Wednesday 30 November 2011

Freigeist Deutscher Porter

It's been a while since I posted anything beer-related. A combination of (thankfully unfounded) health concerns and the beast of a project we've undertaken has meant little thought has been applied to tasting beer for the past half year, so it's about time the taste buds were exercised again.

And what better way to get back into the swing of things than a German porter, apparently brewed to a style previously made in the DDR (but I have to take their word on that).

Freigeist Bierkultur have an interesting range of beers, all brewed at the Helios Braustelle in Cologne, hosts of the Festival der Bierkulturen. Their Deutscher Porter is no exception, at least from the description. The ingredients include salt, and brettanomyces is involved in the fermentation process. Pouring an opaque black, with just the faintest traces of ruby highlights around the edges, this 8% ABV porter hints at soft vanilla toffee, light coffee, licks of licorice and a squeeze of soft summer fruits on the nose. All quite toned down, but there nonetheless. So it was quite a kick in the teeth when the first mouthful delivered not a rich, full-bodied, fruity, chocolatey porter, but a bite of a lemon. It's sour. Not Cantillon sour, but significantly so nonetheless. It's refreshing. The expected roasty or chocolate flavours are playing sixth fiddle somewhere, but the fruits, raspberry and green apples perhaps, creep out from under the lemon to leave a pleasing tartness on the tongue. A slight oiliness at the back of the throat may come from the salt, but it's hard to say where that comes in to play.

Freigeist's Deutscher Porter puts me in mind of De Dolle's Cosmos Porter, but sadly doesn't reach the same levels of complexity. A one-trick pony? Perhaps, but it's a lovely, surprising beer all the same, and shockingly easy to drink, the light body belying the relatively hefty alcohol content. In fact, when I think of other German beers with that level of alcohol, the drinking experience couldn't be more different, and for that, I salute them.

Saturday 30 April 2011

Blind tasting Alpirsbacher Ambrosius

Two weeks ago, after a couple of days in Bamberg with two of my oldest friends from Ireland, and on the eve of my Birthday, we had an ideal opportunity to put a bottle of Alpirsbacher Ambrosius -- a new German Tripel released shortly before Christmas 2010 and the first of two German Tripels I came across since, the other being being the Franz Anton Schäffler Triple -- through its paces against a couple of Belgian Tripels and a German wildcard in a blind tasting.

After a couple of days in Bamberg, this was going to be kill or cure, but we were dedicated.

Beer A I found had a warm, sugary, toffee-apple aroma. the first taste also felt warming, with big, soft raisin flavours. Somewhat thin on the mouthfeel, sugary malts up front, a light fruitiness, suggesting raisins, cut short by a pine-like bitterness that hangs around for quite a while. In summary, sugary, fruity, with a little too much residual sugars for my liking, but with a pleasant warming effect.

Beer B had very little aroma, and what it delivered  was more along the lines of alcohol, with slight marker/acetone notes. Light and alomost wine-like, with a grape skin tannic edge bringing up the rear. Slight bitter almond/marzipan traces.. Overall, fruity in a grape-like way, juicy and a crisp tannic finish that I liked.

Beer C had similarities to B in many ways, but it upped things on the fruitiness. Pears, apples, oak-like vanilla notes. Dry, almost cranberry-like in the feel, but buffered by a light candy-like middleground. Quite an assertive bitter finish, with that dryness pushing  a herb-like (it had me in mind of thyme or oregano) bitterness well to the front of the tongue. Overall, crisp, dry, nice fruity, orangy notes. My favourite of the four.

Beer D reeked of corn. That boiling corn on the cob kind of aroma. Really off-putting compared to the other three. Sugary to the taste, but with a cleansing German hop character, citric?lemon and slightly herbal. A pleasant warming pepperiness to the finish. Overall, like sweetcorn with hops.

I knew what the four beers were, so was the only one able to take a guess what each was. As it turns out, I was able to name all correctly.
Beer A: Alpirsbacher Amrosius
Beer B: St. Bernardus Tripel
Beer C: Westmalle Tripel
Beer D: Andechser Bergbock Hell

The reasoning? D was clearly the odd one out. It had to be the Doppelbock. It was included on the off chance that the Ambrosius bore more resemblance to its German brother than the Belgian cousins. Definitely not! The Ambrosius stood out in that it had a malty sweetness (sorry Mark) that just made it typically German to me. It's hard to get a strong German beer that doesn't have a sugary consistancy, and this had at least hints of that. B and C felt more refined to my taste, so had to be the Belgians. C stole it for me, so I subconsciously assumed it to be the Westmalle, as I hadn't tried the Bernardus Tripel before.

In the end, the Ambrosius is a fine beer, but to my taste, it doesn't come near the surprisingly crisp and refreshing  levels that the Belgians hit, even with beers at that level of alcohol. Also, it's not bottle conditioned. Not a trace of yeast in the bottle, so I'm not sure I hold much hope for my remaining bottle developing much in the cellar. Time will tell.

Monday 11 April 2011

Braufactum Darkon, Roog and Indra.

A little while ago I mentioned the very attractively packaged, own-branded beers from BraufactuM. This was in the context of exclusivity, as the presentation, and the price of these beers seems aimed at a particular type of person. But are they any good? I was lucky enough to have the chance to take three of their beers for a little taste drive.

