Sunday, 31 January 2010

Grøg, or Løut?

When I arranged a visit to Sweden for one of my colleagues, I said "oh, there's some great beer there, I should give you a shopping list". I didn't, but being a thoughtful chap he brought me back what he could. As I also failed to explain to him the alcohol sales system there, and he was stuck out in an airport hotel, I think the best he could do was some 7-Eleven. But he tried, and in fairness, I've never had such a range of 3.5% canned beers. Here we go:

Falcon Bayerskt, from Carlsberg Sverige, was first on my list, just because I kinda liked the can. It has a pleasant, if vague, grainy malt aroma and the flavour is... well... sinkable I guess. There's not much to it really. It's a little thin, with touches of toffee, a lick of something like a pear and, hold on, is that a hop back there? The finish is short and a little sweet, almost to short to be able to tell.

Stepping up a gear to the bigger brother, Falcon Extra Brew, which weighs in at a mighty 3.5%. Hold on a second. What's extra about that? It's bready, with a touch of apples. The flavour is also thin but seems ok until you swallow, at which point it delivers a disinfectant, slightly metallic shot that, thankfully, swiftly vanishes leaving you with... nothing. Perhaps a lingering suggestion of burst bubble wrap (figuratively and literally).

Moving swiftly onto Spendrups Premium Gold. I'm amazed I hadn't had anything from Spendrups till now, but what better way to start than with something with the word premium in the name? Yeah... Out of the can this is a thin-looking, pale gold with an attractive fluffy head, but it doesn't last long. The flavour is a touch bready and it has a kind of minty finish. Well chuggable, but leaves you wanting in the end. Maybe that's the idea?

Norrlands Guld felt like a carbon copy of the Spendrups at first, but it has a slightly grainy element to it, and a drier finish. If I had a choice, I'd probably go for this above the Spendrups, although there's a carbonic kick in the end that feels like heartburn will be soon to follow. Also a little disinfactanty.

Mariestads is also similar to the Spendrups (well whadda ya know? I just learned it's brewed by Spendrups as is the Norrlands Guld), but also drier, a touch more hoppy, all things being relative, and thankfully, softer than the Norrlands.

The last time I was in Sweden was just about two years ago, far to the north in Kiruna. To be honest, I can't remember what beers were on offer there, but it was cool to be 145 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle. It was April, and the sun just about dipped below the horizon at midnight. It was really odd seeing the boy racers hanging about in car parks trying to look cool in the bright night. I'd love to visit in winter.

The same colleague who brought back this lovely stash was in Virginia two weeks ago, and I know he's brought quite a selection back that will seem like a polar opposite to what he brought back from Stockholm. I can't wait. Thanks Rüdi!

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Williams Bros. Ginger Beer Feedback Batch

The Williams Bros. kindly sent me two bottles of their Ginger Beer Feedback Batch, so, stand by for feedback!

A slightly hazy, pale gold this stuff really wafts out ginger. It's like sniffing a bag of candied ginger. I actually love that stuff, thanks to my mother, so my mouth started watering straight away. My wife reckoned it smelled like lemonade (Süßer Sprudel to be exact), which was kind of prophetic, considering she says she can't describe smells or flavours.

The ginger is certainly powerful in the flavour, and especially in the finish where you get a good ginger bite in the throat. As you drink, this flavour increases, really filling the mouth, but while taking mouthfuls, and just after swallowing, there's a taste that reminds me of a German Radler, or shandy, and yep, that's what my better half was picking out. As I got used to the ginger, this lemonadey trait became more obvious. It's perhaps a little thin, but really very refreshing. I'm drinking the second bottle as I type this, and yeah, I'm happy that I agree with my notes from a couple of days ago.

If I had any constructive criticism to offer, I think I'd prefer a little more caramel-type malt body to support that building ginger heat and round things out a bit, but as a 3.5% thirst quencher, it does a really great job.

Strangely, this reminds me very much of a ginger beer some Scottish neighbours of mine made when I was a kid. I remember calling to their door practically begging for the stuff. Do the Scots make the best ginger-related stuff? It seems so.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Eggenberg on my face

