Friday, March 27, 2020

Raiding the Cellar: Holy Orders

So far in this period of self isolation, all my raids on the cellar have been for big heavy hitters, barleywines, old ales, those kid of things, the other night though I fancied something a little different. It is very rare that I don't have a couple of bottles of Orval sitting in the cellar awaiting their date with destiny, and the remaining one had its date on Tuesday night.

Said Orval was bottled on the 5th October 2017, so just coming up to two and a half years old, well and truly past the "fresh" stage but not yet in the seriously aged world.


Having carefully poured the beer so as to avoid getting the dregs into the glass, not generally a fan of drinking sediment unless I am drinking a hefeweizen, I was actually surprised by the lovely luminescent orange liquid. That bubbly three quarter inch of white foam was continually refreshed by the noticeable carbonation, and thus hung around for the entire time the beer lasted.


As you would expect from a 30 month old bottle of Orval, there was a noticeable sour tang to the aroma, but I wasn't getting any of the much vaunted leather and barnyard of urban myth. Instead I was getting more of a pleasant apple cider vinegar thing, with wisps of vanilla, which confused me at first so I had Mrs V take a whiff and she got it too. Having jammed my nose into the chalice several times to track down that last elusive aroma I realised it reminded me of champagne.

That tangy character was definitely present in the flavour as well. Again this may be subliminal given the number of people getting into sourdouch baking in the current pandemic, but the tang reminded me of a sourdough loaf, baked with a fairly young starter, present but not overwhelming. The bready character was like nice crusty toast, sans butter, but with a schmeer of Seville orange marmelade. Do they use Goldings in Orval? I can't remember.


In response to the beer, I tweeted that I think 30 months old is my sweet spot for Orval, I do like the young fresh stuff, but that zip of sour just adds something ephemeral to the beer, perhaps the famed goût d'Orval? I commented to a friend at the turn of the year that I was thinking about working through the various Belgian/Dutch Trappist ales this year and have so far done Westmalle and noe Orval just a few more to go. At some point I will have to brave the booze shops..

Monday, March 23, 2020

Raiding The Cellar: 2016 Fullers Vintage

I have a maroon elephant in my beer cellar, almost a decade's worth of Fuller's Vintage Ale spanning the years 2008 to 2016. For some reason I haven't been able to find anything post 2016 to fill out the collection, but there we go. In looking for something to dip into last week, I thought it would be interesting to try one of the youngest of the collection, so I pulled a bottle of 2016...

I always enjoy reading the blurb on the back of the box when I dip into the Vintage stash, and apparently this version was brewed with Nelson Sauvin hops. Now, I have a confession to make, it has been a very long time since I knowingly had a beer with Nelson Sauvin in it, the previous one being New Belgian's Shift Pale Lager back in 2012, and I haven't used it in my own homebrew.

With the bottle having spent the requisite hour or so in the fridge to bring it down in temperature a wee bit, my cellar is pretty settled at around 60ºF, which while not perfect doesn't seem to negatively affect the beers, but I like to drink my British ales at about 50ºF, I poured into my current favourite glass from Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in North Carolina, they call it a Franconia.


What a simply beautiful beer it is, crystal clear, rich copper, light red at the edges, all topped off with a firm quarter inch of ivory foam. Minor ranty detour, but I am sure I am not alone in thinking that all these soupy things that are all the rage these days are just plain ugly. Sorry, ok not really, but if I wanted an alcoholic beverage that looked like fruit juice with whipped cream on top, I'd buy a bottle of orange juice, tip the requisite vodka in and make free with the aerosol "cream". Give me a clear beer any day of the week, rant over.

As I say, it had been a long time since my previous daliance with Nelson Sauvin hopped beer, so I really didn't have much of a frame of reference for what I was sticking my nose into. What an incredibly floral hop this one is, and at the same time rather herbal, it actually put me in mind of lavender. Being a good, solid British strong ale, there was plenty of biscuity, digestives not savory scones, and toffee like caramel notes. I was looking forward to this one.


Now, I don't know whether to put this down to subliminal marketing stuff, but there is a very noticeable white wine character to this beer. Not being one to trust my general lack of interest in the boozy grape juice world, I asked Mrs V and try it and let me know what she thought, without telling her the hops involved. Sure enough she said it tasted somewhat like the Sauvignan Blancs that she is a fan of, replete with the slight mustiness that seem sto be par for the course with such wines. In amongst the mix was the classic Fullers flavour, which always puts me in mind of marmelade, and which I really like. Sure, there are some for whom "the Fuller's flavour" is something they don't care for but I am a fan. I also, and again this may be entirely sub-conscious, thought the beer tasted rather like a Werther's Original, likewise a good thing.

