Wednesday, 30 September 2009

BrewDog Rake Raspberry

Knut's recent post prompted my to write up my own notes as I knocked back a BrewDog Rake Raspberry last Sunday night. While placing an e-mail order with them, they'd told me there were a few Rakes still around, so why not? You can read what the BrewDog guys say about it all here. Enough said!

It's dark, dense, and quite highly carbonated. This lifts out light phenolic notes; peaty, with a touch of TCP, but with a definite fruitiness overlaying it all.

On first sip, it's odd. While held in the mouth it's all sweetness and light, with a soft, pillowy feeling from all that carbonation, and a lovely, slightly tart, fresh berry smack. However, once you swallow, the interplay between the peaty notes and the tart freshness of the raspberries really make you wonder what the hell is going on! It's sweet, smoky, very strange, but very enjoyable, and does not feel like 10% alcohol at all! It finishes quite dry, leaving behind a touch of raspberry tartness combined with vaguely vanilla-tinted, peat background. In the end though, the peat wins.

I've two bottles left to spring on some unsuspecting Germans...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Gadds' Ancestors and OOOKS!

The ever-enthusiastic Mark Dredge very kindly sent me a box of beer as part of a swap. While he got a handful of my own brews and a poor selection of German beers, I got a half-dozen beers which got pride of place in my beer cellar. Being generally short on beers from outside Germany these days, I'm going to stretch them out a bit, but they're half gone already. How could I resist? Forgive me, also, if I stretch out the blog posts about them, as I feel I have to group them somewhat. So lets start with the beers from the Ramsgate Brewery.

Gadds' Ancestors, a Whisky Cask Porter, has been aged in casks formerly used by the Bruichladdich distillery -- according to my whisky-expert colleague, one of the most progressive distilleries in Scotland at the moment. Started in 1881, it was closed down in 1995, but was reopened in late 2000 by a small company of individuals who went on to produce a vast range of new whiskies, and bottlings of the older Bruichladdich vintages. While the whiskies of Bruichladdich were known for being less heavy than those from other Islay distilleries, they have been breaking new ground with some heavily peaty releases since reopening, so I wasn't sure what would come out in this.

Pouring an opaque, oaky-black with a thin head, the aroma is strikingly peaty and oaky. There's a phenolic note that sometimes worries me. I have a strange relationship with those heavy peaty influences found in many Islay malts. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I find it too heavy. The same comes across in some rauchbiers, although with a different source of smoke, the supporting flavours have to be right, in my humble opinion. In the case of Ancestors, the flavours have strong oaky, dark vanilla overtones which are pretty unforgiving. Held in the mouth, the impression is slightly medicinal and smokey. Swallowing reveals licorice and burnt wood. Underneath all of this is an almost fruity sweetness, like dried figs, that creeps out from under the initial woody smokiness. At 9% ABV, this could be a sipper. With those powerful flavours, it definitely is a sipper, but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

In an exercise of unparalleled restraint, I held off the next Ramsgate beer for two days, at which point the call of Gadds' OOOKS! became too strong.

The flavour gives smooth, soft chocolate, raisens, a slight oakiness with a touch of vanilla and a twist of pepper spiciness. There's a slightly vinous undertone, like a good dessert wine. It has a lightly dryish, tannic quality, like a strong cup of tea, merging with a delicate tingle of hop bitterness and a long-lasting blackcurrant-like fruity finish. At 9%, it's surprisingly easy-drinking, with a medium body, it's not at all sticky, lending it a freshness that showcases the medley of flavours. A lovely, multi-layered beer that's a great nightcap.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Prösslbräu Adlersberg Bayerisch Dunkel

A bit like the Augustiner Weissbier, I had this sitting about for a bit before I realised the dates were going. This one was nearly two months past by the time I drank it, but sod it.

Prösslbräu Adlersberg Bayerisch Dunkel (now there's a mouth full) is a dark, ruby-tinged, chestnut brown with a dense, tan head. With a lot of German beers of this colour you can expect considerable malt sweetness, often verging on sugary, but this displayed clean, simple malt flavours. There's a light touch of toffee, a little fig, and a slight fruity tartness, like a squirt of apple juice, but certainly not sour. It finishes with an ever-so-gentle roasty bite. Very sinkable, even outside the date. I'll have to try it again a bit fresher.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Weissbier Clean-out

I was clean-out-the-cellar-time a while back, as I'd amassed a bit of a backlog and ended up sorting the beer shelves roughly by best before date (grouped by month, I'm not that sad) so I wouldn't have too many missed beers. Amongst the forgotten were some weissbiers I'd picked up early in the summer. Time to give them a good home.

