Tuesday 22 December 2009

Alba Scots Pine Ale

I really like what the Williams Brothers have been doing recently, and used to like the occasional Fraoch, but for some reason, I'd never had their Alba Scots Pine Ale. I picked up a bottle in Amsterdam after TheBeerNut looked pleased at seeing some for sale in the Cracked Kettle, and let's face it, him looking pleased at seeing a beer is usually a good sign. Usually!

This has an interesting aroma. A kind of sweet orange marmalade thing, with a hint of freshly snapped twigs, or forest floor. Perhaps that's the power of suggestion, I dunno. It opens up with juicy marmalade flavours on a toffee backdrop. Half way through, a dry, earthy, herb-like bitterness spreads across the back of the mouth while still delivering that marmalade kick, and later still, a kind of tingling numbness comes in. Maybe that's not the right way to describe it, but it's a bit like sucking clove drops, without the clove flavour, but with perhaps a touch of resin instead. The flavours just keep building up as you sip - and it is a bit of a sipper at 7.5% ABV, and with a chunky body too.

I gotta say, this is delicious. The combination of flavours blend into a wonderfully earthy taste, and it's really moreish. I'd have a couple in a row easily.

Last day at work today, and I'm looking forward to the break. We're still not sure if we'll head south to the in-laws, due to the weather, so we've bought a tree, just in case. And I'm still trying to finish my wife's present! Stupid work getting in the way...

Monday 21 December 2009

Einbecker Dunkel

Einbecker Dunkel, from the home of the famous Bocks, is a nice deep amber with a thin head. It has a typical, generic Dunkel aroma; heavy on the malty sweetness with a hint of fruitiness and, in this case, a suggestion of hops.

First impression: thin.

Second impression: sweet.

Third impression: spicy?

There's a suggestion of roastiness, but in the end it's a simple, rather boring dark beer, despite the nice-sounding spicy hint. Oh well.

Sunday 20 December 2009

Leikeim Original Landbier

From Familien-Brauhuas Leikeim in Altenkunstadt this Landbier pours a pale gold - the colours in the photo are all wrong - with a thin, loose head and a light, malty aroma. It has a touch of graininess, light citric undertones and a hint of wood/resin. The flavour is certainly malty-sweet, but not overly so. There's a slight fruitiness in the middle-ground, reminiscent of pear, and on swallowing a slightly resinous bitterness comes in. The finish leaves a hint of spice, but mostly a sweet-yet-woody aftertaste. This beer has an interesting mix of flavours while remaining fairly simple; it's not leaning strongly in any particular direction, but is reasonably solid.

I thought this was a small, family-run brewery, and maybe it is, but their website hints of a bigger brother. I don't know why.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Southern Tier Porter and IPA

I got these babies in De Bierkoning while in Amsterdam (I say it again: you just can't get shit like this in Germany), and managed to wait over a month before drinking them.

The Southern Tier Porter seems very highly carbonated, with a huge foamy head that made it take a long time to fill the glass, despite my gentle touch. It looks good though, being an almost opaque, deep, ruddy brown.

The aroma suggests chocolate, vanilla, big chewy toffee and a quite a yeasty undertone, which is ok with me. The initial taste is surprisingly brisk, with a touch of fruitiness. This gives way to a dryness, with roasted malts and a slightly charred finish. It's quite sharp, but in a refreshing way, showing tart, appley notes. The carbonic sharpness grates a little after a while, but overall the roatiness is pleasing, and it mellows a bit after warming and losing a bit of CO2. Quite nice, but I wonder now if this amount of carbonation is usual, and if perhaps it affected the flavour a bit.

The Southern Tier IPA weighs in at 6.5% ABV and shows a slightly hazy, pale amber. It delivers a big, juicy American C-hop hit with a nice caramelly thing going on underneath.

First taste? Oh yeah! Big grapefruit and huge pithy bitterness all on a salty butter and toasty caramel base with resin and fruit dancing around the edges. It's actually really smooth, with massive hop flavours.

Great balance. My kind of IPA. Wonderful. Mmmm...

Thursday 17 December 2009

Bajuvator Doppelbock

The Bajuwaren were a tribe that may have been formed from several tribes during the so-called migration period in the late 4th to late 6th century, and who may have emerged from the area that is now the modern-day Czech Republic, pushing southwards to settle in parts of what is now Bavaria and Austria. Why all these "may haves"? Put it this way, my wife is an archaeologist, and on asking her about the name, it all got too complicated for me. Lets just say that it is popularly believed that this tribe lent it's name to what is now modern-day Bavaria and the people at Tucher Bräu used this as inspiration to lend a bit of history to their Bajuvator Doppelbock. Fine!

This is another nice looking, dark russet Doppelbock, with no head to speak of and minimal aroma; just a hint of sweet caramel and faint fruits. On the tongue, though, it's quite fruity, along with almonds and a pleasing digestive biscuit saltiness. It has a reasonable alcohol warmth (at the standard 7.2%), and a surprisingly light mouthfeel. The finish has some hops in there, but the lasting impression is more of warmth and malty sweetness. Quite easy drinking really, but not as deep flavoured as the Triumphator

Tuesday 15 December 2009

Löwenbräu Triumphator

It's funny really. I'll happily toddle off to Brussels and spend an evening drinking high alcohol beers and come out the other end feeling fine, but the word Doppelbock always makes me leery. They're not all that strong in the greater scheme of things really, so maybe it's the big sweetness that many of them have that put me off. I'd bought a mix of Doppelocks during the summer to try and break this mental block, but I went through them quite slowly, even though there were some classics in the mix.

One of these was the Löwenbräu Triumphator, weighing in at what seems to be regulation standard 7.2% ABV. A rich, ruddy brown with a persistent off-white head, the aroma is certainly sweet, but in a comforting chocolate-orange way. There's a touch of fresh-baked bread to it, with hints of spices.

On first taste, I was actually a little disappointed. The chocolate-orange suggested by the aroma doesn't deliver and there's a bite that surprises. After a few sips though, I realised it's not as sugary as some Doppelbocks, and actually, there's a fairly decent hoppiness, which was unexpected. It all develops into a mix of dark toffee, a touch of chocolate, a slight roasty finish and though all this an alcoholic warmth and a pine-like, floral bitterness. Not so bad after all!

Monday 14 December 2009

Warka Strong

My neighbour left a couple of these Warka Strong beers on my doorstep during the summer, bless him. He seems to like his stronger beers, and at 7% ABV, this is a reasonably strong Polish beer.

The aroma is reminiscent of burnt, buttered popcorn, apples on a slight caramely backdrop. The flavour delivers a similar first impression, again with butteredcorn, peardrops, hints of banana, but all in a terribly artificial way which makes your gums tingle. This is not an easy-drinker, as it's pretty sweet, and going completely flat after a few minutes does nothing to help. I reckon you need some fizz to make this feel lighter and a any way palatable.

