Friday 28 August 2009

Purity Brewing Co.

If there's one thing I like about Twitter, it's that it connects people who might otherwise never have connected. And in this case, a connection to the Purity Brewing Co. in Warwickshire, or @PurityAle on Twitter, gave me a chance to sample their three ales. Purity are a micro brewery, importer and distributor of beer rolled into one, which I can only imagine is a distinct advantage in terms of getting their beers out there. Well, that and the fact that they've already won several CAMRA and SIBA awards for their beers. I was clearly very happy when the courier called with a box of their beer and popped them open that same evening.

Before I get to the beers themselves, I must congratulate Purity on their labelling information. Each label tells you exactly what grains and hops are used in creating their beers. As a consumer this is educational. As a beer fan this is wonderful information to have, and makes tasting them more fun as you try to pick out what hops added what flavours. As a home brewer I wish they put on the quantities, but that's probably going too far. So, let's jump straight in.

Pure Gold in the bottle is 4.3%, compared to the lighter 3.8 on cask, and is made with Maris Otter and Cara Gold malts and includes Northern Brewer, Fuggles, Hereford Golding and Styrian Golding Hops. Clearly a lot going on in the hop department. Pouring a definite golden hue with a fluffy white head, it appears reasonably well carbonated with a steady stream of bubble keeping the head going. The aroma is fruity with hints of apple, a citric twist and a light touch of spice. The flavour delivers a subtle malt sweetness with a slightly grainy undertone. But it is the hops that come to the fore. It has just enough bitterness to counterpoint the malt, but really delivers on the hop flavours with apples, grass and a suggestion of cinnamon-like spiciness. The finish is long, dry and reminiscent of pine with a slight herbal note. This is a fairly light-bodied beer, and I suspect it is this that allows the subtleties of the hops to shine. Certainly a nice summer thirst quencher.

Pure Ubu is apparently named after the brewery dog. We probably all know the "Sit Ubu, sit" closing tag from TV, so it's good to know the owners have immersed themselves in popular culture. Let's try not to remember Family Ties though! Ubu is described as an amber ale and the label says it is made with 100% Maris Otter Malt. I have to wonder if something is missing though, as surely something like a cara- or crystal malt is needed to get that lovely bright, amber colour. With Challenger and Cascade hops I was looking forward to this, as they are two of my favourites. The aroma is subtle, with almonds and hints of a raspberry-like fruitiness on a soft caramel base. On the first sip I thought it felt a bit thin, but like its sister Pure Gold, Ubu is all about subtle flavours that catch up on you. While initially seeming like a straightforward caramel-driven amber ale, a swish in the mouth reveals a spicy pepper-like undertone. The cascade hops come out and provide a pithy balance to the toffee malt undertones. Although only 4.5%, it has a comforting warmth, suggestive of ginger, of all things. Again, a lightish beer but charming in a way that would keep you looking for more.

The name suggests something extreme, but in actual fact, Mad Goose is another exercise is subtlety. Sure, the aroma is proud of the Cascade hoppy goodness contained therein, but the use of Hallertau hops for bittering may explain why I didn't get the big hop bitterness and flavours I expected. To be clear though, this didn't really detract from the overall experience. Juicy malts (Maris Otter, Caragold and Wheat Malt) combined with a slightly fruity middle-ground that reminded me of fresh strawberries, a soft toffee base and, again, a suggestion of gingery spiciness, laid a good foundation. The use of Cascade and Willamette hops was clear with a clean, zesty, citric dry finish. Quite a moreish pale ale.

This is a set of beers that provide a welcome counterpoint to the apparent trend of extreme everything. Each is an act of
subtle flavours and, on balance, while I like beers that give instant gratification for whatever you might desire, if there's one thing living in Germany has taught me, it's that there's an art in playing the flavours of the hop and malt off one another to create balances that just work. I reckon Purity have created a range of beer that, while seeming unchallenging at first sip, are very rewarding in the nuances of flavour they provide, and if nothing else, they're damn refreshing. They certainly work.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

A brewing interlude: Bitter Bullet

It's been a long time since I made an English-style bitter as I've been on a bit of a C- and new hop trip and playing with a few German beer types for the past few brews. Basically trying to get hop fixes to fill the ale-shaped void in my life since moving to Germany. Looking back through my notes, I think I haven't used the likes of East Kent Goldings for almost two years! So having whet my whistle with a few decent British beers recently, I thought I'd try my hand at something approximating a standard bitter. Ish... Once I start weighing out grains, I can't help tweaking a bit, hence a touch of Special B that I should really use up.

