Sunday, 24 August 2014

Sierra Nevada: Blindfold (Black IPA)

Beer DeLuxe, Federation Square Melbourne

I am not going to throw blind puns at you on this one - there is so much more to this beer than its clever name.

It is rather difficult gauging the current IPA climate.  One minute it is sunny, session IPAs (that to my mind are a pale ale dressed in IPA clothing), then the storm clouds gather and we enter black IPA territory (an endearing misnomer, if ever there was one).  Enter Sierra Nevada's 4-Way IPA series, that goes all Melbourne on us by providing four seasons in one day.

As the name suggests, there are four individual beers that comprise this (partially) one-off seasonal batch-release.  Heading the way is Sierra Nevada's permanent-fixture, flagship IPA: Torpedo, which is highly celebrated and with good reason.  It is joined by Nooner (a "session IPA;" the only let-down in the series), Snow Wit White IPA (which I have covered in a separate review) and its equally awesome black brother, Blindfold Black IPA.

Straight off the bat, Blindfold strikes with aromas of hay and barn straw.  Hop aromas are muted overall underneath this rural tonality.

The mouthfeel here is nigh on perfect for the black IPA style.  It is not overwhelmingly dense; such that it contributes to the overall balance of the end result.  

The well-balanced backbone here is roasty and astringent, however it is offset nicely by way of the beer's fantastically malty body.  Bold, but somehow subtle, peppermint, rosemary and very black tea notes sing through.  Blindfold is quite the herbal-driven diva!

This is a beer whose flavour changes as one goes down the glass.  The herbal and drying, rural floral characteristics reveal themselves more and more until the very last drop.  The sense of intrigue only increases; so much so that I found myself eschewing further exploration in lieu of going back for seconds and thirds.

One cannot help but embrace the dark clouds as they start gathering.  What else is there to do?  This is especially true of an approaching thunderstorm.  It could even be said that Blindfold IPA encapsulates the stillness and building humidity that is endemic of the changing seasons.  When the clouds eventually part, one can always follow suit and take in the Torpedo, Nooner or Snow Wit White IPA offerings.

8 Wired: iStout

Beer DeLuxe, Federation Square Melbourne

Not available for Android!

New Zealand is shaping up as one of the global powerhouses within the craft beer scene.  Epic, Emersons, Moa, Tuatara, Garage Project and 8 Wired are leading the charge, and it is the latter which has delivered what is easily one of the best non-seasonal stouts available today.  Say hello to 8 Wired: iStout (Siri coming soon!).

From the keg, iStout boasts an enormously peaty aroma, with overtones of mocha that do not belie what follows.

"Full bodied" does not even begin to cover the mouthfeel here.  It is as dense and as rich as the black sand to be found at Piha Beach (I say this as though I have actually been there!).  Igneous, smoky and peaty characteristics pan across a palate otherwise dominated by the flavours of well-roasted coffee.  If it were possible to toast afogato, this incredible brew might very well resemble the end result.

Describing the balance and overall impact of iStout is no easy task.  Perhaps if an anvil were to be dropped upon one end of a see-saw, with a budgie sat at the opposite; the two then collide in mid-air.  The question is: is the budgie the peat element, or is it that of the coffee?  Both elements of flavour come on so strong that the impact is truly telling.

From the bottle the results are slightly different; bearing in mind that I am reviewing from distant memory here (I had previously sampled iStout at Adelaide's awesome Wheatsheaf Hotel back in January of 2012).  iStout seems to lose some of its robust body when poured from the bottle, but then this might even be as a result of neglecting a partial pour (taking it to the top instead).  Beer appreciation is, after all, a lifelong journey of experience; experience that includes learning.

The bottle is easy enough to find at specialty beer stores, however on tap, iStout is something of a rarity.  Asking Siri where you might find it next may yield disappointing results.  Instead, download the excellent Now Tapped! app (iOS or Android) and keep your eyes peeled.

* Frankly, I would love to see that budgie completely obliterated; that silly little bird that makes that irritating noise whenever a Samsung Galaxy S owner is alerted to a new text message.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Sixpoint: 150% Citrus

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

As fresh as sweet, fragrant outback air.

It has to be said that Sixpoint’s IPA offerings are those by which all others may be judged.  150% Citrus trumps not only previous releases by Sixpoint themselves, it also tops many competitors in its class.

On the nose, it wallops forth with grapefruit and vigorous vinegary sharpness; balance arrives by way an air of arid plant earthiness.

Grapefruit and blood orange dominate throughout before the backline of the palate is struck by full, rotund hop bitterness.  There are arid plant undertones coming through that do well in adding complexity to 150% Citrus.  The arid character is not that of saltbush (a favourite IPA tasting note of mine - one that transposes the smell of the plant to taste); instead it is of another unidentifiable arid or semi-arid plant.  It is not pine, either.  Whatever it is, I like it, and the whole experience is rounded off by a smooth mouthfeel.

