Bierebelle gives a hoot!

Whoot whoot! My Brewdog package arrived and guess what was in it? A whole range of ow-aley goodness and fun from Hitachino Nest! Hooray! Also, may I point out the Hitachino Nest almost came in a nest – look at all the packaging! I’ll certainly be ordering from here again!

So – what do we have? Top row from left: Sweet Stout, Red Rice, Japanese Classic (matured in Cedar casks) & White Ale. Bottom row from left: Weizen, Amber Ale, Commemorative Ale, Extra High (apparently more malt & hops than usual and matured 6mth) and Ginger Ale.

There weren’t just owls hiding in the box! Here’s the rest along with some promotional Brewdog ‘Equity for Punks’ stuff we got sent recently and a lovely shiney glass I bought to put the beer in – yay for goodies!

From left: 8-Wired The Big Smoke Smoked Porter (from New Zealand!), Brew Dog Sunk Punk (fermented at the bottom of the ocean where the Kraken lives), Bear Republic Black Stout & Lost Abbey Lost & Found!

It’s what Bank Holidays were made for!

Happy birthday to Brew (Dog)

Brewdog Camden celebrates!

Bierebelle does not feel too good. What happened yesterday? Ah yes that would be the illustrious Brewdog’s fifth birthday party at their Camden bar where they had a total tap takeover featuring over 19 of their beers! I can’t even remember how many of those I tried but I think by the state of my wallet it was quite a few. We started the day with good intentions and I even kept notes on the first few drinks but with so much choice including some incredibly rare and never-before-seen beers it was never going to end well. The first drink was a very easy decision. I was very very excited to see Tokyo (18.2%ABV) on the taps – I’ve been putting off buying it for a while because of the price tag but this was the perfect opportunity to try. It’s an astonishingly beautiful porter ‘brewed with jasmine and cranberries, dry-hopped then aged on oak chips.’ This is one of my fantasy beers I’ve daydreamed about making in my imaginary brewery I sometimes think I’ll have one day, but Brewdog have gone and beaten me to it! Although the jasmine is quite subtle, the aroma is a generous big summer picnic of cherry jam  on brown bread. A real femme-fatale, the taste is wicked dark chocolate with dried cranberries and cherries and it feels like a mouthfull of velvet.It’s a luxurious deep  brown and so thick it leaves little legs when you swirl it around the glass.You wouldn’t leave Tokyo alone with your boyfriend.

No birthday is complete without cake (and 'IPA Is Dead' Motueka)

Moving on from the sophistocated elegance of Tokyo, I set my sights on a real bad boy for my next drink, Libertine Porter (5.9%), an ‘an irreverent, devil may care rollercoaster of a porter.’ What a rollercoaster ride indeed. Just about as inky black as a porter can be, it’s rammed with hops which dance and shout for attention but once they calm down, there’s a flash of blackcurrant and liquorice. It smells like it’s been painting the town black then crashed for the night in a hedgerow of hops and brambles. This is some bad-ass refreshment but the super-dry finish means it goes down rather quickly. Wiki says a Libertine is somebody ‘devoid of moral restraints.’ This Libertine is devoid of any restraints at all and today he had brought his crazed hound, Dog A. Oh yes, the Alpha dog was in the bar and I was faced with a dilemma – would I splash out or live to regret it? I thought about this as I shared a bottle of Lost Abbey Red Barn Ale (6.7%ABV) with my two companions which was a rather pleasant change of pace. A traditional, farmhouse-style Saison with an aroma rather like hay which made a wholesome and sunny interlude but there was a dog still jumping around, wagging it’s tail to catch my eye.

Who let the dog out of the box?!

