Monday, 27 August 2012

Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus Westvleteren 12

Good afternoon all. Last week I took a trip out to Brussels with a friend to sample some culture and, more importantly, some great beers, where I was able to pick up the subject of today's post. As the opportunity has now presented itself perfectly, here are a few photos to demonstrate just some of the bottles that we got through during the 2.5 days we were there....

I would've put more in this post but Blogger's formatting options left a lot to be desired with the overall layout of the pictures. From Cantillon Fou' Foune to La Rulles Triple, we sampled some great offerings in our short time there and even had the time to walk through a giant steel cube and see some statues urinating in front of crowds of tourists. Suffice to say I'd happily go back, and it's definitely inspired me to make some more beer-related trips abroad in the future. Segueing back into today's review, the beer in question has garnered a lot of reverence over the last few years due to its prominent lack of availability and some impressive sales tactics from the brewers. Considered by many to be the best beer in the world, it's Westvleteren 12, a Quad from Westvleteren Abdij St. Sixtus (Westvleteren, Belgium). This particular bottle was part of a gift pack that was released to drum up funds for the renovation of the abbey, so I didn't have to cycle through the Belgian countryside to obtain some (although it's still on my to-do list for the future). As a result of the massive hype surrounding this beer I was incredibly eager to try some, and so cracked open a bottle last night with nervous anticipation and a notepad to record this momentous occasion. Review after the pic....

Westvleteren 12 (10.2% ABV) pours a ruby-tinged nut brown colour with a thick off-white head that settles to a patchy covering over the surface of the beer. The aroma is surprisingly subtle yet very well balanced, with characteristic Belgian phenols, light spice, dark fruits (blackcurrant, raspberry), marzipan, candy sugar and some acetone in the background. The marzipan character is immediately apparent on the nose and is supported by the raspberry and blackcurrant, whilst the awareness of the alcohol is light and so doesn't deliver the aromas into the olfactories significantly. Oddly enough, when the aromas coalesce it's very reminiscent of plasticine, but this is just a quick observation and not a consistent aspect of the aroma. The taste delivers similar aspects as the aroma, with dark fruits, candy sugar, candy floss and some phenols. The alcohol is much more noticeable in the taste than on the nose, delivering a satisfying burn to the back of the throat during drinking that doesn't linger on in the finish. Only a slight dryness exists after drinking, with no bitterness or tartness despite the complex array of flavours. There are some burnt sugar notes in the aftertaste, accompanied by raspberry and similar dark fruits. Generally the taste is equally as subtle as the aroma, with the main sense expressed being the alcohol whilst the other flavours are reserved. Towards the end of drinking some marzipan comes through, and the dark fruits combine with the alcohol to create a fortified wine/port flavour. The mouthfeel is thick and the beer is moderately carbonated. Overall, this is a great example of a Quad that, although not quite as amazing as its reputation suggests, still delivers some well-balanced flavours with a decent alcoholic kick. At the time of writing I would probably choose other examples of Quads (De Struise Pannepot or Sint Amatus 12, St Bernardus Abt 12, Trappistes Rochefort 10) over this one, but I would love to try it again in a few years to see how it has changed and if I would revise this opinion. Fortunately for me I've got another 5 bottles to do just that! Definitely recommended if you can get hold of some.

Until next time....

Monday, 13 August 2012

Summer Wine Brewery Mokko Milk Stout

Good evening all. The Great British Beer Festival and a pub crawl around London are the reasons behind my recent lack of activity, so I know you'll all forgive me as it was in the interest of pursuing large quantities of fantastic beer. GBBF was even better than last year, mainly due to the inclusion of more friends and an even better range of foreign beers (although Fantome Saison still eludes me as it was noticeably absent by the time of my arrival on Thursday), and the pub crawl included the opportunity to try Alesmith IPA and Speedway Stout at Craft Beer Co., so I needn't say anything more on that matter! Now that I'm back for a few days before heading off to Brussels it seems appropriate to get back into the swing of blogging, and I've chosen Mokko Milk Stout, a Milk Stout from Summer Wine Brewery (Holmfirth, UK) to do just that. Review after the pic....

