Sunday, 25 January 2015

Beer In Essex: An Open Letter To Essex Brewers And Breweries

Beer In Essex
An Open Letter To Essex Brewers and Breweries

Dear Essex brewers and breweries,

I hope that this letter finds you well and in good spirits, looking forward to the challenges of a new year. I am a great admirer of your beer, and please believe me when I say that as I do not wish to appear patronising or arrogant in what I have to say, merely open and honest as someone who cares about what you produce and how hard you work.

There are at last count, some thirty breweries operating within the borders of this fair county of ours, all of which are less than thirty-five years old and many of those less than ten. When the majority of these were founded the world of beer was a very different place indeed, in fact one could say almost a world away from where we are now. Good beer in the county, that which you could actually taste or get excited about was exclusively 'real ale' or cask beer if you prefer, and those of us who wanted to sample well-kept examples would travel some distance by car, train, bus and taxi, often to remote country pubs to drink the best.

In those days of limited choice the style of beer available was also limited of necessity. Breweries had a hard time getting their beer into pubs so all that could be found was a Bitter, a Best Bitter, and occasionally a Strong Ale. Porters or Stouts were exclusively winter beers and from the early-to-mid-nineties Golden Ales started to appear in the summer months and we all went mad for them. A resurgence of Mild prompted by CAMRA's Mild In May campaign completed the picture and so was set, one could say set in stone, the beers that were produced and this has continued for some considerable time since.

"So what?" you may be asking, "This is all ancient history. I know all this and in fact I'm still part of it", and you would be right. You are still part of, but the beer world has changed, it has changed beyond all recognition and I would argue that it has changed wholly for the better.

I can go to my local off licence or supermarket and buy beer from all over the world. Big hoppy IPAs from the USA, Sparkling Ales from Australia, dark Dubbels and Tripels from Belgium, Biere de Garde from France, Dunkels and Helles from Germany, and even White Ale from Japan, the list goes on and on. These beers have opened the eyes and excited the palates of not only drinkers in the UK but brewers too. Many of them have been inspired to set up breweries where they have taken the myriad of styles we now have available to us and made them their own.

In London, right on our doorstep, we have the Kernel brewery producing full-on flavoursome beers inspired initially by modern US Pale Ales and IPAs, Partizan producing a slew of Saisons with constantly changing recipes and ingredients, Beavertown heavily influenced by the US beer scene with its range of hard-hitting hop-driven offerings but also experimenting with sour beers, ageing beer in barrels and collaborating with other breweries, striving to produce something different and pushing the boundaries of what beer is and exploring what beer can be. These are just three of the seventy-eight active breweries in the London area, one that has seen and continues to see growth at an astonishing rate as well as a legion of drinkers young and old willing to spend their money and drink their beer. As a result of this specialist beer bars have sprung up offering a huge range of beer, and many of these breweries have moved premises several times as demand for their beer grows, with drinkers flooding to their brewery taps to sample the latest offerings or drink their favourites at source.

This isn't just London phenomenon either. Cities such as Sheffield, Manchester, Bristol and Newcastle, as well as Glasgow and Edinburgh north of the border, have begun to see this growth as well, with drinkers demanding variety and quality as, thanks in large part to the prevalence of social media, word spreads and reputations are built and grow.

Which brings me to my home county.

Please do not misunderstand me, I do on the whole love the beer that is being produced in Essex. There are a few beers that fill my heart with joy when I see them, beers that I delight in drinking, beers that when drank at their best I believe can rival some of the best traditional beers being produced in the UK right now. I will also try new beers whenever I see them hoping, often folornly it has to be said, that I might catch a glimpse of something new, something different, something that makes me want to sit down at my laptop and tell the rest of the world about.

It is the oldest brewery in Essex that seems to be leading the way with its excellent single hop variety beers and I have at least one black IPA, which is not the insult to history that some would have you believe, as well as some barrel-aged offerings, all of which give me hope, there are even (and I am expecting a sharp intake of breath here) some good keg beers out there. These examples are sadly few and far between it seems, with the majority of beers being produced being miniscule variations of the mild-bitter-golden-porter-stout formula with English Pale Ales and English IPAs, or at least the modern toned-down variants thereof, appearing in their stead.

