with a slightly rougher, wheaty styled gripping texture at times.

However unlike the generally low IBU NE beers that I have tried, this just shoves in ladles full of hop oils and thick, gripping, heavy and muggy hop bitterness. Which may be against style guidelines best I can tell – still as a bitterness fan I’m not going to complain too much.

This also tries for the big fruity character of the NEIPA style, though on the heavier and drier end of the scale; It uses kiwi, some sourness from a slight pickle like notes, dried apricot and peach. However while they are present they are always close to being subsumed by the oily, thick hop bitterness.

So, as I’ve said, I enjoyed it – for the most part – but it isn’t without flaws. The mugginess of the hops is up to an almost sulphurous level – which may add a bit of spice to the thing early on, but feels wearing and overly charred by the end. The huge oily hops end up overwhelming the other flavours and makes it a bit one note.

So, while I enjoyed it, most of the enjoyment was in the first half rather than the latter – it really could do with being a 330ml bottle at most – it feels too heavy going for more than that.

So – I did enjoy it, but it still isn’t selling me on the NEIPA style over the more traditional interpretations.

Background: Not been quite sold on the New England style of IPA yet, though I am getting a handle on what it is now after some beers and some research. Since Odyssey a) Do awesome IPAs and b) Did a Black New England IPA that was interesting, I thought I would give their standard NE IPA a try and see how it went. So I grabbed this from Independent Spirit, put some Svalbard on the playlist and sat down to see how things went.

Uiltje: Lekker Bakkie Kobi – Cognac Barrel Aged (Netherlands: Imperial Stout: 14.9% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Pours with a large creamy brown head that quickly descends to a more normal size.

Nose: Spiced rum. Creamy chocolate. Thick marmalade. Cognac. Cherries. Red and white grapes. Strawberries.

Body: Thick and creamy. Sherry trifle. Rum and port. Rum soaked raisins. Brandy cream. Creamy chocolate. Strawberry syrup. Cognac. Slight liquorice. Nougat. Figgy pudding. Glacier cherries.

Finish: Creamy cognac. Marmalade. Milky chocolate. Fondue. Strawberry ice cream and syrup. Fig rolls. Slight liquorice.

Conclusion: Oh god this is rich. Very thick, very creamy, very heavy indeed. In a world where high abv beers seem to be ashamed of that fact, hiding themselves behind super smooth, comparatively light bodies, it is refreshing to run into one that wears its full weight on its sleeve. In fact, it wears it on its sleeve and then sews on patches made of spirit scrawled obscenities to double down on that fact.

It isn’t harsh though, isn’t burning – just spirity, weighty – it doesn’t have that flaw of high alcohol, just the immense presence that comes with it.

The base body feels fruity with dark figs, raisins and cherries – but most of the room there is taken up by the wide range of spirity notes that the cognac ageing has brought in. It feels like its has been aged in multiple barrels rather than just cognac – you get what feels like spicy rum, brandy cream, and of course the thick marmalade cognac notes. It is lovely. The barrel ageing utterly dominates, but the solid base below is far from lost. There is little subtlety left, but it manages to keep the more intense flavours for pounding complexity.

As time goes on a chewy nougat character builds, adding a more thick mouthfeel to an already heavy beer. Even the late addition of liquorice doesn’t feel out of place – in fact it comes in as a much needed dryness amongst an otherwise intensely sweet monster. Now, this isn’t a beer for everyone – while not sickly sweet, it is still very intense in the sweet character, so not for those who prefer a drier, roasted or more bitter stout.

Stupidly sweet, and stupidly heavy, but makes it work. Very fun, very good, very barrel aged.

Background: Ok, from the very Starbucks looking label, I guessed this was going to be a coffee infused stout – but nope. According to the bottle, they planned to do that initially, but changed their mind after trying it after it had been aged in Cognac casks for 19 months. Fair enough. Grabbed from Independent Spirit, and drunk in the slightly cooler weather while listening to some Judas Priest – Screaming for Vengeance to be precise. Some slightly cheesy but fun metal.

