Thursday, 28 January 2010

A touch of smoke...

I spent burns night hosting a beer dinner at the Cross Keys, it was a wonderful evening helped along by some real quality food courtesy of the Cross Keys kitchen team headed up by Brett Barnes and some excellent drinks in particular the malt whisky and tutored tasting provided by Jamie Nicholson.

The thing that particularly stuck me was Laphroaig.

I'm a late convert to whisky, it took me some time and persistence to come around to the particular nuances of malt. I often find that many of the great tastes in life require the period of acquisition. I don't believe anyone who, when first tasted, truly enjoyed such delights as oysters, beer, wine or whisky. Understanding that great tastes need a little dedication pleases me somewhat.

So rather splendidly I had a bottle of Laphroaig at home which was given to me some time ago and I'm having a blast on it. Laphroaig is somewhat odd, TCP + smoke but soft too and suggesting fruit which on further examination is a bit like that slightly dusty element to mango. It's odd but fantastic, the length and depth is remarkable and the finish, that dry, smoky, salty heather is truly excellent.

Smoke is something quite amazing in a drink, it really strikes a chord with me; misspent youth burning things in my back garden you see. As the man of the house (my parents divorced when I was young and I lived with my Mum for 75% of the time) I was in charge of many of the garden clearing duties and thus got to burn loads of stuff. This was ace and a major attraction for my friends. Also being born on the 4th of November bonfires are part and parcel of my make up. The smokiness in drinks gets right into you.. literally. Just like being consumed by clouds of the stuff whilst ruining neighbors wash days or indeed accidentally setting fire to a skip and having to call the fire brigade.

In terms of beers that perfect that smoky flavour Aecht Schlenkerla Marzen is surely one of the best, it has that beechwood depth and full nasal smokiness that none other seems to have. Goeller Rauchbier is also excellent but is more subtle which is nice as there's a honey character too and a refreshing nature.
Smoke I'd also put in a similar category as extreme hoppiness and sourness, these tastes for me act as a proprietary, resetting the pallet ready for the more subtle flavours hidden later on in the profile. This is something that I'm rather interested in and I'll come back to it at some point soon.

The Cross Keys

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Mad Brewers

Ahhh... De Dolle.
Wet and strong!

Anyone who combines the condition of insanity and the craft of brewing has my vote.

I'm an Englishman and as such, eccentricity is one of my favourite traits. The Belgians do it with aplomb. It's most likely something to do with the fact that their beers are so strong, they start drinking at around 10am and their first drink is likely something akin to a Duvel. The Belgian canon of ales is of course notably powerful, in favour and of course in alcoholic content. Whilst this clearly seems to disturb some people it's one of the things that makes Belgium so great at beer.

De Dolle don't fuck around in this department.

I remember clearly the last time I drank Stille Nacht I was in North bar with two friends, we had several of these 12% seasonal ales, we were somewhat 'euphoric'. I can remember deconstructing the flavours of the beer, I can remember that I was startled by a particular nuance of the beer. Something completely unexpected and utterly wonderful. I'm quite sure I evangelised for some time. So incredibly insightful I was to detect this!

I haven't a fucking clue what exactly that was. Which troubles me somewhat as I prepare to taste Stille Nacht once again.

It's like a liquid form of the marzipan that comes off a Christmas cake. Then it's like tropical fruit, then it's hoppiness and sherry alcohol combined. Sweetly intoxicating, incredible character, length and depth. I often describe beers so certain beers as 'Willy Wonka' beers. I always feel a little daft when saying it but I can't think of a better way to describe this kind of thing, such complex flavours that unfurl like the Wonka chocolate factory chewing gum.

Anyway, length, depth, strength, smooth body... That's the fucker... What I was thinking, about this time last year, was that every sip is different in this beer it just keeps going and gong. Now we have apricot, raspberry even and oloroso - its a real joy it really is.

De Dolle FTW £best number one brewery for me in Belgium.

Ha, so this hasv taken ages to write as my missus fell asleep after drinking a few sips of hers so I've had iy away and drunk it. And I'm just finished watching the Incrdibles which was quite fun.


(spooling mistooks correct at time of going to press)

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Salem Smoked Oatmeal

This is lovely, brewed by a friend and colleague, I tried a few Salem beers recently and have been impressed. This is extremely small scale brewing but already there is real promise.

I've tried a California Style Beer and a Marzen. The Smoked Oatmeal - brewed for another friend's birthday no less. It's just come out of the larder, which I suspect is colder than the fridge at the mo so I've left the beer for a moment to open up and lose the chill. Dead good - there's something about mid strength stouts (5-7%) that's really working for me at the moment. I recently tried Coopers Best Extra Stout which was a revelation.

Salem's Stout is full of dried fruit initially on the nose but mellows and almost ages over a very short time to a deep treacle and burn caramel. The taste is complex with good body and a smooth texture - the result of the oats. Really, very tasty applewood character and nice smooth traditional malty/hoppy length... Well done Gordon mate.

Right I'm off for a quick Foghorn before bed... so to speak.

Get your stoats!!

Ahhh stout... it's probably my best friend, when all else fails a good stout works all year round. The optional additions to stout also rarely fail;

damson, oyster, port,
oats, lactose, coffee.

Yes... Full stop. As far as I'm concerned (at this very moment... unless proven otherwise) there is nothing else you worth adding to stout. Chocolate is the obvious one I suppose, but really, those utterly wonderful chocolate flavours in most cases are best obtained from the malt.

Every stout I've had with melty brown stuff added has been... Well... "shit". That's one of the things about beer, you can do a hell of a lot with the basic ingredients. Think about it for a minute, wine is made from grape juice, flavours may be added via barreling and blending different types of grape juice. The complexity and prestige of wine is well documented. Now look at beer you've usually got grain, water, yeast and hops... I'd say grain and hops in all their incarnations each have just as much complexity as grape juice... SO YOU"VE ALREADY GOT TWICE THE BLEEDING COMPLEXITY... There's no need to start filling it with fucking dairy milk...

Anyhow... Some additions work, not many but some, I've had some wonderful examples recently, Crown's collaboration with Zak Avery was one of the highlights of last year. A 'Double Damson' beer, the wonderfully named Django Reinhart (incidentally a name I chose for my last cat) was heady, deep and fruity with an inspired kick from Belgian yeast.

Other winners were Flying Dog's Gonzo Porter, Marble's Irish and Chocolate Stouts, Brooklyn Chocolate 08/09, De Dolle Stout plus HP's from Riverhead, Brown Cow and Elland AND a memorable espresso moment from Saints and Sinners - the delectable Insomniac!

So anyway that was supposed to be a review coz I got my laptop charger back so I'm... well... back. It got out of hand I admit.

Here's some drinking and writing.