My year’s subscription to the Abstrakt Addikts club is now up, but before it went away I got my three bottles of the final release of the year – AB:11.
Of all the Abstrakts that have appeared recently this is the one that I had heard the least about before release – precisely nothing. I wasn’t expecting it to arrive and had no clue what it was when it did. So, I did what I don’t normally do when drinking beer and tasted it entirely blind – knowing that it is an Abstrakt release does let you know that it’s not going to be a 3% supermarket lager, but other than the fact that it would be on the extreme end of beer making I didn’t know what was in my glass.
Ever since I bought into BrewDog’s Equity for Punks scheme for a second time I’ve been waiting for my membership of the ‘Abstrakt’s Addicts’ club to kick-in – a scheme by which I’ll get a year of Abstrakt beers sent to me, three of each release that happens in 2012. After some postal confusion I assumed that my box of AB:09 had arrived, only to discover that it was actually a delivery for Sjoerd of Malt Fascination, using me as a beer staging point. However before I realised this I’d cracked into the first bottle.
As I mentioned in my last Brewdoggy post there’s a new beer of theirs that I intended to write about – Abstrakt:08, aka AB:08 (that should be enough for Google to do some indexing on all the regular search terms). It’s the next in the Abstrakt series, one off beers that occasionally have ideas folded back into their expanding regular range. This one is a bit more experimental than most of the range, which is saying something when you see the craziness in some of the beers, hence the expanded post rather than just a mention in the last one. I also wanted to have a go at taking a photo of it as I got a new and appropriate glass…
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, I like BrewDog. I’ve bought shares in both tranches that were released, I like almost all of their beers that I’ve tried and I even like the labels on their bottles. I also think that their marketing is as full of crap as one of the buckets at one of Mike Patton’s special parties (dodgy simile thought up while under the influence of BrewDog’s beer) but I’m happy to ignore that as long as they keep on doing the other stuff that they are doing. And one of those things, especially since they got the Equity For Punks cash injection(s), is building bars.
We’ve been waiting for a while, along with rumours of incorrect licenses and general bureaucratic annoyance, but only a couple of months after it was expected BrewDog Camden has opened its doors. I went along a couple of times during the first week, including shareholder and bloggers tastings (accompanied by excellent chums Thom and Myk of the Thomyk podcast), and thought I’d better mention it up here. Spoiler alert: I really like BrewDog’s bars. If you want to ignore some gushing praise then skip forward a few paragraphs, as I also have tasting notes on some new beers that should feature slightly less gushing praise.
[As a brief editorial warning, it seems that things are going to be a bit beer heavy around here for a bit. I like beer and forgot to drink any for a while. I have started to remedy this]
The vast majority of the beers I drink at the moment seem to be from Brewdog. The reason is simple – I don’t get the chance to go down the pub very often and I have a not inconsiderable stash from the Fraserburgh trouble-stirrers in the cupboard. Unfortunately I’m an idiot and I recently found a stash of nice hoppy beers that really hadn’t survived their time in the bottle all that well, and as such I’ve decided to get through and drink a bunch of them rather than let them go all skunky.
However, in true contrary fashion this first one that I’m going to write about isn’t one of those, it’s a beer designed to sit and age – AB:07, the seventh release in the Abstrakt range.
As I’ve not done one of these for a while I thought I better had do…my notebook is getting full.
BrewDog/3 Floyds Bitch Please – a collaborative brew from BrewDog and Chicago’s 3 Floyds. Harking back to their older special edition brews, this is a oak-aged barley wine, reminiscent of the Devine Rebel they made with Stone (although not a patch on the Devine Rebel Reserve) and their own Tokyo. It poured a deep red with a creamy coloured head and a had big wood smoke nose with a hint of rubber and stoney mud. To taste it was coffee and dark chocolate to start, with a bit of very dry tannic red wine. As I worked through the glass it got slightly fruitier, with some malty sweetness appearing, as well as some black liquorice and some of the blackberry leaf fruitiness that I associate with barrel aged beers. I’ve got a couple more of these and I’m going to leave them to think about things for a while – I suspect this one may develop in the bottle.
