30 January 2012

The limit of creativity

Brewdog didn't even bother putting one of their colourful diatribes on the label of Hops Kill: it's just an ad for their share ownership thingy. Label copy that tries to sell you something other than the beer behind it is a new one on me. I guess they reckon anyone who's going to buy this limited-edition imperial red ale has already made up their mind before getting close enough to the bottle to read it.

It's a viscous little number, pouring relatively flat at first and only gradually foaming up towards the end. I was expecting 5AM Saint with extra booziness, as it's 7.8% ABV, but that's not how it transpired. 5AM's aggressive Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin hopping is something I can only handle in small doses, producing a gradual cheese-and-cat-pee character that starts me regretting my pint about three quarters of the way through. Thankfully, Hops Kill doesn't have this.

Perhaps the dry-hopping is less intensive, or perhaps the additional alcohol lends it balance, but the hops here are pleasantly and unapologetically bitter at first, and only showing off their flavour towards the end where, yes the neighbourhood Tom has been marking his territory, but it's balanced with enough sweet sherbet and dry roast to clean up the worst excesses.

At the end of the bottle I'd have another. That doesn't happen with 5AM Saint.

26 January 2012

Black Forest, looking pale

The good folk at Ambrosius Trading, down Tipperary way, have recently acquired the distribution rights to the Alpirsbacher Klosterbräu range of beers and at the beginning of the year were kind enough to send me a sample selection of the range. Alpirsbach, for them as are interested, is in Baden-Württemberg: the south-western corner of Germany. A long way from Tipperary, you might say.

Anyhoo, I opened the Pils first. It's a very pale golden colour, pouring with a thick head that subsides quickly but leaves a finger of foam on top of the body. Though the aroma is quite bready, a strike of waxy vegetal bitterness greets the first sip. It's one of your no-messing-about hop-forward German pils, the sort I associate more with the north, from my admittedly limited experience. The texture is beautifully smooth, more like a Munich helles or even a märzen, the fizz kept well in check by its weightiness. It could pass for stronger than 4.9% ABV for sure. You need to wait for it to warm up before any malt comes through at all and it does so with a splash of golden syrup and honey. I guess it could get a bit sickly if left too long, but other than that we have a solid, workmanlike, better-than-average pilsner.

The kellerbier next, and Kloster Naturtrüb is exactly as the name suggests: densely cloudy. The orangey-yellow body topped by a big fluffy head makes it look for all the world like a weissbier. Definitely a lager, though. Like many of the bottled kellerbiers (surely such a thing shouldn't exist?) I've tried it lacks any real character. I get the impression that this is meant for rowdy session drinking in quantity and the taste doesn't really matter. It's clean, there's a nice unrefined rustic graininess, but other than that, very little flavour to speak of. At 5.4% ABV I'd want a bigger taste return on my liver's investment.

The blue-label Weizen follows next, described as "hefe hell" on the label, and is very hell indeed:  a slightly sickly looking translucent yellow. It definitely lacks the full-on fruity esters of its Bavarian counterparts but at the same time there's a nice crispness to it, something I associate, again, more with northern weissbiers like Flensburger's. There's just enough of a light soft fruit vibe to satisfy this drinker's weissbier cravings, and it's certainly very chuggable without getting too filling as it goes. I'm starting to build an impression of Alpirsbacher as a fastidious yet unimaginative brewery. Let's see how they get on with a more full-on style.

A purple label, 7.3% ABV: hooray! I thought, with no good reason, a doppelbock! My face fell as the dark gold beer poured out, and I braced myself for some German trampwarmer. No sickliness or booze on the nose of Kloster Starkbier, however, just a subtle breadiness. The body is full, barely troubled by the fizz, and while there is that slightly sticky sweet booziness you often get in Strong Lager For The Less Discerning Gentleman, it's compensated for by some quite hefty up-front hopping, giving it a kind of candied fruit effect with added herbal complexities, only turning towards park bench/bus station territory towards the finish. I'm a little surprised by how much I liked this. Even as it warms up it remains an enjoyable honeyish sipper.

The joker in the pack is Kleiner Mönch, a dark gold number in a vaguely märzen style at 5.4% ABV. A touch of nettle on the nose, but nothing to be too concerned about, followed by a flavour shot through with more golden syrup plus fresh-baked bread. It's actually not dissimilar to the Starkbier above, but is much more approachable though lacking the bigger herbal hops. I have to wonder why it's in the small bottle instead of the other one.

Last of the set isn't branded as an Alpirsbacher but is from the same brewery as the others. Nagold is a few kilometres north-east of Alpirsbach, so Nagolder Urtyp nearly qualifies as a local beer. 5.2% ABV and producing a powerful nettley whiff as it pours. I get a whack of metallic saccharine up front on tasting, followed by a watery hollowness and, yes, those almost sour noble hop green weeds on the finish. I suspect that all the brewing prowess at Alpirsbacher goes into the brewery's own range, while the Nagolder is left up to the apprentice. Or possibly the cleaning lady.

Overall, I think the Alpirsbacher range has a lot going for it. I see it in the same segment of quality German lagers as Jever and the Rothaus set, a segment which is not exactly what I'd call overcrowded round these parts. Our local brewers could learn something about making lager from this lot.