Scotland: Paradox Islay #004, BrewDog, Aberdeenshire

bdpi1What a mess. I hadn’t realized the label was made of hard card stock stuck on with two-sided sticky tape. I might take it down to the lab and get James’ near teen DNA off of it. Bottle 131 of 200. By opening it, I probably just threw away the 100 bucks I could get from some guy in Kansas on eBay. Sent as a sample by the brewery when they were but boys a few years back. I decided to open it after watching a little Horatio Hornblower that was accompanied by a Bourbn County stout. No doubt you have known that moment, too.

As promised, it is all Islay on the nose, the beloved smoky low Islands Scots whisky. Land of my fathers. Because the stout sat in a barrel of the 1968. My mother’s cousin-in-law was a canny and, for the Clyde, stylish post-war whisky broker in the southwest so I am sure he would approve. He certainly would recognize it. Deep deep mahogany under mocha rim and froth. Aroma of the malt but in the mouth it is sharp. At first, a hammer of old Dutch man’s licorice with all the salt that goes along with seaweedy Islay – then something like a stout with something like a whisky. It isn’t really anything like “balanced” and I wonder, honestly, if it is more of an artifact than a beer. Dry and a little like something I would call harsh but on the lovely side of harsh. Descriptors like “whopping”, “foolish” and “two by four to the head” come to mind. Planky. Sae halp ma bob. That is all I can say.

One sole BAer went mad for this early Holy Grail like example of experimental 21st century UK brewing.

Vermont: Odd Notion Fall ’09, Magic Hat, SoBurl

If Google is anything to go by – and it might well turn out to be – then I have clearly had a fair number of beers by Magic Hat. Like the buttery goodness. Like the quirky branding. Like the experimentations. This beer is one of there recent Odd Notions and I am told it is a stout, which it is, but was not told to expect smoked malt. It’s like a black thick stout with about 10% rauchbier added. Quite yummy stuff. Pours deep dark with a thin deep brown rim. Fine mocha foam verging on the burgundy tinged. It gives scents of cream, dark plum as well as a little roastiness. These continue in the swish with cocoa, earthiness, smoke, date, and a whack of other dark favours all in a reasonably big body which is also moreish. Quite the nicest stout I have had in a while.

Three bottles in each mixed 12-pack this autumnal season. Best of their special brews which I have had yet. Plenty of BAer love though they call it a Belgian dark unlike the brewery.

Scotland: Paradox Springbank, BrewDog, Fraserburgh

1208“It smells like the granary when it’s filled.” I think that is what I was told but it makes sense.

It pours – imagine – rather deep brownish and has a rich mocha froth and foam. The nose in delightful. Fig and chocolate, milk and bread crust. Like a rich child’s breakfast in 1710. The mouth expands with both smooth and whisky sharp. Not Lowland, Campbelltown. Barely a “hodge yer whisht” from the land of my forefathers off the far eastern side of Arran. An amazing swishy mouthful of softness, grain, roast and shadow of burn. Batch 17 in the Paradox series. “Awfy braw” were Oor Wullie asked.

BAers don’t do subtle. The lips tingle from the water of life.

Denmark: Beer Geek Breakfast, Mikkeller, København

It’s been a tough old day. I was in a suit and tie until 11:30 pm yesterday. Nothing could be worse. Then, Paul and I are all pointy fingers over war and, over at Stan’s, otherwise seemingly sensible people are going absolutely handbags over the meaning of art. Well, at least you can’t suggest I am sweating the small stuff.

So I need a moment. For myself. Just me and a 7.5% Scandinavian oatmeal stout. I was given this as a sample from the kind people at Roland and Russell. They represent Mikkeller here in Ontario as well as a number of other snazzy brewers. There have been others from Mikkeller care of RR. But I stuck the Santa’s Little Helper 2008 in the deeper depths of the stash. And I think I’ve had a Jackie Brown and an IPA as well – but I took no notes. Put the blame on me. Or blame it on Fridays after work when I just want something astounding and Nordic but, as you know, one can only reread ones Thor comics so many times. Or (Note: warning) blame it on the rain for what it’s worth. But the fact is that they went down the cake hole and the delicacy of the experience has been lost to the generations of mankind who shall follow. I noted not. The authors of those biographical masters theses will be right some grumpy when they find out.

