Advent Beer: Northern Monk The Trilogy MMXVI: YEAST

Northern Monk’s Trilogy series is an annual series paying homage to the three pillars of beer: Hops, Malt, and Yeast. This is the last of the three and the one I was least looking forward too.

I was torn over this beer. It’s not a style I particularly like, I have to be in the right mood. That mood appears to happen once every five years or so. I’m not quite sure why this is, I’ve drunk loads of them in the past and enjoyed them.

Either way, I wasn’t in the mood.

It poured an every so slightly hazy, dark apricot jam, light marmalade colour. The tight white head looked solid, but dropped fairly quickly. The nose was quite fresh, with all the spicy ester aromas that you expect for this style off beer.

It was massive in the mouth, with an initial waft of carbonation, that parted to allow all the yeasty ester flavours to swamp everything. Sweetness reined. The yeast ester flavours lingering, like the last guest at a party, drunk and refusing to leave.

There may have been a tickle of bitterness in there, it was hard to tell. What was telling, was my reaction to drinking it. Gurning, is probably the most descriptive I can be.

After leaving it for an hour or so, it wasn’t quite so bad. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if my palate had adjusted, or the beer had mellowed. It was still sweet and estery, but now also had a slight juicy hop quality at the death.

Yes, it’s well made. Yes, it does what is says on the tin. Yes, loads of people are probably going to love it.

No, I wont be having another any time soon. The clue is in the name of the blog…

Advent Beer: Northern Monk The Trilogy MMXVI: HOPS

Northern Monk’s Trilogy series is an annual series paying homage to the three pillars of beer: Hops, Malt, and Yeast. This is the one I was most looking forward too.

The smell when the can was broached, was awesome. It poured a slightly hazy, apricot jam colour, with a compact head. The head was relatively hard to form and droped quickly back to pretty much nothing.

The nose was immense, thick with piney, resinous, citric hops. An undertone of prickliness, gave hints of a potentially aggressive mouth feel. This didn’t materialise, as it was actually quite soft in the mouth, with just a tickle of carbonation.

This beer is all about the hops, and boy did it deliver. The bitterness built, and built, then like a big wave breaking, the mouth was flooded with thick, bitter, citric flavours and bitterness. The cheeks prickling, the tongue and base of the mouth, throbbing with the thick bitter tang.

It wasn’t quite one of those hefty Olde English marmalade aftertastes, it was a touch too sweet and juicy for that. Although it did last and the more you drank, the longer it lasted and the heftier the flavours became. I could still taste it an age after finishing; I love it when that happens.

It didn’t feel like it drank to its strength, it felt like you could neck it quite easily. Then you’d have another mouthful and it felt huge and thick and sticky and all of its strength.

Each mouthful was a pleasure. You could argue that it was a touch sweet, but that would be nitpicking; I’d buy another in a heartbeat. Very, very tasty and dangerously drinkable. Phwoah…

Advent Beer: Northern Monk The Trilogy MMXVI: MALT

Northern Monk’s Trilogy series is an annual series paying homage to the three pillars of beer: Hops, Malt, and Yeast. I have all three and decided to start with MALT, an Imperial Porter, brewed in collaboration with De Molen.

It poured an almost impenetrable black in the glass, with hints of brown at the edges when held up to a light. A thick, rich, light brown head, formed slowly and dissipated relatively quickly. A quick swirl of the glass brought it back though.

For a beer that’s sole purpose is to showcase malt, it completely, unexpectedly, smelt of malt. Thick, rich, chocolate, coffee, stewed fruits, the whole gamut of hefty malt flavours. None of your lightweight biscuity, cerealy aromas here.

Massive in the mouth, the kind of beer that requires swishing around the mouth for a bit, before swallowing. Soft, smooth and subtle, with no one flavour jumping around. Everything just blending together, the result, unequivocally better than the sum of it’s parts.

That was my initial impression. Once it warmed up, the finish started to become sweet, very sweet. Lots of vanilla flavours as well, which added to the sweetness. With no real bitterness, it did get a bit sickly towards the end.

It’s the kind of beer that requires contemplation, demands it even. The kind of beer that requires a big sofa, a cold winters day and a roaring fire; I had to make do with one out of three. Other than finishing a bit sweet, it was pretty good. Looking forward to trying HOPS next.

Dark Alliances

Dark Allaiance and Double Dark Alliance...

An evening of collaboration coffee stouts.

I popped into the Cambridge Wine Merchants on Mill Road a few weeks back, I was after a bottle of Moor Fusion 2012, which they unfortunately didn’t have. They did have bottles of Dark Alliance though, which, in cask form, was one of my beers of this year’s Cambridge CAMRA Beer Festival. I’d not seen it in bottles before, so grabbed one before heading up the road to the Bacchanalia.

