Monday 22 December 2008

Here come the gueuze

Having had to play catch-up for most of this month, I'm now getting ahead of myself. As in love life, so in beer. Or something.

Although by the time I post this it will, strictly speaking, be 23 December, so there's nothing underhand going on, I assure you.

It's the works Christmas do tomorrow, so there's no earthly way I'm going to be updating tomorrow evening. Even if I tried, my tastebuds will have been burnt-out by cheap house red, no doubt, so it really would be a fruitless exercise. Amazing the lengths you'll go to in order to justify another ale, no?

The one I've pulled out has got 'depth-charge' written all over it. I doubt it'll taste all that strong and is in a small bottle, but by the time it reaches the requisite depth, it'll be ripping my resistence to shreds and kicking me right up wazzed alley. It's a beer with a strapline too, to wit, bringing life to the brew.

And according to the sleevenotes, by drinking this, I'm contributing to the revival of the traditional Old Gueuze. I suspect that's lost something in the translation from the Flemish and what it actually means is you'll go after any old boiler. Ah well, time to dip the toe in the water and see.

Beer: Bersalis Oud Beersel
Country: Belgium
Strength: Fucking 9.bastard5%
Colour: Menacingly strong lager-coloured
Like a fired cap-gun mixed with watered-down orange juice.
Listening to King Rob on Purple Radio and actually beginning to feel a bit festive. It won't last, of course
Tasting notes: Mummy. What is the big bad beer doing? It's scaring me. What starts out as a seemingly pleasant walk round a lake in the park soon turns into some kind of teen-slasher creature from the black lagoon hybrid. With some ninjas thrown in for good measure. Teen ninja-slashers from the black lagoon. I've had one sip and already my mouth feels glued shut. Like I'm trying to scream, but can't and all the while, the bogeyman plods relentlessly towards me. I'm trying to run away but I'm wading through treacle. And there's plenty of that involved here. In fact, this is quite unlike any beer I've ever had before. The first bit is like a strong beer, but then it appears to club you round the head with a lump hammer. I can actually feel myself get pissed on it. Freaky.
Peanut butter.
Gut reaction: I can only speculate how much havoc this will wreak.
Session factor: Ha. Don't make me laugh.

IPA Longweh

Well, I used to when I had the bladder of a younger man. Being of more advanced years now, it's more a case of IPA lot.

And speaking of lots of IPA, here's a bruising bottle of it from my old friends at Stone, North County, San Diego, California, USA. I believe it's a litre, so close on two pints, which should see me break the seal before bedtime.

The advantage of such a hefty vessel is that I'll get to the end of my glass, feel disappointed, then get an unexpected surge of pleasure as I realise there's almost another full glass left. OK, so not that unexpected, but you get where I'm drifting at.

As you may expect if you've been reading this blog, I'm quite looking forward to this one. The last Stone beer got a resounding thumbs up from me a few days ago and I'm hoping this one continues that tradition. With only two more to go after this, I'm pretty sure this is my last American ale, so it'd be nice for the seppos to go out on a high note.

One thing's for sure, I'll certainly be investigating more from this particular corner of California.

Beer: Stone Cali-Belgique IPA
Country: USA
Strength: 6.9%
Colour: Golden. Like the trailer to the film 'On Golden Pond'
Lovely sweet grapes picked from the ripest vines and squeezed by a vestal virgin. But with a whiff of grapefruit in there for good measure
Just back from Sainsbury's where it's utter mayhem and about to start wrapping Christmas presents, a task that will see me into the early hours
Tasting notes: One of the best IPAs I've ever tasted. Starts out flowery, with overtones of heather and passion flower, then switches from this Jeckyll into the Hyde of rampant, squint-inducing bitterness. It's turned into a snarling beast of a beer that's seized your tastebuds and is clinging on with the tenacity of a Jack Russell with lockjaw. It finally relents after you've spent a good couple of minutes pulling its tail and kicking it in the bollocks, whereupon you really fancy another swig.
It's a strong one, but despite that and its simmering malevolence, it's very easy on the tongue.
Gut reaction: Like any proper beer, this one will be fine. Trust me, you'll have no issue with this ale. Might need a wazz after the full bottle, mind.
Session factor: Higher than an ace. I could happily sit for hours in any weather, in any circumstance, and find myself grinning like a village idiot with a few of these lined up.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Secret Santa

Imagine the scene. You're staring out at the moonlit vista that stretches before you on the feast of Stephen. Snow lays all about, deep, crisp, even. You get the picture.

Suddenly you hear a sound; a melody that keeps spinning round and round. Yes. Some drunken busker is playing Mrs bloody Robinson over and over again, but badly and with no recollection of the words.

Your winter idyll is shattered by this oaf, but being full of Christmas cheer, you invite him in for a quick nip, in part just to shut the bugger up. Busker takes full advantage of your hospitality, but is much more entertaining than he had been outdoors and you quickly strike up a rapport. So much so, that you end up down the local tavern in the early hours slamming tequilas and singing Delilah and Running Bear at the tops of your voices before being turfed out and waking up face-down in the snow several hours later.

This is how a night on the Troubadour Obscura might be expected to pan out. It's a winter ale this. It couldn't be more suited to winter if it were Jack Frost himself dressed in a tawdry Santa Claus outfit riding a donkey with lipstick on its nose and spraying fake snow everywhere. On an office Christmas party.

And being a winter ale, it's strong, dark and particularly handsome. It's designed to warm you on the shortest, coldest days, but the heat it imparts stays with you the next morning if you have too many, whereupon you'd pay anything to trade your head for a bucket of snow.

I've only got the one, which is disappointing. Would have loved to get into the method.

