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.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

#319: Standing to Attention

A few from the Kernel were a nice surprise to stock, terribly briefly as can be imagined, at work, and among the six we had were these three pale ales and an IPA.

First is the Pale Ale Chinook Amarillo. I'm not surprised to see that this is hazy, almost murky even, but there's not a hint of untidiness to be sniffed or tasted; what you get is juicy bittersweet orange and mandarin that's clean but surprisingly short-lived. The bitterness, however, lingers for a long time, and the lasting impact is of a bright, fresh experience.

Even better is the Chinook Zeus Citra; this one is even juicier and brighter, even fresher, even if it's still murky as hell.
There's dark, sharp orange zest that plays sweet and tingly with the bitterness - it's fun, expressive, stuff that is ridiculously easy to drink.

Cascade Chinook is next up, and, despite being the same age as the other two, seems blander and nowhere near as fun. Still, it's hard to resist the waves of bittersweet citrus and slick, refreshing malt body. 

The last hoppy pale of the range is the IPA Amarillo Mosaic. It's stinky - aromatic, one might say - and, once again, gives plenty of citrus. It's not as clean as the others; there's a woody, wet hay thing that interrupts the juicy hop nose and the slicker, thicker, higher ABV feel of it makes it more of a sipper than the rest.

Those four make up most of the range that passed through the shop and their nature made drinking fresh an imperative. The other two, an Export Stout and a Porter, are yet to come.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

#318: Galway BayFest

OK, not a true festival, obviously, but a recent Galway Bay tap takeover at the Bierhaus felt pretty festive to me, even if I was mean and stuck to the limited editions, ignoring the core range yet again.

Not that I'm having any doubts about whether or not that was a good idea, because it absolutely was.
It begins with Heathen, a(nother) black Berliner weisse. Handed to me in black and tan, it is an exceptionally light body to begin with, except for a brief flash of something fuller and creamier in the grist. There's sharp acidic sandpaper on the tongue with plenty of that grist but no blackness to speak of - this is all relatively bright on the flavour spectrum, even if it does lack a hoppy seasoning to go along with it. There's lots of fizz, a blink, and it's gone. It's not often that I'd compare beer to water in a good way but this is a stupidly refreshing, incredibly drinkable and rather plain beer that puts itself away pretty fast. That might not be enough for those who demand more flavour, but at 3.5%, I could find enough wheat-supported citric acid to let this beer flow fast and fun.

303 is step up in the flavour department, billed as a tart pale ale. There's plenty more citrus to the fore of this one, though more bitter and less sour than the Heathen, as you'd expect. Sherbety lemon curd, lime zest and pithy bitterness do a good job of cushioning and balancing what acidic sourness there is, before the thing turns surprisingly herbal in the middle. In fact, I don't know what sort of profile the Azacca hops were supposed to bring to the table but for me there's a crunchy green coarseness throughout that doesn't allow much of the pungent fruit I was expecting to shine through. It's tasty, but it's less drinkable than the Heathen (again, a for a beer with more flavour and more alcohol that's not surprising) and doesn't quite hit the hoppy sour heights of either Trolltunga or Sky Mountain for me.

An even bigger step up in every department was required to reach the Two Hundred Fathoms pouring from keg. This year's edition it was, and oof is this a different beast on tap or what?
My first note is a scrawled 'ridiculous' that I remember being my only contribution for the first few minutes. This is pure, melted dark and milk chocolate mousse territory, pulling you through the rich, creamy, boozy stuff and all the way out the other side to fatty. This year's bottled version had plenty of oaky vanilla and whiskey hiding the background, but here, the vanilla has a fuller, sweeter Madagascan vanilla ice cream effect. With time the initial, intense, dark chocolate hit sinks into the rest of the beer to become real life, unashamed milk chocolate that I just can't get over. What I also can't get over is the very finish where it tastes, briefly, like barley malt extract, reminding you that, as dessert-like as it is, this is still a beer and it still tastes like one. 

Just a big, full, filling one that you wish you could have year round. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

#317: Easterfest 2016

We start May on the Destrier in the same way we finished that distant geological age of March in real life; at the Franciscan Well Easterfest.