It’s not often I walk into the Bacchanalia and walk out again with the beer I intended to buy, there’s normally so much good stuff that I instantly become all indecisive and my careful plans go out the window. It’s really, really not that often that I go in and instantly regret buying something from Moor at Cambridge Wine Merchants first, but damn, the Bacchanalia that day was stuffed to the rafters with amazing beer.

I half joked about wishing I hadn’t bought the Dark Alliance the with Jim, who was behind the desk that day. He mentioned that they also had that on the shelves, which came as a bit of a surprise and a quick check round the corner yielded the sight of not Dark Alliance, but Double Dark Alliance. Moor Dark Alliance... So once again the careful plans I had of what I was going to buy, went straight out the window.

Dark Alliance was originally a collaboration brew between Moor and Arbor Ales, using coffee from the Clifton Coffee Company, think a hoppy coffee stout kind of thing and you’re in the ballpark. I didn’t get to try the original, but it must have been popular enough that Moor now brew it as one of their own portfolio. I think the original brew was undertaken at Moor, while the Double Dark Alliance was brewed at Arbor Ales, I could be totally wrong about that, but it would make sense.

Dark Alliance poured a really, really deep chestnut mahogany brown, so that it sat black in the glass. A tan coloured compact head was easily formed and while it dropped to a patchy covering, it lasted for a long time. The nose was all dark chocolate and bitter coffee. In the mouth it was smooth bitter dark chocolate and roasted coffee flavours, with a building bitterness that grew and grew with each mouthful. The aftertaste was a decidedly lingering affair, with hints of liquorice and treacle. It wasn’t as up front and hoppy as I remember the cask version being at the Cambridge Beer Festival, but it was still a seriously nice beer.

In a similar fashion to the Dark Alliance, the Double Dark Alliance sat coal mine black in the glass; although you could see hints of a deep, deep chestnut brown at the edges when it was held up to the light. Arbor Ales / Moor Double Dark Alliance... The head was one of those that starts really slowly, but you know if you don’t watch out, it’ll treble in size in an eye blink and spill out of the glass. It didn’t last quite as long as the head on the Dark Alliance, dropping to a patchy covering fairly quickly. The nose was all musty dark treacle and molasses.

In the mouth it was huge; it felt like you almost needed a spoon it was so thick. Massive treacle flavours washed through the mouth, almost at the expense of everything else. A bit of coffee mouth buzz, alcohol burn and bitter roasted malts completed the flavour assault, with the aftertaste giving to impression that it’ll still be around in the morning.

One final note about the bottles. As a homebrewer, there are certain bottles I like to keep, I wrote about getting the labels off them a few weeks ago. Both these beers came in 660ml bottles, which are a size that I usually keep. You’ll notice that they are different shapes though, Moor used to use the one the Double Dark Alliance comes in, but now use the other shape. A word of warning about this new bottle shape, they don’t have the same lip at the top, so you can’t put crown caps on with one of those twin handled cappers. I know this from experience, when I chopped the top off a bottle earlier in the year. I think you have to use a bench capper, as it doesn’t require the lip to grip against when sealing the cap.

A Trio From Buxton

Buxton beers in the fridge after a visit to the Bacchanalia...

I don’t buy as much Buxton Brewery beer as I’d like, so I snapped up these three when I saw them for sale in the Bacchanalia recently.

First up was Sky Mountain Sour, a collaboration brew with To Øl of Denmark. It poured a murky marmalade colour, with a loose ever so light tan coloured head. Sky Mountain Sour... It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’m not sure what it smelt of to be honest; there was a definite fruity twang underneath the sour snap, I just couldn’t identify it. I’d been expecting something that was just a bit tart and lightweight, but the sourness instantly puckered the cheeks and got the mouth watering.

Rather than it tasting of rank ditch water, the sourness was really quite fruity, with just a splash of vinegar round the edges. It really tasted like it had some sort of fruit in it, like blueberries, or something, as even though the mouth was watering, it also had that dryness you get from things like sloes. I could have sworn that the beer had been aged on some blueberries or something similar, but evidently it was just a combination of Cascade, Centennial and Simcoe.

I was really looking forward to trying Jaw Gate, as it sounded right up my street. It poured a rather unappealing, murky, orange tinged, caramel brown, with a short lived head. Jaw Gate... The nose had some crunchy biscuit malt notes and a general freshness about it, with a hint of hop aroma seeping in around the edges. It was quite full in the mouth, with a nice level or carbonation, just the right side of lively. With an initial prickle from the carbonation, the bitterness asserted itself and washed through the mouth, leaving a slightly sweet, bitter orange aftertaste.