There's so many kinds of beer I want to make, it's difficult to decide sometimes. In the works is a pumpkin ale, and I really want to do something with a load of ginger, and another barleywine or an imperial stout. The list is bloody endless!

I also need to start labelling my beers again. Back in Ireland myself and my good buddy Kieron labelled every beer we made. I lived on Larkfield Gardens, so we called our little operation The Larkfield Brewery and had a template label on which we just changed the image and text for each brew. You can see a few samples on this web album. The labels added a special touch for bringing the beers to tasting evenings with, maybe helping with the illusion that we were good brewers. Although I will say I was always relatively happy with the beers we made (some more than others for sure), and am still pleased with the beers I've been making this past year. Not that there's no room for improvement! There's always so much to learn. I'm not sure what to call my kitchen brewery now, but the working title has been Bitten Bullet of course. Now I just need a logo and a proper label design!

And if you're interested, here's the beer I made today:

Bitter Bullet
Size: 25.5 L
Efficiency: 86.5%
Attenuation: 75.0%

Original Gravity: 1.048 (Measured)
Terminal Gravity: 1.012 (Calculated)
Color: 28.75 (Estimated)
Alcohol: 4.71% (Estimated)
Bitterness: 36.1 (Estimated)

4.2 kg Pilsner Malt
400 g Caramunich Type III
150 g Special B
200 g Light Brown Sugar
36 g Challenger (5.8%) - boiled 60 min
1 tsp Irish Moss - boiled 15 min
36 g East Kent Goldings (5.1%) - boiled 15 min
25 g Styrian Goldings (4.4%) - boiled 5 min
25 g Styrian Goldings (4.4%) - added at flame-out
Safale S-04

Sunday 23 August 2009

La Brasserie Lancelot

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Rupert returned bearing gifts after a holiday in Brittany; a boxed set of beers from Brasserie Lancelot. I instantly wanted to taste them based on the labels alone. Yes, very silly, but I'm a bit of a sucker for Arthurian stuff, so the Cervoise Lancelot label fascinated me -- and I freely admit I love John Boorman's Excalibur, despite the hammy acting from Gabriel Byrne and whichever Boorman played Igrayne in the early parts.

I have to admit, I struggle to name French beers that I have really enjoyed. My favourite was probably... ehhh, no, it's gone. Should I admit to enjoying Kronenbourg Blanc, or some of the Fischer stuff? That'll do. So, it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that three of us opened these bottles on a Friday afternoon.

The only background I have is from their wesite. Founded in 1990 by Bernard Lancelot -- so it wasn't just chosen as a celtic marketing gimmick -- and based in the renovated building associated with a former gold mine in Roc-Saint-André in Morbihan, they make seven regular beers "inspired by the history of Brittany and Celtic legends". Fine, but what do they taste like?

A Blanche Hermine, or the white ermine, is the symbol of Brittany, and apparently the inspiration of the motto of the region: "Plutôt la mort que la souillure!", or "Rather dead than soiled!". I've never visited the area, so I'd like to visit and see how clean it really is. The Lancelot Blanche Hermine is a 4% wheat beer with an earthy aroma, touching on farmyardy, with citrus highlights. The flavour has a grainy element, with citrus and a fairly decent spiciness. Not a bad start as it was a hot day, and despite the fullish feel to it, it was refreshing. It's highly carbonated, and it did gush a little on opening, so a tad less might have made it less filling.

Another bit of a gusher was the Lancelot Bonnets Rouge, a beer named after the revolt of the Bonnets rouges which was centered on Bretagne in 1675. The list of ingredients includes elderberries, so I was hoping this would blow the socks off the Germans and prove a point about the Rheinheitsgebot. Pouring a rather murky, dried blood red, the aroma is lightly fruity. It certainly doesn't lift out. The flavour shows a sweet toffee base with subtle, dry, berry notes, but a little artificial in tone. The finish is dry and a bit acidic. As with its sister, it's not bad, and while the Germans appreciated the effort, they were not converted to the joys of fruit in beer. I'll have to break out a Cantillon Kriek to shift those socks.