Tramp juice came to mind, but I have no idea how much it cost.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Stiffed by Stifts

Stifts Pils, made by Dortmunder Stifts Brauerei, is the colour of golden fields of wheat with a fluffy white head. Looks lovely, doesn't it? The aroma is quite sweet, a little yeasty perhaps, in a bready sense, and has a hint of something that reminds me of hickory. There's nothin' like a nice piece of hickory.

The flavour, however, is uninspiring. The sweetness is there, but in a sugary way, and it has little hop bitterness to balance it. The hop presence that is there is of the slightly artificial resin type. The finish is thin and papery.

So, yes, I felt a bit stiffed by Stifts. Try saying that fast ten times after a skin-full.

Thursday 10 December 2009

Wieselburger Stammbräu

Another Austrian beer from the batch that got dropped, Wieselburger Stammbräu from Wieselburger Brauerei has a sweet, fruity (cherry?) nose with a resinous backdrop. The flavour is equally sweet, with an artificial fruit undertone and a slightly floral, pine-like character. With a slightly oily mouthfeel, a pleasant spiciness runs through the finish.

This was bang on the best before date, so it might be better fresher. It was one of those beers that has elements I like (the spiciness was nice), but it has more elements I don't, so on balance I'd just have to try it again.

Monday 7 December 2009

Bad Taste Tour 2009

When I was asked to join a group on an annual pub crawl around Münster that they called the Bad Taste Tour, how could I possibly refuse? This particular group of colleagues (I won't reveal where they work) have been doing this for eight years, I believe, so clearly have it down to a fine art. The goal is a crawl of the really bad bars of Münster. Well, some of them at least. The route started near the main train station, then out by bus to a base camp, and then touring back in towards the train station, where, as with pretty much every city, the real scummy bars are. Read on, if you can.

Stop No. 1: Butt's Bierstube, Hafenstraße 41.
The name alone is enough to make an English-speaker snigger, but this is one of those bars I've passed every time I go into the city, and every time I see it I think it looks like a dodgy hole. Part of it is a kebab joint (that seems to have a good reputation!), and the other half is a bar with the kind of brown, opaque windows that suggests that you shouldn't really know what goes on inside. The gang met up at 4:30 last Friday at this location. Due to work commitments, I managed to get in for about 5:30 and grab one beer, a Warsteiner, which was actually like nectar. The bar is cramped, with the island bar taking up most of the room, leaving enough space to squeeze around all sides. On the far side, some regulars sat, a mix of old man with rimmed hat, and young man with baseball cap and bling. I kinda liked the way it seemed multi-generational, but not the way we kept getting stared at. Still, there were 15 of us. Admittedly 14 were wearing Santa hats (not me), so could explain some of the staring.

Stop No. 2: Wesfalen Tankstelle, Von-Steuben-Straße 13.
Yes, a petrol/gas station. Just around the corner from Butt's, the gang descended on the filling station to get a round of shots. Schnapps, Jagermeister and the like. I have to admit I passed on the shots, but you have to admire the fact that you can do such a thing in Germany, and that this group were dead set on keeping the bad taste theme, knocking back the shots on the forecourt.

Stop No. 3: Berliner Bär, Berliner Platz 30.
Another one of those bars across from the main entrance of the train station that often made me wonder what was in there. Actually, I kind of liked it. There's a pool table, some gaming machines and stand-up tables, nothing fancy. The beer was Iserlohner Pils, which also wasn't going down too badly. We stayed here for two beers before deciding it wasn't really dumpy enough. Even the toilets were clean! One thing though, is it was a smoking bar, like the one before. It felt very odd (and I'm a smoker), but at least with Butt's the place was tiny, so it may have been exempt, or fallen into some loophole, but the Berliner Bär seems like a normal size. Someone said if food isn't served then it can be a smoking bar. Dunno how Butt's gets by then if half the premises is a kebab joint. Oh well, I joined in with gusto.

Stop No. 4: Brinkhoff's Stube, Berliner Platz 14
Ok, this is more like it! This is the place that I've passed at 5pm on a Saturday to hear music thumping out of the place and young smokers falling out of the place drunk. That was Summer of course, and just after the smoking restrictions started here. More curtains to keep things shady inside, we walked into a smokey den with white tiled walls and games machines on one side, and a worn bar, with worn swivel chairs attached to the ground, worn, scowling customers, and a worn, robust woman who looked like she'd kick the shit out of you if you made a false move. And you knew she was watching for that move. I reckoned she was waiting for someone to complain about the awful Schlager musik. The most impressive thing about the place was that they had flies in the toilets even in winter. Oh, and guess what they served? Yeah, Brinkhoff's No. 1. This was going to be a feature of the night. We stayed here for one beer. before hopping across the street to grab the bus out to Wolbecker Straße, and base camp.

Stop No. 5: Aral Tankstelle, AKA, the Blue Lagoon, AKA Base Camp 1.
Yes, another filling station for another top-up of shots of some description. It's funny, really.

Stop No. 6: Zum Alten Gottfried, Wolbecker Straße 147
This looks like a respectable local pub from the outside, and yeah, it looks nice, if a bit 70's and Spartan inside. With a huge, wide bar, green concrete floor, little tables around the sides, electronic dartboards and a smattering of regulars spaced evenly around the bar. I felt we'd invaded their space a little, but at least we livened it up. The bar woman was made-up to the nines and was perfectly manicured. A man sat across the other side reading his paper and smoking, an old man gave up his seat at the bar for one of the ladies with us, although he said it was because we were too loud for him. Still, he was nice about it. A Bitburger joint, I opted for the Schlösser Alt, and regretted it immediately. It must have been weeks since someone had a glass of it. I may or may not have had a Bitburger here too. Oh, and it was a smoking bar (but I saw they served pre-made sandwiches).

Stop No. 7: Some kiosk on the street for more shots. I didn't have any!

Stop No. 8: Uhrwerk, Emdener Straße 10.
This stop was a bit off the main street, getting into what felt like a more residential kind of area. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the place was packed with people watching a soccer match, (Bayern Munich vs. Borussia Mönchengladbach as I recall), so there were a few "get out of my fucking face" comments, which were perfectly understandable. I liked this place. The walls are covered in old clocks (the clue is in the name) and old concert posters for the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Tangarine Dream and Bob Dylan. It had a nice feel to it, and I think I could happily sit there with a few beers and a paper or chats. We were served Bitburger here, two to be exact. I know because I took photos.

Stop No. 9: Mütterchen Angsmann, Wolbecker Straße 64.
We toddled around the corner to Mütterchen Angsmann, another rather nice local bar, for the older generation. Half the group promptly sat down and started playing some dice game, while the other half floated at the bar. There was a good trade in here without us, with nice old dears, and men dressed in red suit jackets with chains of office which were something to do with it being Karnival season here (I even asked if I could take their photo. Well, I asked Michael, the ring-leader, if he'd ask them. Such a bloody tourist!).

It reminded me a little of the local where I grew up in Dublin, in a way. Beers here were Bitburger; two. Strangely, this was also a smoking bar. I just don't get the rules here, or maybe they were just being ignored.

Stop 10: Luig's Bierstube, Wolbecker Straße 50.
A smallish place, with a pool table and a few tables and worn seating around the place, there were five taps: Brinkhoff's, Brinkhoff's, Brinkhoff's, Brinkhoff's and Brinkhoff's. I chose a Brinkhoff's.

