03 March 2014

In the bag

It's hard to keep up with the busy little gypsies of the Brown Paper Bag Project. No fewer than three beers have come out since the beginning of 2014, with another currently in preparation in the Czech Republic. For now, a pair of Belgians and a Dane.

First up, a porter. Not the most wowtastic of styles and the name, Pleasant, continues the modest theme. Only the ABV hints at something more going on: 6.6% ABV, so I expected a bit of a kick. From the 33cl bottle it pours out a wholesome dark brown, topped by a tight off-white head the colour of a winking pint on a Gilroy poster. There's a mild fruit and chocolate aroma, but nothing particularly striking. Pleasant, you might say. The taste is a rich blend of dry roast, milky coffee, sour damsons and a lighter floral breeziness, with a slight metallic tang on the end. There's no sign of the extra alcohol but I'd be confident that it makes a contribution to the depth of flavour. I could drink a lot of this. Somebody needs to teach them Belgians the joy of pint bottles.

Released at the same time was Big Red. This, as the name implies, is a strong lad (8% ABV), and a bright garnet colour. It took a bit of work to get it all into my teku, what with the masses of foam. The result was a clear body with an ivory head, smelling vaguely of hoppy spicing but not much else. The taste is caramel first, then a rather harsh waxy flavour. But no fruit, no spice: just blunt bitterness. It looks fun, but this is really quite a serious beer and not very enjoyable. Shame.

The third beer in the series was presented under plain wrappers as a Twitter-based blind tasting last month. It was an especially good choice of candidate for a slow tutored tour as it does different things at different points of the sensory whatnot. The first thing it did was explode all over the table -- and from watching Twitter I wasn't the only one to find this -- the head subsiding away, leaving a hazy pale orange beer with a scattering of brown crumbs in it. The aroma is nectarine and soft sweet plums, with (as his eminence The Gargler pointed out) a hint of tinned mandarin. But a little dry sourness lurks at the back, and on tasting the two elements swap places. The sourness comes rushing to the fore while the fruit takes a back seat. Underlying the acid there's a berliner weisse wheatiness, but it's cleaner than any of those I've tasted and more complex because of the hopping.

The big reveal showed it to be a gose, brewed in collaboration with Denmark's Fanø Bryghus and titled Gøse. Of the characteristic coriander I could taste no trace, but the salt is there, providing an invigorating seaspray after-effect. As it warmed, some honey notes started to come out, but it didn't interfere with what's otherwise a beautifully complex sparkly refresher.

About the only thing these three have in common is how different they are from each other. After all, there's no point travelling around Europe and brewing the same beer over and over.

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