Jason’s Beer Amnesty

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.

JasonsBeer
Piccy by Jason

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.
  • DaveExplodeyLondon 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.

Quick Tastings

Some more of what I done been drinking:

Balvenie 12 Years Doublewood – a whisky grabbed as a chaser round the corner from the Sci-Fi-London film festival after a day of packing bags and herding punters. It had a grassy, olive oily nose with hints of sugary spice and a touch of wood. To taste it had a woody sweetness with some cinnamony spiciness with a bitter fruity finish. As it developed in the glass the sweetness increased and turned towards candyfloss.

OldRascalThatchers Old Rascal – I popped into the branch of Byron Hamburger that’s now hiding in the building that used to house The Intrepid Fox (I may never have drunk anything but Newcastle Brown or bottled cider when visiting, but RIP anyway. The new location just isn’t the same) and grabbed a quick bottle of cider to accompany my tasty burger. Described on the label as ‘Full bodied medium dry Somerset cider’, I would have stuck it more towards the medium sweet end of things. Anyways, it was quite nice – more mulchy farmyard flavour than you usually get from a mainstream cider as well as a nice tartness contrasting with the underlying sweetness. One to remember.

The SMWS release a new tranche of whiskies every first Friday of the month, so I stopped by to try a couple. Well, more than a couple after I got talking to the bar staff…I am weak:

SMWS 35.38, Fire in the hole! (Glen Moray) – Chosen specifically because of my interest in strange wood maturations, this one was matured for 9 years in a 2nd fill chardonnay cask. Wine finishes are generally badly thought of by whisky connoisseurs, but a few interesting ones do get out into the wild – this one is a bit of a mixture. A strange nose, with a slab of wood as well as a strange chicken and ammonia combination (to be honest there was a hint of the pub bog to it). To taste it was almost meaty, with overripe fruit and a bitter woody finish. With a bit of water it softened out, becoming more wine-like with some vanilla from the wood and an oily sandalwood flavour coming through. One to try, but not one I want a whole bottle of.

SMWS 93.38, Stirs the atavistic soul (Glen Scotia) – The intended final dram of the evening, this was to sate my love of Campbelltown whiskies, although as there are only two remaining distilleries, Glen Scotia and Springbank, this is quite a limited love. Luckily Springbank have a couple of brands they distill giving a slightly wider field for me to taste my way through. Anyways, this reminded me, from my notes, of a damp wood fire in someone else’s garden – smoke at a distance with a touch of damp woodiness. There were sour grapes and cured meat on the nose as well. To taste there was a touch of sweet wine as well as tannic wood, almost like a fruity rioja. A drop of water softened the wood, bringing out more sweetness and hiding the tannins. Overall the main memory I have is of a tingling menthol like finish down the sides of the tongue. Quite definitely from Campbelltown and really quite nice.

SMWS 27.80 (Springbank) – no name for this one as I can’t find it on the website. Continuing the Campbelltown kick I went for a recommended dram of this new (I think) Springbank. It had salt and a light sweetness on the nose, as well as a plimsoll-like rubberiness. To taste it had more salt and rubber as well as a sweetness and a prickly, numbing sensation. Water brought on more sweetness and a slick, buttery mouthfeel, along with more rubber and fisherman’s friends. It reminds me very much of the bottle of single cask Springbank I got from Cadenhead’s while at the Edinburgh Festival last year, although this one is even better. I may have to pick up a bottle on my next visit.

SMWS 53.140, Swelling, crashing, waves of flavour (Caol Ila) – a deliberate evening ending choice, although I was offered an even more peaty Ardbeg by the ever helpful barman. I declined, but made a note for my next visit. On the nose it had a sweet peaty smoke with a hint of disinfectant, mulch and parma violets. To taste it was crisply smoky with candy floss and citrus fruit, but rather complex and overpowering and in need of dilution. Water saves your palate from certain destruction, with the flavours combining to give a sweet wet ash smokiness, a touch of orange and a tingly finish. It’s good I stopped after it as I was still tasting it when I got home an hour later.

And my favourite of the week:

BengalLancerFuller’s Bengal Lancer – I’ve tried this IPA on tap, but not grabbed a bottle yet, however, I’m glad I did. It’s a bottle conditioned, very heavily hopped IPA which is light on the palate but still wonderfully bitter, with the great taste of citrusy hops dominating in a rather pleasant way. As the hops die back there’s a nice touch of fruity malt and it finishes with the same bitterness that most Fuller’s beers display. Very good and one that I’ll be stocking up on when I find someone to drive me to the shops.