BraufactuM Darkon  is described as an "elegant Schwarzbier" at 5.4% ABV. It has a light roast and toffee aroma, with some fruitiness. The initial impression on the flavour is that of a thin malt drink with a pleasant raisin fruitiness with light coffee and chocolate notes. Remarkably floral at the back, it delivers a pronounced herbal  bitterness, washed away by thin caramel flavours. It's nice that this bitterness gives a sharp contrast to the sweet and roast flavours, but it ends on a bit of a bilious sour note. Better when drinking, and not good to stop so. Interesting, but not a balance of flavours that works for me. Well, not the sick.

Their Roog Rauchweizen raises the ABV to a respectable 6.6%, and pours  dark, muddy brown. It delivers a light smoke aroma, gentle, but certainly present, on top of a classic Weizen banana-like foundation, combining into a smoked-fruit effect. Rather good! If has a soft, juicyfruit/bubblegum and strawberry-like flavour, with a spritzy carbonic bite, followed by a very pleasant, sweet smokiness. Well-balanced and hitting all the classic Weizen buttons with the added dimension of smoke, I have to say, this is the best Rauchweizen I've had. Others, including the more famous ones from Schlenkerla and Spezial, just didn't get the balance right, in my mind. Lovely.

And on to the BraufactuM Indra, a 6.8% Weizen India Pale Ale. I was looking forward to this one most, to see what a German interpretation, including Cascade hops, would turn out like. With a lively carbonation and that orange hue, it looks every bit the Weißbier, but that's where it stops. I have to admit, my first impression was Wow! A huge grapefruit aroma leaps out from under that dense, fluffy head. It has an interesting mix of flavours. The hops elements are way to the fore, with grapefruit and lemon banging it out. There's a grainy middleground, somewhat mealy, but with a robust fruitiness suggesting orange, pears and a light caramel. I'm not sure what yeast was used, as it has none of the hallmark Weizen flavours that I expected, but perhaps it just makes heavy use of wheat. I have to admit, I made no other notes as it was a complete distraction of a beer.

So, are they worth it? Well, that depends. Flavour-wise, I was really impressed. The Roog, at €4.99 for 330ml was the first Rauchweizen I tried that I felt really worked, and it exceeded expectations. Similarly, I’m a big fan of the American interpretation of IPAs, and the Indra checked all of the boxes, and then some. Simply brilliant. But at €5.99 for 330ml, I simply cannot justify that as a regular purchase, especially as it is most likely made locally. Sadly, that means that while at best, they may expect  an occasional purchase for curiosity, they won’t be getting regular custom from me (sad for me too!). I can’t help wondering if this kind of pricing is shooting themselves in the foot, but then there will always be someone with more money than sense.

Many thanks to my friend and whisky pimp, Rüdiger, for sharing these with me. I'm tempted to try more.

Friday 1 April 2011

The Session #50: How do they make you buy beer?

A few weeks ago, I put forward my thoughts that the general lack of variety in German beer was not so much to do with the Reinheitsgebot as with the general conservativeness of the German public at large. Basically, despite the fact that the Reinheitsgebot allows for a massive variety of beer styles, they generally don’t go too far in Germany (and I acknowledge gratefully the likes of Altbier, Kölsch, Rauchbier and other regional specialties). But when there is something clearly different to the norm, how does the Brewery or beer seller try to tempt the regular German public to make that leap beyond Pils and Helles? Exclusivity seems to be the keyword, at least when the marketers are involved.

A little while ago, I mentioned Alpirsbacher Ambrosius, a German-brewed Belgian-style Tripel which, as one regional paper put it, was the most expensive German beer available. It was described as a “gourmet” beer, and much was made of the fact that cork and cages were used, presumably adding to the desired comparisons with wine. At €8.60 for 750ml, it’s not prohibitively expensive, and certainly not the most expensive German beer I’ve seen to date, with that honour belonging to the Schorschbräu 32 or 43, retailing at about €60 for 330ml. At least in that case, production was extremely limited, and a lot of materials and man-hours went into creating a one-off, but I digress. The point is, the exclusivity and “specialness” of Ambrosius were used to try and make people buy it. Although it disregards the fact that the Trappists were doing this for some time, bear in mind that it’s pretty hard to find such beers in German stores, so yes, in a way it’s “new” 'round these parts, and this apparent uniqueness in itself is a draw to purchase. Does it taste any good? Is it worth the cash? Well, time will tell, I’ve got two bottles of Ambrosius in the cellar, waiting for an opportune moment to blind taste against a Trappist beer and a few others, so at least that trapped me!

Really pushing all the exclusivity buttons is BraufactuM. Their website features a small selection of beers form Brooklyn, Marston’s, Birrificio Italiano, Birra Baladin, and their own BraufactuM label. It’s beautifully presented, with the menu split between “courses”, sumptuous images of the beers, tasting notes and detailed information on the ingredients. Really, this is the way beer information should be given, but the work that went into this could only be possible with the small selection presented. Put it this way, it really made me want to buy them all! But! The prices!

Their own label, brewed at an unknown location, includes some really great-looking beers, Indra, a Weizen India Pale Ale, Roog, a smoked Weizen and Darkon, a Schwarzbier, all relatively reasonably priced, while still oozing exclusivity due to the classy packaging (thanks to a friend, I tried all three of these two nights ago, but I’ll return to those in a later post). But I balk at paying €17.99 for a 330ml bottle of 13% Arrique barley wine (€54 per litre)! I mean, made with local ingredients, how can it be that expensive? That’s where style and exclusivity can stay out in the cold.

