29 October 2015

A farewell to Borefts

My last Borefts post looks at the British and German offerings, and one Spaniard.

Alien Claw by Naparbier is no stranger to the taps of Dublin but I'd always missed it so when it showed up, unbilled, on the brewery's bar at Borefts I jumped on it. It's a Belgian-style IPA, a beer type which I like the idea of but is rarely done to my satisfaction: Troubadour Magma and Flying Dog's Raging Bitch being very notable exceptions. This, I think, may exceed at least the latter. It's a clear pale yellow and modestly strong at just 6.8% ABV. It impressed right from the outset, with a fantastically spicy jasmine and orange blossom aroma. The flavour brings the juice, honeydew and peaches, and dusts it with a sprinkling of incense. The warming fruit ester characteristics of the style are sacrificed for extra clean spiciness and I think it works beautifully.

Germany also had a single representative at the festival: Franconia's Gänstaller, who tragically neglected to bring their magnificent Affumicator rauchbock. But they did bring a fun spiced lager called Golden Frankincense Myrrh, setting the oily unguent on a sweet lager base and producing something remarkably drinkable, all smooth and creamy. There was also a hazy Zwickelpils, heavy and perfumed but with pleasant notes of melon rind and lemon zest, its bold freshness making it nicely moreish.

BrewDog made their Borefts début with a selection of rarities. I liked Pilot 009, a sour beer with cherries and (undisclosed) spices. It's dark red in colour and tastes like the cherry sherbet in a Double Dip. It's a weighty 6.1% ABV and is slightly syrupy, but warming too. Thankfully the spritzy tartness keeps it from getting difficult. Dog D is one of their massive imperial stouts -- 16.1% ABV this time -- and smells powerfully burnt and roasty with a heady dose of sticky molasses. It tastes incredibly sweet, offering a candystore of liqueur chocolates, parma violets and soft toffee. The hops just poke through in the end, adding a modicum of bitter balance. It's definitely one of those big beers it's fun to take time over and appreciate the flavours on show. And finally Renaissance, an "imperial braggot", stronger again at 16.9% ABV. It's black and headless, smelling of booze-soaked chocolate bars and Turkish delight while tasting smooth and luxurious with yet more sweets: caramel, honey and dark chocolate plus a bitter herbal end note. I've always found braggots a bit hot and sticky in the past; this one takes enough cues from good beer to make it worth drinking. Good show overall, BrewDog.

Burning Sky almost put a spanner in my plan to drink a beer from every brewery bar when they closed up early on day one just as I was getting to them. It turned out that a logistical error had left them without enough beer but thankfully they were in business again on the Saturday, when I made a point of nabbing a glass of Provision Reserve, an aged and gooseberry-infused version of their headline saison. There's a lovely tartness right at the front here, balanced by sweet juicy fruit with only a hint of dry saison cereal. It's extremely sinkable, tasting about half of its 6.5% ABV, and definitely one of the best saisons in a show full of them.

London's Redchurch brewery was entirely new to me and they had a barrel-aged saison too: Petit Mort, matured in Pinot Noir casks. It's a trifling 4.5% ABV and I think that has let the barrel exercise too much control over the flavour. While the grape-like (white!) wine flavour is pleasant, there's a very harsh woody character that compromises it badly. And there's a harsh finish in their Old Ford export stout too. It starts well, smelling like an American amber ale, all toffee malt and floral lavender. But it quickly gets acrid and cabbagey, and the smooth creamy texture and 7.5% ABV warmth can't quite save it. With a little toning-down and mellowing-out this could be a classic.

And finally, away in a corner, Borefts veterans Magic Rock. I was all over their Ginspired, having loved the G 'n' T radler that Uiltje brought last year. It's badged as a "Gin & Tonic IPA" but I really got no sense of the mixed drink from it. Plenty of bitter citrus rind, though, but otherwise a little sweet and sweaty. It doesn't work as a novelty beer and barely works as a beer at all. I also failed to detect the rhubarb and ginger in Magic Rock's Rhubarb & Ginger Saison, which doesn't matter in the slightest because it's a lovely beer with a lemon tartness and a quick, sharp spicy burn which makes it beautifully refreshing. Looking it up now, I'm surprised to find it was 5.9% ABV. And to go out, a Bearded Lady imperial stout in the Pedro Ximinez edition. And the dark sherry really makes a big contribution, filling the aroma with raisins and dominating the foretaste as well. Only later on does the proper stouty roast come through, accompanied by an invigorating hop bitterness, but really it's all about the grapes and is all the more enjoyable for it.

Borefts 2015 was every bit as good as any previous year and the turnover of breweries and beers is its best feature: for every old favourite I missed there was someone new and exciting. It has got a lot busier since the early days; gone are the quiet afternoon sessions, but the infrastructure has expanded to cope with it: if you don't want to squeeze onto a bench outside or under the tent, the new upstairs seating area in the brewery was a welcome addition this year.

Normally the Sunday after the festival involves an afternoon pub crawl around Amsterdam and the melancholy trek to Schiphol, but this year we had other plans.

28 October 2015

Where will we put the guests?

There was a bit of an odd arrangement with regard to the American beers at Borefts this year, where one brewer had a standalone stall as part of the main festival in the De Molen brewery yard while up at the windmill a selection of other US beers were pouring from the restaurant's own taps. It's presumably something to do with the windmill restaurant being leased out to a third party these days. Just one bar meant long queues, and Borefts isn't the sort of festival where you queue for things, so I only tried a tiny fraction of what was on offer, all from breweries I'd never heard of before.

Hair of the Dog in Portland, Oregon I had heard of (it's been around since the early 1990s), and it was the sole American representative at the main festival. The two beers I tried were both iterations of their bourbon-barrel-aged old ale Adam From The Wood, both around the 12% ABV mark. 1978 Adam From The Wood uses vintage Heaven Hill casks and pours headless, a dark brown colour with a rich chocolate aroma and very low carbonation. The barrels may be old but the oak flavour really comes through loudly, accompanied by a distinctly spirituous burn. After a moment it settles down a little and allows the smooth chocolate notes to take over, leaving a very well-integrated beer: not too hot, not too heavy and not too sweet, but balancing all of these into a luxurious sipping beer which offers an experience not dissimilar to sipping a whisky.

Adam From The Wood - White Peach is given the usual ageing treatment but with the odd addition of white peaches in the barrel. I bet they don't stay white for long. There's much less burn to this, with more of a vinous quality, the oaky vanillins of a big Spanish red. Real actual peach juice is just about discernable under the wood and helps soften the flavour further. It's still a big, warming beer but rather more delicate