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...