Moving up the alcohol stakes to 6%, we took on the Lancelot Bière Blonde -- or just Lancelot -- a dirty blonde laced with yeast that was apprently inspired by Trappist beers. The aroma here suggests more alcohol than 6%, with a malty sweetness touched with lemon. As with the Bonnets Rouge, there's an underlying graininess to the flavour, like raw malt. It also has that fruitiness you sometimes get with a Belgian strong ale, and it gives an orange-like finish. It's quite heavy going really, and is more of a sipper than a summer beer, but it got some respect from my fellow tasters.

Staying in the same strength bracket, the label of Cervoise Lancelot tells us it is brewed with seven plants and "un peu de miel". Pouring a slightly pinkish amber, the aroma is intriguing. With a heavy ginger aroma to the fore, you can detect sweet, honey-like notes, and, dare I say it, is that heather blossom? Whatever it is, there's a floral element in that mix. The flavour gives everything suggested in the aroma. Herbal flavours abound, and there's a honey texture underlying it all. It finishes with a slight ginger heat. A very interesting beer that's well worth trying, but probably not one for session drinking!

If we had known about the ginger, we might have put the Cervoise Lancelot after the Duchesse Anne, another strong blonde ale named in honour of Anne de Bretagne (1477), who was twice Queen of France after marrying Charles VIII and Louis XII, presumably not at the same time. In actual fact, it probably didn't matter as the aroma was sweet and fruity with an alcohol hit that suggested whiteboard markers. The flavour is also sweet, with robust caramel, pear-like qualities and a bit of cherry. The finish is surprisingly dry, and a touch herbal. It tastes a lot stronger than 6%, and is really quite satisfying. Like the rest of the Lancelot beers, this was highly carbonated, possibly lending to the filling qualities. On an aside, while reading about the Duchess on Wikipedia, I couldn't help but notice how she's been airbrushed a bit on the label. Great job!

We left the darkest one till last, but it was also one of the weaker ones, weighing in at 4.5%. Lancelot Telenn Du, meaning Black Harp, is brewed using malted barley and buckwheat, a grain coming from a non-cereal (pseudocereal) plant commonly used for bread and noodle making. Pouring a lovely dark brown, the aroma is rich and chocolatey with a touch of roastiness. The first impression on tasting it is of a strangely thin mouthfeel, which disappoints, but still, there's a caramel note running all the way through, supported by a slight chocolate toffee flavour, a thin roasted element and later a heavy, grassy, green flavour. As highly carbonated as its siblings, it failed to deliver on expectations, but then, it might be a bit more delicate than the big girls we had before it.

Overall, I was delighted to try this selection, and many thanks to Rupert for thinking of bringing the box into the office. If I had to pick a favourite, it'd probably be the Cervoise Lancelot, simply for the combination of interesting flavours, and especially that ginger-like notes, which I really quite like. I'd love to know if there really is ginger in there! Duchesse Anne is also worth trying if you can find it. Hell, try them all if you can and decide yourself!

It's good to know there are breweries in France doing interesting things with beer, and it's a shame that they don't seem to be available a little wider. But then, finding a surprise like this while visiting the place probably makes it a little more special.

Thursday 20 August 2009

Berghammer Kupfer

Here's a quicky back-to-German-beers one for you. Kupfer means copper, so the name alone intrigued me. And the colour of the beer? Well, yes, it is kind of coppery. Very old copper that is. A lovely, rich, dark amber.

The aroma is sweet, in a herbal way, with hints of burnt toast. I was expecting this to taste along the lines of a sugary-sweet dunkel, but it's not. Sure, there's a dark toffee undertone, but to me, the hops and the roasted notes really stood out. Clean, warming, spicy hops that give a dry, bitter finish, and that slightly burnt note really combine well. There's a slight carbonic edge too, but it feels right. Interesting in the right way. As the beer warms more toffee malt comes out, and a grassy middle-ground is introduced. Berghammer Kupfer. A lovely beer. Many thanks to Reinhard for giving me a couple of bottles after a trip down to that area.

