Opinion and rants, Reviews and events

Session 119 – Discomfort Beer

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This post is a contribution to Beer Blogging Friday where a host volunteers to choose a topic for bloggers to write about and then collates the responses.  This time,  Alec Latham has chosen the topic of “Discomfort Beer”, and contributions are focused on beers that challenged, disgusted, or changed the opinion of the writer.

Back in about 2011, I thought I ‘knew’ about beer, mainly because I’d successfully booked a trip to Brussels in 2006 and it coincided with the annual Brussels beer weekend – not that I knew it was on. My partner and I enjoyed it so much that we roped in a few others for a return trip the year after, and the year after that.
With these repeat visits, I had chucked back what I thought at the time were exceptionally strong beers, in a rather typically cavalier youngish Brit abroad fashion. We shared and tried a list of beers that I cannot recall in much detail, and I certainly didn’t really make any attempt to learn much about them at the time. Beer was beer, even Belgian beer. We laughed at the silly outfits of the brewers at the parade, and even made some jokes about the name of some bloke called Michael Jackson sitting in a tent with a load of books he was signing.

As the quote goes ‘the past is a foreign country’, and although in this instance that was literally true, it was my last visit to the Beer weekend in 2011 that demonstrates the figurative truth behind it, and which relates to the topic for this session.

‘One Boon Gooze please’, I said as I approached Boon’s stall. ‘Ok…coming up’ said the hesitant server who had obviously dealt with plenty of oblivious tourists ordering his produce that weekend, and pulling the same mystified/disgusted expression that was to wash over my face in approximately three minutes. My last few tokens of the weekend were handed over, and I looked forward to my last beer of the festival on a Sunday afternoon that had been mercifully dry, compared to the heavy showers of the other sessions.

One swift gulp later, I was wondering what exactly it was that I’d ordered. Was this beer? It smelt like sweaty cider and cheese, and it certainly didn’t taste like what I’d come to expect from Belgian beer – sweet and strong, with or without fruit. Even the Coconut beer we made our friends order as a kind of initiation tasted more palatable than this. Still, not being a person not to finish his beer, I persisted and finished my glass. I thought ‘I’ll take a photo of this, so I don’t order it again next year’, which is the photo above.

My perceptions and reaction planted the seed of doubt in my head – what was this? Did I just not ‘get it’? And so I started looking into the brewery, and then the style of beer, and who Michael Jackson was. Five years on and I know that what I was tasting was almost certainly Boon’s Oude Gueuze, which for a novice to the style was probably the worst introduction. However, it had the effect of prompting me to expand my horizons in a way that the Blondes and Bruins and syrupy sweet Framboises didn’t.

I’m grateful that the person serving me at Boon’s stall didn’t pause to ask ‘have you had this before?’ and recommend something less challenging from another brewer. It’s been much more fun learning about beer following that uncomfortable experience

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 12 – New Rose Saison

Bleurgh. Last night’s plan was to pick a beer from the excellent fridges of Friends of Ham in Leeds, tap a few thoughts into my notes and do a full blog this morning. While I certainly had more than a few good beers, I can’t remember much about them, certainly not enough for a post. 

Anyway, no post would have been written as I was far too tired and hungover to lift my phone this morning, let alone do some thinking. 

Now, I’ve settled down on the sofa, and almost feel normal again post-Chinese takeaway and many pints of Squash, so we have both cracked open a restorative Saison from Time and Tide Brewing. 

Both cans are well filled and open with a slight gush, but they pour smoothly enough and settle well. As the name suggests, there are Rose petals used in the brew and there is a lingering floral sweetness that isn’t overcharged. There’s not much of the usual dry, musty characteristics I’d expect from a classic Saison, and I’ve cackhandely poured this so there’s a fair bit of suspended yeast too, but neither of those minor quibbles detract from my enjoyment of a supremely refreshing beer. 
Becky’s not long woken up from a power doze, so let see if this has revived her. ‘I am seriously suffering today so I’ll keep my offering short. Saison is one of my favourite styles of beer and this is a really good one. One of my favourite bits about going down to Kent is how readily available Time and Tide beers are because I’m yet to have a bad one. I was a bit apprehensive when I saw the name of this beer but the floral element is really subtle. It’s a lovely easy drink and I can recommend it as hair of the dog!’

Following last night, I needed something like this to bring me round, and a more complex beer would have been wasted on me today. Time and Tide had a great 2016 too, and are one to watch this year as well. 

I hope you’re all having a great 2017 so far, and if not, I hope you’ve got something good in the fridge to help ease you in.