A case in point, and returning to Belgian-style Tripels in Germany: as it happens, Ambrosius wasn’t the first of this Belgian Tripel styles made in Germany. Another such is F.A Schäffler Triple, from Schäffler-Bräu a 10.5% beer, fermented with Trappist yeast, and costing €14 for 750ml in an Edeke supermarket. It fits the bill for exclusivity on price, and the branding does suggest a touch of classiness, with a little booklet explaiing the finer points. According to Ratebeer, Härte 10, is the very same beer, rebadged. The label of Härte 10 says it's 10%, uses Trappist yeast, and is decidedly crap looking, with a clipart kind of feel about it. Check out that cheesy diamond! On the back, it names Idar-Obersteiner-Bierspezialitaeten*, so, an own label of a beer handler in the middle of Rheinland-Pfalz, with no indication of the brewery, so presumably Ratebeer had some other information to go by. And the price of Härte 10? About €1.80 for 500ml. How’s that for an illustration of how the brand, the label, the exclusivity is meant to draw people in, and the more it can be ratcheted up , the more they expect people to pay.

But what is it like? If you weren't being swayed by the classy label, and the most advanced corking system you've ever seen (the Zork Cork), would it taste as good? Blind tasting time! Three of us put the F.A. Schäffler Triple against the Härte 10... well, Tripel.

Beer A for me had a broad, sweet, fruity aroma, I want to say lychees, but that sounds pretentious. Bubble gum, with aged red apples. The flavour is really candy-like, with pear drops and an amplified juicyfruit chewing gum and banana. Very sweet and sticky though.

Beer B was very similar in many of the core flavours, but different enough that we all noticed it. For me, it was a bit thinner, a little sharper, and had more brown sugar than a load of candy, and a pineapple like edge.

All in all, I preferred B. Though both shared common elements, I felt B was more refined, and because of that,  I declared that it was the more expensive of the two. I was wrong, and so was my colleague, Rüdiger.

If they are the same beer, and I think there was enough in common for me to believe that, I wonder what made them different. Age, storage, all of that could play a part. Maybe the batches that don't meet a standard get rebadged? The main thing is, if they are the same, how can this price differential be explained? I can only think it's the aura of exclusivity you're paying for, and that alone can be enough to make you want to buy a beer, despite being an otherwise clear-thinking human being.

And I have another bottle of each!

*Their website doesn't work, but they do list  Schäffler-Bräu

Thursday 17 March 2011

Irish beer today. Not the usual stuff.

Around the middle of March, Irish people get stuck into a little bit of navel gazing, and papers are filled with articles assessing how the rest of the world views Ireland. These days, most might refer to the current economic plight of the Nation, but invariably, people abroad often express their thoughts of Ireland in terms of the craic, and “the beer”. Of course, in Ireland’s case, “the beer” might as well be singular, as the iconic pint of the black stuff is like an avatar of Irishness the world over.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that. In the early 1800s, Ireland was scattered with breweries and distilleries, and at least every small town seemed to have at least one or the other (we’ve already  identified over 160 breweries from the 1830s). By the 1960s, most were gone, bought out and turned from being independent producers of beer, into bottlers under the yoke of one of the big breweries. In places like Dublin and Cork, choice held out for as long as it could for the discerning customer, until eventually, the likes of Phoenix, Anchor, Sweetman, Findlaters, Manders and Thunder were undercut, shut down, bought out, assimilated or built over by the big brewers. By the 1950’s, Dublin had gone from over 22 breweries to 1. Cork went from over 25 to 2, and now, even one of those has gone. And that is how everyone else now sees “the beer” in Ireland. A monoculture, owned by large international corporations. The most Irish thing about these beers is the history, and the shamrockery branding.

The Anchor Brewery, Dublin, c. 1889.

But of course, things change, and in typical Irish fashion, there were small revolutions, when forward-thinking Irish men and women sought choice and quality. In the early-to-mid 1990s, a first, small wave of Irish micro breweries made brave moves against the tide. One has to admire them, putting small, often two or three-man operations against the incumbent powers that be. For some, the introduction of staged tax rates on brewers came too late, and the likes of the Dublin Brewing Company, North King Street - who reintroduced D’Arcy’s Stout to Dublin after the the original Anchor Brewery succumbed to the onslaught of the bigger brewery in 1926 - repeated history, and could not continue to fight against the status quo. Others, like Biddy Early, fell by the wayside, as Irish people chose to stay with the brand they knew best, regardless. But some, like The Porterhouse, Franciscan Well and Carlow Brewing, thrived, a testament to their bravado and business acumen

In the last few years, a second wave has begun, with the likes of the Hooker Brewery, first bringing their pale, hoppy ale, Galway Hooker, to punters in Galway in 2006, and quickly spreading to other parts of the country (something I was very glad of, as it became my regular tipple when (frequently) out in Dublin). Even over the past year, there’s been several new breweries, including Dungarvan, Trouble and Metalman, all operated by small groups of family or friends who brewed at home, and all taking the big leap into commercial brewing. It's both a sad indication of the near-death experience of Irish brewing and a thrilling feeling of rejuvenation, that we now list 15 microbreweries on the island of Ireland, when about 20 years ago there were just three massive brewing companies present.

What these breweries have in common, is first and foremost a love of the beer, and drive to bring new tastes to the Irish drinking classes, although often with a nod towards what is considered traditional for Irish beers. It is this spirit that Beoir encourages, just as it encourages people to try them out, and see what wonderful Irish taste experiences are sitting behind the bar, or on the supermarket shelf

The main thing is, in times likes these, if you want to celebrate Irishness with an Irish beer, why not pick out a beer that has been hand-crafted, with love and pride, by a small Irish company. Give something back, help these small businesses, and enjoy something that is delicious, top quality, and actually Irish-owned.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Maybe it's not the Reinheitsgebot. Or is it?


