Sunday, 21 October 2012

Beavertown Brewery - 8 Ball 6.2%

There's a bit of a buzz about Beavertown Brewery at the moment, and the buzz says that the beer is good. Very good. So when, last Friday, I got the opportunity to taste and purchase a few bottles of their beer I jumped at the chance.
I'll be reviewing the Rye IPA, 8 Ball, tonight with Smog Rocket, the smoked porter and Black Betty, the black IPA (released on 17th October) to come soon, however before I break off I'll take this as my cue (did you see what I did there?) to tell you a bit about the brewery.
Formed in February of this year (2012) by Off Broadway cocktail bar owner Byron Knight and the son of Led Zeppelin front man Robert Plant's son, Logan, it is based in Dukes Brew & Que restaurant in the De Beauvoir Town district of Hackney from which it gets its name. Beavertown is an affectionate local derivation of the name, given to it by those cheeky Cockney scamps (my old man, cor blimey guv'nor, strike a light, etc.) and caused a little confusion amongst drinkers at first.
Incidentally, for those of you with an interest in graphic design and branding I found an article in Design Week online concerning Beavertown Brewery that you may find informative.
The 8 ball is dry hopped with (unspecified) 'juicy American hops, using old pool balls to weigh the hop sack down in the beer. Hence the name.' It might also be noted, and completely unconnected, that an 8 ball is the 'street' name for an eighth of an ounce (3.5 grams) of cocaine, and also for an Olde English malt liquor usually served in a 40 ounce bottle, to quote Eazy E in Boyz N The Hood "They greet me with a 40 and I start drinking, And from the 8 ball my breath start stinking".
Hoping to avoid stinking breath this evening I open the bottle.
It pours a murky, muddy brown with a thin but sustained off-white head. The aroma is grated grapefruit peel, a little soapiness, raw bread dough and some gritty dryness, big bold and fresh as you like. It skids lightly over the tongue but pulls at the edges as though pulling a liquid tablecloth from the surface leaving all the flavour intact. And flavour it certainly has. A great big dollop of grapefruit peel mixed up with sticky oily bready mango dipped in toffee lands right in the middle of your tongue, bursting and raining down over the whole palate, ushering in a delicious wave of pineapple coupled with caramel, washing and sloshing around. It has a wonderful sweetness but the merest hint of meat juices like a sticky pork rib, very appropriate for the venue the brewery is based in, and I'm sure this is no coincidence. I would really love to try it 'in situ' with a big plate of ribs or the pulled-pork sliders I've read about. Oh yes. The finish is big, gooey and sweet, fading through a soft brown-bread-crust dryness into the grapefruit peel oiliness I got right at the beginning of both the aroma and taste.
This is one of the earliest recipes from Beavertown but it is an incredibly accomplished beer, soft, sweet and juicy but with doughy breadiness that pervades throughout, but without the strong soapy flavour sometimes found in rye beers.
It certainly is a very promising start.
The buzz is justified.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Firestone Walker Brewing Co - Double Jack 9.5%

