Saturday, 28 November 2009

De Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva

The second De Molen beer that Rick from Bier & Co. sent me a couple of weeks ago, along with the Kopi Loewak, I was eager to try De Molen Tsarina Esra Reserva as I'd heard friends such as TheBeerNut singing it's praises.

Let's do the De Molen stats rundown: brewed on the 19th of February 2009 and bottled on the 8th of October, this has 11% ABV, 388 EBC (that's bloody dark!) and 92 IBUs. Made using Challenger hops for bittering and Saaz for aroma, the beer was then aged in oak (Bordeaux?) casks.

This is dark, no doubt. The aroma initially wafts out alcohol, a big vanilla oakiness and a cherry-like fruitiness. The impression on first sip is smooooooth. Smoother than it has any right to be at 11%, the mouthfeel is big and soft. There's a surprisingly fruity character to it, with stone-fruits and cherries dominating the middleground, but it's just a supprt for the big bitter chocolate and espresso roasiness. There's figs, caramel, and an almost peat-like smokiness deep down. The big malts keep a wonderful balance with the roasted bite and the robust hop bitterness. Wonderful stuff! The finish is almost sherry-like, with a nice hop tingle, a slight metallic edge (that actually works), and a surprisingly dry, moreish feel to it. Dried fruits, espresso, chocolate and a peppery spiciness linger. Pure drinking pleasure. It's so drinkable it's scary!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

The World's Strongest Beer? (not Brewdog...)

...or at least not for long.

I know there's a huge media/blogging frenzy about the latest BrewDog announcement, and I don't usually like to hop on a band wagon, but when BrewDog announced their new Tactical Nuclear Penguin beer this morning , they mentioned the previous record holder, Schorschbräu, who had an Eisbock at 31% ABV; the aptly, if functionally named Schorschbräu Schorschbock 31% (here on Ratebeer).

Living in Germany, my interest was of course piqued, so I popped them a mail to see if it was still available (the usual stores stocking their beers didn't have any), also mentioning the BrewDog announcement. I got a quick reply that told me they were about to release another beer, even stronger, weighing in at 39.44% ABV. And the proof? The image on the right, which is a screen-shot of the lab report they sent me. I believe it will be released in the next month, so I'm looking forward to trying to get some.

I see ratebeer has an entry for this already (it wasn't there this morning), and it's also usefully named Schorschbräu Schorschbock 40%. Mysteriously, another entry has appeared for another beer at 32%.

Schorschbräu looks like a pretty small brewery, and is based in the brewing heartland of Franken. They claim to make Germany's strongest beers, and some of the world's strongest, such as the Schorsch Bock 16 and Schorsch Franconian Wheat 16. I haven't tried any of these yet, but I'm planning to!

I'm sure it's a very different beast to the BrewDog Tactical Nuclear Penguin on many levels, but it'd be nice to compare.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

De Molen Kopi Loewak

It's been said before. The on-line beer community is a thriving little micro-cosm of generosity. Yesterday, a package arrived from Rick Kempen (@eurodog on Twitter), the face of Bier & Co, the Dutch importers and wholesalers of the kinds of US craft beers that make beer geeks drool, and the suppliers of BeerTemple in Amsterdam, at which I had the pleasure of visiting on the opening night. The contents of this package: two bottles of De Molen beer, one of which is the scary-sounding De Molen Kopi Loewak. Coffee aficionados will probably recognise Kopi Luwak as the coffee made from beans which have passed through the digestive tract of the Asian Palm Civet (Rick tells me these ones were in Sulawesi, one of the Indonesian islands). The Civet eats the berries and the beans make it through whole, but slightly altered, as you would be. I haven't had the pleasure of this particular type of coffee straight up, so I can't vouch for the effects of the digestive enzymes of the civet, but I can now judge what it does to a beer.