Beer: Troubadour Obscura
Country: Belgium
Strength: 8.2%
Colour: Mahogany brown
It smells of winter. Christmas cake, cheap milk chocolate and fudge
Circumstance: Tired out after a long weekend seemingly spent doing stuff I have to rather than want to. Think my catarrh's coming back too. Ace. Just in time for Christmas
Tasting notes: Gorgeous, fullsome almost buxom beer that grabs you by the nuts while smiling seductively at you. Long caramels and molasses caress their way lovingly over your tongue and scatter figs and raisins liberally around. It's quite like a fruit cake - definitely an acquired taste and occasionally you'll chomp on a raisin stalk, but rich, fulfilling and great with Wensleydale cheese. Slow, oily, gentle finish makes this truly a beer to savour.
Drinkability: Terrific. It's slipping down ever-so-easily.
Gut reaction: While I don't think there are too many horrors hidden within this ale, if there is flatulence produced, mark my words, it'll be complex.
Session factor: Low. It's strong in alcohol and viscous in texture. Handle with care and it'll warm you on winter nights, though.

Saturday 20 December 2008

Tripel whammy

Another day, another American 'Belgian Style' tripel ale, this time from the Stone Brewing Company of Escondido, San Diego County, Californ-eye-ay.

This is the third US beer I've had in as many days and I'm beginning to question the wisdom of chosing so many for the calendar. Maybe I was still feeling a rush of euphoria post-Obama victory?

Whatever the reason, the results have been mixed, as I believe I said a couple of days ago. Still, on balance, I think they've been more good than bad, so that's got to augur well.

Have to say I much prefer the bottle design of this lot. Subtle and understated, both qualities highly treasured by our American friends. If the beer is even as good as the last one, it'll be 10 times better purely as a result of how it looks in the bottle. Note to Flying Dog: Ralph Steadman pictures on a bottle do not an impressive beer make.

Watch as I fall flat on my face because this one tastes rank.

Beer: Stone Brewing Company Triple Ale
Country: USA
Strength: 8.7%
Colour: Gorgeous golden slumberous. Not remotely lager-coloured. No
Fresh, like summer meadows. I can detect ruby red grapefruit
Circumstance: Just eaten, so could do with something that will aid the digestion
Tasting notes: Sharp and grapefruity at first, this beer delivers around 10 different flavour sensations as time cleans glasses, wipes the bar, calls last orders and wears inexorably on. I can pick out pear, bubblegum, biscuit, sherbert, gooseberry, lemon and even a touch of chilli. A really fulfilling beer, well brewed, neatly presented and stuffed to the gunwhales with complexity. Good effort, Stone Brewing Company. You can come again. Leave the flying dog outside, though.
Drinkability: Like the Stones of old, it goes down great.
Gut reaction: Doesn't feel like it'll cause too many ructions, but I'll reserve judgment until I wake up tomorrow. This is a hefty beer.
Session factor: Only marked down because it's so strong. In fact, there's no way you could have a session on this stuff. You'd last barely three before falling over.

Korn in the USA

Not this bunch of kocks again. Kan't believe I bought more than one of these inferior beers from the US that go under the label Flying Dog.

It's been that sort of a day, really. Sod's law at every turn, then I kome to krack open a beer from the advent kalendar and I'm faked with this. Flying Dog has brewed a Triple, so they've bunged the three-headed dog of Greek mythology on the label. So far, so-so, but, get this. They've kome up with the fakinating ruse of kalling it Kerberos.

Oh ho, ho, fucking ho. That's klever, isn't it? Must have taken a highly paid fokus group whole seconds to konjure up that one. OK, so maybe I'm deskending to their level, but so what? I'm already put off by the uber-trendy Steadman-illustrated label (shame on you, Ralph) without their having to resort to the kind of 'down with the kids' spelling that's almost certain to alienate beer drinkers as well as those 'kids' they're trying to 'get down' with.

Besides which, you kan't even drink this if you're under 21, which interestingly enough is around about the age where people usually klaw themselves out of their adoleskent taste desert and see this kind of patronising klap-trap Flying Dog's marketing department has dreamt up for what it really is.

I barely kare what the beer tastes like now. Let's hope it's a pile of krap so I kan karry on sticking the boot in.

Beer: Flying Dog Kerberos Tripel
Country: USA
Strength: 8.5%
Colour: Infant-piss yellow
Off kider or skrumpy mixed with three-day-damp dishkloth
Circumstance: End of a fairly full-on stressful day filled with shopping, arguments, badly behaved offspring and disappointing football results
Tasting notes: Kunt. After all this, it doesn't even have the dekenky to taste krap. I'm disappointed. There's aktually an interesting, fairly spiky beginning, which then kreates a great big buffalo of firm fruitiness - I'm picking up dates and blackkurrants - that swaggers off konfidently after it's left its kalling kard
Drinkability: It is a touch on the strong side and the flavour lets you know that, so konsequently it's not easy to quaff. That said, it's not vile by any stretch.
Gut reaction: Kould be problematik. Nothing untoward so far, but there is sediment present, so tread karefully.
Session factor: At the lower end of the skale. Even though it tastes perfektly akkeptable, I just kouldn't bring myself to buy another.

Friday 19 December 2008

Weird Ale Yank-ovitch

All right, that's really forcing it, I know. But I've got another US beer I need to write about, so indulge me, will you?

It's been hit and miss with the American beers so far. Some have been great, others were no great shakes, so it's anyone's guess as to what this one will be like.

The last Oktoberfest beer I had during this calendar wasn't all that special either, so the sense of anticipation isn't particularly strong with this one. Having said that, the Brooklyn Brewery beer I had was surprisingly good, so it could go either way.

Perhaps I've chanced upon a winner or maybe it will be gopping. The suspense isn't killing me, however there is only one way to find out.