Samichlaus. What beer geek (in Europe at least) hasn't heard of it? What feels like many years ago, before I entered major beer geekery, I'd had it in the Porterhouse, Dublin, and really quite enjoyed it. The last time I had it was in the Bull and Castle, Dublin, while completing their Beer Hall Challenge. The challenge was to drink one of each of a list of 30 beers, over as long as you liked, on completion of which you were supposed to get a glass engraved with your name and kept in the bar much the same as some Munich beer halls might do for the Stammtisch crowd. It was a nice idea, the goal of which was to challenge the Guinness or Heino drinkers to try something different. Us geeks on got special dispensation and could get some struck off the list in advance if we wanted. Nevertheless, I had fun completing the list, until I realised I had left all the strong beers till the end. Being as sensible as I am, one night I decided I'd had enough of this list and, after a few Galway Hookers, set about getting the Chimay Rouge, Chimay Bleue and a Westmalle Triple off the list (and possibly a Kwak, but the first three are definite). That only left the Samichlaus. Needless to say, it was hard going at that stage, and recall it being thick and sweet, and trying to get my mates to take sips to help me along, without much success. By the time I had about a third of the glass left, my mate Marco's beautiful French girlfriend said "here, give me that" and knocked it back, just so we could finally leave. I was very grateful, and not a little fluthered.

While looking for some beers on before Christmas, I thought I should try another beer from Brauerei Schloss Eggenberg, MacQueen's Nessie, declaiming itself as a Whisky Malt Red Beer on the label. Sounded interesting. It's certainly reddish, being a clear copper-amber, but instead of the smoke-tinged aroma I was expecting, it gave of a very sweet caramel/malty nose. And yes, this continues in the first sip. I didn't get any hint of whisky malt, but this thin, sugary, candy theme stays throughout. I really tried to imagine some whisky malt, but I just got sweets. Ok, I suppose not every whisky malt is smoked, but what's the bloody point of sticking Whisky Malt on the label when it's really just like any other malt? Or am I missing something? If it's trying to be some sort of reddish Vienna-style lager, I was disappointed too. There's a touch of fruity hoppiness in there somewhere, but not enough to make me ever want to try this sugar water again. If I want to really taste a beer from the German speaking countries that kicks your teeth in with smoky whisky malt, it'll still be the Smokey George from Brauerei Rittmayer.

Of course, I had to buy a Samichlaus for old times sake. In fact, going shopping in town before Christmas i was almost tripping over them in some of the department stores, despite the fact that the label on the back says "perhaps rarest in the world". Perhaps, indeed. Anyway, getting a bottle also gives me a chance to turn that glass around and show you what's printed on the other side. Tadaa!

So, after a couple of years, how would I take a sober return to Samichlaus? Well, the aroma is nice, if sweet. Apple pie and spices and a slight vinous note. The flavour gives much bigger fruit flavours than I recalled -- but then what could I possibly recall, so forget about that -- with raisens, banana, cherry and big, sweet toffee malt flavours. Behind all this is 14% alcohol, and it does creep in, warming the throat so it began to feel quite boozy. But despite all those lovely-sounding flavours, it's just too sweet for me, and by the end of it, all I could get was a sickly-sweet, slightly burnt residue coating my tongue. I suppose it's a bit like a kebab, all right until you try it sober*.

*With the sole exception of kebabs from Zaytoon, across from the Porterhouse, Dublin, which taste equally yummy when sober. God, I miss them.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Ulmer Beers from Brauerei Bauhöfer

My colleague, Rupert --who, incidentally, is currently in Memphis with his band, Hootin' the Blues, representing Germany in the International Blues Challenge (best of luck guys!) -- brought a trio of beers from Brauerei Bauhöfer* back after a trip to deepest, darkest Baden. The first thing you notice about them has to be the screw top, which you don't see much on beers around here. It feels kind of odd, but I'm usually more concerned about the contents of the bottles.

Ulmer Export, weighing in at 5.4% ABV, is a pale yellow, slightly hazy beer with a lemony, resiny aroma that really strikes me as being more what one might expect in a German pilsener, assuming one wanted to stereotype (I don't like to, but sometimes can't help it), with a welcome sweet, bready undertone. It has a slightly oily mouthfeel, softish, but also with a bit of a carbonic bite. It's grainy, with pears and a touch of citrus bringing a freshness. There's a little hint of something like disinfectant in the finish, which is rather dry. It's not amazing, but neither is it crap. A refreshing sort of beer, although I think I served it far too cold, so might have killed it a bit.

Ulmer Pilsener comes in slightly lighter at 5.2% ABV and is, as one might expect, also pale yellow and a touch luminously hazy. I mentioned that I reckoned the fridge had gotten too cold, so this could be chill haze. The aroma is a bit subdued. A little bready, a little toasty, a little grassy. It feels soft on the tongue, but also a bit thin. It delivers hay, a clean bitterness, a hint of wood and a nice touch of spice to the finish. A pleasant enough pils, but let down a little by the thinness in the middle.

