30 June 2010

Three controversies ago

It's hard to believe that the whole furore over Tokyo* was less than a year ago. Since then two more, even stronger, beers have come out of Fraserburgh knocking the so-strong-it'll-cure-binge-drinking barrel-aged imperial stout into a proverbial cocked hat. If I'd known how quickly its notoriety was going to wane, maybe I wouldn't have spent so much on it in Utobeer last December. And if I'd known that it was going to be sold in Dublin off licences for a fair bit less come summer I'd have made a point of drinking it sooner.

As is, it was only last weekend that I rescued the blighter from my sweltering beer store (currently, refugee bottles are crammed into every hidey hole in the house, all but wearing babushkas and playing mournful violin music). With all the fuss a distant memory, how's the beer?

After the unpalateable mess that is Tactical Nuclear Penguin I was on full alert for boozy harshness, but boozy harshness came there none. The nose is heady and alluring, like a tasty liqueur, with hints of wood and cigars. Texturewise it's incredibly smooth. The 18.2% ABV gives a warming sensation, but doesn't burn or cloy: think Drambuie or similar. The taste reminds me a little of Samuel Adams Triple Bock but it's much mellower and more balanced, calmly soothing with chocolate and cherries, not leaping up to show you flavour after flavour from its toybox. It's very easy to forget this is a stout. To the point, perhaps, where stout fans and Paradox fundamentalists might be disappointed. This stuff is playing a different game altogether.

Overall, a beautiful beer for taking time out with, its softly-spoken dignity ill-deserving of being dragged through the gutter press.

28 June 2010

Hefe nice day

I've been using the recent spell of warm weather to work gradually through my stash of hefeweizens. It's a style I've gone off a bit of late, reverting only to the odd Flensburger Weizen to go with a curry (and to add the swingtop bottle to my hoard of reusables). So, what's been happening with weissbier in my absence?

O'Brien's made a bit of a song and dance about the arrival of Erdinger Urweisse a few months back. Despite the brewery's reputation for blandness, they are capable of the odd gem (Pikantus, for instance) so I reckoned this was worth a go. It certainly has a lot more happening than your standard Erdinger: lots of big banana flavours and a distinct alcoholic heat, despite being just 5.2% ABV. In the finish up, however, there's just not enough here to keep me entertained and I won't be rushing off for another.

Unertl Weissbier Bock looked much more promising: a full 6.7% ABV and pouring a gorgeous shade of chestnut. The first signal that things were not going according to plan came with the aroma. Beyond the fruity esters coming from the yeast which was floating on the head, there was no smell; no caramel sweetness, no roastiness, no crisp dryness: nothing. The texture was the next let-down: thin and exceptionally gassy where mellow smoothness might be a reasonable expectation. And finally the flavour. The yeast is doing its utmost to give a bit of banana character, but beneath this veneer there's a rough and woody vibe -- bark, mulch and rubber -- not enough to spoil or unbalance the beer, but hard to escape when there's not much else going on inside. Mrs Beer Nut claims that there's a vanilla element too, but adds that while it might make a decent sorbet, this is not a beer for drinking.

Last up a weiss that has been getting very mixed reviews since MolsonCoors began shipping it over earlier in the year: Grolsch Weizen. Pouring it into my Grolsch glass was a mistake as the headkeeper made it go mental. On a warm evening after a long day at work I do not want to spend ten thirsty minutes trying to get my beer under control. When I finally got to it, my first thought was "watery". But then the pineapples kicked in: big, fresh and juicy and marvellously thirst-quenching. It's not watery, it's light. Perfect for charging through cold and won't leave you feeling like you've just had half a litre of 5.3% ABV beer. Which you have. I would return to this for future al fresco refreshment, certainly long before MolsonCoors's other wheat beer Blue Moon.

On this showing I doubt I'll be converting to all-weissbier diet this summer, but it definitely has its place, with curry and without.

24 June 2010

On the up

A quick Google tells me Black Diamond's Peak XV has only been with us a couple of weeks at this stage. The 8% ABV imperial porter is made with fresh vanilla and California cocoa nibs. And, perhaps because it's so young, is incredibly fizzy at first. Mountains of head piled up as I poured, though subsided relatively quickly leaving a layer of tan foam on the surface.

From this there comes an oddly sharp aroma with a strangely green and herbal character: I get the distinct impression that, a journey of 5,000 miles notwithstanding, this stuff isn't quite ready for drinking yet. Chocolate is the main flavour: dry and dusty like cocoa powder. The vanilla is present too, adding a depth and richness otherwise lacking in this busily youthful but quite two-dimensional beer. The only other beer badged as "imperial porter" that I can think of is Flying Dog's Gonzo, and this has none of the big hop complexities present there.

The texture is relatively heavy, and once the head has settled it's as smooth and ungassy as this sort of beer should be -- a bit of a prickle livening up the mild alcohol burn as it slips down.

At the moment, Peak XV is a big, cacophonous powerhouse of sharp, unsubtle, unblended flavours. While I enjoyed it, I recommend a year or two's cellaring before approaching the thick moulded plastic seal over the cap.