Nothing special about the place. Not a total dump, but not the plushest of places. I had been beginning to complain that the pubs so far were actually pretty ok (with the exception of the first couple perhaps), so I was assured that the next set qould be suitably bad taste. Maybe this was planned to give us a little rest?

Stop 11: Gaststätte Laterne, Schillerstraße 23.
This is where things definitely took a turn downwards, where the true meaning of Bad Taste Tour came into its own. Clearly, at this stage in the game, I was feeling... well oiled. It was probably just as well, as otherwise I would not have gone into this shithole. It's like a parallel universe. Smokey as hell, I can understand, but the collection of inmates was like something out of a movie. Archetypes all. The sneering, scowling bearded guy in the corners, the group of three merry guys chatting at one end of the bar, the really drunk guy who seemed to be fixed to the bar and who shouted and gesticulated at us the whole time - while being completely ignored by everyone - and the chap who I took a liking to, not only because he looked like one of the Three Musketeers, but also because he just cut such a tragic figure: drunk, and being ignored by everyone, even when he stood at our table and tried engaging. I told you I was well oiled. He started chatting to me in the toilets, I have no idea about what, but he seemed like a nice bloke, with a friendly face. Whatever he was trying to tell me, in mumbled English too (he was from Bayern), part of it was about how he gets ignored, demonstrated by him asking a question of three of my companions, and only getting a response from one, which he was happy with, and resulted in an "I've made my case" gesture. I have to say, I was really curious about what he did, and I began to imagine he was some sort of failed artist. Was sad really.

Oh, Brinkhoff's was on sale here, so I took one.

Stop 12: Leolino's Pilsstube, Bremer Platz 16,
Look at that exterior. Inviting, isn't it? Looks like chip shop really. On the inside it's all red lights, crap music, and that's all I remember. A photo tells me I was drinking Brinkhoff's No. 1. This is on the street at the back of the train station, where one might expect to find the dodgier establishments. Michael wasn't wrong, although the previous place had set a tone that would be hard to beat.

Stop 13: Brinkhoff's No. 1, Bremer Platz
You'd think that after all those bloody Brinkhoff's No. 1s that we'd try to avoid a place of the same name (and the second one of that name in one night!). It wasn't to be, as this place was right next door to Leolino's. It wasn't even on the itinerary, so it was a bit of a bonus. A bit. At least the lighting levels were normal, but what a cheerless place. It felt a little rough, but at 1:20am most people were well on and a crowd arriving in (depleted at this point in time) wasn't anything strange. We had the eponymous beer and left for greener pastures, which just happened to be next door.

Stop 14: Bierkanne, Bremer Platz 6.
I don't have photos from inside this place. It would have felt... inappropriate. A strange mix of people, and vaguely threatening, this was confirmed a little later on when one of our companions, who was wearing a green Santa hat was encouraged, shall we say, to give it to a Scottish bloke with a Celtic FC tattoo. I spoke the the Scot later on, and considered asking him to return it (being a "fellow Celt" and all that crap), and concluded he was right to give it to him. A case of let the Wookie win. We stayed long enough to have the Brinkhoff's No. 1 (I have now concluded that any place serving this beer is to be avoided) before trundling to the final destination at about 2am.

Just as we were about to leave, my friend from the Laterne, the Musketeer, arrived in with a leather bag/briefcase. The rest of the guys were ready to move on, but I couldn't resist asking him what it was he did. He started taking folders out of his bag, and I thought I'd been right in my assumption he was an artist. But when he handed my the self-made Christmas card, I was even more saddened. I was right. He was an artist - of sorts. And it wasn't quite a gift. I bought him a beer for the big card with the Christmas tree.

Stop 15: Grille Nacht Cafe, Bremer Straße 24.
I am now a member of a smoking club. This place makes you sign a membership card and pay 1 Euro to recognise it's a smoking club that also has a bar and disco. A small, cheesy disco. Check out the photos on their site actually.

This place appears to be legendary, as a former hole that improved, somewhat, to cater for the big student population. It seems like the place of last resort on a night out, and felt like the crappy discos of my youth when out in the sticks.

I didn't really get to look at the place well enough, as soon after ordering a whisky, the Scott arrived. I made the mistake of asking him how he ended up in Germany, when it was clear is was a soldier. The next hour is a blur, as he talked my ear off about stuff I didn't really want to know. At one point he told me I'd put him in a bad mood, which had me worried for a moment, but by the time he left he'd handed me a beer someone else bought for him, and toddled off. The last people of our crew standing gathered together, and we headed homewards. 4am.

I have to say, I have never done a crawl quite like this. Normally it's a crawl of a handful of bars on a party, or crawling bars in a new city in search of nice craft beers. This was something different, and gave me a view of another side of the city I live in. Some quite nice places, and some that I would not go in to alone. Actually, I was quite pleased with myself to have lasted to the end and be part of the final six, but man did I pay for it the next day, and most of the weekend! As Mr. Murtaugh said, I'm getting too old for this shit...

Many thanks to Michael for organising and inviting me on this crazy trip. I still don't know how he does it every year!

Sunday 6 December 2009

Ottakringer Helles... Blopp!

There's going to be a string of short posts like this one over the next few weeks, as I clear out notes that are gathering dust. You'll understand why many of them have been gathering dust if you can bring yourself to read them...

This Helles from the Austrian Ottakringer Brauerei, Vienna, was given to me as part of a set by a very kind Austrian colleague. A golden yellow, and kind of thick looking, i got a fair bit less than the 500ml it said on the bottle. Now this was in a package where half of the beers got broken, so maybe it leaked in transit. The aroma reminded me of those beers I don't like that use hop extract, a kind of plastic resin thing, but it also had a sweetness, and a sorbet/apple highlight. On first sip I suspected it might be a little skunked, as there was a slight tang to it. Still, it had a reasonable body, a malty sweetness and a hoppy tingle. Yeah, all very simple. The finish delivers those plastic resin notes I don't like, and a touch of wet cardboard. Not one I would return to.

Blopp! indeed.

I should be writing up the crawl of the dive bars I went on last Friday, but I have no idea how to approach writing up 15 stops of a pub crawl. One piece, or many? And I'm still recovering...

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Thornbridge Jaipur and Kipling

I have been terribly remiss in not writing up these tasting notes sooner. I thought I had! These two beers were part of a set sent to me by fellow blogger, Mark Dredge (Mr. Pencil and Spoon himself), as part of a pre-beerswap, along with some rather tasty beers from Ramsgate, and a White Shield that's currently languishing in my cellar. I drank them about two months ago. Goes to show the backlog of notes I seem to be building up!

I'd heard much about the Thornbridge Jaipur IPA, with most people praising it, and one dissenter, so I was eager to try this. A pale amber with a dense head that lasts well, the aroma suggested pineapple cubes to me, freshly squuezed lemon, grapefruit and a biscuity base. The flavour is fruity, with a big juicy body up front, and a touch of perfume about it. It delivers pithy orange, grenadine, hay, grass. It's certainly hop driven, and has a nice oily mouthfeel. As soon as it's swallowed it dries up, leaving a robust, earthy bitterness. The lasting impression is of mouth-puckering hoppiness, while being rich and oily. As it warms it also starts to deliver a pleasing spiciness. Rather nice!