In true De Molen style, I'll give you the stats: brewed 4th of April 2009, bottled 3rd of May, this has 9.5% ABV (that's strong), 291 EBC (that's dark!) and 84 IBUs (that's bitter!) and is made with Kopi Luvak coffee provided by Wijs & Sons and Premiant and Czech Saaz hops. So far so good.

The bottle had leaked slightly during transit, giving me a sneak preview of the aroma, but I was worried that perhaps the cap had got banged, and gas and beer had escaped leaving it flat. How wrong I was. On opening, I was glad i did it gently, as there was a strong hiss of CO2, making me open it slowly to avoid a gusher. It made me think that the leakage might have been a little over-carbonation, and getting shook up during transit forcing some out under the crown cap. So, no worried about a flat beer.

Pouring an almost opaque black with oaky-brown highlights, the aroma is hard to describe. The initial hit is rich with heavy dark chocolate overtones, juicy and mouthwatering, but then there's a bitter roastiness. Clearly strong coffee coming through with a somewhat smoky undertone. The flavour? Held in the mouth it gives the expected thick chocolatey malts, with a dose of heavy caramel under there somewhere, but as soon as you swallow, the coffee goes Bam! It's a bit like chewing a chocolate-coated coffee bean, and the flavour never ends. The finish is long and roasty, and the hops certainly come out to play with a matching bitterness. When you get used to the big coffee flavours, and the beer warms up, you get notes of licorice, vanilla, jammy fruitiness and oakey/woody notes. At 9.5% it also gives a pleasant warmth, making an ideal sipping beer. Certainly one for coffee fans!

Of course I've just ruined my palate tonight with this as I've nothing to match the intensity of flavours as this!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

German attitudes to beer and brewing: a minor rant

A friend linked me to a short piece on Spiegel Online about the brewing education provided at Weihenstephaner and in Berlin. I have the greatest respect for German brewing technology and beer, but I couldn't help but feel saddened by the tone of the piece. At a time when big breweries are buying out smaller family-run breweries, and there's a perceived continued blandification of beer in this country, the focus on this piece was on the science and how tough it all is, rather than the wonder and joy of making good tasting beer. They say that 80% is done by computer, and the remaining 20% is lab work, although they do also say that there are more brew pubs/restaurants and such. I wonder is this because you no longer have to hold a Braumeister qualification to open a brewery now, or so a person at Berlin's VLB told me.

The piece goes on to stress the science-heavy parts of the degree, with subjects such as maths, physics, biology and chemistry (fair enough, as brewing as a science is pretty complex), a large drop-out rate, and goes on to say that these people are more often employed in biochemical engineering or pharmaceutical jobs where there's more money.

It also made me grumble that a section is dedicated to comparing the brewing education in Germany to that in the United States, where they say that the brewing courses are not technically comparable. Sure, Germany should be very proud of the technical quality of the brewing process, but it's not helping the apparent decline of what is/was a rich and varied brewing tradition -- even with the Reinheitsgebot limitations. This self-congratulatory attitude around German beer is best is just sucking the life out of it. I try to pretend this doesn't exist, but it does! I'm so lucky with my colleagues who are really open to new tastes appreciate beer for what it is. But there are most certainly a majority who think German beer is pure and good, and that's all they need to know.

There are wonderful German beers, I know because I'm trying as many as I can. They are often an art of restraint and balance, creating beers that just provide simple pleasure, but there are also beers that leap out as they just stand above the German crowd. But there are so many more really bland, or plain bad ones, and the vast majority of people just either stick local or stick with big TV brands, and wouldn't countenance trying anything else. All that technical wizardry and purity law rubbish doesn't help.

This then reminds me of another piece in the German consumer magazine, ÖKO-TEST, that was entitled "Regional schmeckt besser", or, "Regional tastes better". It popped up online, but a colleague gave me a copy of the magazine so I could see the list of beer reviewed. Essentially, they tested 46 beers, some from small, regional breweries (Pott's and Pinkus from my area), and some from the big national/international brands (Beck's, Warsteiner, Krombacher etc...) covering what I would consider a broad and balanced price/quality range. And the test results? Every single one, bar two, came out as Sehr Gut, Very Good. One was downgraded to Good because the alcohol content was 1% lower than stated on the label and the other (Wickuler Pilsener) because it had a bready taste and had a lasting bitterness, unusual in a Pilsener eh?

