30 September 2013

Coal porter

I've had a bit of an on-again-off-again relationship with Belgian stout over the years. The much-loved Hercule was tough going for me, while Leroy ranks among the worst beers I've ever had the misfortune to have put in front of me. De La Senne's Stouterik is an excellent exception, but only achieves this by de-Belging itself, being light, simple and clean. So I wasn't sure which way the dice would fall when it came to De Dochter van de Korenaar's Charbon: at 7% ABV, smoked, and including vanilla, clean and simple were definitely not on the agenda.

It pours densely black with a rocky ivory head which dissipates quickly. The first thing that struck me is the intensely creamy texture, full and silky, with barely a prickle from the carbonation. Picking out the separate elements, the smoke is dry and a little burnt tasting. The vanilla is barely discernible, a mild wisp of it which could pass for the effect of understated barrel aging. The overall impression is of a well integrated, approachable extra stout with a spot-on roasty aroma and the appropriate level of vegetal bitterness. The smoky vanilla bells and whistles are near enough an irrelevance.

Not particularly Belgian, but in stout that may be a good thing.

26 September 2013

Pottstown steelers

What really seems to have got people talking about the Sly Fox Helles is its pull-off top, removing the whole top surface, presumably to create a better experience for those who opt to drink straight from the container. I couldn't help but do a bit of sensory testing and took a couple of swigs before I'd poured it all out. While the aroma definitely does manage to get through, the sensation is still an unpleasant one: cold metal and the rough edge of the can lip which itself is awkwardly sunk below the rim. Awkward and uncomfortable. Stick with glasses, kids.

The beer itself is a beautiful clear gold so they must be expecting at least some people to look at it. It's a little hoppier than your typical Bavarian helles, though the hops are definitely of the right genre: mown grass and fresh leafy spinach dominate. The texture is appropriately soft and there's a nice smooth breadiness from the lager malt. Not full marks for accuracy for me, but it's still very tasty.

Pikeland Pils is the same strength: 4.9% ABV, and pretty much the same colour too, though throwing a little bit of a haze. The aroma is fruitier: tart berries and possibly a touch of sherbet. On the first sip the near absence of fizz surprised me, and the flavour beneath is very interesting too: waxy and sharp with a palate-coating resin. Bitter enough to be stimulating and refreshing without becoming harsh. Simple, tasty and I'm rather surprised I like it.

Moving to the warm fermented styles we start with Royal Weisse. It takes a bit of swirling to get the lees out of the can and the end result is an orange glassful with a head which subsides quickly. They've made good use of the weissbier yeast with lots of sumptuous banana esters and some other higher-alcohol by-products: diesel and sulphur. There's a proper wheaty dry grain layer under what the yeast is doing and overall it's a fairly accurate, if workmanlike, recreation of the style.

So let's see how Sly Fox do with styles from closer to home. Phoenix is the pale ale, hefty enough at 5.1% ABV. Light on aroma but I get some bitter jaffa if I get my beak right down into it. There's a lovely buzz from the hops here, an uncompromising metallic clang softened by some cedar spicing and grapefruit spritz. Some higher floral notes and a brown sugar sweetness add some tickle to the slap. It's a beer I could settle into, there's plenty here to keep me entertained, but I have an IPA to finish on.

113 is dense and dark: orange amber and an off-white head. Again they've spared the aroma hops in favour of big bitterness. It reminds me a lot of the lagers: that waxy green acidic quality which shouldn't really be surprising since they wear their use of German hops with pride on the label, the only 7% ABV American IPA that I know of to do that. There's some pleasant toffee but no real US-style fruity high notes, just bitterness all the way. With all due respect to the old world credentials I can't say I'm a fan of this hybrid. What works at 5.1% ABV doesn't necessarily fly at 7%.

A bit of of a mixed bag here, but still it's great to see more American beer arriving in these lightweight, durable, stackable, quick-chilling, easy-open, lightproof containers.

23 September 2013

Scorch and screech

Two from Peterborough's finest today. Oakham Inferno first and, despite the bluster of the name, it pours a sickly pale yellow, looking for all the world like a cheap adjunct lager. The aroma comes quickly to the rescue, however, pushing out a peach and mango scent that beckons the drinker in. The carbonation is a little high and the texture a little thin, even at 4.4% ABV, but the flavour more than makes up for it: a fruit explosion of pineapple and mandarin to begin with, then taking a sharp turn into spiky grapefruit and lemon bitterness. Zing by the bagful. The malt contributes as little to the flavour as it does to the colour, with just a very slight sweetness under the hops, adding a touch of orange barley sweets. Maybe a little bit on the bitter side for me to drink a lot of it but it's a wonderful wake-up call to tired tastebuds.

So Scarlet Macaw has a tough act to follow. A smidge more welly at 4.8% ABV and it's darker too: orange, shading to amber. No fireworks in the aroma this time and the flavour is definitely softer and more nuanced, a gentle jaffa orange fruitiness, though once again it gets increasingly pithy after the first few seconds. A base of digestive biscuits hovers in the background and the body is nicely full.

These two aren't actually all that different from each other, and they're both first rate hop-forward session ales. Choosing one over the other is a question of mood: the lively Inferno when you want to quaff something stimulating and the Macaw when you fancy something a bit mellower but still pretty full-on.