[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 ever I have been lax in posting up random bits of booze that I’ve been trying – the last few months have been quite overwhelming with new boozes thanks to my new job, but every now and again I do sit down and try some booze for non-work reasons. A good recent excuse for some non-work drinks was my first holiday since starting – a week in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. Fate smiled on the flat that I’ve been hiring for the last few years and not only was the nearest pub refurbished as a gastro-pub and fine booze establishment but BrewDog Edinburgh is a mere 10 minutes walk away. So, despite being in the land of whisky I spent the week drinking tasty beer:
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.
BrewDog are not ones to do things by halves. Along with their ongoing campaign of complaining about pretty much all beer produced in the UK (some deserved, much not) they are also doing much more useful things – making beers that try and do something interesting and different. Some of these popped up recently and ended up being added on to several of my recent orders – a set of four beers called IPA is Dead. It’s not like we expect them not to try and be provocative with their naming…
Name aside, the set is made up of four beers brewed to almost the same recipe, differing in only one element – which hops were used. Hops are an often misunderstood part of the brewing process, adding important flavours at various stages and varying a lot more between the various varieties than us beer laypersons normally think. I’ve stuck my face and hands into various sacks of hops over the years and generally they’ve all been fairly similar – some sharper and more vegetal, some more resiny, but all in all generally ‘hoppy’. As such I bought the beers with an expectation of seeing the variation between the various varieties of hop, but didn’t expect that variation to be all that much – I was Wrong.
The base recipe seems to be a new one dreamed up for the project (made with Maris Otter, Crystal and Caramalt malts) and the beer is both hopped during the boil (while the wort is extracting sugars from the malt, dissolving alpha acids in the hops and bringing bitterness to the beer) and ‘double dry hopped’ (which I assume means adding it at two different occasions between primary fermentation and conditioning, at which point the aromas of the hops are more important, as the bitter alpha acids are less soluble at non-boil temperatures. [Apparent ‘having a Clue about brewing’ thanks to home brewing wikis and Andy at Redemption]). The beers have one simple stated aim – to educate people about what the different hops actually add to the beer. While the blog post about the project is typically vitriolic towards brewing tradition it does get across the point that I think is important – to be able to understand the beers that you are drinking and have a better idea what to expect from future brews it’s good to know what flavours the individual components add.
The beers. On my balcony. And a mop.
First up I went for the Citra. This is one that I’ve become aware of in recent times thanks to the Kernel Citra IPA, which is one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed from their range of single hops beers, and a hop that I normally relate with a softer citrus nature rather than the full-on green bitter veg of ‘traditional’ hops (by which I mean the unnamed/forgotten varieties that I’ve seen in hop lofts and cellars on drunken brewery tours in the past). Citra is a newer hop variety, part of the wave of American hops that is currently rolling around the world of both professional and home brewing, that seems to have appeared around 2007 and popularised through its use in Sierra Nevada’s Torpedo IPA. Used predominantly as an aroma hop (rather than to add bitterness during the boil) the home brew forums I’ve been reading suggest that it brings a lot of tropical fruit flavours – pineapple, passion fruit and mango – to the brew, but I didn’t get so much of that. On the nose it had some burned butter and caramel sweetness (that I attribute to the base recipe) with a more traditional green hop and cut grass aroma. To taste it was a caramel/butterscotch start leading to a savoury hop bitterness at the end, with lots of green flavours and a lingering vegetable note. The sort of thing that I’d normally expect from a big hoppy beer.
I then moved on to the Sorachi Ace, a Japanese hop traditionally used by Sapporo in their lagers but recently appearing in the USA and moving to the rest of the world. It’s described as having a uniquely lemony flavour, but I didn’t really get some much in that vein. On the nose it was big orange marmelade with a hint of pine needles. To taste that continued with lots of spicy pine needles and a long lingering bitter orange, burnt caramel and pine aftertaste. Sappy pine was the dominant flavour for me, verging towards the floor cleaner end of things (maybe cut with a touch of lemon) but never quite getting there. This was a very non-traditional hoppy flavour and one that I will be seeking out again.