As is customary with this sort of thing, the visit was brief and to-the-point, and on this occasion, meant that I found myself lingering for the entirety of said visit in the far corner of the garden-spanning L-shaped bar.
I Am A Berliner

Not to worry, though, because here is where I found UCC's Pilot Brewery, who only show up to this event every year, and they were pouring the perfect starter. I Am A Berliner is a delicious dark Berliner weisse that does give flashes of dark malt and milky smoothness to accompany an otherwise straightforward clean, lactic acid attack, with a bigger body than its joyous 2.9% deserves. Good stuff.

Turning to my left I got to try a Kinnegar special that has managed to evade me in the past and that I have renewed interest in, thanks to Yankee. In truth, White Rabbit has nothing like the drinkability of that beer but is an interesting sipper nonetheless, with big, coarse wheaty stuff opening for spicy, crunchy, herbal bitterness that tells of lupuline effort which, for me, doesn't reach any New World fruit expression fast enough.

Rotating to the right, I find myself facing Trouble Brewing's bar. Trouble have been churning out some seriously punchy hoppy stuff on draught for the past year or two and with a passionfruit lager on the go, appeared intent on continuing this theme at the festival. Last Crash it's called, and it immediately and unsurprisingly smells of sweet fruit juice; passionfruit, yes, but also a more-pleasant-than-it-sounds strawberry syrup and raspberry. It's light and fresh for all this, so it doesn't go anywhere close to the sort of sugary cloying effect you might expect from reading my notes. In fact, the finish turns with a tang to fullsome grain and slightly husky lemon bitters, gleefully mopping up any residual sugar and drying it out before it does anything it might regret. This is a refreshing fruit bomb, and not at all in the way that I expected from Trouble.
Now in the mood to stay at this section of bar, I go for Evil Robot, Trouble's American amber of the day, and I'm treated to a big American nose; sharp and zesty citrus to the fore but to taste it's a more round, slick and well-textured experience. What strikes me is the full on, intense and almost raw way in which this beer shows off its hops - this is green, bitter and leafy to go along with the juicy fruit, and while it isn't as sure-footed and expressive as some of Trouble's better recent output it certainly makes you stand up and pay attention.

Taken aback some, I return next door to the shelter of UCC's exclusively old-world stylings where I find one of my favourite styles under the name Gael Marzen Beoir. Ostensibly a Märzen, it pours pale yellow-gold and is utterly wonderful. To put it simply: clean straw with a touch of malty golden syrup sweetness before a bright, ever so slightly bitter finish. There's no clunky malt, no pillowy grain, no marshmallow doughiness, just a refreshing, respectable clean lager that could just as well pass for a very good (if a bit full) Helles. More satisfying, tasty stuff from UCC, and probably my standout beer of the day. I knew at this point I'd be back, but not before working up the ABV scale.


To that end I venture south to find Metalman's Spring saison brewed with lemon peel, thyme and pink peppercorns. If that sounds weird - yes, it is pretty weird. Not wholly unpleasant to be fair, but I prefer my saisons dry and thirst-quenching, not tasting like glycerine honey and lemon. 

Beside this is the Metalman's new IPA, Ironmonger. A dark coppery red, this doesn't immediately look the part of my kind of IPA, a fear realised on tasting; it's heavily malty and quite bitter throughout, but lacks any meaningful hop expression. Disappointing from the brewer behind plenty of good hoppy beer.

From there to Whiplash, the new brand from Alex Lawes, brewer of good hoppy stuff from Rye River. Before we get to the hoppy stuff, though, Scaldy Porter. At 5.5% this shouldn't be as rich and thick as it is; blackstrap molasses on the nose with a big palate of coffee, dark chocolate and coarse, dry bitterness to finish. It's a sipper that's easy to appreciate but hard to love.
Easier to love is Surrender to the Void, a DIPA of 8.5%. It's got sweet and juicy pineapple and mango in spades, alongside bittersweet mandarin and orange skins - delicious. There's a savoury turn right at the finish and, while there's no real heat from the ABV, there's a slick, slightly sticky body that for me, discourages over enthusiastic sipping to get to that juicy centre. Still, very good stuff from a brewery (own kit to come) I look forward to seeing more of.