Last night, a friend on Beoir sent me a link to an article on The Slate, by Christian DeBenedetti, that describes the decline of German beer culture. I think it's fair to say that it's written from an American perspective, at least some of the tone is, how shall I put it, celebrating the US role in the current beer universe. Regardless, it's hard to argue with the figures, tallying as they do with those I read in the regional daily a few weeks ago. Beer consumption is on the decline in Germany, and all sorts of reasons are given in the broadsheets; the changing demographic, with the aging population naturally drinking less, but with the younger people drinking differently, not taking up the beer glass.

One thing about DeBenedetti's piece had me nodding straight away was the concept that the Reinheitsgebot is stifling German beer, much in the same way that it wiped out the rich variety of beers that existed prior to the Bavarians insisting the 'gebot be taken on as a condition of unification in 1871. I've gone on a bit about that myself, with the occasional uncharacteristic rant, but I began thinking, much as I have disliked the Reinheitsgebot (and I do think it's bollox), it's not really the law itself that irritates me, but the way it's used, and the way it has insinuated itself into the psyche of the average, beer-drinking German.

A bad workman blames his tools, and I'm beginning to think that it's easy to point to the Reinheitsgebot and say "Look! It's a straitjacket, and the German breweries are stuck in 1516! There's no innovation, and they're being left behind." For the beer aficionado, it's easy to look to the US, the UK, Sweden, Italy, all sorts of places, stroke one's chin(s) and decide that Germany is a basket case. Maybe it is. The fact is, there's masses of room for innovation, even staying within the strictures of the Reinheitsgebot. Brewers don't even have to stay within the limits if they don't want to. The thing is, they like to, which is fine, but by choice, the majority of small breweries in Germany produce the same thing as every other small brewery. A pils, a helles, a dunkel a weissbier. Why? The Reinheitsgebot doesn't make them do that.

Perhaps it's a more general societal thing. Germany is pretty stable. One might say even boring, where they need the likes of Carneval/Fasching as an almost State-sanctioned reason to dress up, go out, get drunk and make an arse of themselves. Could this stability simply be manifesting in liquid-form as the staple beer types? Are the majority of German brewers simply just playing it safe? What does this lack of innovation have to do with the Reinheitsgebot at all? I'm beginning to think nothing at all. Is it because they are afraid, or because they know the average German beer drinker likes it that way? I know it's hard to sell the idea of non-German beer to Germans, but I found that most people are like anywhere else. Once they try it, they'll be intrigued by different flavours. Without something in your hand to get them to try, you're wasting your breath, and you will get the occasional sneer of "that's not beer".

So, is it the people that are stifling change in German beer culture? Perhaps. Why? Because they believe in the Reinheitsgebot? Maybe. Would a regular person care as long as they have a tasty beer in their grubby paws? Not likely.

There is innovation though, if you know where to look. But perhaps not as much as I'd like to think. I thought it was quite damning that DeBenedetti mentions the likes of the Weyermann pilot brewery and Cologne's Braustelle, and to realise I've tried all of these. In fact, that little event organised by Braustelle  last year had most of them gathered together (and many were quite delicious). I began to wonder if DeBenedetti had been to the same event or read my blog. Is that the limit of "innovation" or rather, reaching out? No, there are others. Andreas Gaenstaller and his wonderful Affumicator, some small breweries in Berlin putting erstwhile verboten ingredients in their beers (no idea if they're any good though), new abbey beers, albeit conforming to the Reinheitsgebot. I'm sure there's more, but even with a declining number of breweries (and that it by no means new, as two decent-sized breweries closed down in the late 80s/early 90s where I live), there's a hell of a lot to get through, and these small breweries don't get the 15 minutes of fame, or longer, that the "hot" breweries of the US and UK get.

Jeff Pickthall made a good point: "at least German mediocrity is of a higher standard than British mediocrity. I'll give them that." A bit strong perhaps, but in the main, and despite the horrendous sameness that at first glance pervades the brewpubs of Germany, this country still provides the world, and the drinking classes, with some damn fine, refreshing beer. Long may it continue.

Monday 21 February 2011

The Rochefort Files

When I first started really exploring the world of beer -- beyond the big-brand, ubiquitous beers that adorned the bars of Ireland at the time -- one family of beers that really hit a home run were the strong Belgian ales, particularly the Abbey and Trappist beers. Westmalle (usually the Tripel) and Chimay (Blue or Red) were the norm, as they were fairly readily available in the likes of The Porterhouse, where most of my beer exploration of the late 90s was carried out. My lust for these beers waned over the years as I began to prefer hop bombs, and I began finding them a little overly sweet. But I'd have one now and again, particularly if I found myself in Belgium. But for some reason, until recently I had never tried the Rochefort beers. In fact, it's kind of weird to realise that Rochefort were the only Trappist beer that I haven't tried (or at least not that I can recall)!

Luckily, thanks to the likes of Bier Zwerg, I can buy these kinds of beers, even in a place like Germany where it's really hard to find such "exotics" (bearing in mind I now have a couple of bottles of the new Ambrosius).

