Monday, September 28, 2015

Summer tasting: old bottles

Most of the bottles were picked up from, the local store on the road from Twickenham to Richmond, and I suspect a few of them had been at the back of my pantry for a little too long. No complete disasters though…

Celt Experience Brewey, Silures Crafted Ale: this Welsh ale is a light copper colour with a small head and slight fizz, a little bit cloudy as it came out of the bottle. A refreshing green, dewy aroma of the forest in spring; then a tangy first taste with the slight mustiness of ripe berries, perhaps just a touch fungal. In the mouth a hint of candy sweetness, like over-aged wheat beer, but satisfying and lingering orange zest bitterness. This bottle was a little old, but the beer was still very nice. (***)

The Wild Beer Co., Bliss: the label on this bottle of Somerset ale is pretty, with an abstract stag-head in orange against the dark glass; apparently it's brewed with wild yeasts, leading to unpredictable and sometimes volatile results. The beer came out of the bottle very frothy, perhaps a little bit aged, as I'd had it in the pantry for a while, and a dark, cloudy orange colour. It had a sour, earthy smell, with apricots, yeast and even potato; the first taste is intensely sour and smoky, combined with malty sweetness that is cloying and chewy. An unpleasantly syrupy swallow drowns out the light bitterness and smoky grittiness, but neither really lingers. I applaud this sort of experimental, unreliable effort, but this one didn't work for me. (**)

Buxton, Jaw Gate American Pale Ale: the label of this bottle comes with cute skulls, a bit more kitsch than you'd normally expect to sell a serious beer, but fun. The beer is a dull light orange or tan in colour, with a yeasty, apple-cider odor that confidently predicts the tangy, tart and cidery first taste. Thi leads to a vry sharp orange-pit bitterness in the mouth, and then a watery peach and orange engame, which is coarse on the swallow, but only lingering in a nondescript, generically pithy way. Perfectly quaffable, but a bit bland. (**)

The Kernel, Pale Ale: a minimalist look from this east London brewery’s pale ale made with citra and chinook hops. The light, hazy orange beer has a lively head and appetizing aroma of sweet, fruity hops, perhaps orange and apricot. It’s very bitter in the mouth, with lingering crushed pits and pithy citrus, and a slightly smoky chocolate aftertaste which is very nice. This beer is perhaps a little too dark and clingy for a session ale, but I'd still like to try some more. (***)

Friday, September 25, 2015

Tasting notes: European imports

Whenever we or friends and colleagues go overseas, we try to bring back a few bottles of unusual or local beers from various places, and I try to keep up with tasting notes here on the blog. Here are a few I've noted down over the last few months; I'll try to add more as we get through them.

Lurisia, Otto: a pretty, artisanal beer from the northwest of Italy, made with pure water from an Alpine spring some 16km from the French border, Otto comes in an attractive, unique bottle, and is a cloudy, earthy colour, with sweet smell slightly reminiscent of a musty granary. On the tip of the tongue it is candy-sweet, with apple peel, apricot, malty bread and dried berries; in the mouth there are notes of biscuit and sprouted rye. It’s more mellow in the swallow, but there’s a hint of lingering yeast, and a hit of sweet cherry right at the end. A bit strange, this one, but not unpleasant. (***)

Sinebrychoff Porter: this Finnish bottled beer is pitch black, almost oily, with a small head, and a coffee and treacle aroma. It starts sweet, smoothing out to a bready maltiness in the mouth, but then leading to a dark, smoky finish, like a cigar over earthy whiskey. There is a lingering sweetness, and a hint of bitter chocolate, that polishes it off nicely; not really a session ale though, except perhaps on a Finnish winter night, when it's 2pm, dark, and the warmth of the lunchtime sauna has worn off already. (**)

Pöhjala, Rukkirääk Rye Ale: named for the Baltic corn crake, this memorable Estonian ale is a dark copper colour, with a warm and malty aroma, some dried date and cherry , but a sparkly, tangy, and disconcertingly sweet first taste. It’s fruity and orange-zesty in the mouth, leading to a dark and yeasty aftertaste that clings to the mouth for quite a while. Given that, this is a surprisingly quaffable pint, and I’d be interested to try a few more. (***)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Bottled American beer tastings

Since my occasional American house-guests and other visitors are very generous and always bring over a few bottles or cans of beer with them, I try to keep tasting notes of the less usual pints we have at their expense! Presented here in no particular order (and with more to come…).

