27 October 2015

Northern delights

Among the beers I was most looking forward to sampling at Borefts 2015 were those of Swedish gypsy brewer Omnipollo. I've enjoyed several of the collaborations they've done with others and they have a very good reputation among the crafterati. I don't know if it's how they normally do things, but there was a strong confectionary theme among the offerings they brought to Bodegraven: waffles, maple syrup and peanut butter all featured in the descriptions, as well as an Ice Cream Pale Ale, produced in collaboration with English brewery Buxton. This is 5.6% ABV, murky yellow and throws out an odd mix of malt extract and peppery hops in the aroma. It tastes sweet at first, and has a convincing gummy texture that reminds me a lot of plain white ice cream blocks. The hop bite comes in  late and is a little harsh and acrid against the nursery foretaste. It's a fun beer, and rather silly: all special effects with little real substance. I enjoyed my small sample but didn't want any more.

Omnipollo also released a number of variants of their Magic #420 wheat beer and the one I got, early on on day one, was badged Magic #4.21, advertised as a vanilla and raspberry smoothie pale ale. It was certainly pink, with lots of fine foam on top. The aroma is an odd mix of green weed and tart raspberry, though the hops dominate the flavour, buzzing resinously long after the fruit fades out. Though 6% ABV, it slips down very easily thanks to its super smooth texture. The combination of fruit and hops is odd but really quite charming, I thought.

I had never heard of Helsingborg brewery Brewski but they're one to watch if the beers I tried at the festival are anything to go by. Mangofeber is a double IPA with mangoes and the underlying beer recipe seems to have been very well designed to complement the added fruit. There's a strongly bitter and grassy quality to it which remains assertive but is just slightly softened by the sweet juice. Best of all it's not too hot, hiding its 8% ABV very well. But it was still upstaged by Keyline, a 4% ABV Berliner weisse which is barely sour but serves as a great base for the added flavourings. Lime is one, and I reckon the tartness there covers up the acidity of the beer; a certain sweetness is added in by elderflower; but the headline contribution comes from basil: incredibly fresh, moist, chewy and oily herb. It's not subtle by any means, but is beautifully done.

Down the coast in Malmö there's the Malmö Brewing Company, who had a fairly Belgian tinge to their offerings. Petite Framboise was a mixed fermentation 5%-er, heavy on the fruit with a kind of sweet raspberry leaf herbiness. All rather one-dimensional though inoffensive. Their special edition festival saison, Viola Lee, was also pretty straightforward, clear yellow, with lots of bathbomb-like lavender. I had it towards the end and found it nicely cleansing.

To finish Sweden, a token look at the Närke bar where they had lots pouring but not much new, I think. As part of my project to drink something from every bar I opted for Svarte Kungen, billed as a porter but resembling an export stout to me, mixing thick liquorice and parma violets in the flavour, finishing hot and tarry. It has a classical, old fashioned, elegance, but got a little dull and difficult after the first few sips. The diametric opposite, then, of Oppigårds's Cloudberry Saison: just 4.3% ABV with an enticing juicy, tangy aroma and then a lovely crisp saison bite in the foretaste. Sweet honeydew flesh is layered on top and then a mildly tart finish. Perfectly quenching if you don't want to analyse it, but with lots going on if you do.

I was drawn several times to the Labietis bar where the Latvians had some really interesting herbal concoctions on the go. Take Pļava for instance: a 6.3% ABV golden ale brewed with yarrow and meadowsweet. There's a heavy Duvel-like texture and a yeast spiciness to match. After this a saison-like grainy quality and apothecary flavours like lavender and bergamot. Certainly complex, though the sweetness and herbal goings-on make it a little tough to take in. There was also Purvs, a "heather and rosemary braggot saison", which offered a very strange blend of perfumed honey sweetness and dry tartness. The rosemary is understated, contributing little more than an oily green buzz, and while it's certainly unusual it does end up pulling in too many directions at once. Labietis really got it right with Pelašku Velns, an imperial yarrow stout with more of that herbal meadowy effect found in the others but this time with an extra punch from Citra hops and a heavy but smooth texture rendering it very drinkable indeed.