And finally, we finish where we began, back at the students' hangout with the UCC Pilot Brewery and their Season of the Witch saison. At 8.7% it's well above what I'd usally like for the style but thankfully drinks well for that strength. Still, there's a touch too much syrupy sweetness, while the wheaty, grainy body is just about right. Low esters and flashes of lemon add some spice to proceedings. 
On that good, if quiet, note, it was time to call it a day.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

#316: Sky High

Just as a hoppy sour led us to Buxton a few days ago, it is a hoppy sour that leads us away. This is another Scandi-Buxton collaboration, this time with gypsy brewer extraordinaire To Øl. It's brewed and bottled by To Øl at De Proef, as far as I can recall, though on Ratebeer it appears to be listed as being brewed by Buxton. Certainly, the kegged version of the beer imported to the U.S. by Shelton Bros. appears to be brewed in Derbyshire but I'm sticking to my guns and saying that this bottle is a To Øl/De Proef product, not least because of the fact that it came to the shop via Four Corners. I stand corrected; this is brewed and bottled by Buxton in Derbyshire, straight from the mouths of both horses. 

Whatever the case, it came to me bearing good news; Sky Mountain Sour is yet another successful showcase of the sort of tongue-tingling sourness and juicy citrus hop character that makes hoppy sour beer such a winning combination. It starts off with pure squeezed lemon juice - a sour stab of citric acid and, hey!, hops! Nice! There are little dabs of sweet orange and lemon congregating at the finish but this too is washed away with the scouring sourness of lemon following through. Despite how often I've used the word 'sour' so far, is that it isn't aggressively or overpoweringly sour - this is bright friendly lemon we're talking about here, not stinky vinegar. Most importantly, it's squeaky clean everywhere else, standing on a functional and pleasant wheaty, gristy base without any of the coarse drawbacks of that sort of thing. 

Another success story of the sour-hoppy arc. The perfect craft cliché? Perhaps. Should anybody care? Most certainly not.
Drink it if you see it. It's good, and it's a good deal gooder than many offerings from Scandi-Cool Tax* adherents To Øl.

*the Scandi-Cool Tax is a cool duty placed on products from Scandinavia directly proportionate to the level of coolness of the product (although, coming from Scandinavia, coolness levels are always through the roof). Whether or not the product is actually produced in a Scandinavian country is irrelevant; it is known that a phonecall from a Dane, Norwegian, Swede, Finn, or, in hard times, an Icelander, made to a brewer in any other part of the world, will activate the tax in regard to the beer(s) being produced in that brewery at the time of the phonecall. If the brewery is in Lochristi, the tax is permanently active and needs to be opted out of if a beer is being produced for a common-or-garden continental European. Nobody knows why, but we pay all the same.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

#315: Buxton

Hey, speaking of Buxton- you know where this is going.

The first of the roster is (possibly?) their flagship, Axe Edge, an IPA with an apparently intercontinental blend of hops forming its lupuline highlights. And what highlights they are.
This is a near perfect IPA for me; pungent pineapple, grapefruit and passionfruit do indeed suggest the presence of US and Southern Hemisphere varieties, at least on the nose. The palate gets a loving treatment of sharp, bittersweet tropical fruit with plenty of zest, candied peel and generally lively fruit expression on a nice, full and soft biscuity base, no doubt helped heaps by the inclusion of oats and wheat. This is squeaky clean, bright and superbly expressive stuff from Buxton.

Equally enjoyable, if not as layered an experience, is Bloc Head. This pale yellow thing is listed as a saison on Ratebeer, but the label itself tells another story altogether - a sour farmhouse pale ale is the name of the game here, and it's this version of events that's corroborated by the liquid itself. A dose of pure squeezed lemon juice shouts down just about everything else going on, so at the very least, it is sour. There's no real agrarian character to the beer, though, but for puckering, thirst quenching prowess I forgive such superfluous designation. At least it can't be argued that it is an ale, and it is pale.

Being called Red Point is reason enough for people to expect you're going to be pretty much red, but Red Point the beer is actually not as red as you'd think.
I mean, it's more or less red, but still.
The nose gets pithy, juicy, clean and sweet ripe citrus fruits, but it's all bitter to taste. Thankfully it does keep up the good citrus work, all orange and lemon and zesty to the end, but at 7.5% it gives off more heat than it should. Some contemplative pretentious swirling and warmth brings sugary tangerine to life, but the peely bitter finish never lets up. Good, but not great, and not the hoppy beer masterclass that was the Axe Edge.