“Buh’wuzziylie?” you ask. A bit of the smell of a double cream sherry on the popping of the cap. Once poured, the scent is all mocha. The head is a long lasting brown cream foam. Browner than beige or mocha. Real brown. In the mouth, not the heaviest strong stout I have had but pretty damn smooth. Silky oat and roasty dark chocolate. Then things come in quick succession: mint hop, chalk, licking a rock, unsweet licorice and a bunch of other things in a jumble. The finish is long and shape shifting, too. Plenty of texture as well. Dusty dry cocoa, cream yeast, even slight hop astringency. Lots going on. Triff’.

BAers know the love.

Stouts: John By Imperial Stout, Scotch Irish Brewing, Ontario

jbis1This is a great new stout from the Scotch Irish Brewing branch of Heritage, the eastern Ontario makers of a very good IPA and a solid, if only seasonal, porter. There is much talk about this one over at the Bar Towel, the province’s beer fan forum, with a little discussion of whether a 6.7% beer can be called an Imperial stout.

Does it matter? Not really. The labels and gradations of beer are as fluid as what is in the glass and what is in this glass is a full bore stout with plenty of the hallmarks of the style. The brew is deep and dark with a narrow brown edge showing when held up against the light. The tan head fades to a thin rim. In the mouth there is a mass of Dutch salty licorice over dark chocolate with some toast and prune treacle, if such a thing exists, underneath. It is all infused with the minty hop that opens up in the finish.

I think this is an excellent example how big need not mean skull-splittingly strong and that Imperial stout can mean grand and not just alcohol ridden. Seven BAers give firm support.

Gritty McDuff’s, Portland and Freeport, Maine, USA

Gritty McDuff’s Brewpub, Portland
 

I got to visit both the Portland and Freeport locations of the oldest brewpub in Maine within 24 hours. I am glad to say the brew in each is fine even if the setting of the Freeport pub is a bit rough. It is a bit like drinking in an old storage shed though – to be very fair – it is clearly a summer spot and dropping in during a late winter snow storm did not show it to its best. I liked the food in both spots.

 

 

 

 

If I was in Freeport again I probably would stop in for a stout but if you are heading to visit just one, go to Portland. In each you can see bench seating which is fairly common in New England and Atlantic Canada but less so as you move west. Superb. Their use of rolled raw barley creates a creamy mouthfeel that out strips Guinness anyday. It is like melted ice cream…ok…it reminds me of melted ice cream with a pin-fine nitro beige head above black malt roasty double devon. It is exceptional.

 

 

 

 

I also tried the Scotch Ale in the Freeport location and was similarly impressed. I sometime wonder about the style and whether you can put anything in it you want as long as it has less hops and a black malt roughness. This offering has an orangey hue as well as that flavour in the mouth – a nod to Scotch seville marmadade? The fruitiness is counteracted with the rough black malt, subdued green hop and a slight smokey feel. With an additional tangy edge, the overall effect is slightly Belgian and slightly Scots. Very nice and at 6.3% a wee methodical ale worth deconstructing over an afternoon’s sip.

So definitely worth the visit for the ales, Portland for the ales and the location. Gritty’s also bottles its own – or at least has it contract brewed somewhere – which you can pick up pretty much anywhere in southern Maine. I think I brought a quart of Black Fly home for further study. Below are some shots from the Freeport location which you can click on for a larger view.

New York: Variety 12- Pack, Cooperstown Brewing, Milford

Another big buy from my trip a few weeks ago to the Party Source in Syracuse, NY. The case of this happy vista upon cracking the cardboard. Cooperstown Brewing is not actually in Cooperstown but is a proud cornerstone of the Milford, New York business community.