You can get more of an idea of it on their website.

Monday 17 August 2009

Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale

After receiving a sample bottle of Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale from the Williams Bros., I was in a quandary about keeping it for a while, or just lashing into it. It was only bottled last month, and with a best before date of 2019, it might even benefit from a bit of age. Of course, curiosity got the better of me, and it was duly opened last week and shared with some colleagues following a tasting of the other recent beers from Williams Bros.

As the picture shows, this pours a lovely, clear, amber, a little tawny when held to the light. Carbonation is fairly low, but that may change over time as I was told it was not filtered or pasteurised, and that it would currently be sedimenting, so I assume it's bottle conditioned. In fact, there was very little sediment in this bottle, and the beer poured bright, so it was hard to tell.

Fraoch 20th Anniversary Ale has been aged in whisky casks that were previously used for sherry, and this is really evident on the nose. A really sweet, strong, honey-like aroma and masses of sherry, oak and vanilla notes. To my palate, the flavour was strikingly whisky-oriented, with a wash of oaky, vanilla flavours up front, a light alcohol warmth from the 11% ABV, and then the sweet, fruity sherry flavours take over. There's an underlying fruitiness, very like cherries, throughout the whole experience and the finish is long, sweet and spritzy with the trademark heather blossom just about making a show behind the full fruity flavours.

At first I thought the oaky, sherry notes were a bit over-dominant, but actually, once the other flavours come into play, they lend a lovely, comforting character to the beer. It's one of those that would make a nice dessert beer, although my German colleagues all said it would make a great apéritif.

Speaking of which, I'm sure they won't mind me posting some of their comments. I think a beer like this is a real challenge for a beer drinking nation like Germany that doesn't have quite as much tradition (well, they did have interesting ingredients before the gebot was inflicted on the rest of the country) or indeed forward-looking development of beers like this. A doppelbock just can't get to these levels of flavour, in my humble opinion, but I look forward to being proven wrong. So, it's probably not too surprising to ave two colleagues state that this was not a beer. Not in the sense that it was an affront to call such stuff beer, but I think more in the sense that it bears no relation to what is commonly considered beer in Germany. In fairness, the final comments ranged from "maybe I'm too much into conservative tastes" (the first sign of the road to recovery") through describing to as "very interesting, but more like a liqueur than a beer. Too sweet to drink lots of it", all the way through to "a great luxury beer".

From my point of view, I really liked this. It felt more like drinking a fine mead flavoured with with raisins and oaky vanilla. It is sweet, but the fortified feel to it makes it satisfying rather than sickly. I enjoyed the mix of flavours, and I would love to know how it ages, and if it changes at all. So, if you see one of the 7,500 bottles (5,000 of which are destined for the US market), I think it's worth buying a bottle. Buy two maybe, drinking one now and keeping the other for a year or two, just to see. And let me know!

Friday 14 August 2009

Guinness 250 Showdown and a Bitten Bullet Birthday

A few weeks ago, Chris and Merideth from kindly gave me a bottle of Guinness 250, a beer celebrating 250 years of Uncle Arthur. A beer that is apparently not even available in Ireland, which it kind of odd dontcha think? As I celebrate an anniversary of sorts here on The Bitten Bullet (how a year flies!) I thought I'd break out the 250, and compare it to the regular Guinness Extra Stout, blind. Oh, and throw a bottle of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout (the one from St. James's Gate) in there too, just because I wanted one. A virtual trip back to the old sod, if you like.

My loving wife set up the glasses while I sat in the isolation booth. She normally locks me in there of an evening anyway, so nothing new there. So, let's call them A, B and C.

Beer A had a dense, creamy, tan head. Held to the light is showed it was a clear, reddish brown, with ruby highlights. There wasn't much aroma really, but what there was brought faint chocolate, and a touch of dark-fruit-jamminess. Up front, the flavour delivered a mildly roasted flavour, and a slightly detergent-like note in the mid-ground. The primary driver is a sweet, roasty flavour, and a slight touch of acidity, like apples or blackcurrants. The finish is dry, with burnt bread crust undertones. To be honest, I found it hard to pick out defining flavours, as overall it felt a little thin, while being easy to knock back. Unchallenging might be the word.

