17 August 2017

Berlin vs. London

Events Week on The Beer Nut rolls on, and I have two for you today. Both were arranged under the auspices of high-end beer importer Four Corners, a company that enjoys getting Ireland's beer geeks excited about their promotional events.

The first was a visitation from Der Bier-Jesus aus Amerika himself, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing, who arrived into The Porterhouse and preached from a barstool. He didn't say anything you haven't already read on a Stone beer label, however. Two beers from Stone Berlin's pilot series were on tap, as well as a rebrew of the 2002 "Vertical Epic". Amazing to think that the word Epic didn't sound horribly hackneyed back in 2002.

Anyway, that's where I'll start. 02.02.02 was the first in an annual series of Belgian strong ales that Stone brewed up until 2012. It's a clear gold colour and, soon after pouring, quite headless, in a very unBelgian way. The ABV is a modest 7.5%. There's definite Belgian spice to the aroma, however, as well as a wholesome grainy waft. The flavour tips over heavily into weissbier territory: those big esters are the most prominent feature. The spice does come back after a moment, bringing ripe fruit with it, and the overall effect is of something not dissimilar to Duvel or a clean and clear tripel. Perfectly fine drinking, but very unexciting, even for 15 years ago.

First from the pilot series was Stone Pale Ale, a big enough beast at 5.9% ABV. The texture matches that and more, being very dense, the perception heightened by the dark copper colour. Free-wheelin' California-style this ain't. The flavour is also strange and unsettling, starting out on a savoury meaty note and running past marker pens, pears and tea brack. It's not pleasant. The nearest style of beer to this profile is probably twiggy brown bitter, but it tastes far more like homebrew gone wrong.

Last of the new ones to me was Stone Imperial Amber Ale, strongest of the lot at 7.9% ABV. It's another thick one, but handles itself rather better than the Pale Ale. Jam is the principal element in the flavour, and raspberry jam in particular. There's a touch of roast as well, which helps dry it and balance it out, but I was expecting more hops. I was expecting some hops, but they're absent. A touch of autolytic savouriness on the end tilts it out of "only OK" into "needs improvement".

Stone Berlin seems to have got the fundamentals down at this stage -- the complimentary glass of Go To IPA we got on arrival was the best beer of the day -- but that pilot kit needs a firmer hand on the flight controls.

A short few days later the party moved to the Tap House and here the guest was Beavertown. Adam and his crew laid on a fantastic evening's entertainment and it was sometimes hard to prevent the snacks, games and whatnot from distracting my attention away from the beer. I persevered, however. I've had very mixed experiences with small-batch Beavertown beers, but the selection this time was fairly on-point.

To begin, Goslar Dreamin', a gose with added rhubarb. This is as pale and hazy as might be expected, and I wasn't keen on the aroma: a dry and musty crêpe paper thing, smelling like the box where my parents keep their Christmas decorations. It's a lot more fun to drink, however. At 3.5% ABV it's understandably light and thin, but the flavour is light too, and well balanced, with just enough refreshing tartness and no more than a shake of salt. The rhubarb still manages to get somewhat lost in this: some fruit is apparent but I don't think I'd be able to say which one. I suspect the tartness of the rhubarb gets camouflaged by the beer's base acidity. No matter; it's simple and thirst-quenching, well-made and not trying to show off.

I gave the side-eye to the next beer when I saw it on the menu. Moonshiner is a bourbon-aged Berliner weisse, which definitely does not sound like a recipe for success to me. In fact it doesn't really taste like wood, or Berliner weisse, or even beer. My first impression on tasting was of a Jack Daniel's and Coke. There's a definite sweetness next to the limey sour flavour. That lime built quite quickly, so a few sips in I was finding it tasting more like a margarita. The final stop of the cocktail train was when Dave and Manus insisted it tasted like a whisky sour and would brook no dissent, so a whisky sour it is. I really wanted to dislike its complete non-beeriness, but it's absolutely lovely to drink: refreshing, complex and properly balanced. I've certainly never encountered a beer that tastes anything like it.

Too much pondering meant I missed the next beer altogether, the 20L keg having kicked by the time I ordered it. Mercifully, Dorothy came to my rescue and I got a taste of her glass of Wit or Wheatout You. Witbier isn't usually a style to excite, but with this one Beavertown has stripped it down to its essence and rebuilt it using superior parts. The coriander seeds are toasted, the lemon zest is hand-picked Sicilian, and in keeping with the style's origins, a degree of lacto sourness has been introduced. All the effort has been rewarded and the end result is immensely complex: dry yet fruity like a quality Sauvignon Blanc; bitter like grapefruit yet sweet and juicy like pineapple. Pure quality all the way through. At 5.6% ABV it's a little overclocked for a wit, but I'd still like to drink more of it.

Dessert was Gondoila, a chocolate and raspberry imperial stout. It's a pretty straightforward rendering of these elements, with a big and creamy body supporting cakey chocolate flavours and a tart jammy raspberry bite. I got a real feel of liquid Black Forest gateau from it. There aren't any imperial stout tricks or complexities, which would be reasonable to expect at 11% ABV: everything it does happens at the first sip. I'm not complaining, though. It made an excellent finisher for the night.

A special shout-out to the Four Corners crew for arranging both events. They don't have to do this sort of thing but it makes the beer experience much more interesting.

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