So, amongst all these Very Good ones were some that had traces of heavy metals, others that had "thin watery flavour" (Reichenbrander Helles), one that had a "very neutral flavour, soft body and mild taste" (Paderborner Pilsener, fairly near to me). The list goes on, and they used bold font every time a beer had a bready flavour. I like a bready flavour in some beers!

What they do say is in favour of regional beers is the lower impact on the environment due to reduced transportation costs, but this is questionable given the economies in scale that bigger breweries can achieve and the other areas of waste in the brewing process (as talked about recently by Woolpack Dave). But it does support local economies, and I do like that. In fairness, the magazine make some more emotive points about supporting local business and ensuring that tradition doesn't die.

But Regional Tastes Better? In this, I think the magazine shoots itself in the foot. At the decimal point level of the scores, the top few are regional, but they state that thay can recommend all the beers testsed. Why is everything Very Good? Is it because it's all good German beer, following the gebot, so it must be good, even if it's thin, watery and contains traces of heavy metals? If a major consumer magazine can do this, there's no hope in honest appraisals of the beers of Germany by the broader German public itself.

Thanks, Kristian, for the link that got me going.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

De Molen Rasputin

Till relatively recently, I knew of De Molen only by reputation. My trip to Amsterdam for the opening of Beer Temple gave me a swift introduction to their world via the wonderful De Molen Black Jack, and their Mout & Mocca, which I did not enjoy so much. I also came back with a small selection of bottles from that house of delights that is De Bierkoning.

One of those was the De Molen Rasputin, a Russian Imperial Stout as the name might suggest. Pouring an almost flat, turgid, inky brown, it gives off a thick, chocolatey, vanilla, bourbon cream aroma, with hints of licorice. On first sip the impression is of a beautifully rich chocolate dessert. There's an almost smoky roastiness, and a blackcurrant-like fruitiness that shows most in the finish. This is certainly focussed on the big, rich, chocolatey malts, and the bitterness,as big as the numbers say it is, is definitely in the background. Sweet, thick and rather delicious, it does not taste like the 10.7% ABV that it is.

As a home brewer, the De Molen labels are interesting as they give some prime statistics such as gravity readings, brewed and bottled date as well as the hops used and the IBUs. Perhaps utilitarian, I find them quite attractive.

And now I have that damn Boney M song rattling around my head...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Midtfyns Bryghus Imperial Stout and Double IPA

I picked this pair up while in Amsterdam a couple of months ago (how time flies!) on the recommendation of TheBeerNut, I think. There was so much choice I may have just randomly grabbed at things in sheer panic. I know that there was a few things I forgot to look for, but there's always something else... Anyway, I haven't tried near enough beers from Denmark, and those I have tried I've really enjoyed - apart from the Apollo stuff.

Midtfyns Bryghus Imperial Stout pours completely opaque, just about showing creosote-like highlights around the edges. The aroma is laden with thick chocolate, coffee and a slightly phenolic/iodine-like note, with a big vanilla toffee hit bringing up the rear. Really rich. It feels surprisingly light on the first sip, but it plays a medley of sweet (think big malt), then fruity (dark cherries) flavours before leaving you with a long-lasting roasty (coffee and a bit of oak) and bitter chocolate cut with an almost liqueur-like alcohol warmth (amaretto?) and a hint of pithy bitterness. The finish is long and dry , despite the apparent sweetness, and it's real smooth. At 9.5% ABV and with those big flavours, it's a great nightcap on a cool autumn evening.

