More winter warmers

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Service update: no internet in the Boak and Bailey household, so updates will be intermittent until it’s sorted. Virginmedia’s service and customer service is terrible. 

Just because Christmas is over doesn’t mean the winter warmers stop coming. Here are some of the good ones we’ve had in the past month or so.

Meantime Winter Warmer

Finally got hold of this one in a Sainsbury’s on the outskirts of London. Worth the trouble, as it’s very pleasant and packed full of flavours – smoke, hints of chocolate, some fruitiness. We thought it was like a smoother, milkier version of their London Porter. Bottled conditioned and 5.4%.

If you want more poetical and detailed descriptions, the Beernut has reviewed it here, and Zythophile has reviewed it here.

Anchor “Our Special Ale” 2007

This is brewed to a different recipe each winter, according to the Anchor website. The 2007 version is 5.5% and very tasty. It’s a red-black colour, with excellent head retention and full body. The aroma reminded us of pine trees and candyfloss. We noted burnt gingerbread flavours (that’s a good thing!), with some spices that were difficult to identify – possibly allspice? Nutmeg? There was also some fruitiness – a little bit like peaches. We wouldn’t be surprised if there were cranberries in it.

It had a bitter dry finish – almost certainly C-hops, but the citrus isn’t particularly pronounced.

All fantastic examples of how lots of flavour can be achieved with a *relatively* low ABV.

Baltic porter round-up

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A long time ago, we bemoaned the lack of Baltic porters in London — dark, stout-like beers from Poland, Lithuania, Russia and other Baltic states. Light fizzy beers from these countries are now amply represented in cornershops throughout this fair city, but not a hint of the dark stuff.

We’ve always been intrigued by the history of these kinds of beers. They appear to have evolved as a hybrid of Russian Imperial Stouts and “local” (i.e. lager-brewing) traditions. I wonder why the Porter name, then? Did they also owe something to 19th century porters?

The Beer Judge Certification Progamme (BJCP) Style Guidelines identify Baltic Porter as a style, and say:

Baltic Porter often has the malt flavors reminiscent of an English brown porter and the restrained roast of a schwarzbier, but with a higher OG and alcohol content than either. Very complex, with multi-layered flavors.

It also reckons the style derives “from English porters but influenced by Russian Imperial Stout”. So let’s see.

Thanks to the Great British Beer Festival in August, and the Pig’s Ear festival in December, we finally got our paws on some proper baltic porters. Well, dark beers from that part of the world. We thought that by comparing and contrasting we might understand better if there is a unified style or not.

Utenos Porter – 6.8%

Utenos, from Lithuania, are very popular both over there and in cornershops in East London. Although it’s a different brand from Svyturys, it’s actually part of the same company, owned via Baltic Beverages. We weren’t overly impressed with their normal lager (a Helles type), but the Porter was much more tasty. Then again, at 6.8% it should be. It was a brown-red colour, with a treacly- toasted caramel flavour – and not a huge amount else. Not very complex at all, but nice enough.

Black Boss Porter, from Browar Witnica, Poland – 8.5%

Again, sweet-treacle flavours and not a lot else. Quite a heavy body, and reminded us a bit of Guiness Foreign Extra but without the bitterness. Not terribly exciting, and we’d expect a lot more for 8.5%. However, we would recommend the “Kozlak” (bock) from the same brewer. This is a *mere* 5.8% but packs in much more flavour. As well as the hints of treacle, there are liquorice, chocolate and coffee notes — and it’s not cloyingly sweet!

Huvila Porter – 5.5%

The labels on the bottle are all in Finnish, but the brewery helpfully provides explanations of the beer on its website here. The Porter is made with British ale yeast (I suspect the other beers above are lagers). We thought that it had a sticky but light body, without much aroma. It tasted very roasted, with hints of liquorice. Pleasant enough, and I’m quite intrigued by the brewery and their other English-style beers.

Well, that’s all the baltic porters to date. There are more to go, but no more in our cellar — we still haven’t seen Okocim Porter for donkey’s years, and have never seen Zywiec Porter in London. (I had it on tap once in Poland and thought it absolutely horrid, but that was a long time ago and I reckon it had been sitting in the barrel for about three years.) So far, the Baltic porters we’ve had are sweet and not particularly complex.

I think I like the idea of a Baltic porter better than I actually like any of the Baltic porters we’ve had so far. I wonder if today’s incarnations bear any resemblance to the 19th century originals?

PS: Not a *Baltic* porter, but while we’re on the porter topic; we did pick up a”Hazelnoot Porter” from the Klein Duimpje brewery in the Netherlands, which we rather enjoyed. I remember that the hazelnut flavour was definitely present, but very subtle, and blended beautifully with the malt and hops. I’d happily drink this one again.

Boak

The Session: Doppelbocks

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s session is hosted by Wilson at Brewvana, one of our favourite beer blogs. Wilson says:

I want to learn about doppelbocks, and so the sky’s the limit: write about doppelbocks however you see fit. History, reviews, pairings, pictures, poetry and experiences. All of it.

