Copenhagen Beer Celebration: The Lists

Festival bracelets!

I had this glorious plan that I would live-blog from the recent Copenhagen Beer Celebration, with several updates per day, lots of pictures… but I was too busy drinking beer, and hanging out with great brewers and fellow beer geeks from around the world. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say. In fact, ever since I’ve come home I’ve actually wrestled with how to actually approach writing about CBC, as it was so massive, so good, so filled with beer (43 samples in two days at the festival – then there was Sour & Bitter, our night at Fermentoren, the 20+ bottles I bought at Ølbutikken and Barleywine and that my Norwegian colleague brought me) that I have had trouble digesting it all (no pun intended) and wrap my head and my tastebuds around the whole thing. So in the end I decided to take the easy way out and do a couple of CBC-related lists – because we all love lists, right?

Three beers I will most likely never have again (but wish that I could):

This category is actually a bit ridiculous as wherever you looked at the festival, there were beers that were “Only two kegs in the world”, “Only one keg in the universe”, or something similar. So in a sense, almost all beers I had I will never taste again. In most cases, I was actually able to resign myself to that fact and be happy with the one taste. But for three beers in particular, I found myself really, really wishing I could have them again. Or even better, consume on a regular basis.

1. Dirty Horse (1983) by De Struise (Lambic, ABV 7.0). You don’t get to try a 29-year old lambic every day. Or even every year. Apparently De Struise only brings this to some beer festivals, and it has never been bottled. And the supply is, of course, finite, so even if you go to another exclusive beer festival they may not have it. It’s a lambic that has aged extremely well – it still retains a lot of the spritz and dry sourness of a young lambic, with an added layer of sweetness and wood from the barrel aging.

2. American Special Bitter by Uncommon Brewers (nominally a bitter but much more akin to a barleywine or strong ale, ABV 14.5). The story is that Uncommon brought the last keg in existence of this brawny strong ale to CBC, but I don’t know if that’s true. But even if it wasn’t the last keg, it was still definitely one of the last kegs, and I am very pleased I got to try this strong ale hopped up like crazy, IPA-style, with redwood used in the boil and for the aging. The hop aromas are strong and all over the place, and the wood lends the beer a taste somewhat like smoked cured meat.

3. Marshal Zhukov’s Imperial Stout by Cigar City Brewing (Imperial Russian Stout, ABV 11.0). Possibly the last and only chance to get this massive stout in Europe? Even in the US it is hard to get outside Tampa, and even in Tampa it is hard to get outside the release day in August every year. It is in many ways the epitome of the Imperial Russian Stout style: flavours include dark roast coffee, dark chocolate/cocoa beans, molasses, burnt sugar, more coffee, some dry roast hoppiness, and it ends on a big note of more roast coffee.

Three best IPAs:

I’ve sometimes described IPAs as a ‘crowded genre’ on this blog, by which I mean that every self-respecting brewer makes (at least) one, but that in the end many of them are pretty samey. Good, sure, but samey: big hops, big sweetness, relatively high ABVs. I like them, but it’s getting increasingly difficult to find the ones that really stick out. I tried several at CBC, and a honourable mention goes out to three of them, in no particular order (Note that this also includes IIPAs and DIPAs. So sue me):

Beer geeks dining

1. Jai Alai by Cigar City Brewing (ABV 7.5). No surprise here, this is already considered a top IPA by many: the huge resin flavour gives the beer a distinct woody flavour with strong hints of cedar (they sure love their cedar at Cigar City) and pine. Very rich in flavour but at the same time the dryness makes it a very moreish, easy drink.

2. Suruga Bay Imperial IPA by Baird Brewing (ABV 7.8). This IPA explodes on the tastebuds with a strong spiciness and herbal notes unusual for the style. Then you get the more familiar and full-on tropical fruit/mango hit, followed by a lasting dry bitterness. A three-shot rocket from Japan’s best brewery.

3. Mongo Double IPA by Port Brewing (ABV 8.5). What can I say – I like my IPAs fruity. This one has so much tropical fruit and mango going on (along with passionfruit, pineapple, and dried fruit) that it would be too much on its own, but luckily the Mongo also has plenty of pine needles and resin to balance the sweetness. But bear in mind that the “balance” here is like putting a one-tonne weight on both sides of a see-saw – there’s nothing subtle about it.