I have no wish to go against tradition, and you may well argue that if these beers are being drunk then there really isn't a problem, but I don't think that deep down you can honestly believe that. I'm not saying that there isn't a place for these beers, the best of them deserve national acclaim, but it cannot have escaped your notice that the wind has started to blow from a different direction and a new generation of drinkers with disposable income are looking for new flavours and new taste sensations. This isn't a passing fad either, and if you look at what has happened in the world of food then you'll see that there is a demand for quality much more than quantity with a revival in small artisan producers, and if you look at it what could be more qualified as small and artisan than Essex breweries?

So to conclude then, what I want to say to Essex brewers in 2015 is: Think Differently And Think Better. Look around you and embrace the change, become part of the movement and go with the rising tide rather than sticking your head in the sand and hoping that it will all go away.

I would love to see Essex breweries leading the way but I am fully aware that this change won't happen overnight, it will take time so start slowly and get it right. Many of the brewers I know are more than happy to discuss what they are doing and exchange ideas and techniques and are very approachable too, so let's see if we can make this happen.

I shall be starting a series on Essex beers and breweries on this blog in March in conjunction with Beer East Anglia which I am a contributor to, and I would love to report on some exciting new beers or intriguing new projects.

I'm hoping that you can make 2015 the year for fresh beer in Essex, and I know that you can do it. There will of course be challenges ahead, but in the end I am convinced that drinking in Essex will be improved beyond all recognition and much more rewarding to both yourselves and the consumer.

With much respect and the very best of wishes,

Justin Mason

As a post script I will add that should any of you have any questions, queries or contradictions regarding this post or discuss any of the points that I have made further then please feel free to contact me directly, either by leaving a comment at the bottom of this post or by visiting the British Guild of Beer Writers website and using the details under my listing. I look forward to your response.

Monday, 5 January 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 12

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Twelve
Goose Island Beer Co. - Pere Jacques 2009 8.0%
And so that was Christmas, to paraphrase John Lennon if you will allow me this indulgence, and what have we done?

As the dying embers of the yule log fade for another year and we shake off that Christmas magic it's time to look forward to the new year, 2015, and all the beery delights that await us there.

But, before we start afresh I just want to take a moment to reflect on the last year, and particularly the last thirty-six days blogging, through the season of Advent and on to the #12BeersOf Xmas. I could venture that it was a journey, but in reality the journey was from the bottle to the glass to my mouth, and if we're honest that is generally the kind of travelling that we don't mind at all. Even though it might appear so, I haven't drunk alone over the festive period, far from it, but I have always made sure that I had a beer lined up to right about before I went out, even catching after giving myself the luxury of both Christmas Day and New Years Eve off.

I have plenty of things planned, or certainly in the planning stage for the coming year and I know that some of you have too, but now is not the time to discuss them as they will all be revealed, or not, in the fullness of time. With more breweries exploring what beer can be and pushing it beyond the limits of our expectations, 2015 promises to be a very good year indeed.

And so, beer review aside, for those of you who have been with me throughout, those who dipped in and out, and even those for whom this is the first piece of mine that they have ever read, I would just like to raise a glass of good beer and wish you all a very happy new year.

When you finish a series of reviews it is traditional to finish on a high, usually it's a beer with a high abv, a special release or something that's absolutely super new or super different, and who am I to turn my back on tradition? I have after all followed beers in Advent, a seasonal observation that dates from the sixth century, with the twelve days of Christmas, an older observation but also a song first published in England in 1780. That's tradition for you, sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Today's beer from the Goose Island Brew Co. in Chicago, Illinois is a Belgian Dubbel-style ale, brewed with Saaz and First Gold hops, and is a limited release. I'm sure you've all heard of Goose Island and know a few things about them, particularly as some of their beers, notably the Honkers Ale and India Pale Ale are relatively easy to get hold of in the UK. You may have had the excellent Bourbon County Stout, a beer that ages extremely well, and you may also know that they are owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, producers of Budweiser, target of much of the tasteless mass-market beer vitriol.

