Appearance - 7 | Aroma - 8 | Flavor - 7.5 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 8.5
New addition to the De Bock range (after Desideer, which I haven't tried yet), from my home region - the town of Beveren, more precisely: a wine barrel aged imperial stout, no less, brewed in their own micro installation in the Klapperstraat. Quite surprised to find this one, at De Picker in Zele... Thick and frothy, tightly paper-lacing, beige, stable, moussy head on a black beer with misty mahogany edges. Strong bouquet of a powerful red Pinot Noir wine, black coffee and coffee filters, brambleberries, cassis, blue plum, old bars of 'fondant' chocolate, wet oak wood, burnt brown bread toast, beef stock, port sauce, hints of salmiak, toffee, brown rum, burnt raisins, pear, clove, English brown sauce, Ersatz chocolate, old vanilla beans, dust. Fruity onset, some blackberry, pear and elderberry sweetness mingled with unripe grape and green apple sourishness but more sweet than sour, vague beef stock-like umami element, lively and minerally carbonation (a bit much for a strong stout actually) thinning an otherwise thick, oily mouthfeel. Layers of old bitter-chocolatey, brown-bready and caramelly malts ensue, still carrying this fruity tartness onwards to a complex finish in which a lot of things unfold at more or less the same time: the Pinot Noir effect of a powerful red wine, ripe blackberries and ripe blue grapes, the drying tannic effect of the wood, the tartness of the wine underneath its sweetness, a herbal hop note adding light bitterness, a 'dusty' and bready yeastiness and phenolic spicy notes (clove) - all tied together by a warming, soothing glow of whisky-like alcohol. The malts, meanwhile, have turned all roasted bitter and a bit ashy even, as is the case in many Belgian attempts at imperial stout; this roasted chicory-like effect lingers on together with the Pinot Noir, which in the end may perhaps be a bit too explicit. Feels like a stout diluted with some strong red wine, all things considered, but compared with the earlier De Bock beers (a stereotypical Belgian IPA and a predictable Belgian blonde, though both well executed), this one ups the ante and came as a total surprise to me. With this kind of experiments the De Bock guys may well be able to attract attention from the craft beer crowds - I noticed that Beervikings is already selling it - and if this is the intention, I can only recommend them to continue on this path, even if a beer like this takes a whole lot of thought and care, in which it does fall a bit short. The balance between beer and red wine could have been tilted more towards the beer and less towards the wine (to the benefit of the beer), for example, and the roasted bitterness could have been more coffee-like and less ash-like; having said that, I must conclude that I never expected De Bock to come up with something this ambitious, so have a point for that.
Appearance - 4 | Aroma - 3 | Flavor - 1.5 | Texture - 4 | Overall - 3.5
The ninth installment of Musketeers' Bucketlist series, a 'royal red' - which is not a beer style for all I know. Slow gusher but manageable. Thick and frothy, busily cobweb-lacing, pale pink, moussy, even-bubbled, stable head on a misty ruby red beer with copper red glow. Aroma of 'poepegatjes' and red Haribo candy (I passionately hate that), bubblegum, granulated sugar, grenadine, raspberry ice cream, white bread pulp, banana peel, lavender, elderberry syrup. Very sweet onset, grenadine-like and unpleasantly (artificially) sugary, lots of red candy all around, raspberry- and strawberry-flavoured with again that strong 'poepegatjes' association (I even hate that word, let alone the flavour), vividly carbonated with a rounded mouthfeel - but sticky as well due to the sugar. Some vague banana and apple aspects lurk beneath all that red candy; a slender cereally maltiness ensues, continuously superseded by the red candy effect, which lasts till deep into the finish, where it meets a very light hint of floral hoppiness without explicit bittering properties; something thinly bready trails behind, but otherwise this beer remains thoroughly dominated by red candy and grenadine sweetness, including something very bubblegummy. Strong red beer, a 'rouge' in the vein of Delirium Red, Kasteelbier Rouge, Keyte Kriek-Magic or Gauloise Fruits Rouges: basically this is a subgenre of Belgian top-fermenting fruit beer within a clear-cut subset but without actual fruit, particularly popular in Wallonia and northern France especially with young folks. Though the ingredients list hypocritically mentions only the classic beer components and says nothing about adjuncts, this beer is completely soaked in adjuncts, and not in a good way - the red candy effect dominates everything completely from beginning to end. I have always hated artificial sweet 'fruit beers' and this 'rouge' trend is only a deterioration of that, so needless to say, this beer falls into a category I will never be able to appreciate; it even cultivates red candy sweetness so much that it offers no counterbalance, unlike some other products in this specific category. I am not sure anymore if following this Bucketlist series should be on my bucketlist - clearly Musketeers have chosen the path of big 'commerce' now that they run their own (expensive) brewery and have forgotten their creative, sometimes truly magnificent past. I am beginning to give up on them after this monstrosity.