Beer: Brooklyn Oktoberfest Beer
Country: USA
Strength: 5.5%
Colour: Verging on the russet
Cloying at first, with buckets of cheap sherry and a waft of Evo-Stik, offset with a jar of honey
Circumstance: Just bunged a pan of spaghetti on to line the stomach. Listening to the radio and monitoring the kids
Tasting notes: Admit it, the build-up didn't sound promising, did it? However, this one has character and depth in spades. It's both sharp and sweet at the outset, then unleashes waves of bitterness and fruit alternately so your mouth really doesn't have a clue what's going on. Combine this with a long-lasting, citrus finish and you've got a terrific beer that punches well above it's 5.5% weight. Nice.
Drinkability: Rather good, although the honey could get to you after a bit.
Gut reaction: Fine, I'd say. Not too fizzy, fairly calming, almost warming.
Session factor: Probably best to limit yourself to a couple. It's robust enough, despite its relatively low strength, to demand a bit of respect. That said, I actually quite fancy getting pissed on the stuff.

Weekend manukas

I realised earlier this afternoon that I've been playing catch-up this week and still haven't managed to get to where I need to be, so it's possible I'll get through three tonight and be back on track.

There again, it's possible I might chicken out, 'cos I've pulled out another one of those Flying Dog beers and, after the last one, I'm not looking forward to it.

Course, this one looks well weird, with its stubby style, Kiwi influenced 'all black' bottle and its odd name. For all the world, it should be from New Zealand. But, no, it's from Belgium.

Hats off to the Belgians, they've gone out of their way to wipe out any trace of their home country from this beer, for reasons not entirely clear. According to the label, this ale combines the finest brewing traditions of Belgium with the natural goodness of manuka leaves fresh picked from the native forests of New Zealand. Bollocks is it. Tesco's own-brand 'Easy Manuka' more like. Or rather, I suspect as much.

Beer: Captain Cooker Manuka Beer
Country: Belgium
Strength: 5.7%
Colour: Dark amber - bit like the stuff the fly or something was trapped in off Jurassic Park
Flowery and fruity, with a worrying undertone of Johnson's hand cream and powdered milk
Circumstance: Staying in, looking after the kids, just got the teething one back off to sleep after she woke up just as the eldest was drifting off. Gnnn. Need a beer. Yes. Need. No food yet either, although I had a big, late lunch. And plenty of gratis chocolate courtesy of one of our photographers at work.
Tasting notes: Not a great deal I can put my finger on here. Not that it's tasteless, just a mite nondescript. It's fairly light and fragrant, with gentle sherberts dappling your tongue like sunlight kissing red-clay walls through Eucalyptus tree leaves. Actually, dare I say it, it's a bit lightweight. After the initial promise, there's not a lot holds the rest of it together. So what's a reasonably intimidating bottle and initial burst of life fizzles out like so many All Blacks' World Cup campaigns. They've done well, these Belgians.
Drinkability: Despite being relatively innocuous, I just wouldn't want all that many, although it is perfectly easy to drink.
Gut reaction: Belch-inducing. You can't have all that sherbert dappling without a build-up of stomach gas.
Session factor: OK, I suppose. You could neck a good amount without being overpowered.

Thursday 18 December 2008

Weisse squad

If only I hadn't laid it down on its side. I really hope this doesn't come back to haunt me.

OK, normally speaking, I'd not bother with another write-up if I'm catching up, but there is a danger I might get accused of ripping people off, so I thought I'd best make amends. That and the fact I couldn't resist the opportunity for a pun.

Trouble is, I daftly stuck this one in the fridge on its side and all the sediment has settled along the side of the bottle. Sediment is OK, but it can be injurious to the innards, so here's hoping I get away with this Scot-free.

I'm actually looking forward to this one, being a fan of the standard wheat beer from this brewery. I do like a nice black lager as well, principally as a result of having had a day-long joke around 15 years ago about a beer called Black Regent, which we renamed Black Regret after a party spent swilling the stuff.

Something about the darker colour makes it more intriguing and the more burnt flavour is much more suited to my palette. I like a bit of burnt, although nothing too charred. Let's see how this one turns out.

Beer: Maisel's Weisse Dunkel
Country: Germany
Strength: 5.2%
Colour: Dark redwood brown.
Caramel and damp oak with a whiff of treacle
Circumstance: About to go to bed, listening to Purple Radio, signing Christmas cards.
Tasting notes: Fairly fizzy to kick off with, it comes at you like a flimsy stout but thinks better of it and settles for just being a black lager. And there's no shame in that, for this particular dark lager has poise, style, brio and panache , all in one neatly assembled package. There's a feint tang of liquorice towards the end that is extremely satisfying and prods the moreish urge until you're reaching for the glass again.
Drinkability: Deceptively good. While dark beers can sometimes overwhelm, this one is just the right side of the line to keep you interested yet allow you to accommodate a fair few.
Gut reaction: There's a price to pay for that glugging, though. Wheat beers are known for their effervescense and this one's no exception. Also, the threatening-looking sediment could well spell trouble later.
Session factor: Average. You could knock a few back on a winter's night in a German oak-panelled tavern with straw on the floor and glowing candlelight, but being faced with it down the local Dog and Duck might see you stick to just one or two.

Hell and Bock

Long day today and Hell at the end of it. Well, that's what it says on the bottle and I've seen nothing to persuade me it'll be anything otherwise.

I told the people at Utobeer that I don't really like lager, but that I'd like some German beers. OK, what was I thinking? Germany is known the world over for its pilsener-type beers, which is essentially what lager is.

So pouring this one out is a bit of a disappointment, to tell the truth. I feel let down by the vendors, who clearly haven't listened. To add to my sense of irk, the bloody thing's out of date as well. Best before 17 December 2008. This isn't looking remotely promising.

The beer's called Andechser Bergbock Hell, but it might as well be called Impending Arse Hell, because that's what I'm expecting tomorrow morning.

There is some good news, though. The next one up is a Maisel's Weisse Dunkel, so if this one's terrible, I at least have a reputedly good consolation.