Beer B had a loose, rocky head verging towards light brown. It was opaque, showing a trace of oaky brown around the edges. The aroma was of toffee, dark cherries and chocolate goodness in spades. Sweet, with a suggestion of alcohol. Ok, we know what this is... To be honest, I parked it immediately to go on to Beer C, but I returned later. It's been a while since I had one. Held in the mouth, it's soft ad sweet. But once you swallow, well, I just love that combination of sweet, juicy, roasted malts with an ever-so-slight touch of lactic sourness that scrubs palate leaving it exposed to a long, slightly tingly, bitter chocolate finish. What a lovely beer. It's hard to imagine it coming from the same stable that has for so long dominated the Irish beer world, but I digress...

Beer C had practically no head, but rather maintained the merest suggestion of one with a thin scum fed by a constant supply of bubbles. Can you tell I'm writing this while finishing the FES? The aroma was really hard to detect, giving off only thin malty suggestions and perhaps a whiff of hops. But this made the flavour even more surprising. Quite different to Beer A, this was sweeter, rounder. Soft fudge with a good dose of vanilla. Quite malty, with a splash of fruity flavours in the midground. Strawberries came to mind. There's a slight touch of sourness at the back of the tongue, in a sour fruity way. But just a touch, mind! It's fleeting and is replaced quickly by a soft chocolate coating. There's a lingering, sweet, gentle roastiness to the finish. Really rather nice, but as unchallenging as Beer A. I guess I preferred it though, as it felt fuller bodied and had a pleasant summer fruitiness to it.

So, it was clear from the beginning that Beer B was the Foreign Extra Stout, so I had to decide between A and C. I really wanted C to be the regular Extra Stout, as I enjoyed it more, and it's something I can even get in Germany (well, where can you not get Guinness Extra Stout). But I knew in my bones that the comparatively disappointing Beer A was in fact Guinness Extra Stout, and Beer C was the Guinness 250. I was right...

Guinness 250 is a nice enough beer. I can't help but compare it to the O'Hara's and Porterhouse Celebration Stouts, each of which marked the mere 10th anniversary of the Carlow and Porterhouse breweries. These were strong, meaty brews that made you think about what you were drinking. True celebrations of the brewer's arts. Guinness has been such an institution, for so long, in Ireland that you would think it would really roll out the barrel after 250 years of existence. While I enjoyed it, I can't help wishing they had really gone for a proper celebration. Foreign Extra Stout is perhaps a more fitting commemoration of 250 years of the Guinness brand. Even so, they could have included Ireland, the birthing pool of the black behemoth, in the so-called celebration!

As it happens, this is my own little celebration of the 1st birthday of The Bitten Bullet. I started this last year as a way to keep myself occupied, and to stop spamming with the beers I was trying since moving to Germany. Since then I've totted up a few new beers and have tried to be fair in describing them, and maybe sharing a little of my general experiences here. I'm not really sure what direction the blog is going in, but I've enjoyed exploring new tastes, and having fun with my colleagues along the way. Actually, I'm thinking the German beer drinker is a lot more open to new beer tastes than I previously thought, but it could be that I have ended up drinking with the adventurous ones.

So, I'll continue tottering along, but if you, the reader, have any requests, let me know. Even if it is to stop!


Wednesday 12 August 2009

Spiral Galaxy H1N1

A few weeks ago I brough H1N1 back with me from San Diego. I was well enough to work, but was told to stay home, just in case. As my wife and son were away, evenings were pretty quiet, so what else to do but brew?

I was going to call this H1n1ken, but a mixture of trying a hop I've never used before (Galaxy, from Australia) and listening to too much Hawkwind made me choose Spiral Galaxy H1N1. The guys in work are alredy calling Swine Flu beer, and will probably be afraid to drink it... For a few seconds at least.

I've done rolling hop additions before for American style pale ales, trying to build up more hop flavour and aroma, but this is the first time I went with both rolling and late hopping, only starting to add the hops 30 minutes before the end of the boil. The aroma in the first week fermenting was beautiful. Lots of citrus action, and really quite fruity notes too. I'm bottling the beer right now (I hate this damn job!), and the aroma lost a lot of the potency, but still carries the same notes. Next time I'll do it with ahop with a slightly lower alpha acid content to see if more hops will keep the aroma where I want. 15% is pretty massive. The beer reminds me a little of the helles in one of the local brew pubs, but with a lot more passion fruit. Let's see how it tastes in a couple of weeks.

