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.

The Session: Christmas beer

session-logo-r-sm.jpgThis month’s session is hosted by the Barley Vine, and bloggers were asked in this post here to pick a seasonal beer or two.

We thought we’d bend the rules slightly and pontificate on Christmas / “winter” beers, and possibly get round to drinking one later. It’s not through lack of choice – London’s pubs are full of various seasonal offerings, and at the Pig’s Ear beer festival in Hackney I counted around 50 beers described as “Christmas Ales” from Britain and a dozen or so foreign offerings. It’s just that it’s an interesting topic in its own right: what, if anything, makes a Christmas beer?

In Britain, Christmas ales tend to be dark (but not as dark as porters) and spicy. This no doubt is related to our Christmas foods, which tend to be dark and spicy. The spices used tend to be cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg — all ingredients that shout “Christmas” at you. Unfortunately, these spices are quite difficult to get right. Too much and you end up with quite astringent flavours and “the wrong kind” of bitterness; too little and you may as well have not bothered — it’s just a gimmick to make the beer sound attractive. It’s quite rare to get a beer where you can taste the spice BUT without it being overpowering — like Dorset’s Advent-ageous which we tried at the Pig’s Ear festival.

Interestingly, Christmas ales in Britain are often not that strong. While some brewers see it as an excuse to whack up the malt and therefore the strength, most seem to stick to around the 5% mark. The evidence for this comes from the programme of the Pig’s Ear Beer festival, where there are plenty on offer at under 5%. Probably a good job given the amount we drink at Christmas in this country…

Belgian brewers are not ones for being constrained by styles or rules, and this applies to Christmas beers as well. Some are light, some are dark, but from the couple we’ve had, they don’t strike us as being more spicy than usual. They do tend to be stronger than usual though — e.g. Dolle Brouwers “Stille Nacht” at 12% (a nice drop, from what we remember, but that was a while back).

How about Christmas wheat beers? We’re not experts on the German brewing scene, but it was interesting to discover last time we were there that several breweries produce winter wheatbeers. We had an excellent beer called “Schneewaltzer” from the Herrnbrau brewery in Ingolstadt, described as a “Winterweisse”. It tasted incredibly Christmassy, even though we were drinking it in April… but then it’s not that surprising, given that one of the dominant flavours of many German wheatbeers is cloves, which we Brits always associate with Christmas.

belenos.jpgBut back to the Session topic! We tried a Christmas beer from Spain: Belenos de Navidá. I spotted it in El Corte Ingles, the legendary department store where you can get everything, including decent beer. It’s 9%, made in the Asturias region by “Exclusivas Tormas”, who seem to mostly be an importer / distributor. It says “we made this beer to celebrate Christmas 2006” in strange Castillian (archaic? regional? I wouldn’t dare say). I wonder whether that means they made it around Christmas 2006, or to sell over Christmas 2006? It’s best before November 2008, at any rate.

There’s no other information on the label. Is it bottle-conditioned, top or bottom fermented? The only source of further information on the internet is a web-forum about Spanish beer, from which I’ve been able to ascertain that:

  1. you can get it on tap in Oviedo (Asturias) but not many other places, though I don’t know if that would be the same as this “Christmas” beer;
  2. there’s rumours that it’s made in Belgium and only bottled in the Asturias, although these rumours are contested; and
  3. it reminds subscribers of this forum of a Belgium triple.

It pours a nice red colour and definitely has yeast suspended in it. It does indeed taste Belgium abbey / trappist through and through — good body, toffee-apple flavour, mild zestiness and spiciness. Extremely drinkable for its 9% and quite possibly the best beer in Spain.

Not that that’s saying much.

In conclusion, possibly the only thing that links Christmas beers is that they are an opportunity for brewers across the world to try something different, to experiment with their recipes and make something special.

Jukebox 1982

theetonrifles.jpg

This month, the Session is hosted by The Lost Abbey Brewery, and theme is music and beer

When I was little, my parents ran a pub. It was called the Artillery Inn and was a slightly grotty, failing Whitbread pub in Exeter. When I was four years old I used to help with the stocktake so I have vivid memories of counting bottles of pale ale in crates in the cellar.

Failing it might have been but that didn’t stop my folks from trying hard at it, working every hour the license would allow, organising bands, social nights, barbecues, pantomimes, darts tournaments — anything to liven the place up.

