26 March 2018

The Balmacassie shuffle

An assortment of BrewDog beers today, acquired from various sources.

This bottle of Candy Kaiser, BrewDog's winter seasonal, showed up neglected on the shelves of DrinkStore, a month or so past its best-before. It's an Alt, though, and a strong one at 5.2% ABV, so how far wrong could it possibly have gone? It certainly still looked well: a crystalline amber-brown topped by a resilient tight white foam. It's clean and smooth, nowhere near as sweet as the name had me expecting. That classic Alt mix of bourbon biscuit, flaky oats and gently green celery hops is very much still apparent. My fridge is set to cellar temperature but I can imagine this being supremely refreshing when properly cold. It's unfussy, utterly devoid of silly craft twists, and seems to be genuinely channelling the spirit of Düsseldorf.

Slot Machine red rye IPA also came from DrinkStore though was rather fresher, so much so that it did that pleasing IPA thing of delivering a blast of citrus as soon as the tab is pulled. It's barely red and needs to be held up to the light to not appear brown. A proper sniff shows the hop punch to be less assertive, covered up somewhat with the rye's pepper. So it goes in the flavour too: mild grapefruit balanced with jammy malt and seasoned by dry and spicy black peppercorns, lasting long into the finish. It's an enjoyable combination, one I've never tasted as well balanced as this. That does mean it doesn't pop as much as some rye IPAs, but nor is it dull or overly sugary, hitting that sweet spot which covers both interesting and accessible.

For people moving from the macro fridge to craft, said Carlos. Reviews of Indie Pale Ale that I'd seen were consistently poor, but I never let that sort of thing bother me. BrewDog binned the first version they released and this is the new and improved edition. It's amber coloured, 4.2% ABV, and pours with masses of foam. The aroma has little to say, and the flavour likewise. There's a touch of Smithwick's about the whole picture: crisp malt husk, light caramel, and a wìsp of roast. The hops likewise are vaguely fruity and vaguely metallic: all very old world. It's easy, simple, quenching. But from the people who who made Punk IPA mainstream it's downright confusing. Maybe they're not the same people. Never mind. Down the hatch and on we go.

Trying to make up my mind one evening in The Black Sheep, I chanced a taster of Make Earth Great Again, a then-new saison. It's remarkably pale and clear for the style: a bright straw yellow. Classic white pepper is the flavour's opening salvo, before it follows that up with a quite nasty plastic burr. That settled down quickly but nothing came after it. At 7.5% ABV it ought to show some fruit character, but it's all just dry and spicy, all the way through. Needless to say I didn't opt for a full measure.

A much better time was had with Off-Duty Alien, which I found at BrewDog's lavish bar at the Alltech Brews & Food festival a few weeks ago. It's a rich and almost creamy IPA, 6.5% ABV and a clear orange colour, despite being in the New England style. Melon and mango combine in the foretaste, and there's a gentle apricot skin bitterness in the finish. Although orange and grapefruit are part of the ingredients, I guess it's the New England yeast that removes any sharp edges from them and results in a much softer and happier beer.

I may have mentioned once or twice previously that I won one of BrewDog's Beer Geek Awards last year. That bundle included Coffee & Cigarettes, a smoked imperial stout they created as a collaboration with Beavertown. It's dark and thick, as might be expected at 12.1% ABV, and begins and ends with masses of warming peaty Scotch whisky, complete with all the salt and iodine that goes into that profile. There's a dry and papery finish, with dark chocolate and lots of alcohol heat, but nothing specifically coffeeish. For all the one-dimensionality it's very tasty, though you really need to like peat flavours as this has damn all else to offer. It worked for me.

There were also a couple of Abstrakts in the box, and I began with another barrel-aged stout, AB22, a coffee and chocolate one, aged in Speyside casks and 12.5% ABV. The thickly waxed cap was a pain to get off, but at least came away cleanly. The beer all but walked out of the bottle, a leisurely gloop, like draining motor oil from an engine. Though it looked flat, a very dark brown head did form and bubbles on the side of the glass indicated the presence of some level of carbonation. It didn't smell great, mixing harsh sappy wood with sweet chocolate syrup. The flavour is surprisingly bitter, throwing out black liquorice first, then some lighter summer fruits and flowers: strawberry and rosewater. The texture, unsurprisingly, means it's only possible to sip it, and that allowed plenty of time to appreciate its flavours. Though it's not a subtle beer by any means, there is a light, almost honeyish, single-malt whisky taste, accompanied by a slight burn. A different sort of burn comes from the dark-roast coffee. The liquorice vapours reassert themselves at the end, forming the finish, one which is surprisingly short for a thumping beer like this. On balance I feel it lacked the smoothness and rounded warmth that stouts like this do best. Perhaps I should have aged it longer.

The second one is AB23, a bourbon-aged barley wine. It looks the part: a clear dark garnet shade. Bourbon is at the reins the whole way through, from the oaky vanilla aroma through to the vanilla-oak flavour. It's sweet, and light-bodied, giving it a real bourbon-and-cola feel. Any hopping that went on during the brewing process has been thoroughly buried under the woody whiskey; only a toffee candy remains. This is the nearest thing to an Innis & Gunn beer I've tasted from BrewDog. It has the same level of bold simplicity. I got through my glass no problem, but I was also glad not to have shelled out a chunk of money for something this basic. 23 beers in, I thought the Abstrakt series would be doing something more thrilling.

If there's a pattern it's that BrewDog does accessible medium-strength beer better than the more involved fancy stuff. Something to bear in mind when I'm choosing which ones to go for next.

No comments:

Post a Comment