Wednesday, 25 April 2018

An ode to Jester King Brewery



“Here in Texas, there are really only a couple of weeks a year when you need to wear a jacket, when you can see your breath,” our tour guide tells us. We’re standing next to a beautiful copper-lined coolship; this large, rectangular, shallow fermentation vessel is used to deliberately inoculate wort with wild, airborne yeasts and bacteria. Once nature has taken course, the liquid is transferred to wooden barrels, and undergoes spontaneous fermentation. Traditionally, this style of brewing is employed only in cool weather, when lower ambient temperatures will allow the wort to cool overnight and when the microbes in the atmosphere are thought to be at their most balanced. For Jester King, that’s a tight window of time.

The strange thing is that, although we’re in mid-April, our guide could be describing today’s surroundings. Arriving in Austin the previous day, our Uber driver remarked, “y’all are getting a little taste of the Texas weather”. It was a close, exhausting, almost prickly heat. Then a storm came and the temperature dropped drastically overnight.

Most of the patrons at Jester King this Saturday afternoon have jackets on; and scarves, and hats. Not me though; I packed nothing warmer than a thin wool jumper, because I was going to Texas in the middle of spring and didn’t think I’d need them. Fire-pits are lit, people huddled close to their warmth.  Grey ashy deposits stain their clothes and, occasionally, float into their beers. Others get stuck into photogenic pizzas from the rustic restaurant just down the hill whilst a band plays stripped-down Christian songs and old country numbers on guitars, banjos and harmonicas. Bizarrely, a party of frat-boy types swagger up with cans of Bud Light and are promptly, politely ejected.


What I’m trying to communicate is that Jester King is a magical, serene place, and I’d have braved far colder temperatures to drink there. Situated in Texas Hill Country outside Austin, it’s around a half-hour’s drive from the city. Along the way, strip malls and roadside restaurants thin out, replaced by vast ranch land. 

Jester King make farmhouse beers. This is a broad term that can encompass both clean saisons brewed with laboratory-cultivated yeast and altogether wilder, more rustic beers. Jester King’s output lean toward the more esoteric end of the scale but, for them, farmhouse is more than just a label. Their house culture includes commercial strains from the European breweries that influence them, such as Dupont and Thiriez, but also yeast and bacteria from plants in the land surrounding the brewery. This reflects their ethos of making beers that express something of their place; this can mean using foraged ingredients, local well water and Texas malt.

SPON, the series of beers born of the aforementioned coolship, are a fine demonstration of the brewery’s approach. Based on the techniques used in traditional Belgium lambic brewing, including the traditional long-winded ‘turbid mash’, they are not (and could never be) a simple imitation. The yeasts and bacteria found in the beers are unique to their surroundings – the same beer could never be reproduced elsewhere. SPON Three YearBlend combines young and aged spontaneously fermented beer, much like traditonal gueuze. It’s tart, but not so challengingly sour, nor as tannic and oaky, as the classics. It finishes dry and slightly bitter, leaving an impression of utter balance and harmony. SPON Peach & Apricot has a jaw-droppingly vibrant fruit flavour. It recalls the entire experience of biting into a peach; the sweet, juicy flesh, the dry sensation of the skin and the gentle acidity.


Also given the coolship treatment is Abscission, a collaboration with fellow travellers Scratch Brewing Co. from Illinois. Jester King’s ethos has been applied to this truly collaborative beer, which includes ingredients from both the Scratch farm and the Jester King ranch. The wort was infused with grapevines, fallen leaves, spicebush, juniper branches, laurel and sassafras – I honestly don’t even know what most of those are, but I can tell you they added up to a very tasty beer. Subtly tart and maybe a tiny bit salty, it has a wonderfully vibrant herbal and botanical flavour which is never overpowering; a less subtle approach could have ended up tasting like a high-end shower gel.