Spiral Galaxy H1N1

BeerTools Pro Color Graphic

Size: 25.0 L
Efficiency: 84.73%
Attenuation: 80.0%

Original Gravity: 1.050 (measured)
Terminal Gravity: 1.010 (measured)
Color: 21.11 EBC
Alcohol: 5.24%
Bitterness: 35.4 IBU

2.48 kg Pale Ale Malt
2.0 kg Munich Malt
580 g Wheat Malt
10.0 g Galaxy (15.0%) - boiled 30 min
10.0 g Galaxy (15.0%) - boiled 20 min
10.0 g Galaxy (15.0%) - boiled 15 min
1 tsp Irish Moss - boiled 15 min
10.0 g Galaxy (15.0%) - boiled 10 min
10.0 g Galaxy (15.0%) - boiled 5 min
10.0 g Galaxy (15.0%) - boiled 0 min
Safale US-05

Saturday 8 August 2009

Beers from the Williams Bros. Brewing Company

That famous Scottish brewery, BrewDog, is certainly dominating beer discussions around north-western Europe at the moment, and more power to them with their interesting beers and clever use of the media. I had been wondering how other smaller breweries from that part of the world were taking this, and I was pleasantly surprised to be able to taste some beers from the Isle of Arran Brewery last weekend. A few weeks go I had also received a press release from the Williams Bros. Brewing Co., the people behind that famous Scottish speciality beer, Fraoch Heather Ale.

Starting life in 1988 in a homebrew shop owned by Bruce Williams, Fraoch is one of those beers that you probably either love or hate. Either way, it's interesting what heather can do to a beer, and I remember the first time I introduced my wife to it, some time in 2001, while on a business trip to Edinburgh. Well, I was on business, she was being a tourist. She loved it, and we just now bemoaned the fact that the Fraoch glass we -- well, I -- appropriated on that occasion got broke by my brother-in-law-to-be last year. Anyway, mention of Fraoch still has her licking her lips. I have fond memories of it too, but it's been a long time.

They created other beers based on old recipes or styles, including Alba, made with spruce tips, Kelpie, with bladderwrack seaweed and Grozet which includes bog myrtle, meadowsweet and gooseberries. Get the picture? Sounds great actually, but I haven't had the pleasure of any of them.

The press release, though, is not about these historic beers, but reports on the fact that, along with BrewDog, other small Scottish breweries are getting greater recognition due to a relative increase in ale sales (they quote a 6% fall in lager sales and a 4% increase in ale sales, but don't quote me on that) and also the fact that such ales are becoming more popular on supermarket shelves. A case in point being the recent Sainsbury’s Beer Competition, in which, out of 15 finalists -- from a starting pool of 115 -- seven came from Scotland, four of which came from the Williams Bros Brewery. That's a pretty good average! Incidentally, the other three from Scotland were all from BrewDog (Hardcore, Dogma and Chaos Theory), so certainly good kennel mates.

But what do they taste like? Well, I was offered a chance to sample the beers, and of course I accepted. A package arrived early this week containing samples of each of the four finalist beers. I was also very excited about the Fraoch 20th Anniversary bottle that they sent too, and I'm really torn between sitting on it for a while -- as it was only bottled last month as is good for another ten years or so -- or opening it as soon as I can. I expect it will be opened in the next few weeks and shared with some friends. It's a big beer, in both volume (75cl) and alcohol (11%), so it definitely made to share. I might have to buy one to lay it down and see how it ages. We'll come back to it so.

Williams Ceilidh, described as a Premium Scottish Lager, is a rich gold, with an obvious desire to turn to light amber. The aroma is actually quite remarkable, I was expecting a light, hoppy thing, perhaps being thin, but it's pretty rich, leaning towards a more malty side, and in fact has a striking resemblance to toasted sesame seeds! Or perhaps slightly overdone pastry on an apple pie. The flavour is similar. It's pleasently sweet, in that pie-like way, with slight salty and nutty notes. The hops feel a little muted under that layer of flavour, but do show as a lime-like citric twist, and a floral element comes out as the beer warms a little. I have to say I was a bit taken aback, as I -- completely unfairly -- expected a thin, boring lager. In reality, it bears more relation to some of the better lagerbiers from Franken than I could have hoped. Great mouthfeel, and really quite satisfying, it's not one for chugging down after cutting the grass. That sesame thing had me intrigued all the way down the glass, and I'm looking forward to sharing the second bottle of it with a native of Franken to get his opinion.