Beer: Andechser Bergbock Hell
Strength: 6.9%
Colour: Marginally opaque lager, maybe a touch darker than the usual
Smell: Sharp and sour citrus fruits. Possibly because of the date.
Circumstance: The day after it should have been drunk before. End of a long day, about to drink off lager. Great. Just terrific.
Tasting notes: Really not bad. While it starts off depressingly lagery, it develops into a much superior brew. The sharp citrus flavours bloom into a light but robust thirst-quencher with a distinctive character that I've rarely tasted in lager. You actually get a reasonably lengthy finish that doesn't make you want to retch, so this is definitely a different beast. The label says it's a Bergbock Hell beer, which should mean it's not a standard lager, and the taste would certainly back that up. I could get used to this.
Drinkability: Surprisingly good. Goes down fairly easily and isn't gag-inducing at all.
Gut reaction: Fair so far, but there's gas in them thar bubbles, so I'm expecting belching later
Session factor: Upwards of middling. While you could certainly slosh a few back, there's the strength to take into account.

Wednesday 17 December 2008

Beyond the pale

It's been a tough few days in the Beer Advent Calendar, especially after yesterday's abomination of a beer, so it was with some relief that I pulled an IPA out of the crate today.

I say today, but it was actually Monday. I'm playing catch-up and I think this one was due to be opened at the beginning of this week. Maybe. To be frank, it's all a bit of a blur. I'm enjoying the beer, mostly, but the pressure of one-a-day is beginning to tell. Having to catch up on an entire weekend in the week before Christmas when social gatherings abound is a pretty strenuous exercise. But it's a curse I'll bear and I'm sure to come out the other end smiling.

And smiling was what I was doing when I saw this wasn't some inaccessible, ill-thought through novelty beer but a solid, dependable IPA. OK, it's from the USA, but let's not hold that against it. Our cousins over the pond are turning out some extremely respectable beers (apart from that godawful porter I had to drink the other week), so I'm interested to see their take on the beer first brewed in the 19th Century with the aim of getting from England to India via the Cape of Good Hope in one piece.

Staying in one piece might be a problem this evening, though, after seeing how strong this little beauty is. No pussy-footing around with five point something like many IPAs do, this one scales the heights. But is 6.9 a bridge too far for the Brooklyn ale?

Beer: Brooklyn Brand IPA
Country: USA
Strength: 6.9%
Colour: Copper-barrel orange
Smell: Fruity. I'm almost convinced that's pineapple.
Circumstance: Just before bedtime after a long day at work, shopping, tidying up, putting the shopping away and clearing toys from the lounge. I haven't even eaten yet.
Tasting notes: This is a good example of an India Pale Ale. There's a sudden wash of bitter fruit and bubblegum at first, but the rounded taste is cut through by a large dash of grapefruit that stays with you for some time. It's sturdy is what it is. Not overly complex, but enough going on to keep you interested.
Drinkability: Good, but not easy. IPAs are often on the strong side, but this tips the scales at nearly seven per cent, so proceed with some caution or face the consequences.
Gut reaction: So far so good, but I wouldn't like to test my stomach's resillience with more than two or three.
Session factor: Not especially good. It's too strong for glugging back with abandon, but you could shift three easily and move on to something less challenging afterwards.

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Smooooooke on the water

And fire in the sky. So sang Deep Purple in homage to an incident in Switzerland involving Frank Zappa and a burning building.

I doubt Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice had this beer in mind when they penned Smoke On The Water on that fateful night in Montreux. In fact, I doubt anyone ever really had this beer in mind, not even the brewers.

To be fair to this beer, it's unlikely I was ever going to give anything a stunning review today. It's been fairly hectic what with one thing and another and I've half an eye on going out for some ales and a curry with the lads later, so am a mite preoccupied too.

But none of that really excuses this poor excuse for a beer. Whose idea was it to take perfectly good ale and make it taste like it had been in a housefire? It's like a brown ale, only burnt to a cinder. I'm puzzled and disgusted in equal measure. This isn't beer, really. It's an abomination of a travesty of a sham. It'd be right at home in the fiery infernos of beer hell, charred rubbish that it is.

In short, I don't like it.

Beer: Schlenkerla Rauchbier
Country: Germany
Strength: 5.1%
Colour: Bottle brown. Actually, sod that, it's shit brown. Brown as shitty shit
Smell: Ashtrays and beer. If it were in a can, you'd think someone had been dropping fag ends in it
Circumstance: End of a day at work and just about to head out for a few beers
Tasting notes: Fire-damaged lego. Really unpleasant, extremely difficult to drink and hard to get past the feeling that you're drinking inside a charcoal factory. If there is anything positive to say about it, it's that the finish is mercifully short. However, that very same finish is the one that tastes of sodden, campfire-stale clothes, so really there are no saving graces.
Drinkability: Poor. It's a brown ale, fairly treacly of consistency and tastes revolting.
Gut reaction: I can't imagine how badly this is going to play as a 'base coat' for the forthcoming onslaught. God help me.
Session factor: Puny. I'm struggling to get one down me.

Monday 15 December 2008

Panic drinking

I've been a mite slack of late, I realise. It's four days since I last posted about beer and I haven't managed to open any more of the calendar beers in that time. Pathetic really.

My only defence is that I didn't have the calendar with me. It's at work, you see. And not having been in work on Friday meant I didn't manage to bring the weekend's supply home for sampling.

Now I could have just shrugged my shoulders, headed for the nearest Morrison's and laid in a load of renegade ale and none of you would have known the difference. But I would. It wouldn't have felt right. I'd have been pulling the beery wool over your eyes and we can't have that.

So this week is gonna be spent playing catch-up. Like I'm on some ale-themed Going For Gold and I get to go first. My plan was to spend tonight getting through at least the last few nights' booze, but my youngest daughter Ruby had other ideas, so instead I spent it reading Down with the Daisies and The Snail and the Whale. Many, many times.

To make matters worse, the camera battery had decided to pack up, so I need to recharge it before I can upload the pictures. If I didn't know myself better, I'd accuse myself of being a rank amateur. Anyhow, enough prevarication. I'll be lucky to post two tonight, but as I'm sure you all know, I'll do my level best.