Der Ulmer Maibock is a reasonable 7.3% ABV and pours a clear, golden honey colour with a dense white head. It pushes out a light candy-like, fruity aroma, which gives a good impression. It has a smooth mouthfeel, leaning towards being almost creamy. Odd. It's bready, sharing a common trait with it's siblings, but also gives some caramel, slight cherry notes and a hint of raisins. It has a fine bitterness and what one might call that "noble" hop character; floral, grassy and a touch of spice, brushed with lemon. Rather nice actually! I've another bottle stashed in the office...

* I think I've lost count of the number of German brewery sites that use that "pop! glug... fizz... ahhhh!" kind of sound effect when visiting the homepage.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Herforder Weihnacht

Especially for Bailey:

Herforder Weihnacht, a 5.8% Christmas beer, pours quite a nice ruby-tinged amber, and has very little aroma to speak of. Perhaps a touch of bubble gum.

The flavour is odd. Like the Schussenrieder Festbräu, there are toasty notes, but more a bready, yeasty kind of toasty, with a scrape of burning credit card wafted over it. Once swallowed it leaves behind a thin, sickly cherry residue, but the lasting impression is of sweet malts on a woody backdrop. And by woody I mean licking a piece of plywood. In fairness, it does have a touch of a nice, floral hop in the finish. An odd one to be sure, and for a brief moment I was undecided if I liked it or not, but on balance… Meh!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Beoir: A beer consumers' group for Ireland

It's been a busy week with work, and one very special announcement we (TheBeerNut, Séan Billings and myself) have published over on our intention to form a more official, organised body to represent beer consumers' interests in Ireland, and indeed representing Irish craft/micro-brewed beer abroad (well, in Germany at least! :).

This organisation will be called Beoir. You can read the announcement here.

I think this is pretty significant, and it means it'll be another group joining the likes of PINT, Zythos and CAMRA under the European Beer Consumers Union, all going according to plan of course, and given how has grown since we started it almost three years ago, there's no reason to believe this won't succeed.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Schussenrieder Festbräu N° 1

The last time I had a Schussenrieder beer, I really wasn't impressed, but I'm a forgiving sort, so thought I'd try their Christmas offering, the Schussenrieder Festbräu N° 1.

A pale, orangey brown (not really quite amber) it started well with a toasted rye bread aroma, with raisens and lemony hops. It's malty, with a slight roasted hint, more toasted bread really, and has a wash of subtle fruity flavours, a little like juicy-fruit. In German terms, I'd probably describe this as süffig; it's really good for knocking back and wanting more, even at 5.6%. It gives a reasonable hop flavour, with a lemonand lie effect, almost like 7-Up in the finish. Yeah, strange, but not in a bad way, and not as powerful as a Radler might be. Despite looking a little flat, it's pretty gassy, so perhaps 7-Up is involved somewhere!

Overall, this redeemed Schussenrieder in my eyes, a bit, as it's a nice, juicy, sinkable beer.

I thought it was interesting that the swingtop had a Hacker-Pschorr print on the lid. Proper recycling!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Liquid Engineering

My local Yorkshire pub, The James, does a random line of beers, and pretty much every time I go in the landlord starts hauling bottles out of the cellar like a beer pimp. I thought he picked up most of these himself (I know he does a run to York a few times a year), but it seems there's some importer of, particularly Scottish, beers somewhere near here. I'd tried some of the Orkney range here a previous time, and before Christmas tried another.*

The Orkney Red McGregor gives off a lovely sweet, malty/fruity aroma, with a touch of buttered popcorn and light chocolate. I was expecting a malt-driven, sweet toffee beast, but it's surprisingly hoppy, delivering a burst of herbal hoppiness that dries out the finish. It overcomes the malts to a degree, but they do remain as a light caramel throughout, with fruity undertones. Really quite nice and sessionable at a measly 4%.

Axel also pushed an Inveralmond Lia Fail** on me; rich copper with a tight head, it gives clean toffee flavours, floral hops and an ever so slight citric hint. There's a fruitiness to it, too, with a kind of apples and pears. The finish is long and dryly hoppy with a pepperiness.

He also had a few from Butcombe, and knowing very little about them I went for the Brunel 200 IPA, a slightly hazed amber ale with a short-lived head. Nice rich aroma, with toffee, vanilla and a floral hop thing, but the flavour just doesn't deliver. It has a grainly malt backbone, light cherry-like notes and more of that floral hoppiness down the middle. The finish delivers a reasonable floral, resinous bitterness that lasts well, but I got a sort of vegetal note deep down that put me off.