Dog A (15.1%) is a rare beast. Everyone wants a puppy when they’re 5 and Brew Dog went ahead and got one, albeit a crazed, slightly vicious but utterly beautiful one. This Imperial Stout originally appeared as the legendary AB:04 but has made a much anticipated return for the aniversary celebrations. It contains ‘copious amounts of dark malts, pure cacao, coffee and subtle naga chilli’ so pretty much all the best things you could put into a beer. Presented in a beautifully sinister black box, you know this is gonna be pretty special. The aroma is incredible; you get so much of the chocolate and naga it reminds me of my home-made chocolate chilli but with shed-loads more awesomeness. The flavour is warming, full of dark malts with a real bitter-sweet kick of the blackest chocolate and followed with a subtle after-burn. Exceptionally silky with a tiny hint of smoke. Without a doubt the best beer of the day which is just as well since my note-taking stopped here (possibly rendered speechless by the majesty of the Dog A). Thanks for letting us come to your party Brewdog – it rocked!

The true meaning of Christmas

This is what willpower looks like - still five left to drink!

Since I’ve taken the day off to wait for parcels/finish building my new bike, I thought I’d have a much-needed clearout of the beer-bottles I’ve been keeping in my kitchen for goodness knows what reason. Besides, I’ve gotta make some room for the massive Brewdog order I have coming (excited much)! I know I’ve mentioned these fabulous 12 Stouts of Christmas a few times before so I thought I’d let you have a look before I chuck the empties. So here’s Christmas 2011’s Bristol Beer Factory sleigh-load of sumptuousness mmmmmm….

Top row from left: Chocolate Orange Stout, Raspberry Stout, Bristol Stout, Imperial Stout (Laphroaig Cask), Ultimate Stout, Imperial Stout

Bottom row from left: Chocolate Stout, Bristol Vintage 2011, Vanilla Milk Stout, Hazlenut Latte Stout, Milk Stout, Imperial Stout (Glenlivet Cask)

In case you were lucky enough to get your hands on this set and you’re wondering what happened to the Chilli Chocolate Stout, the stupid oafs at Fedex destroyed it so if you happened to get one, I’d love to know what it was like. The kind and beautiful people at BBF sent us a different one to replace it (can’t remember which though) even though this was the second box they sent (Fedex destroyed the first box. I still mourn those yummy stouts).

Looking forward to Grillstock! Hope Bristol bring some more of that incredible Indian Ink to go with my barbeque ribs!

Bristol Winterlude

Some readers unlucky enough to not have any trips to York or Sheffield planned (more fool you!) may be pleased to know that this is a little interlude from that particular tale. As you may be aware, I am particuarly partial to darker styles and in my humble opinion Bristol Beer Factory make a fine stout at the best of times. They’re so good that at Christmas my partner and I couldn’t resist treating ourselves to their Twelve Stouts of Christmas which is a great way to try their regulars as well as some special editions. Unlucky for you, this here bad boy is an extra-special edition. Imperial Stout aged in Laphroaig Whisky Casks (9%ABV). Innis & Gunn – you’re toast. We had good times but this stuff is the real deal. This is what happens when you take an already exceptional stout then age it in the oak casks from an exceptional whisky. The ideal Friday evening treat to cozy up with and round off this wet and wintery week.

Whisky in the jar? I'd rather have some of this yummy stout thanks!

The strange thing is, although I know from my whisky-loving companions that Laphroaig is the schizz, I am in no way a whisky drinker. My partner had a bottle a while ago which he savoured and loved but for a warming spirit, I go with rum every time. I did try some a couple of times, but it was just too smokey, too much. The aroma of this stout brings it back vividly; on a blind test, I’m not convinced I could even identify this as a stout, or any other beer. It just smells of Laphroaig. I guess it’s expected since the Stout was aged for six months in oak casks previously used for Laphroaig’s 10 year old whisky. As I’ve come to expect from Bristol, this is a proper, almost black as night stout, opaque and so thick you can roll it around in the glass and watch it coat the sides. The flavour is intense, complex, voluptuous, full. It remarkably maintains the character of the stout with velvety notes of chocolate and takes on the oaky smoke of the whisky, combining to create a deep dark roasted old brown java crescendo finish. You’re quickly left with a slightly dry boozy mouth which makes you long for the next sip.

