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 SWR.de.

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