This is the one I've been waiting for. This is the culmination of the three Firestone Walker bottles and I'm a little nervous.
It's a bit odd.
I have wanted to drink this beer from the moment I bought it. I also know it's best drunk fresh - within 120 days of bottling, Firestone Walker recommend - and I'm close to the limit now, but still I hesitate.
This is a beer that many covet, often described as one of the best of its type - that being the Imperial or Double IPA. Scoring 100 overall and 99 for style on RateBeer and 94 Exceptional on BeerAdvocate it might just be rather good.
But still I have this nagging doubt.
Does it get high ratings because it is so highly prized?
Other people who've had it tell me it's good, but what if I don't think so?
Well the answer to the last question is easy, my opinion is as valid as anyone elses so that's not a problem, but at 9.5% will it be all booze and no beauty?
Well, it's impossible to taste a beer without opening the bottle, so ...
Pouring an orange amber it has a high rocky off-white head that quickly settles to a light dusting of soap-bubble snow. The aroma is a gorgeous mix of tangerine, peach, lemon and grapefruit, but whilst these are all full and fruity there's a herbal blanket lurking in the background as if preparing to cover it all and snuff it out in an instant. The deeper I inhale the more intense this herbal note becomes and it's here that I detect the alcohol, like a puppet master controlling the whole affair, or a First World War General sending out the infantry to be slaughtered whilst wallowing in luxury miles from the front line. It's oily and a little heavy over the tongue, and this is a smooth mover, sinuously slinking and easing itself down the throat before exploding a big juicy hop bomb that envelops the whole mouth bursts out of the nose. There's a hint of caramel and honey at first, always a good sign of a decent malt balance, then the hops take over. Grapefruit, tangerine, mandarin orange marmalde and roasted caramelized pineapple detonate then vaporize in a glorious juicy flavoursome soaked instant. But what an instant that is, and one that I'm drawn back to again and again. Given its high abv this should really be a sipping beer, but it's one I find myself gulping down with gusto. I'm only getting the merest hint of the alcohol that I really expected to reveal itself as the malevolent usurper taking over in a boozy coup d'etat, but it holds itself back with splendid restraint. The finish is oily orange cream with a touch of white pepper and a piny resonance in the nose. This doesn't last as long as expected sadly, fading a little too quickly, and that it really my only criticism of this beer.
The balance here is superb, and even though the burst of flavour is pretty awesome it isn't the sole element that stays with me but more the focal point of a rather picturesque jigsaw. My fears over the alcohol content prove to be unfounded and I get an inkling of what the fuss is all about.
This was the most expensive (£10 a bottle) of the beers that I picked up at the GBBF, but my only regret is that I didn't buy another. As I write this final paragraph I finish the bottle, and although I had to concede a little to my wife this wasn't done grudgingly, it was just too wonderful to keep to myself. A beer this good deserves to be shared. I wish it was more widely available in the UK and if you're ever in possession of one then invite a few friends over, get a few hoppy IPAs together and have this as the culmination of the evening. I've thoroughly enjoyed my Firestone Walker adventure and looking back at this review I note that I have waxed a little more lyricaly than I intended. I suspect that this may be due to the alcohol, finally taking me by stealth and deception after all.
I care not. To the victor the spoils, I got the beer. And what a beer it was.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Firestone Walker Brewing Co - Union Jack 7.5%

First brewed in 2008, Firestone Walkers Union Jack apparently utilises four pounds of Pacific North-West hops per barrel, so I'm thinking that this might be a little hoppy and as RateBeer estimates it at around 75 IBUs then it certainly promises to be.
What's in a name ?
The Union Jack is the name often given to the Union Flag, the national flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, however this term is correct only if it is flown by a warship, and then only when that ship is at anchor. The United States has its own 'Union Jack', flown from the jackstaff in the bow of its vessels and representing its nationality. Jacks are always and only maritime flags and the US Navy originally adopted this design in 1776 consisting of thirteen horizontal stripes before switching to a dark blue flag with increasing numbers of stars representing increasing numbers of States. A rattlesnake was added to the original design and this has been used by the US Navy since September 11 2002, one year after the al-Qaeda attacks.
Quite some pedigree and quite a name. Let's hope this beer is up to it.
Pouring a darker amber than the Pale 31 I reviewed earlier this week, it has the same thin, lightly whipped white head. It probably won't surprise you that the aroma is big! There's lots of grapefruit pine and orange marmalade, with peaches and mango galore, but there's also a light waft of rich tea biscuit in the background as if a lorry carrying a great load them has had a head-on collision with a skip full of washing-up liquid. Odd, but strangely exciting. This beer leaps to the back of the throat, pouncing like a sharp citrus-soaked puma leaving thick and heavily concentrated grapefruit, orange and a hint of caramel in its wake. The heavy hop addition is certainly showing itself here but there's also a malty backbone holding the whole thing together nicely. The finish is a thick and sticky citrus sauce, sharp, and drying out everso slowly with a tiny bit of soapiness.
This is some beer, bold, brash and out there rather like the USA itself.
Yes indeed.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Firestone Walker Brewing Co - Pale 31  4.9%