Next up was Bramling X, the only English hop in the set. More properly Bramling Cross, it was developed in the 1920’s as a cross breed between Bramling and a Canadian variety. It’s a mainstay of British brewing, although generally used as a bittering hop. BrewDog describe it as underappreciated and based on the flavours in this beer I can see why. On the nose it didn’t really do much, revealing the rather boringly ‘beery’ character of the beer, adding only a hint of cut grass. To taste it was quite a shock – smokey, muddy and with dark berry pies – unsweetened stewed blackberries with blackbery leaves. It reminded me a lot of Islay whisky cask finished beer, bringing in woodiness as well as the smoke. A little bit of traditional hoppy greenness popped up as the aftertaste faded, but this was quite a departure from what I expected.
The last beer I tried in the set was Nelson Sauvin, currently sitting with Citra as one of the more popular new hops. This one comes from New Zealand and is another one said to bring big fruity flavours, although with a big alpha acid content it also works well in the boil as a bittering agent. On the nose it had mulchy, spicy hops with sap and twigs. To taste it was very savoury (maybe a touch of brocolli at the start?), moving through a little bit of caramel sweetness with baked cooking apples to a very vegetal and leafy finish with a slab of minerality – the smell of cold gravel (or at least, how I’d imagine that would taste). Much more towards what I’d expect from a big hoppy beer, but with spiciness that was a surprise.
Four very interesting beers and further examples of why I continue to support BrewDog despite their deliberately contrary nature and annoyingly over the top marketing. It’s a brewery that seems to be very much in two pieces – if you dig through the marketing front (courtesy of James Watt and his posse) you’ll hit some interesting beers brewed (by Martin Dickie and chums) with an eye towards innovation and education that home brewers have been pushing quietly for a while.
IPA is Dead (Citra, Sorachi Ace, Bramling X, Nelson Sauvin)
Scottish single hopped IPA, 7.5%. £2.49 a bottle from BrewDog’s online store (only Bramling X in stock at the time of writing and I bought a chunk of it…)
I like to think that I’m a dutiful friend. I am often asked to help people move house and I’m now very good at coming up with convincing excuses as to why I’m unable to assist. But try as I might I couldn’t come up with a reason not to help out Jason of Whisky Squad fame when he invited me along to his carefully named ‘Beer Amnesty’ to help reduce the number of bottles he’d need to take to his new place when he moves shortly.
I arrived at the field of battle with a couple of donations of my own and was rather alarmed to see a neatly fanned out arc of beer, carefully arranged in alcoholic-ness order. The alarm was not due the neatness of arrangement or anything so simple, but more due to the middle beer clocking in at around 7%. Glasses were obtained, snacks were put within in easy grabbing distance and battle was joined. My notes are non-existant other than the names of the beers, so here’s a list along with what I remember:
Coopers Vintage Ale – Jason started us with a beer from his motherland, Australia. The vintage ale has a bit more to it than the regular Coopers Pale, which is a nice light ale, with a chunk of ‘leave me to mature a bit’ maltiness and a nice chunk of fizz. A good start.
Brewdog Zeitgeist – a black lager that has more in common with a mild than Asahi black. Good and malty with a light fizz.
Loddon Hullabaloo – the first of several that didn’t quite stick in my brain…
Brewdog Chaos Theory – I assume this was a stepping stone on the way to the Hardcore IPA, with less hops (but still quite a lot) and more rich maltiness adding up to a rather tasty beer. I still have a couple of these in the cupboard waiting for a rainy day – it didn’t set the world alight but I will be looking forward to drinking them.
Kernel White Ale? – I’ve tried it before and was rather pleased to have it again. It’s still a cloudy mix of wheat beer and ale with some nice citrus. I need to visit the brewery again soon to stock up.
Hook Norton 12 Days – The HN Christmas ale and one I tried at The Strongrooms after work recently. It’s got a lot of fruitiness to it (fruit gums and other fruity jelly sweets?) and a nice rich back that holds off from being a full on Christmas ale.
London Brewers Alliance Porter – I’ve opened one of my bottles of this and this one went the same: explode. It’s rather lively and we lost a chunk of the bottle as it tried to escape across the table (Dave took a more paranoid approach to opening his next beer, as the photo shows). However, the bits we did get in a glass were rather good – coffee and chocolate without too much sweetness.
Brewdog Prototype 27 – one of my donations. It’s definitely changed a little since I opened my first one, with less hops and much more sour fruit coming through. I wasn’t too keen, but it went down well with everyone else.