And so on to the Thornbridge Kipling, with its buttery gold colour and a fruity aroma, suggesting blackcurrant, passion fruit and a light touch of mandarin orange. Soft malts play a supporting role, but hte main flavour is that fruitiness, presumably loaded in there by the use of Nelson Sauvin hops. Passion fruit, grass, and an ever-so-slight hint of lemon sherbet. Actually, the fruity profile reminded me a bit of the Galaxy hops I'd used in the past. I really like these southern-hemisphere hop characters. A soft mouthfeel and gentle carbonation make this medium-bodied, and quite satisfying. I think I'd prefer a touch more carbonation to liven things up, but it's a juicy, moreish beer.

Thanks Mark!

Saturday 28 November 2009

De Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva

The second De Molen beer that Rick from Bier & Co. sent me a couple of weeks ago, along with the Kopi Loewak, I was eager to try De Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva as I'd heard friends such as TheBeerNut singing it's praises.

Let's do the De Molen stats rundown: brewed on the 19th of February 2009 and bottled on the 8th of October, this has 11% ABV, 388 EBC (that's bloody dark!) and 92 IBUs. Made using Challenger hops for bittering and Saaz for aroma, the beer was then aged in oak (Bordeaux?) casks.

This is dark, no doubt. The aroma initially wafts out alcohol, a big vanilla oakiness and a cherry-like fruitiness. The impression on first sip is smooooooth. Smoother than it has any right to be at 11%, the mouthfeel is big and soft. There's a surprisingly fruity character to it, with stone-fruits and cherries dominating the middleground, but it's just a supprt for the big bitter chocolate and espresso roasiness. There's figs, caramel, and an almost peat-like smokiness deep down. The big malts keep a wonderful balance with the roasted bite and the robust hop bitterness. Wonderful stuff! The finish is almost sherry-like, with a nice hop tingle, a slight metallic edge (that actually works), and a surprisingly dry, moreish feel to it. Dried fruits, espresso, chocolate and a peppery spiciness linger. Pure drinking pleasure. It's so drinkable it's scary!

Thursday 26 November 2009

The World's Strongest Beer? (not Brewdog...)

...or at least not for long.

I know there's a huge media/blogging frenzy about the latest BrewDog announcement, and I don't usually like to hop on a band wagon, but when BrewDog announced their new Tactical Nuclear Penguin beer this morning , they mentioned the previous record holder, Schorschbräu, who had an Eisbock at 31% ABV; the aptly, if functionally named Schorschbräu Schorschbock 31% (here on Ratebeer).

Living in Germany, my interest was of course piqued, so I popped them a mail to see if it was still available (the usual stores stocking their beers didn't have any), also mentioning the BrewDog announcement. I got a quick reply that told me they were about to release another beer, even stronger, weighing in at 39.44% ABV. And the proof? The image on the right, which is a screen-shot of the lab report they sent me. I believe it will be released in the next month, so I'm looking forward to trying to get some.

I see ratebeer has an entry for this already (it wasn't there this morning), and it's also usefully named Schorschbräu Schorschbock 40%. Mysteriously, another entry has appeared for another beer at 32%.

Schorschbräu looks like a pretty small brewery, and is based in the brewing heartland of Franken. They claim to make Germany's strongest beers, and some of the world's strongest, such as the Schorsch Bock 16 and Schorsch Franconian Wheat 16. I haven't tried any of these yet, but I'm planning to!

I'm sure it's a very different beast to the BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin on many levels, but it'd be nice to compare.

Sunday 22 November 2009

De Molen Kopi Loewak

It's been said before. The on-line beer community is a thriving little micro-cosm of generosity. Yesterday, a package arrived from Rick Kempen (@eurodog on Twitter), the face of Bier & Co, the Dutch importers and wholesalers of the kinds of US craft beers that make beer geeks drool, and the suppliers of BeerTemple in Amsterdam, at which I had the pleasure of visiting on the opening night. The contents of this package: two bottles of De Molen beer, one of which is the scary-sounding De Molen Kopi Loewak. Coffee aficionados will probably recognise Kopi Luwak as the coffee made from beans which have passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Rick tells me these ones were in Sulawesi, one of the Indonesian islands). The Civet eats the berries and the beans make it through whole, but slightly altered, as you would be. I haven't had the pleasure of this particular type of coffee straight up, so I can't vouch for the effects of the digestive enzymes of the civet, but I can now judge what it does to a beer.

In true De Molen style, I'll give you the stats: brewed 4th of April 2009, bottled 3rd of May, this has 9.5% ABV (that's strong), 291 EBC (that's dark!) and 84 IBUs (that's bitter!) and is made with Kopi Luvak coffee provided by Wijs & Sons and Premiant and Czech Saaz hops. So far so good.

The bottle had leaked slightly during transit, giving me a sneak preview of the aroma, but I was worried that perhaps the cap had got banged, and gas and beer had escaped leaving it flat. How wrong I was. On opening, I was glad i did it gently, as there was a strong hiss of CO2, making me open it slowly to avoid a gusher. It made me think that the leakage might have been a little over-carbonation, and getting shook up during transit forcing some out under the crown cap. So, no worried about a flat beer.

Pouring an almost opaque black with oaky-brown highlights, the aroma is hard to describe. The initial hit is rich with heavy dark chocolate overtones, juicy and mouthwatering, but then there's a bitter roastiness. Clearly strong coffee coming through with a somewhat smoky undertone. The flavour? Held in the mouth it gives the expected thick chocolatey malts, with a dose of heavy caramel under there somewhere, but as soon as you swallow, the coffee goes Bam! It's a bit like chewing a chocolate-coated coffee bean, and the flavour never ends. The finish is long and roasty, and the hops certainly come out to play with a matching bitterness. When you get used to the big coffee flavours, and the beer warms up, you get notes of licorice, vanilla, jammy fruitiness and oakey/woody notes. At 9.5% it also gives a pleasant warmth, making an ideal sipping beer. Certainly one for coffee fans!

Of course I've just ruined my palate tonight with this as I've nothing to match the intensity of flavours as this!

Thursday 19 November 2009

German attitudes to beer and brewing: a minor rant

A friend linked me to a short piece on Spiegel Online about the brewing education provided at Weihenstephaner and in Berlin. I have the greatest respect for German brewing technology and beer, but I couldn't help but feel saddened by the tone of the piece. At a time when big breweries are buying out smaller family-run breweries, and there's a perceived continued blandification of beer in this country, the focus on this piece was on the science and how tough it all is, rather than the wonder and joy of making good tasting beer. They say that 80% is done by computer, and the remaining 20% is lab work, although they do also say that there are more brew pubs/restaurants and such. I wonder is this because you no longer have to hold a Braumeister qualification to open a brewery now, or so a person at Berlin's VLB told me.