Ballast Point, Sculpin IPA: a nice San Diego-brewed blond and foamy ale, with lime zesty hoppiness in the nose, and green fruit sweetness that quickly tarts up to a pithy bitterness that lingers quite nicely. This one went down well. (****)

Sierra Nevada, Harvest: this single hop IPA from California is a very light, orange/yellow beer, almost the exact colour of a pint of wifebeater, with a light head (bit a bit excitable if not chilled enough, again reminiscent of “classy” lagers). There’s a very faint fruity hop aroma, but surprisingly odorless for an IPA; the first taste is sweet orange on the tip of the tongue, very quickly washing over with a brutally bitter follow-on in the mouth before you can say much more about it, like taking a huge mouthful of pith and tart juice. The bitterness is what dominates throughout thereafter, sappy, like a bitter bark tea. Breathing in over the aftertaste I got a bit of yeasty fruit and pits, malty with hints of burnt raisin, but also a very intense green-wood tangy sweetness. The hoppy bitterness dominates so overwhelmingly that it drowns out anything else you might taste in there, or enjoy. Perfectly drinkable, but a bit disappointing. (**)

Alaskan Brewing Co., Jalapeño Imperial IPA: cheeky amber in colour, with a fruity, hoppy aroma, somewhere between juniper honey and unripe cranberry (Silke said it reminded her of a hair product: when pressed she said only, “It would be a nice perfume for a shampoo, anyway.”) A nice peppery first taste, hints of paprika, tart but not spicy, sweet and zesty like tropical fruit in the mouth; there's a faint coconut or pineapple aftertaste, with pleasant but not especially lingering capsaicin notes in the piny finish. A bit gimmicky, but not at all bad. (***)

Knee Deep, Citra Extra Pale Ale: another strong California ale, with a cloudy caramel colour (it may not have settled properly before we opened it), a tart smell of lemon and almond, and a sweet, tropical fruit first taste with some apricot. There are notes of lemon zest and pits in the mouth, with an intense cakey, molasses and lemon skin bitterness. The heavy yeast gives a lovely kick to this very nicely balanced beer. It's a little bit monolithic, on our judgement, but still a very good drop. (****)

Avery, Maharaja Imperial IPA: this is a barleywine-strength super-IPA from the enthusiastic Avery brewery in Boulder, Colorado, which comes in a highly (if somewhat appropriatively) decorated 20 oz bottle, festooned with a rather annoyed-looking Indian monarch in full regalia. The beer itself is red-amber in color, only slightly foamy, with an odor of yeast and poached apple; very tart, with honey and bark in the first taste, expanding to crushed lime kernels in the mouth, smoky and intensely yeasty on the swallow, although the sparkly and dark taste lingers better on the tongue than the bitterness does in the throat. Overall this beer is warm and spicy, good with hearty, savory food, but at 10.2% is a little too intense for my tastes. (***)

Monday, September 21, 2015

Kanaal Craft Beer Bar, Sofia, Bulgaria

This was an unassuming bar that you’d hardly find if you didn't know it was there (see the closed street door, shown in the photo), with a wide range of bottled beers available behind the bar, and knowledgeable staff who are able to recommend beers or ales in English (in fact, I suspect this is something of a haunt among English/American residents and visitors to Sofia). It’s a comfortable joint, too, and I’m a bit sorry I was only able to go there once on this visit.

White Stork, Original: a beer made by local Bulgarian brewery White Stork (Бял Щърк), this one is an orange-amber colour and slightly cloudy; the nose is full of ripe fruit, honey and flowers, and it’s peachy and pithy from the get-go on the tongue. There’s some indefinable hoppiness that kicks you in the face a bit, heavy like cough syrup, but not too strong or bitter. A gentle hint of synthetic candy in the swallow doesn’t linger very much. Promising start, but disappointing finish. (**)

Divo Pivo/Диво Пиво: another local beer brewed here in Sofia, the bar opened the bottle from the fridge, swirled it around, and poured every drop, yeasty sediment and all, into a straight glass, which in my opinioned ruined an otherwise very promising pint. It came out cloudy, medium amber, with brown-stained foam, and had a sweet malty raisin smell. Cold and sparkly, with apple-blossom and marmite-on-toast in the first first taste that led to crusty bread and lime zest in the mouth. A subtly charcoaly swallow was almost overwhelmed by swirling yeast. I'm sure this would be really nice if served more carefully, or from a settled cask, but even shaken like this it was still more or less quaffable. (**) (But probably deserves better; I'm guessing a **** if well-handled.)

Kabinet: this clear, light amber, Belgian style ale from Serbia has a fruity, floury odor. There is a sweet, strong cherry first taste, but then it becomes intensely pithy in the mouth, and has a coarse finish that lingers very nicely indeed. Good choice! (****)

Glarus, “English ale”: this one shipped from the coastal city of Varna, is copper-coloured, still and very clear. The nose is slightly sweaty, but fresh, with hints of old vine fruit, and the first taste has soft, dry caramelized cane sugar and orange pith. A musty sense of flightly off fruit hits in the mouth, lingering yeastily and crustily on the swallow. Quite quaffable, but not terribly memorable. To reassure my Bulgarian friends who asked: yes, it's a perfectly respectable English ale. (***)