Makes sense to start with the baby, Rochefort 6, though a chubby kid at 7.5% . A chestnut-tinged amber with a few motes of yeast in suspension and pretty sprightly carbonation helping deliver a creamy head. An odd aroma, slightly soapy, light pine and hard pears. Inviting, nonetheless. It sits easily on the tongue, all light caramel, sweet orange marmalade and raisins. A little thin perhaps, considering it's weight, but its long, fruity, raisiny and warming finish makes it a simple pleasure.

Plus 2 to the Rochefort 8. This turns things up a bit in more ways than just numbers, with a sweeter, burnt sugar aroma, and oodles of dried fruits. Plumper than its little brother, it delivers more big boy toffee than soft caramel flavours. Plummy and figgy, with a vinous edge, chewy is a good word to describe it, and I really like it for that. Despite the luscious fruitiness, it finishes quite dry with a tea-like tannic finish that makes it quite refreshing. It's a subtle bugger though, and being so drinkable you don't notice the 9.2% ABV sneaking up on you.

So much so, that by the time I got to the Rochefort 10, I was tucking into bread, cheese, salamis and hot mustard, a perfect combination with these beers, and I really wasn't bothered taking any more notes, so with a fresh palate, I sampled the 10 anew the following evening.

As one would expect, everything is bigger again. It's darker looking, and more broody, with little of the effervescence of the smaller siblings. The dried fruits, so plentiful in the aroma of the 8, are turned to 11 here, with an accompanying roasty backdrop and booziness. Dark toffee and muscavado sugar up front, immediately followed by a warming alcohol burst. There's a lingering fruit element, oddly reminiscent of soft summer fruits, with strains of strawberry and raspberry, lending an ever-so-slight tartness that takes the edge off the more sticky, sugary foundation. Even at 11.3%, this is dangerously drinkable, showing a wonderful balance.

Of the three, I think my preference is ever so-slightly towards the Rochefort 8, but both it and the 10 will find a semi-permanent place in the new cellar.

Oh, and I can't drink a bottle without this going on in my head.

For bonus material, especially if you remember the start of the show, check out this answering machine message collection! :)

Monday 14 February 2011

Hmmmm, Rauch!

I'm always pleased to come across a new Rauchbier, and what better place to get one than from Bamberg and the surrounding area, this time Merkendorf (no Mr BeerNut, not Merkin Dorf) and Brauerei Hummel. I've had a few of their beers before, and found them a slightly mixed bunch, but generally postive in a decent thirst-quenching way. But could the Hummel Bräu Räucherla Märzen beat the beloved Schlenkerla?

A deep, burnished copper with a little sediment, and a frothy beige head, it certainly looks the part. The aroma delivers healthily decent levels of smoked hamminess, but this time wrapped in a candyfloss sweetness, with undertones of banana and tropical fruits. The flavour has smoked bacon very much to the fore, which is the way I like my Rauchbiers, but it's soft and pillowy, cushioned by a sweet, light caramel. The fruit evident in the aroma flows in at the back, serving to consolidate the sweet smoke flavours rather than distract. It's somehow thin on the body, perhaps light is a better word, when these flavours make you expect a chewy affair, but this does make it very easy to sink. My only complaint is a slightly soapy tang to the finish, which is otherwise pleasantly smoked, lightly greasy and altogether very enjoyable.

Sunday 6 February 2011

The World of Welde

Having lost my laptop hard drive to an accident last weekend, I'm playing catch up, and contemplating the costs involved in getting back all the stuff that I hadn't backed up (a shameful amount, actually).  Most of my beer photos, for one, but at least most are taken for this blog, so their purpose has already been fulfilled. For these Welde beers, I have to fall back on stock images. I'm sure you'll forgive me (not that I give a shit at this moment in time).

Welde No. 1 is one of those beers that used to keep popping p at summer parties at my in-laws. I have to say, it made very little impression, with the most memorable thing being the twisty bottle design. Well, that and some dubious advertising that tries to suggest the bottle is inspired by the curves of a woman's body. Go figure!

Nevertheless, while doing a little beer shopping before Christmas, I saw they had produced a special beer hopped 100% with US cascade hops, I was intrigued, but thought I should get a regular beer to compare with. Welde No.1 1 weighs in as a standard 4.8% Pils (sorry, Premium Pils). A buttery gold with a short-lived, sparkly head, the aroma delivers light citrus (lime) notes and a lavender floral tone deep down. Promising, but while it delivers a reasonably nice bready maltiness, and some of the lime and floral flavours promised in the aroma, it's thin, with a metallic edge and perhaps a hint of skunking. The finish is mealy-dry with a hint of corn and... well, meh! Mr. Skunk came to visit for sure. I can't help wondering what it's like fresher, and not served from a green bottle.

So, cue the Welde Jahrgangsbier 2011 USA (2010 was Australia), hopped exclusively with one of my favourite hop varieties, cascade. The specs suggest it's leaning into US IPA territory at 6.8% ABV, but there was no info on the hopping rates. Needless to say, I was hopeful, but those hopes seemed to be dashed right after pulling the cap off. Where was that classic cascade aroma? You almost have to snort the beer to detect it, so buried is it under a broad yeasty aroma. The flavour does deliver orange and mandarin at decent levels, but it's placid, playing a complementary role to a lightly carbonic caramel that takes the lead. It's not bad, but is really dominated by that yeasty character (sure, it's unfiltered, leaving lots of yeast in the bottom of the bottle, but extremely unlikely to be bottle conditioned). The finish is pleasantly spicy, but again, more doughy yeast. It's better then the example of the No. 1 I had, but boggy and muffled.

