27 September 2008

Encore: the quare stuff

I couldn't leave the European Beer Festival without some words on the strange beers, the ones made with methods and ingredients that stick-in-the-mud style purists and fans of the Reinheitsgebot turn up their noses at.

Mrs Beer Nut, a De Molen fan to the bone, steered me towards Menno's Cuvée No. 1 on arrival. This is a blend of several strong stouts, aged in a barrel which was never more than arm's length from the brewer all weekend. It's quite an experience: an explosion of busy flavours, from high octane dark malts, through dark fruits and smoke, then into tangy bitterness. On balance I think it's a bit too intense for me, with a little of the solventy flavour I mentioned before. I enjoyed the component stouts individually much more. And before I go any further, an apology to Menno that the only picture I have of him, Diogenes-like with his barrel, has him scratching his nose.

Baggaardsbryggeriet refuse to have any truck with this barrel-aging nonsense, preferring instead to just bung the liquor straight into the beer. So from them we have Drunken Sailor, laced with Islay whisky, but still only 6.5%. I think this may be because they didn't put a whole lot in there, so what you get is a slightly sour pale ale which doesn't do very much. At least it isn't a waste of much good whisky.

While there are all manner of adjuncts that can be thrown into the brewing copper, not many brewers are doing anything extreme with their water. Except, that is, for the lunatics at the Grønland Ice Cap brewery. The company itself is based in Copenhagen but imports ice directly from the tail end of a Greenland glacier, ice which fell as snow about 180,000 years ago, they say. Not only that, but your bottle has a unique reference number which can be looked up on the Interweb so you can find out exactly where on the glacier the ice you're drinking came from.


Anyway, I had a go of the Ice Cap Amber Lager and it wasn't very good -- sugary sweet and really quite tough to drink. All gimmick and no flavour, I'm afraid.

It has long been my opinion that place of hops in beer is overstated. We can pretty much do without hops, I reckon, and still have wonderful beery experiences. I cite the Helene Heather I had from Nørrebro as the perfect example. The other side of that equation, however, is Carlsberg Jacobsen's Hopless, a desperately dull, worty, grainy affair without even any redeeming malt features. The whole idea of getting rid of hops, Mr Carlsberg, is to replace them with other more interesting things.

Like bog myrtle, for instance. Porse Guld Ekstra was a decent unremarkable lager, but spiced with the aforementioned shrub to give it a tasty bitter kick. And as a bonus, according to the festival programme, the brewery picks all its bog myrtle during four company picnics each year. Awww. For the Finns it's juniper all the way, and Lammin Sahti is a traditional concoction made from barley, rye and juniper, fermented with baker's yeast. The result is sweet and deliciously spicy with fresh banana and lemon flavours.

Honey is another adjunct with a lot of involvement in beer. My experience of such brews is mixed, but I quite liked Ørbæk's Honningøl, with its wonderfully meady nose and full-on fun honey flavour, though perhaps shading into artificial sweetness at the very end. Monkeying about with grains is another option, and Indslev's Spelt Bock is one example. It's an opaque brown colour and starts with quite a scary dry chalkiness which takes a bit of getting used to. When the flavour settles down there's a nuttiness which I rather enjoyed. Not caramelly like a Dutch bock, or heavily sweet like a German one; it's its own thing, and tasty with it.

I've had a couple of liquorice beers from a home brewer of my acquaintance (hi Fergal), and my feedback tends to be "needs more liquorice". I hereby pass on the same message to whoever was exhibiting Liquorice Pils (I can't find the brewery's name): it's sweet, light and really not very interesting or liquoricey. Fergal also makes a damn fine chilli stout, with specially imported California chipotle. It has become my benchmark chilli stout, and I thought Brøckhouse's Chili Chokolade Stout compared quite favourably with it: a good dry roasted heat to warm the back of the throat. Not so much by way of chocolate, however.

Even more warming was Stevn's barleywine, the one they call Experiment D041-A. This has had most of the things you can do to beer done to it. There's both wheat and barley in there; a Belgian ale yeast to start with then a second fermentation with [sticks pin in yeast catalogue] cider yeast; some dry hopping with Amarillo; and rounded off with some aging on whiskey cask chips. And yet it's not a mess: it's delicious. There's a definite Christmas pudding character with raisins and spice and booziness from the 11% ABV. Many more flavours come and go, but it's not any way busy or unpleasant and none of that nasty solvent character. An experiment worth repeating, in my opinion.

Things get even warmer though. Not content with brewing a dark dark beer at 20% ABV, MyBeer were serving Ultraprés heated, topped with whipped cream. And it was really quite delicious, very reminscent of a French coffee to me -- quite sweet and exceptionally smooth. I don't know why you'd want to substitute a beer for a liqueur coffee, but at least now you can.

Which brings me to the very last beer of the festival and, for me, probably the best of the lot. It came from Roskilde's Herslev brewery and rejoiced in the name Aspargesøl. As the handle suggests, it's brewed with asparagus. As far as I can determine, a lot of asparagus. The nose promises fresh green crunchy veg and that's exactly what the taste delivers, including with it a spicy peppery tang. Sitting on a soft, full, wheat base you end up with an extremely drinkable beer with an utterly fascinating flavour. Well done to Herslev for raising the weirdness bar. Now, who wants to make me a smoked asparagus beer?

And that's your lot from Copenhagen, a festival I cannot stress the brilliantness of -- excelling in atmosphere, facilities and quality of product. Thanks to all the Internet beer folk I met who provided valuable directions and information: Chris, Joris, Kim, Knut, Niels and Ron. Being able to socialise internationally is one of the best non-beer things about these sorts of events.

Finally big big thank you to the Irish delegation, whose lax approach to personal beer security allowed me to taste far more than I actually bought. Cheers Declan, Declan, George, Sarah, Séan, Thom and of course Mrs Beer Nut.

Last week Thom said "If you love beer you must attend this event. No excuses. " I couldn't put it better myself.


  1. I'm honoured that you chose to finish you excellent series of reports with a quote from my pathetic assessment of the event.

    The festival really was an eye opener. I can't quite decide if I learned more as a beer drinker or as a small time brewer. It has made me aware of just what is possible, with the asparagus beer being the most striking example.

    Same again next year?

  2. Oh I dunno. I may have to go to Farmleigh. And so might you...

  3. Thanx for the informative posts- wow so many varieties of beer, please keep the posts coming.
    Here in Oz it really seems like things are taking off but not to the extent of Europe or the US for that matter.

  4. "It has become my benchmark chilli stout"

    You have a benchmark chilli stout? I've been around a bit and I have never had a one, never mind a benchmark one!

  5. It's what comes of hanging around with homebrewers. I have a benchmark mint stout as well...

  6. I must try this asparagus beer or maybe brew a version myself if I can't get it. Sounds like the festival was great. I hope to go next year. I think I'd be into trying all of that quare stuff as well.

  7. Great!

    "The Irish Beer-Drinking Public Demands Asparagus Beer" -- I'll write a letter to the big importers.

  8. Don't say you missed the Herslev Carrot beer?!

    The Greenland Ice Cap beer is actually brewed at Harboes plant in Estonia (allegedly) by the way

  9. I'd imagine carrot would lack that peppery kick that comes with asparagus, but yes: if you don't see it here, I missed it.