29 April 2013

My hop nemesis

Though they've been a regular feature on this blog for most of its (exactly) eight years, I had sort of lost track of what BrewDog were doing, beerwise, these days. Outside of the mostly on-trade-related news feed there seemed to be an endless line of hyper-expensive limited editions, none of which really interested me. Now things seemed to have calmed down, with a couple of beers I've been hearing great things about. Time to see for myself.

First up was Dead Pony Club. This is a 3.8% ABV pale ale and so immediately invites comparison with the excellent Jarl by Fyne Ales. Both make extensive use of Citra for a mouthwatering zestiness, but BrewDog couldn't help taking a big scoop from the Simcoe sack, and while this pungent hop just about works in fuller beers like 5am Saint and Punk IPA, it completely takes over here. My experience was of a sharp cheesey foretaste, followed by burning, followed by watery fizz, though I have to give props for the sweet lasting peachiness in the aftertaste.

I'm well aware that I'm in a minority when it comes to my problem with Simcoe. Without its influence I imagine I'd have enjoyed Dead Pony Club more. As it stands, however, it's another reason why I'm rarely minded to run out and try new BrewDogs these days. So it was with trepidation that I popped the next one.

Libertine is nearly double the strength and a very dark but clear red. "Let the sharp bitter finish rip you straight to the tits. Swallow hard - this slut bites" according to the ten-year-old who wrote the label copy, but while the aroma is mostly citrus with a bit of Simcoe funk (it's 100% Simcoe), the flavour puts dark chocolate at the centre, made sticky with a lacing of treacle. And then the Simcoe comes out, held in check by the dark malt which gives us a bit of biscuit to go with the cheese.

Libertine reminds me a lot of 5am Saint, with its mix of heavy malt and funky hop. A pint would probably be too much, but 33cls was enjoyable.

I'd hoped I'd be able to get a bottle of Jack Hammer to go with these but it seems to be in very short supply. I just had a taste of this at the Voyager launch (thanks Alex, and welcome to the blogosphere!) and was very impressed. It's 7.2% ABV and BrewDog claim it's the bitterest beer they've ever brewed. So it must have been the Voyager I was drinking beforehand which left it tasting soft and fruity, packed with mango and passionfruit, reminding me of the exquisitely balanced pale ales put out by Stone. And best of all: no Simcoe, just Centennial and Columbus. Good doggie.

25 April 2013

Candy and kippers

More Flying Dog-related fun at The Black Sheep and Against the Grain lately. The former had the Red Ale from FD's Brewhouse Rarities series. At 6.7% ABV this hazy ochre beer wields a bit more heft than your typical American amber ale and piles on the dark malt sugars too with a serious amount of toffee in the foretaste. It's nicely countered with some lovely fresh nectarine and mandarin hopping and the overall package tastes pleasantly like red liquorice bootlaces, or my memory of them, at any rate.

Over at the sister pub I finally found Flying Dog Single Hop Chinook Imperial IPA the latest in the series, following on from Citra and Nelson Sauvin. 10% ABV like the others, and not actually all that big in the hop department. Toffee, once again, was my first impression, and only after a few sips did a kind of spicy bitterness creep into the mix. I use Chinook a lot in my own brewing as a bittering hop but have little experience of actually tasting it.  While it's certainly an interesting flavour profile, I think the sweet malt element in this particular application could have done with being dialled down a couple of notches to let those hops play a bigger role.

Back at home a couple more American beers brought over by friends. Reuben supplied a Smoke Jumper, a smoked imperial porter -- the first of such I've ever met -- by Left Hand. It suffers hugely from the great drawback of smoked beers: kipperiness. It's an unpleasant stale sort of smoke smell that I tend to get when the malt is mixed in with non-smoked malts and other flavour sources which dilute and interfere with it. After the fish course there's a metallic tang and quite a burnt, acrid bitterness. A beer dedicated to fire fighters which recreates the harsh experience of being one, it seems. I've found Left Hand to be a brewery of more misses than hits and Smoke Jumper did nothing to shift that balance for me.

Also at the table, supplied by Richard, was Southern Tier's Imperial Choklat Stout. Cryptic spelling aside, there's no mistaking the chocolate in here: the aroma is rich hot fudge sauce and there's no escaping the cocoa on tasting either. But it's not just chocolate in the flavour, it's deeper than that: I got some lavender and rosewater, calling to mind Turkish delight bars, and even some cherry liqueur, so pretty much everything I like being done with chocolate is in here. It's sublime; a creation worthy of Wonka.

Four interesting and quite experimental beers there, indicating that while not every mix of tastes will suit all palates, the rewards for playing about with ingredients can be considerable.

22 April 2013

Vive la similarité

French ale Bellerose talks up its hoppiness early, promising citrus and lychee on the label, though it also lists "spices" in the ingredients, and the "innovative cocktail of three hops" is the sort of marketing nonsense that usually precedes bad beer. It looks OK though: clear gold with just a very light suspended sediment. There's a very Belgian sort of aroma, sweet and honeyish, and the flavour is quite typical for a Belgian blonde too: concentrated nectarine and a dusting of nutmeg.

I'd be confident that the vaunted hops really are making a difference here, adding a depth to the fruitiness, but I can't help wondering if that's a Belgian yeast strain introducing the spiciness or if it's an added flavouring. I suppose it doesn't really matter. The end result is a smooth, subtle, mildly warming Belgian-style blonde. It all could have been much worse.