17 January 2018

Essential groceries

There was an Albert Heijn supermarket conveniently across the street from where I was staying in The Hague over the Christmas break. The beer selection was small but with a few interesting options. I mainly used it as a source for cheap and disposable lager, however.

My eye was caught by the smart branding on Brouwers Pilsner (who else's?), one of the chain's own brands. Unfortunately, the graphics proved to be a lot classier than the beer behind them. This is 4.8% ABV and a dark gold colour. The flavour matches the appearance, being sweet and sticky with an unsubtle musty wax bitterness bolted on to the finish. Charitably, it could be described as a bock, and it is impressively dense given the ABV. With a touch of smoke around the edges as it warms it's definitely not the vapid watery supermarket lager I was expecting, but not good lager either.

One from megabrewer Grolsch to follow: a fancy-pants craft-killing pils called Kornuit, a beer which incorporates Cascade hops, because we know how much you kids love that Cascade. It's a clear pale yellow colour, looking every inch the average lager, while it tastes... fine. I didn't get anything resembling an American hop, though I did drink it from the balcony where it was rather above fridge temperature. What was actually delivered is a perfectly decent pale lager with a medium-full body and lots of tasty toasty golden syrup malt. In particular I'm reminded of Budvar, which is quite a compliment. If the intention was to make a novelty or gimmick, it failed, but I'm quite happy with the result.

A sequel next, to the long-named Flying Dutchman beers I found last year in Amsterdam. This one is called Flip Flopped White Socked Strong Hopped White IPA. It's 5.5% ABV, with coriander, orange peel and, oddly, juniper. The pour produced a pale yellow glassful with just the faintest haze. Lots of witbier herbs come through on tasting: savoury and slightly soapy. The hops (Centennial, Citra, Ekuanot and Cascade) provide a bitter spike for the finish. It takes effort to produce a white IPA that does this hybrid style justice, and this one doesn't quite manage it, being mostly a big and blousey witbier, throwing herbs around and caring not for proper hopping. As such, it's perfectly decent. Just don't hold your breath for that Citra.

I was quite intrigued by this camouflaged bottle on the high shelves. It turned out to be Übersee Hopfen India Pale Ale, from Insel Brauerei in Rügen, off the Baltic coast of Germany. And it made it clear that it was proclaimed Earth's Greatest IPA at the World Beer Awards in 2016. How could anyone resist that?

It took a bit of poking around the small print to discover that "übersee" here means Japan as Sorachi Ace is the only hop used. Not that it needs writing down: there's a powerful oily orange whiff from it. The flavour is remarkably crisp: a clean bitter bite of orange, with sweeter coconut tailing behind it. I've had beers that tasted more strongly of Sorachi, but few where the taste is so clipped, so precise. Although it's bottle conditioned and quite cloudy, there's no yeast interference, except for maybe a pleasant spicing. I don't know that I'd say it's the best IPA in the world -- you really need to like Sorachi Ace -- but it's still jolly nice drinking.

When Mr Heijn isn't meeting your grocery requirements, there's always the posh people's supermarket Marqt (cards only, no cash, you plebs). In there, one particular Dutch brewery's wares caught my attention...