The piece goes on to stress the science-heavy parts of the degree, with subjects such as maths, physics, biology and chemistry (fair enough, as brewing as a science is pretty complex), a large drop-out rate, and goes on to say that these people are more often employed in biochemical engineering or pharmaceutical jobs where there's more money.

It also made me grumble that a section is dedicated to comparing the brewing education in Germany to that in the United States, where they say that the brewing courses are not technically comparable. Sure, Germany should be very proud of the technical quality of the brewing process, but it's not helping the apparent decline of what is/was a rich and varied brewing tradition -- even with the Reinheitsgebot limitations. This self-congratulatory attitude around German beer is best is just sucking the life out of it. I try to pretend this doesn't exist, but it does! I'm so lucky with my colleagues who are really open to new tastes appreciate beer for what it is. But there are most certainly a majority who think German beer is pure and good, and that's all they need to know.

There are wonderful German beers, I know because I'm trying as many as I can. They are often an art of restraint and balance, creating beers that just provide simple pleasure, but there are also beers that leap out as they just stand above the German crowd. But there are so many more really bland, or plain bad ones, and the vast majority of people just either stick local or stick with big TV brands, and wouldn't countenance trying anything else. All that technical wizardry and purity law rubbish doesn't help.

This then reminds me of another piece in the German consumer magazine, ÖKO-TEST, that was entitled "Regional schmeckt besser", or, "Regional tastes better". It popped up online, but a colleague gave me a copy of the magazine so I could see the list of beer reviewed. Essentially, they tested 46 beers, some from small, regional breweries (Pott's and Pinkus from my area), and some from the big national/international brands (Beck's, Warsteiner, Krombacher etc...) covering what I would consider a broad and balanced price/quality range. And the test results? Every single one, bar two, came out as Sehr Gut, Very Good. One was downgraded to Good because the alcohol content was 1% lower than stated on the label and the other (Wickuler Pilsener) because it had a bready taste and had a lasting bitterness, unusual in a Pilsener eh?

So, amongst all these Very Good ones were some that had traces of heavy metals, others that had "thin watery flavour" (Reichenbrander Helles), one that had a "very neutral flavour, soft body and mild taste" (Paderborner Pilsener, fairly near to me). The list goes on, and they used bold font every time a beer had a bready flavour. I like a bready flavour in some beers!

What they do say is in favour of regional beers is the lower impact on the environment due to reduced transportation costs, but this is questionable given the economies in scale that bigger breweries can achieve and the other areas of waste in the brewing process (as talked about recently by Woolpack Dave). But it does support local economies, and I do like that. In fairness, the magazine make some more emotive points about supporting local business and ensuring that tradition doesn't die.

But Regional Tastes Better? In this, I think the magazine shoots itself in the foot. At the decimal point level of the scores, the top few are regional, but they state that thay can recommend all the beers testsed. Why is everything Very Good? Is it because it's all good German beer, following the gebot, so it must be good, even if it's thin, watery and contains traces of heavy metals? If a major consumer magazine can do this, there's no hope in honest appraisals of the beers of Germany by the broader German public itself.

Thanks, Kristian, for the link that got me going.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

De Molen Rasputin

Till relatively recently, I knew of De Molen only by reputation. My trip to Amsterdam for the opening of Beer Temple gave me a swift introduction to their world via the wonderful De Molen Black Jack, and their Mout & Mocca, which I did not enjoy so much. I also came back with a small selection of bottles from that house of delights that is De Bierkoning.

One of those was the De Molen Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout as the name might suggest. Pouring an almost flat, turgid, inky brown, it gives off a thick, chocolatey, vanilla, bourbon cream aroma, with hints of licorice. On first sip the impression is of a beautifully rich chocolate dessert. There's an almost smoky roastiness, and a blackcurrant-like fruitiness that shows most in the finish. This is certainly focussed on the big, rich, chocolatey malts, and the bitterness,as big as the numbers say it is, is definitely in the background. Sweet, thick and rather delicious, it does not taste like the 10.7% ABV that it is.

As a home brewer, the De Molen labels are interesting as they give some prime statistics such as gravity readings, brewed and bottled date as well as the hops used and the IBUs. Perhaps utilitarian, I find them quite attractive.

And now I have that damn Boney M song rattling around my head...

Sunday 15 November 2009

Midtfyns Bryghus Imperial Stout and Double IPA

I picked this pair up while in Amsterdam a couple of months ago (how time flies!) on the recommendation of TheBeerNut, I think. There was so much choice I may have just randomly grabbed at things in sheer panic. I know that there was a few things I forgot to look for, but there's always something else... Anyway, I haven't tried near enough beers from Denmark, and those I have tried I've really enjoyed - apart from the Apollo stuff.

Midtfyns Bryghus Imperial Stout pours completely opaque, just about showing creosote-like highlights around the edges. The aroma is laden with thick chocolate, coffee and a slightly phenolic/iodine-like note, with a big vanilla toffee hit bringing up the rear. Really rich. It feels surprisingly light on the first sip, but it plays a medley of sweet (think big malt), then fruity (dark cherries) flavours before leaving you with a long-lasting roasty (coffee and a bit of oak) and bitter chocolate cut with an almost liqueur-like alcohol warmth (amaretto?) and a hint of pithy bitterness. The finish is long and dry , despite the apparent sweetness, and it's real smooth. At 9.5% ABV and with those big flavours, it's a great nightcap on a cool autumn evening.

As is the Midtfyns Bryghus Double IPA, although it's a mere 9.2% ABV. A slightly hazy red-hued amber, this literally projects an aroma. I could smell it clearly while pouring. Big American hops, chewy caramel loaded with massive orange pith and summer berries. And the flavour... A wonderful balance of sweet toffee flavours with bold hops, definitely classic C-hops in there, pushing in grapefruit and a pithy citric character, and a hint of pine-like resin to the finish. But despite the pretty obvious generosity on the hop additions, it's not massively bitter. THe balance is near perfect. I have to admit I expected something with a massive, mouth-puckering bitterness, but this is just massive on hop flavours, making it eminently sinkable, even at 9.2%. The amount of hops eventually leaves a lasting tingle, and the malts coat the lips with an agreeable sweetness. Very nicely done.

Friday 13 November 2009

Drummer Dunkles Vollbier

Here's a quicky for ya.

This Dunkles Vollbier from Brauerei Drummer is a tasty looking dark amber with an equally appealing, clean, caramel-focussed aroma with hints of fresh apple. Promising, and on first sip I was content.

It's definitely driven by simple caramel-malt flavours, but with an added, and really nice, burnt caramel undertone. Thankfully it's not over-sweet despite the toffee driven backbone. The apple-like, fresh bitterness takes a while to get established, but once it does, it adds a subtle note. This is a simple, subtle beer, but its simplicity is one that rather appeals to me.

A quick question to the floor. Do you like short bursts like this, or do you prefer things to be grouped a little more?

Wednesday 11 November 2009

Gouden Carolus & Co.

