Showing posts with label imperial stout. Show all posts
Showing posts with label imperial stout. 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.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Saintly Brews

When I was trying to decide which online beer shop to buy my Christmas selection from way back in the entirely too warm depths of November, I had 2 absolute must requirements. Firstly, said shop had to sell Timothy Taylor Landlord and secondly have a selection of beers from the Durham Brewery. Only Beer Ritz satisfied these needs and so they got my cash.

The first, and previously only, experience of  Durham Brewery was back in 2008 when I had a bottle of Benedictus, an 8.4% barley wine which I really enjoyed and wished I had bought more of. This time I bought a 2 bottles of three of their beers, more Benedictus, Temptation and Bombay 106.

I am not really much of one for the American versions of India Pale Ale, I find many of them to be like sucking lemons, but British style IPA is something I quite often enjoy, regardless of where they are made. Bombay 106, named for a British light infantry regiment, is a healthy 7% abv and hopped with masses of Goldings according to the advertising blurb. The Goldings are very much the star of the show here, big, hefty dollops of spice and a citrus note like Seville oranges. Backed with a firm malty body which means the hops don't run away with it all. The finish is long and dry with just a hint of sherbet in there for fun.

Benedictus was largely as I remembered it, and remember it is how it will have to remain as it has been discontinued by the brewery. A beautiful copper colour, with a thin white head, the nose is a full frontal attack of toffee, canned fruit and citrus peel, and a boozy note chucked in. The sweet caramel taste dominates the drinking, though there is enough of a hop bite to stop it from furring the arteries.

The highlight though on the drinking front was Temptation, their Imperial Stout which smashes through the doors with a big hitting 10% abv. This stuff looks like crude oil, black, inky, more than opaque it sits in the glass like a liquid black hole. The huge body it a riot of sweet malt flavours, caramel, toffee, chocolate all playing against a noticeable coffee note and the spiciness of the hops. Sitting watching the TV and sipping this was the perfect way to end the day, having had one of my mother's home cooked meals. Perfection.

I think it is fair to say that whenever I head to the UK, I will be on the look out for more of the Durham Brewery's range, in particular their new historic beer, White Stout.

Friday, October 14, 2011

International Stout Day

If you know me, you know I love stout. Whether it is dry stout, extra, foreign extra, oatmeal, milk or imperial, I love them all. I am admittedly somewhat ambivalent about coffee infused, bourbon barrel aged and all the other shenanigans that seems to be de rigeur for beer in general these days. But offer me a pint of stout and I am a happy man.

At heart it is such a simple beer to brew, 90% pale malt, 10% roasted barley to get 1.048, 40 IBUs of hops, Goldings is a good one, yeast. Simple. Classic. Sure you can play with caramel malt, chocolate malt, black patent, Carafa and add extra layers of "complexity", but many a Friday afternoons are ended with a desire for a pint of stout.

To celebrate this most magnificent of beer styles some people got together and started International Stout Day, which is November 3rd.

As a committed lover of the black stuff, I will be dedicating ever post that week to stout. Brewing it, drinking it and all the associations that go with it.

Yes, sir, I am stout man.

I guess you know what I'll drinking tonight, assuming there is something good available.

Stout. Simple.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Homebrewer of the Week

The beginnng today of a new semi-regular series, in the spirit of my recent Brewer of the Week I introduce Homebrewer of the Week! First up is, well, me. So here goes.

Name: Velky Al

How did you get into home brewing?

My homebrewing was a result of my getting into beer more seriously than just chugging gallons of whatever industrial stuff was available while watching football in the pub. As much as I love Czech beer, which is predominantly pale lager, my first beer love has always been stout. My first legal beer was Guinness, I loved Murphy's and Beamish as well. I wanted to make my own because there is so little ale being made by commercial brewers in the Czech Republic.

Are you an all grain brewer or extract with grains?

I brew with extract and specialty grains. I don't have the space at the moment to go all grain, though I plan to eventually, the key word being eventually, I am in no rush.