That photo makes it look really dark. It's not.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Worthington White Shield

It's funny. In September 2009, Mark Dredge sent over a box of beers almost like a pre Blogger Beer Swap exchange, if you will, with him receiving a bunch of home brew and some German beers. As well as some lovely Ramsgate, Hopdaemon and Thornbridge beers, Mark had sent a bottle of Worthington White Shield, a beer I'd read much about, but never had the pleasure. Well, I had the pleaseure last May, but only now realised I'd never posted my notes. And what prompted that discovery? Well, thanks to a tweet from Kristy McCready (is there Irish ancestry there) of Molson Coors, a box arrived yesterday morning, containing not just a bottle of Celebration Shield that was offered, but a P2 Imperial Stout, a Red and  a White Shield. My week was made! When I was about to drink the bottle of White Shield that Mark had sent, the Reluctant Scooper had suggested I leave it for another year, but I couldn't. Now, thanks to Molson Coors, I've another, that is going to be left for some time and, along with the Celebration and P2, will take a special place in the cellar.

So what did I think of White Shield last time I tried it? I was really surprised by the intensity of the caramel flavours, like melting demerara sugar followed swiftly by big floral hops, with light juicy-fruit and tannic tones in the mid-ground. A much gentler bitterness than I has expected, but with what I described as a real English feeling, fruity, floral, mild spice, with a brush of tea-like dryness. It leaves a lingering dried apricot, caramel sweetness and those luscious floral hops. I have to admit, I had been expecting something more punchy, but instead was swaddled in a real comfort beer. I'm looking forward to trying it again with a bit of age on it.

Friday 21 January 2011

Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche Doppelbock

Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen. It's a classic. One of those beers that you either love or hate. It leaves no room for ambiguity, or at least not for long. I love it. When I first tried it, about six years ago, I probably wasn't too sure, but after three bottles it won me over. I'm not sure what it is about this beer. Opening it is like opening a smoked ham or bacon. It's sweetly malty, in a crisp, clean way, with toffee, nuts, a touch of fruitiness. Hops bring up the rear, providing a fresh, grassy element to the finish, and perhaps a hint of mintiness. But it's the beechwood smoke that is the star of the show. When you try a Schlenkerla Märzen for the first time, it seems bloody strong, but when you get get acquainted properly, it's a comforting, fireside kind of flavour, simple and honest.

So it was with great anticipation that I placed an order* for a few bottles of Aecht Schlenkerla Eiche Doppelbock, an 8% brew made with oak-smoked malt. On the nose, it's similar at heart to the Märzen, but somehow more salty. If anything, it's possibly more hammy, with almost meaty flavours, a touch of umami lurking in the background. As expected, a good full body and, thankfully, for a German Doppelbock, it's not sickly sweet or gooey in the slightest, just a slight creaminess. Honey, bubblegum. A light carbonic bite and a pear-drop fruitiness add a sharpness to the foreground, while an oily smokiness brings up the rear. It's not overpowering, but strikes a lovely balance between sweet and, dare I say it, savoury, if you can use such a word to describe a beer. It's not a quaffer, like it's older sibling, but demands a bit more attention. Lovely.

*Was very glad that Biershop Bamberg had some left!

Tuesday 18 January 2011

BrewDog Paradox Threesome

Back around May 2009, James from BrewDog kindly sent a mixed box of beers which included a couple bottles of the Paradox Isle of Arran edition (batch 016). Well, that was before I dirtied my bib by publishing this*. I'd been hanging on to these to sample with a whisky nut in work, and since then had also picked up a couple of the Smokehead (batch 015) and Springbank (017) versions, still biding my time. Well, that time more or less went after I moved house to go live in the sticks, but I did know a couple of big whisky fans down where I now live, so New Years Eve was a good opportunity to test drive these beers and share with a German whisky fan.

Paradox Isle of Arran first, pouring a clear, ruby-tinted brown, and exuding rich chocolate and espresso notes, with warming vanilla. Not  as much whisky on palate as expected, but it's there as a delicate counterpoint to the chewy caramel, dried fruits, and lashings of oaky vanilla. As it warms, it shoves out plum jam. Really soft and luscious, with a lightly dry finish. Well worth the wait. One friend said it was like a really good soy sauce, suggesting an umami thing going on. My favourite of the three, perhaps because it had a couple of years on it to round things out.

Paradox Springbank delivers a slightly more peaty note, and feels a little sharper than its Arran sister. A little liquorice, a little more bitter and with light phenolic notes alongside the expected chocolate-caramel goodness. But somehow it has less impact than the softer Arran, and of the three was my least favourite.

And finally the Paradox Smokehead. Just as well we left this till last (well, good judgement I'd say), as it's a powerhouse of peated malts. Turf is prominent, and an iodine-like seaside taste on a strong caramel body. The roasted malts feel more prominent on this, and the heavy flavours made it a great nightcap sipper. Well, that and the Redbreast 12 Year that followed it.

Oh, and the votes of the German jury? Fantastic beers. And they'd be right.

* I can't help wondering if I hadn't broken that news, would the "competition" have developed the way it did, and would Sink the Bismarck have been named as it was. Guess I'll never know. Still, that and this were the most popular posts on this blog. Had to be good for something! :)

Saturday 15 January 2011

Stone Ruination IPA

Another one from my pre-move clearout:

Slightly hazy, pale orange-tinged with a short-lived, loose head, Stone Ruination IPA delivers a candy-like sweet aroma laced with lemon and grapefruit citric stylings. Well, it would, wouldn't it? Despite the label's warning that my palate might be ruined by this 7.7%er, I found it rather tamer than I expected. That's not to say that it isn't crammed with big, fresh hop flavours, with that sherbety zing behind the grapefruit dryness that I like in my favourite American IPAs. The sherbet effect increases as it goes down, but it does begin to become a little one-dimensional. Despite that, it has the right levels of soft caramel sweetness, balanced with the classic drying grapefruit bitterness of an American IPA, to make it very easy to knock back, despite the relatively high ABV.