Beer: Petrus Speciale
Colour: Firside glow orange
Fruity and pungent, with a hint of asafoetida
Bloody pissed off. I've just spent the past two and a half hours trying to get the youngest little darling to sleep, a Herculean task at the best of times. I was also gonna do some catching up tonight, but that's unlikely now.
Tasting notes:
It's first act is to come snarling and spitting at me like a stick-enraged cobra bent on plunging venom into my tastebuds, but after that brief, frenzied attack, it curls up in a little ball and acts more like a slow worm under the influence of methadone. There's a stab of citrus here and a shiver of bitterness there, but on the whole it drains away rather disappointingly and, although fairly nice, isn't as special as its name would have you believe.
Pretty good. It's not too gassy and the abrupt finish makes you call again Oliver Twist-like for a bit more.
Gut reaction:
Not especially volatile. Fizzier than a standard ale, but not likely to invoke more than a cursory belch or two.
Session factor:
Rather good, I'd say. I've nearly polished this one off in the time it's taken to write this brief review and I'm not feeling at all subdued, so I'd think I could handle a fair few of these.

Beer: Grottenbier
Country: Belgium
Strength: 6.5%
Colour: Conker brown
Smell: Doughy and raisin-filled. Like a fresh slice of Stollen
Circumstance: Mood somewhat improved by the alcohol of the last one getting to work on the pleasure receptors
Tasting notes: There are big, bold caramels and liquorices here, as you'd expect from a brown beer made by Belgian Trappist monks. It's robust, knockabout, stocky and thick-necked, with an aggressive demeanour but it's heart's in the right place. Not the kind of beer you'd want your daughter to bring home, although you know it would have been extremely loyal and would have walked her home in the dark. Finish is pleasingly rounded with baked apples.
Drinkability: Like any stodge, you're not going to be able to stack too many away, but you'll want to.
Gut reaction: Too early to say. A slow-burner of an ale, I'd say. While I'm feeling fine now, the missus may bear the brunt of a particularly well-heated Dutch oven later.
Session factor: Not so good, but I'd be happy to take a few by a roaring fireside before trekking off through the snow with the poor man of Good King Wenceslas fame.

Thursday 11 December 2008

Attack of the Münchens

This is my first dip-of-the-toe into the usually unwelcoming (for me) waters of lager and I'm not looking forward to it all that much.

I have a bit of a loathe-hate relationship with lager, having had way too much of it in my youth thinking it was exotic and continental before feeling distinctly cheated when I found out it was all mostly brewed in Faversham, Kent. Cheated and bloated. Cheated, bloated and flatulent.

Now I know there are some good examples of Pilsener-style brews out there and that they're not all the same, etc. But I can barely bring myself to touch them these days and, if forced, I really have to hold my nose to get the stuff down my gullet.

This one's an Oktoberfestbier, so it's a little bit stronger than the average premium lager, but in my experience, that usually means it tastes worse.

In short, I'm having real difficultly getting all that excited about this one.

Beer: Augustinerbrau Oktoberfestbier
Country: Germany
Strength: 6%
Colour: Like lager, so child's piss coloured and dismal.
Smell: Disappointingly lager-like.
Circumstance: At the end of a relatively stressful day spent grappling with uppity upstart clients and before going out on the razz to the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell.
Tasting notes: As lagers go, this isn't bad. It's a bit like refreshers to begin with and is withouth the tinny chemical squeaky cleanness of some lagers I could mention. It also delivers a small, bud-like floweriness in the middle, but the flavour drains away quickly after that and you're left with an unsatisfying feeling that someone's relieved themselves in your mouth. Still, having said that, it's streets ahead of any lager you'd be able to buy in a pub over here, so if drinking bright yellow, fizzy, unexceptional beer is your bag, go for this one.
Drinkability: All right, I suppose, but I just wouldn't want any more than one. Even on a sunny day.
Gut reaction: Belching already after only a few sips. Doubtless I'll have to walk it off after I finish the lot. N.B. I'm not leaving any.
Session factor: Bit strong for that, even if you were up for drinking a load. I hope I wasn't persuaded to buy more of these, although I can't remember now, so there could be another lurking in the calendar.

Wednesday 10 December 2008

Alive and kicking

That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet.

If you'll pardon the jaunt into Shakespearean eulogising, that particular line could have been invented for this beer. My experience so far with American beers hasn't been an unqualified success, so it was with a modicum of suspicion that I greeted the appearance of an Oregon brew named Dead Guy Ale.

Surely this is going to smell and taste of rotting US corpse? Is this some kind of beer the CSI crew drink after work as a way of de-stigmatising death? Why do the Seppos need to call their beers such daft names?

Not all of those questions was answered, but the first was a resounding 'no'. Maybe I'm bigging it up now because I was expecting it to be a bit shit, but this is up there with the best I've tried so far. Really excellent. Depth. Character. Charm. A sense of irony. All qualities for which our American cousins are so well known. How could I have thought it would be anything different?

Beer: Dead Guy Ale
Country: USA
Colour: Sunset orange
Strength: 6.5%
Smell: Freshly buttered toast.
Circumstance: Just about to chow down, as the good burghers of this ale's native town might say
Tasting notes: Nice, this one. Biscuity beginning with a hint of peach yields up a lovely, buzz-saw bitterness that surfs down a wave of the cascading saliva of your appreciative tongue. As with waves, this one washes back and forth until it settles on a blissed-out, sun-kissed beach of contentment. I fucking really like this stuff.
Drinkability: Extremely good. It's taken barely a minute to get through half of this, such is its moreishness.
Gut reaction: Despite its strength, I don't think this one is going to cause much trouble. Rather it pours calming oil on troubled, acid tummies.
Session factor: Not huge, but I wouldn't mind working my way through a few of these beauties. This is a tasty beer.

Tuesday 9 December 2008

Christoffel Robertus downed with malice

First off, let's start by saying that I'm massively unimpressed. This is quite frankly not on.