Funk Metal is one of the few Jester King beers that is self-described as ‘sour’. It certainly has more bite than those I’ve mentioned so far, but is no less balanced. An incredibly rich chocolate dominates the aroma and forms the foundation of its flavour, too. This is followed by sour cherry notes and an acidic red wine quality, and it finishes beautifully dry.

It’s always a pleasure to drink a brewery’s wares at the source but here, standing on the land that so heavily shapes these beers, it’s a particularly special privilege.

A word of advice; if you’re visiting the brewery using Uber, warn your driver that the map on their phone may try and take them up a rough track at the back of the property, and that they should look for the front entrance on the main road. When you’re being picked up at the end of your visit, I recommend walking down to said road and making that your pick-up point.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Old New Orleans Rhythm and Juice


Off the top of your head, what associations do you have with New Orleans? Jazz, perhaps, which originated there; Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire, which beautifully captures its humid buzz; the Hurricane Katrina tragedy; maybe, at a stretch, Lil Wayne? Beer is unlikely to feature on your list. A quick wander around the French Quarter will tell you that plenty of beer is consumed in the city, though. If open container laws apply here at all, they are openly flouted by carefree tourists spilling from jazz club to dive bar, beer in hand.

Granted, much of this beer is light lager from macro breweries but if that doesn’t satisfy, you don’t have to look hard for alternatives. If, say, you’re on a family holiday that is not specifically or exclusively beer-focused, this is particularly useful. Pizzerias, music venues, art gallery cafés and even bars aboard historic paddle steamers all have your back. You may stumble across an unassuming hotel bar quietly serving eight Louisiana craft beers on tap, and reflect on the fact that, in the UK, such an establishment would be trying to pass itself off as a specialist beer venue.

There are some places you should make time for, though, and I’ll get to those. First, an observation – the apparent trend amongst Louisiana breweries is for hazy, juicy beers in the New England style. Of the ten or so pale ales and IPAs I tasted in New Orleans, only a few poured clear, and even those – Bayou Teche’s LA-31 Biere Pale or Clean State from Wayward Owl, for example – had a touch of something tropical about them.


In a sense there’s nothing extraordinary about this, since the popularity of these beers seems to have hit just about everywhere with a craft beer scene, but it’s not what I expected. The swampy state is known for its sticky humidity, and I expected the brewers from such an environment to aim straight at the easy-going and refreshing. Hazy IPAs might be low in IBUs, but they’re also kind of intense and sometimes share the thick body of a fruit smoothie. On my visit, though, the weather was pleasantly warm but reportedly nothing like the still heat that New Orleans experiences in the summer months. And as such, I sure appreciated those juicy brews.

Amongst the best was Voodoo Pale Ale, from Baton Rouge’s Tin Roof; its tropical vibe was given further depth by a resinous, even slightly sharp edge, probably imparted by the Simcoe hop. Jucifer, brewed by Gnarly Barley in Hammond, was also sublimely juicy, with a touch of sherbet lemon and a gentle bitter finish.

The Courtyard Brewery dedicates a good percentage of their output to incredibly turbid IPAs, some of which almost seem to glow with a greenish-yellow luminosity. Situated a little outside the tourist centre of the city, it’s a self-described nanobrewery and looks like a tiny, tight space. You’ll need to come to the taproom to taste The Courtyard’s wares, as they do not distribute and sell all their beer on-site and on draught.


4th Best Body Surfer in the World has an allium aroma, and the flavour toes the line between savoury and juicy, like a mango salsa. The texture is creamy and smooth, and there’s a slightly raw bitterness in the finish. I liked The Wild Party better; it’s especially dank, with more of those onion-like notes, but also cranking the tropical fruit up a notch with bags of pineapple and a touch of blueberry. And to break up those IPAs, I tried And So We Can Acquiesce To Authority, a rosemary and blackberry witbier. It’s incredibly refreshing and the unusual ingredients have been added with subtlety. It instantly recalls the quenching sensation of biting into a slice of watermelon, though I’m conscious that making that comparison makes the beer sound watery, which it is not. 