Mokko Milk Stout (6.0% ABV) pours a jet black colour with a thick beige head that settles to a patchy covering over the surface of the beer. The aroma is remarkably amplified for a milk stout, with lactose, coffee, cocoa powder, caramel and some dark fruits in the background. As with most stouts the coffee and chocolate hit the nose first, accompanied by the sweetness from the lactose sugar, whilst the caramel and dark fruits gradually become more noticeable with frequent inhales. The latter aromas do a great job of supporting the contributions from the roasted malt, giving the whole experience a richness and depth that you would normally expect from a higher-ABV stout. The taste continues this "full-bodied" idea, with coffee, chocolate, blackcurrants, caramel and some light grapefruit hop flavours towards the end of drinking, all delivered with a surprising amount of power. The fruitier aspects of the roasted malt create a slight tartness towards the end of drinking, acting as a nice transition into the finish, which is quite dry and full of lingering grape hop flavours. The sourness and dryness warrant frequent sips, which is fortunately a conceivable prospect with this beer as a result of the lower ABV percentage! The mouthfeel is quite thick and the beer is moderately carbonated, which acts as a great platform for the flavours on show. Overall, this is a mini powerhouse of a milk stout, with a good balance between the subtleties of the lactose sugar and the richer flavours provided by the roasted malt. On par with Young's Double Chocolate Stout and Bristol Beer Factory's Milk Stout, so it's very much recommended!

Until next time....

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Buxton Brewery Tsar

Good evening all. Tonight's beer is Tsar, a Russian Imperial Stout from Buxton Brewery (Buxton, UK). Buxton Brewery offerings always seem to be on my "must try" list but I've only ever had the opportunity to sample one before tonight and that was during my Beer Advent Calendar series, so another bottle from these guys is long overdue. I've heard a lot of good things about this particular one, so I'm really looking forward to trying it after such a long wait. Review after the pic....

Tsar (9.5% ABV) pours a jet black colour with a bubbly brown head that retains itself well on the surface of the beer, along with some specks of lacing in the early stages of drinking. The aroma is definitely on the hoppy side, with grapefruit, resinous pine, coffee, chocolate, pipe tobacco smoke, caramel and a subtle sense of the alcohol in the background. Despite the high ABV percentage the overall aroma isn't too powerful, with the smoke initially hitting the olfactories only to give way to the more traditional roasted malt aromas (coffee, chocolate) and the sweetness backing up the light ethanol presence. If I'd been given this beer without any prior knowledge of its origin, I probably would've mistaken it for a black IPA, but it's not uncommon for Imperial Stouts to have a noticeable hop edge (Great Divide's Yeti is a prime example) so it's certainly not a bad thing! The taste continues this theme, with resinous hops, yeast extract, chocolate, dark fruits, coffee and some caramel sweetness. The hops hit the palette first with pine and a pronounced bitterness which lingers long after drinking, with the coffee and chocolate becoming more apparent as the pine slowly diminishes. The hop bitterness lashes the sides of the mouth and the back of the throat, which can cloy so frequent sips certainly aren't advised (not that you would do that with this sort of beer in the first place!). The dark fruits and caramel flavours, evident after the hoppy resin has died down, combine as they normally do with Imperial Stouts to create an Asian sauce taste (reminiscent of hoisin), and the finish is dry, bitter and packed with lingering grape flavours from the hops. The mouthfeel is thick and the beer is surprisingly carbonated for the ABV percentage, which compliments the higher hop profile nicely. Overall, this is a very good take on the Imperial Stout style, with plenty of characteristic dark flavours and enough hops to add an interesting twist without transforming it into a different beer style. Highly recommended!

Until next time....

#IPADay Round-Up

Good afternoon all. Friday was International IPA Day (shortened to #IPADay for Twittering purposes), a social-media driven event with the sole purpose of celebrating one of the most popular beer styles of all time, the India Pale Ale. Regardless of their often-disputed history, there's no denying the ubiquitous nature of IPAs and their continuing influence in the brewing world, with various countries constantly adapting previous incarnations to add their own unique twist and, in most cases, create another beer style. In the last few years we've seen waves of new classifications, from Belgian IPAs and Rye IPAs to the confusing yet always satisfying Black IPA, and in addition to this there is the never-ending quest and rite of brewers to lash our palettes with colossal-IBU DIPAs. It seems that everyone has embraced the hop with enthusiasm, hence the reason for devoting an entire day to its most extreme utilisation. I chose three IPAs from three different countries for my IPADay experience, and for clarity's sake I've chosen to resurrect my capsule review system for each of them. The first beer was 2012 Double Black IPA, a Black IPA from Arbor Ales (Bristol, UK). Weighing in at 7.5% ABV and with a suggested theoretical IBU of 2012 I was expecting a bitter beast, so let's see what it was like after the pic....

