Christmas Eve. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Prince usurped by Empire

Christmas Eve: Harveys, Imperial Extra Double Stout. 9% ABV
From: Sussex, England. Type: Russian Imperial Stout, bottle. Source: Harveys online shop

Christmas Eve: Julafton in Sweden, Julaftan in Norway, and Julaften in Denmark, where inspiration for the choice for today should surely have come, as Harvey’s Prince of Denmark was crowned “Supreme Champion” at the International Beer Challenge in London, in September.

Except, I’m choosing another in Harvey’s royal family: the Imperial Extra Double Stout. Fine though the Prince is, and as much as I respect the judges – indeed, I was lucky enough to be one of the judges, this year, as far as I’m concerned, the Imperial strikes black gold. Indeed, it won a gold medal too.

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You might expect the Prince to be the wilder, more rebellious beer, but you’d be wrong. Whether you think 9% ABV warrants an “Extra” and a “Double” in its name as well as the “Imperial”, it’s a rich, intense and demanding beer.

Demanding of your attention with its pitch-like consistency and colour, its sweet – no, sour – no, sweet-and-salty flavour, and its aromas of cocoa and coffee. Wild and slightly sour, from what tastes like barrel-aging and rebellious in its very existence: Russian Imperial stouts all but died out in Britain. A beer fit for any Christmas celebration, whatever day it is.

Harvey’s online beer empire (where you can also find Prince of Denmark)
International Beer Challenge list of winners 2012

23rd Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: The best cask ale of the Summer?

23rd December: Fullers, Wild River. 4.5% ABV
From: London, England. Type: American-style pale ale, cask. Source: The Kings Arms, Guildford

“Fantastic beer!” I thought as I took my first sip, sitting outside my newly-discovered, reachable-by-bus Fullers pub, on a sunny Saturday afternoon on the last day of June. A perfect beer storm of right beer choice meeting a beer in perfect condition.

Like just about every other beer drinker not stuck the 1970s, I am enamoured of American hops. I love their bright, fruity, zesty aromas and the citrussy/resinous/tropical twang they give to beers. I love them most for completely exploding the range of flavours available to beerkind.

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Float on

It’s by no means new for Fullers to brew with American hops, but it’s the first time that I’m aware of that London’s only remaining large brewer has made a cask beer in an overtly modern American-style. Wild River? I suppose there are plenty of those where those hops came from.

But Fullers being Fullers, and thoroughly British, Wild River is no mere aping of a west coast APA; it is a cask ale: balanced and refreshing, complex and subtle, moreish and satisfying. It reminds me what the fuss is about cask-conditioned beer ale. (If only they could all be served this well.) It’s full of those American hops, but not brashly so.

The best cask ale of the summer? I thought it was easily the best cask ale from a major brewery I’d had all year. And at this, the back end of 2012, I see no reason to change my mind.

22nd Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Christmas present and past

22nd December: Great Divide, Hibernation Ale 2011 and 2012. 8.7% ABV
From: Colorado, USA. Type: Winter Ale, bottle. Source: Systembolaget

Not many have kind words to say about November, but one of its saving graces is looking forward to Christmas and winter beers. Some recipes change with the years. What will Shepherd Neame’s be like this year? Anchor? Some don’t seem to change, but can we really be sure?

It took a will of steel, but I’ve managed to save one of my perennial favourites, from last winter: Great Divide’s Hibernation Ale. How would it compare with the new season’s after a year itself in hibernation?

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And then, there it is, the 2012, standing on the shelf and the wait is over. I buy it, take it home and… Don’t open it! Dither upon dither. But how and when to taste them? side-by-side, surely, but these sleeping bears are 8.7% of cockle-warming alcohol. Not to be trifled with. It’s December before I find a chance/excuse.

I’m sure its the same recipe. It’s a Rocky Mountain version of an English winter warmer: sweet and comforting, but bigger. Christmassy in its spiciness from both hops and fermentation: orange zest, cloves, more citrus bitterness to balance the syrupy malt.

