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!