This time last year, we hadn’t heard of a doppelbock and didn’t really know what a bock was. A year on, and a two week trip to Germany later, we’re still not much wiser.

You get light, amber and dark bocks (and doppelbocks). The strengths vary (the “doubleness” is relative to the other beers in a particular brewery’s range, as far as we can tell). The same goes for bitterness — sometimes, it’s all sweet chocolate, and other times there are perceptible hops. Maltiness is key, in doppelbocks doubly so — but that’s about the only unifying feature, and it’s pretty broad as to what it allows you to do. It’s not so much a style as a state of mind and a way for the brewery to say: You’re getting something really special here.

Handily, most German breweries give their doppelbocks a name ending in -ator, as homage to the original Salvator (now produced by Paulaner).

Incidentally, Salvator is about the only doppelbock easily and regularly available in London (i.e. you can get it in a couple of pubs). It amazed us the first time we had it, but we’ve since come to find it rather on the sweet side.

Onto some doppelbocks we’ve enjoyed in the past year. “Alligator” is produced by brewpub Der Koenig von Flandern, in Augsburg (Bavaria). This is a lovely pub, with two other decent brews and good food. But the Alligator stood out; it was 7.2% and reminded us of chocolate liqueur. Great name, too. It also boasts “19% Stammwuerze”. Does anyone know what this means?

We’re told (by the brewery among others) that Weltenberger Klosterbrau Asam-Bock is also a doppelbock, despite not following the naming convention. We had this a couple of times during our last trip. I remember that we loved it, and my notes say “Rich, chocolatey, treacley with a bitter aftertaste. Like an imperial stout but not as heavy. Perhaps a cross between imperial stout and Salvator. Or a chocolate orange.”

Another great doppelbock from a great brewery was “Operator” by Herrnbrau in Ingolstadt. We think this was a seasonal special, as there’s no reference to it on the website. We don’t have particularly detailed notes on this one: “dark & sweet, bit chocolatey, strong, delicious”. Don’t think we’re going to win any beer-writing awards with that review, but we definitely enjoyed it a lot. Herrnbrau produce lots of great beer, with wheatbeers that are more bitter than those of their Bavarian competitors, and a number of seasonal specials. Pity you don’t seem to see them much outside Ingolstadt.

goosinator.jpgFinally, we got a bottle of Left Hand’s “Goosinator” especially for the Session. This is a smoked doppelbock, according to the label, and is bottle conditioned. They’ve made up some half-arsed story on the back of the bottle for the origin of the name, to disguise the fact that all the best -ator puns with real words have been taken.

Well, it’s an interesting creature. Bailey loved it, and I wasn’t so convinced. It has a slightly smoky and pleasant malty aroma, then a range of flavours as you taste: a hint of chocolate, then a whopping malt kick (soggy cornflakes?), then the smoke layer and then some smoke and hop bitterness. For me, the differing flavours didn’t quite hang together, but they floated Bailey’s boat.

Notes

Links to the breweries are embedded in the article. Most of the German ones are in German only, unfortunately.

Deus and polypin conditioned beer

polypin.jpgWe saw in the New Year at a friend’s party, with a bottle of Deus and a polypin of home-brewed stout.

First, the Deus. There’s no denying that this is a very special beer. It has an incredibly complex production process and shares some champagne maturing techniques — hence the epithet “Brut de Flandres”. If you want to find out more about how it’s made you can visit their site here.

It’s absolutely lovely, with a wonderful perfumy aroma. It’s light on the tongue initially, but with a long complex aftertaste, and ginger and apple notes, amongst others. But is it worth £15? There are even lovelier beers available for a lot less. Still, a nice one to pull out for a special occasion, and the bubbles were fantastic.

As saddo homebrewers, however, we were just as interested in seeing how our polypin-conditioned stout would work. This was the first time we’d used a polypin (essentially a strong collapsible plastic bag with a tap) so we were worried as to how it would turn out. We couldn’t find a lot of guidance on the internet about using one in homebrewing, but it’s quite common for UK breweries to offer polypins for home use, so we figured the end product would probably taste OK.

We were slightly perturbed when it expanded ready to burst after just a day of secondary fermentation, so we decided to vent it. We continued to vent it 2 or 3 times a day until the day before it was due to be served, when it was transferred to our hosts’ house to settle. At that point, we started worrying about whether it would be carbonated enough, or off, or explode in their garage.

And wonder of wonders, it worked. It was extremely interesting (well, for us anyway) to compare the polypin version of our stout with the bottled one. The one in the polypin was “flatter”, but no flatter than most cask ales in pubs. They had a different mouthfeel (perhaps due to the carbonation) and the faux-cask ale had a softer aroma. The cask ale also tasted “fresher” — it’s difficult to describe exactly what we mean by that, but hopefully it’s clear to those who’ve compared cask and bottle. The bottled version tasted like it wasn’t quite ready, whilst the cask ale had definitely matured in the same period (two weeks).

This is a useful discovery as (a) it saves on bottling (b) it’s probably as close as we’re going to get to the condition of cask ale at home — more so than bottle-conditioning.

Incidentally, we also discovered that smoked paprika doesn’t *really* work in stout…