This beer however pre-dates the A-B Inbev purchase by some two years, and was brewed in the brewery's twenty-first year of production. The label states that it will continue to develop in the bottle for up to five years although this is nearly a year over that, being bottled on the 11th March 2009, I have kept it cool and dark for most of that time, I didn't buy it until the October of that year, so I'm hoping that it will still be very drinkable.

There is, as they say, only one way to find out. Time to open that bottle, we have reached the conclusion, it's the Twelfth Night (another sixth century tradition) beer.

It pours a dark amber with some beautiful ruby red highlights and a surprising amount of carbonation considering its age, leaving a thin beige head on top of the beer. The aroma is rich and seductive, freshly sliced brown bread giving way to raisin giving way to blackcurrant wine gums giving way to burnt toast giving way to some merlot tannins then back around again like a heady beery whirlwind. The body is erring on the full side of medium and it pushes across the tongue quickly with a soft fizz of carbonation which astonishes me as I really had expected this beer to have gone a little flat by now. There are raisins aplenty up front slipping easily into a combination of blackcurrant and red berry wine gum flavours, fruity and sweet with a chewy edge, and this in turn develops into a lightly toasted port-soaked plump sultana flavour and this rounds out main body of the beer beautifully. The finish starts with some lightly toasted bread and butter pudding, but this is remarkably brief as a light tawny port character emerges before it dries slowly but definitely leaving a delicious apricot jam topped raisin pudding flavour right in the middle of the tongue, and this spreads up the sides of the palate and filling the mouth for a long long time. It is simply amazing.

I can say without any shadow of doubt that this beer has benefited from careful ageing, and if you have a bottle of this stashed away then you should definitely bring it out now. Even as I type these final words my head is still filled with its majesty. I am privileged to have tasted this beer in this condition and feeling very satisfied right now. That is what great beer is all about and that is why we love it so much. I don't need to add any more than that.

Sunday, 4 January 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 11

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Day Eleven
Elixir Brew Co. - Sugar Lumps 7.7%

Today was a sad day. Today was the day that we carefully packed Christmas away for another eleven months, shut the boxes and put them back in the loft.

Even though there's still one day left, and therefore another post to come after this one, today was the by far the best day to get it all sorted, dismantled and stored. Consequently the room looks rather bare, but soon enough the everyday paraphernalia that we acquire throughout the year will start appearing in the gaps until next December I have to find somewhere to store it. This is usually right on top of the previous years detritus, and so the loft gets fuller and fuller. 

I expect you have a similar tale to tell, pack and pile, pack and pile, and so the sequence continues. This year I however I have resolved to break the cycle and clear out the attic in the Spring and uncover some of the treasures I have squirrelled away since we moved in. I'm rather looking forward to it as I know that I have quite a few beer-related items up there, books, glasses and other ephemera that I haven't seen for at least ten years, and the prospect of discovering these things again is quite exciting. Rest assured if I find anything that I feel merits attention then I'll be sure to share it with you and hopefully write something interesting about it too. 

Much as yesterdays beer was one I picked up on my travels, so today's beer is one I bought over the Autumn half-term holidays on a trip to Edinburgh. 

The Elixir Brew Co. was formed late in 2012 by Ben Bullen, a keen home-brewer who had moved from Freemantle, Australia to the UK, finally settling in Edinburgh after four years, and Barry Robertson, manager of the Cloisters Bar, which I found to be one of the friendliest pubs in the city. They picked the name Elixir as they thought it typified their ethos, little realising it would land then with a 'cease and desist' notice from Everards Brewery in March of 2014 who had produced a seasonal beer of that name in 2012, and indeed had trade-marked it. Fortunately common sense prevailed and, after some considerable outrage on social media, Everards backed down and withdrew their objection to Elixir Brew Co. trade-marking their own brewery name. 