Redemption/Kernel No.2 – my first beer of the night at last week’s Day of IPA at The Euston Tap. The Tap isn’t the biggest of pubs, built into one of the small gatehouses outside Euston station as it is, and as you’d expect from an IPA festival at one of the top craft beer pubs in London it was rather full. Anyways, being a fan of both Redemption and Kernel I jumped at this one, having missed out on cask Kernel beer every time I’ve had a chance of grabbing it in the past. This seemed to be a happy mix of Kernel and Redemption’s styles – big and malty with some comparatively restrained hops at the end. It was orangey in the middle and finished with a nice bitter mulchiness.
BrewDog Abtrakt:06 – the latest in BrewDog’s “release once and never again” Abstrakt collection, this time a triple dry hopped imperial black IPA coming in at 11.5%. This was one of the few kegs of AB:06 that BrewDog filled and I got in a half at the Day of IPA as early as possible to make sure I got some before it went. It was a very dark beer, in both flavour and colour, full of fruity black coffee and coffee grounds. As it warmed in the glass it developed some syrupy raisin sweetness but was dark and bitter, with the bitterness hiding most of the fruity hops that were hiding in the background. They reckon that it’ll age well, but I’m not sure how well the overpowered hops will hold up over time.
Auchentoshan Bourbon Matured 1975 – After replying to an email from the PR company looking after Bowmore and Auchentoshan I got a little parcel through the post containing a pair of sample drams. This first one is a 35 year old from Auchentoshan, bottled after 35 years maturing in ex-bourbon casks. With an out-turn of 500 bottles at 46.9% (which may well be the undiluted strength) I suspect this is a marriage of at least 3. It had a sweet nose of vanilla wood, lemon butter, green leaves, heather, floral scented candles and bourbon. To taste it started with some sour fruit (gooseberry?) and moved through a buttery wood middle to a long finish, with leaves (green tea and berry bushes), cardboard and tannic edges.
Bowmore 1982 – The second dram from the PR folks, this is a 29 year old whisky matured in Bowmore’s No.1 Vaults, the below sea-level cellars where most of the distillery’s on-site whisky lives. On the nose this started off quite vegetal – with leaves and a hint of peaty forest floor. This was joined by bubblegum, cinnamon and a bit of floral air freshener. To taste it started with boiled sweets (Tom Thumb Drops?) and quickly moved into floral territory, with woody pot pourri sitting in the middle. The finish was quite long and was very air freshener-like – as if you’d sprayed some and then accidentally walked through the cloud with your mouth open. It reminded me of the 21 year old Bowmore Port Cask I tried at Whisky Live this year, and neither of them are really whiskies for me.
Berry’s Own Selection Clynelish 1997 – at the last Whisky Squad Rob from BBR brought along a little sample of something that he thought we might like. He was, as ever, correct, although as I’ve yet to have a Clynelish I didn’t like it was a bit of a shoo-in, even if he did make me taste it before telling me what it was. On the nose this had wax (giving away its origins almost immediately – this was definitely a Clynelish), sweet fruit, pencil top erasers, Love Hearts, bubblegum and peppery spice. To taste it had sour fizzy fruit sweets and sweetened cream leading to a caramel covered woody finish. Water brought out milk chocolate, green apples and more sweetness in the finish. I didn’t get my whisky mule to grab me a bottle last time he was visiting the shop (although he did grab me some of the crazy Karuizawa from the last Squad) and I’m starting to regret it as there aren’t many/any bottles left…
Sheppy’s Tremlett’s Bitter – Last year almost every member of my family gave me booze of some kind. It’s as if I’ve got a reputation, or something. Anyway, my mum and step-dad nipped down the road to a local farm and grabbed me some cider, living in Somerset as they do. They picked up a selection pack of ciders from Sheppy’s, a few miles away from them on the south side of Taunton. The first one I got out of the box was a single apple cider – Tremlett’s Bitter. It’s a bittersweet apple with a big chunk of tannin, which pretty much describes the cider. On the nose it was sharp and medicinal, with some malic acid sourness and the traditional cider ‘hint of farmyard’. To taste there was an initial burst of sweetness that quickly turned to sour apple skins, which hung around for a tannic finish.
