30 December 2009

In the deep Smith-winter

Travel. It's just as well I love it. Not just the Being Somewhere Different, but the act of Getting Up And Going does it for me. Which is just as well, given the amount of time I've spent on the road recently. I'm in Germany when you're reading this, but I'm writing it holed up in my parents' house in rural Northern Ireland, with the snow falling and nothing much to do except drink beers and try desperately to make my phone take a half-decent picture of them.

Offering me comfort right now is a bottle of Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome which I picked up in a local supermarket. It pours a lovely red-gold shade with quite a bit of fizzy froth from the 55cl bottle. Toffee and golden syrup are hinted at on the nose, but while it's strong and malt-driven, it's no sticky park-bench paper-bag job. There are sophisticated glimpses of licquorice and honey in here as well, and the 6% ABV produces just the right amount of warming sensation, without overdoing it. It's one of the best seasonal-type beers I've had this, er, season.

I'm following it with the same brewery's India Ale, an IPA very much in the rough English vernacular. It's surprisingly forward about the malt, with lots of hard toffee chewiness. The hops aren't in the least bit subtle -- adding a jolt of bitterness, finishing very slightly metallic and only offering a little hint of gunpowder piquancy by way of contribution to flavour complexity. The two elements maintain an uneasy truce, and the finished product is nicely drinkable as a result. It wouldn't be a favourite of mine though, and as it warms it's giving me echoes of the rather unpleasant Fuller's IPA. I can't see myself swapping a nice juicy, zingy American IPA for this rather dour Yorkshireman.

And that's it for 2009. Join me on Friday for more auto-posted delights and the first Session of the new decade.

28 December 2009

Wetter don't mean better

Maybe it was just because I opened it immediately after finishing a particularly sugary dessert, but the first sip of Sierra Nevada Harvest Wet Hop gave me a sharp jolt of astringency which I really didn't care for. The label makes much of the added complexity and spiciness that they claim comes from using straight-off-the-vine fresh hops, but to me this stuff is just bitter to the point of unpleasantly sour. An hour later it had mellowed a bit, but not hugely. Sierra Nevada claim this is what "hop fanatics dream of", so I can only assume that "hop fanatics" are people who enjoy getting alpha acid chemical burns on the roofs of their mouths.

The body is rather thin and there's only a faint trace of caramel malts and mango hop flavours -- I would expect a bit more warmth and fun from a 6.7% ABV ale. The overriding sensation is of having a grapefruit ground slowly into one's face. It's a bully of a beer and I'd much rather play with its more charming (or at least less harsh) antipodean sibling.

24 December 2009

A BrewDog's not just for Christmas

I picked up a cheap Trashy Blonde in the Sprucefield Sainsbury's. I mean, who hasn't? Brought her home, kept her in the attic a few months -- you know the drill -- and then finally plucked up the courage to pull her top off. Shall I stop now? Yeah.

It's a beautifully golden ale with lots of clean refreshing fizz. The nose gives me lager malts and peachy hops. Much like 77 lager, the flavour is powerfully bitter, though tempered nicely with the juicy fruit flavours, and finishing dry. Superb complexity for a 4.1% ABV beer, and at a quid a bottle there's no guilt about chugging it back cold, or smothering it in spicy food. I really should have bought more...

Instead, there's Devine Rebel, the result of when Mikkeller met BrewDog, with a charming illustration of the eponymous Mikkel facing the eponymouser Bracken on the label. Two of the continent's top brewers; 12% ABV; barrel aged in whisky casks: you can expect that what pours forth is a good time.

It seems to arrive a murky brown, but hold it up to the light and there's a certain saintly amber radiance to the colour. The first sip produces a heavy filling sensation, coating the mouth just like all the best barrel-aged beers I've met. The first wave from the flavour platoon fills the palate with milk chocolate and juicy raisins. While these charming raconteurs keep your tastebuds busy, a pincer movement of vanilla wood and sharp hops nip round the back and take control of the situation before you realise what's happened. Next thing, you're up to your eyes in whisky casks and bitterness yet still enchanted by the fruitsome candy loveliness of the first sensations. It's best just to surrender and enjoy the occupation. Kiss a squaddie; paint stocking seams on the back of your legs -- that kind of deal.

This is a beautifully crafted beer, and a perfect example of how the new extremists of European brewing ought not not be dismissed as fad-chasers, but are clearly capable of sublime beers that only the terminally stultified could deem poor.

All these fruits and fun, plus bitterness and wood, means that Brewdog will definitely be appearing on both Santa's nice and naughty lists this evening. Just as well Bracken has four stockings.

Wishing a very merry Christmas to all my readers. Cheers!