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 11 – Sister Agnes


It’s been a big year for Marble Brewery, four great beers launched under their ‘Metal Series’, the old favourites largely revitalised, and a series of limited, aged beers released to the sound of beer geek oohs and aahs.

Your Betrayal, a Pilsner, was one of my beers of the year, and therefore I wanted to include Marble in my #12Beers as a small hat tip to their work in 2016. I have chosen Sister Agnes, an old ale, for us to try and other than what’s on the label, I can’t really find too much information about it.

The old ale base has had Morello cherries added to it, as well as Brettanomyces yeast. The name is a nod to The Mysteries of Udolpho, a gothic romance in which Sister Agnes is a murderous mistress of a nobleman condemned to a life in the convent. Valancourt, one of Marble’s other aged releases is also named after another character. Obviously the Brewers are into the dark, mysterious and supernatural. 

Sister Agnes is defintely dark, with ruby tints. The Brett adds a layer of mystery to the aroma, but there isn’t a tangy funk to the beer as a result. The cherries are to the fore, with loads of earthy fruit flavours, and I also get almonds and a very dry, oaky finish. In a lot of ways, Sister Agnes is similar to last night’s Pannepot Reserva, but younger maybe, with fresher fruit flavours, but also with a few notches less volume to it. 

Becky enjoyed last night’s beer, how does she feel about tonight’s choice? ‘This time last year I would have taken a swig of this beer and said it was foul and wouldn’t have touched anymore. If I’m honest my first sip didn’t make me particularly want more but in the interests of the blog I persevered! It smells smoky which for me is one of the first signs that I won’t like a beer. My first taste reminded me of peanut brittle and the more I drank the more it felt like liquid Ferrero Rocher. The nutty taste was outstanding to me but looking at Gareth’s comments I can also get the cherries too. It’s grown on me and like last night’s beer it’s reminded me that I need to be more adventurous and not just stick to what I know I’ll like!’

Tomorrow is the final night of this year’s #12Beers, and we’ll be celebrating the new year at Friends of Ham, so we may or may not blog tomorrow but we’ll definitely find some good beer to see in 2017. Have a good night!

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#12DaysofXmas – Day 10 – Pannepot Reserva 2012

The end is in sight, and we’ve got two barrel-aged old ales to drink before the finale on New Year’s Eve. First up is the second beer of this year’s selection from De Stuise Brewing – Pannepot Reserva.

Named after a type of fishing vessel, Struise say this pitches somewhere between a strong dark ale and a stout, and the 2012 reserva is aged on French oak barrels for 14 months.

Poured, the colour is almost as black as a Priest’s socks, and with a strong initial fizz which forms a caramel tinged head. The aroma immediately brings to mind both strong dark chocolate and tobacco. I don’t think I’ve had a beer for a while that has such a formidable sense of taste before I’ve even had a sip.
The flavour stands up to expectations, full of sweet dark fruits, coffee and bitter chocolate. There is also a delicate carbonation that gives a winey dryness, and this helps add to the sense of luxuriance that emanates from the glass. Even more so given that this was a relatively inexpensive beer.

Becky is eyeing this beer eagerly, and I’ve passed the second half of the glass over to her. ‘I’m going to try and be sensible but I’ve already had a large glass of red wine, and I’m laughing at ‘caramel tinged head’. Anyway here goes…. I am guilty of judging a beer by its label and when I go to buy my beer I very much base my initial beer buying decision on the look of the can/bottle. This bottle is the beer equivalent of those 99p classics they sell in The Works and I wouldn’t have been drawn to it had I been choosing tonight’s beer.

I know what Gareth means about the initial fizz. It’s almost like eating one of those shit cola bottles that is fizzy for one suck then you’re just into the ‘flat’ jelly. The overall flavour is delicious, almost like a combination of coffee and red wine. This beer just goes to show you should not judge a beer by its cover and I will endeavour to change my beer buying habits.’

There you go, I’m a source of constant fun in this house as you can tell. At least the beer wasn’t laughable. Another excellent bottle, looking forward to hopefully more of the same tomorrow.

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 9 – Holy Oak

After a few days of eeking out a share each of a 330ml bottle, we’re back in big bottle country tonight, and the beer that I am most looking forward to of this year’s selection.

Gigantic brew out of Portland, Oregon and had their fourth birthday earlier this year, they prepared to mark the occasion by flying Magic Rock’s Nick Ziegler out in advance to brew Holy Oak – a barrel-aged kettle sour designed to mimic a whiskey sour cocktail. The collaboration must have gone well as Gigantic made the return trip to brew Special Relationship – a Manhattan cocktail-style aged beer – earlier this year.

I didn’t get round to tasting Holy Oak when it was originally released, and I also thought that I’d missed out on a bottle due to my own inaction. Luckily, Becky noted my interest and picked a bottle up, which has been sitting in our kitchen waiting for the right moment. Which is now.

