Bierebelle doesn’t have her head in the game

wpid-wp-1380728417789.jpgNo Game day beer last week.Or the week before. I apologize. There are many reasons for this.

1) I was far too busy mocking the other half about his beloved Miami Dolphins’ defeat at the hands of my New Orleans Saints

2) A game-day trip to Wembley for Vikings vs. Steelers meant I spent one Sunday evening on coca-cola (come on you wouldn’t drink Carlsberg at £4.70 a pint).

3) I went to Copenhagen for a few days.

Copenhagen more than made up for Wembley on the beer front. One in particular really stood out which you should really pounce on with all paws should it ever appear in a bar near you. Mikkeller Cù’t Cà Phê Bia Port  Barrel Aged, encountered at Mikkeller & Friends and ordered embarrassingly by the number of the tap it was on (you try pronouncing it). It smelled like everything good in the world. Port, brandy butter and a steaming cup of joe were evident in the sweet aroma of this deep black viscous beauty. I believe Nostalgia plays an important role in our tastes and although this is not a Christmas beer it embodies all my favorite flavors the festive season. Sticky Christmas pudding soaked in brandy sauce (by Birds,out of a carton, obviously) followed by the coffee creams nobody else wanted foraged from the bottom of the Quality Street tin. I’ve skipped the dinner and gone straight for pudding. Sticky lips and warm belly. Christmas is early.

Of course, since Copenhagen I realize the blog’s been a little quiet but I have also been to York and Manchester because I’m a very busy girl. More on Manchester later… Normal game-day service will be restored soon.

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When Albert met Kate (the really great Kate)

As you may know I am very fond of my Belgian friend Albert who has been a welcome companion on dark winter evenings and early morning train rides. On this particular journey from the south coast all the way up to York it was particularly wise to bring along one of the illustrious and extravagant Albert family, Kabert (11.5%abv). The result of my favorite and most sturdy of Belgian brewers De Struise‘s expert blending of Kate the Great and Black Albert, laid down in port barrels in 2011 to become an exquisitely indulgent Russian Imperial Stout.

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Opening the bottle with excitement as a little  unctious thick brown foam oozed down the side, the aroma was almost enough to disguise the cesspit stench of the Cross Country train’s ever-overflowing toilet. Rich dark malts,  beery yeast and brown clumps of sugar with ripe red berries. My hands are slightly sticky from the side of the bottle, the beer is so voluptuously thick like treacle. The flavor is incredibly full and immediately alcoholic in the most warmingly delicious way. The dark malts compliment the lively black cherries and raisins and there’s a sprinkle of nutmeg spice. So sweet and smooth. I never fail to be impressed by this series of beers. Even the label, featuring an ornate crest of mythical beasts alongside the signature ostriches, gives this ale an air of pomp and majesty reminiscent of the early albums of Queen. Albert I am privileged to be your audience once again.

12 Stouts of Christmas

So it’s May and I’ve finally finished my 12 Stouts of Christmas from Bristol Beer Factory which means my reviews are complete! I’ve been treating myself to a bottle every now and then and writing a little review so sorry if some of it doesn’t make chronological sense! The more observant among you might also note that there isn’t actually 12 reviews! I have absolutely no idea why this is but at least it seems to be the more widely available ones I missed! Unfortunately, quite a few of these stouts may now be unavailable but I just thought they were still too good not to share. We can hopefully look forward to what they have up their sleeves next Christmas!

Ho ho ho

Ho ho ho

Mocha (4.5%ABV) – According to the label, it contains ‘Coffee chosen with help from Extract Coffee Roasters – Hope Project Peaberry Espresso from Tanzania. It has notes of bitter/sweet dark chocolate and cherry fruitiness’ – There’s a really lovely big frothy head. The rich coffee aroma pounces out of the glass intertwined with unlit cigar. The thin mouthfeel emulates the characteristics of iced black coffee. The beans are dark-roasted, almost burnt but there’s a berry sweetness which balances out the bitterness perfectly.

Ultimate (7.5%abv) needs no introduction. A satisfyingly thick mouthfeel, rich and velvety. It’s a fine example of a full-bodied, well rounded chocolaty stout with just the right amount of bitterness at the end.