A year’s extra sleep has toned down the sweetness, replacing it with a sherry-like richness, and adding aromas of chestnuts and old leather armchairs. Is this a fair exchange for the freshness and cocoa of this year’s edition? Here’s a clue: I’m saving one for next November.

Great Divide Brewery

21st Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Hells Bells! A statement of intent

21st December: Camden Town Brewery, (Unfiltered) Hells. 4.6% ABV
From: London, England. Type: Helles-style lager, keg (fresh). Source: Camden Town Brewery bar

We took a wrong turn, walking from Camden Lock up to visit Camden Town Brewery. Kentish Town brewery, more like. But anyway, some who read the brewery’s declaration of intent: to only brew beers suited to craft keg thought a wrong turn had been made by the entire brewery. They were wrong.

I’d had in mind to include the Camden Hells in the Advent Calendar, because it is an exemplary beer proving the wisdom of that statement of intent. In truth, all the beers I’d tried from Camden were very good; including the prototype sour. The Hells: a proper German-style Helles malty lager is almost set up as a challenge to all non-real-ale drinkers in Britain. A test of the craft beer “revolution”.

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The filtered Hells is a great beer to celebrate the end of the working day: refreshing, quaffable yet tasty: a set-me-up. The unfiltered version, though, is on a plane above. Properly herby (just German hops, mind), with a satisfying mouthfeel, tangy and refreshing. One of those beers that, when you take a sip, takes you out of the conversation for a second.

We sat with barman Ferenc a while. He pointed out a simpler direction for us back to Camden Town station. I doubt Camden Town brewery is on a simple path, but I’m sure they haven’t taken a wrong turn.

19th Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: The pub with Moor beer

19th December: The Queens Arms, Corton Denham. Moor So’ Hop, (and others). 4.1% ABV
From: Somerset, England. Type: Pub with food and beer menu/Pale ale, cask

This gem of a pub right on the edge of Somerset, just past the Cerne Giant, gets mentioned in today’s window alongside the beer. Not just because it serves outstanding local beers from Moor brewery, not just because it serves a wide range of beers of different styles (Americans and Germans in the West Country), and not just because of the great food.

Any one of those reasons would make the Queens Arms worth a detour, all of them merit a special visit. But what made the pub outstanding was attention to detail. Glassware to match the beer, knowledgeable bar staff, a menu beer suggestions to match the food. It just seems they are able to sense what would make your visit great. It took me a while to work it out because it’s all done so seamlessly.

The So’ Hop is an unusual beer. For a start its very hazy, but Moor make a point of preferring to serve their beers completely unrefined: no filtering, no fining (isinglass additives). Just full of flavour and mouthfeel, and in this case, some extraordinarily aromatic New Zealand hops – hence the name.

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It reminded me of the first time I drank gueze: the sour Belgian beer (“Is it supposed to be like this?”) Not that So’ Hop is sour; it’s gently malty-sweet but also crisp like an American pale ale and a Pilsner combined, with these almost other-worldly aromas and flavours of tropical fruit and blossom (jasmine? honeysuckle?).

Now I write it down, it doesn’t sound that it could have been as unusual as I remember. But it was not a mirage; that kind of experience sticks with you. Maybe that’s the effect of pure unrefined pleasure. Maybe it was the magic of the Queens Arms. Or maybe a bit of both.

The Queens Arms website
Moor Beer Company on unrefined “natural” beer
Adrian Tierney-Jones’ book: Great British Pubs, which inspired the trip

18th Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Toasting the Higgs Boson

18th December: Hardknott, Queboid. 8.0% ABV
From: Cumbria, England. Type: Not the Standard Model. Source: Hardknott Brewery online

At last, after nearly forty years of waiting, physicists have finally discovered what to drink when it is conclusively proved that the Higgs boson exists.