Tuesday 11 January 2011

The Beer Cellar (in Draft)

Of all the things to look forward to in renovating an old house, the fact I'm now the owner of a couple of 200-year-old vaulted cellars has me disproportionately pleased. They aren't even that big, but they feeeel nice. Even with the scary iron hooks in the ceiling! Some time towards the end of this year, I hope, the cellar pictured below will be dedicated to beer, but in fairness, it'll be low down on a very long list of things to do.
Slightly odd perspective, but you get the idea.

But I might as well start planning, right? I'm not a well organised beer geek or collector. I buy at random, when I get the chance, and occasionally buy or brew a few beers that would benefit from being set aside for a while, or at least I'd like to see how they develop after a year or so. Quite often, I end up ageing something that wasn't meant to be kept past the short best before date, but that's down to lazy cellarmanship and losing bottles at the back of a shelf. Things I've kept in the past have included my own barley wines and imperial stouts, the likes of Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, BrewDog Paradox, Tokyo* (bought 6 bottles over a year ago and still haven't tried it! Idiot...), random Belgian stuff, random US stuff, no German stuff (well, I now have two Ambrosia). Never really planned for ageing, apart from my own brews, and I know I should, because Adrian Tierney-Jones says so!

So, at the risk of sounding elitist, what would you buy now, to keep for a year, two years, five years or more? What's out there now that is worth grabbing a few bottles of and keeping them, just to see how they mellow and mature? I've plenty of time.

I'll pre-empt one suggestion, as I've just ordered a few bottles of Orval, and should probably order more :)

Sunday 9 January 2011

Old and Sleepy Dogs

Only realised how many beers seem to feature dogs of some sort...

Wrong time of year for describing this, but when I drank Gotlands Bryggeri Sleepy Bulldog Summer Pale Ale, it was Summer, and hot! I'd picked this up in a huge shopping mall in Kista, a little north of Stockholm while on a very quick trip, less than 24 hours in Sweden. I really have to plan trips better. Sleepy Bulldog has a strange aroma, reminiscent of burnt toast, almonds and fresh-cut nettles. It's thirst-quenching, but only delivers a fairly thin, green-hop flavoured juice, and a dry, metallic finish. Let sleeping dogs lie, I say.

Boxer Old is one of the few Swiss beers I've tried. Actually, I think the most I tried in one sitting was in Moeder Lambic, Brussels when they had a bunch of Swiss beer on special. Boxer isn't quite in the same category, being a simple, buttery-gold lager. It gives off a minerally aroma, grassy and light. The flavour is also light, but refreshing on a hot day, with hints of lime, leaving a vaguely oily-feeling finish and a gentle, grass-tinged bitterness. Could be worse!

Thursday 6 January 2011

Black Beer Chili (Session 47)

I haven't written a Session post in ages, almost two years it seems, so when I saw the call for this months Session topic, Cooking with Beer, I reckoned it was time as, after all, I cook with beer as much as I can. Anything stew-like normally gets a dose of beer thrown in, usually on a one for the pot, one for me basis. I don' keep very good track of what I try, but on some dishes I make regularly, I've tried all sorts of beers in different quantities to find the right balance. Chili is one of those dishes I make with great regularity, and let's face it, is there a beer geek who doesn't have a chili recipe that includes beer? I'll be surprised if this is the only Session post with a chili recipe! Last New Year's Eve was the right moment for my last batch, but with some tweaks on my normal recipe to make it a bit special for a party. The recipe, or an approximation of it, is below.

I like adding beer to things. In small quantities, like in the chili below, it adds a little depth, a touch of sweetness, and a little bite. Too much, and it might dominate in the wrong way, especially true with bitter beers. I've made beer sauces that just turned too bitter (I made one for a leg of wild boar I was roasting using Hövels Original), and Irish stews that were too roasty from too-generous a helping of that cooking stout, Guinness, so the choice of beer can make huge difference. I think a good way of choosing a beer for cooking with, at lease on a first pass, is whether you'd drink that beer with the food anyway. A Weissbier gravy goes really with pork, for example (and some day I'll share my cider/apple juice/cranberry sauce, which I found goes great with roast duck).

But experimentation is the best fun, and throwing a few glugs of the beer you are drinking while cooking can sometimes produce the best results, a bit like this recipe. Let's see if I can remember this. For eight people, you will need:
  • 1Kg Ground beef
  • about 150g Smoked blutwurst (say a 10-15cm length), finely diced
  • 2 Onions, diced
  • Red pepper, diced
  • 4 Garlic cloves, crushed
  • Olive oil
  • 6 tsp Paprika
  • 4 tsp Cumin powder
  • 4 tsp Chilli powder
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • 1/4 tsp Cinnamon (optional, I sometimes add a little)
  • 1/2 tsp Cayenne Pepper, or more to taste
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 tsp Crushed black pepper
  • 2 Bay leaves
  • 2 400g cans of peeled tomatoes, diced up a bit
  • 2 tbsp Tomato puree
  • 1 330ml bottle of Köstritzer, or other similar Schwarzbier
  • 300ml of water or beef stock
  • 2 400g cans Red kidney beans, drained
  • 2 400g cans Black beans, drained
  • 1 400g can of those big-ass white beans, drained
  • 2-4 pieces of Dark chocolate

