Magical Mystery Pour #7: Slaapmutske Dry-Hopped Lager

Magical Mystery Pour logo.The third of six lagers recommended to us by Berlin-based American beer writer Joe Stange is from Belgium, but bears little resemblance to Jupiler or Stella Artois.

This time, instead of using us as guinea pigs, he’s directed us to a beer he personally knows and enjoys:

I have always liked this one, another fine Proefbrouwerij product. The Beersel Lager for the Drie Fonteinen restaurant is similar and also dry-hopped, and I like it enough that sometimes I have one there instead of a gueuze. Which is deranged.

It has 5.3% alcohol by volume, comes in a 330ml bottle, and we got ours from Beers of Europe for a not unreasonable £2.39.

Our expectations, based on the information on the label, were that it would be (a) quite dry and (b) a little grassy, perhaps even hinting at Poperinge Hommelbier.

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Schrödinger’s Beer (non) Review: Cloudwater DIPA V3

There are some beers about which it is practically impossible to express an opinion and be believed, one way or the other.

They’re so talked-about, so anticipated, so venerated, or so despised, that nothing we say can add much to the conversation.

The Westvleteren beers from Belgium are one example, Batham’s Best Bitter might be another. But they’re fixed points in the firmament; others blink into existence and generate great heat, perhaps only for a few months or years.

The word we’re avoiding here is hype, perhaps because it gets thrown around too easily — people talking with enthusiasm about a thing you’re not interested in isn’t hype. It might be justifiable in this case, though, which has seen online beer stores issuing would-be-panic-inducing Tweets in anticipation of a consumer frenzy, and launch events. (It is still in stock in many places, by the way.)

"Schrödinger's Cat" by the No Matter Project.
Schrödinger’s Cat” by ‘No Matter’ via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

If we say that we were anything less than wowed by version 3 of Manchester Cloudwater’s Double IPA, we’re surely just inverted bandwagon jumpers, contrarians and grumps. We’re fighting the hype and thus still failing to judge the beer on its own merits. We’re those people who say with a flourish that they don’t like The Beatles and make you think, ‘Really? Even “It Won’t Be Long”?’ If we say we didn’t especially like this beer not everyone will believe us or will question our motives.

But what happens if we rave about it? If we list this fruit and that. If we say it is like nothing else we’ve ever tasted and that it blows similar beers from other equally hip breweries out of the water, that it finds a truly distinctive flavour profile in a market already crowded with IPAs, that it made us swoon?

Then we’ll be sheep, sycophants, mindless zombie fans.

So, we’re just going to leave the box here, unopened.

Questions & Answers: How Long do Vintage Beers Keep?

“How long do old beers keep before becoming undrinkable? I recently came across some old bottles I’d forgotten about including a Whitbread Celebration Ale from 1992 and Teignworthy Edwin Tucker’s Victorian Stock Ale (2000 vintage), the label of which says it ‘is designed to mature and improve in the bottle over several decades’. It’s 16 years old now – will it get any better? In what way?” — Brian, Exeter

We’ve had mixed experiences of drinking really old beer. A c.1980 bottle of Adnams’s Tally Ho barley wine that we picked up in a junk shop was interesting but, ultimately, a bit grim; while a dusty, tatty bottle of 30-year-old imperial stout we drank at Kulminator in Antwerp was one of the best things we’ve ever tasted.

Whitbread Celebration Ale from 1992 was, said Martyn Cornell, still tasting good in 2011. Others have found plenty to enjoy in beers from 1902 and even (Martyn Cornell again) from 1875:

Amazingly, there was still a touch of Burtonian sulphur in the nose, together with a spectrum of flavours that encompassed pears, figs, liquorice, charred raisins, stewed plums, mint, a hint of tobacco, and a memory of cherries. It was dark, powerful and still sweet…

Edwin Tucker Stock Ale 2000 vintage label.

But there isn’t much information out there about how Edwin Tucker’s Stock Ale in particular is responding to ageing — there are no reviews on RateBeer, for example. Beer writer Adrian Tierney-Jones did write an impressionistic review a while back, though, so we asked his advice. He says:

I had one in 2013 and then another I think a year later and it was starting to turn. I would suggest drinking now and hope for a sherry-like character.

In general, extreme ageing of beers would seem to be, in technical terms, a mug’s game, and even strong ales brewed with cellaring in mind begin to lose their sparkle after a while. Patrick Dawson, the author of the definitive book on this subject, 2014’s Vintage Beer, says in Chapter 3:

A decent English barley wine will easily continue to develop positive characteristics for 6 to 8 years, with some examples capable of 10 to 15 years. Exceptional versions have been known to go 50-plus years in the proper conditions, but very few beers are currently being brewed… to justify this amount of ageing.