What a cracking, cracking beer this is, and perhaps I caught it in a good moment, but I look forward to trying the other 2016 vintages I have floating around in the cellar, as well as doing some brewing with Nelson Sauvin, most likely in my best bitter recipe to begin with, though I can imagine it working rather well in my lime witbier too.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Raiding the Cellar: Grand Illumination

It has been 11 years now since Mrs V and I moved to the US, and in almost all that time I have had a bottle of Williamsburg Alewerks, as was, Grand Illumination American Style Barleywine in the cellar. Brewed in 2009, Geoff and the guys at Alewerks only made the same number of bottles, mine was number 1836.


This particular bottle has been almost a perennial amongst the bottles I would put in the fridge at the beginning of each Thanksgiving, and returned to the cellar each Epiphany. But today it is just another empty in the recycling bin, because a couple of nights ago it was my choice when raiding the cellar.


Not sure the picture really does it justice but the shade of ruby red in the glass was actually not quite what I was expecting, I thought it would be in the same dark vein as the Irish Walker. That little cap of off-white to ivory foam was pretty consistent as I drank the beer.


In terms of aroma, this was anything but one dimensional. There was plenty of unsweetened cocoa, as well as toffee, bread, and some dried fruit, more in the raisin realm than prune. Also floating around was a nice spicy thing that made me think of nutmeg, and it went nicely with the soft dulce de leche notes I was picking up.


Ok, enough of the smells, on to the tastes, and whoa booze is right there from the get go, like a rum soaked cake, full of rum soaked fruit. The alcohol really dominated the beer, though it wasn't harsh and didn't burn, it was just so noticeable. The body was thinner than the Irish Walker had been, more medium than full, and perhaps that contributed to the boozy character. In the finish there was a lingering citric hop bite that I imagine comes from the American hops that were used.

All in all a most acceptable 11 year old drop of barleywine, a style I don't actually have that many of, most of my cellar beers are old ales, imperial stouts, and the occasional Orval, no doubt there will be some of those in future posts.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Raiding the Cellar: Episode 1

Like most beer lovers I guess, I have somehow developed a collection of various special releases, strong beers, and other assorted bottles somewhat nebulously tagged as being for a 'special' occasion. Usually I pull out several with the vague intention of drinking them over the Christmas and Hogmanay period and then come January 1st put most of them right back in the cellar.

With life as it is currently is, I decided I really should actually make a dent in the cellar and given yesterday was St Patrick's Day what better than a good strong Irish beer?

Erm...I don't have any of those at the moment, so the closest thing was a barleywine called Irish Walker from Olde Hickory Brewery in North Carolina. Did I mention the vintage? It was a bottle of the 2012 that I bought way back in 2013, back when waxed bombers of heavy hitters were all the rage.


Other than when I bought it, I have no recollection of why, probably the aforementioned "special" occasion. As I was drinking it I looked up the brewery, happy to learn that they are still making their beers at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Any way, the beer, how was the beer?


In a word, dark. Seriously I was not expecting it to be as dark as it was, a deep, almost opaque, mahogany that glowed garnet red in the light. That thin schmeer of light tan you see in the picture lingered and lingered, leaving a delicate lace down the glass. The aroma was dominated by one of my favourite smells, black treacle, ok molasses if you insist, but it was front and centre. I also caught traces of plain chocolate, a savouriness that always makes me think of soy sauce, and the occasional wispy floralness.

Drink the damned stuff Al, sheesh. Ok, ok, ok, goodness me this is glorious unctuous goo. Straight off the bat this is a sweet, malt rich wonder, lots of molasses again, plenty of toffee, burnt sugar, raisins, and plums in there as well. There is a spicy hop bite in the finish for fun, but this a cacophonous love song to malt, just glorious. Clearly the 8 years this has been sitting around have been very kind to this 10% brut, but by god I want to buy more and let it sit around for another 8 years.

The only question in my mind right now is what to pull from the cellar for episode 2 of this new series, "Raiding the Cellar"?

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Einstöking Up

One of the countries of the world that I would love to visit properly is Iceland. I say "properly" because I am not convinced that stopping in Keflavik airport 4 times in the last few years en route to and from Scotland really qualifies. One thing I love about coming into land at Keflavik is just how much it reminds me of home in the Hebrides, maybe it's a north Atlantic thing?