It wasn’t mega flavourful, but had enough interest right through the mouth, along with just the right level of mouth prickling bitterness. To be fair, I’d not long finished the Sky Mountain Sour, so it must have taken a while for my mouth to readjust, but when it did, woah. It really opened up and revealed a load of flavour and bitterness, it was ridiculously morish. One of those beers you wish you had a fridge full of.

Finally, Stronge Extra Stout poured an impenetrable black, with a compact, creamy, tan coloured head. The nose was powerful, but at the same time hardly there; hints of coffee and liquorice, but mainly treacle, lots of treacle. Stronge Extra Stout... While it was quite full bodied in the mouth, it didn’t feel like a massive beer. The flavours were massive though, so while the body may have not been as full as it could have been, the flavours were more reminiscent of an Imperial Stout, really big, bold and upfront.

Massive slightly overdone treacle toffee flavours, intermingled with liquorice and a bitterness that wouldn’t be out of place in a big IPA to finish it all off. The mouth was left tingling and awash with flavour that lasted for minutes after a mouthful. I was sure I’d still be able to taste it the following morning, the flavours were so powerful. Another beer I wished I’d bought another couple of.

  • RateBeer Buxton
  • Stronge Extra Stout, 7.4%, 330ml

Mo’ Betta Bretta

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I first came across Mo’ Betta Bretta in Sam Calagione’s Extreme Brewing: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Brewing Craft Beer at Home. The first thing that struck me, was that it was fermented with 100% Brettanomyces and I quite like beers that are fermented with Brettanomyces. So imagine my surprise, when I walked into the Bacchanalia the other week and found some sitting on the shelves, you could have knocked me down with a feather, especially as I thought it was a one off collaboration brew from 2004.

I’m always going into Bacchanalia with a plan of what I’m going to buy, that generally lasts until I see what’s actually on the shelves, I rarely walk out with the beers I intended to buy. I’m so glad I decided to buy one of these though, even though I could have got three good bottles of UK beer instead, it was amazing.

It poured a hazy deep straw colour, with a loose fizzy white head, that dropped fairly quickly. The nose was interesting with a pronounced Brettanomyces aroma, but also something else floating around just underneath. I gave the glass to my wife and she instantly pegged it as pineapple, which became totally obvious the moment I had a taste.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had a beer that’s tasted of pineapple before, I’ve certainly not had a Brettanomyces fermented one anyway. I know it sounds weird and wrong, but it had just the right level of funk to work, not too much and not too little. It all made for a fruity, juicy, yet drying beer, with oodles and oodles of flavour and character. It’s definitely one to hunt down and try, although just be aware that Yvan also had one and it was severly lacking in carbonation, so your mileage may vary.

After a bit of googling, it turns out that they got together and rebrewed Mo’ Betta Bretta last year, below is a video they released of the occasion. I’m pretty sure that the homebrew recipe in Extreme Brewing didn’t have any pineapple or garlic powder listed in the ingredients though. Either way, I think I might have to have a think about doing a clone brew…

Life Beyond The Perceived Best

I don’t know about you, but I find that when I come across beer from a brewery new to me (i.e. I’ve not tried their beer before), I tend to seek out their flagship brews as a starting place. I suppose it’s to do with always wanting to try the perceived best that a brewery can make, why waste money on something that isn’t the best. Take Buxton Brewery for instance, I’ve had a few of their beers, but it’s mainly been Axe Edge or Imperial Black, as they were the ones that were garnering all the praise on twitter. It’s not like I couldn’t try the entire range, since the Bacchanalia finally got a great selection of them in last year, it’s just that I always went for the same perceived best.

Now I don’t do New Year resolutions, why set yourself up to fail…? However, I do sometimes try to set loose goals for things I want to achieve, or do at some point in the future. This year, I’ve decided to spread my wings a little, take the plunge and start trying beers that I would have overlooked before. So instead of just buying the perceived best, I’m going to start buying others from the range on offer, starting with these four from Buxton. Hopefully this attitude to selecting the beer I drink at home, will lead to the discovery of some that I really, really like. Who says the perceived best is actually always the best, everyone has different tastes after all and I don’t always want to be drinking a 7.5% Black IPA, no matter how amazingly good it is.

Hop Trials: Cascade and Hop Trials: Citra

Tryst aren’t a brewer you see much down this way, mores the pity. I think I’ve only ever seen them the once, a cask of Raj IPA in The Elm Tree; you never see bottles either, I must bug the Bacchanalia to correct that. So when I was in Drinkmonger the other month, this pair stood out over all the other Tryst beers on offer, due to their single hopness; I love a single hop beer.