ABV: 7.5%

IBU: 2012

Appearance: jet black, light brown head that retains itself well on surface of beer.

Aroma: Cocoa powder, caramel, coffee, pine, acetone/alcoholic smell. Very subdued, was expecting more roasted malt character to come through. Some grapefruit in the background but this wasn't immediately apparent.

Taste: Medicinal hop flavours, bitterness sets in and soon overpowers. Roasted malt gradually makes itself known towards the finish with light fruits and some chocolate/coffee hints. Subtle sweetness. Some esters (pear drops), finish isn't too dry but bitterness does linger.

Mouthfeel: decent carbonation, slightly thick.

Verdict: Quite unique, definitely not a beer for all occasions. Despite being lowest ABV percentage, I probably should have had this one last! Worth trying at least once.

After the intense bitterness of that offering I was looking for something with a bit more sweetness to balance out the alpha acids, and luckily I found that quality in the next beer- I Beat yoU, a DIPA from Mikkeller (Copenhagen, Denmark). This bottle had spent a fair bit of time in my cellar prior to opening so the tasting notes give might not be representative of a fresh bottling, but the review can be found after the pic....

ABV: 9.75%

IBU: Unknown

Appearance: Amber/orange colour, slightly opaque, off-white head that settles to a patchy covering over the surface of the beer. Light lacing in early stages.

Aroma: Resinous pine, very herbal/vegetative hop character, caramel richness. Reminiscent of BrewDog's IPA Is Dead Motueka- new world earthy hops but backed up with a more pronounced caramel sweetness. Slight hint of mango, other fruits hard to determine due to overpowering herbal hops.

Taste: Pine, resin, earthy hops, acetone, estery (pear drops), caramel/honey sweetness, some mango, candy gloss, grapefruit. Surprisingly there's not a lot of bitterness, finish isn't too dry and sweetness lingers. Some grape flavours in aftertaste as sweetness diminishes. Slight sense of alcohol on palette, fortunately hop flavours balance this out so it's not too harsh.

Mouthfeel: Well carbonated, thick, compliments flavours nicely. Can cloy every so often, requiring some time between sips to allow palette to recover. 

Verdict: This beer is like an amplified version of Green Gold, another IPA from Mikkeller that I had about 1.5 years ago. I'd like to try a fresher bottle of I Beat yoU to see how significantly the hops have died down, but overall I was impressed with this beer and would get it again. Recommended.

The concluding beer in the triumvirate of IPAs was Hercules Double IPA, a DIPA from Great Divide Brewing Company (Colorado, USA). Again this beer had been in my cellar for a few months, so any tasting notes regarding bitterness and hop character might be inaccurate. Review after the pic....

ABV: 10.0 %

IBU: 85

Appearance: Amber colour, slightly opaque, short-lived white head. Bit of yeast ended up in glass despite careful pouring. Small quantity of lacing in early stages.

Aroma: Piney, sweet, grapefruit, tropical fruits, slightly herbal hop character. Ethanol in background indicative of higher ABV percentage. Some light peach notes.

Taste: Piney, peach, mango, passionfruit, caramel sweetness, grapes come through during dry finish. Slightly alcoholic but not too much bitterness- occasionally a slight bite in back of throat. Sense of pithy fruits. Hop bitterness offset by alcohol content, no real malt character detectable. 

Mouthfeel: Moderately carbonated, slightly thick- compliments higher alcohol content. Alcoholic burn builds on sides of mouth during drinking. 

Verdict: Nice DIPA, relatively well balanced and not overly bitter. Alcohol can become noticeable towards the end of drinking, but fresh offerings might have sufficient hop character to counteract this sensation. Recommended.

And with the end of that beer, my IPADay experience was over. Although I wasn't able to attend any special events or share these beers with friends, I still had a good time and will happily participate again next year.  When that time finally rolls around, it'll be interesting to see just how many new IPA styles will have been created (for example, Farmhouse IPAs seem to be replacing Black IPAs as the "in-thing" right now) and whether the boundaries of IPA brewing will finally be reached.

Until next time....