Augustiner Weissbier, a lovely, almost glowing, cloudy, orange-hued pale amber with a trademark weissbier fluffy pillow head. Heavy on the cloves, with a nutmeg warmth and just-ripe bananas. So far, so textbook. The initial taste is surprisingly clovey, in a clove-drop way, with more than a twist of lime. I'm not sure if this slight sour edge is because the bottle was a few weeks past the best before date, but although a little thin, this is a pleasing enough, refreshing weissbier.

According to the label, the other, Oscar Maxxum Weizen, was one brewed by Privatbrauerei Iserlohn for the chain of drink stores I buy most of my beer from; Trinkgut. At least that's what the small-print says. With a nice spicy aroma, it has a good dose of classic cloves and ample bubblegum. It has toffee undertones, soft cloves and, yes, there's banana back there, but as the aroma suggests, the main flavours are clovey-bubblegum ones, with an added lime-like palate cleanser. Actually quite decent to begin with, but not very much to the finish. Still, for a store-branded, fairly cheap beer it does the job well enough.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Neuzeller Schwarzer Abt

It's funny. I'd read bits about Klosterbrauerei Neuzeller and was intrigued by the range of beers they produced, and the long struggle they had to allow Schwarzer Abt to be called a beer, in defiance of the Reinheitsgebot, and in which they succeeded (in 2005 I believe). So, it was with genuine gladness that I got a chance to try some while visiting family down in Baden-Württemberg, as my sister-in-law's boyfriend had bought a crate of the stuff.

Schwarzer Abt (Black Monk) pours a dark, ruby-tinged brown. The aroma is sweet fudge with a little chocolate and a lightly roasted backdrop. On first sip, I got lightly rounded flavours; a little fruity, like raspberries, but then a sugary sweetness that just marched over everything that might have been under it. My sister-in-law described it as a woman's beer, and I was surprised, as she actually drinks all sorts of fairly decent beers. And it wasn't the first time I've heard that kind of description, as the same was applied to the Lausitzer Porter by my neighbour. Schwarzer Abt is a light beverage at 3.9%, and tastes like over-sugared weak coffee. I can't help wondering what the underlying beer is actually like. The aroma suggested good things, but it's painfully sweet having been over-dosed with invert sugar after fermentation. I have to admit I was almost beginning to side with the 'gebot after this.

I do, however, look forward to getting my hands on their other beers, in particular their Porter, which sounds like the real deal! Time will tell...

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Kirsch Porter

My wife and parents-in-law recently headed eastwards to visit some family in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, to the north of Berlin, and my wife kindly brought back a selection of beers from the apparently sparse drink markets over that way. It's one of the least populated parts of Germany, and villages are literally being abandoned as younger generations head to the cities, so there's less and less infrastructure for people living there it seems. Kind of sad, as it sounds like a beautiful area.

Nevertheless, some time ago, I sampled a couple of German "Porters" from Saxony. They were pretty awful, being over-sweet and, well, hard to take. Knut Albert commented then that there was a Strawberry version of one which was ghastly. As a result, I was worried when I saw that one of the gems my wife brought back was a Kirsch Porter, based on the Lausitzer Porter from Bergquell Brauerei Löbau. She actually also brought a Lausitzer Porter, but I sent it to my sister-in-law, as she likes Neuzeller Schwarze Abt, which is similarly weak and artificially sweet.

Back to the Kirsch Porter. With an aroma reminiscent of dark cherries meeting dark chocolate, a bit like Farrero Mon Chéri, it actually started better than I expected. The flavour is a little like the syrup you get surrounding dark cherries in a jar. It's definitely sweet, but with a dark cherry bite. Not much of a beer taste to be honest, and I was surprised that I didn't hate it on first sip. It's 90% Lausitzer Porter and 10% cherry-flavoured syrup (and 4.2% alcohol), and I have to say, it actually improved the porter, although to my mind that wouldn't be too difficult. As it warms, it does get a little vomity on the nose, and it gets more sugary the more you drink, making the teeth feel at risk from instant cavities. I'm glad I got to try it, but I wouldn't be seeking it out.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Amsterdam, Day Two