When I open a bottle of beer, I don't expect to lose more than half of it on the floor because its 'pop-off' bottle top and immensely fizzy comportment combine to make Champagne look decidedly flat. It literally billowed over the sides of the bottle like some mad scientist's gone-wrong experiment

So since I'm operating on half measures, I'm gonna keep this brief. If you've any problem with that, take it up with the pissing brewery's management and tell them not to make their beer too fizzy while you're at it.

Honestly, it's just hugely disappointing, especially when the beer itself looks, smells and tastes really quite good.

But the Beer Advent Calendar is all about the full experience, I'm afraid, and that means this one's gonna suffer.

Beer: Christoffel Robertus
Country: The Netherlands. A flat country. You couldn't make it up.
Strength: 6%
Colour: Rusty brown
Smell: Fairly sweet, almost like toffee apples
Circumstance: Having just mopped half of the fucking thing up off the cocking floor.
Tasting notes: It's OK, I suppose. Actually it's really nice, sparkling with lovely citrusy sharpness, then bowling around like a big ball of Jamaica Ginger Cake before flattening off towards the finish. It's a bit fizzy too, not sure I've mentioned that.
Drinkability: Good. If a bit fizzy.
Gut reaction: It's fizzy, so there's belching aplenty.
Session factor: Minimal. Unless you can shift your wind efficiently. Because it's somewhat fizzy and will probably fill you up after two.

Monday 8 December 2008

Storm in a teacup

Forgive the clichéd headline (ain't that what they're for anyway?), but I've been throwing the toys out of the pram of late so need to drag myself back down to earth somewhat.

And what better way of doing that than to fill your face with honest-to-goodness Scottish peat? My only nod to the British Isles this time around is this bottle of weirdness recommended to me by the good people of Utobeer, from whom I've sourced the contents of my calendar this year. I was going to concentrate exclusively on foreign ales, but the nice chap behind the counter persuaded me otherwise. Besides, I'm sure the sweaties would maintain Scotland is a foreign country anyway (no offence to any Scotch readers out there ;-)).

Good old Beer Advent Calendar - moving from the borders to borderline racism in one easy paragraph.

So this week has been a bit challenging owing to us having had a bit of bad news combined with me having to work extra due to the pitch I went on today. Add the cumulative effect of no uninterrupted nights' sleep since 30 January 2007 and you're staring down the barrel of perma-tetchiness and intermittent brain-fade. On Saturday, I forgot my PIN number while at the cash machine and had to cancel the transaction and go away and think about it for a while. Today, I froze mid-pitch, utterly unable to remember what I was going to say. Probably only lasted 30 seconds but felt like the world stood still as I floundered for words that weren't there.

I'm convinced it's the lack of sleep and not the booze. So today, I'm playing catch up and am posting two beers in one day - like the beer-toting maverick I quite clearly am. First up is a rather frisky, feisty little number while the second is a much headier, imposing ale that will mean I need a long sit down afterwards, no doubt.

Beer: Brew Dog Storm
Country: Made in Scotland from girders
Strength: 8%
Colour: Disconcertingly lager-coloured
Smell: Single malt whisky, combined with peaches and tangerines
Circumstance: Just back from a pitch to do a staff magazine for National Express. It didn't go all that well, so catching up on the beer blog is just what the doctor ordered.
Tasting notes: Might as well be a whisky and soda. The almost-overpowering stench of whisky permeates the nasal passages and gives the drinker a clue to what's coming next, to wit, a sudden and not unexpected assault on the tastebuds. It's not entirely unpleasant, but it's not really what I want from an IPA. That said, it doesn't half slake the thirst. Crisp and smooth at the same time, this beer delivers a strong and insistent slice of peat that gives the sharpness some shape, then wanders to the back of your tongue leaving a slug-trail of whisky delights in its wake. The combination flirts with the kind of crass nonsense the French seem to like, such as Desperados or demi-pêche, but just about errs on the right side of that tightrope and is winning me over. But then I really like single-malt whisky and IPA.
Drinkability: Not bad. It's light enough to slug back fairly easily despite it's hefty alcohol count. In fact, I had a double-take when I saw the label because there's no way this drinks like the heavyweight it is.
Gut reaction: Not too bad, actually. Really surprising, because I thought I'd be storing up a whole world of trouble with this feller. It's a touch on the gassy side, but not enough to make things uncomfortable.
Session factor: Relatively low. You'd just order whisky chasers instead to get the best of both worlds. I don't think I'd attempt more than two of these at any one sitting, especially given how bloody strong it is.

Beer: de Zeezuiper
The Netherlands
Strength: 8% again.
Colour: Like the smashing orangey bit in a jaffa cake gone stale
Smell: Menacingly strong
Circumstance: Listening to Purple Radio in an attempt to wind down from what's been a hectic kids' bedtime 'hour' (read three).
Tasting notes: A bit like Victoria sponge cake at first. It definitely tastes as strong as it is, unlike the previous one. Very rounded and pungent to start with, a bit cloying but not overly so, slightly oily, but then it dries out in the finish and stays with you for a fair while. It's heavy going, though. There's a lot going on here and I'm sure there'll be more as I get further through the glass. See, I'm now getting nettle soup in the mix. Bloody odd ale.
Drinkability: Funny one, this. It's a great big clod-hopper of a beer, but something about the finish makes you want more. But then the smell puts you off. It can't make its mind up - it'd be bisexual if it had sex, something I wouldn't put past it judging by the label, which appears to be two blokes trying to shag a giant crab.
Gut reaction: Given this has a fair bit of sediment in it, I reckon it could be volatile.
Session factor: Lower than whaleshit. While there's a tiny bit of moreishness about the finish, you honestly don't want to be having a rake of this beer. Unless your idea of a good time is attempting to spit-roast a massive crustacean, in which case, bottoms up.

Saturday 6 December 2008

I don't know what he is

I don't know what he is. It's called Flying Dog, ffs. What is it?