Tuesday was a special day. Originally I was meant to go to a tasting of Jura with the distillery manager, but that got cancelled at the last moment. Then a message popped up on the BrewDog blog that they’d be running a tasting at The Rake. Perfect timing it seemed, to start with, until I realised that my recent weeks away from town had moved my chubby fingers even further from the pulse of London than normal and I’d missed a key fact about the day – London Underground were going on strike. Plans were made, starting with working from home and culminating in a train and bus meander into London Bridge. However, in the manner of all good plans, I foolishly changed my mind at the last moment and my bus/train/train/train plan turned into bus/train/train/walk, leaving me at Waterloo a bit later than I hoped and The Rake a decent walk down the road. I turned for the first time to London’s new saviour – the hire bike (aka Boris Bike [even though the plan was initiated under Ken Livingstone] aka Red Ken’s Unmotorised Metal Steeds [an acronym that I am trying to push without much success]). So, I arrived at The Rake redder in the face than normal, sweating more than normal, significantly deader than normal and in need of a beer even more than normal.
The BrewDog chaps had brought along quite an interesting selection, complimenting the free tastings that they ran upstairs with a couple of interesting beers on tap. I started out with a half of each. First up was Dogma. Formerly known as Speedball, it’s a malty beer with added stimulants: Scottish heather honey, poppy seeds, kola nut and guarana. The beer poured almost headless and reddy brown in colour, with a crisp malty nose. To taste it was chewily malty but cut off quickly with a dry lager crispness. It finished with a little bit of hop bitterness and a hint of fruity malt. It was worryingly drinkable, despite its additions and 7.8% alcohol content, and I blame it in part for the slow decent into drunkenness that the evening became. More worryingly, I have a case of it in the post which I think I ordered when I got home…
The second of my brace of pre-tasting beers was a preview of Abstrakt:03 aka AB:03, the next in the Abstrakt series and follow up to the Abstrakt:02 that I tasted earlier in the year. In Abstrakt fashion it’s one of BrewDog’s experiments released in one batch with the caveat that the recipe will not be repeated and this time it’s one of their early IPAs, brewed at 9% and then matured for 2.5 years in some 1965 Invergordon whisky casks with strawberries and raspberries. The whisky was bottled at 42 years old and each of the 10 casks was filled with the IPA and 20kg of strawberries from brewery co-founder Martin Dickie’s grandmother’s strawberry farm (as picked by the BrewDog staff). After a couple of years 2kg of raspberries were added to each barrel for a finishing sourness. The beer has been recarbonated, as many of BrewDog’s aged beers are, and this carbonation level was the only real difference between the keg version I started the evening with and the bottled version I tried later at the tasting.
The beer poured flat and red, as you’d expect for something with 22kg of red fruit per cask, and didn’t have all that much to the nose other than a slug of sour fruit. To taste that sourness came through, with the raspberries dominating the underlying sweetness of the strawberries and complimenting the bitterness of the base IPA – it was more sour cherry than berry. The wood seems to have done more accentuating than adding, with an oranginess coming out heavily at both ends of the flavour, almost adding a citrus pettiness to the beer, although there was a hint of smokiness that may have come from the rather exhausted wood (42 years of whisky maturation is going to pull out quite a lot of what the cask had to give). There was also a less hoppy bitterness that my notes suggest was ‘like sucking a peach stone’ that popped up in the middle along with some sweet fruit. A very interesting beer that tasted almost like a belgian sour cherry beer than an fruity IPA.