Rising considerably later than normal, but still managing to get out on the beat for pancakes shortly after 11am, TheBeerNut navigated us to the old Heineken brewery. Well, it'd be a bit like going to Dublin and not visiting Guinness I suppose. I lived in Dublin, so that's my excuse for not doing that tour! Going into the big red-brick building felt like two kids going into an unlit cellar in a horror movie, and to a degree, the happy, chirpy employees unnerved rather than comforted. Ok, I'm exaggerating, but only slightly. The Heineken Experience took us through a few displays of old labels and adverts, and a virtual barman telling us about the three generations of Heineken, ending with Freddy, who is loved by everyone in the Netherlands. I'll give him one thing, he was a suave looking man, and clearly a man with marketing on his mind. We did raise eyebrows at the text in one of the display areas that stated "Heineken is proud to be one of the world's leading independent brewers". I suppose they are, and megacorp doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

Moving on from the display cabinets, the brewing room was particularly impressive, and the four huge copper mash tuns and kettles (pictured above) were quite a contrast to De Prael which we visited the day before. The smell of malt was hanging in the air, coming from the tun a curly-headed youth was stirring. TheBeerNut told me they actually make something out of this. Well, Ron told him some dude was making a triple in the corner in the past, and that it was sometimes available at the bar (not this time I'm afraid). As I write, TheBeerNut confirmed it was definitely a different guy from when Ron visited, and just as well, as the pheromones exuding from Frodo would have been infusing the mash, rendering any beer made from it undrinkable.

The self-guided tour isn't bad actually, and you do get a good idea of the beer-making process, including a "Brew You Ride" (not to be said in a flat Dublin accent) simulator that had my sore knee throbbing. TheBeerNut has already described the guided tasting of the Heineken, and it has to be said, they should be selling whatever that guy was pouring. The hops really jumped out with a fresh, fruity aroma, and it sizzled on the tongue. Right after the tasting we passed some curious pods, and we're pretty certain that if we had of gotten in, all Heineken would taste like what we just had. Or at least we'd believe it tasted like the one we just had. Instead, we ended up down at the bar for our freebies, trying the Heineken Ice Cold followed by the regular cold Heineken. TheBeerNut encouraged me with his usual "get it down ya" before we stumbled out, dazed and confused, into the light.

Clearly we'd had enough of quality beers the night before, demonstrating this by having a quick glass of Murphy's Red -- which although having a pleasing light caramel nose, was boring, thin and cardboardy with a light dusting of grassy hops, yes, yes, "get it down ya" -- before heading off for sustenance. Sustenence being a rather tasty sirloin steak with a bottle of 't IJ Struis from Brouwerij 't IJ, an apparently organic, unpasturised, unfiltered beer at 9% ABV with a pleasently fruity aroma, a flavour like summer fruits, raisins, caramel and a slightly farmyard earthiness finishing with an orange pith bitterness. Very tasty, and a great companion to a juicy steak. Another strong beer that goes down remarkably easy.

Collecting the bags, we headed stationward and stopped at 't Arendsnest for a few final beers. Another bar with a fantastic selection, I chose slightly randomly and went for the SNAB Otter Strong Bitter. A light amber with a head that didn't seem to want to die, it was a bit grainy, with a suggestion of buttered toast and a slight fruity element, like baked apples. A bit cakey perhaps. It wasn't terribly bitter at all, but did have a reasonably spicy finish. I was a little disappointed, so after a slight prodding, ordered a De Molen Mout & Mocca, a 10% (according to the board) coffee imperial stout. The aroma reminded me of fresh cut hedges or nettles (don't ask) with a slightly green, sappy character. The flavour was a little ashy, and certainly roasty, with some herbal notes. I can't say I got coffee or chocolate flavours, and frankly, I was disappointed. Yeah, I know, his face says it all: "get it down ya"!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Amsterdam, Day One, Part Two

Having spent most of the day wandering Amsterdam in the company of TheBeerNut and Mrs. BeerNut, and being suitably fed and watered, it was time to totter around the corner to the launch of BeerTemple. We were a few minutes late, so we missed the speeches and official opening. As it was, there was a large crowd outside, and inside it was positively heaving as people elbowed their way forward to get to the bar which was serving complimentary drinks. In a way I was relieved that it's not only the Germans who don't know how to line up for something in a reasonable fashion.