Gouden Carolus is one of those beers I remember drinking in the Porterhouse, Dublin, with great pleasure, back in the early days of my voyage of beer discovery. While on a trip to Brussels a few months ago, I picked up a couple of bottles for old times sake, including a new member of the family, the hopsinjoor.

Of course, I had to start with the Gouden Carolus Classic. Pouring a warm-looking, ruby-tinged brown with a tight beige head, my memory was getting a refresher course, reinforced with that sherry-like aroma on top of a darkly malty, spicy backdrop. On first sip there's a blast of dried fruits, sticky caramel, vanilla, pepper and chocloate wrapping up in a solidly zesty cherry/sherry finish. It has a smooth, almost creamy mouthfeel, yet a dryness to the finish. But, I got a slight hint of plasticy resin to the finish that I didn;t really like. And then I began to find it too sweet, reminding me of a malzbier (the German non-alcoholic malt drink that even my son will drink) with added cherry and spices. Cherry cola even! Still, at 8.5% and with those chewy, fruity flavours going on, it still makes a nice winter warmer. Clearly my tastes have changed more than I thought in the intervening years, which I can accept. But I was a little saddened that I no longer really enjoy what used to be one of my favourite indulgences.

I thought I could perhaps find comfort in Charles' younger, blond sister, the Gouden Carolus hopsinjoor. A slightly hazy, honey-gold with a huge pillowy white head, it wafts off aromas reminiscent of lemon meringue, almonds and cough syrup. I was expecting some sort of Belgian interpretation of a hop bomb, but this is really nicely balanced. Feeling more like a wit beer with it's citrus stylings, and hints of banana and bubblegum, but cut with assertive, yet smooth, hop flavours. They feel like noble hops, showing lemon, lime, floral and spicy qualities. The finish delivers vanilla and a gentle bitterness. This is a really nice beer.

Glad to find my tongue must work ok, as I just read the hops are Golding, Spalt, Hallertau and Saaz. I'd call them noble (I'll let the Goldings pass as they are delicious)

Saturday 7 November 2009

Some Bottled Beers from Orkney and Atlas

I'm slightly ashamed to realise that the last time I was in Münster's Yorkshire-themed bar, The James, was last February! This week, as my wife and son were away, I took the opportunity to get out into the city to see what new beers Axel had gotten in, if any. Walking in, I was greeted with the gentle hum of chat, and the place was fairly full. Whatever he's doing in there, he's doing it right. And the selection? Last time it was Theakstons, Black Sheep and a few others. This has been exteded with a few from Fuller's, including ESB on tap, and bottled beers from Orkney, Marston's as well as some of the usual suspects from Greene King.

Sat at the bar, I was enjoying the clear love the owner took in selling ales, and describing them to potential customers. A pair of 20-something men sat close to me and were given tasters of ESB, Abbot Ale and something else before they split a bottle of Strong Suffolk between them. The same guys were chuckling to themselves as they watched me take a photo of a bottle, sniff the beer and start writing, until I told them to F-off. Well, I actually said that yes, I was a geek, and they seemed curious, asking me if I rated beers (which I do not, I think) and chatted a bit before wandering off.

Anyway, on walking in and taking my seat, a blackboard above me said Fuller's London Porter, so I had one. I've had this before, and really enjoyed it then, and really enjoyed it this time too; rich, chocolatey, roasty and almost chewy. It was then I noticed another blackboard listing four beers from the Orkney Brewery. I think I've only had the Skullsplitter (rushed at the end of a festival), so the dormant ticker in me was happy to have a couple of new beers to try.

I went for the Orkney Dragonhead first, against the recommendations of Axel I might add, just because his recommendation of Dark Island was a little higher on the alcohol scale than this 4% stout, and I wanted to raise the bar (after a 5.4% London Porter there was clearly no logic to this). Rich and dark looking, with dark berry aromas, a roasty character and a hint of a seaside saltiness. The flavour is not as powerful as the aroma suggests. It has this slight iodine thing going on under a chicory-like roastiness. There are slight vegetal undertones to it, and I thought it felt a bit thin. The finish delivers a touch of piney bitterness, a nice roasted character and more of that seaweedy/salty/seaside thing. It's an interesting combination of flavours, but overall I felt it didn't hang to well together and was a tad disappointed.

Moving on to the Orkney Dark Island, somehow looking even darker and more inviting than the Dragonhead, with a lovely roasty aroma, loaded with berries and chocloate. The flavour gives an initial fruity burst, but it feels thin, and dissipates into a soap-like residue. Again, a slight vegetal backdrop that didn't sit right with me. Above this there is slight figs, dark fruit, but the lack of body makes for a swift finish, so the flavours, nice as they are, feel fleeting. Taking a good deep draught yields a slightly artificial fruit juice quality. A slightly greater disappointment than the Dragonhead.

I should say that while drinking these I had broadcast on Twitter that i was a bit disappointed, and responses indicated surprise. Perhaps these are really meant for cask, but I can only describe what I taste. I will, however, try them again, perhaps before having a London Porter!

Last beer before stepping outside to the bus was an Atlas Three Sisters. Oh yeah! A deep chestnut brown, this gives off strong fruity and malty aromas and delivers on first sip. Light caramel wrapped in a strawberry-like fruitiness followed up by a floral bitterness. There's hints of orange peel in there, and perhaps a suggestion of pineapple cubes. It finishes dry with light toasty/roasty undertones, but with a sweet coating on the lips. I was sorry I had to rush it a bit. Very nice.

While trying to figure out exactly what "that seaside smell" actually is - always thought it was ozone or iodine-y seaweed - it seems that it is actually dimethyl sulphide, or DMS, the very stuff produced during the boil that brewers don't really want in their beer. It creates vegetal flavours, like brussel sprouts. I'm now wondering if this seaside and vegetal flavour I was getting in the Orkney beers were actually two sides of the same coin.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Krug-Bräu Lager

Paging through my old notebook, I had to scratch my head at some of the descriptions that spewed out of my brain. I'll reproduce this one for Krug-Bräu Lager verbatim:

Was expecting pale lager, so the chestnut brown liquid was a bit of a surprise. The nose is an interesting mix of faintly sulphuric farmyard with a mound of cabbage somewhere in the neighbourhood. Interesting, and not as unpleasant as it sounds. Some of these themes continue in the flavour, most notably an earthy farmyard-like hint, slightly sweet caramel and a metallic edge. It's a bit thin in the mouth, and I'm really not sure what to make of the flavours. A green hop flavour emerges later. Ginger?

I sometimes wish I could make short-hand notes.

Sunday 1 November 2009

A Weekend of Brewing

Whenever my wife goes to visit her parents down south, I tend to go brew crazy, but I think this weekend has been a little more brew-intense than normal as I've made two beers. I don't even need them, but it's a case of striking while the iron is hot. Saturday was to be Imperial Stout day. I'd been planning on making one for some time, and after receiving a little gift of some peat-smoked malt from Eddie Gadd of Ramsgate Brewery, I wanted this to be a special, slightly smokey one. I have to admit, the recipe was only finalised as I was heating up the strike water, but there ya go.