A small digression, but 2014 will partly be remembered in UK craft beer circles as being a year of accusations and threats of litigation with Camden Town vs. Weird Beard, Red Bull vs. Redwell, and later Camden Town vs. Redwell being other notable examples, but it was Everards vs. Elixir that seemed to start the whole thing off.

Elixir also have the distinction of producing one of my favourite beers of the year, not just for it's taste, which was like a really good liquid Turkish Delight, but also for it's name. In a collaboration with the excellent Pilot Beer from nearby Leith, Sumac Me Feel Like A Natural Saison was brewed with sumac (unsurprisingly) as well as rose water and even couscous. 

Today's beer is not quite so adventurous although it is a collaboration, this time with local home brewer Ben Hislop. Brewed using the kit from Alechemy Brewing in Livingston, West Lothian, this Imperial Stout lists dark malts, oats and both Demerara and Belgian sugars amongst it's ingredients. Let's get that bottle open.

It's dark, very dark, which you might expect with a beer of this nature and certainly those ingredients, and the beige head that adorns it lets you know that this is a beer rather than a cold black coffee. The aroma is rich and dark too, with raisins and prunes providing the sweet notes, whilst good Belgian chocolate and a decent shot of espresso give it a bitter balance. There's a good prickle of carbonation that rolls across the tongue with a deliciously bitter chocolate flavour following in its wake. There's some fruitiness too, black cherry and prune, but this is muted and sits right at the back of the palate, it's the bitter chocolate that's the star here, and it oozes bitter decadence. The finish is a more straight forward aware with a peak of dark fruits at the beginning leading to a relatively fast-fading coffee chocolate flavour that leaves a wonderfully light oiliness that lets you know it was there.

This is another fantastic beer from this super little brewery, and I'm looking forward to drinking more of this high calibre in 2015. Before I sign off for today I will just mention the Great Grog Shop in Edinburgh where I picked this, and many other good beers up from, and if you're ever in the vicinity then make sure that you pay it a visit as you won't be disappointed. Scotland is producing some amazing beer at the moment, make sure you get yourself some of it.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 10

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Ten
Brasserie Lepers - La Chope 6.5%

Today's beer is one I've been meaning to have for a while, it's just that I haven't got around to opening it and I really should have.

When we were in Lille towards the end of the summer we had some excellent beer in a wonderful city that is often sadly overlooked as a destination on the 'Grand European Beer Tour' in which France doesn't really figure. If you haven't already, or should you wish to again you can find part one here, swiftly followed by part two here but I don't want to use this opportunity to relive my holiday, good though it was, but concentrate on the beer. Before that however, I thought I'd write a little about the beer history of our nearest neighbours in mainland Europe..

Unsurprisingly, prior to the industrialisation of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries beer production in France was quite localised. Like most European countries, France itself is a collection of different tribes united under a common flag. As rural populations declined with migration so did the number of breweries, however there were still over a thousand in existence at the turn of the twentieth century.

With the coming of the First and Second World Wars the destruction of the French countryside, disruption of rural life, the need for metal for munitions, and the loss of a significant proportion of the population of young men had a huge impact on brewing within the country. It has to be remembered that France was one of the main theatres of conflict and consequently suffered more than most in this respect.

As a result of this it was the larger breweries that were able to weather the storm and mass-produced pilsner-style lagers swept in to dominate the market much as they would do in the UK fifteen or so years later. Local beer styles did survive however, particularly in the North and West of the country, strangely those areas that were the main battlefield of Europe during the years 1914-1918, 1939-1945 including an extensive period of occupation. Both of these areas have strong links with the brewing traditions just across their borders in Belgium and Germany respectably which explains this to a large degree.

In recent years France has experienced something of a micro-brewery boom and one which has gone largely unnoticed in this country as we have tended to turn our attention to what has happened across the Atlantic rather than across the Channel. As we search for the 'Next Big Thing' in beer in the next few years it might be worth considering our Entente Cordiale allies, or at the very least make sure you keep half an eye on what they're up to.