The taproom is a must-visit; basic in the manner of Bermondsey’s most down-to-earth (though with the welcome addition of a plumbed-in toilet), it doesn’t amount to much more than a few tables and chairs placed out the front, but this is charming rather than half-arsed and chimes with the laid-back approach that earned New Orleans the nickname ‘The Big Easy’.

A short walk into the smart Lower Garden District you’ll find The Avenue Pub. Definitely a pub rather than a bar, it’s an old-timey place by American standards; thought to date back to 1845, it boasts quirks like a tin ceiling and fireplaces that, in the warmth of late spring, it’s hard to imagine are ever lit. Louisiana breweries are well represented on the extensive draught list, and I got my fix of juice from Urban South’s superb Holly Roller IPA. One of the highlights of the local beers I tried on this trip was All My Tomorrows from Great Raft in Shreveport. This is a saison brewed with rye, and has a slightly grainy, rustic farmhouse quality as well as bubblegum and black pepper. I could have sworn the version I tasted was brewed with Motueka or something similar, though can’t now find any reference to this online; my notes say that passion fruit and lime flavours intensified as it warmed, which doesn’t sound much the advertised hop bill of Mosaic, Citra and Bravo. Regardless, here’s the important part – it was utterly delicious.


Then came something really special. Each year, Montreal’s Brasserie Dieu de Ciel! release a series of variations on their imperial coffee stout, Péché Mortel, in an event known as Péché Day. Not only were several of these still pouring at the Avenue Pub, they were discounting them to $3 a pour as if they wanted to get rid of them. Péché Framboise is so good I feel privileged to have tasted it; it’s amongst the finest stouts I have ever tasted, astonishingly silky with a vibrant raspberry flavour that plays beautifully off the decadent chocolate notes. Péché Latte, with added lactose, was a desert-like treat, all sweet, creamy coffee. Do not leave New Orleans without going to the Avenue Pub. Miss your plane if you have to. 

Back towards the centre on the city, on the edge of the French Quarter, you’ll find Black Penny. This well-worn-in pub might have an appealingly divey feel during its late-night opening hours, but with the sun streaming through the window in the late afternoon, it’s pretty idyllic. Note the absence of the ubiquitous, OTT branded tap handles on the bar; all the beer here is in cans. Why this is, I don’t know, but I do know that’s it’s an impressive list featuring plenty of Lousiana breweries as well as those from further afield. You’ll find oddities such as Lion Stout, the Sri Lankan brew that Michael Jackson wrote about and which I’ve never seen anywhere before, and selections from Wasatch, the first brewery  in Utah since Prohibition – astonishingly, it opened in 1986.


Here I drank Hoppyright Infringement from NOLA Brewing Company. Once, Dixie Brewing Company made New Orelans’ local lager within the city, but closed after Hurricane Katrina and relocated brewing to Wisconsin. In 2009, NOLA became the city’s only active brewery. BeerAdvocate now lists about 15, of which NOLA is probably the most visible. The beer in my can at Black Penny is as good an example of the hazy fruit salad double IPA as you’re likely to find without queuing up overnight in New England (and I highly recommend their silky, hoppy Irish Channel Stout, too.)

I should point out, by the way, that the easy-drinking, refreshing brews I expected of the Pelican State are there when you need them; in the excitingly sweaty Maison jazz club on Frenchmen Street, I dodged IPAs in favour of Coop’d Up from Urban South, a refreshingly tart farmhouse ale with a beautiful peachy flavour and a slightly salty finish. Wayward Owl’s Family Tree is a kristallweizen – not normally a style I gravitate towards because I prefer the fuller, mealy body of its yeastier relative, the hefeweizen. Well, not in a humid jazz venue I don’t; the crisp, lager-like quality really hit the spot, whilst the rhubard, banana and clove flavours I love in German wheat beers were there in spades.