As is the Midtfyns Bryghus Double IPA, although it's a mere 9.2% ABV. A slightly hazy red-hued amber, this literally projects an aroma. I could smell it clearly while pouring. Big American hops, chewy caramel loaded with massive orange pith and summer berries. And the flavour... A wonderful balance of sweet toffee flavours with bold hops, definitely classic C-hops in there, pushing in grapefruit and a pithy citric character, and a hint of pine-like resin to the finish. But despite the pretty obvious generosity on the hop additions, it's not massively bitter. THe balance is near perfect. I have to admit I expected something with a massive, mouth-puckering bitterness, but this is just massive on hop flavours, making it eminently sinkable, even at 9.2%. The amount of hops eventually leaves a lasting tingle, and the malts coat the lips with an agreeable sweetness. Very nicely done.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Drummer Dunkles Vollbier

Here's a quicky for ya.

This Dunkles Vollbier from Brauerei Drummer is a tasty looking dark amber with an equally appealing, clean, caramel-focussed aroma with hints of fresh apple. Promising, and on first sip I was content.

It's definitely driven by simple caramel-malt flavours, but with an added, and really nice, burnt caramel undertone. Thankfully it's not over-sweet despite the toffee driven backbone. The apple-like, fresh bitterness takes a while to get established, but once it does, it adds a subtle note. This is a simple, subtle beer, but its simplicity is one that rather appeals to me.

A quick question to the floor. Do you like short bursts like this, or do you prefer things to be grouped a little more?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Gouden Carolus & Co.

Gouden Carolus is one of those beers I remember drinking in the Porterhouse, Dublin, with great pleasure, back in the early days of my voyage of beer discovery. While on a trip to Brussels a few months ago, I picked up a couple of bottles for old times sake, including a new member of the family, the hopsinjoor.

Of course, I had to start with the Gouden Carolus Classic. Pouring a warm-looking, ruby-tinged brown with a tight beige head, my memory was getting a refresher course, reinforced with that sherry-like aroma on top of a darkly malty, spicy backdrop. On first sip there's a blast of dried fruits, sticky caramel, vanilla, pepper and chocloate wrapping up in a solidly zesty cherry/sherry finish. It has a smooth, almost creamy mouthfeel, yet a dryness to the finish. But, I got a slight hint of plasticy resin to the finish that I didn;t really like. And then I began to find it too sweet, reminding me of a malzbier (the German non-alcoholic malt drink that even my son will drink) with added cherry and spices. Cherry cola even! Still, at 8.5% and with those chewy, fruity flavours going on, it still makes a nice winter warmer. Clearly my tastes have changed more than I thought in the intervening years, which I can accept. But I was a little saddened that I no longer really enjoy what used to be one of my favourite indulgences.

I thought I could perhaps find comfort in Charles' younger, blond sister, the Gouden Carolus hopsinjoor. A slightly hazy, honey-gold with a huge pillowy white head, it wafts off aromas reminiscent of lemon meringue, almonds and cough syrup. I was expecting some sort of Belgian interpretation of a hop bomb, but this is really nicely balanced. Feeling more like a wit beer with it's citrus stylings, and hints of banana and bubblegum, but cut with assertive, yet smooth, hop flavours. They feel like noble hops, showing lemon, lime, floral and spicy qualities. The finish delivers vanilla and a gentle bitterness. This is a really nice beer.

Glad to find my tongue must work ok, as I just read the hops are Golding, Spalt, Hallertau and Saaz. I'd call them noble (I'll let the Goldings pass as they are delicious)

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Some Bottled Beers from Orkney and Atlas

I'm slightly ashamed to realise that the last time I was in Münster's Yorkshire-themed bar, The James, was last February! This week, as my wife and son were away, I took the opportunity to get out into the city to see what new beers Axel had gotten in, if any. Walking in, I was greeted with the gentle hum of chat, and the place was fairly full. Whatever he's doing in there, he's doing it right. And the selection? Last time it was Theakstons, Black Sheep and a few others. This has been exteded with a few from Fuller's, including ESB on tap, and bottled beers from Orkney, Marston's as well as some of the usual suspects from Greene King.

