Monthly Archives: February 2012

#OpenIt, Day 2

The open-your-super-special-rare-beers extravaganza that is Open It Weekend continues here at London Beer Blog. Two rarities (or semi-rarities) from the cellar today. Without further ado, here’s…

Mikkeller I Beat yoU – Part of a Mikkeller six-pack I bought for a song (the kind of song that runs you £24.99) at the Mikkeller Meet the Brewer event at Cask Pub and Kitchen last year. Far from the oldest bottle in my cellar, but I thought it would be good with food (and it was – read on!).

Look: Pours a dark, clear amber with a tiny fizzy head that’s soon gone.

Nose: Heavy, overripe fruit (grape – slightly vinous), a whiff of citrus.

Mouth: Is this the beer for which the term “Hop Bomb” was invented? Because it tastes – and I apologize for this term – paradigmatic. A quick citrus hit gives way to a mix of sweet dried/fresh tropical fruit – think candied pineapple mixed with canned apricot. There’s also some date and banana in there. Then the hop bitterness hits full force with resin and citrus dominating. And yet the alluring sweetness and malt body does not go away but remains the whole way through to balance the hop fireworks. This may be the IIPA to end all IIPAs. 5/5.

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#OpenIt, Day 1

As you may remember, the weekend of Feb 24-26 is the totally-not-made-up event of OpenIt (or #OpenIt for those of you on Twitter), where we celebrate beer by cracking open some of those bottles we’ve been saving for a ‘special occasion’ – because there’s no time like the present! Plus, we all need to clear out our embarrasingly-large beer cellar a bit, right? Right? Or was that  just me?

Anyway, first out is a bottle of Nebraska Brewing Company‘s Apricot au Poivre Saison (Barrel Aged Reserve Series), an innovatively-spiced saison that has been aged on Chardonnay barrels for six months. I bought this back in August at New Beer Distributors in New York.

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The best beer in the world

Is THIS the best beer in the world? Read on!

Grading beer: marking it, assigning it a score from 1 to 5 (or 1 to 10, or 1 to 7, or whatever), eye, nose, mouth, classifying it, all those things all beer geeks do. And we do it knowing it is impossible to truly rank beers. Whether you like the beer you drink or not is often down to things that have nothing to do with the beer. Or it has to do with things other than purity of taste, or whatever you want to call it.

Take the freshness of the beer, for example. I once tasted a Thornbridge Raven Black IPA that had just been bottled: in addition to all its other flavours, it had a wonderful floral, perfumed and delicate character, almost like rose water. Then I had the same beer when it had been sitting in the bottle for a couple of months. Still an excellent beer, but that floral flavour was just gone. Was it the same beer? Yes and no. Coffee beers  lose their flavour very quickly. Proper German and Czech lager beers are best drunk fresh and in situ – the exported versions are pale comparisons to their nominally identical indigenous counterparts. And so on. Yet other beers grow with age – the Pannepot Grand Reserva 2005 I had recently was undoubtedly better and more full-flavoured than the regular, un-aged Pannepot 2010 (though both were excellent beers).

And that’s just the factors that have to do with the beer. How do the beers you’ve had before you’re marking this particular one affect your judgment? A lot, of course. After three imperial stouts I find myself longing for a crisp lager. The same pale ale or bitter you think a wonder of balance and subtlety when you have it on its own suddenly seems bland and boring when you have it after a hop bomb double IPA.

Then there’s that elusive thing; context. I still retain a soft spot for Kronenbourg and its higher-ABV sibling 1664, despite the fact that they’re nothing but industrially-produced bland lagers – because I can still remember drinking them in Paris as an impressionable teenager, for whom it was the height of sophistication to drink French beer in France (and who thought it was uber-cool that a beer had a number for a name). At that time, drinking that beer, I was sure that was the best beer in the world, and I have retained that memory ever since. Today, I vastly prefer other beers to 1664, but I still have one now and again and let those waves of nostalgia flow over me. I feel the same about many German pilsners – travelling as a young adult, taking in the local pleasures and reveling in the simple fact that I was drinking something that was not available in Sweden. Warsteiner, König, Bitburger and Jever are still top beers in my book, even though I might not, hand on heart, rank them as highly today as I would other beers (well, maybe except for König. And Jever).

Another example: yesterday, we (i.e. me and my family) came home from a brief (working) holiday in Sweden. It was a nice holiday, but it had its ups and downs, to say the least. Just before leaving last week I learned that a close family member, whom I was going to visit during the holiday, had a serious illness and had to go in for an operation while we were there. Then there was a string of minor annoyances: my wife forgot her mobile phone in the security check at the airport, something that made our visit that much more difficult – as we had to spend a lot of time apart we had to make appointments and agree on meeting times etc because we couldn’t call each other. Then, just as we were about to leave, we discovered that we had lost both our sets of house keys, which occasioned some frantic calling to our friends in London (who have a spare key to our flat) to make arrangements so that we actually could get in to our flat once we got home. We also forgot a bunch of other things. And while my relative came out of the operation OK, he/she is still not out of danger. And then there’s all the work I’ve fallen more behind on while being on holiday. You know what it’s like.

