13 May 2010

Gone to the dogs

I hadn't been expecting quite so many non-Danish beers to be available at the Copenhagen Beer Festival last week, but it was great to see them. Most were presented by importers, but a couple of foreign breweries had taken their own stand. One of whom, I was delighted to see, was BrewDog. I even braved the hordes on Friday evening -- the most crowded I ever saw the hall -- for a quick taste of Tactical Nuclear Penguin, just to see what the fuss was all about. It's pretty much undrinkable. At 32% ABV it's certainly boozy, but not quite strong enough to be spirity as such. The oak character from the base imperial stout has been concentrated by freeze-distilling into a rather sharp and harsh medicinal flavour and on swallowing produces a burning, tarry aftertaste. I can't imagine it'll work for most beer people, nor many whisky people either.

Nor was I impressed by a couple of others they had on: 5AM Saint was my kick-off beer on the first day -- a hopped-up red ale at a modest 5% ABV. The nose is marvellous: fresh and fruity promising luscious things to come. But they don't materialise: I found the flavour quite acidic and unpleasant, the hop-juice sensation compounded by a thin body. I had great hopes for Bashah, the black IPA they've produced with Stone from California, but I finished the glass confused. Once again a fantastic aroma, this time mixing those succulent fresh hops with rich chocolate, but they didn't taste right together -- harsh again, and a bit stale-tasting; perhaps even Bovrilesque. It's nearly wonderful, but I just couldn't get behind it. So, a bit of a bust on the BrewDog front for this drinker: in the words of the boul' Larry Gogan, they just didn't suit me. I did, however, get a taste of the new-recipe Hardcore IPA and heartily recommend it over any of these.

I had much better luck down at the stand of an importer of American beers who had lots of Flying Dog beers I've never had. I made a beeline for Raging Bitch and loved it. A warming spice coming from the Belgian yeast and a wonderful fresh mandarin hop flavour on top of it, fading elegantly to peaches and ice tea. Smooth, characterful and totally inappropriately named. Staying with the strong and pale, I also liked Horn Dog barley wine, a deep brown-red ale, just over 10% ABV, and with strange and interesting banana esters undercutting a citric hop bite; and Double Dog pale ale with its rich toffee mattress bounced on by massive zingy hops -- marvellously sippable at a stonking 11.5% ABV. On the dark side there was the wholly unsubtle Schwarz Dog, loaded with those lovely smoked ham notes I associate most with Schlenkerla beers while also providing proper schwarzbier roastiness, finishing dry like a porter, while also being big and warm, as one might expect at 7.8% ABV. The very dog's, this lot.

A respectful distance from these delights, the same stand was also selling Cave Creek Chili Beer, a Mexican travesty that seems to be doing for chillis what Desperados does for tequila: associating them vaguely with beer as a gimmicky marketing exercise. It's actually pretty hot, with a green-tasting chilli burn. But, like Desperados, there's no real beer character here. This is occasionally available in Ireland, but I think I'll be giving it a miss.

Celebrities were fairly thin on the ground, though I did spot this guy (left) towards the end of Saturday. However, I missed the special beers he'd brought along from Brooklyn Brewery. I did get a taste of a couple of the regulars. Putting the cart before the horse, my opinion of Local No. 2 is that it's a lot like Local No. 1. Except I've not reviewed Local No. 1 here yet. I will soon. The second edition is in a vaguely Belgian style: strong, dark and sugary with some big banana esters. Nice in its own way but there are plenty of actual Belgian dark ales I'd have in its place. I much prefer it when Garrett gets the hops out, and really liked the Brooklyn Monster Ale. It's a kicking barley wine which, while plainly packed with citric American hops, is balanced beautifully with super-sweet caramel malt base: as chewy and hoppy as you could wish a US barley wine to be.

One last set of North American imports came from a stall pushing the beers from Schoune, a farm brewery in Quebec. Obviously there's a major Frencher-than-the-French theme happening. There's also some serious maple notes in the beers, most of all in A L'Erable which is made using lots of maple syrup -- produced on site like all of the ingredients. The syrup has fermented out a lot of the way, so the base beer is dry, but there's a lovely woody maple taste left behind. Erabière is even more mapley, especially on the nose, though actually tastes sour. Strange and very interesting. On the sweeter side there's Premier Baiser, a very drinkable sweet blonde, and Trip des Schoune, made with hemp for a light and spicy sweetness. On the darker side there's 1608 which is warm and roasty and Hivernale an incredible sandalwood-spicy winter beer which is like drinking incense. Lovely.

Some more beers from abroad next, before we get back to Denmark.


  1. He seems to turn up everywhere, like a bad penny, does Garrett.

    Just saying.

  2. GoneCaving8:18 am

    Fully agree with your assessment of TNP.

  3. Couldn't agree with you more about the Cave Creek Chili Beer-it doesn't happen very often, but this is a beer that I'd most likely turn down if offered again.

  4. BTW whos is that on the left about 7:25 into this video ? ;o)

  5. A friend of mine described TNP "like drinking tar" - can't say I'd fancy that myself, although I love the smell!

  6. Had TNP a few weeks ago and my first words after tasting it were 'undrinkable'.

  7. Michael Elliott4:47 pm

    I really like the bottled versions of those BrewDog beers (5am Saint and Bashah, that is; I'm not interested in Tactical Nuclear Penguin). I agree there's something a little harsh about Bashah; I'd say the same about Stone's Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale. I recently had a bottle of Southern Tier's Iniquity, which seemed like a similar sort of beer but somewhat softer and less schizophrenic.