13 November 2017

Hello stranger!

The Borefts Beer Festival is a constantly evolving event, each year introducing a couple of changes which in aggregate mean it's a very different gig now to the first one I attended back in 2011. I missed last year so got a double dose of difference this time round. Most significant is that it's now on an all-ticket basis, and I think the absence of the casual walk-in drinkers has changed its nature and made it a little more serious and a little less festive. It was a pleasant surprise to find that its home town of Bodegraven has finally recognised its existence, and actively set out to welcome the thousands of thirsty visitors who poured off the trains and into the De Molen brewery over the two days.

The exhibitor line-up changes every year too, and 2017 offered a very pleasing array of far-flung breweries: unlikely beer countries like Hungary, Russia, Japan and Ireland all sent representatives of their microbrewing scenes.

The Hungarian brewery was Monyo Brewing, from Budapest, and that's where I started, with Flying Rabbit IPA. It's a dark and dense one, smooth of texture and rich in perfumed resins. This isn't always in an IPA's favour, but it works very well here: though the bitterness is low and there are no sharp edges, it's not overly sweet and has plenty of herbal hop character, a refreshing mintyness being the most prominent feature.

I suspect that Mahna Mahna, Monyo's New England IPA, is only a slight twist on the Flying Rabbit recipe. At 6.6% ABV it's roughly the same strength, and it shows a similar herbal quality. It is paler, however: a sickly witbier yellow. Though there's a pleasant light lemon aroma, the flavour is very sticky and sweet, with the tackiness of low-grade vanilla ice cream. I guess it fits the style spec but doesn't bring any of its positive elements.

Given that experience, I don't quite understand how later on one of us bought Yummy Mummy, a double New England IPA, 8.3% ABV, with added hibiscus, brewed especially for the festival. It's pink, of course, and has yet more of that claggy, gummy ice cream stickiness. It couples it with a truckload of garlic, in both the aroma and flavour, clashing badly with a vanilla custard sweetness. The hibiscus stays well out of the fray, contributing nothing but the blush. A bit of a mess this one, so just as well it's a one-off.

Next, to see if they fare any better with stout. Boris the Blade is a Russian imperial one at 8% ABV. Coffee is what they've gone for here, starting with the heady warm-café aroma. The flavour is that of a creamy macchiato, turning to more bitter espresso in the finish and with a caress of Tia Maria heat. The silky texture really helps with the feeling of understated elegance. It's not complex, particularly, but very enjoyable and worth taking time over. Not that I did.

Avi Cousin, Monyo's wheat wine, wasn't quite as successful. The one dimension here is alcohol. It's 10.2% ABV and an innocent pale gold colour. The aroma is all hard candy, the flavour specifying pear drops. It's full of burning booze and sugar, almost to cough mixture levels, and very tough to drink as a result. I get that they don't do subtle, but this one is far too extreme.

Before leaving the Monyo range I couldn't pass by their braggot, Anubis X Twins. They've aged this in barrels acquired from Hungary's better-known drinks industry, Tokaji. The sweet wine really does blend well with the honey and there's a complementary elderflower and Malteser character. It's smooth, clean and delightfully sippable, just like Tokaji itself, I guess.

I had never heard of Tamamura Honten Brewery (aka Shiga Kogen Beer), the Japanese representative at the festival, but I think a few other attendees had as every time I looked at their bar it was crowded. For that reason I made do with the one beer of theirs I tried early on: Snow Monkey IPA. It was very good too, only 6% ABV, murky orange in colour and massively juicy, packed with mandarin and jaffa, with a mildly acidic garlic edge, in keeping with modern sensibilities. I'd love to have tried more from here but not enough to queue for it.

Bakunin Brewery from St. Petersburg débuted at Borefts last year. The range of strong, hoppy and sour beers looked impressive on paper so I was keen to get stuck in. First up was All Inn: Citra, a 6% ABV hoppy sour blonde. It's a refreshing little number, exuding a limey Citra aroma though tasting of lemon, getting that tartness from both the hops and the sour culture. It's very easy drinking and quenches a thirst swiftly; just a shame the ABV is so high.

I thought their Mescalime Berliner weisse would do a better job, though even it is strong for the style at 4.4% ABV. And while it definitely piles in the lime flavours, it's at the expense of everything else and it just tastes of limeade and lime cordial: nothing beery about it and barely sour at all.

The sour beer they created for the festival had the audacity to describe itself as a lambic, and like Monyo's bespoke creation used hibiscus -- the theme was "Flower Power", by the way. Hibiscus Lambic is 5% ABV, a pale pink colour and opens on an unpleasant phenolic nastiness, derived I know not how. There's a decent dry and floral beer behind it, but it doesn't get much of a look-in past the harshness. I think something went wrong here.

I was similarly unimpressed with Isabella, part of their Gone Wild series of sour beers, this one brewed with grapes. It's a brown-ish red colour and tastes as dirty as it looks. I got a muddy putty or clay taste at the base, with sickly plastic overtones and a layer of harsh lavender perfume. More merciful grape juice is discernible late on, but it's far too much work to get to it. The whole thing is overwrought and unpleasant.

I gave Bakunin their last chance with затмение (zatmenie, "eclipse"), their imperial milk stout with cocoa. It's not as difficult as Isabella, but once again there's too much going on. There's a surprisingly powerful bitterness, for one thing, and then a peppery incense flavour which seems very out of place, as does the savoury caraway and cardamom flavour. It's seriously lacking in chill and isn't as gentle and relaxing as the description promises. It's not flawed, however, and I'm sure someone with more of a taste for busy imperial stouts would like it.

Last brewery for today's post is a Swede that's new to me: Stigbergets. Their seven-beer selection was made up almost entirely of IPAs, of which I tried two. West Coast, on the right of the picture, is 6.5% ABV and appropriately pale and hazy. It has a beautiful fresh lemonade flavour, starting bitter, turning resinous, and moving on to become spicy and peppery. Stimulating stuff. The finish is a mouth-watering rush of citrus juice. It's a fantastic example of how to pack flavour into a beer of this style without resorting to gimmicks or higher gravities.

Speaking of which, Business As Usual beside it is 7% ABV. It's the same hazy yellow colour but is thicker and the flavours altogether more sluggish. There's a bathsalts quality to it all: lavender, violet and chalky talcum. The fresh fireworks of the previous beer are absent. Again it's one that probably turned out as the brewer intended and fits the profile of an American IPA. Its sibling throws some serious shade on it, however.

And with those two toes dipped in the water of Nordic brewing at Borefts 2017, tomorrow's post will look at more from up there.

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