Life. Funny old game isn't it?
The journey of idea to beer to glass can be an interesting one. Brewers take their inspirations from a variety of sources. Notions, dreams, paintings, snatches of overheard conversations can all plant the seed that leads, sometimes many years later, to bloom into wonderful examples of what happens when you combine four basic ingredients: water, malt, hops and yeast.
Similarly drinkers can experience similar epiphanies. I had one with Firestone Walker, and how I managed to get three different beers into my fridge.
It's all CAMRAs fault.
Them and their GBBF. Oh, and twitter too.
Planning to go to this years Great British Beer Festival, back at Olympia - by far my preferred venue - after its brief flirtation with Earls Court, I was keen to explore which beers I could expect to find there. Looking at the website was fine, but it was just a bit basic. The international beer bars have provided a increasingly interesting diversion at many recent beer festivals and I looked at the list posted with some real anticipation. This is where twitter came in. I wasn't fortunate enough to have tickets for the brewers day on the Tuesday, but had planned a trip for the Wednesday - with my wife I hasten to add. It was our wedding anniversary after all, and my wife is very partial to hoppy and golden ales, as well as claiming most of the wheat beer bought into our house, but I digress.
Twitter (if you've been following this so far) provided a willing procession of Tuesdays attendees willing to furnish me with ideas and suggestion for what I should try and what was on where, for which incidently I was very grateful, not only for cask ale but also for beer of the bottled variety.
The name that kept cropping up in nearly every post was of course Firestone Walker.
These were beers I'd heard about, read about and daydreamed of tasting.
So on the Wednesday after some wonderful beer tasting (I can still taste the Emelisse - Imperial Russian Stout(Ardbeg) if I think back to it) I wanted to buy some bottles to take home.
Going up to the bar I spotted  Firestone Walker beer. And not just one, three different ones!
My heart beat a little faster I admit.
These were duly purchased and if you want to know what the other two were, well, I'll be reviewing them soon enough.
Incidentally, as these were bought I had a tap on the shoulder from a chap who asked me if they were any good. I replied that I'd heard they were, so he bought some too. Chatting for a while it transpired he was in the process of setting up a new London brewery. With Mr. Des De Moor in the house I took him over and made the introductions. If only I could remember what the brewery was called I'd love to know how they are getting on.
Back to the beer.
Back to tonights beer.
Pouring a clear light amber with a thin white head, it has the most wonderful aroma of fizzy lychee sherbert with creamy mango and a touch of white grapes covered in cream. I know that sounds faintly ridiculous, but it really is all fresh and zingy. Prickly and fizzy over the tongue there's more creamy mango fused with white pepper and sprinkled with a little grapefruit peel. I love the way that beer sometimes gives up flavour combinations and notions that are impossible in food reality. For a 4.9% abv beer this sure packs a punch but it's enclosed in a velvet glove here for it's beautifully smooth and elegant. The finish is all dry pepper, grape and lychee with the merest hint of pine. It simply purrs.
What an introduction to Firestone Walker beer.
If this little beauty (and sadly little it is, coming in a 355ml bottle) is anything to go by, then I may be in for a couple more treats yet.
I'll drink to that.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Moor Beer Company - Revival 4.0%

Back in August (all that time ago!) I posted a review of Moor's Nor'Hop that I picked up at The House Of Trembling Madness in York. I mentioned at the time that I wanted to sample more (pun intended again) of what they had to offer and having picked up plenty of beery treats in Bacchanalia in Cambridge yesterday I spotted bottles of Moor beer in another off-licence on my way back to the car. Despite being laden with bottles I couldn't resist buying some.
Brewed to celebrate the revival of the brewery, all the information that you need (except which hops are used frustratingly) can be found on the brewery website here. Hoppy and refreshing, according to the bottle so let's see.
Pouring a cloudy amber with a thin white head and a fresh grassy citric-grapefruit-orange aroma, this is a very inviting beer for those who like it hoppy. Watery caramel toffee, a touch of pine and grapefruit flavours wash around the mouth, and it is rather refreshing - description satisfied. The finish is lovely dry citrus with a hint of barley-sugar too.
Another delicious beer from the Moor brewery, but to be honest I expected nothing less having heard very very good things about them from people whose opinions I respect.
Now, if only I could get my hands on a bottle of Hoppines ...