Lost and Grounded: Running With Sceptres (England: Premium Lager: 5.2% ABV)

Visual: Bronzed gold. Small bubbled carbonation. Large white mounded head.

Nose: Pineapple. Slight dill pickle. Crisp hops. Peach. Soft lemon sherbet. Slight hop oils and thicker hop character. Light toffee.

Body: Vanilla. Smooth. Good crisp bitterness. Soft peach. Palma violets and hop oils. Stewed apricot. Slightly dry. Slight strawberry yogurt undertones.

Finish: Buttery shortbread. Good bitterness and hop character. Hop oils. Light charring. Light sour grapes. Digestives.

Conclusion: This both is, and isn’t the beer I have been seeking for so long from my experience at BrizDram earlier this year. Yep, its open up the notes with a blatant contradiction time again. Give me a mo and I’ll explain.

From the fruity soft aroma I realised that this was the same lager that I enjoyed so much when I encountered it before – it has the same good hop bitterness and a gentle but aromatic mix of tart and sweet fruit. It is a wonderful welcome.

The body backs this up with a slightly thicker and creamier texture that your average lager, but still remaining a clean lager base under that with slight hop oils and a resolute bitterness against a fruitiness that is softer and lighter than the aroma promised. This lighter fruitiness and such is why I say it also isn’t quite the same beer as the one I tried before; Or more correctly, it is but had fresh as it can be on tap at the brewery it is – as you would expect – better. The fruitiness and flavour is just more evident and better.

Still, here it is still a good lager, using hopping well and balancing the traditional lager character with the craft style well. Basically the difference is that when had fresh at the brewery everything is turned up a notch – not to assault hopping levels, but everything is more evident and better defined.

I’m getting distracted – this is still worth trying, it carries just enough of the heavier, muggier hop character for some weight; Crisp hops used for drinkability. It brings hop flavour without forgetting that it needs the lager base. So, worth grabbing – however, if you are near the brewery when it is on – the definitely try it then, it is a whole different level of “yes!”

Background: I’ve been looking for a certain lager from Lost and Grounded for a while. During the Brizdram drinking event in Bristol, we visited the Lost and Grounded brewery and I had a brilliant lager, utterly brilliant. But I was drunk. And I forgot the name. So here we are now, with this beer grabbed from Independent Spirit. Let’s see how it does. This was drunk while listening to a random shuffle of Bad Religion tunes – hopefully seeing them live later this year, so was in the mood to listen to them.

Mill’s Brewing: Oliver’s Cider and Perry: Foxbic (England: Cider/Sour Ale: 4.7% ABV)

Visual: Hazy lemon to apple juice – goes very cloudy on later pours. Large white mound of a head that quickly vanishes. Lots of small bubble carbonation.

Nose: Dry. Apples to cider. Vanilla. White grapes.

Body: Dry. Oaken. Fresh cut apples. Slight yeastie feel. Slight soft mushy apples. Apricot on later pours.

Finish: Tart grapes. Vanilla. Moderate oak. Moderate bitterness. Flour. Dry white wine. Fresh apples.

Conclusion: OK, I am moving outside my comfort zone by doing notes on this one, as it seems closer to the cider side of things than the beer side – albeit with some lambic style notes in there. Any which way, I’ll see what I can do.

It is on the very dry cider side, with only as little sweetness there in the middle. This then meets a white wine and oaken character akin to the drier lambics. So it is slightly tart, very dry but not especially sour, and has very little mouth puckering character considering the flavours.

Flavour-wise it mixes fresh cut solid apples with their softer, more mushy apple type. No I don’t know the names, unfortunately; My obsessiveness already has an outlet in beer and whisky so I don’t know all the apple names as well. There is also a vanilla sweetness to it that feels more beer than cider, one of the few sweet notes it uses.

It feels reasonable – if you handed me this and told me it was a cider I wouldn’t have guessed otherwise – thought with the heads up given, there is a kind of brett funky yeast character to it, and a slight beery thickness that cider doesn’t often have (in my limited experience).

It’s not one I would return to often, as cider is something I only have occasionally, but it does seem to do it well – a white wine to lambic feeling cider thing that is dry and fairly easy to drink.

