Monday, 14 November 2016

#326: Monday Morning Takeaway

Late August found me in Amsterdam for a week, with a few day trips to Apeldoorn on the cards throughout. When I wasn't accompanying the Sober Destrier on those mostly searing hot commutes I, obviously, endeavoured to surround myself with delicious liquids.

The first of those is, almost predictably, Belgian. It's Oude Gueuze Tilquin, one of the big lambic hitters that I'd yet to indulge. I'm glad I did; opaque orange it appears, with a big beautiful white head. There's a real waxy, bitter-but-soft backing to the acidic wheaty fullness of the beer, but working and swirling the glass a little brings about plenty of farmy funk - think cowshed, hay and grist. The sourness seems to work the front and sides of the tongue and palate first before that waxed, lemon skin bitterness wades back in to offer immediate balance. Lovely stuff.

Staying with beers enjoyed on the balcony of the spacious apartment in Rembrandtpark is Jopen's Life's a Beach, a beautiful and sinkable session IPA. This drinkability lasts despite a touch of malty body that thankfully turns to clean grainy stuff allowing bright, fresh and simple grapefruit to stand alone. On such a hot day, it disappeared alarmingly fast.
As such, Oedipus' Mannenliefde saison was drafted in for support. Alas, it's got Szechuan pepper and lemongrass and turns out to be a spiced-up, minty, confected jumble that I don't understand the point of. What the hell did saison do to deserve this?

The sole American beer to appear in this post is a can of Aftermath IPA from Black Market Brewing in California, showcasing all the aromatic qualities you might expect; juice! Tropical juice! There's orange too and even a guilty pleasure streak of green rawness - a real brewday smell. On the palate it starts with a loud bang but fades pretty fast; the rich, juicy kick of marmalade and water-thin tropical juice is brief and becomes a nice, very light, fairly dry and quite bitter finish. Here at that finish is where the pith and zest of that fruit lives but ultimately it doesn't live up to the full-bodied and intense promise of the nose. And what a promise - that uncanny, powerful and unique smell of a freshly opened bag of C-hops.

No trip to the Bierkoning can be justifiably called complete without a bottle or two from De Molen, and the one I chose to open here is Counter and Attack, an IPA. Unfortunately, it's a rather dull one, and perhaps a reminder as to why De Molen's stellar reputation seems to be tied to the dark beers they produce. Despite a fresh nose there's a disconcerting fruit cordial sweetness that streaks through the entire thing, making it a particularly uninspiring glass.

Inside there was a new Dutch brewery to me, Oersoep, with Plan 9 From Outer Space. It's a cloudy, unfiltered and unpasteurised pils that proves clean, biscuity and leafy refreshment that's so easy to drink while remaining full, substantial and pillow-soft. Satisfying stuff.
From the same brewer comes Pulp Fiction, billed as a passion fruit pale ale. By pale ale, they must have meant in the Belgian sense, rather than the American, which was an initial suprise but it turned out to be a happy one. It's a tad funky, more saison or fresh Orval than anything properly wild, and there's a spritely dusting of white pepper and yeast contribution throughout. I can't find even a whispered rumour of passionfruit, or even anything like some fruit-expressive hops - this stays firmly dry, lightly bitter, slightly spicy and, despite not quite matching its billing, delicious.

The last beer to be opened in the apartment was Rodenbach Vintage 2012. Right from the first sniff, I was worried I'd gone too far down the sour path; balsamic vinegar is searingly intense at first and bounces terrifyingly off walls of thick, powdery chocolate. It is not so scary to taste, even though much of the experience is characterised by the mix of sweet and sour that elsewhere in life I avoid with an almost religious rigidity. It's acidic but soft, dampened and rounded and made beautiful by trustworthy and comforting wooden malts - think flecks of dark chocolate, vanilla and leather under a sky of overripe cherries and blackberries. Pure puckering pleasure.

That's it for take-home beer. Next up, drinking in the city.

