“The Physics“, a “laid back amber beer” didn’t really work for us – it’s got a gorgeous smell, and it’s pleasant enough, but it doesn’t have a lot of complexity of flavour — crystal malt and that’s it. Tasted like one of our homebrews.
Riptide, a “twisted merciless stout” is pretty good though — one of those beers that’s so well balanced it’s hard to pick out particular flavours. There’s cocoa (rather than chocolate) and a slightly sour cherry note. If you gulp it, there’s a hint of smoke. It’s 8% and has a lot of body. Drinking this feels like a real treat.
Paradox Smokehead (batch 015 in Islay casks) is an impressive drink. You’d give it to people to make them go “wow, doesn’t that taste like whisky”. But, if you don’t like peaty whisky smells and flavours then forget it. There may be other exciting ingredients in there, but if there are, they’re hard to spot. We like it but it’s almost an ordeal to get through half a bottle.
Isn’t BrewDog’s marketing strategy just ace? Cool-looking bottles that you’d happily give to non-beer-geek mates. Limited edition batches, like 90s indie singles. Lots of publicity in “taking on” the Portman group.Getting on Oz and James helps, too. Of course the beer should speak for itself, but with their strategy BrewDog are aiming for the mainstream market, and you have to be impressed with that ambition.
This year, we’ve been all over the place, including almost a full month in Germany, so we’ve had plenty of opportunity to stretch our palates (corrective surgery scheduled for the New Year). After some bickering in the pub, and in no particular order, here are the 10 beers we’ve tried and enjoyed the most in 2008.
Uerige Alt — like a British ale, but not, thanks to some subtle, intangible quality of the yeast and the wonderful, alien manners and customs of the Duesseldorf pub scene.
Oakham Hawse Buckler — dark, strong, heavy, hoppy as Hell, with that combination of chocolate orange/coffee and grapefruit people either love or hate.
Zywiec Porter — was this sticky, treacly Baltic porter as good as we thought, or were we just delighted to finally get our hands on it after a couple of years hunting?
Brewdog Punk IPA — smart marketing means we’ll be seeing this being swigged from the bottle by trendy types all over the country by next Christmas. And a good thing too, as it’s full of flavour and full of life.
Mahrs Brau Ungespundete — our return trip to Bamberg was a bit of ticking session but this is one beer of which we wanted second-helpings: dark, cloudy, spicy and liquorice-like.
Vollbier, Brauerei Meister, Unterszaunsbach — this dark, ale-like dark German beer tasted great, although that might have been something to do with the fact we’d trekked over most of Franconia to get to it, and because the lady in the pub was nice to us…
U Fleku, Prague — treacly sweet and fruity sour, the black beer here is a wonder; shame the pub’s such a world-class hole.
Kout na Sumave desitka, Prague — we’d never have found this one ourselves — Velky Al recently described is as the best lager in the Czech republic. Haven’t had enough Czech beers to compare (can one ever?) but this was a beautiful easy-drinker with an impressive hop flavour.
Frueh Koelsch (but not out of a bottle) — we weren’t that impressed when we first tried Frueh at the brewery tap in Cologne, but have now been back twice — it’s so subtle and so perfect that it’s become our favourite whenever we’re passing through Cologne.
Velky Al has been rounding up his beers of the year, which is where we nicked the idea what inspired us.
Do we need to say how good Brewdog Punk IPA is? Even the hard-to-please Tandleman is a fan. It’s obviously influenced by hop-bomb American IPAs, but the thinner body makes it seem rawer and fresher
We thought we’d try it again, together with two other Brewdog IPAs.
Storm IPA is 8% and is aged in a whisky cask. It smells just like whisky and tastes like a bonfire. Actually, it’s quite harsh up front, but that does mellow into a nice rounded malt flavour. We couldn’t taste any hops beyond the smoke, so this is a totally different beast to the Punk. Absolutely fascinating, but we’re not sure we’d drink loads of it. Maeib wasn’t a fan either, but some people do like it.
Finally, we tried “Hardcore IPA”, an “explicit imperial ale”. It probably has the same level of bitterness as the Punk, but the malty flavours come through more. It’s 9%, but still tastes like a watered down Goose Island — that is to say, it’s not as special as a 9% beer should be. It’s jolly nice, but there are even nicer beers that do less damage to the liver…
We picked up three great Scottish lagers last week from Utobeer. We were with friends, so we were pretending not to be sad and didn’t take any notes, which means we can’t give you much in the way of detailed descriptions. Nonetheless, they’re all recommended.
Next up was Hop Rocker from BrewDog. This is the first time we’ve had anything from BrewDog, but it certainly won’t be the last. This reminded us quite a lot of Brooklyn lager, although maybe not as intense — a good mixture of sweetness and bitter, nice balanced carbonation. The Beer Nut has recently reviewed it, here.
Finally, an old favourite – Harviestoun’s Schiehallion. We’ve always liked this one for its full flavour and wonderfully dry, perfumy finish.
Perhaps Scotland is the natural place for producing quality UK lagers? It’s a bit cooler than England (not that we’re roasting here at the moment!) and therefore well suited to lagering, and the water’s probably a bit better for it too.
PS — we note that Brew Dog are “in trouble” again — after being picked on by the Portman group for aggressive labelling, they’re now being attacked in the press for launching Tokyo, possibly Britain’s strongest beer at 12%. You can read their side of the story on their blog, here. Are they unlucky, or just shrewd at marketing?
We drank them at a bring-your-own Ethiopian restaurant in Shepherd’s Bush. Blimey, that’s some filling food. We’re still stuffed now.