Like the Smuttynose case review posted ten days ago, I will work through the varieties included in this combo pack and give my impression of what the brewery is up to. One preliminary point, however. In this pack there are twelve bottles of six types as opposed to the four types. For me this takes out the “what do you think opportunity” – I don’t mind sharing a third but I think two bottles separated by a couple of days helps me think about whether I like a brew or not. Also, without having had one, drop the “golden ale”. Maybe once I have popped them, I will feel differently but to me that sounds like a pale ale that can’t work itself up to call itself even that. Plus, having sneaked one each of the stout and porter already, I know you could drop the stout. The porter is a real winner but the stout is not. You are trying to win me over with these mixed cases, so my advice is play your best cards.

I will review all six ales – and they are all ales which is a plus from the get go – as I pop ’em.

Golden Ale: I am not sure whether I have to retract what I wrote above, now a few days ago, but I am also not minding this light ale. That is what it really is at 4.3%. The brewery says:”Nine Man” is a golden ale, brewed from English pale and crystal malts, and with torrified wheat. It is bittered with Cascade and Cluster hops and finished with Cascade hops. “Nine Man Ale” was first brewed as a summer seasonal beer in 1996. It was kegged the first season but not bottled until the opening of the baseball season in April 1997.

– Original Gravity 1.045 / Final Gravity 1.012 /4.3% abv.

There is more body in this than a supposedly full-bodied Canadian macro-ale like Labatt 50. The hop selection and timing provides a good edge to the brew without florals or fruity flavour – maybe a wee lemon rind thing. The crystal malt gives it a slight nutty tone as well. Nothing remarkable except that at that moderate alcohol level, it does not come across as any kind of compromise. The beer advocatonians are a little restless with a 19% thumbs down rating. Here is one unhappy soul’s tale:Found this to be a decent, quaffable light ale. It has a pleasant medium gold appearance with a slight head. The aroma has hints of mown grass with some hints of Saaz hops. Tart, slightly fruity flavor. At the end, find it to be a bit clingy and starchy on the aftertaste.That reviewer rated it 2.9 out of 5. What do you want from a light ale?!?! But that is it! It is not called a light ale or even a lite one but a golden one. By not admitting what it is, has Cooperstown lost a market? Perhaps. For now, I say leave three of these in the box…maybe as a summer seasonal.

Pride of Milford: Strong Ale. The brewery says 7.7% which is about 2.2% higher than I would have guessed from the mouthfeel. It is rich but not Belgian fruity, more restrained like a low-end barley wine. The excellent Lew Bryson in his excellent, nay, seminal New York Breweries (1st ed. 2003 Stackpole Books) calls it at page 166:…a big beer that showcases the beautiful character of the Yorkshire [Ringwood] yeast. It’s malty, cookie-sweet and touched by fruity esters and Ringwood nuttiness that I love…I would agree with everything but the “cookie-sweet” unless we are talking ginger snap or milk lunch. I think this is actually moderately rich and dry – think amontillado or oloroso rather than fino if we were taking sherry which we are not but I thought I would say it anyway. The brewery says:

“Pride of Milford” is a very special ale with a tapestry of complex flavors and aromas. It is brewed with five malts and fermented with the Ringwood yeast at a higher temperature which gives this beer a uniqueness all its own. “Pride” has a distinctive reddish copper color. It is strong and rich beer. When “Pride” was first brewed in December 1999, many thought the flavor and aromas of this beer had fruit overtones. No fruit or adjunct flavoring is added to this beer. The unique flavor comes from our special brewing process.

It is not particularly pungent and has a soft mouthfeel, which would make it quite sneaky if one faced an afternoon at a cottage in winter with a fridgefull. Which raises the question of why this would be included in a case in July. I say include three of these in the case in winter replaced by the Golden Ale in the summer. I think beerish advocates would agree.

Strike Out Stout: The head fizzed like a Coke as it was poured and dissolved away within ten seconds. A nice flavour with chocolate and dry darker malts but subdued, a lighter bodied stout. An oxymoron. Fades in the mouth leaving a cocoa-chalky feel then just a little sour tang. The brewery is kinder to itself:

“Strike Out” is brewed with 6 malts including a balanced portion of chocolate and crystal malts. It is also brewed with 5% flaked oats for a velvet-like mouth feel. English pale, Munich and black malt, plus roasted barley round out the malt bill. Considerably lower in alcohol than both Benchwarmer Porter and Old Slugger Pale Ale, “Strike Out” is a well-rounded stout, opaque black in color with a roasted palate.