The visibility of good beer in New Orleans demonstrates, I think, at least part of what people are getting at when they say beer culture in the UK is “behind” that of the US. There’s plenty here to satisfy nerds like myself; but equally, there is a mainstream understanding and appreciation of craft beer here I don’t think yet exists at home. I like it. 

Thursday, 1 March 2018

The free state of Kemptown


The following is my contribution to The Session #133, hosted by Gareth at Barrel Aged Leeds. This month's theme is 'Hometown Glories'.


The year is 1989, and the Hand in Hand has no roof. Already 120-something years old, the pub is about to enter a new chapter; fermentation tanks are edging their way down into the cellar. The arrival of this kit marks the birth of the Hand in Hand as a brewpub.

Fast forward to 2017, and a fresh delivery of shiny stainless steel has arrived at the pub. Two new fermentation tanks are being lowered through a hole in the floor by the front door; leaving the roof intact, this time only floorboards are lifted. They’ll be returned and carpeted over again before the pub opens. Temperature controlled and able to contain the pressure demanded of beer destined for a keg, these tanks reflect the ambitions of Jack Tavaré, brewer at Hand Brew Co., the brand now operating out of the Hand.

Modern tanks aside, the basic brew kit is the same one that was installed those 28 years ago by then-landlord Bev Robbins, though the brews that comes out of it are very different. “The beers were awful apparently,” says Jack. “It was always the same base recipe and then when they were filling casks, the landlord just used to put different stuff in it to make it a different beer. I think there was one with… it wasn’t gravy brownings but it was something like that. Some kind of brown, food-based thing.” Another, dyed with red food colouring, was given the name Dragon’s Blood – an advertisement for it is still painted on the side of the building, but something tells me Jack won’t be reviving the recipe.


Crammed into a cramped, higgledy-piggledy space behind the scenes, the kit works on the principle of a traditional tower brewery. Rather than pumps, the flow process is propelled by gravity. The hot liquor tank and mash tun are on the second floor, and the wort flows down into the kettle on the level below. Once it’s boiled for an hour and hops are added, it’s transferred through a pipe, passing a heat exchanger on its way through the bar and into the fermenters in the cellar.

“We do actually use a couple of pumps now,” Jack laughs, “we’ve modernised”. He’s made small improvements here and there, like installing a manway on the kettle; previously, the only way to add hops was to drop them through a tiny hole which also released steam. “So far we don’t have a chimney,” he explains, “so when it’s boiling, steam just billows into this room. But that was the only hole I had, so when I was adding hops I had this steam blowing, hops going everywhere…”

Many of the old kit’s quirks remain, however, requiring some creative thinking. For example, Jack sets his hot liquor tank to around 92 degrees. “Normally you’d want your liquor around 77 degrees, depending on what you want your mash to be,” he tells me. “But below the element I get this pocket of cold liquor." Because the contents of the hot liquor tank can't be mixed, "I have to overheat the top part so that when that’s mixed with the bottom part and transferred into the mash tun, it will equal 77. You have to work around it.”

Bev and Brenda Robbins
Hand Brew Co. has been the house brand since August 2016. Since the initial installation, the brewery has been almost constantly used, with only short spells of inactivity. Bev ran the pub with his wife Brenda until he passed away in 2006. He brewed under the brand Kemptown Brewery, reviving the name of a historic brewery that operated in this part of Brighton until the mid-1960s. “I think the way he got round it was by making ‘Kemptown Brewery Co. Est. 1989’ the full legal name,” Jack says. The kit was then used sporadically until it was taken over by Gary Sillence. He maintained the Kemptown name whilst using any spare capacity for his own brand, Brighton Bier, now a much larger operation based in a unit just down the road.

