Sunday, 26 February 2012

Shields down!

I'm generally an accidental hoarder. By that, I mean most times a beer gets hoarded by me, it's because I've forgotten about it, or it was left in a box between one of the two house moves we've made in the past 16 months. But, this little selection of Worthington's beers that I received from Kristy last year was purposefully avoided, till another of Andy and Mark's Open It weekends gave me the thin excuse I needed to clear some shelf space.

I'd been unsure about leaving something of the strength of Red Shield for over a year, but worries were generally unfounded, though it did open with a bit of a spray, which caused me to run, bottle in hand, thumb in neck, trying to make it to the sink with minimal coating of the walls. Lively, to say the least, but it looked attractive once coaxed into a glass. Delivering an aroma of doughy bread, light lime and a floral touch, the flavours were much the same story, with a tad more of a lemsip-y citrus twist, a suggestion of digestive biscuit saltiness giving way to a delicate, drying bitterness, the flavour of which, oddly, leaned in the direction of flat 7-Up. A little bland, and probably better on a hot summer day, and, I suspect, younger.

White Shield was an absolute pleasure last time I had it, and I was really looking forward to trying it with a year or so of age on it. Gone were the big, chewy caramel flavours, replaced by light fudge, a tentative sour bite, and a fuller, dried fruit backbone holding it all together. That tea-like tannic feel was still there, and with a lighter-feeling body, this made for a long, dry, puckering finish, with a little pepper and a distinct gin and tonic edge to close it all off. On reflection, I think I preferred the fluffy comfort of the younger, juicier version. With a year of aging, this felt a little more grown up, with those kinds of flavours that only adults should like, and it would certainly be nice to see how they could further develop. Incidentally, after some experimentation, I think I also prefer young Orval, despite the general consensus that it gets better (and then worse, and then better again) with age.

And so, to up the ante, Celebration Shield, a beer brewed to celebrate the opening (or should that be a reopening of sorts?) of the William Worthington's Brewery by Molson Coors in December 2010. At 8%, it should have stood the time quite nicely (although I didn't have a fresh comparison), but like the Red Shield, it was extremely gassy, and it took 5 minutes to pour a glass, such was the depth of the shaving-foam head. Despite the thick insulation, it pushed out a thick, sweet aroma which, I;m not sure I should say, reminded me of a good German Doppelbock, with big caramel cut with a fresh grassiness. The flavour loads on almonds, toasted rye bread, dried apricots and raisins. It's boozy, but in a refined, port-like way, perhaps with a shot of dark rum thrown in for good measure. The finish is juicy, fruity, with a longer, slightly toasted edge and a feeling of punchy contentment.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

A new festival for the calendar?

Twitter is great for finding out about these sorts of things. There's a new German beer festival to add to the calendar. Well, to be more accurate, it is billed as an International Beer Festival, inspired by the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival and the Great American Beer Festival. Braukunst Live! 2012 will be held from April 20th to 22nd in the MVG Museum, Munich.

The website is clearly still a work in progress, which is worrying considering it's only two months away, although to be fair, they could well have been very busy with their main event, the Finest Spirits whisky festival in February. However, there is a preliminary list of the breweries attending so far (though maybe by the time you click on that it could be a proper, sorted list with links to the breweries and stuff *hint hint*).

Although based in Munich, the organisers state they don't just want just Bavarian beers, but want national and preferably international breweries to show their wares, for four reasons (and here's my bad translation from their website):
  • First, to you, the consumer, to discover an international diversity, as good as any wine, whiskey or brandy festival.
  • Second, because we want to offer the specialty brewers a place to exchange and meet in a relaxed festival atmosphere - and to bring their own beers (which is rare).
  • Third, because we have a distinct speciality culture - but hardly anyone knows! Other countries have us there - some are decades ahead. Therefore we must learn from others, which is why we need the others here and why we need, right in the heart of the beer capital of Munich, an international festival.
  • Fourth, because we are convinced that this openness will lead to to a specialty market that ALL can use: the consumers, because they can learn of beers of an unexpected (and hitherto unknown!) variety of flavors; breweries, because consumers are paying you more for a product, its diversity and speciality they come to know and learn to love.
I have to admit, I'm not so enamoured of that very last concept, about paying more, but that does seem to be the way many German breweries are marketing their new wares, making them "special through price". But that's another story.

At the time of writing, I think there's only five international breweries listed (well, outside of the German-speaking countries): Brewdog, Fuller`s, Samuel Smith, Robinson and St. Austell, but there's plenty of interesting German breweries listed that I , for one, would love to sample beer from. Having a lot of them under one roof would make that job a lot easier, even if 100ml at a time.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

A proliferation of pale ales?