What is the best beer you have ever brewed and why?

Difficult to say, I really enjoyed my imperial stout I brewed last winter as I did my Christmas beer. Having said that, a week or so ago I open a bottle of a barley wine I brewed last November in preparation for Thanksgiving to see if it was worth putting forward for the Dominion Cup. Well, simply put it was smooth, boozing and obscenely easy to drink for its 12%abv.

What is the worst, and why?

My first brew in the US was a total disaster. I wanted to make a pale ale with Amarillo hops, using White Labs' Burton yeast. For some reason the yeast didn't do its thing and the beer didn't ferment properly, so I had to pour 5 gallons down the sink. That was the reason I ditched the 5 gallon batches for 2.2 gallons and clear carboys rather than white buckets.

What is your favourite beer that you brew?

It has to be LimeLight, my lime and coriander witbier, which is also very popular with people who drink it. It is such a simple recipe and the results are consistently good. Without having to go through the hassle of all grain brewing, I am done with LimeLight in about 2 hours from start to finish.

Do you have any plans or ambitions to turn your hobby into your career?

I would love to, but I have to admit that as much as I enjoy brewing, I prefer seeing the enjoyment other people get from drinking it. Working in a brewery tasting room has taught me plenty about serving beer, keeping lines clean and the like, so I would like to have a pub at some point in the future, whether my own brewpub or taking on a tied house with one of Britain's regional brewers.

Of the beers you brew, which is your favourite to drink?

My favourite to drink is my Scottish export ale, which I call Gael 80/-. It is very much a classic Scottish ale, more sweet than it is malty, lightly hopped and at only about 4.5% abv something I can drink plenty of. It was also the first beer I successfully conditioned in my polypin/cubitainor to replicate cask conditioning, and it was even better!

How do you decide on the kind of beer to brew and formulate the recipe?

As I said in the first question, it started out wanting to brew a stout. Otherwise I think about the kind of flavours I am looking for and then go from there, sometimes I want to brewing something as close “to style” as possible. For example at the moment I am planning a beer based on my favourite chocolate bar, the Twix. I am thinking about using Biscuit malt, Chocolate malt and one of the Caramel malts, and very lightly hop it.

What is the most unusual beer you have brewed?

In terms of ingredients, my Christmas beer was the most unusual, especially as I wasn't following a given style, just making it up. My initial idea was to make a beer that reminded me of the gingerbread houses my mother made at Christmas when we were kids. I started off with an amber DME base and added some Caramel 80 for colour and a touch of sweetness, for the hops I used French Strisselspalt, a very low alpha acid type. Nothing drastically unusual so far, but then came the spices I added to the boil, the classic Christmas spices of cloves, ginger, and cinnamon, as well as dried sweet orange peel. The result was essentially a very yummy liquid gingerbread, which I called Biere d'épices.

If you could do a pro-am brew, what would you brew and with which brewery?

A very difficult question, and I can think of several breweries I would like to do something with, all of them back in the UK. Everards would be an automatic choice as Mark there has given me tons of invaluable advice for my homebrewing, and I learnt a lot from his when we met up in Prague to tour some of the brewpubs there, not to mention the fact that I think Tiger is one of the nicest beers I had last time I was in England. Another brewer who has been a great source of knowledge and enthusiasm for beer, and whose beer I love drinking, is Jeff at . Finally would be Dave at the HardKnott Brewery because he seems to like doing random stuff, which kind of chimes with my own way of thinking about brewing. In an ideal world, we would all of get together to brew something, perhaps with one us choosing the malt, one the hops, one the yeast and the other the water!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Homebrew Log part 2

I mentioned on Monday that I had swapped some homebrew samples with James from A Homebrew Log. In addition to the IHP Pale Ale which was the original cause of the swap, we traded some other beers, in my case I gave him a 22oz bottle of Gael 80/-, LimeLight and a 12oz bottle of Black Rose. Coming the other way were 12oz bottles of James's Cider, Chili Lager, Apple Ale, Peter McCotton 80/- and Imperial Walker Texas Ranger Stout.