The BeerTemple is owned by Peter van der Arend, who also runs the popular 't Arendsnest, and has been billed as Europe's first dedicated American beer bar, with the ultimate aim of having around 30 US craft beers on tap and considerably more in bottles. On the opening day the selection was pretty nice, with beers from Left Hand (Black Jack Porter, Milk Stout), Great Divide (Titan, Hercules and Yeti), Flying Dog, Anchor and bottles from Southern Tier, Sierra Nevada and Goose Island, amongst others. They also had a house beer, Templbier, brewed by De Snaterende Arend, which I should have, but didn't try.

What I did try was the Left Hand Black Jack Porter, a rather tasty and silky-smooth 6.5% porter that had licks of chocolate, licorice and a touch of dark chocolate bitterness to the finish. Delicious and satisfying. This was followed by a Great Divide Yeti, an Imperial Stout whose solventy fumes were loaded with C-hops. With more licorice flavours, coffee and a a pervading soft, chewy toffee effect, this was dangerously easy drinking, and a tough act to follow. There was a bit of glass-passing for tasting, but true-to-form, no notes, and little memory!

Food, in the form of pretzels and mini-burgers, was flowing constantly, but it was hard to get a real impression of the place, so packed was it. It's minimalist in decoration, with chalk boards around the ceiling listing the beers on offer. The back has a few tables and a stairs up to the toilets. It has a kind of café feel about it, but at the time we were there, it was more comfortable to be out front. Many thanks to Peter for the invitation and kind hospitality. I wish him the best of luck with the venture, and hope to make it there again for a long session.

We didn't stay as long as we could, as it wasn't the most comfortable getting buffetted by the crowd, so we headed off to in de Wildeman with Ron Pattinson. I got the impression in de Wildeman is one of those places you should visit if you're a beer fan in Amsterdam, with a slightly old-fashioned feel, but relaxed and comfortable, perfect for a few nightcaps. The beer list was an eclectic selection that was bloody tough to choose from, but I took Ron's lead and ordered a Beck-Bräu Affumicator, listed as a Dreidoppelrauchbock, and at 9.2% it would be I guess. In the mould of a Bamberger-style rauchbier, this notches thing up a bit without ever straying into uncomfortable territories. It's a beautiful rauchbier, with loads of smokey bacon going on, but with a surprising, lightly fruity backdrop that makes it frighteningly easy to drink. I was pleasantly surprised, as many German beers in this strength range end up quite sticky-sweet, but this is superbly balanced with loads of light fruitiness, juicy malts and a touch of spice, all infused with smoke. Wonderful.

I had ordered a small Affumicator to save myself for a De Molen Black Jack, a bit of a monster at 12.5 %, but yet another beer that just soothes, with thick, creamy body and a flavour giving oak, vanilla, masses of chewy malt and a slight touch of overhead marker.

I didn't think it would be possible to follow this up, and I was right. I ordered a Scheldebrowerij Oesterstout. At only 8.5%, it was a far cry form my previous tipple, but decent enough, however it just couldn't follow on the flavours. I got strong medicinal flavours and a huge suggestion of bitter, artificial fruitiness, like grenadine syrup. It was a struggle to finish. I would have much preferred the Mug Bitter that TheBeerNut ordered, having lovely fresh hops and being refreshingly moreish.

At that point it was time to call it a night, saying goodbye to Ron at a tram stop and heading off for a quick, rather boring, but meaty kebab. Regardless, I was well satisfied with my first day in Amsterdam and slept very well that night...

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Amsterdam, Day One, Part One

My Amsterdam cherry was popped this week, so to speak, as I paid my first visit, spending two days there. As beer destinations go, I was pleasantly surprised, and it has to be said there are some fantastic bars and beer stores with wonderful selections. But the main reason I went was the opening of BeerTemple, billed as Europe's first American beer bar. As usual, it was through the on-line beer community that I got wind of this, so I duly registered an interest in getting an invitation to the opening night on 09-09-09. The invitation was, appropriately enough, simply a beermat. The plan was set.

I arrived in Amsterdam around midday on the day of the openeing and trundled along the cobbled street of Amsterdam to meet TheBeerNut and Mrs. BeerNut (I really should ask if she likes being called that). I like meeting up with the 'Nut in these kinds of places, as it feels like I'm in safe beer hands, and true to form, there was always a plan, and sure enough, it wasn;t long till we were on the road on a beer mission.