Every few weeks I seem to hear about yet another German brewery making a pale ale, and I have to admit, I'm probably jerking the knee a little by ordering them as I hear of them at this stage. Of the three described in this post, two in are fairly recent, and the third has been waiting in my cellar for an opportune moment, which happened to be last weekend. In order of drinking so (although I'm refreshing my memory as I write)!

Crew Pale Ale comes from a new two-man operation, Crew Alewerkstatt, based in Munich who are getting their recipe brewed at an undisclosed brewery. Of course, they have plans for their own plant, and I hope they make it. Felix, over at Lieblingsbier, has a good interview with Mario Hanel and Timm Schnigula, so I'm not going to do a von Guttenberg on it. Go read it and use Google Translate :)

Having a minimum order of a box of 20, I was really hoping this would be good, and with a hop list including Hercules, Chinook, Citra, Cascade and Nelson Sauvin, well, how couldn't it be? An unfiltered, pale amber brew. The aroma in one word: fruity. In a few more: well, gooseberries, mandarin, herbal and a little catty. It doesn't really hit hard on first sip, being somewhat lemonade-y, and a tad thin, but it has hop-driven flavours enough, with hay, soft thyme, white grapes and a lingering, lemony finish. At 40 IBUs, it's tastes surprisingly mild, with most of the hops apparantly delivering that melange of fruity flavours. I can't help thinking it would benefit from a little more malty backbone, and was a little underwhelmed on my first bottle. Where it really comes into its own is direct from the bottle after a days work. The lightness of body combined with the refreshing, fruity hop profiles makes it a real thirst quencher, and I'd happily have more. I'm looking forward  to seeing if the lads further develop this.

Propeller "Aufwind" Double IPA grabbed my attention in the Twitterverse, and within 30 minutes of seeing it mentioned, I'd ordered a mixed case of Propeller's Double IPA and Imperial Stout (more of that anon). See what I mean? My hop cravings continue unabated. Created by another duo, Hans-Christian Bosch, who as far as I can figure out is connected with Brauerei Bosch, and Sepp Wejwar, or "Biersepp", biersommelier and author, operating under Propeller Getränke.

There's not much technical info on their website, but a Double IPA is always music to my senses. However, not in this case. Expecting a Double IPA in  what seems to be the de facto American tradition, the aromas are quite muted, and I have to admit I transferred some to a snifter to try to concentrate them. What's there is pleasant, though, with a nose full of caramel, sweet mandarin peel, a pinch of nutmeg and floral undertones. On first taste, the body is is very pleasant, presenting a soft, chewy caramel base, cut with a lime-like freshness. The middle ground flies by rather swiftly (sorry!), flashing rounded pear, a little banana, to be replaced with a mildly sorbet-like finish that is sweet with long-lingering citrus notes and an edge of butterscotch. I have to admit, I was disappointed in not getting what I expected, but it's a decently-flavoured, moreish, easy-drinking beer.

Just on the topic of "what is this beer?", those who know me know that I'm not a style nazi, especially when brewing my own beers, and I dislike the idea of brewing by numbers, as Al over at Fuggled would put it. However, there's a certain value in a descriptive beer style from the consumer perspective, and although this is a fine, enjoyable beer, it is not, to my mind, a Double IPA. To me, it's an enjoyable, strong Pale Ale at 6.5% ABV. In fact, a German who had never had a DIPA before trying this, and liking it, would get a hell of a shock from the intensity of most other DIPAs. Funnily enough, there's a new addition to the beer description on the website since I last looked. I'll translate as best I can:

"AUFWIND is a Double IPA (Double India Pale Ale). Also when many bloggers don't want it to be true. For the category of Double IPA is non-binding. For some, "Double" means to double the alcohol levels or bitterness. For us, that would be too easy. Much more difficult is to produce "more" flavors and a "sea" of fruit."

Hmm... Yes. I have to admit, I don't get the "more" or the "sea", but perhaps in comparison to normal German beers, there is a "sea change" here. But please, lets not fracture the already apparently infinitesimally divided "beer style" list by creating a "German DIPA"!

And so, finally, to FritzAle IPA, a beer that was also recommended via Twitter. FritzAle is brewed at the Helios Braustelle in Cologne, presumably by Fritz renting time at the brewery, as are other beers like the Freigeist Bierkultur stuff. Having visited in the past, and liking what Braustelle do, I had high hopes for this, despite the daunting 750ml size. The garishly-coloured bottle lists Amarillo and Simcoe as hops of choice, bittered to a respectable 59 IBUs, and a regular 5.5% ABV. I'll cut to the chase. Brilliant. Big, fresh aroma, hitting classic American hop characteristics of piles of grapefruity, citrussy goodness. The flavour is certainly hop-forward and fresh, on a creamy fudge base, bready with the added bonus of pineapple sorbet, lashed with a luscious, yet drying pithy bitterness that goes on and on. Masses of flavour, wonderful balance, and the whole thing just works! Try it if you can.