It is like stepping off the train at Cook in the middle of the Nullarbor.  The sun has a bite to it; likewise this fantastic beer, however there is a cool breeze blowing as well.  There is in fact nothing like breathing in the fresh, untainted desert winds, especially the cool, fragrant kind that suggest forthcoming or recent rainfall.  150% Citrus is indeed quite the breah of fresh air that speaks of such experiences.

MOO Brew: Velvet Sledgehammer Seasonal Stout

Great Northern Hotel, Carlton North (Melbourne).

Or cast-iron curtain, but then is it a Russian imperial stout?

Tassie brewmeisters MOO Brew were responsible for blowing me away with their 2014 Imperial stout (enjoyed at Fremantle’s Sail & Anchor pub), and with Velvet Sledgehammer they have continued their fine vein of form.  And while not officially a Russian Imperial, this is a stout that boasts Russian military might in a glass.*

Where the former stout bomb was as smooth as a secret agent, Velvet Sledgehammer is a lot more overt, and certainly a lot less covert.  Its ABV does not hide behind a mask, its complexity comes with a full military briefing and its character is built to withstand any (nuclear) winter.

Velvet Sledgehammer is in no way sweet, which is a refreshing change given that so many imperial stouts are nowadays.  Bitter, dark fruit and burnt raisin toast characters dominate proceedings here, from the nose right through to the back palate.  The mouthfeel is unique to say the very least; low carbonation, but zesty as though it were a great deal higher.

To call this a Russian Imperial Stout would be somewhat inaccurate.  This is a future endeavour, rather than a tribute to history.

* Disclaimer:  War and war propaganda, frankly, sucks.  Won't you join me in raising a glass to peace and the concept of sharing our abundant resources (which is, of course, completely unfathomable to the "rich")?  Cheers!

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!: Péché Mortel Imperial Stout

Terminus Hotel, Fitzroy North  (Melbourne)

The charm of mortal sin.

Péché Mortel translates from French to English as "mortal sin".  The Devil is in the detail in this excellent imperial stout from Canada's Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!  This is a beer that is as dark and as tempting as the name suggests.

There is fire, there is brimstone, and there is all that led one up to such a place.  The alcoholic fieriness, however, is as well concealed as underlying Lucifarian imagery in today's contemporary music, yet is undeniably present.  At  9.5%, I am unsure as to whether or not writer's block is as a result of Péché Mortel's potency, or as a result of divine intention invoked by the mere mention of Lucifer's name.  Spooky, no?  Either which way, this particular dark lord has a hold of me.

On the nose and in its character, cacao runs through like the molten lakes of Hell.  Mouthfeel is for the most part smooth, however there is a sinister, almost fizzy "Dance of Death" playing upon the upper reaches of my tongue.  Dance of Death is, by the way, one of Iron Maiden's finest moments (the album in its entirety and the title track).  A solid head dissipates, giving way to good lacing, which is of course fairly typical of any imperial stout.

Warm, bold chocolate characters dominate.  There / mocha there too.  So dominant are these omnipresent flavours that all is forgotten in the world of overly complex stouts; instead, these flavours are simply nigh on perfect in their attack, deliverance and balance.

In writing this, I found myself caught in a spiritual epiphany, in which light met the darkness.  I am drunk, in other words!  Indeed, this is a beer that could charm the fallen angel himself with its decadence.

Moon Dog / Garage Project: Chocolate Salty Balls

Terminus Hotel, Fitzroy North (Melbourne)

R.I.P., Mr. Isaiah Hayes!

Who can forget Chef's finest moments from the early days of South Park?  "I'm gonna make love to ya woman, gonna lay ya down bah the faiah!"  I am instantly reminded of such moments upon the name of this collaborative beer from Melbourne's Moon Dog and New Zealand's very own Garage Project breweries.

Oh yes, there is a definite aphrodisiac quality to Chocolate Salty Balls, even if it falls slightly short of being a truly outstanding chocolate stout.

On the nose there are characteristics of brine and chocolate; simple, yet elegant.

Chocolate Salty Balls' mouthfeel is, to be frank, a wee bit over-carbonated for my liking.  A smoother complexion and texture would be infinitely more preferable given its overall flavour profile, but in saying that, those who find stouts to be "too heavy" might find a lot to love here.

Aside from choc-heavy flavours coming through, there are suggestive notes of coffee, date, raisin and other dark fruit; the latter being slightly astringent and earthy in character.  Date pudding is rife in the long-lingering aftertaste.