Hardknott is uncertainly, the most physics-friendly brewery in Britain, with its Dark Energy, Cool Fusion, Infra Red, Azimuth, and Continuum beers. Even the name of the brewery is an anagram of Hadron ttk. And then there’s Queboid: a virtual Belgian, zero spin, charmed quark of a charged, double IPA.

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Opening a bottle of Hardknott Queboid or possibly a Higgs boson

It was one of those beers postulated to exist, but which had never occurred in my frame of reference until I collided with it soon after a Higgs boson was tentatively “found” at Cern’s Large Hadron Collider in July this year.

It is, as predicted, dense and complex, but also earthy and  citrussy, and just when you’ve calculated how sweet it is exactly, a citric, resiny hoppy bite comes to balance the equation. The taste decays into lavender-scented oils with a honey coating, after an extremely long half-life. A high-energy beer.

Queboid’s virtual existence at Hardknott Brewery’s online presence
Head Hardknott brewer Dave Bailey’s blog post on beer duality
The Higgs Boson on wikipedia

17th Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: An English beer from a different kitchen

17th December: Wadworth, Beer Kitchen Wheat Beer. 5% ABV
From: Witlshire, England. Type: Belgian-style wheat beer, bottle. Source: Wadworth online

2012 has been a year where beer and food has made a breakthrough in the UK. Mainstream media has caught on. I’ve written about Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain on Channel 4 and Dan Saladino’s Food Programme report on BBC Radio 4. If beer is ever to take back its rightful place in the hearts and minds of the British public as an epicurean beverage, it will be through food.

It is also a sign that a “mainstream”, regional brewer in the UK wants to be in on the act. Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen beers are brewed specifically for drinking with food with a range of beer styles to go with a range of foods. This is just the kind of thing a US craft brewery might do. It’s so much more that trying to force the brewery’s standard range on normal pub grub.

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I baked some salmon with some citric white wine (unwise) and a beurre blanc sauce made from the baking juices and fresh basil. Wheat beers often go well with fish; this, finding itself somewhere between the citrussy tang and refreshing light body in the Belgian vit style and the spiciness of a Bavarian Kristall would have been matched better without the wine and basil, but that’s the cook’s fault.

Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen Wheat Beer does seem like an English take on the wheat theme, or not so much a “take” as adding its own genes to the pool. I love what Wadworth’s are doing with this, and the other beers in the range; really adding credibility to the beer-and-food image. The only thing I’d change in the beer would be to have a bigger bottle.

Wadworth’s Beer Kitchen range of beers
My post on Dan Saladino’s Food Programme on beer “Strange Brew”
My Post on Jamie Oliver’s Great Britan programme on beer

An epiphany before Christmas

16th December: Oppigårds Bryggeri, Coast To Coast. 4.7% ABV
From: Sweden. Type: American-style pale ale. keg (fresh). Source: Akkurat bar, Stockholm

It could have been almost any beer – this being Akkurat and so candy-shop-full of great beer you hardly know where to start. But my young niece took one sip of my Oppigårds Coast To Coast Pale Ale, and her mind was made up.

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Coast To Coast pump clip showing the four pubs it was brewed for

It was one of those beerpiphany moments. They taste, you see a flicker of surprised appreciation. They look at you, and there seems to be an understanding that wasn’t there before. (“He’s not as mad as I thought…”)

Coast To Coast was specially brewed by one of my favourite Swedish craft breweries, released to just four influential pubs in Sweden: two in Stockholm – the east coast, and two in Gothenberg – the west coast. That it was an exclusive appealed to Nina, too. Even if it was only the second time she’d tasted craft beer.

Five pubs, if you count the Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival, where the judges liked it too. It won a silver medal in the Draught Ale, Max. 4.7 %, and a gold in the equivalent bottled ale categories. You can see why. It’s a very quaffable and approachable beer that doesn’t bombard you with hop astringency, but just beautifully perfumed American hops. And at a socialble, sessionable strength.