Friday, 4 November 2016

#325: Haunted

Unexpected and unexplained hiatuses are the kind of things you always fear from a blog - it is most often the death knell of said blog, and for a while I toyed with the idea of simply listening to the wretched chokes and coughs of the Destrier as it passed through the portal into the grey wasteland of forgotten online materials. The longer I waited, distracted and weighed down by other projects, work and personal life, the more it seemed I could hear the virtual flies buzzing around the soon-to-be corpse of this blog. 

Thankfully, some spark did kindle the interest I had left in this endeavour and, more thankfully still, I had continued to drink beer and annoyingly take photographs and notes as I went. As such, I do have something to work with, though I've decided to simply leave behind a fair few notes from the last notebook (it has been that long) and start from scratch with materials I started gathering in late August. 

One of the few beers to make it from that last book is this - a few days too late to tie in with Halloween but a scary number nonetheless.

This is Fantôme. Fantôme is one of those (perhaps the archetypal) mysterious and often lauded breweries whose reputation seems to travel further than its beer; this brilliant profile of the brewer(y) by Belgian Smaak, however, explains that most of the beer does in fact travel far - more than 90% of it leaves Belgium. Recipes are ever-changing and shrouded in mystery, but the recipe for this 2015 edition of Printemps should probably be written down on a piece of paper and flung in the bin (shout out to my dad for this devastating put-down, best applied to the phone numbers of bad tradesmen).
The omens were bad; a stripe of skunky stuff is what first coils from the neck of the bottle, but this thankfully changes when you get the ghost into the glass. From here you get a pleasant if ever-so-slightly alarming shout of lemongrass with shades of lemon zest, mint and slightly acidic wheatiness. On the whole, though, it's a clean and cool leafy nose with a hefty smattering of prickly spice and an almost rosy perfume character. 

At this point I'm wary - there's no doubting that this is a heavily flavoured saison even if you didn't read the label - but still optimistic. I even concluded here that the aroma was a suitably summery, fragrant and fresh one.

There are fewer reasons to be joyful about the taste, though; cooling mint and lemongrass form the main effect with a sweet, syrupy lemon finish quickly and aggressively cloying and quashing any degree of drinkability. It's not refreshing, unsurprisingly, but it's also just not very enjoyable as a sipper, and despite being admittedly unique (it will certainly live long in my taste-memory) it's just not interesting enough as a novelty to justify finishing. The flashes of elderflower and lingering aniseed notes are cries for help, and after grinding through a full glass I decided to treat my sink to the rest of the 750ml bottle. 

This turned out to be an experience that started with just a wobble before gradually degenerating to the point where you have to assess the choices you have made and the options that now lay before you. Perhaps there is a reason this sort of thing doesn't fly in Belgium.

Friday, 12 August 2016

#324: Sleepy Sunday

A quick check in mine own searchbox tells me that I haven't featured a single release from Wild Beer Co. on the Destrier so it's a good thing I took notes a few (quite a few) sundays ago when I tucked into Sleeping Lemons Export.

This gose-a-like is beefed up to 6% and garnished, as they usually are, with preserved lemons. Unsurprisingly, then, it immediately gives an impression of beautifully sharp and zesty lemons wafting from the glass, filling the open space of the garden. To taste, though, it is wonderfully controlled; squeaky clean with a cool and calm sourness that again speaks more of summery lemon juice than it does of puckering acid. So yes, there's plenty of lemon curd and the like, but what about the beer behind the fruit? The malt is light and wheaty and doesn't even seem to be carrying all of its 6% weight and the salt is nowhere to be found, leading me to conclude that the lemony end of this beer is far more important than the gose means it uses to get there.

And I'm OK with that. 
Fantastic refreshment that I'd love to see again.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

#323: Ypres Creepers

The Abbot's Ale House remains a reliable supplier of De Struise wares and a while back I decided to consolidate my new-found love for Flemish red'brown ales with the help of Ypres Reserva 2011 (bottled 2014).