Shortly after finishing my beer, and having a chat with Neil from Yet Another Gin who popped by on one of his whistlestop tours of the bars of London, I was called in for the third tasting of the night, having grabbed a ticket from BrewDog’s London sales manager Tom Cadden, and made my way to the rather full upstairs room where BrewDog boss James Watt was waiting to pimp his beer at us.
First up for the tasting was the AB:03 again, this time from a bottle and, as mentioned earlier, slightly fizzier. This fizziness focused the flavour a bit more but didn’t change much. It is designed to get better in the bottle with age but I’m not sure how it’ll change. From my recent reading I think the hoppiness will calm down which should make the beer a bit sweeter and rounder, which might be nice. James also gave us a quick advance preview of what AB:04 will be: a 15% beer with coffee, cocoa beans and a naga chili – they added one naga to the 20 hectolitre brew…
We moved on from there to the Devine Rebel Mortlach Reserve. Originally brewed in collaboration with Mikkeller in November 2008, the beer started out as a 12.5% barley wine before they decanted it into two Mortlach whisky casks that had held sherry before the whisky. These were then left until a few weeks ago when they were bottled, advertised on the website and quickly snapped up by the BrewDog fanboys, including three that went to me and arrived a couple of days after the tasting. Before bottling they highly recarbonated the beer in an effort to control the sweetness, as carbon dioxide has a souring effect on liquids it is dissolved in (hence the sweetness of flat soft drinks and the sour flavour of carbonated water).
It poured deep brown with a hint of orangey red and smelled of fruity grain, grapes and overwhelmingly of perfectly ripe pears. To taste there was more pear, sour caramel, uncooked malt, red grapes and a general background of mixed fruit as you often find with barley wines. It had a long woody finish which lingered with the fruitiness and, in short, it was fantastic. One of the best beers I’ve tasted and one that I’m very pleased I have a few bottles of. All I’ve got to do now is make sure that I save two of my three to sit on the side and wait a bit, as it should age well.
Last of the night was the beer that we had all come to try and the reason that I had made the journey across town on strike day – The End of History. The final chapter in BrewDog’s super strong beer war with German brewer Schorschbräu this 55% beer beat the german’s previous effort (a 43% version of the Schorschbock) and BrewDog have announced that they will do no more of these stupidly high alcohol brews. I suspect that this is in part due to a ‘get out while the going’s good’ approach to the publicity that they have garnered, as well as a more practical topping out of their freeze distilling process – it seems that to produce this beer they not only needed their local ice cream factory (-20ºC) and their industrial chiller (-40ºC) but also a piece of medical cryogenic freezing equipment (-60ºC) which was leased and has to go back soon. Each of their super strong beers has had a different base beer, with the Tactical Nuclear Penguin using an imperial stout, Sink the Bismarck an IPA and this one a belgian blond (infused with nettles and juniper berries), and this has led to each of them being quite distinct in flavour.
However, flavour isn’t the main reason why people have been interested in The End of History. The first of the two things is the price, with it coming in at £500 and £700 per bottle, amounts that have led to BrewDog’s claim that it is not only the world’s strongest beer but also the most expensive. However, the beer inside the bottles is not the main source of the price, instead it’s the second reason why people know about it, the packaging. Only 12 bottles were made available to the general public (although I suspect that a chunk more beer was made and not part of those 12, to allow tastings and the like), which sold out in tow hours, and each was then placed inside an expensively taxidermied stoat or squirrel – the stoat brought along to our tasting was called Susan. This is a bit of a classic BrewDog move – deliberately shocking, ready-made for the media to pick up and with a point behind it that some will see as the excuse for the first two bits and BrewDog claim is the main reason why they did it (in this case, trying to make a point about beer as a luxury item and something hand wavy about honouring the lives of dead animals – the stoats and squirrels used were already dead rather than killed for the project, with the word ‘roadkill’ appearing often). I rather like the advertising campaign myself, tasteless as it is to many, and was rather pleased to be able to meet Susan. She was lovely. There is, of course, a video.