Last night I decided to try the ales from the collection, leaving the lager and cider to chill down in the fridge for a day or so, to be written about at some later date (probably a rare weekend post). First up was the Apple Ale, the recipe for which was inspired by a German drink called Graff, 80% cider, 20% amber beer.

As you can see from the picture, it is a nice golden colour, bordering on a light amber, topped off with a loose white head that thinned out rather quickly. I had no idea what to expect with this, other than a prevalence of apples on both the nose and in the mouth, and so it turned out to be. Behind the apples though was a very gentle sweet maltiness which added body to the liquid, I can't work out whether to call this a beer or what! On a hot, hot day, and yesterday is Charlottesville was a bloody hot, hot day, this chilled down was beautifully refreshing and something I plan to brew in the future, though possibly as a candidate for mulling in the depths of winter.

Following the Graff was Peter McCotton 80/-, an export ale in the Scottish style, which to look at was very similar to my Gael 80/-.

This one was definitely a beer! A deep ruby beer which had a very loose light tan head. The nose was very much coffee to the fore, with a slight toastiness in the background which kind of made me think of breakfast. The roasty notes from the nose played on through to the drinking, so be followed by a smooth gentle caramel flavour which rounded out the beer nicely. With the coffee and roastiness it would be easy to see this as a very toned down stout, but without the cloying feeling you sometimes get with stouts and porters. The finish was long and dry,

Having had stout in mind, it was time to move on to the big beast.

Imperial Walker Texas Ranger Stout is an 8.5% ABV brute of a beer which is very dark indeed, with just the merest tinge of crimson at the edges. Even before I got the glass to my nose I could smell the coffee, big walloping dollops of coffee, with an almost milky background and as the drinking wore on a distinct boozy glow. As with many a stout, coffee and chocolate dominate the flavours, espresso and dark chocolate respectively. In the depths of winter, this would be a great beer to come home to and sip by the fire, a lovely drop indeed.

So, 3 good beers from Fredericksburg and well done James!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Right Regal Stout

Once again I succumbed to temptation about 10 days ago. I popped open a bottle of my imperial stout and was greatly encouraged by what I saw, smelt and tasted. Yesterday it was 3 weeks since I had bottled the beer, and so I decided to try it at its minimum conditioning, and the great encouragement became much joy.

I poured the beer into my new Everard's glass, which as you can see celebrates the fact that the Leicester brewer is in its 160th anniversary. Because I used far more chocolate malt than roasted barley, the beer is rather more brown than black, with a deep crimson around the edges, the head is tan and just sat there like a cap on top of the beer. Chocolate is very much the defining theme of the beer, the nose is redolent of dark bitter chocolate, with subtle spicy notes in the background. Those smells are replicated in the taste department, smooth chocolate with a distinct bitterness with balances out the sweetness to make a remarkably drinkable imperial stout* - even Mrs Velkyal described it as "strangely refreshing"!

So, yes I am very happy with this beer and at the moment think it is the best beer I have made, so have another picture.

* I can write bollocks as well.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Not Quite As Planned - Again!

Yesterday was brew day. The plan was to brew the imperial stout I am calling Machair Mor, whilst being open to the possibility of another wort not being what it should according to both Beertools and the Beer Recipator, and even my own slight confusion after taking a sample of the boil's specific gravity.

The recipe ended up as follows:
  • 1.75kg Muntons Light DME
  • 900g dark brown sugar
  • 250g American chocolate malt
  • 100g roasted barley
  • 100g flaked oats
  • 30g Galena @ 60
  • 10g Fuggles @ 45
  • 10g EKG @ 15
  • 5g EKG @ 5
The brown sugar was thrown in to the original recipe as a backup to the lack of OG in previous beers, a fact which has been bothering me somewhat. The extra addition of Fuggles was just to use up the remnants of a packet I had after making the Gael 60/- ale.