Sat at the bar, I was enjoying the clear love the owner took in selling ales, and describing them to potential customers. A pair of 20-something men sat close to me and were given tasters of ESB, Abbot Ale and something else before they split a bottle of Strong Suffolk between them. The same guys were chuckling to themselves as they watched me take a photo of a bottle, sniff the beer and start writing, until I told them to F-off. Well, I actually said that yes, I was a geek, and they seemed curious, asking me if I rated beers (which I do not, I think) and chatted a bit before wandering off.

Anyway, on walking in and taking my seat, a blackboard above me said Fuller's London Porter, so I had one. I've had this before, and really enjoyed it then, and really enjoyed it this time too; rich, chocolatey, roasty and almost chewy. It was then I noticed another blackboard listing four beers from the Orkney Brewery. I think I've only had the Skullsplitter (rushed at the end of a festival), so the dormant ticker in me was happy to have a couple of new beers to try.

I went for the Orkney Dragonhead first, against the recommendations of Axel I might add, just because his recommendation of Dark Island was a little higher on the alcohol scale than this 4% stout, and I wanted to raise the bar (after a 5.4% London Porter there was clearly no logic to this). Rich and dark looking, with dark berry aromas, a roasty character and a hint of a seaside saltiness. The flavour is not as powerful as the aroma suggests. It has this slight iodine thing going on under a chicory-like roastiness. There are slight vegetal undertones to it, and I thought it felt a bit thin. The finish delivers a touch of piney bitterness, a nice roasted character and more of that seaweedy/salty/seaside thing. It's an interesting combination of flavours, but overall I felt it didn't hang to well together and was a tad disappointed.

Moving on to the Orkney Dark Island, somehow looking even darker and more inviting than the Dragonhead, with a lovely roasty aroma, loaded with berries and chocloate. The flavour gives an initial fruity burst, but it feels thin, and dissipates into a soap-like residue. Again, a slight vegetal backdrop that didn't sit right with me. Above this there is slight figs, dark fruit, but the lack of body makes for a swift finish, so the flavours, nice as they are, feel fleeting. Taking a good deep draught yields a slightly artificial fruit juice quality. A slightly greater disappointment than the Dragonhead.

I should say that while drinking these I had broadcast on Twitter that i was a bit disappointed, and responses indicated surprise. Perhaps these are really meant for cask, but I can only describe what I taste. I will, however, try them again, perhaps before having a London Porter!

Last beer before stepping outside to the bus was an Atlas Three Sisters. Oh yeah! A deep chestnut brown, this gives off strong fruity and malty aromas and delivers on first sip. Light caramel wrapped in a strawberry-like fruitiness followed up by a floral bitterness. There's hints of orange peel in there, and perhaps a suggestion of pineapple cubes. It finishes dry with light toasty/roasty undertones, but with a sweet coating on the lips. I was sorry I had to rush it a bit. Very nice.

While trying to figure out exactly what "that seaside smell" actually is - always thought it was ozone or iodine-y seaweed - it seems that it is actually dimethyl sulphide, or DMS, the very stuff produced during the boil that brewers don't really want in their beer. It creates vegetal flavours, like brussel sprouts. I'm now wondering if this seaside and vegetal flavour I was getting in the Orkney beers were actually two sides of the same coin.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Krug-Bräu Lager

Paging through my old notebook, I had to scratch my head at some of the descriptions that spewed out of my brain. I'll reproduce this one for Krug-Bräu Lager verbatim:

Was expecting pale lager, so the chestnut brown liquid was a bit of a surprise. The nose is an interesting mix of faintly sulphuric farmyard with a mound of cabbage somewhere in the neighbourhood. Interesting, and not as unpleasant as it sounds. Some of these themes continue in the flavour, most notably an earthy farmyard-like hint, slightly sweet caramel and a metallic edge. It's a bit thin in the mouth, and I'm really not sure what to make of the flavours. A green hop flavour emerges later. Ginger?