Background: Ok, grabbed this one from Independent Spirit as it is, in my experience a unique one. Feel free to tell me if I am wrong on that one. It is a mix of brewing styles from beer and cider to create this – the closest thing to cider I have ever done notes on here. Lots of people ask me to do cider notes, but I’m not quite sure if I’ve got the knowledge or the language to do it justice. Anyway, this is made with the turbid mash method to make the wort in the style of a lambic, but the wort was fermented with Foxwhelp juice by cider lees in old oak barrels for eight months, then bottle condietioned for 8 more months. I had to google some of those terms. Drunk on a far too bloody hot day while listening to a relaxing mix of Ulver music

Gusswerk: Dies Iræ (Austria: Barley Wine: 10.9% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Thin greyed head.

Nose: Brandy cream. Buttery shortbread. Black liquorice. Port. Butterscotch.

Body: Fruitcake. Liquorice. Port. Rum soaked raisins. Very smooth. Dried apricot. Tart blueberry. Light chalk. Cola. Werther’s Originals. Vodka. Slight fudge. Pear drops.

Finish: Brandy cream. Fig pudding. Liquorice. Port. Blueberry. Brown bread. Cola. Vodka. Pears.

Conclusion: Ok, this has a lot of liquorice flavour in it. I can deal with that. Not my favourite element in a beer, but not one that causes instant hatred of the entire beer either. It just needs to be used carefully ya know?

Anyway, for all its strength this beer is very smooth – there is a kind of alcohol edge to the flavours, kind of a vodka weight, but no fire or roughness which is impressive. Since this was a 2015 bottling and it is now 2017 its possible that is the ageing going to work – I’m not sure if they hold back releases deliberately, or if I was just lucky to get an aged one. Either way it seems to have worked.

As can be guessed from the colour in the photo, this works on the darker side of the barley wine scale for flavours. (as a side note – is it just me or do a lot of barley wines seem to do that these days? – I kind of miss the brighter barley wines at the moment.) Obviously it has the heavy liquorice I already mentioned, but also deep ESB like notes such as a fruitcake character, brandy cream, blueberry and port. The strangest thing about this, is that when it all blends together it can taste kind of like alcoholic cola. Another set of words I never thought I would type.

It’s good – not out of the normal range of quality for a barley wine, but good enough. It is also a tad expensive, so it needs to be a bit above just good for it to be worth the price tag unfortunately.

It does have a good range for the most part – tarter notes in the blueberry, obviously the heavy dry liquorice, and even some green fruit fresh pear notes. It is smooth, but with that it also seems to lack a bit of weight to the flavours. Probably part of the old ageing trade off. Also in the latter half of the bottles it did seem to tend towards the heavier, drier and less exciting flavours. Another beer where sharing helps it show itself to its best.

So, pretty good, but with some small flaws, the dominance of the liquorice, the lighter flavours due to age and the wearing nature over time – between them I cannot recommend it at going cost – you are really paying for the ceramic bottle – but if you find it at a more reasonable price this is a good barley wine.

Background: Final beer grabbed from Craft Beer Kontor in Hannover, and to many people’s shock, this is not a German beer! Turns out this one is from Austria – now at the time I thought “cool, I’ve not done a beer from Austria before.” Turns out I was mistaken on that one, I have done a couple, still, always good to expand my brewery horizons. I will admit I grabbed this mainly for two reasons 1) Because I haven’t had many barley wines recently and 2) Because the ceramic bottle looked fecking cool. I am shallow. Dies Iræ is apparently a Gregorian chant describing the day of judgement – pretty cool imagery even for an atheist like myself. Anyway, this was fairly expensive – I’m guessing mainly because of the bottle – ah well. Also this, the 2015 edition,was drunk 2017 – and oddly lists on the bottle as 10.9% but on the attached cardboard as 9% abv. Googling suggests the 10.9% is accurate so I’m going with that. Drunk while listening to Praxis: transmutation. I considered going for Gregorian chants, but decided that would be a bit too much dedication to the theme.

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