The Williams Birds & Bees lists elder flowers and lemon zest amongst its ingredients, along with a proportion of malted wheat. A luminous gold, as you might expect from a blonde ale, the aroma is a little muted, but is fruity, with apple, a touch of juicy-fruit and sweet malts. The flavour gives a good dollop of juicy maltiness and ever-so-slight banana in the finish. The elder flowers are barely detectable as a sweet, earthy tone in the fore-ground, but not as much as I thought there would be. The whole thing is solidly in the fruity/malty camp, and even the listed lemon zest barely makes a show. It got a bit flat half way through, but it didn't spoil anything, as it has a fullish mouthfeel that sat ok with that. Overall, this was my least favourite of the four, as I expected more of the elder and lemon flavours to lift it up. Still, it's a sturdy golden ale for considered drinking, not quaffing, a bit like its lager sibling.

Being a hop fan, I looked forward to popping the Williams IPA. Ahh, Amarillo. You definitely get that grapefruit lick on the nose, sitting on top of a subtle, caramelly maltiness. It's not as bitter as I expected (considering trends in other breweries) but there's an assertive, clean/cut, floral, grapefruit hop blast from the get-go. The underling graininess combines with the grapefruit suggestions to leave a dryness which counterpoints a sweet, almost floral sorbet finish. Not an IPA in the US mould (or other Scottish breweries), a very refreshing, well-balanced hoppy ale that should please man palates. I should say that the flavour is just like sticking your nose into a bag of hops. Lots of wonderful hop flavours, and just the right balance of bitterness and maltiness. There's also something about it that reminds me of Galway Hooker in the sheer süffig drinkability. This you could drink lots of (well, I could!).

The only 80/- beer I can remember having is Caledonian 80/-. I think I had it first in 2001, and liked it, and was schocked to find it on tap in a bar in Muenster a few months ago. Let's just say that it's not quite as satisfying as the Williams 80/-. The colour is dark, ruddy brown. The aroma is a touch fruity and roasty, the smell of a light touch of black malt, perhaps, adding an ever so slightly smoky quality. So far, so appetising. This is quite a light beer, at 4.2% compared to the generally 5% range of the others, but the richness that they seem to have achieved in the other beers is also present here. The flavours are distinctly toffee-like, and that ever-so-slightly smoky roasted note sits gently on top, giving a quick blast at the front, and lingering alongside an apple-like fruitiness, and a touch of digestive biscuits. The finish is a little bitter, in a roasty way, and gives an impression of dark toffee with a layer of chocolate. A moreish, juicy beer that'll satisfy malt lovers.

I have a bottle of each of these left, and I hope to test them on a few of my German colleagues next week. I always enjoy getting their opinions on beers that are outside of the normal range available here. But, although I have my favourites (can you guess which?), they're all pretty solid brews that I'd happily drink regularly.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Beers from The Isle of Arran (and whisky!)

I've mentioned a few times already that I have two bottles of Paradox Arran in my cellar, kindly donated by those gentlemen at BrewDog, just waiting for an opportunity to share them with two whisky aficionados in my office. As it happens, on Saturday we popped over to Ingo's house to see his 12 kittens (12! His two cats had six each), and ended up staying far too late because he produced a couple of bottles of beer from The Isle of Arran Brewery. And of course what self-respecting whisky fan wouldn't produce a bottle from the same Isle's distillery -- just to see how the beer and whisky went together -- in this case a bottle of the Robert Burns Single Malt (Robert Burns is a recurring theme at Ingo's). And that was just the start...

The Isle of Arran Blonde is a lovely, clear golden ale with a sharp, almost woody, fruity aroma. It has a sweet, grainy flavour, but to the fore is a bitter, herbal effect. It's an interesting combination, and difficult to identify the taste, but a herbal, curacao bitterness might not be a bad way to describe it. It's quite refreshing while being strangely satisfying.

