Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Nail Brewing: Clayden Brew (Imperail Porter)

(One-off batch release).

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

An accidental masterpiece.

West Australia’s true pioneers of craft beer Nail Brewing created an absolute monster of a black beer by combining two brews; one of which was (reportedly) a resounding failure, the other half being the award winning Clout Stout.  The end result proved to be a thing of utmost beauty; so named to honour John Stallwood’s son, Clayden (John being Nail Brewing’s head honcho).

Clayden Brew’s aroma is nothing short of striking as it touches on sugary sweet, boozy, fig, coffee and chocolate notes.  I found myself taking it in deeply for an extended period of time before proceeding with the first sip.  Suffice it to say that the experience that follows is no less intense.

Without any shadow of a doubt, I have enjoyed few beers this year that have offered up such a delightfully complex, multi-faceted flavour profile. There is more than a hint of maple syrup up front here. Delicate coffee and hop bitter notes follow; at once the coffee rolls forth upon the palate, before resurfacing later as the ultimate finale; partnered with a chocolate/cacao profile that covers the spectrum as the flavour tapers off.

The complexity of Clayden Brew is such that it is difficult to describe in mere words.  Each flavour aspect attacks and fades upon its own cue, however this is not a poorly coordinated improv performance we are talking about.  Lemon zest, lemon meringue, toffee, toffee apple, molasses, barley sugar and even bitter pineapple (rounding out on the side palate) notes burst forth with theatrical enthusiasm. The finish, once the brew has warmed sufficiently, is somewhat oleaginous and deeply woody. Meanwhile, the mouthfeel is big in its syrupy character with just enough carbonation for it to be satisfying and drinkable without being overbearing.

Bloody Nora, Clayden Brew is far and away one of the most complex and hearty brews I have sampled; not just this year, but ever. I am left feeling all the more privileged to sample the spoils of craft beer's golden age, and to think this was a happy accident of a beer.  Doubtless Nail Brewing will need a new trophy cabinet at this rate.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Mikkeller: George (Cognac barrel aged imperial stout)

Beer Deluxe, Federation Square (Melbourne)

The barrel aging of stouts plunges even greater depths… and I am going straight to hell.

A thought occurs: I am almost thankful that stout season is on its way out.  Great stouts of all varieties are so abundant at the moment that it is easy to succumb to pleasure overload.  So, while at the excellent Beer Deluxe (Federation Square); my mind squarely honed in on hoppy IPAs, I am presented with the sort of temptation that would have even St. Peter quivering with anticipation: Mikkeller George (cognac barrel aged imperial stout).  Still, as winter looks set to give way to spring, there is no turning back, no repent, no release from the dark (beer) lord’s embrace.

With an aroma like no other, resistance is utterly futile.  I am as much a stranger to cognac as an Alaskan is to Tokyo, hence my impressions may not be entirely accurate.  No matter…  George is as boozy as can be on the nose; pointed black cherry is there as well.  It is not a particularly complex aroma, like those exhibited by some of MOO Brew’s imperial stouts, however what it lacks in complexity it more than atones for in intensity.

George features a head that is almost as dark as that on show from Founders’ Imperial Stout.  It is a beautiful, mocha colour that sits atop a beer that is squid ink black.  Here, the mouthfeel and body is smooth, rich, dense, decadent and delectable.

On the palate, the delectation continues in earnest.  George is forward in its bitterness and woodiness; in fact, it could almost be described as being quite oleaginous in character.  Black cherry and rich, dark but not terribly sweet chocolate notes take sway over the entire palate.  Suggestions of smoky tar and ash make their presence known as well and in so doing remind me that there is a certain ways to go yet before surfacing from the blackened underground of stout to the floral gardens of IPA-land.

Intensely rich coffee and treacle notes follow through.  As this fantastic beer warms, its booziness becomes more prevalent, but not so that it is rendered overbearing.  While George proved to be not the most groundbreaking beer in terms of complexity, it absolutely blew my mind with its bestial monstrosity.  If you are not quite over stout season yet, get on it, post haste!

MOO Brew: Barrel Aged Imperial Stout (2007-2014)

The Great Northern Hotel, Carlton North (Melbourne)

Simply exquisite.

Tasmania’s MOO Brew has completely wowed me on more than one occasion this year.  There was, of course, their Velvet Sledgehammer (featured in a previous review) and another imperial stout (not barrel aged and whose time stamp escapes me) that blew me eight ways from Sunday with its gratuitously sumptuous chocolate aroma and character.  Could they possibly top both of these experiences?  With the brewery’s 2007 barrel aged imperial stout, the answer is a resounding “equalled, but not assailed.”