Around the time Gary left, the pub was taken on by its current owners, Jen and Clark, leaving the brewery temporarily empty with the intention of starting brewing again once they’d found their feet. Jack was then operating a small brewery, Beercraft, from a pilot kit at the Watchmaker’s Arms micropub in Hove, whilst working bar shifts at the Hand. “I was working behind the bar here and we got chatting about the brewery. I said “I think I should do it!””, Jack tells me. As Hand Brew Co. grew, he had less and less time to dedicate to Beercraft, and took the decision to merge the two companies. He hopes to move the small pilot kit up to Kemptown for trial recipes.

And the beers? Well, they’re excellent, reflecting an obviously meticulous attention to detail despite the equipment’s vagaries. I loved Hans, a clean and bitter pilsner. This gets the full lagering treatment, spending a generous eight weeks in the tanks, currently tying up a large percentage of the brewery’s capacity but absolutely worth it. Ayyyy, a US breakfast stout is just as impressive; brewed with lots of oats for a decadent creamy texture, its richness is rounded out by cocoa nibs and beans from Hove’s wonderful coffee roasters, Pharmacie. Aside from these, the current focus is on dry-hopped pale ales, though Jack has ambitions to move into Belgian styles.


Initially, the beer brewed on the premises was exclusively sold here. Around 75% of the Hand beers are sold on the premises, but the remaining casks and kegs are sent to various bars around Brighton and the surrounding area. So whilst you don’t have to visit the Hand in Hand to try them, you really should. It’s small and well worn-in in the best way, walls covered with breweriana and ceiling beams decorated with a collection of ties snipped from the necks of punters by former landlady Brenda as a reminder that they were no longer at work. On my afternoon visit, there’s a warm community spirit to the place; regulars pop in for tea served in dimpled half-pint mugs as well as stemmed glasses of beer. It’s one of Brighton’s most characterful pubs.

Above the door hangs a sign that reads ‘you are now entering the free state of Kemptown’. I like the sentiment, but wondered if it had any further significance. “I really don’t know,” says Jen, landlady and director. “I think it just meant “anything goes” as its Kemptown and bonkers!?” And as such, it sums up why the Hand in Hand is such a wonderful place.


My sincere thanks to Jack and Jen for their hospitality. In the interests of disclosure, I'll point out that they refused to let me pay for my beers.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Two schooners of black saison and a portion of kimchi fries please


Last week, I received an exciting package. Contained within was the first freebie I have accepted (alright, the first I've been offered) in association with this blog. And I wasn't offered it, actually - I specifically asked after I was sent an intriguing press release. The contents of that package were three large bags of crisps, sent to me by a PR company on behalf of Walkers. 

What caught my eye was the suggestion that these crisps - three flavours under the Walkers Max Strong brand - have been designed specifically to pair with beer. The email reads as follows;

"Walkers has specifically designed its new range to be a strong, spicy accompaniment to a refreshing pint; so whether you're enjoying a craft ale, a pint of pilsner or a can of cold lager - Walkers Max Strong has you covered."

We could pick that apart, but that's not my intention. I'm mainly interested in the idea that Walkers needs to pointedly market their crisps as an accompaniment to beer.

Beer and crisps belong together. They just do. In this sense, the suggestion of pairing crisps with beer seems an odd thing to hang a marketing campaign around. I can't image a biscuit manufacturer emblazoning the words 'try me with a cup of tea!' across their packaging, though it would be a similarly obvious, common sense, automatic association to make. Pubs sell crisps, and if you're ever peckish in a pub, you're likely to buy a packet without a second thought.

So what might this branding exercise tell us about the state of beer and potato snacks in 2018? Well, perhaps that an increasing interest in the artisanal credentials of the beer we're drinking might extend to the way we snack. Pubs and bars that sell beer from small, like-minded breweries might well extend that principle to the rest of their offering, crisps included. If a craft beer bar sells crisps at all, you might find the words 'hand-cooked' on the packet; cheese and onion crisps that proudly name the specific cheddar in their recipe. Whether Walkers (part of the Pepsi conglomerate) actually feel the loss of this relatively small corner of the market I don't know, but the launch of the Walkers Max Strong brand does suggest that they might want a piece of it.

