Wednesday, 27 April 2016

With a little help from my friends

The occasion of #OpenIt a couple of weeks ago happened to coincide with a small, pre-birthday gathering, at which I had already planned to open a selection of bottles, some of which had been languishing in my cellar for a few years. Ever the one for experimenting on my friends and neighbours, I thought it would be a chance to share some big bottles, and get some feedback in the form of a casual tasting.

After filling bellies with chili and a selection of my own humble beer offerings of porter, pale ale and saison -- people always seem to go for the homebrew before the commercial stuff, which is endearing -- we had, at the end, five volunteers, plus a few backseat drivers, for a tasting. I gave them sheets to write down their thoughts, as it wasn't a free lunch!

The first beer opened was Jeff's Bavarian Ale from Maisel & Friends. This was only in the cellar only a few weeks, as I had bought the rather well-priced big bottle on a whim, while waiting for a physio session in nearby Mosbach. I had avoided reading anything about it, but was not surprised to later learn it's based on Weißbier, as the aroma is distinctly fruity, with banana and bready yeast overtones. It is, however, quite a bit richer than the average Weißbier, leaning more towards a Weizen Doppelbock (well, yes, it would at 7.1% ABV), with plenty of vanilla, fruity elements recalling summer berries, and a sweetish, crème caramel base. The finish is sweet and oily, leaving a warm, spicy feel. Words used by the group to describe it included: blackcurrant, fruity and mild, liquer-like.

I was a little hesitant about opening the Chimay Bleue Grande Réserve 2008, that I bought in some newsagents in Münster in 2009. It had been moving about with us, so has seen four difference "cellars" over the past seven years, and the amount of gooey-looking sediment at the bottom of the bottle gave me pause. I decided it was best to decant it, and we got a lovely clear beer for serving. It had a gorgeous, rich, sherry and port-like nose, and a flavour laden with raisins, dates, vanilla and toffee. And all of this on a silky-smooth, creamy body that masked the 9% well. It certainly wore its age well, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. Words used to describe it included vanilla, honey, chestnuts, nutty. Quite perceptive, this bunch.

Maisel & Friends was chosen by the group for the third round, as they all liked the sound of Marc's Chocolate Bock, a  7.5% creation that the blurb says is his interpretation of an Irish stout... eh, ya wha? Rich and fruity, with dried fruits, dates, and yes, a suggestion of chocolate. It has a lovely velvety texture, with vanilla, caramel and chocolate mousse. All rather nice in the mouth, but although the finish was certainly chocolaty, that in itself a great feat, it was of a type that didn't appeal to me. The team described this beer as dark caramel, bitter chocolate and a bitter, burnt aftertaste.

The final beer we shared was Bergmann Adam.  Bergmann is a Dortmund brewery I've covered before, but I'm not sure if they are yet brewing at their own facilities by now. This was a beer I had been greatly anticipating, as there was some personal interest in how it turned out. Back in 2010, I had irregular mail correspondence with the owner -- in 2009, I'd arranged a visit to the brewery with the The Beer Geeks, Chris and Merideth -- and he'd told me of his intention to remake an Adambier, which originally came from Dortmund. Out of curiousity, I contacted Ron Pattinson to see what insights he had on the original Adambier, and he kindly given me some info that I passed on to Dr. Raphael:
Dortmunder Adambier was a strong, sourish top-fermenting beer. Wahl & Henius ("American Handy Book of the Brewing, Malting and Auxiliary Trades", 1902) has an analysis of the beer performed in 1889. It was around 18º Balling, 7.38% alc. by weight (9.4% ABV) and a lactic acid content about half that of a contemporary lambiek. In contrast to sour beers such as Gose and Berliner Weisse, Adambier, also called Dortmunder Altbier, was heavily hopped. It acquired its sourness much like Porter - through a long secondary fermentation. Bacteria in the lagering vessels slowly changed the beer's character. It needed to be stored for at least a year for this process to take place. At the end of the primary fermentation the beer it was not sour at all. Another beer of this type was Münsterländer Altbier - stilll brewed by Pinkus Müller in Münster today. (Source: "Jahrbuch der Versuchs- und Lehranstalt für Brauerei in Berlin, 1911", p.522)

Now, they didn't want to introduce lactobacillus, as they were contract brewing, but said they would use lactic acid to add sourness. Nevertheless, it was something I was eager to try. However, getting a bottle seemed to be difficult, as it sold out quick every time it was made, and it wasn't till I think last year that my colleague Markus generously gave me a bottle. Needless to say, I was excited to be trying this for the first time!

A respectable 7.8% ABV, Adam was not what I expected. On the nose, I found it fruity, with soft, ripe berries to the fore, with a soft, yeasty edge. Expecting to pucker up, the flavour was also more in the direction of fruit, with a slight bite of cranberry drying up what would otherwise be sweet caramel, and just a hint of a roasty edge. Maybe the cranberry dryness was a hint of the lactic acid, but then, maybe I've been desensitised, as it was nowhere near "lactic acid content about half that of a contemporary lambiek". Not that it's a bad beer in its own right, but its wasn't lagered for a year with bacteria doing interesting things to it. The group however said they did pick up a sourness, and along with the Chimay, this rated highly. Malty explosion, mildly sour and smokey were descriptors used by the victims volunteers.

It was a fun evening capped off by this tasting, and those who remained for it all said it was great fun. There's plenty more waiting in the cellar!

No comments: