The Rake at Christmas and Great Divide Yeti Imperial Stout

If you want to get into the Christmassy spirit in London, a trip to Borough Market is a winner. Geese, game pies, mulled cider, and carol-singers under a tree. A real Dickensian wonderland (just wish they had Dickensian prices). All the better if you go on a weekday afternoon when you should be in work.

Having carefully selected some beers in Utobeer to go with Christmas dinner (more on that after Christmas) we retired to the Rake for a quiet drink or six. We hadn’t been for a few months – it’s rather difficult to get in the door in the evenings these days – and were pleased to see that what was on offer had changed considerably since the last time we were there. Not that there was anything wrong with the previous selection, it’s just good to see change and variety.

On tap; HopBack Entire Stout, O’Hanlon’s Goodwill, Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale, La Chouffe N’ice, Koestritzer Schwarzbier and I think Maisels’ Weisse. In bottles, another two hundred or so.

yeti.jpgOf the various beers we had, Goodwill was great in that it wasn’t just a standard bitter with some cinnamon in it. Instead, the brewers had gone for citrusy flavours and succeeded in creating a nicely balanced, warming bitter. Similar citrusy flavours abounded in Celebration Ale, which also tasted of peaches. La Chouffe was very tasty, but then at 10% it should be! All excellent beers.

But the star of the show was Great Divide’s Yeti Imperial Stout (in bottles). Now, we’d had a few drinks beforehand, so I’m not sure in the cold light of the morning I’d be as bold as to say it was the best beer I’d ever tasted (which I said a few times last night to anyone who’d care to listen…) But it knocked our socks off sufficiently that we ordered another one straight afterwards, rather than try a new beer. It’s 9.5% and almost jet black, with a gorgeous mocha-coloured head. It reminded me of an amazing hot chocolate I once had in Spain, which was 85% cocoa solids. Incredibly chocolatey, thick and silky, but not at all sweet. It’s very bitter (it proudly boasts “75 bittering units”) but the hop bitterness blends perfectly with the cocoa bitterness. It’s a sledgehammer of a beer.

St Bernardus Abt 12 v Westvleteren 12

What beer-lover isn’t intrigued by the history and production of Westvleteren beers, the12s.jpg most reclusive of the Trappist producers? The angle that always caught our attention was the similarities (or not) between St Bernardus Abt 12 and Westvleteren 12. The St Bernardus brewery has its origins in a commercialisation experiment by the monks at the abbey of St-Sixtus in Westvleteren, whereby they licenced commercial production of the abbey’s beers to an enterprising cheese producer. The licence ended in 1992, and since then the St Bernardus brewery has continued, removing references to St Sixtus and Trappist beers.

There are various rumours about the similarity of the recipes; that they’re the same but the yeast and water are different; that once they were exactly the same but now they’re different for various reasons etc. We’re not beer historians, so don’t know what’s true and what isn’t; if you want to read more, an old article by Stonch with related comments and links is a good place to start.

12s3.jpgWe thought we’d try the two together and see how similar they were. We tried to make the experiment as fair as possible, serving them in identical glasses at the same temperature etc. However, our Westvleteren has been “aging” in our “cellar” for about five months whereas the St-Bernardus was bought last week.

There’s an obvious difference in that St Bernardus is 10% whereas the Westvleteren is 10.2%. Interestingly though, the St Bernardus (right on our photo) has a stronger body and better head retention.

As for colour – there is a slight difference, with Westy being more brown and St Bernardus being more red-black. But that could be down to the amount of yeast shaken into both.

There is a stronger aroma with the St-Bernardus – it smells like a good sherry, with lots of fruity flavours. As for the taste – we always struggle to describe the flavour of Belgian beers, but here goes. We’d describe both as fruity, but Westvleteren had more milk-chocolate flavours, whilst the St-Bernardus had more tangy apple overtones. St-Bernardus was both sourer and more bitter (though in a very balanced way). As you go down the glass, the St-Bernardus gets more tangy, whereas the Westvleteren gets sweeter.

We concluded that we would be pretty happy to be served both; Bailey had no preference but Boak preferred the St-Bernardus. But they’re definitely different beers with their own identities.

Of course there is a slight possibility we mixed the two up during the photo-shoot…

Notes

The Westvleteren website is here and has got to be my favourite beer related website… You should go there to purchase your share, but you could also have a look on the “top shelf” of various touristy beer bars in Brussels.

St Bernardus site is here. Their products are available in a few more locations, including Quaffs in London where we got ours.

Brooklyn East India Pale Ale

brooklynipa.jpgBoak’s collossal haul from Quaff’s included one beer we were both excited to try — Brooklyn’s East India Pale Ale. We’re huge fans of the ubiquitous Brooklyn Lager, and of American IPAs, so it seemed certain to appeal.

I’m sure this is the kind of thing that our friends in the US can find fairly easily, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen a bottle in the UK.

We thought it was delicious. It’s a lovely burnt orange colour, with sweet malt and incredibly powerful American hop aroma and flavour.

The obvious comparison is with another favourite of ours, Goose Island IPA. We actually struggled to work out how, if at all, it tasted different, eventually deciding that we thought it was a little more bitter — slightly “crisper”, to get all la-di-da about it.

It’s also stronger than Goose Island IPA (6.8 per cent compared to 5.9) so it might also stand to be compared to Titan IPA which we’ve had at the famous Rake bar.

But… Goose Island might still have the edge.

More basque beer, this time from the French side

patxaran.jpgWhilst in Biarritz, I went beer hunting. I was actually after some Akerbeltz, as I’d spotted an advert for their brewery in the tourist office. However, they couldn’t be bothered to respond to my email to tell me where to find the stuff, so I had an amusing afternoon going into every wine shop and off-licence that was open and baffling the locals with my quest for more biere artisanale. More fun that way, and I found a couple of other basque products instead.

Firstly, the intriguingly titled “Etxeko Bob’s beer” — unfiltered, unpasteurised etc.. The brewery is just outside Bayonne, and has a half-built website here. The beer itself was inoffensive but not that exciting. Quite a lot like the other beers I had in the south of France that I generalised about yesterday. That said, I had shaken it up quite a lot before drinking it, so I probably wasn’t drinking it in peak condition.

I was expecting Oldarki Patxaran beer to be revolting – it is beer mixed with Patxaran, a basque spirit made from sloe berries. However, it was actually very tasty. It wasn’t particularly sweet, just fruity and very refreshing. It was copper-red coloured, with a light body. It reminded me a little bit of Meantime’s Raspberry beer, but also of a strawberry beer I had in Belgium once (but not as sickly). Very hard to pin down the flavour – as their website says,

“it is a very specific beverage and can’t be compared to any other beer; the Patxaran-based recipe is exclusive”

I’m not a huge fruit beer fan, but I really liked this.

Boak

Homecoming beer: Thornbridge St Petersburg Stout

I’m back in the UK. We’d been saving a bottle of St Petersburg Stout for a while (“best after November 2007”) and it seemed like a good occasion to drink it. The brewery, Thornbridge produce a range of interesting beers, including Jaipur, which has been featured in many magazines this year. imperian-russian-stout.jpg

This “Imperial Russian Stout” is 7.7% and absolutely glorious. Extremely complex layers of flavours that linger a long time, with a flowery hoppy aroma. This may sound weird but the mix of vanilla, coffee, and milky notes reminded me of Bailey’s. But with a fantastic roasted chocolate-bitter kick at the end.

A fitting homecoming beer to remind me of the exciting brewing scene in this country.

Boak