I've no idea about American beers, so this pugnacious little whipper-snapper from Colorado with Hunter S Thompson pretensions can go and get fucked, quite honestly. Look at it, with it's Gerald Scarfe attitude and its 'oh-so-dangerous' withering look about it. The label tells me it's a porter, but it's called Road Dog, so it might as well be a brand of Biltong for all I care.

So it looks like the USA needs to brush up on its PR to convince UK drinkers to sample its wares. Quite honestly, I'd rather take a rusty six-inch nail to my own spleen than taste this arriviste bottle of so-called beer with its oh-so-trendy label. The cunt.

Is there any way it can redeem itself? I'm not so sure. Even if the colour's good and the smell is wholesome, the taste will have to be akin to manna from heaven for this upstart ale to register above the moribund. I really don't want it to fail, but it is looking at me like the beer equivalent of Christiano Ronaldo, so it's gonna have to be bordering on the Van Basten to salvage some dignity and make it rise above the Chris Woods, quite frankly.

Beer: Flying Dog Porter
Country: USA
Strength: 6%
Colour: Really dark brown. I'd call it black, but that would make it too cool.
Smell: Malt, molasses and treacle, all in one overpowering little measure.
Circumstance: Back from a kids party at which the Tizer was overflowing
Tasting notes: Not good enough, basically. The trendy label says: "Good beer, no shit," but it lies. This is trying very hard, but it's difficult to shrug off the 'Happy Shopper Mackesons' flavour that permeates the brew. I'd like to wax lyrical about the caramels and cinnamons that are buried beneath the overpowering licquorice, but I can't because of the latter. I'm sure there's a time and a place for this beer, but I'm struggling to think of when and where that would be. Just before being guillotined, perhaps?
Drinkability: Rubbish. It's like Guinness mixed with strong sherry.
Gut reaction: Volatile. I'm having one and that's enough for the next couple of years, I should have thought.
Session factor: Piddling. You'd have to be a frontal-lobotomised narwhal to consider having more than one of these idiotic so-called ales.

Friday 5 December 2008

Pass the duchesse

Pon de left hand side. Pass de duchesse pon de left hand side.

It's been a bit hectic tonight, what with getting home and pitching straight into the kids' bedtime routine, then cooking a monster curry. I wasn't even sure I'd get time to do this, so when this little beauty came out of the advent calendar, it immediately brought a smile to my face.

I'm not sure if you can make it out from the picture, but there's a well-dressed lady of some standing on the bottle, with a bird in her hand, painted in the Vermeer style. Something about it brought to mind oak-panelled Dutch gin houses and cold winter nights, which apart from the oak, the Dutch and the gin house, was pretty apt.

The label has a Surgeon General's health warning on it, so I shan't be having any of this if I get pregnant or intend to operate machinery, and it also informs me that the beer is 6%, a few clicks weaker than the first few I've pulled out of the crate so far. This is a good thing. I'm tired out after a long week spent fighting off illness, so I need something a little less harsh on the liver.

Beer: Duchessee De Bourgogne
Country: Belgium
Strength: 6%
Colour: Russet
Smell: A combination of fine Amontillado sherry and strong, traditional cider. There's also a whiff of oak about it.
Circumstance: Just about to eat a curry I've spent two hours crafting.
Tasting notes: Sugar, caramel, cinnamon and apple combine at first. Then the sharpness hinted at in the nose swirls round your mouth like a whirling Dervish, but this relents shortly afterwards. Savoury finish rounds off what is a distinctly fantastic beer. It reminds me a bit of Faro, the beer, not the Portuguese town of the same name. But it's superior in almost every respect. The label tells me it's a blend of eight month and 18 month-old ales that were matured in oak casks, which marks this out as a beer of aristocratic stock. The Rodneys would definitely be queuing up, God forbid.
Drinkability: High. I'd bet you could go around for or five of these in any one sitting and still have room for something else. It's gone rather well with the curry too, maybe as a result of the sharp fruitiness.
Gut reaction: This is where I think this one falls down. It's fairly fizzy, though not too much, but I've a suspicion the cider-like qualities don't stop at the aroma and initial taste. Verdict: take it easy or you'll likely be pebble-dashing the porcelain.
Session factor: It's 6%. Could you go a session on 6% beer? Not sure I could, but given it's drinkability, I might be tempted. In the right circumstances and company, of course.

Thursday 4 December 2008

Life is a celebration

And it's good to celebrate life. Really. This isn't a cliché. I know it sounds like one, but quite frankly, we're none of us really aware of how much we should appreciate it when it's there.

It'll be a solemn one this evening, as I've just found out my uncle's got cancer. This was an uncle who was quite a father figure because my real dad didn't hang aroung too long and my stepdad was more interested in my mum than me, which is understandable. So I looked to this uncle for the dad stuff, basically. And he didn't disappoint, egging me on to try booze, encouraging misbehaviour (no doubt to piss my mum off) and introducing me to real beer, for which I'm eternally grateful. I'll never forget the look on his face when, at his cricket club, he turned round to me, a callow youth of 15 years, and asked if I drank beer. When I said: "Yes, I'll have a Grolsch," he simply shook his head, ordered the lager and his own pint of Tetley's and tutted. Damn right. I soon learned.

I've lots to thank my uncle Roger for, not least for getting me into ale, cricket and cryptic crosswords. We don't know how long he's got left, so I may be being extremely premature, but this ale's dedicated to his memory. A simply ace bloke who bent over backwards to entertain, educate and nurture a little lad who'd lost his dad. Cheers, Roger. This one's for you.