Three best barrel-aged beers:

Barrel-aging has been the latest craze for a while now (though the whole concept is not exactly new, lambics have been barrel aged for, well, ages, to take just one example) and there were many, many brewers showcasing their barrel-aging skills at CBC. I’ve actually excluded lambics and related beers from this category, in part because I had most of those at Sour & Bitter rather than at CBC, and in part because such beers actually require barrel aging, rather than being an experimental option. Again, there were many ace examples, but I’ve decided to highlight three (again, in no particular order).

1. El Murciélago by Cigar City Brewing (Cream Ale aged on tequila barrels with cumin and lime peel, ABV 9.5). Did I use the “taste explosion” cliché already? Guess I did. Sorry. But this one really is, though. What’s amazing with this beer is that you can really pick out all the distinct flavours (creaminess, tequila oiliness, cumin, lime), but they still work together for a crazy layering effect. An extreme beer in the best sense of the word.

2. Leo Leaves Setùbal With No Regrets by Xbeeriment (Belgian Trippel aged on muscatel dessert wine barrels, ABV 9.3). If there was ever a beer deserving of the epithet “dessert beer”, it’s this one. The muscatel dessert wine character is unbelievably strong, with lots of raisins, overripe grapes and general candy notes coming through. And still the beer manages to not go all sickly, thanks to the strong trippel base which provides a malty (yet also sweet) backbone. Wonderful.

Guess the beer!

3. Romanov Russian Empress Stout by Brodie’s Beers (Imperial Russian Stout aged on whisky casks, ABV 12.1). A bit of London bias? No way, this beer succeeds entirely on its own merits. It starts rather sweet, with lots of vanilla, butterscotch, toffee and coffee, but then the whisky character comes on strong: peat, saline, medicinal, even a bit of tobacco. This is a beer where the sum is truly greater than the parts; the whisky barrel aging complements and shows off the sweet stout aromas.

Three best below ABV 5.0 beers:

CBC could well be described as an extreme festival – the bias was clearly towards massive imperial stouts, imperial IPAs, barleywines and the like. Therefore I wanted to highlight the fact that there were some really solid “normal” ABV beers at CBC – after drinking some really extreme ones (like De Struise’s Five Sqaured Belgian Quad at ABV 25.0, or Uncommon Brewers American Special Bitter at ABV 14.5), you want something less heavy just to put yourself and your tastebuds on an even keel again. While I’m sure that many of the lower-ABV beers I had were not sampled under ideal circumstances (i.e. just after having an ABV 25.0 monster quad), some still managed to stick out:

1. Marry Me in Goslar by Cabinet Artisanal Brewhouse (Gose, ABV 4.3). An American take on the extremely rare beer style Gose (a top-fermented wheat beer that may also contain oats, with added salt and coriander). The salt works as an enhancer, lifting up the other flavours without dominating itself (in this case, the salt is Himalayan pink rock salt, which I assume is the Westvleteren of salt). This is truly a subtle beast: it comes off as a sour beer with lots of tropical sweet fruit in it, but it also has a bit of what I for lack of a better word describe as “creaminess” – a fullness and slightly heavier mouthfeel than you would expect from an otherwise very effervescent beer. And there’s just a tiny, tiny hint of salt. Complex flavours galore at ABV 4.3!

2. Struise Witte by De Struise (Witbier, ABV 5.0). OK, this might be cheating a bit, as this is not a strictly below ABV 5.0 beer, but it was just so good that I had to include it. This could be the witbier beer competition judges use as the benchmark for the style since it ticks all the boxes: sweet, light, spritzy, yeasty with clear notes of citrus, cookie dough/cake batter and banana. Everything is there, it’s there in spades, and it’s sooo drinkable.

3. Drink’in The Sun 12 by Mikkeller (Pale Wheat Ale, ABV 0.7). Mikkeller apparently does a new version of his lite beer every year – this year’s version is the lowest-ABV yet at 0.7 (last year’s was a comparatively heavy ABV 1.9). Trust the crazy Dane to do this right, too: you get some citrus and pine and a very light and pleasant malt body. Miles ahead of most other non-alcoholic or low-alcohol offerings – a summer beer when you want that beer flavour but also want to be able to get up the day after.

That’s it for now, folks. I’m working on another post on CBC focusing on the food and the other oddities available (beer cocktails, spirits, coffee made from beans soaked in beer, etc) – so stay tuned!


Posted on May 16, 2012, in Event, Feature and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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