But the one thing that really helped give the place some atmosphere was the jukebox.

My Dad, being obsessed with music, put a lot of effort into stocking it. It must have been one of the last to play 7″ vinyl singles. I remember watching it pick out a record from the huge stack, swing it into place and drop a needle onto it. The noise was great, incredibly loud and mechanical. There would be a few moments of amplified crackling and popping before the music kicked in.

Particular songs spring to mind: Eton Rifles by the Jam; Electric Avenue by Eddy Grant; I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me by Nik Kershaw; Michael Caine by Madness. Those were there because they were in the charts, but Dad wouldn’t have a song in the box he didn’t kind of like. After all, standing behind the bar, he’d have to listen to it over and over again.

Then there were his own records — songs from the sixties and seventies. Lola by the Kinks must have been in there. His copy certainly has the middle punched out, like so many others in his collection.

I think a pub should have a jukebox. I know there’s a “no music” lobby, but I just don’t get it. Is the idea that loud music will somehow interfere with your tastebuds?

Well, frankly, I find silence interferes with my mood.

Bailey

The session: Beer with Food

session-logo-r-sm.jpg This month’s Session is hosted by Beer Haiku Daily, and the topic is:

“…pairing beer with food or using beer as an ingredient in food. I hope to see recipes, pictures, tasting notes, stories, menus, reviews or anything else that fits the bill of fare.”

Conveniently, I was craving a big meat pie, and beer is a great addition to most meat pie recipes, not to mention a great accompaniment to eating pie.

So, I cooked a lamb and pale ale pie, and drank a Brakspear Triple with it.

pie.jpg

I didn’t just pull this combination out of mid air — I took some advice from the experts out there.

If I was making beef and ale pie, I’d use something malty and fruity in the pie — Hook Norton Old Hooky is my favourite, but Fuller’s ESB has done the job in the past, despite being a bit too hoppy. But what goes with lamb? I took a punt that the same kind of thing would work and used a Hepworth Prospect in the pie — although it turned out to be lighter and hoppier than I was expecting.

Fortunately, it didn’t do any damage.

And what to drink with it? Every beer/food menu I could fine online paired lamb with either Kriek, or pale ale. But, as a loyal member of CAMRA (alright — an occasionally traitorous, critical member…) I followed their advice, and went for a malty, spicy ale. The best candidate in the beer cellar (as we call the garage) was a Brakspear Triple.

Brakspear Triple isn’t a Belgian-style triple, although it could pass for something Belgian. It’s ludicrously fruity and smells mostly of fruit and alcohol. It worked very well with the pie, although it might have worked even better if the lamb I’d used had been a bit fuller flavoured, and if I’d caramelised it more in the cooking.

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 350 grams of decent lamb (i.e. that won’t take hours to tenderise with slow cooking)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tablespoon of oil (any kind)
  • a knob (hur hur) of butter
  • half a carrot
  • 1 medium potato
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • salt and pepper
  • ready-made flake pastry
  • an egg, to glaze the pie
  • 1 bottle ale

1. Make the filling. Finely dice the carrot, potato and onion. Fry all of that off in a saucepan with the oil and butter.

2. When the veg has softened, chop the lamb into small cubes and throw it in. Let it brown all over, then add the flour and chopped rosemary.

3. Pour in 250 millilitres of beer.

4. Let it thicken and reduce. When it’s about the consistency of, say, double cream, take it off the heat.

5. Grease a pie dish. Put a circle of grease proof paper in the bottom.

6. Flour the work surface. Cut off two thirds of the pastry. Roll it out into a big circle, and then put it in the bottom of the pie dish, pressing it around the edges. It should overhand the rim of the dish by an inch or so.

7. Put an upturned egg cup in the middle.

8. Roll out the pie top with the remaining pastry.

9. Pour in the filling around the egg cup. Put the lid over and press down the edges around the edge of the dish. Trim off excess pastry.

10. Make some small slits in the lid to let out steam, and then brush with beaten egg.

11. Whack it in the oven on about 200 degrees c. for 30-35 minutes, or until it’s brown — not black, as in my picture…

12. Take it out. Let it stand for a few minutes, and then carefully turn it out upside down onto a plate. Remove the greaseproof paper which will be stuck to the base. Carefully turn it back onto another plate or cutting board.

