Stouts for a snowy weekend

Salty stout!

Salty stout!

Last weekend I ended up venturing on yet another trip to Bristol for a bit of a rest from the dreariness of Southampton and a change of scenery. This time, the all important beer selected for the train was the fabulous Netherlands brewery De Molen‘s Spanning & Sensatie (9.8%ABV). This Russian Imperial Stout is one of their limited editions and boasts additions of spice, salt and chilli! Like any great stout, the opaque thickness and deep chocolate brown with tight tan head lace the sides of the glass enticingly and there was an excitingly chocolate malty aroma with a twist of spice. The unusual flavor was typically stouty dark chocolate but it fell more onto the raw cacao side with a little sourness. The salt at the end was mouthwatering and moreish and there was a so so subtle hint of warmth at the back from the chilies.

Since the weather took a turn for the worst and snow and winds descended on the city, we spent a lot of our time in our favorite pubs (OK any excuse). After dropping into the lovely Bag O’Nails where I enjoyed a refreshing, biscuity pint of Box Steam Broad Gauge (4.8%ABV), we headed to Brewdog where I found my top beer of the year so far, Mikkeller Black (17.5%ABV)  (other beers be warned – this will be a tough act to follow). I was overjoyed to see this on the bar as I wanted to try it for ages! The hypnotically luxurious aroma was like vanilla smooshed up with dark chocolate mars bar,

Super-happy Bierebelle!

Super-happy Bierebelle!

deceptively sweet sticky chocolate caramel in a minstrel black with a golden head. Surprisingly the strength doesn’t hit as hard as you might expect but it starts of super-bitter, courtesy of the French Cassonade sugar (thanks for this fact @BrewDogBristol).it takes a few sips to really get into and surrender to the dark malty burnt chocolate and slight tang of red berries with an alcoholic afterburn on the tongue. But my goodness the bitterness was delicious. CBC cannot come quickly enough – I can’t wait to get immersed in the decadent world of Mikkeller and friends!

I can’t really mention the trip to Brewdog without commenting on the amazing service I saw there. Have any of you fellow beer snobs ever been into a super-awesome pub where somebody strolls in off the street, asks for a lager and is scolded or mocked for suggesting such a thing? It’s pretty funny and a lot of bar staff can get away with such banter due to their charming personalities. However, Molly (really hope I got the name right) in Bristol trumped such behaviour with her brilliant knowledge and enthusiasm and may have even started some lucky customers off on the path to discovering more awesome beer. I saw three groups walk in who were new to Brewdog and possibly just sheltering from the blizzard conditions, nervously asking if there was any lager. Each group stayed and tried something new as Molly enthused about what set their beers apart, poured tasters and talked about the ingredients and brewing process with a lot of charm and a sense of fun. If we can have somebody like Molly in every craft beer/real ale pub who knows how many folk we can coax away from the drab old commercial fizz?

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Wild thing

The apple of my eye!

The apple of my eye!

As a lover of apples and a hater of cider, I have often wondered why somebody can’t just make an apple beer!? Then I chanced upon Unibroue Ephemere (5.5%ABV), a candy-cane sweet Belgian style apple ale last October and found that I was right – apples can make a good beer! Unfortunately this was over in Vancouver and the brewery is in Quebec so there’s little chance of finding it over in the UK. I’d almost lost hope on another apple ale until I spotted the Wild Beer Co‘s Ninkasi,(9%ABV) a very strange beast named after the ancient Greek goddess of beer. It’s a Belgian-style saison with New Zealand hops, wild yeast and Someset apple juice. If this all sounds rather zingy for you, be warned that champagne yeast is added at secondary fermentation to take the effervescent bubbles up to the next level.

Whilst I love a pretty bottle and noticed this one partly due to it’s striking appearance, I soon realized it may not have been a good idea after all. The regular metal lid was coated in wax which had been elegantly allowed to drip down the sides but there’s just one issue with this. When the wax is solid and the beer inside is potentially pretty lively, wrestling with a tough seal is a fast-track to a very beery kitchen. Eventually we ran a sharp knife around the edge and then held our breaths in anticipation as the OH gallantly prized open the lid. Thankfully disaster had been avoided. Now the main  challenge was in pouring the damned thing using the good old ‘pour half an inch then wait for the head to top the glass then subside’ method. But what a sensational saison. They were right about the bubbles! The rustic aroma has a hint of the apples and the taste is so unbelievably crisp and dry you can almost taste the crunch – there’s definitely a hint of champagne-ness. It doesn’t have the typical flavor one would expect from New Zealand hops; there’s a lot of bitterness and a hint of citrus but the tart apple is the star of the show here. It”s a world away from the candy apple Unibroue Ephemere which makes me wonder where else brewers can go with delicious apples.