Fuller’s Vintage Ale – A Tasting

Being a denizen of West London it’s difficult not be exposed to Fuller’s beer. Luckily, I’ve been a big fan even before my gradual western movement through the boroughs of London hit Chiswick, and my years of living fairly near the brewery have been rather convenient for finding numerous good pints of London Pride. However, on top of their rather good draft beer Fuller’s also do some rather special bottled beers, with the king of the bunch being their Vintage Ale. Not named for its oldness, but instead for the fact that the recipe changes each year and it’s designed to be kept for a while before being drunk. I’ve had the odd bottle in the past with mixed results, but drinking buddy Bob decided recently that his collection needed to be consumed to make room on his To Read shelf for more books. I approve of this action not only due to the acquisition of new books but also because he asked me along to write a poncey review of the beers.

Vintage Ales

We started off with the 2008, with a plan of jumping back a few years at a time to both get some comparison and not be too drunk by the time we got to the 1999. It smelled of Vintage Ale – there’s a common smell to all of the vintage ales that I’ve tried, I call it prickly, Kake calls it metallic, and this had it in spades. Along with the mysterious smell (which isn’t unpleasant, just distinctive and hard to describe) it had some fruit and caramel, as you’d expect from a strong ale. It tasted quite nice, thick in the mouth and with a nice malty flavour hiding some of the alcohol and leading to an almost ashy finish. One that I’d happily drink and the best of the Vintage Ales I’d tasted until this point (although I suspect my ones may have turned after years of less than careful storage).

We moved on to the 2003, skipping back 5 years. This one was quite different, with no prickle/metallic note on the nose, replacing that smell with raisins and molasses – almost like a sticky toffee pudding. It was very smooth, with very little fizz and a very rich caramel sweetness. Really very nice indeed.

Next was the 1999, the earliest of Bob’s collection, even if he hasn’t had it for 11 years. This was quite lively, trying rather lackadaisacally to escape the bottle on its own after opening. It had a much thinner, more wine-like smell and was in general not as thick and rich a beer as the others we’d tried. It had the traditional malt, but also some winey fruits and a slab of bitterness. Interesting, but not my favourite.

We then started back through time with the 2000. This one had a strong smell of tobacco, with Martin reckoning that there was a hint of the greenness of green capsicum. Other than that it was similar to the first, but with more sweetness, less prickle, a touch of tobacco and a burst of fizziness.

Next was the 2001. Again there was a slab of tobacco on the nose, but this time it was accompanied by some raisins and a winey smell. To taste there was fruit leather and a rich caramel sweetness finished with a buttery mouth feel. Big and fruity and probably my favourite.

The final vintage was 2007. This one was rather fizzy and escaped the bottle in quite an effective manner. It was also quite definitely young – the mellowed flavours of the last 4 beers were replaced by a much more up front complexity. There was the ‘prickle’ as well as spiciness, caramel sweetness and a touch of smoke. In a couple of years this might be a rather excellent beer – the smoke will hopefully turn into something a bit like the leatheriness of the 2000 and 2001, and this might be the one to grab and lay down for a couple of years.

Golden PrideTo finish off the tasting of Bob’s beer (as I also dragged along a bottle of Gales Prize Old Ale and some Old Engine Oil that may appear on here at a later date) he rolled out one of his ‘ready’ bottles of Golden Pride, the Fuller’s barley wine. Years back there was an interview with the chairman of Fuller’s, who seemed to be a bit of a mad old chap, who recommended that you kept your Golden Pride for at least 2 years past its sell by date to make sure that it was ‘ready’ (he had a ready supply and had one as nightcap each evening). The bottle that Bob put before us was 2.5 years past the sell by date and thus in need of drinking. Unsurprisingly it tasted very much of Golden Pride, with heavy malty caramel and spicy fruit, but the harshness of a newer bottle had been rounded off, leaving something rather too easy to drink. It’s definitely worth planning ahead and hiding bottles of this for later consumption. Unfortunately my method of achieving this is buying two at a time and hiding one, which is a dangerous course of action as a bottle of Golden Pride can happily end an evening shortly after it’s been opened, no matter how early it is.

Anyway, it looks like it’s time for me to start preparing for my turn to put on a similar event – first I need a case of the 2007 and then I need to book up an evening sometime in 2017…

Fuller’s Vintage Ale 1999, 8.5%
Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2000, 8.5%
Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2001, 8.5%
Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2003, 8.5%
Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2007, 8.5%
Fuller’s Vintage Ale 2008, 8.5%
Most easily available from the brewery shop, although the older ones are less likely to still be available

Fuller’s Golden Pride, 8.5%
Available from all Fuller’s pubs in bottle, occasionally on tap (at Christmas in selected pubs) and from lots of off-licenses.