When it comes to booze I have generally associated Iceland with Brennivín, Iceland's caraway flavoured aquavit which I absolutely adore. Until recently though I had never tried an Icelandic beer, despite there being a bar in the airport, time has never allowed so far. I started noticing beers from Einstök Ölgerð in a couple of the local bottle shops toward the end of last year, but always in a six pack rather than available as singles and being a cheap dour Highlander I was loathe to spend $12 on beer that might be crap - and no, I don't consult things like Ratebeer and Untappd when buying beer.

Anyway, between Christmas and Hogmanay my neighbour came round with some beers, including a pair of Arctic Pale Ales, which I enjoyed very, very much later that evening. I knew that at some point I would have to get a collection, especially after I also indulged in the Toasted Porter that was delightful. Our local Wegmans has also recently started stocking them, and being the bastion of sense that they are, had most of the range available as singles, so I made a six pack with a couple each of Arctic Pale Ale, White Ale, and Wee Heavy.


Starting off with the Icelandic Arctic Pale Ale, so named as the brewery is only 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle. It pours a delightful amber, bordering on recently polished copper that has faded a little but still has that sheen of polished metal. The head is white, firm, and lingers at about a quarter inch for the duration of the drinking. So far so classic pale ale, good and clear, it does my heart good to see clear beer in these murky days. The aroma is mostly a citrus thing that melds oranges, grapefruits, and mandarins, as well as a touch of pine resin ,as well as a touch of caramel and a toasty edge. From the drinking perspective we are looking at toffee, marmelade (yay, love me some marmeladey beer!), floral hops, biscuity malt character that made me think of rich teas, and just a the slightest hint of pine. Damn this is one tasty beer. Beautifully balanced, and a good looking beer as well, Arctic Pale Ale made me think of a stronger, more US hopped version of Landlord, guess what is going to be seeing the inside of my fridge quite a bit?


From pale I went to white. Witbier is one of those styles that I really do like but very rarely drink, perhaps because really good examples are few and far between, so how does Icelandic White Ale stack up? Well, it certainly looks the part, hazy gold, white head that dissipates eventually, leaving patches of foam on top of the beer. It also smells the part, dominated by lemons and a touch of the coriander that is in the recipe, there is a nice crackeriness to the the aroma that hints at what is to come. What is to come is a beer that tastes remarkably like a homemade lemon meringue pie, and a bloody delicious one at that. Seriously, this is a damned good beer let alone a damned good witbier. I would say it has a little more going on that Allagash White, so if you are a fan of that, hunt this stuff down.


Finishing off the evening's drinking then was the Icelandic Wee Heavy, brewed with smoked malt and angelica root, and very much leaving the pale beers behind. The Wee Heavy is a gorgeous deep chestnut brown, it's almost lascivious in its rich colour. The head is light tan and in common with the other beers lingers around for the duration of the drinking. The smoke is noticeable in the aroma department, but it doesn't utterly dominate to the exclusion of all else, there are some nice herbal notes floating around, and a touch burnt sugar. On the flavour front, the smoke is again clearly present, and the burnt sugar aroma becomes a nice black treacle character, there may also have been a hint of unsweetened cocoa, but that seemed to come and go. At 8% this is a bit of beast, but given it's superb balance, rich flavours, and smooth mouthfeel it is a cracking beer to put your feet up by the fire and just indulge - I came very close to buying some peat from Amazon to chuck on the fire to make the fantasy complete.

Three absolutely storming beers, and now I want to visit Iceland for real even more now.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Classics Revisited: Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout

For reasons best known only to history and circumstance, I don't recall having had a Samuel Smith's beer when I lived in the UK. I am sure that my pre-Prague drinking life largely consisting of Guinness, Murphy's, Caffrey's, and John Smith's in pubs of varying amounts of Oirishness may have played a part.

My introduction to Samuel Smith's was, if memory and Blogger labels serves, in Bicester when visiting one of my brothers. I lugged a fairly impressive haul of British beers back from Oxfordshire to Prague, including their Taddy Porter, Oatmeal Stout, and the muse for today's classic revisit, Imperial Stout.


When you think about a brewery so steeped in nostalgia for the Victorian era, you'd kind of expect their Imperial Stout to have the kind of provenance and heritage that only the noblest of blue blooded families can claim. Alas, as I discovered doing some background reading for this post, the beer was apparently first brewed in the 1980s, originally for the American market. Even so, I still list it as a classic as I have heard plenty of craft brewers name check it as an inspiration for their own imperial stouts.