Formerly called Brasserie d'Annoeullin, Brasserie Lepers have been brewing for over a century, having been founded in 1905. Situated just outside Lille in the town of La Chapelle-d'Armentieres brews a variety of beers that are either Biere de Garde or Belgian influenced which are both native styles when you consider that the brewery is in both northern France and Flanders.

La Chope is a special case however, as this Belgian ale was formerly brewed at Brasserie du Pays Flamand and was previously a slightly more restrained 5.5% abv, however when its stopped being produced it was kept alive by individuals calling themselves 'La Chope' in a sort of strange beer-transfer system, and is brewed for them by Brasserie Lepers. A beer with such a history deserves investigation, and now would be the right time to do so.

It pours a clear golden honey colour, its thin white head fading quickly to a light covering of bubbles resting on top. It has a definite honey and lemon aroma too, heavy on the honey, but there's also a hint of coriander and some white pepper too. Thin, but smooth and a little sticky over the tongue too a touch of peppery spice tickles the tip of the tongue before rich golden honey explodes like a throat lozenge powder keg, flooding the mouth with sweet gooey goodness. there's some peach and mango juice and muted lemon zest in the background before some white pepper and a little pithiness, dry it out and tidy it all up at the finish.

This is a delicious beer, and that big honey character is certainly not was I was expecting considering it is not one of the ingredients, but rather a combination of the malt, yeast and hops. I've had a few beers by this brewery before, notably the Lepers 8 Blonde and L'Angelus Ambree, and both were very much more blatantly Belgian influenced than this. I do have several more beers by different French breweries still to open, and I'm planning another trip for later in the year where I hope to discover more of the beer culture. If I find anything interesting you can be sure that I'll be telling you all about it so watch this space.

Friday, 2 January 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 9

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Nine
Brewery Ommegang - Abbey Ale 8.2%

I put myself through this every year, but still I never learn.

I don't know about you but I often find, as I did today, that the second day of the new year is the hardest day of them all on which to get up. The inevitable late night of New Years Eve, which in reality was yesterday morning leads to a quieter day on New Years Day, but the very next morning it's business as usual and you're expected to be bright and breezy and full of the joy and expectation of a brand new year. In reality however your body clock is all over the place because, even if you felt responsible enough to go to bed early the night before, you found you couldn't sleep so had to get up and do something else for a bit. When finally you collapse into bed exhausted it only seems like twenty minutes before the alarm goes off, it's six o'clock in the morning and you have to get up to go work when every single cell in your body is screaming "NO!!!!!!".

Perhaps it's just me.

Today's beer is from Brewery Ommegang founded in 1997 in Cooperstown, New York, a brewery that specialises in Belgian beer styles. Home to the Baseball Hall Of Fame, Cooperstown was also the centre of US hop production in the nineteenth century (it grew the hops that produced Anheuser-Bush Budweiser) and still has a 20 acre hop farm located just outside the town.

The brewery was sold to Brouwerij Duvel Moortgat in 2003, and in 2006 the parent brewery in Breendonk, Belgium brewed some beer under the Ommegang name in order to meet demand, although it has not brewed any since. Incidentally, Duvel Moortgat has picked up a number of well known breweries in recent years, including Brasserie d'Achouffe in 2006, De Koninck Brewery in 2010, and Kansas City's Boulevard Brewing Company in 2013.

Ommegang brews six ales full time: Hennepin, a Saison; Rare Vos, a Belgian-style Amber Ale; Ommegang Witte, a white ale; BPA, a Belgian-style Pale Ale dry hopped with Cascade; Three Philosphers, of which I have a bottle hidden away, a Belgian-style Quad with an authentic Kriek blended in; and tonight's beer, Ommegang Abbey Ale, a classic Belgian-style Dubbel.

