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.