The Isle of Arran Dark shares some similar characteristics with it's fairer sister, possessing a grainy malt profile but of course with light chocolate traits. It's roasty and quite dry, but also has that slight bitter orange flavour, leaning towards a grapefruit dryness. It's a strange mix of flavours really. I expected more dark sweet flavours, but the dryness and the long pithy finish smash those expectations.

But where did Ingo get these Scottish beers, in a country where you can hardly buy a beer from neighbouring Belgium? Well, Brauhof Wilshaus, close to the city of Hamm, host the Hammer Highland Games every year, which of course includes extensive Whisky tastings (the reason Ingo visits every year) and, much to my delight, Scottish beer. I don't think BrewDog was brought over, but there you go. I have to visit the games next year!

Incidentally, the Blonde paired very well with the whisky, but not so perfectly with the Dark. I'm no Whisky expert (you're no beer expert either, I hear you shout), but for what it's worth, the Robert Burns Single Malt is exceptionally smooth, with lovely light vanilla, fruit and -- a revelation for me -- slight citric notes that really married well with the Blonde. I stopped drinking Whisky on a regular basis years ago, so these kinds of tastings, with an expert on hand, are really unexpected and enjoyable.

But it didn't end there. Ingo had also nabbed a bottle of Fuller's London Porter and the 1845 ale from The James in Muenster, a bar I had visited a couple of times simply because they stock Theakston's and Black Sheep beer as well as some Trappist beers (a miracle!). Alex, the owner, has clearly extended the range somewhat, but apparently still hasn't managed to get some cask on. I'll have to investigate in person, and soon.

It was the first time I had tried Fuller's London Porter, and I liked it. A lovely, rich dark chocolate effect with a roasty, bitter-sweet finish. Really smooth. The Fuller's 1845 has a strong malty, yeasty, pear-like aroma. The flavour is of caramel, vanilla reminiscent of light oaking, and is ever-so-slightly warming with its 6.3% alcohol content. A little sip of whisky help accentuate darker malty tones that I may not have picked up otherwise. Not bad.

We tried a couple more beers, including a Flensburger Organic Kellerbier, a rather strange Hexenbier and a preview of my latest altbier, but by then we were playing hide and seek in the fields with my son and nibbling fresh organic pork steaks cooked over a log fire. It's the unplanned things in life that give the most pleasure...

Monday 3 August 2009

Lousy Lausitzer

At first glance, these beers look like they come from the same brewery, but in fact the shared name simply reflects the area of Saxony they come from, the Lausitzer Bergland, nestled close to the Czech and Polish borders, where the towns of Eibau and Löbau sit. They look delicious, dark and tempting, don't they with all that talk of Dunkel, Porter and... Porter... Mmmm. My neighbour from downstairs if from the area and he had promised to bring me some German Porter, which I was bloody delighted to receive, despite warnings that it was very sweet and a "woman's beer". His words, not mine!

Anyhoo, let's start with the Lausitzer Dunkel, produce of Muench-Braeu, Eibau, makers of the pretty decent Eibauer Schwarzbier. The Dunkel is a very attractive dark brown with russet hints, but with a tragically short-lived head. The aroma is a touch jammy, with a subtle roasty, chocolatey note. The flavour? Sweet. Sweet chocolate, but with a surprisingly dry note to the finish; a roasted edge that blends with a disturbingly flat diet coke-like sweetness. Of course the first warning was on the back label: "Schankbier mit Suessungsmittel", and further down mention of "Natrium Saccharine". Noooooooo! Why? It's not as sweet as it could have been I guess, but that artificial edge to it is just disastrous.

The Lausitzer Porter is from Bergquell Brauerei Löbau, just some 16km from Eibau. This is equally as sweet as the Lausitzer Dunkel, but does not list any artificial sweeteners in the list of ingredients. It's very malty, in a malzbier way, but with a lingering sugariness and a mildly unpleasant vegetal thing going on. Frankly, I couldn't bring myself to finish the bottle. And to be completely open, this was the second bottle I had tried, the first one also defeating me with its sickly sweetness. I felt bad that my neighbour had brought this all the way from Sachsen, but then I guess he did try to warn me, in his own special way...