Last and most certainly least is Tsar, though it comes with the heftiest price/ABV combo of the lot. This imperial stout was already over a year old by the time I opened it up but that's usually no cause for concern, even if Buxton do recommend that you drink it fresh. Still, it's well within the BBE date and come on it's a 9.5% bottle conditioned stout. 
The first sign of trouble is the ridiculously overenthusiastic effervescence, producing a head bigger than the sun. Through this, there's not a whole lot of aromatic notes to be pulled other than some faint milk chocolate, but the whole horrible shitshow shambles to life on the palate, dragging by its ankles thick tar-trails of bitter scorched coffee. From the very first sip, it's a slog. Time and patience unlock some bittersweet dark chocolate but not enough to even dream of competing with the crime scene that is the main character of this beer.
Now, unless the taster is willing to accept that their palate is the supreme, finely-tuned standard by which all flavour in the universe should be gauged (and I'm not), he or she has to take on board the information given by the producers (who we assume to know the product better than anyone) when assessing that product.
"Drink Fresh" they said, and I didn't, so I'm willing to give Buxton the benefit of the doubt and assume that this Tsar was not the Tsar I want to be tasting.

If you see the Tsar and he isn't fresh, don't do it.
Stick to the Axe Edge and everything will be OK.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

#314: Or, the Modern Prometheus

The would-be special guest star of the Lervig line-up is Trolltunga, a gooseberry sour IPA that shadows as a special guest in the Buxton roster, it being a collaboration between the two, brewed and bottled by the latter in England.

Sour IPA is sort of a two-birds-one-stone deal, combining two of beer geeks' sweetheart styles in one, and Trolltunga is evidence that that sort of Frankenstyle hybridization can work, damn it.

At the first flick of the switch, bright, sharp sparks of coppery and dank pellet hops, right from the bag, leap from the bottle. It isn't long until this is joined by trails of sour fruit, drifting to the top of the lab from the operating table below. The immediate impression on tasting is of grapefruit juice - not in the way we usually mean grapefruit when we talk about IPA, but like actual grapefruit juice - bitter, sour and tangy fleshy fruit. The citric acid on the front of this wraps around and hides much of the IPA part of the beer's DNA until, near the end, it becomes clear for a second and allows a fleeting glimpse of fresh, leafy greens through the sour patchwork of its glorious, reanimated face. Overall, the beer is much less an abomination, and much more a sour and juicy triumph.

It more than scratches an itch, even if it might upset some sections of the crowd who don't believe that anything good and sour can exist without festering barrels strung up by cobwebs, cobwebs adorned with dust and dust crawling with local ambient yeast that is just dying to spontaneously inoculate some innocent virginal liquid.

Monday, 4 April 2016

#313: Lervig

Speaking of Lervig, this bunch of bottles forms most of their available range in Ireland and, after the lacklustre showing from Lucky Jack and Hoppy Joe, they represent a marked improvement of fortunes.

We start with the Rye IPA, as I did, jumping right into the middle of the ABV spectrum on these bottles at 8.5%. It looks orange, it smells like orange skins, and it even tastes like orange; all pithy, bittersweet, pithy and juicy marmalade. In the background there;s flecks of lemongrass and, believe it or not, cumin, just hinting at an underlying spiciness, though I'm known to be suggested by the presence of rye in a beer like this. What I can say is that it's delicious, juicy, sharp, zesty stuff that doesn't show much of its 8.5%.

The White IPA came next, a style I have renewed faith in thanks to Rascal's wonderful Yankee. Where Yankee offers a bit more hoppy attack to a vaguely wit-like body, Lervig go all out with coriander and orange peel. There's a full, fluffy body with plenty of that coriander on show, with flecks of pepper and a crunchy bitterness. On top of this, the beer is incredibly fizzy, and this gets in the way of proper enjoyment. Otherwise, there's no real show of the hop profile that would contribute the IPA-ness to this beer. Ultimately, it's a big burp waiting to happen, and leaves me thirsty for Yankee.

A beer for a different occasion altogether is Konrad's Stout. The nose gets memories of Brooklyn's Black Chocolate, with rich dark chocolate mousse and crème de cassis joined by a bit of phenolic heat. Superbly rich it is in the mouth; thick slabs of malted biscuit, dark chocolate and raisiny, sugary sweetness. It's bitter in balance too, but, interestingly, there's no real roastiness to speak of - this certainly leans more comfortably toward the confected, malty sweet side of big stouts, but without falling over the edge into the sugary swamp-wastes of Dragon Stout Spitfire. Good stuff, this, and an excellent dark companion to the Rye IPA.

The bum note of the piece is the single hop showcase, Galaxy IPA - no prizes for guessing the star of the show here. Only, galaxy isn't the star of the show; the aroma immediately tells you this isn't clean and clear, but fusty and gristy. You can kid yourself that the waves of considerable bitterness are evidence of some enjoyable hop expression but that's simply not the case. This is an under-performing beer that fails to showcase much of anything, least of all its single hop.