Should you wish to know more about the brewery and it's beers then you can follow this link to its website however I'm keen to get the bottle open, I have had it for three years after all, so that's what I'm going to do.

Choosing the appropriate glassware first, the brewery recommends either a goblet or a chalice, it pours a very dark brown with some ruby red highlights and a soft off-white head. The aroma, well, the aroma is something else. It's thick with stone fruits at first, there's plums, dates and apricots soaked in cherry brandy, a caramelised sugar bitter-sweetness, some red wine tannins, brown bread crusts and some rum and raisin fudge, it's simply astonishing. Super smooth, like having your tongue caressed by a velvet cushion with a light tickle of carbonation rising to the roof of the mouth like the gentle foam of the tide lazily scrubbing the shore, the taste is every bit as good as you might imagine. There's a blast of plum and date, sweet and tart and generously laced with that cherry brandy I picked up in the aroma, this mixes with some almond to give a pronounced 'cherry bakewell' flavour before in comes that brown sugar, only it's not burnt at all but lightly caramelised muscavado, soft, sweet and delicious, but someone has cleverly added a few drops of molasses to help in all slide down superbly. The finish echoes with all of these flavours, maybe with the addition of a few drops of drinking chocolate, minus the milk, just for good measure however it's those stone fruit flavours, and that marvellous cherry brandyness that lingers wonderfully for a long long time.

I don't really think I need to add any more, so I won't. If you want me then you'll know where to find me, I'll be right here with this beer for some time to come.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 8

The Twelve Beers of Christmas
Beer Eight
By The Horns - Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony 7.5%

I'm back with my second post of the day to get me back on track, and I've chosen a beer with a title that probably more than any other typifies the ethos of the festive season.

New Years Day is, more than any other the time when the majority of us wake up with hangovers having partied (and by partied I mean drinking copious amounts of alcohol) long into the night with the inevitable consequences. Some resolve to curtail their drinking and resolve to make themselves feel a bit better and re-set their palates as well by having a Dry January. If you're thinking of doing this and maybe wavering because you won't be supported by your beery friends then don't be. If you want some reassurance then this article from last year by beer writer Pete Brown, might help with your mindset.

Dry January has caused much debate within the beer community over the past few years, so in an effort to bring some balance and provide something for those that choose to continue to imbibe to throw their support behind and soak up some of the anti-anti-drinking animosity then there is something new for 2015. Tryanuary has been launched to encourage you to, as the name would suggest, try something new or something different when it comes beer for the first month of this year. Supported by many independent brewers and other beer related organisations, their is also a charity element to the movement as BeerBodsEebria, and the Big Hand Brewing Co will all be donating money to a charity of their choice if you choose to do business with them. Should you wish to read more about this then here is a link to the relevant page. 

All you really need to do to be part of this is to post your discoveries on twitter, Instagram or Facebook, using the hash tag #tryanuary. So what are you waiting for? Get out there this month and drink something new, go somewhere new, seek out that local brewery you've whose beers you've never got around to tasting, go to that bar that you've heard about but never quite made it there, or as I plan to be doing ... well,  let's leave that for another time. I'll be looking out for those #tryanuary posts throughout this month and contributing a few of my own too. 

The very best of luck to you in whatever you choose to do this January, I hope you have a good one whatever you do.

Tonight's beer is number two in a series that Wandsworth based By The Horns Brewing Co. produced towards the beginning of 2014 centred around the Seven Deadly Sins. all seven were stouts some barrel-aged others not, but all served in an unusual squat 750ml bottle. They appeared without much too much of a fanfare and were missed by a proportion of beer lovers which I think is a real shame. By The horns produce some excellent beers, I featured their Prince Albert and Lambeth Walk in my #BeersOfLondon series back in 2013 so I'm really looking forward to opening this bottle.