Port (5.5%ABV) – nice stout to round off Valentines Day. The port was specially selected by Avery’s Wine Merchants in Bristol and I assume was added to the beer at some point. There’s more chocolate than port on the nose and the bitter dark chocolate carries throughout the velvet richness of the flavor  rounded out by a little vanilla and a lot of warming fruity porty-ness.

Ultimate Raspberry (7.5%ABV) – The Ultimate Stout infused with fresh raspberries. The aroma takes me right back to summer, carrying punnets of beautiful fresh raspberries home from the farmers market, eating them out of the bag still warm from the sun. The bitterness and richness of the original Ultimate Stout is still there,but it’s got a jolt of sourness cutting through from those lovely sweet raspberries The bready malt almost makes me think of a raspberry jam sandwich in a glass.

Looks like I was a good girl this Christmas

Looks like I was a good girl this Christmas

Smoked Chili Chipotle (5%ABV) – I love Chipotles so much that the OH and I actually home-brewed something like this last year. Chipotles are simply jalapeno chillis which have been dried over smoke so you have the lovely sweet chilli flavour with a warming kick combined with a rich smokiness which makes them a perfect addition to dark beer. This is not the most smokey or hot chipotle beer I have had (we used a lot of rauchmalt in ours!) but it’s pretty well-balanced and goes down smoothly with just a hint of heat at the back and a lovely sweet smoke with a touch of vanilla. The dryness at the end reminds me of the Irish style of stouts.

Blackcurrant and Liquorice (5%ABV) – The brewery building in another life was actually a Ribena factory so I’ve been told so Blackcurrant seems a nice choice for a special addition. Do I imagine a hint of purple in the deep dark stouty brown? Possibly. The aroma was typical dark malt and a little vanilla and the flavor was pretty sweet with more of that bready malt and a little of that blackcurrant at the end which actually built up pleasantly with each sip. The end had a zingy tartness, almost like under-ripe blueberries and it was a little dry. I was a little disappointed that I couldn’t detect the liquorice but the yummy fruitiness made up for it.

Imperial aged in Bourbon Casks (10.5%ABV) – Aged in oak bourbon casks for four months and, well, my goodness you can tell from the smooth rich flavor – so very well balanced and deliciously warm. The aroma is all dark sticky treacle and there’s a taste of dark dried fruit with a hint of oak and that familiar bourbon-breath sensation as you take a nice long breath out and relax.

Imperial aged in Speyside Whisky casks (10.5%) Smokey, peaty and rich. Maybe a little too peaty for me since I’m not a big fan of that style of whisky but there’s also a little fruitiness which keeps me interested!.

Imperial Stout (8.5%ABV) The original classic. Dark with a roasted, slightly smoked malt aroma. Satisfyingly thick and warmingly complex. Fruits, dark chocolate, burnt sugar and a hint of smoke make this an exceptional stout. Lip-smacking sticky with a short bitter finish.

Creme Brulee (8.5%ABV) I’ve been saving this one! It was brewed with the legendary Melissa Cole who I was lucky enough to run into at the launch of the 12 stouts. Like the lady herself, this stout is simply a delight. Don’t expect to be able to stand a spoon in it as you can with the Southern TIer take on this classic desert. This stout is still a force to be reckoned with but it’s far more drinkable. It pours with a lovely light sandy-colored foam which lasts a while. The aroma is cafe au lait with a delicious waft of vanilla and the flavor is voluptuously yummy. There’s a dairy sweetness offset by oak and dark fruits as a result of the two months it spent aging in rum casks. The finish is long and sweet with only a mild bitterness. 

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?

Christmas time, mistletoe and…beer!