So, there's some seriously good stuff to be found in the Lervig line-up, if you're willing to wade through some problem areas.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

#312: ScandAmeriCans

Recent dwellers of the Bradleys fridge (and about to start a chain-reaction of posts that I've been putting off for aeons) are these two cans from Lervig, another one of them cool Scandinavian craft brewers.

The fisherman chic reels you in and the promise of hops is clear; Lucky Jack is an American Pale Ale and the red, also ostensibly American in style, is Hoppy Joe.

Lucky Jack isn't very lucky at all, it turns out; it's a rather tame and unexciting standard pale ale that fails to reach the heights of, say, Howling Gale, my benchmark for non-American American pale ales. Instead it offers a generally gristy and lightly citrusy affair that's easy drinking, if not very (or indeed at all) engaging.

There's not a lot more to be had from Hoppy Joe. Particularly hoppy it itsn't, but red it is. It's not squeaky clean on the nose, being a bit gristy (again) and leafy, with some happier flashes of orange. It starts well enough on the palate, with thickish toffee malt propping up orange and lemon highlights before, oh, no, a mucky, rubbery finish? Did I pour too hard? Is it even can conditioned? I don't know, possibly, but a long burnt rubber bitter finish has me throwing in the towel and pouring the rest away.

Fear not though, I assure you we'll have much more joy from Lervig next time around.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

#311: Independence Day

These two were winter seasonals from Connemara's finest, and possibly only (?) brewery. With a three-way blend of intrigue, excitement and worry, you see the beers are both barley wines, both barrel-aged, and both wax-sealed in 500ml bottles.

Why intrigue? Because this is not the sort of task an Irish craft brewery does very often. Why excitement? Because generally speaking I am a big fan of barley wines. Why worry? Because this could be a hot sticky mess even before it gets defiled by a rude Bourbon barrel.

And it's this one we visit first. Independent's Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine gets off to a rocky start; having fought your way through the wax to get the cap off, a gentle nosing of the bottle reveals that same wax is stinking to high heaven - a soft, grubby substance wrapped around the opening of the bottle isn't the nicest way to say hello. Brewers take note, try and emulate the hard, clean plastic finish of the wax jobs of, say, Maker's Mark or, closer to home, The White Hag's barrel aged Black Boar. 

Anyway, in the glass it's much cleaner; a heft of honey and caramel announces itself first, thick and sticky and just about on the right side of acceptability. There's a flash of bourbon vanilla and wood here too, just about managing not to put me off. On the palate it starts out pretty well-intentioned, all toffee caramel, honey and just about hints of juicy orange before all is drowned in a sea of bourbon barrel. For a terrifying second my taste-memory is forced into flashbacks of the spine-tingling Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, a ham-fisted, Hills-Have-Eyes brute of a barrel job, but this gladly fades. The whole beer does calm with time, rounding out to let more of the malt speak (and lets face it, it's only malt doing the talking here). A rocky road, but one lives to see another day...
...before one thrusts oneself into the Brandy Barrel Barley Wine as recklessly as ever. Again we get a clear, dark red beer but this time the aroma is near mute at first, slowly revealing dark sweetness in the form of black treacle toffee, syrup, raisins and booze. Yet again to taste it's hot and heavy to begin with, but with time shows off some sweet, fleshy fruit, sticky toffee and bittersweet orange chocolate, all soaked up by some oak. There's no real essence of brandy that I can find in here, and after the first few steps of our dance I'm still not quite sure if this one is doing it for me. Still, it's easily the better of the two, even if that may have something to do with my low tolerance for anything but subtle, sensitive and measured use of bourbon barrels. The brandy barrel, with its lack of brandy DNA on show, turns out a decent beer if you make it sit and wait in the glass like a bold child.

So there we have it. Not at all the hot sticky messes a little part of me was fearing they might be, but neither of these beers are as successfully barrelified as the Whiskey Stout from a while back. If this is the first time Independent have brewed a barley wine (commercially, I believe it is), then I'd be more enthusiastic about a tweaked, refined and eventually nailed version of the base beer that I could try sans barrel before we go back into the woods. 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

#310: Keeping it Sweet

A few weeks back two Lagunitas specials found their way to the shop and, while usually sceptical about big bombers of American craft beer, my good experience with Hop Stoopid encouraged me to give the one of those, Hairy Eyeball, a go.