What to do with all that stuff:
  • Large pot, little olive oil, brown that beef, draining fluids so it fries a little, and doesn't stew. When done, put into a bowl and set aside.
  • In the same pot, a little more olive oil, fry the onions till soft, throw in diced red pepper, crushed garlic and smoked blutwurst, and continue till onions just begin to brown.
  • Return browned beef to the pot.
  • Add all the herbs and spices, except the bay leaf, stir and fry for a minute or two.
  • Add the diced, canned tomatoes and tomato puree, stir.
  • Add the beer and water/stock, throw in the bay leaves. Stir, and leave till it's bubbling a bit again.
  • Add the drained beans, stir, drop in the pieces of chocolate.
  • If you have fresh (or frozen) chillis, drop a few in whole (I like the chocolate habanero).
  • Turn the heat down low, put on tight-fitting lid and leave to lightly simmer for at least an hour, or more if you can.
I sometimes leave the lid off for the last half hour to let it reduce a bit, but if it doesn't look thick enough for your tastes, add a tablespoon of corn flour, stir well, and leave to simmer for 30 mins or so.

Serve with a little sour cream, an array of chilli sauces to allow people to heat it up to the level they like (this one is fairly mild, as my 5 year old son loves it) and whatever other stuff you like with chili. I'll also put out a small bowl of dark chocolate pieces, for people to throw into their bowl, but be careful, a little goes a long way. And of course, serve with the beer you made it with.

Perfect for freezing, and even better after a day or two sitting in the pot. Guten Appetit!

Black and Brown Dogs (one with a fish head)

During operation depletion, the pre-move cleansing of my cellar, I dipped into a few bottles I'd been hanging onto, some of which, like these two, were brought back from Virginia for me by my colleague, and whisky pimp, Ruediger.

I was a little afraid of the Dogfish Head World Wide Stout, being, as it was, brewed with a ridiculous amount of barley. But boy does this 18%er smell good. Port-like, vinous, slightly oakey vanilla and a cherry-like fruitiness. Tastes quite port-like too, with dried fruits, vanilla, a tannic dryness and a light touch of a lime-like sourness tickling around the eddges. With that alcohol content, it's not surprising it leaves a warming feeling, and it's big body finishes with a long lasting raisin sweetness, coupled with a cranberry dryness and more than a suggestion of American hops. Lovely. So lovely, I didn't bother my arse taking a pic.

The Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale was from a clutch of large bottles I'd been hoarding a bit, so it had to go. With a nice juicy, vanilla, caramel-toffee, it has a definite roasted edge that gives just enough bite to balance what could easily have become too sweet. Despite being primarily malt-driven, there's a creeping hoppiness that delivers a piney, black pepper flavour. Really quite moreish. Did I say juicy?

Thanks Ruedi (I did pay you for them, didn't I?)!

Monday 3 January 2011

How to improve a Trappist beer.

A recent article in our regional daily, the Rhein-Neckar Zeitung, grabbed my attention simply because it had a photo of beer. Not that unusual in a German paper perhaps, but this short piece went under the title "Der Champagner des Biertrinkers". Another one, I thought. It opens describing the beer as smelling of malt, and hops (well, that's a good start), and tasting of sweet malt, elegant hops and a malty-fruity finish. So far so un-champagne-y. Brewed in 2010, it says, it will develop well in the bottle till 2017. Ok, that sounds more interesting, as most Germans seem to prefer drinking the beer as fresh as possible. But what is it?

Described by the RNZ as Germany's most expensive beer*, at €8.45 for 750ml, Abteibier (Abbey beer) Ambrosius from the Alpirsbacher Klosterbräuerei was released just before Christmas, and is being marketed as a "Gourmet-Bier", and a new type of beer for a new type of niche market in Germany. At this point, I was thinking about Estrella Damm's Inedit (which I was able to try thanks to TheBeerNut), but at least Ambrosius doesn't seem to be billed as being designed for food pairing, but much is made of the fact it is corked and caged, like many a Belgian beer, seemingly signifying that it's "gourmet". Wolfgang Stempfl, MD of Brauakademie Doemens, and described as the leader of Biersommelier development in the German-speaking lands, is quoted as saying that the time was ripe for Germany to have a "noble beer", and that Germany was missing "Gourmet-Biere" like they have had in Belgium for a long time

Fair enough, I suppose, and the paper said that that the Abbey beer resembles the well-known Belgian Trappist beers, which makes it sound really interesting. But then the crunch. They go on to say that it is of higher quality than the Trappist beers due to being brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot. I almost wept. Lars, however, made a very good point that this was a "lovely unintentional parody of German attitude to Reinhetsgebot." And he's right, of course. How could you not love this neck-like-a-jockey's-bollox attitude that a beer type, so beloved of so many people, could be improved by application of the Reinheitsgebot.

So, only one way to see. I've ordered a couple of bottles. I should really do a blind tasting, but what should this honey-coloured, 7.7% Abbey beer be compared to? Suggestions welcome below, but bear in mind, it's tough to get Trappist beers here (although I do have some Rochefort 6, 8 and 10 in the cellar).

You can see a tasting of sorts (wondering what they compare it to), and an interview with the brewer and others on

*I really think Schorschbräu*'s 30%+ beers would take that record, at something like 90 Euro for 330ml.