Captain Ginger Beerd

Captain Ginger Beerd

Now that the countdown to Christmas is truly in full swing and the days are actually getting cold (I am on the South coast so it’s rarely properly cold!), I’ve been raiding the beer stocks for some comforting winter warmers. A coupler of days ago I re-discovered my supply of Summer Wine beers I bought a couple of months back and then criminally neglected. Of course, this time of year is just about right for a Calico Jack (8.6%ABV), the Imperial Caribbean Ginger Stout from Yorkshire. As black as the heart of Davy Jones with an aroma reminiscent of black treacle, spices and burning pirate ships, it was a pretty satisfying stout with yummy chocolate and zing. However, I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t really detect much ginger in the aroma or flavour but I don’t tend to go for subtle when it comes to ginger!

Since that was a work night, I was pretty well-behaved and saved the main beeryness for the weekend’s festivities. Today was a special day in the Bierebelle household. The day of the pre-Christmas warm-up dinner where the OH and I enjoy a big roast with absolutely no sprouts. It’s essential stomach preparation for the real thing and a treat for just the two of us. As a reminder of the meaning of Christmas, we decided to open a bottle of our Tsjeeses (10%ABV) Belgian X-Mas Ale Brewed with Spices by De Struise Brouwers. It’s billed as a ‘jolly blonde

Favourite Tsjeesus? Baby Tsjeesus?

Favourite Tsjeesus? Baby Tsjeesus?

winter ale….with hints of fruit, spices, refreshing herbs, and noble hops. OK it’s not that blonde, more a dark golden colour but it sure is beautiful with its delicate white lacing and treacley clovey, herbal aroma. As I’ve come to expect from the ‘Sturdy Brewers,’ the flavour packs in a sleigh-full of complex flavours and a body so bootylicious you can almost chew it. The warming fruit and alcohol is almost like mince pie filling with lively hoppy bitterness. There’s a tiny Christmas tree pine in the finish and a lot of burnt wood and molasses.

Never ones to be content with making an awesome ale to enjoy in its original state, Struise have also aged some of the Tsjeeses in different barrels to further enhance the wonderful flavours. I had the Tsjeeses Reserva (10%ABV), Vintage 2011 aged in Port barrels but there is also an Oak Aged and a Bourbon Barrel variation. This one had so much flavour sitting in there it was bursting to get out of the bottle (literally – my poor table cloth!). It had the same cloudy deep sunset amber colour with a finer smoother light head and a similar smell, albeit a little funky. There’s the same fullness in the mouthfeel but the complex flavours are richer and there’s cherry thrown in the mix with more of the woody aftertaste. The hops aren’t as obvious and the alcohol is warmer, or maybe it’s the lovely spices.

Bristletoe and beer

Bristletoe and beer

To round off the pre-Christmas Christmas beers, we opened our bottle of the lovely Bristol Beer Factory Bristletoe (4.3%ABV) which we picked up along with our 12 Stouts of Christmas at their recent open day. It’s spiced with coriander and ginger and it’s a lovely, warm, cloudy deep orange colour with a gingerbread and marmalade aroma. At a relatively low ABV (compared to the Tsjeeses!) it still packs in a massive amount of warming spices, orange peel, dark malts and a hella bitter but spicy lingering warmth. It kinda reminds me of a Christingle (who else made those in school?). It’s like one of those comforting woolly jumper ales you wish you could come back to on any cold evening.

 

What was your Alibi tonight?

Spoilt for choice!

As you can probably tell by now, Vancouver is pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to beer and also cool places to drink. The Alibi Room was one of the bars I would say belongs on everybody’s ‘must do’ list if they are planning a trip. The bar is adorned with 50, yes 50, taps of local and imported beer! It’s so pretty – the taps aren’t the generic uniform taps we are used to in the UK with a pump-clip on the front. Each brewery seems to have its own tap handle design and some even have a special handle for individual beers.They’re like quirky little works of art! Thankfully, the bar made it easy to try many beers at once by offering ‘flights’ which are four small glasses slotted into a wooden paddle.

The first one that jumped out from the menu was the Storm Imperial Sour Flanders Red (11%ABV) since the sour cherry we had tried at the BC Beer Awards was so impressive. It was such a lovely dark, cloudy ruby orange but the aroma was almost like cider vinegar and the taste… jeeez I felt like my face would implode every time I

Soouuurrrr!!!

took a sip. I really am trying to learn to love sour and the OH said I should toughen up if I want to come to Brussels with him to try the ones there. It really was just sour, sour sour, braying and snarling right on the edge of the vinegar abyss.