But, perhaps most importantly, I wanted to know how well they actually went with beer. Sadly, I'll never know the answer when it comes to the Jalapeno & Cheese flavour, since they contain rennet and so are not suitable for vegetarians. At least I appreciate the clear labelling me to tell me so. Oddly, the Hot Chicken Wings flavour are, as are Chilli & Lime. 

Alarm bells rang immediately at the focus on chilli heat - the crisps are labelled for their fieriness on a scale ranging from medium to extra hot. Beer (lager, at least) is often thrown at spicy food arbitrarily, presumably because it's served cold and chilli is hot, and perhaps because both constituent parts are generally thought to be good for the soul. Once a significant hop profile is involved, this pairing generally falters, with fiery chilli either obliterating the subtleties of the beer or, even worse, the beer's bitterness accentuating the scoville effect rather than calming it.

My road-test involved nothing more scientific that munching on a small handful of each flavour whilst drinking whatever happened to be in my fridge over the course of a weekend. The chilli and lime flavour is merely medium on the heat scale, but plenty hot by my standards. The citrus element gives a bit of zingy life to the peppery paprika depth. Brasserie de la Senne's Zinnebir was a surprisingly good companion here; though significantly bitter in a grassy, European way, if anything the beer tames the heat a little. The pairing doesn't particularly add anything to either the beer or the crisps, but they get along well enough. Burning Sky's Grisette didn't fare so well; it's a delicate beer with floral and herbal notes from additions of marigold and chamomile, with a gentle lemon note and a peppery finish. The heat in the crisps treads all over it, and I might as well have washed them down with a glass of sparkling water. Grand Imperial Porter, from Poland's Browar Amber went the other way, the big beer wiping out the lime and curry-like spicing of the crisps but gelling surprisingly well with the lingering heat for a kind of chilli and chocolate sensation.

I expected the spicy seasoning would be the dominant flavour in the Hot Chicken Wings crisps, but they taste very much like I remember roast chicken tasting (or, at least, they taste like existing roast chicken flavour crisps). The heat comes late but is fairly intense, reminding you that you've gone up a notch on the fiery scale as it pokes at the tongue and perhaps leaves a slight sting on the lips. Again, Zinnebir stood up to the plate, holding its own against the fire. The Grisette didn't have a chance - it's delicious, by the way, in other circumstances. The umami meatiness didn't gel with the Grand Imperial Porter, sitting uncomfortably alongside the beer's desert-like richness. One better suited to the 'cold can of lager' end of the spectrum, I think.

The trouble is, I think, that I thought too hard about all this. We don't need to think about what crisps we chomp on in the pub. The correct beer and crisp pairing is, within reason, any beer with any crisps. Because it just is.





Sunday, 31 December 2017

12 Beers of Christmas - Day Twelve - Burning Sky Trafalgar Wines Celebratory Stout

I've already written and deleted several paragraphs in which I try to summarise a tumultuous 2017, each time concluding that nobody a) needs to know or b) really cares. Suffice to say, I'm not really into New Year's Eve, but this one does have some significance. Not enough to prompt me to do anything other than sit drinking beer on my Grandma's sofa, but still.

One significant thing about the dawn of 2018 is that it roughly marks the third year anniversary of this blog. The past two years have been busy, and I haven't posted as much as I'd like. In the meantime, it's seemingly become a beer and travel blog, which wasn't my initial intention but I'll take it. And, out of character as it may be to say it, I'm very proud of much of what I have posted. So it meant a lot to hear my name called for the Silver award in the Young Beer Writer category at this year's British Guild of Beer Writer's Awards ceremony. I think this picture sums up my feelings pretty well (that's me on the left).