Monkman’s Slaughter – no memory of this one at all. I think it was one of the few that could mainly be described as ‘beery’.
Dark Island Reserve 2010 – the next year’s edition of my Christmas beer and still rather excellent. Big with coffee, dark chocolate, red fruit and rich maltiness. I think I liked my one better after a year of aging, but I’ve no clue if that’s just the batch or the time in the bottle. Even though it seems to have gone up to close to £10 for a 330ml bottle I think I might try and find out.
Brewdog Tokyo (12%) – one of the three Tokyo’s Jason brought and the only one we opened (the others accompanying him home at the end for reasons of palate fatigue). Unfortunately I don’t remember much about it, which is annoying as it’s the only one I’ve tried. Brewdog do seem to have stock in again, so hopefully I’ll grab one for myself soon.
Kernel IPA Citra – I’ve had the Simcoe IPA but this one blew it away – rounded flowery hops with a touch of lemony citrus combined with the usual excellence of the Kernel IPA. Another one for the shopping list.
Brewdog/Mikkeller I Hardcore You – another donation from me and one that I rather annoyingly missed out on buying again recently when they made a second batch. Big and fruity with ridiculous amounts of hops, yet worryingly easy to drink until you fall over.
Aventinus Eisbock – strong and concentrated by freeze distilling (the process that Brewdog took a bit further when competing with Schorschbräu) this was a bit treacly in the glass with a very concentrated sweet beer flavour. Not my favourite.
X33 – brought back from Prague this was a scary thing. My memory was slightly going by this point but I mainly remember the fear.
Kernel Imperial Stout – Thick, dark, chocolatey – this was the LBA Porter with nobs on. I’m going to need a wheely bag when I next get to the Kernel brewery…
London Pride – I reckon this one had been in the bottle too long. Musty and prickly in a way that didn’t inspire enjoyment. While some of Fullers’s beers age well, Pride doesn’t. Which doesn’t matter as bottles of it don’t last long in my house anyway.
Brewdog Paradox Speyside – a whisky barrel aged dark ale that I rather like, although I’ve not tried the one matured in speyside casks – I’m not sure if they change the beer recipe, but every one I’ve tried has had a different flavour. This one had some nice fruit and a touch of whisky flavour that the other ones didn’t. I’d suspect that some of the whisky had been left in the barrel before filling but a) the excise man doesn’t like that and b) the Brewdog guys would have decanted it into their hipflasks before filling the casks.
Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 – similar to the Paradox, this is Old Engine Oil matured in Highland Park casks that had previously held 16 year old whisky. I’ve written about it before but having come back to it I rather enjoyed it. Being able to taste the difference between the base beer (which I’ve found a few times since I first tried the Ola Dubh) and this has been very useful as it shows the rounding effect of the wood and the various sweet and savoury notes it adds. I’m still not sure that the price differential from 12 year old to 40 year old maturing cask is worth it…
Kernel London Porter – I tried this a few days earlier as the SMWS rooms in London now stock Kernel beer. It’s along the same lines as the Imperial Stout but with the sweetness dialled back a few notches. Dry and dark, much niceness.
Yorkshire Warrior and Yorkshire Moors – beery. Not bad, but didn’t stick in the mind.
Kernel Nelson Sauvin Pale Ale – shockingly this one also didn’t stick in my mind other than really liking it. Definitely one for me to find and try again.
Meantime Lager – with the room starting to flag we decided to move onto something lighter and this fit the bill perfectly as well as running us out of beers that weren’t hidden away to fight another day. It was light and had a definite taste of grain and hops, rather than the often found lack of anything interesting in a yellow fizzy beer. I can see why it was used in the most recent Hugh Dennis/Oz Clark road trip to insanity program to prove that lager doesn’t need to be boring.
That was 24 beers, so we decided to round things off with another Coopers Vintage while we digested pork scratchings, considered toasted cheese sandwiches and generally cogitated. If anyone else needs help reducing beverage collections to help with house moving, please let me know – I can always make room in my schedule.
Jason has also written up the various shenanigans over on his own blog.
In my previous post I declared ‘whisky deluge #2’, however a weekend of not drinking after a week that included an embargoed whisky tasting writeup (so as to keep the blind tasting bottles secret for the next few sessions) mean that the deluge has been cancelled. For now.