After that little shocker, it was definitely a good time to go for the girliest-looking beer on the flight. The Unibroue Ephemere (5.5%ABV) Belgian ale with apple intrigued me because it’s apple, but it’s beer and not cider. It actually looked like cider with the same cloudy yellow which was sightly confusing. The aroma was more like candy and it tasted like candy too, but so fresh there was almost a touch of minty candy cane to start followed by gorgeously dry apple. It was almost alco-pop sweet but refreshingly well-done. I had been wondering about using  apple in beer only a few days before but it would seem these Canadians got there before me!

Where will your flight take you?

The OH’s rather awesome parents had actually recommended the next beer which had impressed his mother on a previous trip to Canada. North Coast Old Rasputin Nitro Pour Imperial Stout (9%ABV).was a proper Irish style stout with a really big, tight, light tan head .It was so satisfyingly thick with real dark roasted malt aroma and flavour and a creamy lingering bitter cacao. A real rainy-day winter warmer of a stout.

The final beer I picked for my flight was the JJ Bean Imperial Espresso Stout (7%ABV) by Conrad Gmoser (of Steamworks) which used coffee from a much-loved local chain. The gorgeous colour was black coffee but I was slightly suspicious since it appeared so thin and there was no head. However, even though there wasn’t the big mouth-feel of a lot of coffee stouts, the coffee aroma was knock-your-head-off strong and it tasted crisp enough to crunch. Clean, pure coffee bean with the tiniest touch of vanilla.

Four down, only another 46 more on the bar to try… Lucky for me I was able to share with the long-suffering boyfriend and there was always time for another visit…

Caught in a Twit-Storm!

I can’t believe how quickly time has gone since I was in beautiful Vancouver but at least I can relive it by sharing it with you in my blog. One of the things I find most bizarre about Canada is that so many websites look like they were made about 10 years ago and a lot of them may have not even been updated since! Many retailers had websites that would make CAMRA websites over here look polished in comparison (for overseas readers, CAMRA UK websites tend to be shockingly bad). However, unlike in the UK, the beer industry and its aficionados seem to have really got the hang of this internet thing. The Most Awesome Website award (which would see the average What’s Brewing reader have the whole bar condemned for sorcery)  would probably go to St Augustine’s Brewpub. Imagine if you could see exactly what beers are on as well as what colour they are and how much is left at a glance before you leave the house. Imagine no more thanks to the Live Beer Menu. As well as on-line, it’s also shown on screens around the bar.

As an avid Tweeter, I didn’t need to be in Vancouver long to find the awesome YVR Beer Tweetup. They’re a

The menu at Smileys

group of craft beer lovers who organise and promote craft beer events such as the Hopscotch event held over two nights as part of the Craft Beer Month celebrations and as a warm-up for the Hopscotch festival. The Tweetup event featured 8 Highwood Distilleries Whisky based casks of amazing beers. On each table, along with the beer menu, there was also a list of hashtags and Twitter IDs to enable drinkers to tweet their opinions and shout-outs which were displayed on screens around the bar. There were also competitions where prizes were awarded to the first person to tweet an answer to a question, Pretty clever since as more people tweet, the event starts trending and this means free publicity – sweet!

The two nights were held at two different bars which are part of the Donnelly chain (like ‘Spoons but with good food and good beer), Smileys and The Bimini. Of all the beers, the best was easily the Lighthouse Imperial Whiskey Marmalade IPA. The bitter hops totally intensified the Seville orange marmalade to the max. This was closely followed by the Central City Spanish Oak Aged Vanilla Bean Whiskey Stout. Hopefully if they ever bottled it they’d have a think about the name, A superb stout with plenty of coffee bean, it picked up a fair bit of the woodiness from the oak which was offset by delicate vanilla. I also loved the Howe Sound Pumpkin Ale Spiced Whiskey. Their original pumpkin was one of my favourites but the warmth of the whiskey and the round woody flavour pushed it over into a new level.