I sometimes wish I could make short-hand notes.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

A Weekend of Brewing

Whenever my wife goes to visit her parents down south, I tend to go brew crazy, but I think this weekend has been a little more brew-intense than normal as I've made two beers. I don't even need them, but it's a case of striking while the iron is hot. Saturday was to be Imperial Stout day. I'd been planning on making one for some time, and after receiving a little gift of some peat-smoked malt from Eddie Gadd of Ramsgate Brewery, I wanted this to be a special, slightly smokey one. I have to admit, the recipe was only finalised as I was heating up the strike water, but there ya go.

The bad thing is that I'd never used so much grain in my home-made coolerbox mash tun, so I wasn't sure how it would behave. As it turns out, I got terrible efficiency, I think because the mash was really thick. I normally have efficiencies of 80-85% with a mash of 3-4 litres per kilo. This one was certainly less than 3. Lesson learned: for really big beers, use DME to provide some of the gravity, or get a bigger mash tun! Anyway, I could have intervened as I knew from the first runnings things were not as planned, but I let nature take its course. Thanks to TheBeerNut for the name suggestion of Peater the Great, which suited the original plan for an Imperial Stout at 10% ABV with peated malt. But, due to the lower ABV, I renamed it Schwarter Peater. I don't know what it would be classed as now. Do I care? No. As long as it tastes good.

Schwarzer Peater
BeerTools Pro Color Graphic
4.0 kg Pilsner Malt
3.0 kg Munich Malt
1.0 kg Caramunich® TYPE III
400 g Chocolate Malt 800
250 g Black Malt 1200 (Dehusked - Carafa)
250 g Rye Malt
150 g Peat-Smoked Malt

25 g Challenger (5.8%) - boiled 60 min
25 g Challenger (5.8%) - boiled 30 min
25 g Northern Brewer (11.4%) - boiled 25 min
25 g Northern Brewer (11.4%) - boiled 15 min
30 g Saaz (3.8%) - boiled 3 min

Fermentis Safale S-04

Batch size: 20.75 L; Efficiency: 59.32% Estimated Attenuation: 75.0%
OG: 1.072, Estimated FG: 1.018, Estimated ABV: 7.1%, Estimated IBUs: 70.

It began bubbling away within a few hours, so mission accomplished, almost.

Today is another brewday, but for quite a different beast. Around the middle of September my son and I went on a hop hunt, and successfully gathered almost 70g of wild hops from the area. There's a fuller account of how I processed them here on I've been thinking about a beer to showcase and experiment with the wild hop, and thought to model one on a pale ale I'd made before. In reality, the unknown alpha acid content of the hops made me reconsider, as to rely on them for bittering would be risky. I ended up using a classic German Perle hop for bittering, but staging the additions of the wild hops towards the second half of the boil to try and wring as much character from them as I can. That is of course assuming they have any! I could end up with a very bland beer, a terribly over-bitter beer or something just fine. We'll see. I also tweaked the malt bill of my original plan, adding Munich malt to get a more caramel character into the base. Again, a beer designed while the strike water was heating. Fun, eh?

Wild-Hopped Pale Ale

BeerTools Pro Color Graphic


3.5 kg Pilsner Malt
1 kg Munich Malt
500 g Caramunich TYPE III

10 g Hallertauer Perle (9.3%) - boiled 60 min
10 g Hallertauer Perle (9.3%) - boiled 45 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 20 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 15 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 5 min
17 g Wild Hops (4.0%) - boiled 0 min

Fermentis Safale US-05

Batch size: 23.5 L; Efficiency: 87% Estimated Attenuation: 75.0%
OG: 1.052, Estimated FG: 1.013, Estimated ABV: 5.1%, Estimated IBUs: 32.

Early indications are that the wild hops may be stronger than predicted, as on tasting the sweet wort there's a really good hop flavour; grassy, and a touch spicy. However, time will tell. Experimenting is fun!