I was rather restrained over the Christmas period, with the combined fun of being on-call at work and spending most of my time asleep getting in the way of the drinkathon that normally accompanies the time. However, I did get to try a bunch of boozes and rather than go into my normally excessive levels of detail I thought I’d slip back into my old Quick Tastings post style, something that I seem to have forgotten to do in recent times.
(Yes, this is a tissue thin excuse for not being bothered to write my normal levels of obsessiveness, but give me a break, I’m still tired from all the sleeping)
BrewDog Eurotrash: picked up at the same time as my recent lot of Punk X, this is one of BrewDog’s prototypes that I hope appears more widely. It had the traditional BrewDog muddy hoppiness on the nose, but with an underlying sweetness that I wasn’t expecting. To taste it had a nice chunk of hops but was very much more a fully flavoured continental style beer – hints of Leffe and other big malty golden beers from the other side of the channel. It wasn’t quite as big as those beers, but was nicely balanced between hop bitterness and malty sweetness – one I’d like to get some more of.
Orkney Dark Island Special Reserve 2009 – I picked this up for Christmas 2009 but forgot I had it and have had it sat on the side ever since waiting for an occasion to crack it open. I went for it on Christmas day this year and was very pleased I did – it was rather special. It poured very thick and dark, pretty much opaque even when held up to my brightest lamp. On the nose it was heavy, with Marmite, slightly squishy apples and warm orange peel. To taste it was clinging with defanged Worcester sauce (not quite so astringent or salty, but still big and fruity with a meaty umami behind that), braised red cabbage with apples and vinegar, and a finishing mineral note. It had notes of my favourite heavy beers of the year, combining the strange fruitiness of Gale’s Prize Old Ale with the chocolate notes of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and the bitter richness of Kernel London Porter. I just wish I’d bought two bottles…
Clynelish 14 Year Old – picked up from Waitrose as my Christmas whisky this didn’t get much of a look-in on the day itself, although it has become my new favourite hipflask whisky now that I’ve run out of Longrow Cask Strength (which I need to find some more of). As is usual at Christmas it was sillily priced at £25 (I also picked up some The Glenlivet 18 and Aberlour A’bunadh batch 31 a few days later for similar prices – no more whisky buying for me for now) and is definitely worth more than that. On the nose it has the traditional Clynelish waxiness, with brine, sweaty boiled sweets, creamy vanilla, leather and a touch of meaty smoke – my note says ‘burning beef?’. To taste it’s initially sweet turning to sour wood by the finish. There’s vanilla, mint, menthol and sour sugar to start, and unripe red grapes and tannic wood to finish. Water adds more sweet and sour fruit to the start as well as a prickle of white pepper. Again, my slightly drunken notes add ‘more lemony if you burp’. I’m pleased with this bottle and it’s on my list of things that I should always have in the house.
Boisdales Mortlach – this is one I tried after the The Glenlivet tasting with Caskstrength, which I found to be rather pleasant. On a random wander into The Vintage House I saw a row of bottles of it hiding in their rather excellent independent bottlings selection and for £37 couldn’t really say no. On further inspection I noticed a familiar name on the back of the bottle – Berry Brothers and Rudd’s Doug McIvor, as they selected and bottled this for Boisdales. It’s the colour of golden syrup and the nose continues that feel with salted caramels backed up with a hint of smoke, shiny polished wood and lemons. To taste it has a big sweet caramel with raisins, cinnamon and allspice, balanced by unripe grapes and wood polish. The finish is short with sour wood and a hint of smoke. Water doesn’t change much, bringing out a little more sweetness and lengthening the finish. Easy drinking and very tasty, I suspect some more of this maybe sitting at the back of my cupboard soon waiting for next Christmas.