Overall, I have to say that something is amiss, however I cannot quite put my finger on it.  Perhaps what is missing here is Isaiah Heyes himself?  Nevertheless, in spite of Chocolate Salty Balls' obvious flaws, it is a flavourful, accessible beer that is also a fitting tribute to the man who gave us so many belly-laughs over the years.

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel!: Solstice d'Hiver Barleywine

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)
A winter storm in a tulip glass; Solstice d'Hiver is as ominous as it is beautiful.

Brasserie Dieu du Ciel! is a top Canadian brewery that accompanies its fine output with equally fine livery.  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Solstice d'Hiver!

Frankly, the contents of this beer glass do a much finer job of illustrating the translated definition of "solstice d'hiver" (winter solstice) than Google's translator service ever could.  On the nose, this barleywine is profoundly boozy, telling no lies of its ABV.  Solstice d'Hiver's mouthfeel, meanwhile, is beautifully deep, warm and inviting.  The textural depth rolls along like approaching thunder, yet Solstice d'Hiver does not leave one out in the elements.  Instead, it invites one to sit by the fire in comfort, safety and shelter; away from the ferocity of the passing winter weather.

Residual sugar is prominent at first, but as the beer warms and one goes further down the glass, its bitter characteristics stride forth.  Somewhat burnt caramelised onion, mild chocolate and warm, freshly baked bread dominate the palate.  A long-lingering aftertaste of bitter dried fruit follows on; doing so a little too strongly, thereby revealing what is perhaps the only discernible flaw within what is an otherwise truly delectable beer drinking experience.

Lovers of rich winter beers would be criminally remiss if they were to overlook Solstice d'Hiver, and the same could be said for those who are looking for an introduction to the barleywine.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Founders: Centennial IPA

…featuring pork belly with lime caramel food-pairing.

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

Pigs cannot fly, but their bellies make for an excellent pairing with craft beer!
Founders have done it again!  This exemplary, Michigan-based brewery has completely blown me away with its stouts and porters, hence I jumped at the chance at sampling its Centennial IPA. 

On this occasion, Melburnian craft beer enthusiasts were privileged with sampling this exemplary beer from the keg at Beer Deluxe Fed Square; a rare treat given that Centennial IPA bottles and cans can be found just about anywhere.

On the nose, Centennial is grassy, piny and citric-acidic.  Its head dissipates gradually leaving excellent lacing.  This is a bold, malt-driven affair in its texture and mouthfeel, however tremendous hop characters come through with gusto.  Tropical fruit flavours (think stone fruit in particular) hold sway here.  A burst of hop bitterness lingers long into the aftertaste.

The beer serves as a poignant reminder that spring is nearly upon us (in the Southern Hemisphere).  The temperature is set to head north, wildflowers will blossom forth and dark, shadowy beers will give way to those that speak of golden, radiant sunshine.

Alongside Beer Deluxe's awesome pork belly, Centennial does well in balancing the saltiness of the meat and the sugary tang of the lime caramel.  It cuts through yet somehow amplifies the gorgeousness of the fat (some cubes are virtually all-fat and rind - awesome!) while the gorgeously crisp outer layer is rendered all the more beautiful.  This pairing is one that is definitely more about what the beer does for the food.

About the author

Hello!  My name is Graham Frizzell: Melbourne-by-way-of-Perth-based beer and food writer.  As someone who is profoundly impaired of vision, my place on this strange, orbiting, waterlogged rock is one of both privilege and curse, but the 9-5 "life" did not shun me; I shunned it, thankyou very much!
Enthusiasm for craft beer is much more than a hobby for me.  It is indulgence of my remaining, fully functioning senses.  It is also a lifestyle, a way of life.  The aromas, the flavours, the textures are what elicit emotion, memory and a sense of being.
Being legally blind/profoundly impaired of vision: “So how much can you see?” is the first question that I am asked (usually before “hey – how ya going?”) by most.  There is no short answer, for my condition is the result of retinal scarring that occurred before my birth.  I suppose what I can tell you is that I have next to no peripheral vision (under 10°), I can see the full spectrum of colour, one eye is profoundly stronger than the other and I might be able to see a bus coming from 50-100 metres away (depth and distance perception is relatively good), however I cannot see the number without a visual aid in most cases.
I am blessed in that I have enough eyesight to take reasonably good photographs.  Does this mean that the (legally) “blind” title is somewhat dubious?  Does it make me a fraud?   Well the short answer to that is: you tell me.  Blunt sarcasm aside, the upshot of sharing my experience of craft beer (at least in the photographic sense) is that it might give people an insight into just what I can and cannot see.  Meanwhile, the main aim is to share the sensory experience that is craft beer.

I am also mad about food, coffee and other pursuits of taste; experiences that I am all too happy to share with everyone.

Life is too short for lamentation, just as it is far too short for crap beer and food.