Let's get started then...


Yes, I am pouring an imperial stout into an imperial pint glass, even branded (yay Christmas mixed packs with glassware), but at 7% abv, this is not exactly rocket fuel when compared to the standard abv of most American craft beer. As you can see from the picture it had a massive head, a fact I put down to the traditional Victorian practice of etching the white Yorkshire rose onto the bottom of the glass. The head never really settles down when using my Sam Smith's glasses, so there was a lot of lacing left as I drank the inky obsidian liquid. There was actually enough foam in the bottom of the glass at the end to have a mouthful of the moussey goodness.

I am sure you can imagine that through such a dense head if was fairly tricky to pick out a lot of aromas, though definitely in there were licorice, a touch of coffee, a wallop of black treacle, and a kind of tobacco/herbal thing that I always associate with Fuggles. Tastewise, the black treacle character was very much to the fore as well as some bittersweet chocolate, think something north of 80% cocoa and from South America. There were also some light fruity esters, as well as those herbal hops coming through in the finish.

For an imperial stout that is on the lighter end of the abv spectrum, it most certainly doesn't feel as though it is lacking heft. The silky mouthfeel and full body are almost sensuous.

I am sure there are folks out there who would claim that this is really just an old school porter, especially because of the abv thing. I am not one to quibble with how a brewery wishes to brand their beer (unless they win awards for it in a different style than that market it), and can happily say this classic stands up to scrutiny as one of the best imperial stouts out there today.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Old Friends: Unibroue Maudite

From time to time I wonder if I have ever really got over the fact that my parents moved back to Scotland after about 6 years living in the Haute Vienne region of France. Don't get me wrong, I am glad to have somewhere to stay when Mrs V and I go to Scotland, but I loved going to the part of France they lived in.

During our 2008 Christmas trip we went into the Leclerc supermarket in La Souterraine, as ever I made a bee line for the beer aisle, where I noticed a few bottles of beer that looked markedly different from the massed ranks of French macro pale lager. Naturally I picked up a couple of each, and some Orval, hoping to try local French craft beer. Those bottles were all Unibroue, and I didn't read the back label at first, so only at my parents' place did I learn said brews came from Canada.

From that moment on I knew that Unibroue beers would be something I would enjoy from time to time when Mrs V and I jumped over the Pond, and so it has been, though usually their tripel, La Fin du Monde. Over the years I have found my tastes shifting ever further away from big hitters, as you probably know if you follow Fuggled with any sense of regularity. Having recently been reminded that I quite like the occasional dubbel, I figured I'd resurrect the Old Friends series and get myself a 750ml bottle of Maudite, Unibroue's dubbel...


First things first, I love the fact that the label is still basically the same as it was in 2008, showing the chasse-galerie of French Canadian lore, which may, if my reading is correct, itself be a version of ancient Wild Hunt stories. Any way, the beer...


This is an interesting one when it comes to describing how it looked on pouring into my goblet because so much depended on the light. Sat looking out of a window, sunlight streaming through, the beer was a deep dark copper, with red highlights, but sit with the light behind you and it appears to be a muddy brown. Whether light is to the fore or behind, the head is slightly off white, rocky, and lingers, leaving some delicate lacing down the sides of the glass.

The aroma is dominated by spices, hardly surprising as this is a spiced ale according to the label, mostly I was getting nutmeg and ginger, with a touch of clove. It immediately put me in mind of the fruit cake recipe I make each Yuletide. Lingering among the spices was a touch of molasses. some grassy hops, and just a hint of dried fruit. All of those characteristics carried on over to the flavour department as well. The fruitcake motif was reinforced, and augmented, with prunes, brown sugar, and just a light trace of banana as it warms - I drank it at the recommended 50° but inevitably it warmed as 750ml of 8% booze is not something for chugging fresh from the fridge, unless you are a philistine of course.


Maudite is definitely on the sweeter side of the spectrum, but the hops that are there give it just enough of a scrape to make drinking the entire bottle anything but a syrupy struggle. While a hefty beer for sure the alcohol is not really all that intrusive, it could even be called dangerous as it lies well integrated in the background. Overall a lovely beer that it was delightful to spend some time with again after many years, and having re-established contact I think I'll go hang out with the accursed crew of the flying canoe again some time soon.

Raiding the Cellar: Holy Orders

So far in this period of self isolation, all my raids on the cellar have been for big heavy hitters, barleywines, old ales, those kid of thi...