First up was the Cascade, which opened with quite a loud phzzzt. It poured a slightly hazy ripe wheat, verging on light amber colour. A loose fluffy white head was easily formed and while it dropped fairly quickly, it stayed at a thin covering for ages. The nose was quite nice, with some sweet soft citrus notes. It wasn’t an all out grapefruit assault, it was soft, with hints of a marmalade kind of thing creeping round the edges. There was also some notes from some of the malt, a certain cereal quality that I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

In the mouth it was dangerously close to turning to bubbles, but it did just managed to remain liquid. There didn’t seem to be much going on to start with, it was medium to well bodied, with quite a bit of upfront maltiness, then it all started to get interesting. A wave a bitterness swept round the mouth and charged down the throat, leaving a subtle soft marmaladey grapefruitiness tickling the mouth and lingering for ages. It was lovely and bitter, just staying on the right side of aggressive, a hop forward beer and a pretty nice one at that.

  • RateBeerTryst
  • Hop Trials: Cascade 5%, 500ml

The Citra poured almost an exact replica of the Cascade, except it wasn’t quite as carbonated. Still slightly hazy and a dirty, muddy, light amber colour, but the head was more compact and didn’t last as long. You could tell this was a beer with Citra hops in it just by sticking your nose in the glass. It just reeked of that tropical, slightly rotting citrus mango that Citra gives off. The best bit was the lack of that cat wee character that some Citra beers exhibit, which was really pleasing.

It was much softer in the mouth than the Cascade and I think the better for it. Just as bitter, but not in such an aggressive mouth prickly way, it was softer and more flavourful. That’s not to say that the bitterness didn’t pucker the sides of the mouth, it just didn’t prickle the way a highly carbonated beer does. Tropical mango with hints of citrus started almost immediately and lasted long in to the bitter after taste. You could still taste a bitter grapefruit like flavour in the back of the mouth minutes after finishing a swallow, it just kept on giving. Again, just like the aroma, there wasn’t any cat wee to get in the way and become annoying and the mango was just the right side of being totally off and rancid and had loads of other tropical fruit flavours fleeting around.

  • RateBeerTryst
  • Hop Trials: Citra 5%, 500ml

Probably the best Citra single hop beer I’ve ever had, utterly, utterly lush.

Dedication’s What You Need…

I read Rob from HopZine’s latest blog about Quality Control and Compensation with quite a bit of interest, as I’ve had a lot of bad beer over the years, for all sorts of reasons. I’m as guilty as the next person to the British perversion of saying nothing and grumbling into my pint. I hate the uncertainty of taking a bad pint back, will the bar staff be open and apologetic and offer something else without argument, or I get the everyone else is drinking it and none of them have complained line from someone who doesn’t give a shit about the beer they’re selling or their reputation.

It can be doubly frustrating when you get a bad bottle though, as there’s no one to really take it back to and get a replacement there and then. I’ve had some disappointing beers that I’ve blogged and tweeted about and in a similar fashion to taking a pint back in a pub, I’ve had varying responses from those responsible for the beer in question.

In 2010 I drank a bottle of beer at home which had absolutely no condition, I blogged about it and a couple of days later there was a tweet from the brewer along the lines of, I’ve just had one and it was perfectly conditioned, I don’t understand why people are moaning. To be honest, I couldn’t care less if his bottle was perfectly conditioned, the bottles on sale in the Bacchanalia weren’t and I didn’t appreciate the inference that I was essentially a liar for claiming it was anything other than perfect. I wasn’t the only one who had a flat bottle either and that particular beer always comes up when I’m discussing that brewer with people.

Recently I tweeted about a beer I had from The Kernel that was just a touch on the lively side. I didn’t think much about it, these things happen, but Evin is obviously a man who cares deeply, not just about the beer he produces and the image of his brewery, but the satisfaction of his customers. I received a long email apologising for the bad bottle and explaining what the issue with it was, plus I received some beer in compensation. Not one or two bottles, not even three, but seven. Seven bottles of beer in unasked for compensation for one bad bottle.

Now ask yourself this; whose beer am I most likely to buy going forward? Beer from a brewery that’s calling into question what I’ve said and wont admit to a bad batch of bottles, or beer from a brewery that’s bent over backwards to apologise and make it up to me? It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I’ll be buying far more beer from The Kernel going forward, than from the double Champion Beer of Britain winner …

I’d just like to say a massive thank you to Evin and his team for their dedication to, not only producing the best beer they can, but to ensuring that their customers enjoy it in excellent condition. I look forward to trying many more beers from their new brewery in the future.