A satisfying hiss accompanied the popping of the cap, which is usually a good sign, and the beer poured with a thick dense foam. The aroma is obviously max bourbon, but also sweet citrus. The sourness of the beer is pronounced but it balances the oaky bourbon by providing a sugary, tangy hit on the aftertaste. Which isn’t to say that it is overly sweet – it’s designed to ape a Whisky Sour and does so to a tee.

Even the mouthfeel is spot on – slight hints of a thick creamyness, which I would expect from egg yolk in the cocktail – and it isn’t  light, throwaway like a lot of kettle soured beers are. It’s one of those beers that demonstrates it’s creator’s methods with extra layers. I’m very impressed, not only with the end result, but also with the level of thought that must have gone into the process. I think Becky is also pretty happy with this one.

‘It used to be that when Gareth had a sour he would ask me to try it then sit tittering at the expression of disgust on my face. Now however I know if the style of beer I’m trying is a sour that it’s pretty certain I’ll love it and this is no exception. Again another boozy number on the nose and the whiskey taste definitely comes through. Not sure I could drink more that one glass of this one as it feels really strong and is certainly hitting the spot tonight. I best stop now though or I’ll have a ‘Gigantic’ hangover again tomorrow.’

It’s fair to say I’ve certainly not been disappointed with Holy Oak, I’m a bit sceptical of beers that seem to be aping a different drink, but the success of both this and Special Relationship have shown that amazing results can be achieved.

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 8 – Tsjeeses

Today’s selection is another Christmas themed beer, and we’ve gone back to Belgium for a beer by De Struise. Near neighbours to the monks at Westvleteren, De Struise are renowned for creating many well regarded beers, including Pannepot (more about that later in the week).

The story behind the name of this beer is that De Struise had been brewing Christmas beers for a few years without finding a good name, until one year the head brewer tasted the latest creation and exclaimed ‘Tjeeses, what a beer’. Nice story. The label also has an interesting reason behind the character’s shades, more info here.

The beer initially pours with a bubbly head, although all carbonation rapidly dissipates. The aroma reminds me of Madeira wine, as does the deep reddish brown colour. The beer is lagered on various fruits, and I’d hazard a guess that cherries and plums would have been used, given the bittersweet flavours. The alcohol does hit post-swallow but in a good way, and the aftertaste is nutty, with a bit of vanilla. I think with a bit more carbonation this would have been truly memorable, but I’m unsure if time in the bottle would help or not. However, for a Christmas beer this is hard to beat in terms of depth and flavour.

‘Yay I’m sober so actually appreciating this lovely beer! Looking at it in the glass you’d think it was brandy rather than beer and it’s very boozy on the nose. Lovely and warming like drinking a spirit. Unfortunately because it’s so good I’ve pretty much finished it before coming to write this but if you like a strong Belgian beer this will be right up your street. Just wish we had more!’

Another well received beer overall, seems like we’re having a pretty successful #12BeersofXmas this year, here’s hoping the next few days keep up this standard.

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#12BeersofXmas – Day 7 – #MashTag 15

‘Hey guys, we’re #cool! Let’s source the recipe for a #new #beer #on #Twitter #using #hashtags #and #polls’. Was my reaction at the time to the Brewdog mashtag crowd-created beer. It all seemed a bit ‘hells yeah’ and ‘totes’, even for Brewdog.

But I am a rapidly aging cynic, and even though the combination of suggestions that were chosen sometimes seemed like a bit of a dog’s dinner, I’d seen the 2015 in a beer shop and picked one up anyway. A black barley wine aged on oak chips didn’t sound too bad, after all.

Vanilla beans were also an addition to the brew and they figure strongly both on the initial aroma and dry, creamy finish. The mashtaggers also decided that the beer should have an IBU level of 100, and while this has faded, there’s still a tingly bitterness to put a full stop to the oaky, smoky heart of this full bodied barley wine.

I know Becky occasionally enjoys a barley wine and I thought this would be a slightly different proposition for her to try. ‘The few barley wine beers I’ve tried I have liked but I wouldn’t say they’re my go to beer. I have been driving for five hours today then drinking for the last six so my contribution is going to be minimal! This beer does smell lovely, definite hints of coffee and vanilla. Saying that on the first sip it made me pull my ‘yuck face’. However the warmer it got and the more I drank the more it’s grown on me. It has a warm flavour and is smooth to drink.’

So maybe #-ing a beer together on Twitter isn’t such a bad idea after all. I’m still not sure if I’d enjoy the 2016 creation, but 2015’s was delicious.

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