We emailed Mr Dawson to see if he had any specific advice in this case. He says:

Well, I have to be honest and say that I’ve never had the privilege to try an Edwin Tucker’s Stock Ale, so I can’t give a specific recommendation. However, I will say that 16 years is a long, long time for a beer to mature. It takes an incredibly special beer to develop positively past this point. Cantillon’s Gueuze, Thomas Hardy’s Ale, and the Bass Corker barleywines being a few notable examples. When presented with this situation, of an unknown beer that has been aged a long time already, I always say to open it. My logic is that it’s better for a beer a bit too young and brash, than over-the-hill and dull.

So, to summarise, don’t sit on special beers for too long or they’ll probably cease to be special. After all, you can’t take them with you.

Note: Brian’s question edited for brevity and clarity. Updated 08/04/2016 to add Patrick Dawson’s email advice.

Magical Mystery Pour #5: Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge

Magical Mystery Pour logo.We asked noted beer writer Joe Stange (@Thirsty_Pilgrim) to select our second batch of Magical Mystery Pour beers and he said yes. Well, actually, he said:

  1. “Oh I like this. It’s like your friends actually letting you play DJ at a party.”
  2. “You know, it’s very tempting to troll you with the six worst beers I can think of.”

But, after further consideration, he decided on an entirely different theme: lager. Specifically, he chose a mix of Belgian, German and American beers, some that he knows well, others about which he is curious, all of which we then purchased with our own cash from Beers of Europe.

First, we tackled Ruhstaller’s Gilt Edge, a 4.8% ABV, vaguely-heritage-y California golden lager. Joe hasn’t tried it but says:

This one comes all the way from Sacramento at 42 IBU. I hope it’s drinkable. The labels on these revivalist American lagers remind me of current generational tilts toward things like beard oil and cowboy rye whiskey. I expect a barber shop quarter to appear when you drink this.

It came in a 330ml can that cost £3.49 — not an outrageous price but not cheap either, especially for what you might call a basic beer style.

Initial impressions, even before opening the can, were mixed: on the one hand, the label was glued to the can which, with UK beers, we have tended to regard as a bad sign. On the other, we’ve rarely seen more informative blurb:

Labelling on Ruhstaller's can: hops, barley, etc.

There doesn’t seem to be anything to hide here which is reassuring, even if we don’t actually have any idea whether those are particularly great varieties of barley, or if these farms are anything special.

After pouring, we could but marvel: it looked so pretty. The head was as stiff as beaten egg-whites and the body of the beer, pale gold, almost seemed to give off a light of its own. (Although, to be fair, this is also true of, say, Stella Artois.)

Ruhstaller's in the glass on a beer mat.

The aroma was restrained — just an appetising wisp of herbs and citrus peel.

The flavour had a few stages: first, that crusty bread savoury-sweetness we associate with decent German beers, then a brief appearance from that twist of citrus, followed by — oh, blimey! — a crushing monster truck of unchecked bitterness. The first few sips were almost challenging, tipping way over from crisp into harsh. But the more we drank, the less that bothered us. Our palates adjusted to this new reality, just as the shock-inducing cold plunge at a spa gets to be fun after a while. We began to think that, yes, we’d like a few more of these in for the kind of hot day we’re sure is on the way, when the back of the throat demands something with real bite.

It’s typically American (if we can indulge in some stereotyping) in its boldness and frankness, but that doesn’t mean it’s unsubtle or silly. There are no grapefruits here.

If you think lager is bland, or you think Jever and Pilsner Urquell aren’t the beers they used to be, give this a try. It might just be the jolt you need.

Q&A: Which Classics Might I Have Missed?

“I was drinking a bottle of Proper Job yesterday and thinking about how I only started buying it after reading your blog. Later, I drank some Beavertown Gamma Ray and Magic Rock Cannonball and wondered if, by drinking fancy craft beers usually modelled on American style, I was missing something. Can you recommend any perennial British beers, the kind of thing you perhaps take for granted but that might have been overlooked by people who’ve only come to love beer since craft really took off?”* — Brendan, Leeds

That’s an interesting question and, let’s face it, exactly the kind of thing we semi-professional beer bores dream of being asked.

To prevent ourselves going on for 5,000 words we’re going to set a limit of five beers, and stick to those available in bottles, although we’ll mention where there’s a cask version and if it’s better. We’re also going to avoid the temptation to list historically significant beers that we don’t actually like all that much — those listed below are beers we buy regularly and actually enjoy drinking.

Four strong Harvey's bottled beers.

1. Harvey’s Imperial Extra Stout is a big, intimidatingly flavoursome, heavy metal tour of a beer that makes a lot of trendier interpretations look tame. It was first brewed in the 1990s to a historically inspired recipe. We didn’t used to like it — it was too intense for us, and some people reckon it smells too funky– but now, it’s kind of a benchmark: if your experimental £22 a bottle limited edition imperial stout doesn’t taste madder and/or better than this, why are you wasting our time? It’s available from Harvey’s own web store.

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