I really hope this makes a re-appearance at some point, but if not I am still super excited that Bristol will be putting together another twelve stouts this Christmas! Only another 8 months to go! For now, I’m looking forward to catching them at Grillstock, the ultimate celebration of barbeque, beer and hick music. I’m pretty sure last year I was their first customer. Who’s going this year?

Titanic triumph

I have been a big fan of Titanic Brewery for a long time. Like the ill-fated luxury liner herself, you can always expect quality, classy, refined flavors and beautiful designs on the labels and pump-clips. However, it’s unlikely that this brewery will be sunk anytime soon since their beers seem to be appearing everywhere at the moment (incuding Waitrose) so there’s no excuses not to take a cruise with these brews. One of my best memories of Titanic was a lovely strong beer called something like Shipwreck at the Southwestern Arms. I don’t have clear memories of exactly what this was (maybe one of you could tell me) but it went down far too easily for it’s strength and made me feel jolly perculiar through pint number three. I believe the only Titanic I have been disapppointed by was the Nine Tenths Below which recently made an appearance at the Weatherspoons Real Ale Festival, although I admit the style of this one is not generally the sort of thing I go for. I was very excited today when I saw that Weatherspoons are due to have a festival of Titanic beers between April 5th & 9th.

Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout

The old lady definately wouldn't throw this back into the ocean

Since I have spent my Sunday peddling up and down the hills of the Tennyson Trail on the Isle of Wight on my mountain bike (recommended by the way – just beautiful), my choice of beer tonight is a bit of an indulgent treat and a real firm favorite. Titanic Chocolate & Vanilla Stout (4.5%ABV). The clear glass bottle allows you to be tantalised by the beautiful deep brown colour. When you open the bottle you are hit with the most incredible rich scent of chocolate and vanilla with a tiny whisper of espresso – I would consider wearing this scent it is so amazing and addictive. I literally sit here inhaling from the bottle like a crazy glue-sniffer but with a more refined palate. Pour it out and you discover the luxurious white head which is almost like a posh liquor coffee. The flavor lives up to the looks and aroma 100%. There’s literally enough flavor to sink the Titanic here. It feels thick and rich,  almost creamy. There’s a definate sweetness but also a little dry bitterness at the back, perfectly balanced by the Madagascan vanilla. It’s the perfect grown-up pudding. The warmth and fullness of flavour makes you think it’s much stronger so it’s a really good one to round off a busy day.

Damned Albert…

It’s been a while since my last post so sorry about that! I haven’t abandoned my blog and I have actually had the first part of this post written for over a week but then I decided I needed to buy another bottle to finish the review (excuses). Also, I have spent a rather alcoholic weekend in the beautiful city of Chester for a friend’s hen do. If you love beer by the way, Chester is crammed with real ale pubs. Even the hotel I was in, The Mill, had a real ale pub with 10 rotating guests! So now I have sobered up, I’d like to tell you about two beers from the amazing Struise Brouwers.

Over a decade ago, two Flemish ostrich farmers had a crazy notion that they would start brewing beers for their guest house. Now I would never be one to turn down a juicy ostrich steak, but my goodness, I’m glad they branched out into beer! Since humble beginnings producing regional beers with the aid of a local wine maker back in 2001, De Struise Brouwers now have their own microbrewery and have received numerous accolades including the honor of 2008 ‘Best brewers in the world’ as voted for by readers on Rate Beer.

Amongst their line-up proudly stands Black Albert (13%ABV). Described as a “Belgian Royal Stout” and made with ingredients of only Belgian origin, this noble beast was named for the Belgian King Albert II.

Before I started my beer blog, two of the most memorable bottles the OH had brought back from one of his trips to Brussels were Struise Black Damnation I & II (Mocha Bomb). These stuck in my memory because I absolutely adore the Russian Imperial Stout style and these had some clout and a lot of character. Back then, I hadn’t appreciated that these were the first two of a dozen very special creations spawned from Black Albert.

Dark, sophistocated but a little too short...

Dark, sophistocated but a little too short...