Hankey Bannister 12 Year Old – part of a Christmas care parcel from Lucasz over at the Edinburgh Whisky blog on behalf of Inver House. This is part of a range of blended whiskies that are now distributed by Inver House, although not all that easy to find in the UK, that stretch back to 1757, when Hankey Bannister & Co was founded in London to provide drinks to the locals. The 12 year old is the second in their range, with their Original sitting beneath it and 21 and 40 year olds above it. I’ve had a look and can’t find it easily available on the web in the UK (although TWE have the 40 year old available for £360 per bottle…), but it pops up abroad and in duty free from time to time. On the nose the 12 year old had acetone, pear drops, muddy smoke, apples, vanilla and a underlying meatiness. To taste it was quite delicate, starting with a quick burst of pine and moving through tannic dryness to fruity sweetness and a light creaminess. The finish was quite light and long with sweet wood and digestive biscuits. Water didn’t reduce the flavour very much and brought out more red fruit fruitiness and creaminess. It has the nose of a blend and is easy to drink like a blend but doesn’t have a heavy graininess like you get with some blends. Not stunning, but not bad.
anCnoc 16 Year old – anCnoc (with crazy capitalisation) is the brand name that is now being used by the Knockdhu distillery, also owned by Inver House, to distinguish it from similarly named Knockando. On the nose it has pink foam shrimps, refreshers and vanilla, with a slightly sweaty salty note behind the sweetness. To taste it was astringently woody with fizzy sherbert and woody vanilla leading to a sugary woody finish. It could take a good chunk of water bringing out sour Skittles, more creamy vanilla and a big sweet and sour fruitiness. I wasn’t a fan of this neat, but water brought out the some balancing sweet and sour fruit that I rather liked.
Anyways, welcome to the new year and here’s to twelve months of interesting imbibing.
Many thanks to Lucas and Inver House for my Christmas parcel. There were also a couple of Old Pulteney samples, but as I’ve written about those before and there’s a Twitter tasting coming up soon I’ve left them to one side for now.
BrewDog Euro Trash
Prototype golden ale/blonde beer, 4.1%. Not generally available.
Orkney Dark Island Special Reserve 2009
Orcadian dark ale, 10%. Not generally available.
Clynelish 14 Year Old
Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£30 from Master of Malt
Boisdales Mortlach 1991 (17 years old)
Speyside single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£37 from The Vintage House
BrewDog seem to be calming down a bit. They’ve started doing more keg beer (rather than denouncing it as passé, although they don’t serve it in their bar), have one bar open and another two on the way, and seem to be concentrating on getting their beer brewed rather than trying to annoy some Germans. They’re still experimenting, as the bottles of Eurotrash I have on the side will attest, but one thing they’ve been doing is looking at their core range, especially the beer that started them off – Punk IPA.
It was the first of their beers I tried, given away free at the February 2009 Twestival in London, and I rather like it, but things have moved on a bit since Martin and James opened their brewery – a couple of years of experience and recruiting means that not only do the bosses know more about making beer but they also have a team of people to work with when making new beer. As such they’ve had a reexamination of Punk IPA and brewed a new version, currently nicknamed Punk X.
Can you tell which is which?
I first tried the new beer in November at The Rake, where they did an evening with both on tap and asked for our opinions on which was better. A little while later some popped up in their online shop (and there’s still some left by the looks of things) and I grabbed a few bottles for reasons of ‘research’.
Punk IPA is an in your face beer. That’s its reason for existence, to be big and punchy as a calling card for BrewDog, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, again I assume as intended, it’s not a beer that everyone likes – I got to try a lot of it at the Twestival due to people having a sip, not liking it and then handing their bottle to me. When released it was very hoppy for a British beer and while hops are appearing in much greater concentration more recently (due to increasing numbers of hoppy US beers making their way over here, as well as BrewDog’s influence and the general cycling through of popular beer styles) Punk IPA is still up there. It’s not particularly balanced, with a big muddy hop swamping the nose and dominating the flavour. Behind that there’s an okay maltiness but as I’ve drunk more hoppy beers I’ve slowly gone off Punk. That’s not to say I don’t like it – it’s a nice beer on keg and cask, with a nice hop bitterness, and I usually have a few bottles of it in the fridge, but many of BrewDog’s other beers are nicer, as you’d expect due to it being their first.
