About a week before we were due to meet up to share some special bottles, something scary happened. Splashing out on a pint of Gamma Ray at the Evening Star, I found the hop flavour oddly muted. In fact, it tasted like a pint of sparkling water with the tiniest dash of hop oil dropped in. It wasn't the beer – it was me. I’d been feeling a little sniffly all week, and consequently getting no aroma at all. Given the upcoming occasion, I decided I to blitz my body with every remedy I could think of. To de-congest my nose, I held my head over a bowl of VapoRub dissolved in water, which makes your face feel simultaneously freezing cold and boiling hot, with the added sensation of someone holding a hairdryer over your eyelids. My ears felt a little blocked, and your ears, nose and throat are all connected, right? In with the ear drops, then, along with some warm salt water to gargle with, calming down my swollen throat. My five-a-day became seven or eight or nine as I piled all the veg I could conceivably fit on my plate each evening. Anything to avoid cracking open a carefully guarded bottle of beer and then failing to taste the delights within. It worked, anyway, and my palate was soon restored to full power.
What better way to celebrate than Burning Sky’s Cuvée Reserve? Cuvée is a blend of the brewery’s highly regarded Saison a la Provision and imported Belgian lambic, and this extra-special incarnation then rests further in an oak barrel over lambic lees. It has a strong, funky farmyard aroma with a hint of rustic cider. It is still recognisably a variation on a la Provision, and many of this beer’s flavours carry through - tart and juicy green apples hit immediately, then lemon, dill and the phantom of the Chardonnay barrel that houses the saison. A tart finish suggests the quinine bitterness of tonic water. It’s a fascinating, extremely accomplished and, most importantly, delicious beer. I'm endlessly excited to have a brewery of such ambition and invention just a few miles from my front door.
Next was Her Majesty 2015 from Yeastie Boys. Though Yeastie Boys are now brewing at BrewDog for the UK market, this beer is imported from their native New Zealand, and brewed at Invercargill. It’s a pale ale, but doesn't look like one – the addition of beetroot gives it a pinky-purple hue, and it looks gorgeous in the glass. The addition of the beets gives a notable soil-like aroma, but there’s blackcurrant on the nose, too, along with some rose. There’s a slight earthy undertaste – the brewery reckon you won’t taste the beetroot, but I beg to differ – and loads of rich, dark berries – blackcurrant, blackberries, cranberries – over a smooth caramel malt foundation. There’s a dry and bitter hoppy finish, but the hop flavours are a little muted, perhaps owing to the age of the bottle (around 6 months). It’s an interesting and tasty beer, but it doesn't blow any of us away.
Another New Zealand beer followed – Tuatara’s Black Mojo Espresso. Unsurprisingly, there’s a bit whack of coffee on the nose, with chocolate and toffee closely following. The taste has an earthy note, and there’s an unexpected hint of peaty smoke in there. Coffee flavour in stouts often mingles with roasted malts, but there’s little roast here, and the espresso quality is smooth and low in bitterness. The decadent silky body is the final triumph in an extremely impressive beer.
To finish, I pulled out a bottle of Brew By Numbers Barrel Aged Traditional Porter (12|04). I was given this just before Christmas in 2014, and it is just approaching its suggested best before date, meaning it has been in the bottle for almost two years. The bottle conditioning has made it quite lively, threatening to gush over if never quite doing so, and there is a slightly distracting fizz which takes away from the body of the beer. The flavour is beautiful, though, with the Jim Beam barrels that housed the beer contributing a lot, but never overpowering the base porter. There’s lots of vanilla and a rounded-out booziness that isn't hot or spiky, and the base beer brings spades of dried fruit and rich dark malts. Masterful barrel aging from a brewery I'm beginning to think of as one of the UK’s best.
Nervous thought: are posts like this remotely interesting? I always enjoy reading similar things on others' blogs, but it all seems a bit insubstantial and basic now that I've written it all out. I hope someone gets something out of it other than a list of beers, anyway.