The bad thing is that I'd never used so much grain in my home-made coolerbox mash tun, so I wasn't sure how it would behave. As it turns out, I got terrible efficiency, I think because the mash was really thick. I normally have efficiencies of 80-85% with a mash of 3-4 litres per kilo. This one was certainly less than 3. Lesson learned: for really big beers, use DME to provide some of the gravity, or get a bigger mash tun! Anyway, I could have intervened as I knew from the first runnings things were not as planned, but I let nature take its course. Thanks to TheBeerNut for the name suggestion of Peater the Great, which suited the original plan for an Imperial Stout at 10% ABV with peated malt. But, due to the lower ABV, I renamed it Schwarter Peater. I don't know what it would be classed as now. Do I care? No. As long as it tastes good.

Schwarzer Peater
BeerTools Pro Color Graphic
4.0 kg Pilsner Malt
3.0 kg Munich Malt
1.0 kg Caramunich® TYPE III
400 g Chocolate Malt 800
250 g Black Malt 1200 (Dehusked - Carafa)
250 g Rye Malt
150 g Peat-Smoked Malt

25 g Challenger (5.8%) - boiled 60 min
25 g Challenger (5.8%) - boiled 30 min
25 g Northern Brewer (11.4%) - boiled 25 min
25 g Northern Brewer (11.4%) - boiled 15 min
30 g Saaz (3.8%) - boiled 3 min

Fermentis Safale S-04

Batch size: 20.75 L; Efficiency: 59.32% Estimated Attenuation: 75.0%
OG: 1.072, Estimated FG: 1.018, Estimated ABV: 7.1%, Estimated IBUs: 70.

It began bubbling away within a few hours, so mission accomplished, almost.

Today is another brewday, but for quite a different beast. Around the middle of September my son and I went on a hop hunt, and successfully gathered almost 70g of wild hops from the area. There's a fuller account of how I processed them here on Beoir.org. I've been thinking about a beer to showcase and experiment with the wild hop, and thought to model one on a pale ale I'd made before. In reality, the unknown alpha acid content of the hops made me reconsider, as to rely on them for bittering would be risky. I ended up using a classic German Perle hop for bittering, but staging the additions of the wild hops towards the second half of the boil to try and wring as much character from them as I can. That is of course assuming they have any! I could end up with a very bland beer, a terribly over-bitter beer or something just fine. We'll see. I also tweaked the malt bill of my original plan, adding Munich malt to get a more caramel character into the base. Again, a beer designed while the strike water was heating. Fun, eh?

Wild-Hopped Pale Ale

BeerTools Pro Color Graphic


3.5 kg Pilsner Malt
1 kg Munich Malt
500 g Caramunich TYPE III

10 g Hallertauer Perle (9.3%) - boiled 60 min
10 g Hallertauer Perle (9.3%) - boiled 45 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 20 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 15 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 5 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 0 min

Fermentis Safale US-05

Batch size: 23.5 L; Efficiency: 87% Estimated Attenuation: 75.0%
OG: 1.052, Estimated FG: 1.013, Estimated ABV: 5.1%, Estimated IBUs: 32.

Early indications are that the wild hops may be stronger than predicted, as on tasting the sweet wort there's a really good hop flavour; grassy, and a touch spicy. However, time will tell. Experimenting is fun!

Thursday 29 October 2009

Hallerndorfer Kellerbier and Weissbier

Brauerei Rittmayer occasionally produces one of the smokiest beers I think I've had, the not-for-everyone Smokey George, so I set myself up for a fall by expecting more great things from one of their more regular beers, the Hallerndorfer Kellerbier.

A dirty amber with a very short-lived head, this is sweet. Like Woah! sweet, sweet caramel-like malts. It has a slight bitter-almond hint and a touch of orange zest, which tries to cut it a bit. Otherwise, it's fairly nondescript, and the sweetness gets a bit cloying after half a bottle. I have to admit that it got so cloying and boring that I couldn't face finishing it. I'll try it again if given the opportunity to do so down in Hallerndorf of course.

As a Brucie Bonus, I'll throw in the Hallerndorfer Weissbier, a murky weissbier with a solid cloves, cinnamon and, strangely, a decaying apples kind of aroma. Nice and earthy in fact. The flavour delivers pears, cloves and a little sharpness which provides a pleasant edge. Despite, or perhaps because of having a slightly thin body, it makes for a fine thirst-quenching summer drink.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Meusel-Bräu Kellertrunk

From Brauerei Meusel, the makers of the rather interesting Lichtensteiner Schwarzbier, Meusel Bräu Kellertrunk is a bit of a different beast, but I expected good things from it. When I see the word Ungespundet on a label, I feel I've been conditioned to tug my forelock (if I had one) as it suggests craft, tradition and loving care. Experience tells me to not expect anything, of course, and to just drink the stuff and see.

Meusel Bräu Kellertrunk has a sweet, almost candyfloss nose with herbal hop highlights and a light fruity tone. Actually quite nice. Unfortunately the flavour is not so interesting, providing mostly a sweetish light toffee with a slight herbal bitterness. Very slight, mind you. The label states Kräftig gehopfte. Certainly on the aroma, but there's no power to the taste. Pity...

I should note that this was made using hop extract. So much for craft and tradition.

PS, yes, another oldie from the notebook. I didn't let the date go that far beyond the best before!

Monday 26 October 2009

Zischke Kellerbier

Zischke Kellerbier, presumably brewed as well as being bottled by Königsbacher in Koblenz, but owned by Karlsberg Brauerei in Hamburg. A cloudy, yellow affair with hints of almonds and lemon on the nose. This continues in the flavour with a definite lemony streak with a light carbonic tingle, but it does go down quite smoothly. There's a malty backbone tying to come out, but it disappears under the lemon. Sweet and refreshing, it's almost like 7-Up with a malt body. Radler anyone?

Yes, I'm scouring the dregs of an old notebook as a way of building up into more regular posts again. Gotta clear the dross :)

Sunday 18 October 2009

More Landbier Madness

It's been a busy, at times stressful couple of weeks -- not because my mother was visiting this past week; that was an excuse to take some time out! -- so I've had little time for beer drinking or writing, so here's a bit from the archives from when I went crazy a couple of months ago and ordered a mixed case of landbiers. I had also received a couple from a colleague in Austria, who kindly sent me a box of beer, although half of them got smashed on the way, but by strange coincidence, he sent two of each type, and one of each type made it. What are the chances?

Anyway, Landbier. It's one of those beer types that I think I like, but am often very disappointed with, althogh have found some notable exception. Let's see what today's mix-tape brings us...

One of the Austrian beers first, and one of the few Austrian beers I've tried. "8 Tage langsam vergoren, 66 Tage gelagert und gereift", or, 8 days slowly fermented, 66 days lagered and matured. A very pale gold, clear as a bell and reasonably highly carbonated, Kapsreiter Landbeer Hell is quite malty on the nose, with a faint suggestion of almonds with a squeeze of lemon. Overall, the flavour is a little nondescript, but strangely satisfying; a malty sweetness, a gentle bitterness and a touch of banana fruitiness ending with a dryish finish. Actually, not too bad, but not one to go mad about.