        People looking for a stout will be disappointed, especially with the 4.6% but also the crystal malt, quite off style, even for an oatmeal stout. Consider these

two great oatmeal stouts

         easily accessible to someone in the east end of Lake Ontario region. Both have richness. Strike Out does not. It should be reformulated with some body added or it should be called a dark ale, a lesser style. The yeast is a bit sour, too. Not really on for the style. I think I have made a stout like this and not been that proud of it.

One unhappy beer advocate

       captures my thoughts:

Almost black. Big Huge fizzy brown head. Good retention. Head forms craters as it dissintegrates. This beer appears to be very charged up by its appearance. Coffee bean, soap and leather are present on the nose. There’s something wrong with this beer. (Actually, many things.) Mouthfeel is way too carbonated. I get so damn much gas in every gulp that a burp is always the aftermath. The taste is astringent. Husky. Tannin like. Soapy. Stale. No stout qualities to speak of. I haven’t dumped a beer in months, but I just don’t feel like burping 20 times by the time I finish this one.

      So ditch this beer, Cooperstown. I think I am going to like the porter better from the recollection of the first. Leave this one out of the variety case to make some room of the seasonal.

Old Slugger Pale Ale: If there are two words that are bad in beer they are “Mt.” and “Hood”. Some call them spicy. Others, like me, rough and dirty, like a little bit of bark in every sip. I didn’t know what was so odd about this brew until I saw those two words – then I knew. Al Korzonas in his text Homebrewing – Vol. 1 (Sheaf & Vine, 1997) writes:

Another recently released American-grown cousin of Hallertauer Mittlefrüh. It is spicy (cinnamon), resiny and slightly sweet. It is recommended for any German or American lager. It is quite close to the Hallettaur Mittlefrüh in character, perhaps a little spicier. I recommend against using this hop for beers in which you want dominant bitterness – in a recent experiment I found its bitterness to be slightly abrasive when used in a recipe where the bitterness strongly dominated the malt.

      Not good news for a pale ale – that fairly malty, fairly bitter style.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an ambitious brew – ringwood yeast and its sour, woodsy thing; three very different hops, Mt. Hood as well as twiggy Fuggles and citrusy Cascade; as well as four barley malts including two types of crystal. For all that work there is an absence of finesse, the balance that makes all that flavour pull together. What would help? There is butterscotch but it is sitting there in a gap that needs to be filled up with biscuit. Again with the body…Cooperstown is just making them too light for the amount of flavour they want you to take in. Like the stout, it leaves you with an impression that it is thinner than it ought to be. Also like the stout, the head disappeared fast. The beer advocates give at a fairly low average for a micro.

Back Yard India Pale Ale: The head sustains longer than the stout or the pale ale. This is a good sign. The first taste is of vegetative rather than herbal hops. Clover sweet. There is a rough malt grain edge but is works in this one. This beer would go well with rich earthy flavours like ox-tail soup, parsley potato soup or roast squash. You know what I saying. I know you do. Maybe it is just that the ringwood challenge has been met with this one. A full three ales in the variety pack year round.

Interestingly, the unhappy beer advocates are talking about gushing bottles, cloudy ale and high burposity. These comments all go to problems at the brewery. My bottle was nothing like this, fairly still and balanced. So be prepared for bottle variation. The brewery says something very interesting:

English pale barley malt is predominant in this beer with just a small amount of crystal malt. It is well bittered with Cluster and Cascade hops and finished with a mix of local hop and larger amounts of Fuggle hop.The southeast zone of the leather-stocking region in New York (west of the Syracuse-Binghampton corridor south-west of Albany) was a hop growing area before the west was truly won and a local hop is a good hop if it is a heritage variety as this claim might be taken to imply. All in all, I am very happy with this beer. No Flower Power IPA from Ithaca but a worthy if less brassy neighbour. Redemption in the case.