So, the ‘beer’: We were presented with a baby shot each and it was a beautiful golden colour, shining under the room’s lights. On the nose it had oranges, concentrated malt, citrusy hop and a hint of dry hops. To taste it started with an intense sweet citrus hit fading through fizzy refreshers (although uncarbonated) to seville orange, with hints of beery malt and bitterness, and with a long bitter orange finish. In true whisky drinker fashion I added a drop of water to see what happened and it softened out some of the alcoholic hit, brought out more bitter orange but helped it all amalgamate into more of a constant whole. Overall it was pretty impressive and definitely more of a proper drink than I felt the Sink the Bismarck was – I find it disappointing that this isn’t something that’s going to appear again and that it will be almost impossible taste outside of the occasional BrewDog special occasion.
Anyway, it was certainly worth the multi-modal journey to London Bridge (along with the walk/bus/bus/night bus/cab and 2.5 hours that it took me to get home afterwards). The evening continued after the tasting with a slow slide into drunkenness, talking with some proud beer tickers (recording every beer they drink and trying not to drink the same one more than once) and then enthusiastically telling someone else that they seem to be very smily. I also caught the tail end of a conversation with James Watt in which he mentioned the BrewDog shareholders AGM – “It’ll be later this year and it’ll be awesome”. One train ticket to Aberdeen coming up soon…
I still like Brewdog. I may be in two minds about some of their marketing and some of their beers, but they’ve so far all been worth a try. So, when I read on their blog that they were going to have a release event for one of their latest beers in London, putting on the only cask of the otherwise bottled beer and might bring along some interesting other things to have a taste of the date swiftly went in my calendar.
The beer in question was Brewdog Abstrakt:02, part of a ‘range’ of beers with a simple ethos – only one batch of each will be made, once it’s made the recipe will be retired, and each beer will simply be named as Abstrakt: with the next number in sequence. The Abstrakt:01 is a slightly mad 10% abv vanilla infused belgian quadrupel and the #2 is both a more conventional beer and also slightly more scary – a triple dry hopped imperial red ale (more conventional) at 18% (saywhatnow?).
The release event was at the Cask in Pimlico, a pub that I’ve been meaning to visit for a while. Formerly the rather dodgy Pimlico Tram, it’s been taken over and redone as one of the new wave of pubs focusing on good beer that have been popping up in London. Upgrading their gear since the reopening they now have a bar packed with hand pulls and taps, with a constantly changing range of real ales and keg beers. Behind the bar is their latest addition – tall fridges stacked with interesting bottled beer. I suspect they are one of a small number of bars, if not the only one, who have Brewdog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% and ~£60 a bottle) and Sink the Bismarck (41% and over £70 a go) ready to sell.
While waiting for the Abstrakt to appear, me and drinking buddies Ewan (who was randomly sharing our table until we both realised that we’ve met on a number of occasions) and Alan decided to try out a few of the other beers on the bar:
Brewdog Hardcore IPA – one that I’ve already written about in bottled form and was disappointed by. After my recent taste of Prototype 27 I had decided to give it another try and I’m quite pleased I did. On tap (and I suspect in other bottles to the one I got) it is a rather nice strong ale – a chunk of sour citrus hops with a big warming malty booziness finishing dry and almost tannic. One that I now need to find in bottle again for further experimentation
Brewdog The Physics – my memory is awful and my notes for this are non-existent, but the main thing that I remember was that it was nice. Of all the Brewdog beers that I’ve tried this is the one that most tasted like a normal easy drinking session beer, even it was 5%.
Brewdog 5am Saint – lemony hops and a biscuity body with a floral and citrusy finish. A light and refreshing summery beer and rather pleasant.