Moving closer to home, i.e. back to Germany, and specifically Zirndorf, some 9km west of Nuremberg, I got a couple bottles of Zirndorfer Landbier in my mixed case of Landbier. It has a bready, malty aroma with slight herbal notes, and an underlying sweetness. On the tongue, it's definitely malt-driven, with sweet caramel and slightly fruity notes and a welcome brush with some toast. The hops are there, but they really struggle to make themselves known and end up providing a slightly resinous finish. The mouthfeel is sparkling, and the whole thing leaves a pleasant enough tingle on the tongue. However, I didn't really rate it, and got bored with it half way through.

And finally, for now, Echt Veldensteiner Landbier from Kaiser Bräu, Neuhaus an der Pegnitz, about 60km east-north-east of Nuremberg. A lovely, red-hued, dark amber with a thick, creamy head, it looks satisfying at least. It's another one with sweet malts, but with a richer undertone, showing toffee and a slight plummy fruitiness up front, a soft chocolatey middle-ground and toasted notes down the back. There's a touch of burnt toast in the finish, with a bitterness that is gently grassy. Combine this with a soft mouthfeel and you have a fairly appealing Landbier that is thirst-quenching and satisfying. Just what's needed after a day ploughing the fields.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Here we go Lübzer Loo...

Another little trilogy, this time from the Mecklenburgische Brauerei Lübz, a fairly large regional brewery (1.3 million hectolitres annually apparently) in the former eastern state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The brewery is now part of the Carlsberg group, and it's reach seems to be more than regional at this stage -- although even in the past, it exported a lot of beer to West Germany for the likes of Aldi, Spar and other discount markets. I had been pleasantly surprised by their drinkable, although nasty looking, Lübzer Urkraft (and I have another bottle in the cellar now that I think of it), so I wasn't dreading these beers that my wife brought back from a recent visit to Mecklenburg-Vorpommern.

Lübzer Export is really quite a pale, straw-yellow beer with lots of carbonation feeding a desnse white head. The aroma is sweet, bready, with a light touch of resinous hops and a twist of lemon. The flavour is surprisingly malty up front, with bready notes as evident on the nose, and a suggestion of saltiness and lime. The hops are subtle, but give a nice enough grassy, herbal counterpoint to the malts. With a medium body, it goes down quite well, finishing somewhat dry with a hint of spice. It's perhaps a little watery as you go down, but in fairness, it's a straightforward, decent enough beer, and at 5.2% ABV is a touch higher than most lagerbiers, and I began to wonder if it was truer to what people think of as being export, what with the breadiness, stronger malts and a little more alcohol.

So how would the Lübzer Pils compare? Well, I clearly wasn't very inpressed by it, as my notes just wander off and do something less boring instead. It has little aroma, but what is there provides slight citric notes. The flavour is bready, and doesn't provide much hop bitterness at all, being more like the grassy, herbal notes I got with the Export. Not what I would think of as being a classic example of northern German pils, although it does meet the regulation 4.9% ABV. To answer my own question though, it did not compare well...

And so on to the Lübzer Bock, an altogether different beast at 7%, with a ruddy brown complexion, and a tan head that dissipates quickly. It smells bock-like, delivering that sweet, malty undertone, but also with some fruity notes and a fair dose of toastiness. This all comes though in the taste too, as it's certainly malty-sweet, not too sugary, thankfully, with toasted bread and a muted berry-like fruitiness. The finish does strange things though, as it's cut with a strange, almost bitter-almond in the finish. It goes like this: take a mouthful, feel malty sweetness as described above. Swallow, and you get berries and apples. Don't take another mouthful, but swallow again, and burnt toast and almonds appear along with a creeping alcohol warmth. Repeat till glass is empty. I don't think I've ever had such a well-defined three-way split in flavours appearing in stages. Not a bad bock at all.

I should point out also that none of these beers make use of hop extract, which I think is almost unusual in Germany for a brewery of that size.

Sunday 4 October 2009

A Hopdaemon Trilogy

Being involved in IrishCraftBrewer.com, I was always well aware that there can be a real, physical, social side to on-line communities. It's easy in the case of ICB, as there are regular social meet-ups, just to go for a few pints (500ml) and swap homebrew and the like. However, since starting a blog, and then dabbling on Twitter, I've been pleasantly surprised by the long-distance social scenes that can grow out of these on-line communities. Recently, I've sent beer to Mark Dredge of Pencil and Spoon fame, and he reciprocated. He shared my beers with his friend, and brewer from Hopdaemon, Pete Brissenden, who later sent a selection of their beers, just because! It's bloody great, although with such wonderful beers, I'm slowly getting disenchanted with German beer again, and every time I go down to the cellar, I reach for something non-German first. Who can blame me? As a result, over the past couple of nights I've had the pleasure of trying out a trilogy of beers from Hopdaemon.

The first was sent by Mark, and I now have a second bottle in the cellar thanks to Pete. Skrimshander, described as a Kentish Ale and IPA, pours a pale amber with a loose, fluffy head. The aroma is one of those that I always have trouble describing, but it's common to many of my favourite, rich IPAs. Kind of like toffee, with cheap, chocolate toffee undertones, like the candy coins you got as a kid. Candyfloss maybe? I'm sure people think I'm mad when I mention chocolate toffee in relation to an IPA. Ayway, along with that, there's a pleasent orange-pith undertone, and I find it mouthwatering. And the good news (for me at least)? It tastes like it smells. There's a satisfying caramel and biscuit base with an earthy wash of hops amidships. They might be a little subdued when compared to US-style IPAs, but the combination is rather juicy. It has a gentle bitterness, but it builds up, leaving a slight pine-like touch and a hint of orange pith. I would personally prefer a touch more carbonation to lift the hops up, but overall, a lovely, nicely balanced beer. I'm looking forward to the second bottle.

Green Daemon Helles is accurately described as a Golden Beer on the label, as it is, with a slightly orange-tinted pale gold. It looks well carbonated, with a steady stream of bubble supporting the dense, white head. It gives off fruity, bready and slightly yeasty aromas. On first sip, it's surprisingly loaded with fruity, floral flavours A suggestion of pear-drops with an ever-so-slight hint of solvents after swallowing. It's not as bitter as the big hop aromas suggest, but is definitely hop driven in the flavour and aroma department, again with masses of fruitiness. Underneath is a pleasantly biscuity maltiness that lends its own subtle sweetness. An intersting, juicy-fruit set of flavours. The finish is dryish, with lingering floral hops flavours.

Leviathan. I love that word, and I love the artwork on the label. As for the beer, it's an appealing ruddy brown with a juicy aroma, leaning towards light chocolate, marzipan and blackberries. Promising. On first taste, it delivers a soft caramel backbone with what must be chocolate malts on top, lending a touch of roastiness alongside dried fruits and a touch of fig. The hops are delicate, but bring in a nice spiciness that sits well with the dark, fruity flavours. There's a slight alcohol warmth, making it feel a little more than it's 6%. The finish is dryish with a touch of spice and a lingering roasty bitterness and more blackberries. A lovely autumnal drop.