There's not much stylistic information given on the label of the Hairy Eyeball; it seems to fall vaguely into the nondescript American strong ale category, being high of ABV and... well, that's about the only statement of intent I can see. Thankfully, in getting to the 9.1% they've whipped up some sweet-tooth-pleasing chewy toffee and red apple opening that matches the beautiful clear dark red appearance of the beer. More dark malt stage hogging comes in the form of raisiny chocolate and apple syrup, completely quashing any chance of meaningful hop expression. Part doppelbock, part quadrupel, part barleywine; this is an undeniably enjoyable glass of beer that, despite its strength, is mercifully lacking in alcohol but sadly lacking in body and complexity. Still, halfway through you're bound to stop caring and just curl up in the sugary warm bed and go to sleep... right?

A jab of insulin and a scrape of the tongue later and you're ready for Brown Shugga, another vague, strong, clear copper release, this time hitting 9.9%. There's a bit more to this one, even if it does whack you first with that toffee apple malt stick that Lagunitas brandishes with reckless abandon in it's stronger beers. Yes, once that's over you can turn your attention to the aromatic grapefruit skin bitterness and sharp, pulpy mandarin and pineapple juice that lifts things off the malt floor. The palate gets another dose of chewy toffee caramel but this too opens the door for some pleasant, pithy orange and milk chocolate. And yes, there is a considerable element of brown sugar to be found. 

Whatever the billings, the Shugga seems to be the slightly more nuanced of these two enjoyable but admittedly simple, almost dumb beers. It basically appears as a American barleywine, minus the intensive, aggressive hopping and complexity of, say, Bigfoot (fanboy squeal).
If you've had enough of bitterness, sourness, or just contemplative drinking for while, give these a go.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

#309: Killing Joke

Albino Squid Assassin is the latest ridiculously named special from Brewdog, and it comes in a smart can decorated with a surprisingly literal interpretation of that name.

It is billed as a red rye IPA, and it plays that way on the nose and palate; juicy blood orange is the main player in the aromatics, all pulpy, pithy and bitter. To taste it starts out with the same satisfying orangey bittersweetness, all punchy and exciting, along with some sugary backing from a rather austere malt bill. I can't find much of what I expect from rye in this - that is, the grassy, peppery, spicy, bready graininess - but it does have a full, thick body that I'd usually enjoy in a beer but seems to strip away the joy of those bright, bouncy hops trying to be the top players in this one.

It's good and hoppy and brazen and it will no doubt scratch that itch for many a fan of Brewdog's unashamedly indulgent Awesomeness™ and Irreverence™, but for me it's nowhere near as fun as the can it lives in, certainly not as time wears on.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

#308: Smoked Alaska

This is a straggler from what can loosely be called the Christmas stash - a string of beers accumulated over the winter with no real regard for the fact that I couldn't possibly consume them all on or even near the day itself. 
As it happened, this one hit the glass this past weekend.

It is Alaskan Smoked Porter, somewhat of an American craft beer classic these days. Dating from 2012, this one didn't quite stink of smoke upon pouring its inky black and bubbly off-white head, at least, not in the sense I expected. It is smoky, but in a rather ordinary, pleasantly mild Irish dry stout way. This stands up to tastebud scrutiny, the palate treated as it is to a smooth, silky and medium-bodied dry porter with washes of mild tobacco leaf, soft, sweet milk chocolate and, right at the finish, a haunting flash of rauchbier meatiness. There's some complex dark fruit reminiscent of a much bigger imperial stout, but nothing to tax the 'buds very much; this one stays very much in the realm of the sensible.
For all the craft beer cred attached to this cap, what you get is a beer more subtle than supercharged, more brains than brawn, more contemplative than cocky.
I'll take that over a hot stinky boozebomb any day.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

#307: Canned Shenanigans

Rascal's Brewing announced themselves with their Ginger Porter in 2013 and have been producing a shapeshifting range of draught since then. At last their beers have been packaged for takeaway consumption in the form of these three cans, new arrivals to many outelts around the country in the past couple of weeks.

