16 November 2017

Everyone else

Rounding off my series on the 2017 Borefts Beer Festival with the brewers I haven't got to yet, featuring the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

As always, the house had a vast array of beers on offer: core favourites, one-offs and hacked specials. Imperial stout was a big part of the line-up, of course, and I began with Nibs & Beans. That there's coffee in this was in the programme, but I'm guessing from the name that there's cocoa too, and it's been barrel aged. For all that, it's unremarkable: the coffee flavour is light and it's more about the tarry bitterness, entirely in keeping with an imperial stout of 10.3% ABV. The barrel, whatever sort it was, makes no contribution and the whole is just simple and decent, which it's probably not meant to be.

Its companion there is Satan & Gabriel, this one with star anise and pistachio liqueur, which is a new one on me. And this time everything is as billed. The aroma gently suggests star anise, leading up to a flavour which tastes hugely of the fruit, to the exclusion of almost everything else. There's also the sharp bitterness of pistachio skins. Despite being 11% ABV there's precious little stout character in it, just a very slightly acrid dry finish. It's one of those where the beer seems almost incidental. 100% as advertised, though I'm not sure it really works.

Another barrel-aged one in the next pair: Push & Pull, described as a tiramisu stout, and again barrel aged. The aroma is promising: sweeter and boozier than might be expected at just 10.5% ABV, though perfectly to style with its mix of vanilla and coffee. Strangely the first flavour to emerge on tasting is sour cherry, quickly followed by the anticipated blend of cream, coffee and vanilla. It's quite heavy going, and once the novelty has worn off, three sips in, the drinker's attention may begin to waver. It's fun, though, in small festival-sized doses.

The paler fellow next to it is High & Mighty, a saison De Molen brewed using psychoactive plant Salvia divinorum. A fair bit of it, I'd say, because while I didn't float away with the pixies, I did get a strong herbal flavour from it: marjoram and dill, in particular, building to a courgette sort of green vegetal bitterness. Despite the amber colour of the base saison, and the substantial 6.1% ABV, it's not really part of the picture. A decent and interesting beer, overall, if the herbal gruit-ish thing is to your taste.

After two successive years at the festival, Omnipollo was absent this time around. To placate their legion of slavering adherents, up at the windmill De Molen was pouring a collaboration they'd done together: Hypnopompa. It's 11% ABV and officially designated a "marshmallow imperial stout", God help us. There's certainly a dose of Omnipollo's trademark gut-wrenching sweetness in this: that Crunchie bar flavour that ruins their Yellow Belly stout. It's held in check here, however, and ends up rich and luxurious rather than sickly sweet. Beyond the chocolate and honeycomb there's a classy waft of rosewater running through it, tempering the excesses of the malt. Definitely a sipper, however. I doubt I'd enjoy a whole bottle.

Den Haag's Kwartje brewery had a go at matching De Molen at their own game with a selection of strong and barrel-aged palate thumpers. Upgrade is the name they've given to their hacked imperial stout series, and I tried the one with chilli and cinnamon. It's perfunctory: cinnamon completely dominates the flavour, as cinnamon tends to, so there's an inescapably Christmassy vibe to it which gets old very quickly. On the end there's the a powdery rasp of dried chilli which goes some way to counteract the cookie sweetness, but far from balances it. An issue here may be that it's only 9.2% ABV: a bigger body would have made it a better, more rounded, beer I reckon. As-is it's strictly for cinnamon beer fans, assuming some exist, somewhere.

Ruby is Kwartje's Rioja-barrel-aged barley wine, with no qualms about ABV here at 14%. This one looks quite stouty but is act