I have now been lucky enough to find Black Damnation IV (13%ABV) right here in Southampton at the lovely Bitter Virtue. IV is the ‘Coffee Club’ edition. To me, ‘Coffee Club’ would make me think of some imaginary sophistocated Al Fresco cafe in Europe where ladies carry dogs in handbags and sip Espresso. This is completely the opposite. The label looks like it’s the kind of beer your mother might have warned you about. A skull grins out from a dark, intricate design which came straight out of the Temple of Doom. The text describes a beer ‘as black as hell, filthy rich in the nose and with a massive taste.’ It shares the first two Black Damnations’ dark, smooth good looks and tight froth cap. What makes this one different is that the Black Albert has been aged for six months in very old rum barrels. The aroma is an intriguingly sweet, malty, rich, dark coffee, like a posh coffee-cream enrobed in a luxurious velvety black chocolate. For a lover of quality espresso, this is pure indulgence. It’s like a thick, warming but naughty bitter-sweet shot of espresso with a little tot of your favorite rum to warm the very depths of the soul. There’s a slight smoke but it’s the rich smoke of very darkly roasted coffee beans, offset by the sweetness of the vanilla. I don’t care if I’m damned – I took a dance with this demon and liked it.

Simply Sumptuous

Simply sumptuous

So now that I had tried three of the Damnation dozen, I had to try the original, hence why this review was slightly held up! Since I had a long train journey to Chester and needed the company, I took Black Albert (13%ABV) along. A crowded train is always so much nicer with an interesting companion. Out of plastic and on a moving vehicle, the Black Albert poured the same rich, dirty black as the Black Damnation IV, but had a slightly effervescent quality with a dark tan head that disappeared in seconds. Maybe this effervecence enhanced the beautiful, addictive aroma of malt, dark cherries and candy-floss which paved the way for one of the most incredible Stouts I have ever experienced. The flavour was rich, gooey, sumptuous dark chocolate gateaux with some of that candy sweetness shining through, the mouthfeel thick like liquid velvet. Right at the end you get a soft malty fruit cake and you’re left a warming alcoholic satisfaction that feels a little naughty like you’ve been stealing the plump kirch cherries from the top of a black forest trifle. The OH had better leave room in his suitcase next time he goes to Brussels for the other 9 Black Damnations – I need to try them all!

Bearded Lady – black magic?

After the discovery that there are occasional examples of brewing magic in the New Forest at the Vibrant Forest Brewery, I have returned to the North for Sunday’s treat. Magic Rock are a Huddersfield brewery inspired by American craft brewing and possibly the dark arts. Having tried a few of their beers up north and been rather impressed, I was keen to get acquainted with their Bearded Lady (10.5%ABV) I had heard about. It’s an Imperial Brown Stout which pours a rich dark chocolate brown with a little bit of a frothy head which was short-lived in my glass, yet hung around a lot longer for the OH (a little weird!). As soon as you pour, you are hit with this big, complex aroma which is hoppy with dark berries and chocolate and a little bit naughty and decadant.

Bearded Lady

A case where blondes do not have more fun

I have very little experience of Brown Imperial Stouts. Perhaps, like bearded ladies, they are fairly unusual. However if this is what I have been missing out on, I’d like to see more of them please. Although there is a hoppy overtone throughout, there is also an indulgent black forest gateaux flavour going on which is bitter and sweet at the same time. The high alcohol content gives it a strong but warming kick, a little like a boozy kirch cherry pudding and the mouth feel is luxuriously thick and velvety. There’s a long, dry, hoppy finish with a little sweet spice but those sumptuously mouth-watering black cherries stay with you.

I think this Bearded Lady and I could get along quite well. She’s dark, strong and complicated but also fruity, generous and fun – I don’t think this is the last time we’ll meet. Don’t worry if people stare, Bearded Lady – it’s because you are beautiful.

