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.

NoVA Franconia

Whether it is a trendy fad or something more lasting and meaningful, I love the fact that well made lager beers are enjoying a moment in the...