When I took a sample of the boil, the gravity was 1.150, I had to use my longer hydrometer as the one I usually use just didn't have the scale to deal with such a big wort. When I added the wort to the rest of the water, the OG came down to 1.050 - it has however been suggested to me that the density of the wort caused the boil to sink to the bottom of the carboy and was insufficiently mixed up before taking the OG reading. Something to bear in mind for my next beer.

Since I have started using pre-purified drinking water from the shop, I am getting the wort down to pitching temperature in about 15 minutes, which is brilliant - I chill the bottles of water not being used in the boil, pour 1 gallon into my carboy, put the carboy in an ice bath, pour in the wort - through a re-useable coffee filter for removing the hops sludge and other sundried gunk, top up to about 8 litres and then pitch my yeast. It is easy, cheap and it works! The last couple of beers I have made started fermenting within 3 hours, using the Wyeast Activator - this time I am using the Irish Ale Yeast, and currently have the biggest krausen I have had so far, as you can see below.

Whether it is just plain Machair, or the Machair Mor, I have another nicely fermenting batch of beer to sit in the storage room for a couple of weeks before bottling, and that is the important thing as far as I am concerned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Machair Mor and Gael 80/-

In the next couple of weeks I plan to do a couple of brews and so went to the local home brew shop to pick up the necessary hops and special grains to complement the DME on its way from Northern Brewer. While at the home brew shop I also picked up a clear 3 gallon carboy, so that I can make smaller batches of beer and because it is transparent will actually be ale to see what is going on.

The first one to go into the new carbaby will be an imperial stout, which I am calling Machair Mor - for those not from the west coast of Scotland, machair is the fertile land between peat bogs and the beach, and mor is the Gaelic word for "big" or "great". Machair Mor is inspired in part by Wrasslers XXXX from the Porterhouse in Dublin, which I really enjoyed when I was over in Ireland last year. The recipe for my beer is as follows:
  • 1.75kg Light DME
  • 250g Chocolate malt
  • 100g Roasted barley
  • 100g Flaked oats
  • 30g Galena, boiled 60 minutes
  • 10g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 15 minutes
  • 5g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 5 minutes
  • Wyeast Irish Ale
According the Beertools recipe calculator, this should give me an OG of 1.089 - by far the biggest beer I will have made to date, with a projected ABV of 8.7%! In terms of IBUs, my hopping schedule will apparently yield 51 IBUs, just on the lower end of the scale according to their style guides.

The second beer is kind of my autumnal quaffer, an 80/- ale which I am calling Gael 80/-. The recipe for this one is:
  • 1kg Light DME
  • 55g Crystal 60 malt
  • 30g Chocolate malt
  • 12g Fuggles, boiled for 60 minutes
  • 5g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 15 minutes
  • 5g East Kent Goldings, boiled for 1 minute
  • Wyeast Scottish Ale
Again, according to Beertools, the OG for this should be in the region of 1.048, giving me an ABV of 4.5%. The IBUs rating for this recipe is 17, again on the lower end of the spectrum, but as Scottish ales are not particularly hoppy anyway, not a problem.

I decided to go back to using the yeast smackpacks from Wyeast as they always fermented when I used them in Prague, so it was a case of better the devil you know. I will also be using Irish Moss in the boil for the first time, so it will be interesting to see what effect that has on the clarity of the end products.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Beer and Cheese

When I read around beer blogs, I find that I am in minority when it comes to things such as music in a pub, in that I like a pub to have either a decent sound system and the occasional band. Having said that, I don't like pubs where the music is so loud that it gets in the way of talking with whoever I am there with. I am yet to reach that point where my sole purpose in going to a pub is to drink, I go primarily to meet with friends, or because I know the bar staff and am happy enough to drink at the bar and chat with them. If you ever see me in a pub drinking alone, it is because I am waiting for someone, or because everyone else was busy and so I brought a book with me - downing pint after pint by myself is just not my thing.