I start with Yankee White IPA, listed on the Rascal's website as one of their seasonal world hop series. Hopefully this is now a regular beer, because it is absolutely fantastic.
A clear, pale gold it pours with a small white head, and the aroma is a fresh and clean blend of lime and grapefruit, juicy orange and an ever-so-slight witbeer wheatiness. It may have been a cold, January afternoon, but with the sun shining on and out of the glass, it felt like July. To taste it's a dry, coarse, wheaty grain bill to start, with bitter citrus backing this up immediately. There's definitely a good fist of wit-like spiciness, despite the absence of any actual wit spice - it's soft and full yet drinkable, and has flashes of mellow pepper and candied lemon rind. It strays from bright, US citrus fruit to a very European crunchy greens thing, all the while remaining dry, super clean and eminently drinkable.
Seriously good stuff this.

I followed with Big Hop Red, a beer I first had at last year's cask festival at the Franciscan Well. It's dark copper and on the nose seems a bit more rough on the edges than the Yankee, offering caramel and orange and not a whole lot else. Despite the name it's not hoppy in a very big way, but it does offer orange and... well, orange, atop a chewy caramel fudge base. What I don't appreciate is the slightly rubbery, burnt bitterness we usually get from a black IPA. In the end it's better than the blandest of Irish reds, but far from the punchy, hop-forward red I was expecting, or indeed the flavourful version I'd previously had.

To finish is Rascal's flagship beer, their Ginger Porter. Like any good porter this one's black and just off-white and gives light roast and milk chocolate on the nose. It's sweet, here, and the aroma suggest anything of the ginger. Ditto on the palate; this is seriously silky, light and drinkable, and plays friendly, thin milk chocolate notes against a lovely sweet and spicy fresh ginger backdrop. The ginger is mild, measured and mannerly without seeming limp or lost, so gingerphobes needn't worry about being. This is very deftly put together beer, a million miles away from the hamfisted spiced beers we come across every autumn or winter.

All are worthy of the effort and the money of buying them, but to this drinker, the Yankee shines as the crowning achievement. 
Bonus points are awarded here for being easily the prettiest cans in the country.

Friday, 29 January 2016

#306: Going Big

It is perhaps the most beautifully named beer I've ever come across, and it's not half bad either.

It is, of course, Howrye, a rye wine from Brown Paper Bag Project, brewed at Ramsgate in Kent. At 10% it pours a slightly hazy but most clear red, and smells unsurprisingly sweet at first. Orange, toffee, and slightly boozy, it could have been a hot soupy mess like Porterhouse's Louder*, but it stays good and enticing. It's sweet at first to taste too, with caramel, toffee, boozy orange pith and a hint of a flash of a smidge of bitter citrus skins at the very finish. Bittersweet and intense is how it goes. When I consider the contribution the rye has made I start to find little pockets of peppery heat, but I' eventually forced to conclude that this is largely the power of suggestion and instead I'm feeling the only half-hidden heat of the alcohol throughout. 

Rye fetishists will either lament the lack of rye influence or immediately and gleefully detect the influence that I'd missed. 
Who knows?

*it should be noted that Louder is much, much better if left alone until well after its best before date.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

#305: Sennesible

These three from Brasserie de la Senne arrived shortly before Christmas and, despite the prodigious efforts one makes to drink everything new that crosses one's path, it took a while for the trio to find space in the fridge.
My previous experience with de la Senne is limited to the delicious Manneken Penn and the nasty (at least in that instance) Taras Boulba, so this could have gone either way.

First up is Zinnebir, not really billed as anything and suggesting only a general Belgian blondness in the glass; it's hazy and smells fairly plainly of yeast, wet grain and husky wheat. To taste it is unsurprisingly dry, bitter, and coarse, but remains quite drinkable for all that. Amid the folds of that typical Belgian grist you can just about pick apart some lemongrass and white peppercorns, which liven things up a bit - just in the nick of time too, this gets a bit boring halfway through. The only other excitement is the hint of fleshy lemon and grapefruit that appears at the very end of the long, lingering bitterness. 
Not a world beater then, but not bad either.

Brusseleir is the black IPA of the bunch, though it doesn't pour so much black as a dark cola brown/red. There are hints of astringency on the nose with burnt coffee and toast, as well as touch of uncleanliness - this really isn't promising much, though I accept I didn't pour carefully enough to prevent a load of yeast sediment filling the glass. Thankfully things are much cleaner to taste, and instead of that harsh, grating, roast bitterness that a black IPA sometimes throws up you get a soft, sweet-accented beer with a rather straightforward cola, coffee and juicy orange profile. Things stay prey low key throughout, and while that doesn't reflect a fantastic return for the 8% ABV, points for subtlety and drinkability must be awarded.