Punk X is an altogether different beast, despite coming from almost the same ingredients (from what I’ve seen they’ve added a malt and changed the way they hop the beer, although using the same hops just at different times and in larger amounts). The bottles I have are slightly hazy and it pours a bit livelier than the Punk (although I suspect this is just due to it being closer to the experimental stage) but even on the nose it’s very different. There’s a lot more green hops on the nose, smelling like you’ve just rubbed a bundle of leafy hops between your hands – resiny and pungent. To taste a lot of that disappears, with the hops sitting quietly at the back of things. Up front is a lighter, more elegant beer, with some gooseberry-like fruit, apples, blossom and a pleasant dryness leading to the gently grassy finish. On tap it was, from my hazy memory, even more floral and fruity without quite so much of the overt hoppiness, and better than the bottles I have at the moment – something I suspect is due to it still being a changing prototype. The tap version was very much something I could see being a regular beer, but the bottle version I have at the moment is a bit less mainstream, with enough of the pungent hops in there to turn away regular drinkers. It’s interesting though, and has made me realise that I need to learn more about beer making yet again – this beer has even more hops in than the regular Punk IPA but the bitterness has been lowered from 68 to 45 IBUs. There’s more info on the differences between the beers in James’s post about the tasting at The Rake.
One of BrewDog’s ideas is to replace Punk IPA with Punk X, with the tastings they’re doing generally ending with everyone being asked to choose which one they’d want to be Punk IPA in the future, and after a couple of pints at The Rake I quite happily chose the Punk X – that version really was rather special. However, thinking on it in a more sober state of mind I reckon that’d be foolish. They’re very different beers and while I think Punk IPA could do with some refinement I don’t think Punk X is its replacement. I don’t want the Punk X to go away (and have already bought a few more bottles from the shop) but reckon that with a little bit of BrewDog’s brand magic they could have another beer on their books.
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…
My buying of almost everything that BrewDog produces is a potential problem. Keeping an eye on their blog and receiving the occasional “as you are a shareholder you may be interested in” email is a dangerous thing as I hear about their more interesting brews before they get a chance to sell out. And sell out they do…
One of the most recent ones of these to appear is their latest collaboration with Danish brewer Mikkeller – I Hardcore You.
Unlike their previous brew, Devine Rebel, this one isn’t a single beer collaboration but instead a blend of a beer from each brewer – BrewDog’s Hardcore IPA and Mikkeller’s I Beat yoU. After they’ve done the blending of the two breweries’ most hoppy ales they then dry hop it to make sure it’s hoppy enough. And then they dry hop it again. As they said on the blog post announcing the beer:
…a beer which has been dry hopped four times, or maybe even six times. We kinda lost count.
It’s a little bit of a cheat as I Beat yoU (with capitalised IBU) is made at BrewDog’s brewery to Mikkeller’s recipe, so they don’t have to ship it all that far before doing the blending. I’ve written about Hardcore IPAbefore (and still need to try another bottle of it, as my last one seems to have been duff) but I’ve yet to taste I Beat You on its own. From Mikkeller’s website it seems to be a beer with a simple mission – to be a really hoppy IPA. Based on my impression of this beer they seem to have done that.
The blend comes in at 9.5% and for a beer that strong it slips down way too easily – I’ve already seen reports of hangover misery the morning after The Rake had a cask of it on. It pours a nice orangey red and has a head that sticks around for a little bit. It smells of hop pellets and mulchy hops, a bit like being in a damp hop filled cellar (I imagine). I’ve tried two bottles, one cold and one at room temperature, and the flavour was quite different. At room temperature it was very hoppy with an underlying thick maltiness that reminded me of the best bits of the draught Hardcore IPA. When cold more of the maltiness came out than the hops, with it coming across as very sweet and fruity (mangos, pineapples and other tropical fruit, maybe) with a nice long bitter finish, becoming gradually more mulchy and hoppy as it warmed up.
As with all of the BrewDog backed hoppy beers this isn’t one to have if you are not a big fan of bitter hops. Luckily for me I like the taste of chewing on a hop pellet, so the extra flavours that you get from the beer sitting behind the hops all count as bonuses. While this beer may not appear again (although the ease of BrewDog obtaining both Hardcore IPA and I Beat yoU combined with the favourable reviews this beer has got mean that it’s not impossible that it will) it certainly reinforces my need to try Hardcore IPA and kicks the Mikkeller range further up my to find list.
BrewDog and Mikkeller I Beat You
Double dry hopped blended of Hardcore IPA and I Beat yoU, 9.5%. No longer available.
The bottle artwork is by Keith Shore, and very pretty it is too.
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.