Showing posts with label classic beers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label classic beers. Show all posts

Friday, February 21, 2020

Classics Revisited: Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout

For reasons best known only to history and circumstance, I don't recall having had a Samuel Smith's beer when I lived in the UK. I am sure that my pre-Prague drinking life largely consisting of Guinness, Murphy's, Caffrey's, and John Smith's in pubs of varying amounts of Oirishness may have played a part.

My introduction to Samuel Smith's was, if memory and Blogger labels serves, in Bicester when visiting one of my brothers. I lugged a fairly impressive haul of British beers back from Oxfordshire to Prague, including their Taddy Porter, Oatmeal Stout, and the muse for today's classic revisit, Imperial Stout.


When you think about a brewery so steeped in nostalgia for the Victorian era, you'd kind of expect their Imperial Stout to have the kind of provenance and heritage that only the noblest of blue blooded families can claim. Alas, as I discovered doing some background reading for this post, the beer was apparently first brewed in the 1980s, originally for the American market. Even so, I still list it as a classic as I have heard plenty of craft brewers name check it as an inspiration for their own imperial stouts.

Let's get started then...


Yes, I am pouring an imperial stout into an imperial pint glass, even branded (yay Christmas mixed packs with glassware), but at 7% abv, this is not exactly rocket fuel when compared to the standard abv of most American craft beer. As you can see from the picture it had a massive head, a fact I put down to the traditional Victorian practice of etching the white Yorkshire rose onto the bottom of the glass. The head never really settles down when using my Sam Smith's glasses, so there was a lot of lacing left as I drank the inky obsidian liquid. There was actually enough foam in the bottom of the glass at the end to have a mouthful of the moussey goodness.

I am sure you can imagine that through such a dense head if was fairly tricky to pick out a lot of aromas, though definitely in there were licorice, a touch of coffee, a wallop of black treacle, and a kind of tobacco/herbal thing that I always associate with Fuggles. Tastewise, the black treacle character was very much to the fore as well as some bittersweet chocolate, think something north of 80% cocoa and from South America. There were also some light fruity esters, as well as those herbal hops coming through in the finish.

For an imperial stout that is on the lighter end of the abv spectrum, it most certainly doesn't feel as though it is lacking heft. The silky mouthfeel and full body are almost sensuous.

I am sure there are folks out there who would claim that this is really just an old school porter, especially because of the abv thing. I am not one to quibble with how a brewery wishes to brand their beer (unless they win awards for it in a different style than that market it), and can happily say this classic stands up to scrutiny as one of the best imperial stouts out there today.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Classics Revisited: Westmalle

For fear of sounding like a naysayer, one of my main issues with the craft beer scene at the moment is its constant, incessant, pursuit of the new. Many of the breweries I follow on various social media outlets are forever promoting new IPAs beers, weekly IPA beer releases, or their IPA latest collaborations. To quote "The Liberty of Norton Folgate" by Madness, it's become a
"perpetual steady echo of the passing beat
A continual dark river of people
In their transience and in its permanence"
Being something of a contrarian, I decided recently that I wanted to revisit classic beers and breweries that existed long before the current boom in craft beer, kind of making 2020 have a little hindsight.

You really don't get much more originalist than monastic brewing, and when we talk about beer being made to nourish takers of vows and pay for their work in the world, there is nothing more iconic than Trappist Ale. At some point throughout this year I plan to revisit as many of the classic Trappist beers as possible, but first up is Westmalle.

Located in the Belgian province of Antwerp, Westmalle Abbey was established as a priory in 1794 before becoming a full Trappist abbey in 1836, in which year the monks under the guidance of the first abbot, Martinus Dom also established a brewery. At first the monks brewed only for their own consumption, but started selling to the local area in 1856. Westmalle produces three beers, Extra, Dubbel, and Tripel, but here in central Virginia only the latter pair appear to be easily available.


The dubbel, the recipe for which apparently dates back to 1926, pours a deep mahogany, with garnet glints shining through at the edges. The head is light tan and dissipates pretty quickly to a patchiness on top of the beer, giving the glass a swirl though rouses it nicely. The aroma is dominated by fruity esters, raisins, cherries, and dried figs. Floating around in there as well were traces of toffee, brown sugar, and bread. The fruit dominates the drinking as well, but in a fruitcake kind of way, when the fruit has been liberally soaked in booze, my mind leapt to rum in particular for some reason. With a scrape of effervescent carbonation, the medium full body avoids being cloying. The dry finish was a little unexpected, perhaps a product of US dubbels that I tend to find overly sweet, even sickly.


Moving on the 9% behemoth that is the world's original Tripel, this one pours a slightly cloudy gold with orange highlights. The head this time is pure white, though it too dissipated to patchiness and roused nicely when swirled. The big player in the aroma department is bananas, but not in the same sense as you get with many a hefeweizen, these bananas have been lightly caramelised in butter, perhaps with a couple of slices of apple chucked in as well.  Other than the fruit, there is a spicy note as well as a reasonable hint of the booze hit to come. While the booze is present in tasting, mostly I was getting some nice toasted malt, a bit of grass and lemons, and even a light syrup flavour, it does not dominate. The body on this one is fuller than the dubbel, but that same effervescent carbonation does its thing and makes it anything but a sticky beer.