Beer: Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale
Country: USA
Strength: 6.9%
: Dark, threatening orange
Otherworldly sherry from a hell of ageing great aunts. And American cream soda. Slightly acrid socks come in to it.
Circumstance: Reeling a bit from some pretty bad news. Celebration it ain't.
Tasting notes: Almost overpowering roundness to begin with. You feel you're wrestling with the steering wheel of a small, buffeted galleon on the high seas. This is a great big bear of a beer, with shades of apple and pear at the start before you get whiplash from the rampant lion of bitterness that stakes claim to the entire savannah of your tongue. The sharp, almost acid finish skids on for some time, layer upon layer of dry bitterness keeps on taking, like the grazing you'd get falling off a bike at 35mph. You're almost compelled to keep drinking it for the mellow fruitiness you get at the start, but there's a vicious circle you don't want to get involved with that lies that way. It's actually a fairly frightening beer. I'm almost glad I've only got one.
Drinkability: I've had one and I don't reckon I'd be all that comfortable having another.
Gut reaction
: Lays heavily on the stomach, but if you were coming at it fresh, you could put a few down there and it wouldn't be overly volatile.
Session factor
: If you wanted to get warm on a freezing night shouting at passers-by on a park bench, be my guest. Otherwise keep it to one or two.

Wednesday 3 December 2008

For those about to bock...

We salute you. Quite literally if you're going after one of these little pocket battleship beers.

I'm approaching this with a bit of trepidation as I'm still feeling the after-effects of a pretty nasty cold and, having just checked the bottle, I find that this innocuous-looking number weighs in at a robust 7%. There's an alert-looking ram or mountain goat or whatever on the label which looks as if it's contemplating jumping off the top of a staircase and I'm hoping this beer doesn't have the same effect on me.

This fellow hails from Austria and I'm ashamed to say I've never tasted Austrian beer, so I'm looking forward to it despite my misgivings over the strength. I've also never had a bock beer before, much to my chagrin, so again, there's a real sense of anticipation here. It's also been keeping outside in the rapidly-approaching-zero temperatures, so there's a satisfying condensation around the bottle that you may well be able to see from the picture.

The hope is that it's really nice and helps to clear my still suffering sinuses. The danger is, it could be disgusting and make me feel worse. That's the kind of dangerous game I'm playing for you all, you know. I bloody hope you appreciate it.

: 7%
: Light, golden, lager-coloured. This worries me.
Disappointingly lager-ish. Like stale stubby bottles of Kronenbourg that you get in France. But with substantially more potency.
: In need of warming up after a lengthy walk back from East Dulwich, having completely failed to remember to get off at my stop.
Tasting notes
: From the look and smell of it, I'm expecting it to taste like really strong lager, but it doesn't. It's reminiscent of Duvel, but less cloyingly sweet and bubblegum-like. Rather it has a really sharp fizz initially, then almost a smoky, rounded taste as it washes around your mouth. I'm not detecting much of a finish - there's a touch of grapefruit maybe - but what it is doing is bubbling through my nose and making it easier to breathe. Sod Tunes or Lemsip, I'll have this if I'm trying to get rid of a cold in future. I'm really impressed with this. It's a beer of real character that promised so little to the eye and nose. Unassuming, it delivers more than you'd bargain for. An Austrian trait, perhaps? I bet it skis well.
: Oh, really easy. Dangerously so. I'm halfway through it in no time and genuinely already feeling the effects.
Gut reaction
: A bit gassy but not prohibitively so - you could get away with ploughing through quite a few if you were dead set on it. Having said that, less than half a pint has made me belch already, so go easy on it.
Session factor
: No chance. Forget it. You'd have to be a certifiable lunatic to attempt a session on this stuff. It's really potent.

Tuesday 2 December 2008

A Flemish beer for a phlegmy evening

: 5.2%
: Muddy, dark and filthy-looking. Like a pond you wouldn't fancy falling into.
Like lettuce soaked in a vinaigrette dresssing that's more vinegar than ette.
: Exiled to the kitchen while the missus tries to sedate our miscreant youngest with breast milk in the lounge.
Tasting notes
: Smash. A great acidic burst not dissimilar to lemon fizz bombs marmalises your taste buds as you take in this complex brew. The sleevenotes claim that a quarter of the beer is aged for two years in oak barrels, then added to the newly brewed stuff before bottling. There's a definite hue of poor-quality wine as you open the bottle and that theme is continued as the effervescense subsides. Fruitiness comes in the form of a large portion of sour cherry that's lovely and sharp. Just before the flavour disappears, you get a mild pinprick of sherbet that almost dries out your tongue and leaves you reaching for the glass again.
: Really terrific. Perfect as a summer quencher, when it could down a thirst at 50 paces with its zesty potency, but equally at home as a refresher after a long autumn day spent chopping wood and raking fallen leaves.
Gut reaction
: More than three and you're probably tempting dispeptic fate.
Session factor
: Not really a session beer, since it's a bit too rich and fruity for sustained drinking.

A Rod(en) for your own bach

The best laid schemes, as a Scotch tax inspector and sometime poet once opined. You try to stick to a timetable and something is gonna come along and cock it right up.

So, having given the Beer Advent Calendar not a little thought, I am stricken down with possibly the worst bout of manflu' ever. It renders me grumpy, mucus-ridden and incapable of interaction beyond the odd grunt. But there were noticeable changes too. My focus blurred, my priorities went and I'm afraid to say the Beer Advent Calendar sadly slipped off the radar.

Pretty much everything else came off the rails over the last few days as well. I'm coming towards the end of my second day off work, have ploughed my way through three boxes of Lemsip Cold & Flu Max and four packets of Lockets. I've also exhausted the Top Gear re-runs on Dave, so things must be bad.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel and fortunately that light is not, as Half Man Half Biscuit once sang, the light of an oncoming train. Despite having a nose that looks like it's had an unfortunate disagreement with a cheese-grater, I can now breathe through both nostrils and a sense of taste is slowly returning to something approaching normal.

So it looks like I might be able to kick off the calendar just one day late with the terrific looking and unnervingly ironic Rodenbach. It's a reasonable 5.2% and the blurb, in Dutch and French, reckons it has a wine-like bouquet about it. We'll see...