Breweries like to “borrow” things in much the same way as Homer Simpson “borrows” certain items from neighbour Ned Flanders.  In MOO Brew’s case, they might never have returned the chardonnay barrels as lent to them by a neighbouring winery.  So, in went MOO Brew’s already amazing 2007 imperial stout for barrel aging.  Seven years on, we are treated to the spoils of outright thrift and ingenuity.

On the nose, MOO Brew Barrel Aged Imperial Stout bounds forth with boozy dense, chocolate, bitter plum, mocha, banana, grape must and, contrary to the barrels in which the beer was aged, single malt scotch whisky.  What follows this already extravagant and complex experience is simply stunning. 

The mouthfeel here is the most unique of any beer I have ever sampled.  It could (loosely) be described as being fluffy, almost cotton-like; carbonation, meanwhile, is on the moderate side.  The whole thing rolls across the palate like distant thunder over hilly countryside.

Coffee wallops the front palate.  Wine-like tannins boldly accentuate the beer’s flavour profile.  Much like the aforesaid Velvet Sledgehammer, there is approximately zero sweetness to this beer.  Earthy notes of peat, ash and what one can only assume to be Tasmanian Oak come through; overlapped by strong and enveloping fruit notes of dried prune, date and mulberry.  Finally, rounding off this sumptuous beer drinking experience is a contrast between bitter astringency and an almost milky undertone on the finish.

Rather unfortunately, my phone was on charge during the drinking of this beer, hence there is no accompanying photo.  Suffice it to say that approximately 350 words will have to do in painting the picture within your mind’s eye.  Consider yourself lucky if you experience any form of synaesthesia.

If you live in Melbourne, make absolutely sure that you get down to The Great Northern Hotel (644 Rathdowne St Carlton North) to sample this wonderful beer before the keg runs dry.  Opportunities to sample beer of this calibre from the tap only come around once in a good while.  MOO Brew has well and truly equalled its finest brews to date.

Founders: Imperial Stout

There are many imperial stouts that deserve your attention, but if you are to select just one before the weather warms up (or one to see in the colder months - depending on location), may it be this one.

If Founders’ need an introduction, you may kindly surrender your beer enthusiast’s card right now – and the gun, too.  If, however, you are familiar with this excellent Michigan-based brewery’s work, you will know that their IPAs, stouts and porters are beers to be reckoned with.  Founders’ Imperial Stout is, in short, stands tall among their very finest while also being one of the finest stouts on the planet.  Prepare yourself for a ballet of aromas, textures and flavours most sensual.

Two things struck my attention right from the off: the sharp and boozy raspberry aroma and the darkest head I have seen of any beer, ever. The aforementioned head quickly dissipates to virtually nothing.  Founders’ Imperial Stout features a gloriously smooth, low-in-carbonation mouthfeel that is absolutely for this beer's individual character and flavours.

Founders Imperial Stout is as intense as it is complex. This remarkable brew boldly boasts sweet, syrupy cherry that dances on the lips, cacao and brandy that holds the floor upon the tongue, tobacco, mocha, burnt toast characters that pirouette across the full palate (nearly drunkenly going arse-over-turkey at the cheeks) before the performance finishes with an Italian dark roasted coffee and burnt date bow to the audience. It has to be experienced to be believed.  What hops have been used to balance out the act here, I do not know, however one does not immediately think of hops during or after the experience.

Moreover, according to the brewery, no fewer than 10 malted barley varieties have been used to create this picture of elaboration.

So delectably smooth, Founders imperial stout even makes Enya sound good. Let the dance take over your senses while listening to some good music in a comfy recliner by the fire.

Paired with all day breakfast (featuring: sausages, poached eggs, veal steaks, pork belly, mushroom and sweet potato hash browns)

My good friend Karl cooked up this meaty extravaganza of a brunch for me on this rather chilly October afternoon. There are some elements of the meal that paired well, others not so well. The imperial stout was absorbed and completely cancelled out by the veal steak; only upon adding sweet honey mustard and a smidge of hot English did the combination sing in full, sweetened harmony.

Sausage, egg and avocado: here, elements of the combination bounced off one another brilliantly, with the avocado and egg providing textural depth while the sausage took on a sweet, charred complexity. Then, combining the slightly burnt hash browns and pork belly (replete with mustard) completed this joyous experience; an interplay between flavours of char, treacle, pork meat and even barbecue sauce ensued. The stout did well in slicing through the fat of both the sausage and the pork belly, thereby readying me for more of... everything.

In spite of the veal steaks not quite matching, this was a great pairing all around.