Cliff Quay Black Jack – one that was sitting all on its own at the end of the row of taps and with a simple description of ‘Aniseed Porter’ – those both being things I like I couldn’t really say no. It was quite strange – strongly aniseed on the nose, but less so on the tongue, it tasted more like a creamy aniseed mild, with the beer behind the aniseed being a light porter (contradiction though that may be) with a watery milkiness to it. Surprisingly refreshing but not particularly full bodied.
At this point a bell was rung and Brewdog’s sales guy, Richard McLellan, strode amongst the throng delivering an occasionally drowned out tribute to the glory of their beer. Then the scrum faced the bar and drove… The crowd did move quite slowly at first, as even though it was being sold in third pints the beer had decided that it liked being head rather than liquid, and a chain of jugs and spoons for flicking off the foam was quickly formed. At £3 a third it was far from being cheap, but it was a) the only keg of the beer in existence and b) 18%, so I forgave them.
The Abstrakt is a deep red/brown beer which (as the pouring misery demonstrates) popped up with a good head to start, which quickly faded in the glass. On the nose there was lots of orangey citrus with an undercurrent of slightly stale hoppiness. To taste the alcohol came through quite quickly, fading to a bitter citrus hop finish. There were hints of vanilla at the back of the mouth and the citrus of the hops was joined by a berry fruitiness in the centre. However, in the end I found it a little unbalanced towards the bitterness of the hops. They recommended that Ab:01 be cellared for 1-2 years and I wonder if that could be a good thing for this one as well – a bit of rounding of the bitterness as well as bringing out more of the orange and vanilla could balance this a lot more for my taste.
Shortly after this a tray started making its way around the pub, containing small tumblers with a shot of a slightly murky brown liquid in, the second reason I had come down – a taste of Sink the Bismarck. The beer was created as part of a mini-war between Brewdog and German brewer Schorschbräu, which started with Brewdog pushing the 31% Schorschbock into being the second strongest beer in the world with their 32% Tactical Nuclear Penguin. The germans came back with a 40% version of their beer, only to have the Scots go one stage further with both the 41% Sink the Bismarck and a bit of Brewdog style marketing:
It seems that Schorschbräu have fought back with last month’s 43% version of the Schorschbock (complete with ‘rising to the bait’ tagline of ’cause Frankonian Men don’t dress like girls’) so we shall see what Brewdog come back with.
The Bismarck is a many times hopped beer which is chilled in an icecream factory before having the ice removed and the process repeated a number of times. This is more of a freeze concentration than a freeze distilling, removing all of the warmer freezing elements in the beer and leaving something that is not entirely unlike beer cordial. On the nose it was quite powerful, with lots of booze, as you’d expect, a touch of hops and some (butch) floweriness. To taste it was a bit of a punch to the face, with a burst of malty fruit and icing sugar fluffy sweetness fading through sour berries to a warming, malty bitter finish with a hint of wood smoke and orangey hop. It’s one that definitely has to be sipped and it’s really not a whisky – the whisky distillation process takes out most of the flavour compounds that are deliberately left in here, creating almost an anti-whisky in approach and flavour. I have a bottle of Tactical Nuclear Penguin at home and, impressive at it is, I don’t think I need one of these as well (although if the Penguin doesn’t live up to expectation I may have to visit the Brewdog shop and lay down a scary amount of money for a bottle).
Alan and I ended the evening on a half of the Hardcore IPA, a fitting end to eject us, slightly swaying, into the street. As usual Brewdog’s beers are a bit hit and miss for me, but both they and the Cask require further investigation.
18% Triple Dry Hopped Imperial Red Ale
Available from beer specialists and the Abstrakt website
~£10 per 375ml bottle, 3200 bottles available
Brewdog Sink the Bismarck
41% Kettle hopped, dry hopped, freeze hopped IPA
Available from beer specialists and Brewdog’s website
£40 per 330ml bottle, brewed in small batches so not always available immediately.