Completing the trio is Jambe de Bois, another 8%-er, this time a tripel. It's a relatively clear pale gold and has almost the same aroma as the Zinnebir, all yeasty, gristy coarseness, though without any wonkiness. Much unlike the Zinnebir, though, is the opening of soft, pillowy coriander and clove, and things only get cosier as it warms to spiced honey and lemon drops. This is by far the most enjoyable glass of the three, and should you find room for only one of these in your fridge, let it be the Jambe de Bois.

So, none of them reach the heaven's high of Manneken Penn, but they are far from the all time low of  the dodgy Taras Boulba linked above. Sensible.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

#304: Old and New

Pannepot is my kind of beer; as a bit of a simpleton, if it ain't hoppy then it may as well be thick, chewy and sweet. So when aged versions Pannepot Reserva 2010 and Grand Reserva 2010 are made available to me they seem destined to be hits.

Into the cupboard they went and having shown the respectful few weeks waiting, it was eventually time to break them out. Naturally the Reserva came first.

Much like the base Pannepot, the Reserva is a near-black, brown-tinted affair wearing a stout's cream head. Sheer notes of phwoar hit first on the nose; the complexity unfolds in waves revealing leather and oak first, then vanilla and tobacco leaf, then figs and raisins, then spiced marzipan. Not bad, to understate it grossly. The taste does this sort of backwards, in that it's much more orientated toward the almost-boozy rum-soaked dark fruit side of things, turning to demerara sugar and finally to slightly vinous, port-like wood and raisins. For all its 10% it drinks stupidly smooth and easy, and as much as I love it, I feel I'd be exaggerating if I said I noticed a marked improvement in this from layman's Pannepot.

I have a similar problem, if it could be called a problem, with Pannepot Grand Reserva, in that as beautiful as it turns out to be, I can't tell if it's any better for its apparent aggrandizement. Still, that's not really a worry for a seeker of delicious beer. Thankfully I do have some slightly different buzzwords with which to describe the beer so my integrity as a taster is intact. This one looks blacker than the other, and immediately smells surprisingly sweeter; dark, molasses-tinted toffee, raisins and Dutch pancake syrup (you know the one, not quite maple syrup and not quite golden syrup - candi syrup?) and blackcurrant jam. To taste it's yet another exclamation of success with woody maple syrup, chocolate raisins and chewy, slightly savoury malt and a touch of tawny port again forcing me to the conclusion that whatever De Struise do with Pannepot it kind of doesn't matter; you still get a winning beer.

Now, if one of those bizarrely specific principled criminals out there put a gun to my head and told to pick one from the three I'd go with the Reserve, as this one seemed at the time to have the most wonderfully complex mix of aroma and flavor. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Whatever the mileage, though, you should be heading in one direction: Pannepot.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

#303: Milking It

I begin 2016 on The Drunken Destrier in much the same way as I began 2015; with a thumping great big imperial stout.

Last year it was the ridiculously well put together Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout from Goose Island, a beer that managed to tick all the flavour and texture boxes without destroying the palate or turning into a sticky mess. This year it is the turn of To Øl's Jule Mælk to usher in a calender year of beer blogging on this site, hopefully the most interesting one yet; with travel plans made and the cupboard filling up, I'm sure of this.

I was also pretty sure about this 15% milk stout, bestowed upon the world by the technicians at Lochristi, and expected it to be perfect fare to sign off on Christmas night with its promise of decadence and complexity.
The pour does as much to reaffirm this than anything; an unctuous absolute black with a tight, creamy cap, this looks dense. Not far behind comes the aromatics oozing from the glass with thick dark and milk chocolate, rich, roasted malt and, unsurprisingly, a potent alcoholic ghost peeking around the corner. It's much the same to taste, with a beautifully silky, full, malty chocolate mousse calling most of the shots, only allowing flashes of salted caramel through and, at the finish, a touch f tartness. The whole thing plays more sweet than bitter and, while it's certainly interesting drinking to begin with, there actually doesn't appear to be a whole lot going on to justify its 15%.

Not quite a clanger then - at 15% it manages to avoid any notions of sickly, cloying sweetness - but not quite a top tier imperial stout either. Which, reflecting on the reasonable €10.99 for 375ml price tag, seems about right. If I encounter one in the wild again, I might just be able to persuade myself that having one sit for a year or two might be worth the punt.