After a short but intense beer shopping spree in De Bierkoning and The Cracked Kettle (sometimes I feel there is such a thing as too much choice) we went into the heart of the Red Light District to visit Brouwerij de Prael. De Prael moved to this new location about a year ago, apparently as part of an overall plan of the city to clean up the image of the district. The front feels like an open, airy beer shop, but behind this façade is a working micro brewery that can produce up to 3,000 litres of beer a week. We signed up for the tour that included a bottle of beer each, which we shared around to get a broader tasting, and which we had to drink in a side alley (and later in the staff canteen) as they are not allowed serve open beverages in the shop. Plans are in motion to have a tasting room/cafe, but the construction work has been delayed so it's not due to open till summer 2010.

Our guide was a nice man who explained in simple terms the whole brewing process. The brewery is an almost classic tiered system, and when we arrived they were hauling sacks of Weyermann malt to the grain attic where the mill was also located. From here, the grain is dropped into the mash tun on the level below, a lovely energy-efficient, stainless steel kit from BrauKon with a 1,000 litre brewing capacity. As I understood it, this is the showcase installation for BrauKon in the Netherlands, and is a closed system that comes with all the bells and whistles such as cooling coils on the outlet that ensures the neighbours don't have to smell stinky dimethyl sulphide or lovely hops. From the kettle, the wort drops down to a whirlpool and cooling system before being piped into the stainless steel conical fermenters. These appear to be temperature controlled, and apparently, although all the beers are currently top fermented, there are plans to make a Dortmunder Export style lager. I had to ask, and it seems they've done some test brews, but my request for a sample was taken as a jest.

One of the interesting things about De Prael as an organisation is that it began life partly funded by the state as an employer of people rehabilitating from psychiatric problems who were taking first steps getting back into the workforce. The owners had worked in a rehabilitation centre, and recognised that there were few opportunities for recovering patients, so combined this recognition of need with a desire to form a brewery. They still operate this way, though it was made clear that most of the money now comes from beer sales. It's a worthwhile endeavour, and going through the brewery it felt like a nice community spirit pervaded the place.

We did get the feeling that they weren't quite sure how to handle tours, but maybe it's a new thing. I reckon once they have their tasting room/cafe built there'll be more of an "experience" (more of that anon), but for what it's worth, I liked the raw feel of getting a view of a working micro brewery.

As for the beers, well, I'll leave that for TheBeerNut, as I made no notes. Of the four beers we tasted, I can only remember that the wit beer, Heintje, was refreshing and a little tart and a nice way to start the drinking day, while the Willeke was pleasently caramelly with fruity and spicy notes.

We followed De Prael with a bite to eat (this was breakfast for me) and a beer at De Haven van Texel, a lovely location at the junction of two canals, so sit outside if you can. They sell beers from Texelse brouwerij, one of which is the intriguingly named Skuumkoppe, which I avoided on TheBeerNut's advice. Instead, I went for the Texelse Dubbel, a reddish-brown affair with a caramelly, slightly fruity (strawberry?) aroma. The flavour has a decent amount of caramel sweetness with roasted notes and a touch of chocolate. I got an apple-banana middleground and a slight sour edge to the finish as it warmed up. A bit sweet perhaps, but it went well with the burger.

Following that we landed at De Bekeerde Suster, which TheBeerNut reliably informed us means the Reformed Sister. Apparently a prostitute found religion and the brothel turned into a convent, but now it's a brewpub. As a location it's nice enough with the pot-bellied copper-clad mash tun in the corner and a reasonable beer selection. I felt I had to go for one of their own, the Blonde Ros, an unfiltered, yellowish 6% ale. The aroma suggested more alcohol than it contained, with citrus, passion fruit and a kind of wheaty background. A little grainy, it had caramel undertones but was a little sticky. A passable effort, but that's about it.

Much more to my taste was the Deugniet that TheBeerNut ordered, with a fruity, almost raspberry aroma and a flavour redolant of peaches and apricots (of the dried type), it had a nice zing to it with a clean finish that did not taste the 7.3% alcohol that it contained. Lovely.

