30 April 2014

What sap

It's not autumn, but I figured Anchor's BigLeaf Maple "autumn red" should still be OK to drink, being 6% ABV. It's not really red, more of a coppery orange. The smell is enticing: a fruity spicy sweetness, all candied banana and toffee apples. I experienced a little trepidation at the prospect of a sticky sugary mess, but that's not the case. The flavour is clean as a whistle, presenting clear maple syrup woody sweetness as the centrepiece, garnished with gunpowder spices and a sprinkling of roast. And it's the maple and spice that gets left behind in the aftertaste, not the cloying syrup.

My finishing impression, even this far from autumn, is of one of those typical American pumpkin beers, only without the unsubtle flavour additions. Something as well put together as this shouldn't need to wait until the far side of the equinox.

28 April 2014


I didn't really know what to be more surprised at when a review bottle of St Erhard arrived via the company's local distributor: the hip, Absolut-esque branding on a lager from uber-traditional Bamberg, or the claim on the back that the clear glass is somehow UV-protected. A bit of asking around on Twitter regarding the latter turned up the suggestion that it was legit and that a glass coating does indeed exist to skunk-proof beer bottles. This one end up sitting in my glass-fronted beer fridge for two months so at the very least I had the opportunity to test this claim.

Inside, it's an amber lager of 5% ABV and helpfully lists its malt types (Vienna, Pilsner, CaraMunich) and hops (Tettnanger) on the bottle. I couldn't help but detect an air of skunkiness when I took the cap off, but if I didn't imagine it, there's not very much. Hooray for chemicals! Lots of fizz at first, dropping to a mere rash of bubbles on the surface. The aroma is all grain husk: a dry and almost roasty crunchy smell. And on tasting there's more of that plus possibly some chocolate and liquorice too. In a blind tasting I imagine I would swear this is a porter, and the thinness of body does nothing to dispel that impression. I get a miniscule whiff of herbal hops in the afterburp, but otherwise this is cereals all the way.

Not a bad beer, perfectly drinkable and that. But not exactly brimming with Bamberg quality. Oh: it's contract brewed 20km outside Bamberg? Well maybe that explains it. As you were.

(The rubbish pun in the title, by the way, is there to point out that today I'm one year short of ten doing this blog thing. I'll try and come up with a better one for next year.)

24 April 2014

New beers from old friends

Troubadour Magma is damn near irresistible, and Westkust is a comforting friend, so I'm always alert for new beers from The Musketeers in the hope that this classic double-act can be turned into a trilogy. The first candidate was one I found at a studenty pub called Le Coq, just up from the Bourse in Brussels: Troubadour Spéciale. And it is grim: a really boring red ale with masses of porridgey grain that is a chore to drink through. Why, Musketeers, why? A few days later, and Waterhuis aan de Bierkant in Ghent. Troubadour Obscura in the fridge, in my glass, in my mouth. What the hell is THIS? It appears to be a stout of some sort, a strong one at 8.2% ABV. It's roaringly sour, all lactic tang and a stubborn awkward brett funk squatting in the middle of the flavour, refusing to let anything else out. There's no mention of this "character" in the official tasting notes so I suspect something just went up the left with my bottle. I think I'll wait until I can have it on draught before chancing this one again. That's 0 for 2 in new Troubadour beers. Stick to the Magma, kids.

The other progressive Belgian brand I always look forward to new beers from is Brasserie de la Senne. They have an adapted version of their classic Taras Boulba pale ale, produced in collaboration with Birrificio di Montegioco and called Taras Runa. Like Taras Boulba this is a hazy shade of yellow, and like Taras Boulba it blends new world citrus hop flavours with light Belgian yeast spicing. Like Taras Boulba it's an approachable, sessionable strength. Actually: this is almost identical to Taras Boulba. It's perfectly decent, but I'm marking it down for being far too close to a beer they already make. What's the point?

De la Senne also have a new black IPA out, called Black in Japan, with yet another gorgeous label. It's 7.2% ABV and was a bit of a job to pour, what with all the foam. I was expecting a much bigger hop punch than it delivered. What we have here is a perfectly decent export-strength stout, with plenty of dry roast in both the aroma and flavour, plus a crunchy veg complexity from the hops. It's not a million miles from good old Wrasslers XXXX, a beer I'm coming increasingly to believe would be badged as a black IPA if it were brewed today for the first time.

This was in Poechenellekelder where one of the seasonal draughts was from the St-Feuillien/Green Flash collaboration series. The black saison they did previously was wonderful, so I had high hopes for Belgian Coast, a 7% ABV IPA. It arrived very cold, rather flat and quite a dark shade of amber and is definitely more Belgium than San Diego in the aroma: sugar, spice, fruit esters, but only a bit of hop greenness. The flavour mixes the sticky Belgian candy with the vegetal hops in an odd way, but it's not without its charms. There's a long metallic afterburn in the finish. Not as much fun as the saison, and not all that different to a zillion other Belgian IPAs, but quite nice to drink.

Dupont's archetypal saison needs very little introduction but I was acutely aware of how few of their other beers I had tasted and decided to put that right. Redor is the basic pils, well-assembled if a little nondescript. A sharp, almost sour, aroma and a flavour which combines light peachiness with some dry grain husk. There's also Monk's Stout, another simple one. 5.2% ABV and nicely dry and crisp: not always a guarantee in a country that seems to tolerate overly sugary stouts. Bons Vœux</