27 September 2012

Sugar rush

Through the good offices of my wife I've accumulated a bit of a collection of sweet Belgian fruit beers. She knows I have something of a weakness for these concoctions and always have an eye out for new ones. So, one sunny evening before summer finally took down the umbrellas and brought in the tables for another year I decided to have a clear out.

First up was Lindemans Apple. A mere 3.5% ABV, this, due I'm sure to 25% of its bulk consisting of apple juice, the rest being lambic beer and some flavours and colours for good measure. The result is an opaque orange-yellow beer that could easily pass for unfiltered cider until you sniff it. In the aroma the apples take a back seat to massive sweet sugar with some mild acetone: like shoving two Jolly Ranchers up your nose. But all is forgiven on the first mouthful. Yes, it's sweet, get over it. There's also a proper crisp green apple tang and if you let it hang about for a second it's possible to detect the wheat and even hops of the underlying beer. Best of all is the light effervescence instead of full-on fizz, meaning it went down the hatch in pretty short order. Refreshing.

Second beer was Pecheresse, one that has long amused me, not because of the beer itself -- I'd never tasted it -- but because of how it's categorised on the menu of Chez Moeder Lambic in Brussels: Contrary to the picture above it's only 2.5% ABV, but I can see why they chose to mention the sirop: it's syrup all the way here, only barely discernible as peach so concentrated is it. The beer is almost flat and tastes of nothing else except the sickly fruit gunk. I have a genuine love of sweet beers, but I find it difficult to believe any adult could enjoy drinking this one.

And finally we have Kriek Max, and unlike the foregoing joke beers, this one comes with credentials: a gold medal for best kriek at the 2011 World Beer Awards.The pour produces a lovely serious blood-red body topped by an altogether more frivilous pink fluffy head. There's no escaping the sugar here, its laid on pretty thickly but it does serve a purpose: buoying up a very full-on cherryade flavour. You know you have a kriek in front of you. For just 3.2% ABV it packs in rather a lot of fun fruity taste without being overpoweringly artificial. But best kriek in the world? Maybe not.

And after that, the side effects. These low ABV, soft-textured beers may be easy to chug down on a warm evening on the patio, but I could feel my heart rate accelerating by half way through the session and at the end I was ready to bounce off the walls. Something big and hoppy was required as a downer and palate cleaner afterwards.

24 September 2012

Blown cover

Majestic. That's the word I'd use for the Brooklyn Black Ops bottle, a tall tapering 75cl embossed with the Brooklyn logo and labelled silver on black with matter-of-fact sans serif lettering. It's the sort of class that bottles which strive to be classy never quite manage and makes you feel like you really have something as you twist the cork cage open.

This imperial stout is a little light on its feet for a barrel-aged job, just 10.7% ABV and you can see in the pour that it doesn't gloop out like others of its kind, splashing into the glass and forming a lively dark brown head, settling down to a tan skim. Coffee is what leaps out in the aroma to me: a big, sweet, almost fruity, roast smell. There's an echo of the bourbon cask too: that sharp sour mash tempered by vanilla oak.

The coffee is still there in the flavour but takes more of a mocha direction as bitter dark chocolate comes into play. The wood and whiskey thing is still going on, but it doesn't blend so well with the stouty flavours, drowning the sweetness in the foretaste somewhat and taking most of the credit for the finish with its heady alcoholic vapours.

It's a class act, though perhaps not as multidimensional as some of the stronger barrel-aged imperial stouts. And I'm beginning to think, between this and the Bourbon Barrel Ale I had recently, that maybe bourbon is a little to brash for aging beer well. Something called "Black Ops" should be a little more subtle, I think.

20 September 2012


My bottle of Adnams Spindrift says the beer "evokes images of sea spray blown off a cresting wave". Shut up, bottle of Spindrift! That's my call. I get to decide what you sort-of-but-not-really taste like. If breweries are going to start writing wanky bloggish tasting notes on their labels, we're all done for.

Spindrift looks pretty simple: a pale orange ale of 5% ABV, though served from an odd 33cl blue glass longneck. The aroma conjures up old Adnams favourite Innovation, with its powerful spiced marmalade character. The first sip brings that marvellous dry mineral note that is the Adnams hallmark and what keeps me coming back to their beer. Under that there's a complex of heavy, sticky, sweet Jaffa orange and much lighter zesty spritz, both working in parallel and neither dominating.

I can see why they went with the smaller bottle here: the texture is dense enough and the flavours strong enough that it would be harder to take in larger measures. But it's not difficult or overly heavy. It pains me to say it, but this bottle of Spindrift put me more in mind of a nice glass of Chenin Blanc or Riesling. No sea spray, but lovely fruit, dahling. Mwah!