31 October 2014

And the rest

Last post from Borefts 2014, taking us to more far-flung parts of Europe. But we start where we left off, in Italy. Del Ducato's Violent Femme is a 4.2% ABV saison and is lemons all the way, from the bright hazy yellow colour, to the acidic citric burn to the gentler lemon sherbet hop flavours. When life gives you saison, make lemonade. Or something. Their other beer I tried couldn't be more different. Luna Rossa is billed as a kriek in the program but you can forget the cherries or any sort of sweetness. This 8%-er is massively sour: mouth-flooding vinegar and vanilla flavours, with higher notes of plum and savoury tamarind. If you're not a fan of HP Sauce this is probably not the beer for you, but I got a thrill from it.

Staying sour for the moment, Stout Rullquin intrigued me when it showed up on the advance list. It started life as La Rulles Brune, barrel aged, then blended at Tilquin with lambic and aged again before bottling. The end result is 7% ABV and a dark murky brown. The lambic certainly seems to be winning the battle for the aroma: all damp bricky nitre. But while the flavour starts with a jarring sourness it's followed by a rush of properly sweet milk chocolate and a stouty roasted dryness. The two elements in this one don't quite mix fully, but you still get the best of both. Love that label too.

Rocket Brewing from Copenhagen were a new one on me, but they seem to be able to do sour very well. Their Hyper Nova is a Flemish-style oud bruin, way overclocked at 10.9% ABV and thick and heavy with it but maintains the lightness of texture you get in highly attenuated beer and adds in some lovely cherry nuances. Zaccharine, meanwhile, is a bourbon-aged barley wine and beautifully put together too, getting the most from the barrel with heady fresh oak aromas and a lot of that lime sourness that I love in actual bourbon. A sandalwood spiciness seasons it and underneath there are more traditional strong dark ale flavours of chocolate and caramel. Good alcoholic value at just 8% ABV too.

Brekeriet were another total stranger to me, hailing from Staffanstorp in southern Sweden. Cassis was the only one of theirs I tried: a 5.2% ABV wild ale with, obviously, blackcurrants added in. It's one of those simple sour beers where the added fruit does all the work -- lots and lots of blackcurrant flavour in here. But there's good thirst-quenching fun to be had, even if it is a little watery.

Fruit seems to have been a theme in the beers from Mont Salève that I drank. Stout Framboise is all raspberry and very little stout, but no harm. It's simple fruity fun, with a nice heft at 6.5% ABV. Their festival radler was a Blueberry Radler: 3.6% ABV and reddish purple in colour. It's thin, as you might expect, and while it wears a big tartness up front, showing off cranberry as well as blueberry skin, that's pretty much your lot: no middle or afters follow it. Even for something supposed to be this simple I was disappointed by its one-dimensionality.

On the subject of hit-and-miss, that tends to be my experience with Närke, but damn they keep tempting me with interesting ingredients. Most intriguing this year was Älj-Äjl, brewed with moosegrass, aka meadowsweet, one of the very old-fashioned gruit ingredients. It's 6.9% ABV and a perfect clear gold, though a bit musty in the aroma -- that's often the case with unhopped beers, though I don't know if this is one of those. It's not particularly full-flavoured, showing a crisp pea-pod greenness and a light grassy herbiness, reminding me a little of drinking bisongrass vodka in Poland. The finish is mildly acrid. I think the subtlety works in its favour. It's a beer to pay attention to and a flavour profile that was enjoyable to explore.

If you squint at the name, it's possible to tell in advance that Närke's Skvatt Galen utilises sweet gale, another classic gruit herb. This one is 5.9% ABV and a cheery chestnut red, smelling of wholesome husky grain. I was surprised to find a cherry and raspberry fruit flavour on tasting, though there's not much else. Fun for a sip, but it got to be heavy going before I was very far down the small glass.

Unlike Närke, nothing from the Evil Twin line-up really jumped out at me, which is a shame because they've had some absolute stunners in previous years. For the sake of completion, and because I was sitting with Mr Pattinson, I went for Ron and the Beast Ryan, one of those irritating racehorse beer names, where you're supposed to be able to pick out its pedigree from the keywords. All I knew from the programme was that it's a 7% ABV saison. And it's a good one too. Pretty straightforward in a way that Evil Twin beers at Borefts usually aren't: spicy, lemony, dry and refreshing. Job done. Later I did accidentally stumble face-first into a sample of Evil Twin's Imperial Donut Break, a super-sweet imperial stout, loaded with chocolate candy, though vaguely balancing it with a dry finish. I expected much more complexity at 11.5% ABV, especially from the brewer of Even More Jesus and its ilk.

That just leaves Belgian Borefts regular Alvinne. They brought Melchior, a big 11% ABV orange-coloured barley wine and a rather dull and stale one at that: a musty grainy aroma and a worty flavour devoid of fruit or even heat from the alcohol. I can't imagine it's anyone's idea of a barley wine. Redemption arrives in the form of Mano Negra, a simple little 11% ABV burgundy-aged chilli-infused imperial stout. The main act is a delicious double whammy of sharp bretty funk and then a long, steady chilli burn. At the back, the more traditional features of imperial stout -- your chocolate, your roast -- are still present, but this makes some of the best use of chilli special effects of any beer I've encountered.

And so goes Borefts for another year. I am liking the changing of the line-up year-on-year and I hope it continues. There ought to be more festivals like it too: this grade of beer and this style of drinking it should never be confined to queue-ridden geekfests that sell out months in advance. Save some beer for the more casual nerds.

29 October 2014

Corners of Europe

Borefts without a Thornbridge bar was strange -- I understand they're the first brewery in history to have turned down an invitation to the event -- but there were plenty of new English faces filling in. So much so that I barely troubled the Kernel at all, grabbing just a swift London Sour Cherry because Evin told me it was running out. Such a salesman, that guy. 3% ABV and a happy bright red topped with pink foam. It's not especially sour and not especially cherryish but definitely has elements of both, perfumed lightly with floral rosewater. It's one of those beers I could happily drink by the gallon.

I also only visited Gadd's once, but then they only really brought one beer: their Green Hop Ale and a half-strength radlerised version of the same. The full beer is 4.8% ABV, a bright gold colour and has a powerful perfume aroma. Crispness is the key feature here, a cleanness in both the grain and hop elements. The latter brings lots of the classic English marmalade flavours to the table. Definitely more interesting than I'd expect a session-strength East Kent Goldings beer to be, but whether that's down to the quantity or quality of the hops I couldn't say.

There was no question of only paying one visit to Magic Rock since they brought loads of beers. Top of my hitlist was Cannonball, having enjoyed one of