Appearance - 6 | Aroma - 8 | Flavor - 7.5 | Texture - 6 | Overall - 8.5
Braxatorium Parcensis, the brewery of the Abdij van 't Park in Heverlee south of Leuven, presents their first oak aged beer with this limited edition (600 bottles only) of Libertus aged in Jim Beam bourbon barrels. Light gusher, so be ware when opening. Yellowish egg-white, initially very thick and foamy but slowly receding, very moussy, large-bubbled but regular head, audibly crackling over a cloudy deep peach blonde beer with rusty-brown tinge, clearly deepened in colour due to the oak barrel treatment. Aroma of strong vanilla-ish oak wood indeed, figs, honey, soggy biscuit, sweet bourbon (clear enough without becoming overly dominant), caramel, dried orange peel, sweet white grape or golden raisin, apple pie, dust, old attic, hints of star anise, sweet cicely, gingerbread, candied peach, ripe pear, dry earth. Sweet onset, lots of lively and stingy carbonation (a bit too much so even), fruity with lots of dried apricot, peach, yellow raisin, baked apple and slight banana, supple body with minerally effects from the (over)carbonation; slender sweet-bready maltiness with caramelly and biscuity side effects, somewhat spicy finish with lingering honeyish sweetness and dried-fruitiness merging with a drying tannic oak wood effect and warming sweet bourbon, even though the alcohol as such remains very tolerable. Orange peel, even slight marmalade notes creep in as well, paired with lingering (fried) apple and raisin aspects but also with a soft floral hop bitterness and pleasantly bready yeastiness. Overcarbonated perhaps, could have been a bit fuller and more layered too I suppose, but in its own modest way, this is actually a very tasty beer, very fruity and elegant with a very pronounced woodiness to it; the bourbon accentuates the fruitiness without pushing itself to the foreground too much. I must admit that I am a bit of a silent fan of this brewery, one of very few in Belgium located within an abbey outside of the trappist breweries: their beers, humble as they may seem, are always flavourful, balanced and very solid, in an earthy, 'Belgian' kind of way; none of them has made a negative impression on me so far so I will surely keep buying one every now and then.
Appearance - 8 | Aroma - 7.5 | Flavor - 7.5 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 8
Wee heavy ('Scotch') from Iceland's foremost craft brewery, can bought online from Ace Drinks. Thick and frothy, yellowish pale beige, dense, even-bubbled, lacing head on a misty chestnut brown beer with ruddy maroon hue. Aroma of butterscotch, caramel candy, ground hazelnuts, candied fig, freshly baked brown bread, walnut butter, Madeleine cookies, sugared tea, 'Koetjesreep', nutmeg, hint of roasted chicory, very vague green plant note from the angelica. Sweetish onset in a clean way, hints of dates, blue plum and unripe banana, softish and fine-bubbled carb, full but very smooth, almost buttery mouthfeel; deeply caramelly and butterscotch-like malts fill the mouth, with a brown-bready core and toasted bitter edges, moving gently from sweet to bitter, with some additional herbal hop bitterness in the finish. The caramelly effect makes place for this bitterness but the finish does remain primarily malty and clean, with a late but palpable, warming, somewhat peppery whisky-ish alcohol presence briefly highlighting the bitterness. Technically very solid - as always with Einstök - and flavour-wise very typically Scotch indeed, with no further frills other than the addition of angelica - which is all but unnoticeable so its presence hardly matters; feels a bit old school, and that is exactly what I expect from this style. Clean, supple but powerful, malty and elegant in a relatively simple way, the only criticism I can give here is that the alcohol could be better hidden as it is very tastable in the end, but otherwise well done and very convincing for its intended style.
Appearance - 8 | Aroma - 8 | Flavor - 7 | Texture - 7 | Overall - 7
One of the great classics of traditional English pale ales or bitters, originally aimed at local miners but apparently Madonna's favourite beer as well, at least according to what she claimed in an interview with talk show host Jonathan Ross in 2003... I never had this one cask-conditioned, alas, but luckily I did manage to get my hands on a bottle of the filtered version - which I suppose qualifies as an EPA just for being bottled. Quite regular, egg-white, moussy, slightly and irregularly lacing, stable head on a crystal clear, deep 'old golden' beer with 'rusty' amberish tinge. Aroma of warm margarine, dried mugwort leaves, unsalted peanuts, butter on hot toast, dry hay, field flowers, dandelion, a whiff of dry Earl Grey tea, moist white pepper, vague whiff of unsmoked cigarette shag. Cleanish onset, restrainedly fruity with notes of unripe apricot and dried peach, finely tingling but very active carbonation adding a lot of refreshing, almost 'metallic' minerality as in fresh spring water, smooth body - a little bit buttery even. A margarine-like aspect, possibly a diacetyl remnant, floats over a toasty-bitterish, peanutty and bread-crusty maltiness, which remains slender but adds a late bitterness which is eventually taken over by noble hops, in a somewhat earthy and leafy, but also wormwoody, spicy way, lingering for quite a while and doing a perfect job in drying the finish; the very pronounced minerality I already mentioned, lingers on with it after swallowing. This Yorkshire classic is about as English as it gets for a bottled beer (keeping in mind that tapped beer, whether cask-conditioned or not, is still the dominant factor in English beer culture), with a crisp, light-footed, elegant and still powerful character. This kind of 19th-century style ales may not be as hip and trendy as all those American-inspired craft beers flowing over the United Kingdom, I think we still need to honour them and respect them for their huge historical influence, and it is good to know that many (even self-proclaimed beer geek Madonna) still do. I love drinking a classic like this every now and then and I am glad that I can finally tick this famous beer off my list - it seems the guy depicted on the front label used to smile more explicitly on the former version of the label, but I see no reason why he should restrain his smile, this is as solid as it gets in this particular class of beer. Cheers to sir Timothy Taylor!