The Hunt for Black Oktober

In the part of the country I live in, I am quite sorry to say that I actually find a lot of the beer slightly boring. The South of England seems to me to be overly fond of light session bitters which to me don’t taste like much. Feel free to argue against this as I would love to discover some more satisfying local ales. I’m actually a bit of a hippy when it comes to groceries, preferring to shop at farmers markets and buying food from sources as local as I can find so I would love to buy more local beer too.

I was very pleasantly surprised, however, to discover at my local Bitter Virtue that there’s a new kid in town (actually just down the road from where I live)! In July last year, the Vibrant Forest microbrewery was opened for business in Totton, Hampshire. I was initially attracted to the crazy names (such as Ginga Ninga and Flying Saucer), colorful labels and bright yellow bottlecaps. In the range, there’s a good variety of styles but I decided to choose a porter (I’ll review that another time) and the Black Oktober Imperial Russian Stout (7.2%ABV).

Black Oktober

The hunt is over. I found my local Stout!

Well, I think finally we have an awesome brewery on our doorstep. I was impressed from the moment I opened the bottle. Since it’s from a small brewery and bottle-conditioned with live yeast, I was cautious open it. As you would see from my kitchen ceiling, there have been a few surprises from bottle-conditioned ales over the years. However it looks like Vibrant Forest know their stuff as it was opened with no drama and poured a beautiful luxurious deep black which is just how I like my stout to look. Although the bottle claims there should be a ‘coffee froth style head,’ I didn’t see one but that didn’t bother me too much. The aroma is so rich and complex with liquorice, vanilla, dark chocolate and malt. The taste is initially bitter dark chocolate but there is a bit of sweetness and some cereal maltiness at the end. The mouthfeel is thick, almost chewy and after each sip there’s a lovely warm feeling from the alcohol going right down to my stomach – perfect after a cold windy day like today. Such a satisfying stout! Vibrant Forest – you are my new favorite local brewery.

 

Reassuringly expensive?

Not long ago, I became aware of some rather interesting reports from accross the Atlantic. Reports of a covert operation going on at Brooklyn Brewery under the code name ‘Black Ops.’ Apparently, they had been creating a lucious Russian black stout each year, but when questioned they denied all knowledge. Still, the reports kept coming in from all over the web. Some said they had procured Woodford Reserve bourbon barrels in a deal shrouded in secrecy and they had been aging a stout in these casks for four months, bottling it flat and re-fermenting it using champagne yeast. Pretty decadant for a stout. So surely if it really did exist, I would have seen it on their website? One day in late January 2012, a covert operation was launched in Southampton UK. The mission? To find proof of whether or not Black Ops actually exists once and for all. It wasn’t long before the trail lead us to the door of Bitter Virtue (http://www.bittervirtue.co.uk/), a small, friendly, unassuming off-licence with a secret. They had been selling Black Ops!

The evidence

They said it wasn't true - here's the proof

What is Black Ops? In the glass, it is a  rich, black velvet with a tight, luxurious, caramel head. At 10.7% ABV, the flavour is strong but impressively smooth. The rich bourbon shines through, closely followed by muscavado sugar, dark fruit cake and burnt toffee. Then you’re hit with the coffee wrapped up in soft sweet vanilla. Truely an exceptional stout and a must-try if you can track it down.

So if you couldn’t find this 2011 edition, when will there be more? A Brooklyn employee who would not give his name says ‘We have no idea what you’re talking about, and if there was such a beer, we would certainly not be able to tell you it’s released every November in exceedingly small quantities.’ My sources have revealed that Bitter Virtue may still have a couple of bottles. But I have a strong suspicion they are on to us. I’m going to buy another before it disappears without a trace.

At around £20, yes you could buy a decent wine or a few good bottled beers but I guarantee they won’t come close to this. At 750ml, it’s even more fun to share with a good friend (ok a very good friend). When Stella Artois coined their marketing slogan Reassuringly Expensive, I doubt they had discovered the American craft scene (or seen what their dross sells for in Asda come to think of it). It is even less likely that they would have encountered Brooklyn Black Ops, since Black Ops does not exist. Or so they would have you believe.