Heading back towards the hotel, we stopped at Gollem, a bar that I got the impression of being a bit of an institution. Nice, dark and cosy, with an impressive beer list, it's the kind of place you could pass a few hours in I reckon, and within arms reach of The Cracked Kettle, literally. Here I was guided to the De Ranke XX Bitter, a really lovely ale that delivers grapefruity, orangy aromas apleanty, with an ever-so-slight touch of funkiness. With chocolate-toffee undertones topped with a grapefruit-like bitterness and a touch of sorbet, this is really appealing. The finish is long and pithy. I would have preferred it served a touch colder, but damn fine if you like hops.

With a quick stop at the hotel to freshen up, followed by a tasty dinner at November, it was time for the main event. But that's the next chapter...

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Kölsch Blind Tasting

Kölsch . The golden nectar flowing from the taps of Cologne, or a really boring yellow beer, depending on your outlook. I have to admit, I do find Kölsch a bit boring, but like the odd glass on a hot day. I should also admit that I have yet to do a proper tour of Cologne, so according to the common wisdom, I'll probably love the stuff there, even if I find it a bit uninspiring sitting by the harbour in Muenster (yes, we have a harbour on the Dortmund-Ems canal). Amongst my colleagues, there's a firm line between altbier and Kölsch fans. Perhaps I'd better rephrase. There are a couple of people who profess to like Kölsch , and the others look down on them with disdain. So, what better way to smooth the tension than a good, old-fashioned blind tasting.

Although we had a master list that included some of the top rated Kolschbier on (and I'm still shocked at how few Kölsch biers in the top 50 that are from Cologne, never mind the argument that thay shouldn't be called Kölsch unless they come form a designated area - see notes below) it was tricky to get them readily, even close to Cologne, so we ended up with five fairly popular brands. With eleven volunteers waiting in the office kitchen, the beers were poured in secrecy and labelled A to E. The tasters were enoucouraged to describe the beers as best they could and to then rate them in order of preference. Simple!

The beers for the tasting, in alphabetical order, were:
  • Früh
  • Gaffel
  • Reissdorf
  • Sester
  • Sion
But before we get to the final results, let's just get an idea of what people said about these beers

Beer A
In the lovely little coffee table book, 500 Great Beers, the late Michael Jackson described this beer has having "a faint frutiness in aroma; a light but firm, dryly nutty palate; and a crisply flower, hoppy finish".

Our guinea pigs described it as "well balanced"; "bitter, hoppy and fresh; easy to drink"; "no beer flavour"; "light and watery".

I reckoned it had a floral, slight butter aroma with a light graininess and resinous finish. A pleasant drink.

Beer B
Michael Jackson said this beer was malty "with a pear-brandy frutiness and a late hop dryness".

Survey said: "malty; salty"; "watery"; "a weak aroma, slightly bitter with a short finish"; "weak aroma, not refreshing and not to my taste"; "a touch of marzipan".

I thought it had a slightly grainy aroma with hints of strawberry fruitiness; a bit thin, with a disturbing hint of chlorine. It's all in the finish, which is has a nice, slightly sherbety bitterness.

Beer C
Described as a "very fragrent, firm bodied Kölsch , smooth and slightly oily, with an orangey fruitiness" by Michael Jackson, the reviewing panel had a different opinion.

They said: "nearly no aroma; bitter finish", "very boring, no freshness, slightly sweet", "sweet and fruity"

I reckoned it had a very faint aroma indeed, perhaps a hint of citrus; slightly malty-sweet with a pine-like note. A drying finish despite the relative sweetness. Not much to it really.

Beer D
Michael Jackson liked this one. He said it has a "minty, hop aroma; sweet, vanilla-like, malt flavours; and a crisp, dry, cedary finish. A delicious Kölsch ."

The panel said "a really bad aroma, but a bit hoppy. A little bitter in the back of the mouth. Salty and sweet"; "a good flavour, less 'herb'. but nearly like a real beer"; "citric, broad variety of aromas, strongest character", "watery, nicht gut"; "dish water, soft and mild".

I really liked this one, describing it as having a slightly citric, carbonic aroma with a lightly sweet, fruity, apple-like middle ground and a pleasantly tingling, crisp hop finish. Flavourful and refreshing.

Beer E
MJ said the "beer has a faint strawberry fruitiness of aroma; a creamy malt background; and an elegant balancing dryness of hops".

My colleagues though it was "comparable to D, but not so differentiated in layers of flavours"; "musty aroma, very bad flavour"; "good strong aroma, 'herb' and fruity flavour"; "bitter and refreshing, a good summer beer"; "it stinks! Somewhat bitter, but not a good beer".