Ypres Reserva pours a brown-tinged black with an off-white head and oozes aromatics of leather, sour red fruit, balsamic vinegar and old wood. Straight away the drinker is being told that this beer is not messing around; it aims to misbehave and you better be prepared for some sour goings-on. With time this initial sour, acidic whack on the nose is softened to earthy forest floor and eventually even cocoa and almond - dense and complex to put it simply. To put it less simply it evolves by the second, now firing off shots of woodsmoke, maple syrup, and toffee, all veined with this bloody sour sting and we haven't even tasted it yet.

When we do we learn that yes, it is very very sour. The acid attack is strongest at the very front almost to induce an initial shock but it quickly fades from the second sip onwards. There's none of the thick, chewy chocolatey stuff I thought I sniffed suggestions of earlier on - this is all lithe and limber macerated red fruit, soured and tarted up, with strips of tannic, drying wood mopping it up some at the finish. Thankfully it still leaves plenty of that sour, mildly sweet and rich quad-like fruit lingering for ages - think of sour cherries and grapes and raisiny fruitcake all playing their part to make it refreshing, invigorating and warming all at once.

This is a superb beer. The aroma is complex and while the taste is perhaps less so, every time you dive into the glass it feels new, fresh and exciting and constantly mouth-watering.
Truly wonderful stuff.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

#322: Beaver Dam

A couple of months ago a few specials from Beavertown were trickled into the wild over a few weeks in matching black cans. The smart design format for these cans lit a fire under the already obsessive collector's streak in this beer drinker, so I was determined to have all five releases in hand before popping anything open.

Cooler and darker these evenings were than the ones we are having now, so I was well in the mood to open Imperial Lord Smog Almighty first. This 9.5%-er seems a souped-up, spoilered and dual exhaust pipe boy racer version of the Smog Rocket and emanating from that gratuitous pipework are plumes of smoke. Or at least that's what I was expecting.  Instead there's a rather sharp sting of bonfire smoke that flashes before your nose right at the beginning before allowing a more predominant fruitcake aroma to take over. Sweet, tart berries and pungent stewed apple shine brightest here, while the taste is all dry, light and roasty porter with licks of coffee, chocolate and smoke punctuated throughout. It's sensible and balanced and shows nothing of its high ABV, but neither does it give me the fullness, richness and complexity that I prefer in big dark beers.

Just as big and just as dark is Spresso, an imperial stout brewed with, you guessed it, espresso. This is a style I can 100% on board with conceptually but, in practice, I have come to damn nearly detest coffee stouts. Still, the desire to try new things as they cross my path is unaffected.

I'm glad I stayed on board for Spresso because this is easily the best coffee stout I've had. I was mildly alarmed when, predictably, there's quite a bit of espresso greeting you right from the can; I'm not in the mood for cold coffee right now, thanks guys. My fear proved unfounded though because unlike almost every other beer of this kind that I've tried, Spresso gives you a good imperial stout alongside the obvious coffee novelty. To this end it's a richly textured, creamy dark chocolate mocha effect propping up the more pronounced and bitter espresso notes. There's bittersweet balance and plenty of round warmth, making it surprisingly and mercifully cosy drink.

Stepping into the light with Skull King gets you a hazy orange IPA with an aroma of sheer oof. This is juicy tropical fruit aromatics par excellence with mango, pineapple and sweet mandarin and tangerine peel doing a metaphorical conga across your face. There's a bit more Tanora-like sweetness on tasting but this is still a backdrop to some expressive fruity hop juiciness, again channelling just about every member of the extended orange family. However, the beer doesn't shine as bright as I'd hoped thanks to a surprising and disappointing touch of syrupy booze right at the end. For a respectable 8.7% this knocks an iota or drinkability off the beer, but such a gripe seems as significant as pocket fluff in the midst of that juicy, bittersweet orange and mango party.

