10 October 2013

Passing for normal

I don't know whether it's the nature of the festival or my odd taste for odd beers, but I came back from Borefts 2013 able to squeeze most of the "normal" beers -- the pale ales, barley wines and the like -- into a single post.

On the IPA front, Naparbier's 5 Titius was my standout: 7.3% ABV, dark and heavy with sandalwood spices plus big zesty orange and grapefruit. What I loved most about it is that the weight doesn't come with a sticky sugariness and there's not an ounce of toffee in the flavour. Rooie Dop didn't quite manage to avoid the sugar in their 24/7 session IPA (4.9% ABV): there's a sweet middle, but also a solid bitter kick and plenty of fresh mandarin and lemon, even turning a little dank towards the end. The thin texture lets it down somewhat but it's still very enjoyable. Their full-strength IPA is 7.1% ABV and called Chica Americana. There's not all that much going on in it, just some herbs and lavender, making it smell like posh soap. Fyne Ales made a better fist of things at the same strength with Superior IPA. Still understated but quite complex, showing oily hop resins, with some jaffa and a bit of medicinal herbs. A light sherbet zing helps lift it and adds to the drinkability. Their more modest pale ale offering was Fladda Rock at 5.5% ABV: biscuits and citrus, and a little waxy, say my notes. I think I liked it but wasn't moved to write more.

Double IPAs: Toccalmatto's Surfing Hop is 8.5% ABV and a dark brown-amber shade. Lots of toffee in here, though cut nicely by tangerine and orange pith. Not too sweet, then: mellow and pleasantly sippable. Staying in Italy, Brewfist's 2Late approaches a double-figure ABV and triple-figure IBUs. It's very heavy: oily and even a little vinous with lots of alcohol heat wafting off it. The hop flavours are amazingly fresh, however, with beautiful peach and mandarin notes leaping out and making it much more approachable than its vital statistics might suggest.

Brewfist gave us a black IPA too -- Green Petrol. It's very green indeed: thick molasses stickiness meets raw cabbage bitterness. I quite liked it for all that. And we have white IPA as well, in the form of Rooie Dop's What A Wonderful White. This is 7.2% ABV and the full orange colour of a weissbier, which is what it really is. The flavour opens with a powerful punch of nectarine and orange, leaving a slightly acrid hop burn in its wake. There's more than a hint of weissbier spicing in the mix too, further fuelling my scepticism about "white IPA" as useful designation.

I only paid one quick visit to French brewery Mont Salève, for their Barley Wine aged in a pinot barrel. It's a lovely mellow blend of orangey hop oils and woody spices, plus a hint of acetic tartness. The same went for To Øl: just one beer and it a barley wine, this one called I've Seen Bigger Than Yours. It's a dark orange colour with an ivory head, making it look very dense; hardly surprising at 14% ABV. The aroma is a vague whiff of ripe summer fruits, and on tasting its raspberries that come to the fore, or more specifically the thick sweetness of raspberry ice cream sauce. Heavy going, but deftly offset by a bright and spritzy citrus sharpness which prevents the whole thing turning to cough mixture.

That leaves us with the brown beers, and Rooie Dop's Brown Mothafuckah first: 4.3% ABV and as brown as the name suggests but fantastically hop driven, with lots of resin and bitter green vegetal notes. A hint of coffee in the finish adds a pleasant dark complexity. Thornbridge, meanwhile, grandly describes its Calver as an "imperial rye ESB". There's no sign of the 7.4% ABV in here, nor of the rye very much. Instead it's a tannic and peachy sweet amber ale, though one that does get a bit cloying after a while.

And that leaves just one beer, one I missed last year and hugely regretted it, which wasn't on the advance list so was a very pleasant surprise when it turned up. And there's no missing Bäver, or at least its distinctive porcelain pouring apparatus. This is Närke's standard bitter enhanced with beaver musk. It pours a clear chestnut red and tastes rather grainy with some sweet smoke and mild hop resins. There's not much else going on, and I wasn't able to identify anything in the flavour that could be distinctly tagged as beaver bum, but such is life. It's the experience that counts.

Borefts wound up at 10pm on the Saturday, though I believe the party continued up in the windmill. Not for me, though. I had the traditional post-Borefts day's drinking in Amsterdam ahead.


  1. Those are the "normals"? Three 'bitters' (out of 14); one of those is 7%, and one of the other two has beaver musk in it!

    I'm thinking of our discussion at Ed's, obviously. Cutting-edge brewers, check; extremes of style/additive/ABV/IBU, check; dearth of unadorned traditional styles, check. Clearly Borefts isn't the high street, but it's not totally unrepresentative of the 'craft beer' scene either.

    1. I think you're over-interpreting my use of the word "normal". It doesn't mean "beer of the sort that Phil would find in his local pubs."

    2. I wouldn't expect it to - I know Borefts by reputation. But - seeing that your other three Borefts posts featured unhopped beers, imperial stouts ranging up to 25% and saisons, goses & Flemish reds - I think this lot probably is Comet Borefts' closest pass by Planet Normal. Not knocking the beers - some of them sound great - just wondering about the shortage of brilliant new beers within traditional styles.

    3. Two factors there: the breweries invited to Borefts tend to be the ones known for experimentation. Related to this, breweries tend to bring their odd stuff along, even if they have more normal fare in their line-ups too. The serving size is a a factor there.

      Besides, how could anyone possibly regard the likes of berliner weisse, gruit ale and eisbock as anything but traditional?

  2. Passing for normal - my ambition my whole life.

    Talking about traditional, what's more traditional than a pint glass?

    1. A pink china mug with a leather strap?

    2. Strawberry-pink, according to St George, which has always puzzled me since it occurred to me that strawberries (and strawberry jam) are bright red. "Strawberry fool pink"?

      What was the serving size again? Smallish, I'm guessing.

      Agreed that Borefts is its own thing.

      how could anyone possibly regard the likes of berliner weisse, gruit ale and eisbock as anything but traditional?

      Ha. I'll give you Berliner Weisse, but I don't think you can have a tradition that died out shortly after the Picts - or a tradition that surely didn't involve 'brewing' at 25% abv.

    3. Serving was 150ml.

      Are you getting your history from a Fraoch label? Gruit ales lasted all the way through the middle ages in northern Europe. If you fit sahti into the tradition then it's pretty much unbroken.

      I don't know my German brewing history all that well, but I doubt eisbock is a new thing.