Because I like a pub with music, I have recently been wondering if there is any correlation between what is coming through the speakers and what I feel like drinking, so below are different songs and the beer styles (in some cases specific beers) that they put me in mind of, call it a soundtrack to Friday!

  • Sweet and Tender Hooligan (song is important here not the "video") - Wychwood Hobgoblin
  • Yesterday's Men - a nice pint of mild, ah lovely!
  • Dignity (yeah right after 15 pints!) - Gillespie's Scottish Stout, I used to love that stuff
  • Disarm - Budvar, a beer and music you don't need to think too much about, just plain good all round
  • Folk Police - too much of the imperial stout and I am soon getting homesick, the Peatbog Faeries stoke that fire quite easily

So there you have it, some nice cheesy tunes and beery pairings! have a top weekend people, do good things, like buy calendars! ;)

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Tipsy Terrace Tasting

One of the most pressing things to get done this week before moving on was polishing off the varied beers still sitting around Mrs Velkyal and I's flat. My problem though was how to do it? I had basically three options:

  1. sell them
  2. give them away
  3. drink them

Admittedly I did give a few bottles away. However, I decided that the most prudent way of dealing with the situation was to drink them, but better to gather a few friends keen to try different beers from around Europe and introduce them to some of these delights. Thus it was that last night I went round to my good friend place to sit on his expansive balcony with another couple of guys and attempt to get through 25 beers from the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Scotland, England and Denmark.

Unfortunately we only managed to get through 14 of the beers, some pictures of which grace this post.

There was however one other beer on the list which I wanted the guys to try, the uninfected, though wildly over-carbonated, version of my Skippy Porter. I had previously only tried this beer with Evan Rail, who was very complimentary about it even though it erupted all over his kitchen floor. This time I was prepared, and opened the bottle in a flower pot, without flowers of course. Once again Skippy was a hit, with the guys saying it was one their favourite beers of the night, the smooth chocolate flavours I was aiming for were right up there, and the Fuggles bitterness was just right to add some bite. I initially thought that I wouldn't be brewing this beer very often, but given the reaction it gets I think I will have to simply refine the recipe and start making it in preparation for winter. I am finding now that I get more pleasure from my friends enjoying my beer than hoarding it all to myself in some attempt to save money on beer.

Thankfully I know that Mark and his family will be in the States for a few months at the end of the year, so our beer tasting will no doubt be repeated, hopefully with the added bonus of a couple of bottles of Strahov's Autumn Dark Special! On the menu already for when we sit on the patio in our new place will be my planned American style IPA loaded with Amarillo hops, also some more Skippy Porter as well as my first Irish Red Ale, tentatively called Mrs Velkyal's Red Hat.

Every prospect pleases!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Big Dogs Off the Leash

I am, it must be said, a little concerned. Fret not, the yeast hasn't died on me - in fact both fermenters have nice healthy looking krausens on them, and are bubbling away at about 40 little pops a minute. Yes, yes, yes, I know - how sad can a grown man get when he sits and counts how often his homebrew is bubbling, is there a technical term for this? The bubbling I mean, not the counting, I already know the technical term for that.

Wanting to restore some self-respect I decided that the moment had come, the moment I had been putting off and putting off, the time to open a couple of the monster BrewDog bottles that I have picked up lately. Just like Mark over on Pencil and Spoon, I have a habit of looking at bottles, deciding to drink them and then putting them back because I am not sure the occasion is right. Last night I just picked up the bottle and opened it before I could convince myself otherwise - that bottle was Hardcore IPA.

I have written elsewhere about my first run in with IPA from BrewDog, so I knew the vague neighbourhood I would be in with Hardcore, what I didn't know was just how much bigger and more in your face this one was to be. The beer pours a dark amber and the white head didn't last very long, although every time I would swirl the glass there would be a nice fresh head. The nose was sweet citrus all over the place, grapefruit mainly and lots of it, and the first taste was a bitterness explosion but backed up with a smooth, soothing, toffee like sweetness. American style IPAs are something new to me, and the more I try the more I like.