Last Thursday I popped in after work for a bite to eat and tried a Cairngorm Blessed Thistle, another rich-looking beer, dark and ruby-tinged. Another malty/fruity aroma with a toasty-roasty lick at the back. The theme continues on the tongue with a chewy toffee, berries, dried fruits and a gentle floral bitterness. The finish leaves slightly overdone toast along with a floral effect. As the name suggests, apparently thistle is used for bittering, although the label also mentions Goldings and ginger are added. I can certainly get the goldings in the finish, but not the ginger, and I have no idea what thistle should do (the last thistle-related product I tried was milk thistle, which made me piss like a horse).

*Actually, I've had the Orkney Raven Ale and Inveralmond Black Friar since then too, but I tend not to make notes when I'm drinking in earnest.

**In Irish, at least, Lia Fáil is spelled with a fada on the a, making it long, sounding a bit more like "fall", or "fawl" rather than "fail". Don't know if that's different in Scots Gaelic.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Schorschbräu: Strength in Numbers

Happy New Year! A little late perhaps, but I've been taking a break with the family, and am only now getting back into a regular schedule. It was a quiet-ish holiday, with plenty of food and beer, although only a few interesting beers worth writing home about. Three of those came from Schorschbräu*, the small brewery in Franken that made the 31% beer that was the previous holder of the World's Strongest Beer record before BrewDog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin, and the ones who told me they have a 40% beer (well, 39.44% so, technically speaking, rounding to the nearest integer should make it 39%) coming out, which I posted about the same day TNP was launched, which might not have been the best timing in the world, but there you go.

Anyway, after I posted a little bit about their announcement, I was curious to try some of their stuff. The 31% was hard to find - and expensive - so I settled on buying three of their regular strong beers.

The Schorschbräu Schorschweizen 16% is dark, looking almost like a porter, and is surprisingly flat considering what most of us think of when it comes to Weizen carbonation levels. The aroma is strongly fruity, showing dried fruits, cherries, port-like notes and vanilla, and yes, there are classic Weizen banana and clove notes. This continues into the flavour with large doses of prunes, cherries and woody vanilla. There's a Kirschwasser-like alcohol hit on the finish and that, along with the fairly thick mouthfeel, makes it almost like a liqueur. However, it does feel like there's a good dose of hops in there too, as while it's pretty sweet and leaves the lips sticky, it doesn't taste overly sweet like many Doppelbocks can, for instance. The overall impression is of big, vinous, porty notes and, dare I say it, a whiff of smoke. I summed it up by describing to to my wife as being like a liquidised Christmas pudding, complete with the brandy on top. It's heavy going, and a little intense, but definitely an interesting winter warmer. Too late, I realised I probably should have shared the bottle.

On Christmas Eve I treated myself to the Schorschbräu Schorschbock 13%. This is really thick and gloopy looking through the pour and, again, very flat with a sweet, dates and candy-like aroma. The flavour delivers big, sweet blackberries and alcohol. Quite a bit of the latter actually, with a mustard-like burn through the nostrils (no, I did not inhale) and down the throat. You get used to it though, and it settles into being just big and boozy, with elements reminiscent of toast, licorice and vanilla with a spicy hop quality. The finish is quite dry, despite the lingering sweetness, and leaves a lasting impression of licorice.

Tonight, as I write, I'm sipping the last of the trio, the Schorschbräu Schorschbock 16%. While pouring, the word turgid comes to mind. I like that word. The aroma is a touch solventy, with a bit of marzipan and, like the Schorschweizen 16%, it comes with a hint of Kirschwasser-like alcohol fumes. The first sip is a real kick, with a sharpness that takes a couple of sips to get accustomed to. It's a kind of alcoholic, tangy fruitiness that cuts a but at the back of the throat. Up front it's all highly concentrated raisins with a pine-like hop character. In the mid-ground there's a hint of bitter almond and toast. This is a tough one to drink alone, and really merits a couple of hours sitting over it on a cold winter's night. A bit like what I'm doing tight now I guess!

Of the three, I'd probably lean most towards the Weizenbock 16%, just because it offers a lot of different flavours, and is all the more impressive as it does not inolve the Eis method. I did enjoy the Schorschbock 13% for its comforting winter warmer appeal and the toasty, licorice flavours. The Schorschbock 16%, while also a good winter beer, is just a little too harsh on the alcohol, although if you forget it's a beer and think more of a fruit liqueur it's easier to swallow, although 33cl is a lot to take. One to share, really.

News just in: While writing the above, I checked their website and it looks like they've officially announced the 40% Schorschbock. Well, there you go! I don't see it in the on-line stores they normally sell through yet, but then I guess it's just after the holiday season. Will have to see what the price is like...

*Not "schorsch braer" as was on the BrewDog release notes, which have since been recycled on every news piece about TNP. A simple misspelling, but at least they mentioned the previous holder!