16 January 2018

Choosing freely

A week of posts on my winter break in The Hague continues today with a look at the city's better off licences.

Free Beer Co. is a poky little corner shop with a single set of shelves offering a small but interesting mix of bottles and cans from Europe and the US. Behind the counter is a three-tap growler system, and having dropped a few quid I felt entitled to a taste of something. I was also very curious about Milk Shake Stout from Bristol's Wiper & True, not having had any of their beer in ages. To be honest it wasn't very impressive from the sample. There's a considerable hop character, for one thing, a bitter resin which has no place in the style. Then there's not a whole lot else: a plain, slightly dry, slightly roasty stout; fine but unexciting. I like my milk stouts sweet and creamy, and would prefer if brewers didn't mess with the format, thank you.

The first bottle from my haul that I opened was another dark Brit, Collabageddon '17 from Weird Beard and six other brewers. It's 6.4% ABV and described as a Belgian black IPA. It smells like a straightforward black IPA, and a very good one at that: tar, liquorice and roasted coconut. I suspected that Sorachi Ace had been liberally applied as it tasted hugely of that hop's signature orange pith. The label confirmed it's in here, with Simcoe, and also mentions that the Belgian yeast was fermented at an usually low temperature, to minimise ester formation. It worked, because it doesn't taste in the slightest bit Belgian. What you get instead is a classic big and bold black IPA, and I for one am not complaining. I doubt it really took seven breweries to come up with it, but maybe everyone learned something.

Staying on the session vibe, Raï was next, a session IPA from Bulgarian brewer Бял Щърк ("White Stork") but brewed at De Molen. It's a fizzy beast, and I let that foam subside before taking a closer look. The aroma is beautifully tropical, full of tinned pineapple and sharper guava. There is a vanilla sweetness on the flavour, but with enough hop citrus to turn it away from cheap ice cream towards an altogether more classy lemon sorbet. Amazingly it's only 3.5% ABV, bulked out with oats and that lactose I could taste, and the trick works quite well: there's no thinness and the generous hopping doesn't make it harsh. My biggest gripe is really just that carbonation: the fizz adds an unpleasant bite to a beer that shouldn't really be allowed warm up before enjoying. Let it sit in the fridge after pouring? Awkward.

Another foamy one followed next: Between Thieves, a session IPA by Uiltje. It seems to be very much going for a New England vibe, including oats, wheat and spelt in the recipe, pouring murky as hell under all that head, and smelling deliciously juicy. The flavour follows that up with lots of mango and pineapple, though there's an unpleasant yeast bite as well, adding a savoury harshness to the finish. A garlic complexity begins to develop as it warms, complementing the fruit quite nicely. Despite the bubbles this one isn't fizzy, and slipped down smoothly. It's very nearly excellent, squeezing oodles of tropical hop fun into a sober 4.1% ABV. There are just a couple of wrinkles that could do with ironing out, however.

From the same brewery, with the same minimalist can design, comes Me Myself & IPA. No head drama this time, a medium-amber body with just a slight haze. The aroma mixes citrus bitterness with juicy fruit beautifully, promising good times ahead. The flavour is suitably spectacular: heavy resinous dankness kicks it off, then fades and calms, allowing spritzy lime and softer mandarin come through. The finish is maybe a little sweet, adding a note of orange cordial. Overall, though, it's still a well-balanced and flavourful American-style IPA, no messing.