Emboldened by my impulsive opening of one big hitter, I reached in and pulled out a bottle of the 12%ABV Tokyo. I have heard great things about this beer from Evan, so my expectations were high. As a stout should be, this was a black hole - no light getting through at one, and the nose was alcoholic and roasted and peaty and like molasses (Mrs Velkyal stuck her nose in and instantly said "is this a BrewDog?" - brand recognition!), drool, drool. The first thing to strike home when I tasted it was the flavour of oak and vanilla, not surprising as it was aged on French oak chips, that coupled with the warming alcohol put me in mind of Paradox, but without the whisky element. The more I drank the more complex it became, a strong spiciness and yet a freshness in the finish which I am putting down to the cranberries. Definitely a sipping beer, one where you revel in each and every mouthful.

The only thing missing last night was being back in the Highlands, sat in a deep leather armchair while an Atlantic gale lashes the house and the peat fire glows in the hearth and the deerhound sits at my feet.

Monday, February 2, 2009


What a dire month January was. It is one of my traditions these days to give up the booze for the whole month and gladly see the Christmas excess drain away. If it wasn't hard enough to not drink for a month then Liverpool decided to make life yet harder by giving up the winning habit - other than beating Preston North End in the FA Cup, they drew every game in January.

February could not come soon enough, and what better to break the fast than a bottle of Porterhouse Celebration Stout? A gift from The Beer Nut when Mrs Velkyal and I went over to Ireland in November. Created to mark the 10 anniversary of The Porterhouse Brewing Company, this 10% ABV bottle conditioned imperial stout was already 2 years old when I popped off the crown cork.

I must say now that I like big stouts, and this was up there with the best of them - black as coal, dark biege head, coffee and cocoa in abundance on the nose, big, big big so far. What a lovely beer this was to drink as well, burnt caramel and rich luxuriant chocolate held beautifully in tension, wonderful to sip and feel the warmth of the alcohol. The perfect way to re-enter the wonderful world of beer.

The day of course got better because Liverpool re-discovered their winning ways and gave Chelsea a right spanking at Anfield! Things are looking up.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Stout at Heart

I am a stout man, take that whatever way you will – those of you who have met me will know the truth in those words. But here I am talking about beer styles, and I am a stout man. I have mentioned elsewhere that my first legal beer on Guinness, and I have retained a love of the black stuff since then. This no doubt explains why I was happy to note on Saturday that my local Billa now stocks Primátor Stout and the reason stouts from Hook Norton, Bradfield, BrewDog and O’Hanlon’s formed the backbone of my Christmas beer list.

So far, touch wood, I am yet to have a bum beer from Hook Norton. Their Double Stout was a beer I had looked for in various off-licenses and shops in the Oxford area, all in vain – so naturally it was ordered from BeerRitz. Not a great picture to be sure, but even opening the bottle was to get a burst of roasted coffee aroma, once poured the roasted nature of the nose was dominant, suggesting a full flavour to come. The beer itself was pitch black with a loose off-white head. Coffee was also the major flavour in the beer, although smoothed out by a velvety chocolate. Not overly bitter, full-bodied and beautifully smooth, this was lovely stuff.

The guys up at the Bradfield Brewery have been a Beer Hero of the Week, so when I saw them available on the BeerRitz website I knew I wanted to try their stout. Again the picture is not great – sometimes I get good pics on the mobile, but there we go. The nose was certainly lighter than the Hook Norton, though still abounding in coffee and cocoa – both of which continued on into the taste, although there was a subtle caramel flavour in the background I really liked. This is very much a classic stout, with a silky smooth mouthfeel that makes it a very pleasurable pint.