13. Eat it, with a Brakspear Triple.

14. Sit on the sofa belching, hiccuping and patting your stomach. Occasionally say: “Aaaaaah, just the job.”

The Session: Brew Zoo X2

session-logo-r-sm.jpg

This month’s session is hosted by Lyke2Drink:

Have you ever noticed how many animals show up on beer labels? We have lions and tigers and bears, plus various birds, reptiles, fish, assorted domesticated and wild animals, plus a few mythical creatures. For whatever reason brewers have a tradition of branding their beers using everything from pets to predators. The Brew Zoo will celebrate these lagers and ales.

A couple of Sessions back, we dropped the ball and ended up reviewing Sri Lankan Lion stout instead of a local beer as we were supposed to. We’re making up for it this time by reviewing the beers of a local brewery which also happen to fill an entire bird sanctuary. And with a whole bonus post about a bird-themed beer from Spain.

Cotleigh is a brewery based in Wiveliscombe, Somerset — a county most famous for being where Bailey was born and grew up, hence the claim to locality.

The beers in their range include Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Buzzard and Peregrine Porter, amongst many other birds of prey.

We’ve tried them all at one time or another. Peregrine Porter is a lovely bottle conditioned porter/stout, which tastes similar to another fruity Somerset porter, RCH’s Old Slug. Tawny Owl is a bog-standard copper coloured bitter which we drank in a pub in Beer, Dorset, earlier this year whilst the locals discussed their haul from the wreck of the MSC Napoli (“I got two pair of Adidas”).

buzzard.jpgThe only one of their range we’ve got handy right now is a bottle of Buzzard (thanks, Bailey’s mum and dad). It used to be called “Old Buzzard” and is a bottle conditioned “strong ale”, although not really that strong at 4.8%. The ingredients include pale, crystal and chocolate malt, with Goldings, Fuggles and Northdown hops. It’s accented towards burnt coffee flavours, with some Rauchbier smokiness. It matures in the bottle, this one tasting much drier and smokier than the one from the same batch we drank in February. In the glass, it looks almost black, with a great big pillowy tan head which stays forever.

We guess it would go nicely with rich roasted meats… or with the big hunks of rotting flesh we’ll be feeding Cotleigh Buzzard in the Session zoo.

And, just in case we’re struggling to get a full set of animals for the Brew Zoo, Cotleigh’s Christmas beer is the cheesily named Reinbeer. Groan.

We got our bottle of Buzzard from the excellent specialist beer shop Open Bottles, in Bridgwater, Somerset (01278 459666).

++ STOP PRESS — BONUS POST FROM BOAK, OUR CORRESPONDENT IN SPAIN ++

My contribution from Spain is “Aguila” (eagle) from Amstel. I think this is still part of the Heineken group.

Two years ago in Cádiz (south west Spain) we ordered a couple of cañas and were taken aback by the tastiness of the beer — in contrast to the usual refreshing but bland fizz, this stuff had real body and flavour, rather like Meantime’s much lamented “Golden Beer”. We asked what it was, but because my Spanish was pretty crap then, I could only make out “a-GEE-la” or something like that. The next round he brought us something different.

A few days later, we spotted Águila (from Amstel) on tap (that´s AH-geela, a subtle pronunciation difference, possibly?), and obviously went for it. It was the usual bland fizz.

We couldn´t work out what had happened. Was it actually Águila we had in Cádiz? Was the stuff in this cafe just not right?

To this day, it is still a mystery. I´ve had plenty of drinks from an Águila tap but wouldn´t say there was anything special about it. Now, I´m not sure that there is a beer called Águila produced anymore — it´s not mentioned on Amstel´s official site, nor can you find it in bottles. But the pumps are quite cool, with a big eagle on top, so it´s not inconceivable that landlords decided to keep the pumps even if the specific product no longer exists.

I do still wonder what it was we had in Cadíz that day, because it was definitely different. I can´t think of any other beers that sound like “ah-GEE-la”, so I wonder if it was one of the last barrels of the old stuff? To further complicate things, I believe Águila was actually a brand taken over by Amstel, so maybe it was the original, which has now been replaced by the boring Dutch brew?

We might never know. Unless any of you guys can help…?