One thing that was clear from drinking this pair Westmalle beers is that I honestly don't think that tripel will ever be my thing. That's not to say that it was a 'bad' beer, that is clearly not the case, but that is just not the kind of beer I enjoy drinking on a regular basis, even when chilling at home and without the need to drive. The dubbel on the other hand I can see becoming a vaguely regular visitor to the fridge, one that I kind of wish we were having an actual winter to enjoy with it,

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

In Praise of Without

At times, and I own that this is likely a case of perception more than anything else, it seems ever more difficult to drop into a pub that sells well made beer and just get a nice pint of pale ale, pilsner, or stout that hasn't been in some way adulerated with stuff that I have very little interest in seeing on a list of beer ingredients. Taking that observation a touch further, it also often appears that a brewery has barely got the training wheels off their brew kit and they are launching out into the weird and wonderful when it comes to herbs, spices, and barrels.

This isn't to say that such concoctions are wrong, or some kind of zythophilic evil inflicted on the great mass of beer drinkers by mad scientists with an overgrown herbarium. Rather, I feel that superb, beautifully put together, simple beers just don't get the appreciation they deserve. As a result, they suffer on sites that advocate the rating of beer because of their perceived plainness.

As anyone with an ounce of brewing knowledge understands, these seemingly simple, even simplistic, beers are exceptionally difficult to make well, and to make consistently well is another story all together. Sorry but I don't want noticeable variations from batch to batch of my favourite beers, I want to know that the brewers are sufficiently skilled to make the same beer time after time.

Think about pilsners as an example. Most great Czech made pale lagers consist of precisely 4 ingredients, malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. The malt is often a single kind, sometimes malted by the brewery itself, the hops are likewise often just a single kind. You cannot get simpler than that, yet it seems that only a select few breweries can scale those heights, and thankfully one of them does so here in Virginia.

So while a brewer may like to think of themselves as 'innovative', 'envelope pushing', or whatever the bullshit self-aggrandising term is this week, I tend to think they are actually brewers in hiding. Hiding behind herbs, hiding behind oak, hiding behind fruit. Sure there might be a good brewer in there somewhere, and they might have a deft hand with the extraneous stuff, but that doesn't replace the ability to put out consistently well made, tasty beer.

Beer is ultimately very simple, 4 basic ingredients with almost infinite possibilities without having get into needless botanical fripperies. Simple isn't bland, simple is where the science and art of the master brewer is found, simple is more than the sum of its parts. Simple beers are beers packed with confidence. The confidence to let the beer stand, or fall, on its own merits.

Taking the simple path is often the path of most enjoyment.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Keeping it Simple

I think I am about to utter the most disgustingly unutterably awful phrase you could imagine as a tippler. So abhorrent is this phrase that I fear I will be cast out into eternal darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. So, having taken a mouthful of Coke Zero for courage (it being too early for beer), here goes. I prefer simple beer.


I often find myself agreeing most heartily with Martyn Cornell over at Zythophile, and his recent post "Why extremophiles are a danger to us all" was read with many a nod and waving of papers whilst mumbling "hear, hear". That post came to mind again this weekend as I sat on the patio of Devils Backbone enjoying some spring sunshine and beers with Mrs V, Eric from Relentless Thirst and Steve, who works for a local beer distributor.  New on the beer menu at Devils Backbone is a beer called Ein Kolsch, an excellent example of the style and exceedingly drinkable, but I had to reign myself in and only have 4.

Having indulged in a further pint of Vienna Lager, and a half of Kilt Flasher Wee Heavy to drown my sorrows in preparation for the inevitable theft of the Calcutta Cup by perfidious Albion, we headed down the road to Blue Mountain Brewery. Their take on an altbier, Evan Altmighty, was very drinkable and named after brewer's son, and the film which was made in the area. As ever, the Classic Lager was most enjoyable. 

Classic beers, well made, are, in my ever so unhumble opinion, the height of the brewers craft. Sure, your imperial IPAs might be interesting to sample at a beer festival, but to drink several pints of on a night out? Sat with our pints of Ein Kolsch, or the Styrian Blonde in Steve's case, the sum total of geekery was as follows:
  1. observe colour and clarity of the beer
  2. take a mouthful
  3. nod appreciatively and say "that's good"
  4. continue discussing Steely Dan/Liverpool/homebrew/insert theme here
I don't want beer to be an existential experience, I am not looking for the next big hop high, I just want to drink several pints of something tasty, in the company of fine people and still be able to function the next morning. I am fairly sure that I am not in the minority on that front, and so Fuggled will continue to celebrate the session beer, the classic beer and the pubs in which to enjoy them.

Beyond January

Dry January is over, but my beer fast continues. Well, it continues until Friday. As a general rule I only drink at the weekend, thus my win...

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