I have no qualms in admitting that I am a fan of BrewDog, having thoroughly enjoyed their Paradox Smokehead, Punk IPA and Chaos Theory. Rip Tide is their 8%ABV Imperial Stout, which poured as black as a stout should be with a good stout head. This being a stout the nose was coffee and chocolate, this being a BrewDog stout they were there in abundance. As I said when writing about Paradox, this was big and bold, dominated by roasted coffee. Despite being a big hitter on the alcohol front, this was surprisingly easy to drink.

The O’Hanlon’s Port Stout caught my eye because it brings together two of my favourite alcoholic drinks – I love a glass of port and a wedge on Stilton. The Port Stout pours a very very dark red, bordering on black but not quite getting there, the head was frothy and light brown. Where I was expecting coffee and chocolate on the nose, there was wine, although coffee notes did eventually sneak through. The syrupiness of wine was the prime feature of drinking this stout, but I was surprised to find that the sweetness wasn’t cloying at at, in fact it was almost like drinking a Guinness with a dash of port chucked in – the intention I am sure, and certainly a hit in my books – if this is available in the States, I can see a Christmas tradition starting.

Talking of our impending move to the States, from reading Beer, oh Beer, it would certainly seem that the US craft brew scene love their stouts – a land flowing with coffee and chocolate must truly be the promised land of plenty.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Fuggled Review of the Year - Stouts and Porters

Dark beers have played a major role in my drinking this year, in particular stouts and porters, both from the Czech Republic and from further afield, such as the UK, Ireland, Norway and Germany. I have learnt about the differences between a Baltic and a London porter, and about the different styles of stout, whether dry, sweet or imperial.

When I started my, legal, drinking life, stout was very much my ale of choice. I remember ordering my first ever pint in the Dark Island hotel back at home, it was a Guinness - a youthful homage to my eldest brother. When studying in Birmingham I would wander off for pints of Murphy's and Beamish.

When I came back from Oxford a few months ago, many of the beers I brought with me were stouts and porters of various types, and the only beers I managed to bring from Ireland were from the Carlow Brewing Company, makers of O'Hara's stout.

My shortlist of stouts and porters is as follows:

O'Hara's on draught was good, from the bottle it was great - and still I have a bottle in the cellar waiting to be drunk when the right day arrives.

Wrasslers XXXX was, they say, the choice of stout for Irish hero Michael Collins - a man evidently of exceptional taste in beer. Smooth, full bodied and yet easy to drink, if I lived in Ireland it would be my beer of choice.

What can be said about BrewDog's sublime Paradox series of imperial stouts aged in whisky casks, very simply - where can I buy more?

There is a clear winner here, and it is simply because within one drink the makers have managed to combine two of my passions, as such my Stout/Porter of 2008 is:

  1. BrewDog Paradox Smokehead

Whisky and stout in a single glass - sheer Genius.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Peat Smoke Heaven

This is part 1 of a two part tasting, part two will take place sometime in September 2010, as that is the best before date on my bottles of BrewDog Paradox Smokehead, and I want to see what difference a couple of years, and being transported to the US will have on the beer.

When Mrs Velkyal and I move to the US next year, I plan to finally buy a brew kit and start making my own beer. Various recipes have already been designed, my head still spins with ideas. One of the first beers I thought of making was a peat-smoked stout, which I was going to call Machair. In my original plan I wanted to use a portion of distillers malt to give the smokiness of my favourite whiskey – Talisker, although I am also partial to Islay whiskies, in particular Laphroaig.
It was these plans for a peat smoke stout that flooded into my mind as I opened the bottle, and the unmistakable smell of whisky filled my nostrils, even before pouring. Having spent a month drinking dark beers, I fear that I have worn the word “dark” very thin, in which case this beer is absolutely opaque, not a glimmer of light could make it through! As you can see from the picture, there is very little head, all the better for letting the aromas escape and drive you crazy – behind the very evident whisky are traces of coffee and caramel, which in drinking serve to smooth out the beer. At 10%ABV, this is definitely not a beer for the faint minded – the warming glow of the alcohol lingers in the mouth and down the throat from the first sip (and trust me, you don’t want to be chugging this one).
Big, bold and brash, this is very much a grown-up’s beer.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Of Pots and Pints