Benchwarmer Porter: Comfort beer and, again like the IPA, a worthy placement in the case. The head is rocky and tan. The mouthfeel is full and full of mocha and fresh picked unsweetened black current. A beer fit for the Ringwood, but porter usually is. I used to make Ringwood pumpkin porter in my homebrewing days…but less about me, more about the brew. The brewery says:More than 4% chocolate malt, which is the most similar to the brown malts of the early 1700’s, gives “Benchwarmer” its dry coffee-like finish. It is fermented with the Ringwood yeast which is an excellent yeast for the brewing of porters.I am buying it but are the beer advocates? 43 reviews all all positive. One says:

Big foamy head and very dark color, but not opaque. Lots of hops for a porter, and they work well in drying out a slightly chewy mouthfeel, as well as imparting nice hints of herbs and dry leaves. Very tasty underlying flavors of espresso, dry molasses and earth. The finish is dry, with the coffee/espresso flavors lingering with a touch of alcohol. Really complex on tap.

Many reviewers taste some smoke which I did not get at all. Oh, well. Such is life. Very decent porter.

So all in all this is an ok variety pack but I now know what I will buy in a six and what I will not. Some concern for production quality but when they do well they do well. Nothing life changing but they are thinking and they are achieving – two things I have to remember to get around to from time to time Work on the stout and the pale ale, mix up the case to go with four styles not six and you are going to be ok.

Stouts: Freeminer Deep Shaft, Gloucestershire, England

dss1Who can resist when one reviewer says: ” Very possibly the darkest beer in the world.” Well…I suppose lots of people who do not like dark or black beer. But for people who understand that Guinness is actually red, this kind of line makes an ale very attractive.

Freeminer Brewery is one of the small brewers in the Wessex Craft Brewers Co-operative, a shadowy group that appears to make – or perhaps only bottle – fine traditional West Country English ales through some sort of equipment sharing. RCH Brewery, Ash Vine Brewery, Hand Brewed Beers and Freeminer Brewery all appear to have been part of the co-op. Ash Vine, makers of the excellent Hop and Glory pale ale which the LCBO carried in the spring of 2001, went under a couple of years ago. RCH started in a Hotel serving only the clientele. Small timers.

But small is good. The advocatonians rate it 4.31 out of 5 which is the only stout ahead of Guinness at 4.27. Which is all very nice but I have yet even to open the bottle, so verklempt I am over the Sox and Yanks going into the 10th inning as I type. The head is mocha and below, inky. The stout fan I married…yet did not buy a second of these for…equates a good stout with a good chocolate and that is there, fine graininess like espresso or dark chocolate. Raisins from dark crystal malt. Like Shipyard IPA, it only uses the woodsy Fuggles hop, so less minty than Guinness which uses Northern Brewer. The brewer says:

Guardian Bottle Conditioned beer of 1996. Not for wimps! Everything a BCB should be. Packed solid with malt, hops, and oats. Possibly the darkest stout of all time, a single varietal beer, made only with Fuggles hops, packed with bitterness, and brimming with aroma hopping, a deep and complex beer, worth taking some time over, and exploring the Hampton Court like maze of complex flavours. Initially, the dry, biscuit flavour of roast barley attacks the palate, soon to be replaced by the soothing Fuggles balm of rich smokiness, and then layer upon layer of malted oats, rich dark malts, and an unidentifiable eutectic¹ finish of pure stout character. The definitive stout for the discerning drinker, dive in and explore!!

Expensive at 4.99 USD for a single pint but this is pretty much the premier grand cru classé of stouts. If you were to look for a more available comparable stout you could try Royal Extra from Trinidad but you have to remove its sweetness and replace it with about 27 other layers of flavour. And that is impossible.

—–

¹Loverly word. “The lowest temperature at which a mix of two materials will melt. Often the temperature is an anomaly, that is, it is much lower than the melting temperatures of only slightly different mixtures. Lead-tin solder is an example. Lead melts at 327C, tin at 231C. The lowest melting combination is 67 lead, 33 tin (180C). Non-eutectic mixtures have a melting or softening range. Such mixtures do not flow well until thoroughly heated past the softening range. This softening phenomenon is what makes glazes hang onto the ware.”