Pouring a thick deep dark brown, the colour and consistency of used engine else, oozing into the glass and making itself at home with a resounding slap of liquid upon liquid but no head whatsoever. Chocolate and coffee aromas rise up nonchalantly from its surface all bound up with a little peaty smokiness and some sweeter honey notes. It glides over the tongue leaving a slightly sticky bitter residue that is rich and decadent like an oily dark chocolate whiskey liqueur covered in cold espresso coffee and stirred with some toasted brown bread crusts, but it isn't as thick as you might expect which gives it a strangely creamy consistency. The finish starts from the centre of the tongue, pushing those sweet smoky peaty whisky flavours towards the roof of the mouth before a notion of cold black coffee takes over and it is this takes it almost up to its conclusion but this is reserved for some echoes of burnt toast which fade over a long time leaving a lightly oily residue.

This is a very good beer, acknowledging it's oak ageing and scotch whisky elements proudly and blatantly. If I had one complaint I would say that the base stout could do with a little more body to make it feel chewy and even more unctuous. That said I'm enjoying it immensely, so much so that I'm off to get some cheese and crackers to have with it.

12 Beers Of Xmas - Day 7

The Twelve Beers Of Christmas
Beer Seven
Weltenburger Kloster - Barock Dunkel 4.7%

Last man standing.

It's 1st January 2015, and I've set myself up to do two posts today despite the usual New Years Eve excesses. In fact it's actually because of the celebrations that I'm putting myself through more double bloggery. Unfortunately I had to go into work yesterday and from then on to a party at a friends house which meant I had no time to do a beer review, so to get me back on track for my Twelfth Night finish it has to be two today.

Yesterday was also the last day of the official Beer O'Clock Show #12BeersOfXmas posts, of which this is part in my own dis-jointed way. If you follow this link and follow it down you'll be able to view all of the participants and links to their blogs. I urge you to do so if you haven't already as the diverse selection of beers drunk and written about it true testament to the healthy state that the UK beer scene is in at the moment.

So, am I the last one left? That may be so, but I did get a groundswell of support led by Greg on twitter to make it the #18BeersOfXmas so that I wouldn't be drinking and blogging alone. If anyone is still with me than I really appreciate it, if not then I don't mind that either, reviewing a different beer each day for twelve days is no mean feat.

This afternoon's beer is German, and it is one of some pedigree and renown despite not being that easy to obtain in the UK. Claiming to be the world's oldest dark beer still in production, it is brewed at the Weltenburg Abbey on the banks of the River Danube. Founded in 1050, the abbey has a long running dispute with Weihenstephan Abbey as to which is the oldest monastery brewery in the world. Their Barock Dunkel, which I shall shortly be drinking is a multi-award winner, having won the World Beer Cup for best Dunkel in 2004, 2008 and 2012. If you would like to know more about this brewery and it's beer then please follow this link to the website, making sure that you select the English option in the to right-hand corner. It came to me via a rather circuitous route, having been brought back from Lapland by a work colleague after she had been on a very recent trip to visit Father Christmas with her family, and it is for this reason I feel it rather deserves to be one of my twelve beers.

It pours a dark amber, nearly brown but not quite, with a good off-white head that sinks to a low foam fairly quickly. The aroma stays big though, with a big waft of soft dark brown bread crusts, a surprising hint of Marmite and some malty chocolate notes providing a rich-smelling base layer on which it all sits. Full and immediately flavoursome over the tongue, the relatively low level of carbonation corrals some deep milk chocolate, creamy and silky, offset by a real caramelised beef gravy bitterness running alongside it, the two flavours converging and merging as they take you toward the delicious conclusion. The finish is sticky, sweet and a little salty, like a milk chocolate covered salted caramel fudge sweet, pronounced, exquisite and quite delicious, and this lasts a long time, which is good news if, like me, you like to take the time to savour every nuance of a beer right through to curtain-fall on it's final act.

If you're wondering if it deserves its many accolades I can assure you that it does, and I can't recall ever having a Dunkel quite as good as this. If it's boast as the world's first is correct then the others are really just pale imitations as this is truly a wonderful beer. 

In buoyant mood I shall return later on this evening with my second post of the day, let's hope that beer can match the quality of this one. I hope to see you then.