That goofy grin stayed glued to my face until the last train back to Brighton, when I plugged in my headphones, tied my scarf around my eyes to block out the harsh light and caught some much needed sleep. (Incidentally, another big congratulations to James Beeson, who deservedly took home the Gold prize). So, amongst all the uncertainty and loss, there's been plenty in this past year to celebrate. Which calls for a celebratory beer.

I haven't posted a Golden Pints round-up for this year. One of the reasons for this is the realisation that I wanted to nominate the same names in the same categories as last year, and/or the year before, to the point where it seemed ridiculous writing it all out again. My favourite brewery of 2017, for example, is Burning Sky, just as it was last year. And my favourite bottle shop always was, is, and always shall be Trafalgar Wines. To put my puny blog's anniversary into perspective, Steve is celebrating a staggering 35 years in the business. And for that, he got a very special beer, which he was kind enough to gift to me and other loyal customers to share the love.


Day Twelve - Burning Sky Trafalgar Wines Celebratory Stout (UK, 8.5%)

Even at arm's length whilst I poured, a huge aroma of coffee, dark sugar and clementine hit me, and I knew I was in for a treat. On the first sip, the bourbon barrel in which the beer aged is clearly doing a lot of heavy lifting. Often that means vanilla and booze, which is great, but the bourbon character here is far more interesting than that. It's very woody, with notes of pithy clementine and sweet cherry. 

I can't be sure if there's something just a tiny bit tart in there, or whether that's the power of suggestion because the only other beers I associate with such a strong oak character are lambics. There's certainly plenty of smooth chocolate in there to temper if, if it is there. A gentle booze warmth emerges the more I drink, which happens a little quicker than it probably should due to both its deliciousness and an appropriately minimal level of carbonation - nobody wants fizzy imperial stout, do they?

Another triumph for Burning Sky, and a fitting tribute to Brighton's best booze merchant. Happy new year, one and all!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

12 Beers of Christmas - Day Eleven - Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva 2011


Day Eleven - Struise Pannepot Grand Reserva (Belgium, 10%)

De Struise have a reputation as agitators, producing beer that tests the boundaries of traditional Belgian styles, and sometimes exists pretty firmly outside them. Pannepot, as strong beer by my standards, is one of their tamer offerings. This vintage edition further ages that beer on oak. The beer itself was bottled in 2016, which suggests a lengthy ageing process. And although the label doesn't tell us where this oak comes from, my guess based on the aroma would be sherry casks. 

If I'm wrong, then it's a huge coincidence that this tastes so strongly of sharp sherry. You could be fooled into thinking someone had poured a nip of sherry into the glass when you weren't looking. It verges on over-the-top, especially on the first couple of sips, but after a while I got used to it. More sweetness comes out as it warms, which balances the puckering, tannic quality somewhat. Tht sherry tartness recalls sour cherries, and with plenty of bitter chocolate, coffee roast and currants, it's not a one-note beer.

While it's certainly demanding - not an easy-drinker by any means - it never drinks anything like its ABV. Probably worth the five year wait, then.

Friday, 29 December 2017

12 Beers of Christmas - Day Ten - De Dolle Stille Nacht


Day Ten - De Dolle Brouwers Stille Nacht (Belgium, 12%)

This being the only yuletide-themed beer in my 12 Beers line-up, I should probably have drunk Stille Nacht before the big day. Luckily, it has a lot to offer beyond festive gimmicks, and not a pinch of cinnamon in sight!

A healthily lively pour, it's thankfully easier to wrangle into a glass than some other De Dolle beers I've encountered. Even before lifting the glass to my nose, there's a strong aroma of honey and sweet orange, but the first gulp surprises with a resinous bitterness. I wasn't expecting that, although bitterness is a noted characteristic in many De Dolle offerings, and it's especially notable in a beer that was bottled over a year ago. The sharp citrus quality, along with a tingling carbonation, adds a lightness to the syrupy Madeira booze underneath.

On the strength of this bottle, I should make Stille Nacht a Christmas staple.