Yuzilla Phantom presents a very different kind of fruity effect as a fruited gose, the additions in question being dried lime and yuzu (an East Asian citrus fruit). From these there's a definite sweet, citric sourness propped up on a fluffy, prickly herbal backing. This backing pulls the beer away from the more modern, squeaky-clean-fun-time sour beers and into slightly more serious territory but I have no real problem with that; it's refreshing and interesting stuff, even if it isn't as sinkable as I'd anticipated at first.

The last of the lot to be devoured is Applelation, a saison with Bramley apple and a whopping 8.7% ABV, a couple of ticks above the kind of strength at which I like to see my saisons. Still, it's welcoming and drinkable form the start; it's clean to the point of being lagery with a dash of syrupy sweetness right at the finish, but the main effect is closer to a vaguely Belgian tripel without any of the prickly spice or yeasty artistry. That is to say there's a honeyish, apple syrup fullness to it without so much of a whiff of gristy farmyard stuff. It goes by reasonably quietly and pleasantly, but stays well clear of my preferred saison characteristics.

And so Beavertown prove their sure handling of a wide range of styles to varying degrees of success, though all are interesting and well worth trying out should they cross your path.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

#321: Odell Fernet Aged Porter

Sometimes you just have to go for it. Those bottles you've been hoarding will be forgotten about or, worse, opened and emptied by somebody else should you drop dead of an afternoon, and it is this dark but opportunistic thought that occasionally drives me to pop the cap or cork on a beer I had hitherto been saving.

On this occasion, the beer is Odell's Fernet Aged Porter, a 9.4%-er aged in barrels from the Leopold Bros. run of fernet, and surely a prime example of the sort of beer you should be committing to 750mls of on one of those dark, damp early Irish summer days. Expect weirdness, I thought to myself, and weirdness is more or less what I got.

A surprisingly dry and mildly roasty porter is the bones of the beer, unsurprisingly backed with a tingle of mint and a lick of liqorice. It's all very pleasant going on first impressions. There's plenty of herbal leafy greens throughout too, and I'm left reflecting that Odell were probably wise to only include 50% barrelified porter in this bottle, with the other 50% made up of the unadulterated base porter. This is not only because of the intensity of the herbs and spices - which, it must be said, is quite well restrained and enjoyable - but because of the sharp, tart blackberry turn the thing makes right at the finish. At first this is jolting; an unpleasant and rude interruption to the cool calmness of the rest of the beer. But, once it sinks in - and you sink into the bottle - this becomes more complimentary to the taste and indeed refreshes the palate after every sip. On later tastings the bitter, tangy and lightly sweet dark chocolate analogies just write themselves, as do the references to black pepper, stalky raw mint leaf and dry, old pinot noir. For all the weirdness, it's a wonderfully interesting and drinkable beer, and keeps Odell's name very much in my good books.

A good idea would be to replace it in the cupboard to see how the tart, tannic barrel effect develops in time for a rainy day a few years down the road...

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

#320: Original Sip

De Dolle Brouwers. I knew the name - I even knew the name of one their beers, Stille Nacht, but I'd come across neither before Oerbier showed up in the shop a couple of months ago.

Oerbier seems in fact to be something of a flagship brand for De Dolle, if the cheerful sliding Oerbier-man gif and NAT EN STRAF (wet and strong) tagline that introduces you to the brewers' website is anything to be believed. 

Oerbier simply means 'original beer', representing as it does the first and signature brew of the house. It pours a red-tinted dark brown with a big beige head that produces a wonderful and enticing aroma; amidst the brown sugar, sweet cherry and blackberry there's a dappling of tart fruit, like a Rodebach Grand Cru but with the scales tipped dramatically back in favour of the rich malt and leaving only minimal traces of that sour wood. The first sip sticks much more closely to that richer, sweeter side of things with raisins, toffee, Christmas cake fruit and spiciness and sugary blackcurrant jam all playing it nice and quad-like, before just at the finish there is a ghost of this tart cherry lingering in the background. Lactobacillus is used to achieve this, according to the website which also proclaims the wonderful ageing opportunity this beer presents.
It's already beautiful now, but I'm inclined to agree. 

See you in a few years, Oerbier.