Neither you nor my niece will find Coast To Coast again, but I’m sure she’ll look out for Oppigårds. I recommend you do too.

Oppigårds Bryggeri (in Swedish) List of beers
Stockholm Beer and Whisky Festival 2012 beer competition list of winners.
Don’t you wish your local was hot like Akkurat, Stockholm?
Here is Akkurat’s Beer Info page

See all of the Maltjerry 2012 Advent Calendar entries in one post.

14th Dec. Maltjerry’s Advent Calendar: Bishops got me drinking cans

14th December: Ska Brewing, Modus Hoperandi. 6.8% ABV
From: Colorado, USA. Type: American India pale ale. Source: Bishops Arms, Lund, Sweden

Quite a few Swedish people I know believe that all the Red Lions in the UK belong the the Red Lion pub chain. I don’t know if this stems from the fact that all the Bishops Arms pubs in Sweden do belong to the eponymous pub company.

Whereas Red Lions have existed in England since probably just after the Vikings became settled. The Bishops Arms have only been around since about the late 1990s. Each “Bishops” is modelled on the Swedes’ idea of an ideal British pub. Which means they have way more whisky than most pubs in England put together.

They’re also really good at American craft beer. I drank my first Flying Dog Gonzo Imperial Porter here, over 6 years ago. Where The Bishops lead, so have the UK craft pubs lagged behind. This has also been true of properly good beer out of cans, of which, Modus Hoperandi has been a prime example. It’s been a go-to beer whenever I’ve had the fortune to be in town.

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If you’re not used to it, the can jars at first, but technology is such that the these days, cans’ contents don’t. Modus Hoperandi is a properly bitter, American IPA (annoyingly pronounced “eepa”, in Swedish). I’m not convinced Ska Brewing’s tag line of “Old-man bitter” conveys quite the image they intend, but boy does this IPA wake your taste buds up: grapefruit and lime zestiness, resiny, oily aromas and a juicy citrus sharpness.

I’d be very happy to see the Bishops Arms empire spread across the North Sea, they’re a lot more friendly than the Viking hordes.

Modus Hoperandi on the Ska Brewing website.

The Bishops Arms online in Sweden

 

Sweden makes Oktoberfest modern.

12th December: Mohawk, Unfiltered October. 5.9% ABV
From: Sweden – at least in thought. Type: Oktoberfest lager +. Source: Systembolaget

As Swedish as Wallander, but even more of a cult. Sorry, but you are unlikely to find Mohawk beer outside Sweden. It has to be said, you are also unlikely to find any decent Oktoberfest beer inside Germany. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but today’s champions of the style are Americans  – as usual, and Scandinavia’s modern breweries have followed their lead. Sweden’s Mohawk brewed one of the best I tried this year.

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Mohawk is essentially, Stefan Gustavsson and his haircut. He brews after the Mikkeller style, that is, without his own brewery, renting brewery time and brewing to his palate’s content. Some people call it gypsy brewing. But since 2010, I’ve called it cuckoo brewing (c) maltjerry 2010, so there!

The point of Mohawk is to take traditional styles and add the 21st century. Of course there are others that do this, but why I champion this beer and this brewer is what he has achieved in the face of not only the Swedish alcohol retail monopoly that is Systembolaget, but also his countryfolk’s distrust in the quality of their own brewers. Even the ones that are searching for the new can’t quite believe it.

The Unfiltered has grassiness that you might expert from a German style, backed up with a digestive biscuity palate that also gives the impression of a bite of a lemon cheesecake, albeit with most of the topping missing. The slipping away from tradition is obvious in the tropical fruits that slide into across the palate: New Zealand and American hops. Rheinheitsgebot, but not as we know it.

If only some beer tent in Munich would serve this alongside a slow-cooked shoulder of pork, perhaps the Mohawk name would establish in Sweden and beyond, and claim the plaudits it deserves. And then you’d be able to try it.