When we came home, after what felt like a very long time, our daughter was put to bed and I opened a bottle of St Peter’s Best Bitter. A simple, classic English bitter, at ABV 3.7. And at that time, that beer was the best beer in the world. I felt the stress just melt away as I tasted the wonderfully mild, bready bitter, with just a hint of dry, woody hoppiness at the end. Five out of five, for sure. A hop bomb or imp stout wouldn’t have done the trick. What I wanted was something soothing and easily drinkable without being devoid of character, and St Peter’s delivered.

So what do you say, dear readers? Do you have any beers that you just love despite the fact that, well, they don’t taste that great? Beers that you love because you associate them with a particular time and/or place when drinking them was just such a wonderful experience? Let London Beer Blog have your guilty secrets in the Comments section!

Pannepot * 4

Hello readers, I’m in Sweden again, and courtesy of London Beer Blog Number One Fan Rickard (you may have seen him around the comments field) I had a proper De Struise tasting, comparing different versions of their (arguably) flagship Belgian Quad Pannepot (“Pannepot” is a kind of ship, I’m reliably informed – and it’s also right there on the label). For those of you not in the know, this is the Belgian Quad to end all Belgian Quads (though style designations are tricky – De Struise themselves just call Pannepot an ‘Old Ale’) – the paradigmatic example of the style that knocks those Chimays and Westvleterens out of the water, if you believe the hype. So what’s the score here?

The score is that overall, this is a typical – prototypical, even – Belgian Quad, so there are great similarities between the versions. They all pour a dark brown (not black!) with no head and plenty of sediment in the bottle, and there are those familiar caramel/candy/molasses notes both on the nose and on the tongue. Not many IBUs here, but it’s a different style and complex in a different way. Also, the Pannepot is spiced so it also tastes and feels a lot like a Christmas beer – even though the spice in general is more subtle than your average winter warmer – with some variations, as we shall see (taste?).

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News roundup, Feb 15 2012

OK readers, just a quick link dump this update – not very inspiring, but on the other hand I’ve read some interesting stuff online about beer recently. So in case you missed it:

Meet the Brewer: Little Brew

The London brewing scene has literally exploded in the past couple of years – I have 17 breweries listed on my London Breweries page and I know I have missed a few as I have at this stage left out many brew pubs (they will be added in the future, trust me) – and it’s getting to the point when it’s difficult for even dedicated geeks to keep up.

For example, I just discovered that Camden is about to get its second brewery, Little Brew, a one-man project from brewmaster Stu Small (well, technically the brewery has already been founded, but the beers won’t be available for another month or so). Little Brew is a very small-scale operation that aims at being sustainable and anchored in the local community (one thing I like about the craft beer wave – besides the excellent beer – is that breweries are again becoming community businesses). I had a brief chat with Stu about his plans for Little Brew:

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Spotlight Sweden

I’ve been on a short trip to Sweden over the weekend (or rather, I’m still in Sweden, as flights to Heathrow have been cancelled because there’s apparently been some snow there) and of course I’ve taken the opportunity to try some Swedish beers. Due to some kind of iPhone malfunction I have not been able to take any pictures so you’ll have to make do with words – I’ll keep it brief, capsule reviews only. I originally planned to do a reverse companion piece to my “10 British breweries you need to get in Sweden”, titled “5 Swedish breweries that deserves wider distribution in the UK”, or something like that – but that will have to wait. View this as a kind of teaser for a longer feature to come.

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Open It! on Feb 24-26

Just came across the Open It! initiative over at Pencil and Spoon and BeerReviews – I’ve never heard of this before but it’s a great idea and I am immediately an enthusiastic supporter! The idea is that over the weekend of Feb 24-26, you go to your beer cellar, and simply open some of those bottles you’ve saved for a special occasion. That special occasion is now (or rather, Feb 24-26)! Beer is for drinking, after all.

My own beer cellar is growing almost daily and it’s beginning to feel rather silly to have all this beer and not drink it. I’ve always been a collector (stickers, comics, little metal miniatures, little plastic miniatures, Federal Writers’ Project American Guide Series – you name it) so the impulse is hard to resist. When I read on RateBeer about the travails of people trying to get hold of limited-release beers like Goose Island Bourbon County in its various forms, part of me thinks the whole thing is ridiculous, but an even larger part of me wishes I was there at the beer shop with them, getting a few bottles for myself. So I need something like Open It! for therapeutic purposes – learning to let go, and all that.

I’m already planning what to drink (I have a 2010 Goose Island Bourbon County Coffee Stout that I’ve probably saved for too long anyway, and some other stuff as well) – how about you? And remember, if you decide to share your Open It! brews on Twitter, the hashtag is #openit (duh!). More reminders about the Open It! weekend will follow as we near the date. In the meantime, let me know if you have something special in your cellar that you’re looking forward to drinking.