I could understand the comment that it stank, as I got quite a farmyard-like aroma; manure with a little citrus twist. A lightly fruity flavour, I liked the spicy notes tht sat on a reasonably malty body. Not much bitterness to speak of, but a dry, spicy finish.

So, can you guess what was what from the descriptions? While you thnk about it, here is the overall rating:

In 1st place came D, with 6 first preferences, and despite 3 votes for least preferred. A came 2nd with only 2 first preferences, but a strong showing of 4 for second preference and 2 each for third and fourth preference. E came 3rd, with only one first preference but an equally strong showing as A for second preference. It also received 2 votes for least preferred. B came 4th with one first preference, but a solid showing of 4 votes each for third and fourth preference. It only received 1 vote for least preferred. Finally, C came 5th, with one vote for 1st preference, but 4 for least preferred.

In terms of numerical scores, D and A were very close really, with only a 0.1 score differential. But which beers were they?

  • 1st place was D - Reissdorf
  • 2nd place was A - Gaffel
  • 3rd place was E - Früh
  • 4th place was B - Sion
  • 5th place was C - Sester
It's also interesting to note the price differential for a 500ml bottle of these beers. Here they are from highest to lowest:
  • Sion €0.69
  • Reisdorfer €0.68
  • Früh €0.66
  • Gaffel €0.61
  • Sester €0.47
If our little study is any indication, you pay for what you get, but Gaffel can be considered particularly good value. As for the tasting in general, Kristian, who I would consider a beer fan, made a note at the top of his tasting sheet saying "Note: i don~t like Kölsch at all!" followed by "Note after tasting: See note above!". I think this summarises the effects of the tasting overall. There was no road to Damascus moment, and while my personal tastes regarding Kölsch haven't altered in any major way, i was very happy to discover the likes of Reissdorf, which I'd very happily buy again. The next step on this road of discovery to to just get into Cologne and do it properly. Stay tuned...

Special thanks to Henning for seeking out Kölsch for the tasting!

Kölsch has the status of a Protected Geographical Indication (not a Protected Designation of Origin as the Wikipedia article on Kölsch suggests), meaning it is a product closely linked to a geographical area within which at least one of the stages of production, processing or preparation takes place. So far this is the only German beer published with this designation, but there's a list of other beers registered in the database. If you are interested you can view the application documents for the beers, many of which make interesting reading simply in terms of how the applicants define their product. Interestingly, Rutland Bitter (Ruddles) and Kentish Ale (Sheperd Neame) are the only two registrations from the UK. The rest of the registrations for PGI status are from the Czech Republic.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Pietra Bière Ambrée

I first read about the Corsican Brasserie Pietra and its amber chestnut beer last year and really wanted to give it a try. I'd forgotten all about it until my colleague Henning came back from a holiday in Corsica with what sounds like a suitcase-load of the stuff. Being a thoughtful chap, he left one on my desk for me...

Pietra is brewed with a proportion of chestnut flour, particularly significant as Corsica has a long association with the chestnut, for centuries considering them to be part of the staple diet and using it much as other cultures would use grain crops for making bread. According to the Lonely Planet guide to Corsica, in the 1880's they were harvesting some 150,000 tonnes of chestnuts, but by 2004 this was down to 1,200 tonnes due to a general decline after WWI, disease and the use of the timber in early chemical industries for tannin extraction. By all accounts, Pietra is helping a small resurgence in the chestnut culture, so they should be congratulated for being one of only two breweries on Corsica (thanks to Laurent Mousson for the correction) and for integrating a piece of true Corsican culture into their beer range. But what it is like?

Pietra pours a bright amber with a fairly dense off-white head. The aroma is quite sweet, taking a mandarin-like tone. I'd like to think I can smell chestnuts, but it's probably more accurate to describe it as a marzipan-like undertone. The flavour isn't what I expected though. It's a little woody and, dare I say it, there's a chestnut flavour deep down there somewhere. It has a caramel sweetness, a little nuttiness and hints of dried fruit around the edges. The 6% ABV provides a touch of alcohol warmth to the flavour. There's a gentle, tingling bitterness and a sweet, grape-like fruitiness to the finish that lingers.

It's certainly a bit different, and although it has a strange mix of flavours and gets a bit sticky sweet as it warms, on balance, I quite liked the warmth and nuttiness of it. Worth a try if you see it.