Each year, on the second weekend in September, the small town of Beroun hosts a ceramics festival. Being just over 30km from Prague, Mrs Velkyal and I decided to spend the best part of our Sunday wandering around stalls perusing the wares of various potters, while eating freshly made doughnuts. What I wasn't expecting was to have a beer revelation. The centre of the square had a large tent selling Gambrinus and hot dogs by the dozen, out on the fringes though we came across a tiny stall selling beer from the Minipivovar ?amberk, which sells under the brand name ?amberecky Kanec - "kanec" means wild boar. On tap yesterday was a kvasnicové beer - which has fresh yeast added to it after lagering and which Mrs Velkyal enjoyed very much - and to my delight an imperial stout.

Both Mrs Velkyal and I speak Czech well enough that we can get by with most things we want to do, but obviously we don't speak Czech to each other, and it was the fact that we were speaking English to each other that we found out about the stout. To begin with I just ordered a kvasnicové beer, turning to Mrs Velkyal to ask if she also wanted a pint - at which point the owner of the brewery (I am assuming there) asked if she would like to try their "dark beer", when he went on to describe the beer and I heard the phrase "in the style of stout" I took an executive decision and gave the kvasnicové to Mrs Velkyal and had myself the stout - I love it when a snap decision reaps such fantastic rewards.
The Czech Republic is known quite rightly as being the home of golden lagers, but there seems to be a growing trend toward, or should that be back to, ales. Pivovar Kocour Varnsdorf make some excellent ales, and the Kanec Imperial Stout was in my opinion a wonderful pint, and at 5.5%ABV not as alcoholic as some imperial stouts. As you can see from the picture, this is a very dark stout with a smallish light tan head - a thing of beauty in my book. The nose was full of coffee and in the mouth it was quite bitter but with enough maltiness to keep it from being overpowering, and thus the rest of the pint is smooth and thick and filling, almost like a strong coffee tiramisu. I was in half a mind to buy a bottle of water, ditch the water and ask them to fill the bottle with the stout, yes it was that good. I am fairly sure that before Mrs Velkyal and I leave the Czech Republic we will be paying a visit to ?amberk to try the other beers they have on offer.
Thus we wandered around the festival a bit more, looked at solid clay racoons and decided it was time to eat and being fans of traditional Czech and Slovak food we decided to have halu?ky, and by happy chance the halu?ky stand was next to the stall for Minipivovar ?amberk and so I did what any self respecting beer lover would do and had another pint of stout, and had a chat with the brewery owner, who seemed to be a real beer euthusiast who wants to make proper beers rather than using chemicals and other such additivies. Looking at the ingredients list on the label he gave me his beer sticks to the basics of brewing beer: water, malt, hops and yeast.

Unfortunately not all my beer discoveries yesterday were so pleasant. There was also a van selling beer from the Pivovar Berounsky Medvěd - the Beroun Bear Brewery. In the interests of science and having heard that their beer wasn't anything to write home about, I decided I would try their 11o lager. Perhaps it was an unwise choice after three very filling and tasty stouts, perhaps it was also the fact that it was sold by a surly barmaid who seemed to show no interest in the beer itself, but this stuff did absolutely nothing for me. The beer was thin and had a distinctly funky flavour that reminded me of my old nemesis Kla?ter, I have to admit I ended up chucking most of this one away, I just didn't want to drink it after I had downed about a third of a pint - it was that bad.
Having said that though, the outstanding memory of our trip to Beroun will be the fabulous ?amberecky Kanec Imperial Stout, and hopefully we'll being seeing ?amberk beers in Prague more often. And with my ideas for using beer in my cooking I plan to buy some wild boar and make a boar goulash with their stout!

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...