28 November 2017


As part of the prize-package for the BrewDog Beer Geek Awards, I was booked into two masterclasses at the Stockholm Beer & Whisky Festival. The first one was already under way when we arrived on Thursday afternoon, which meant interrupting Logan Plant when he had begun explaining the Beavertown story to the class. Sorry Logan!

The beers on offer for tasting included Dead & Berried, a collaboration with Other Half, in a Kölsch style with added oats and raspberries. At 6.2% ABV and with a thick yogurty texture this manages to get a lot of raspberry flavour in without any of the customary tartness. The aroma is surprisingly hop forward, all green and spicy, though they're oddly absent from the flavour. It's quite enjoyable overall, if not exactly spectacular.

The same goes for the next one, Dame Melba Phantom, part of the Phantom Berliner weisse series, this one infused with peach and raspberry. The peach is present in the aroma, however the raspberries dominate the flavour, and this time they bring the tartness. The Berliner weisse sourness exists in it separately from the raspberry acidity, and the combination works quite well. That's about as complex as it gets, though it's probably for the good that it's not overly busy or trying too hard.

Friday's masterclass was from the Brewer's Association, hosted by their European ambassador Sylvia Kopp, and on the subject of matching American beer with European cheese. Phwoar!

The line-up began with a brewery which was new to me: Mill House from New York. The beer, with a dubiously punny name, was Köld One. It's a wan yellow colour and quite grainy, so very much in keeping with its purported German style, at least to begin with. There is a stronger than usual bitterness, however, and a sharp fizz in contrast to the softness of Cologne's better Kölsches. I even got a hint of pear drop acetone late on. First impressions were good but I think the brewers may have been a little overambitious with this recipe. It's not as clean as it needs to be.

To the federal capital next, and DC Brau Oktoberfest. I'm always on guard when it comes to American Oktoberfestbier as they have a tendency to be too dark, harsh and sticky. And this is exactly that: an orange-amber colour with a headache-inducing marker-pen aroma. The flavour is fairly clean, even though the toasty-roasty quality is overdone. It's still too sweet however, more like a sticky sickly bock than a Märzen. I couldn't imagine drinking more than a sample, which is really missing the point.

The next one was a surprise. I didn't know that Victory made a sour version of their Golden Monkey tripel, but here was Sour Monkey, with Brettanomyces and everything. It brings the noise right from the get-go with a pungent aroma of funk and vinegar. I might have expected the bugs and Brett to have chomped through the sugary tripel sweetness, but that's still there and enhanced with a riot of saltpetre spicing: warm peach and apricot infused with cap-gun smoke. There's more than a hint of genuine lambic about the whole package; it's certainly flamingly sour enough. The overall loudness is distinctly American, however. This beer is crazy but quite quite beautiful.

The last one of the session which was new to me was False Summit, a Bourbon-aged quadrupel from Elevation Beer Company in Colorado. Smells of coconut and tastes of Baileys, say my notes, bluntly. Looking for complexity beyond the chocolate and booze there is some residual dark fruit: plum and fig, but rendered so alcohol-soaked that they taste more like slivovitz or fig schnapps. Overall it's an odd one, and not very beery when it comes down to it. I'm not sure it delivers a proper complexity, which is unforgivable given its complex ageing and 11.1% ABV.

The Brewers Association also had their own bar in the festival main hall, a larger version of the one they had at the RDS in Dublin, with a few extra beers. My wife was smitten with Epic's Big Bad Baptista and went back for it a couple of times. It's a 12% ABV imperial stout enhanced with cinnamon and coffee. It smells of rum and chocolate. I got coconut from the flavour -- the raw husk rather than sweet flesh -- as well as a hot whiskey burn. This isn't as smooth as I'd like but it is very impressive.

For my part, I couldn't resist another pumpkin beer, a sequel to the O'Fallon one I tried in Dublin. O'Fallon Vanilla Pumpkin: what's not to like? It's an opaque orange colour with a fun custard aroma. There's custard in the flavour too, and, unsurprisingly, cinnamon. "Tastes like Starbucks," she said. I'm not sure if that's a compliment or not. What I really like is that this isn't overly sweet, staying light and drinkable. You won't like it if you're a pumpkin beer hater but I thought it was a fun twist on the format.

Karl Strauss is one of those breweries I hear mentioned now and again but had never seen in real life. It's a veteran of the San Diego craft scene, dating back to the late 1980s. It seems they have distribution in Sweden so this was an opportunity to try a couple of their wares.

Tower 10 is the IPA, a very pale and slightly hazy one. I don't know if it's me, the beer, or the serving, but this didn't seem right at all. The first alarm bells came with the disinfectant aroma, followed by a sticky boiled-sweet flavour with dry cereals and a burn of higher alcohols, even though it's just 7% ABV. Quite poor all round, though it may be just that this is how west coast IPAs tasted in the '80s.

In the same style and at the same strength, but rather better, was Aurora Hoppyalis. This is heavy and green, with an almost sickliness to its dank aroma. The flavour roars with spring onion, cabbage and weed, with a backing of sweet and cake-like malt for balance. In its big-impact bitterness it's also quite old-fashioned but is a marked improvement on its predecessor.

The same importer has another San Diegan on its books: Modern Times. I had never tried the brewery's flagship amber ale Blazing World and here was my chance. It's quite pale for the style and lacks the malt quality that the best ones use to launch hop flavours. Instead it's rather pithy and dry, with a chalky texture, some savoury sesame seed and a splash of citrus juice. I even got a slightly sour and curdled note, in both aroma and flavour. I was genuinely taken aback by how poor this one was.

Firestone Walker was pouring around the corner and I chanced a Parabola imperial stout. This is a Bourbon-aged beast at 14.5% ABV and the aroma lends that a stamp of authenticity. There is sufficient Tia Maria and tiramisu here to bolster an '80s dinner party. The flavour begins with a bitter coffee followed by a mellow old whisky smoothness. The cask vanilla is quite strong but not overdone: there's enough of everything else to integrate it successfully. Overall a beautiful beer and fine example of Bourbon ageing in action.

That wasn't even the strongest beer I had at the gig. My fellow award winner Lena mentioned that one of the stands had a bottle of Samuel Adams Utopias behind the counter. Ten or twelve years ago this super-strong spirit-like beer was spoken of in hushed tones. Now it isn't spoken of at all and I had all but forgotten that it existed. Even at the height of the Celtic Tiger craziness I wouldn't have shelled out the three-figure price of a bottle, but the chance of a taste for a handful of kroner wasn't something I could pass up.

So here it is: 27% ABV and a clear ochre colour. Devoid of fizz, of course, and the first flavour I get is concentrated chocolate essence. This is followed by a heady mix of unctuous olorosso sherry, warm tawny port, and building to hot, cheap, gutrot whiskey. This is definitely more a bad spirit than a fine beer and I wouldn't recommend it, for any money really. But I'm glad I tried it. With the current financial woes of Boston Beer Company it might not be around much longer.

I topped that with an equally rare American beer; well I'd never seen it on sale before: Schlitz is an old-school Milwaukee lager, now part of the Pabst empire. It's pale gold, extremely watery and smells of cooked veg. There's a tiny tang of real hops in the finish, though frustratingly little. I don't normally mind bland beers but this one is actually annoying in how vacuous it all is. Offensively boring.

Before I move on to the Swedish beers, a quick look next at some of the other foreign offerings.

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