Bottles Off The Bucket List
Our favourite Irish beer blogger Empties is back with another fantastic piece, this time he’s looking back at 2016 and some of the bucket list beers he took on! Enjoy!
3 Floyds Brewing Company – Dark Lord (2015) 15%
The legendary imperial stout from 3 floyds. Released once a year on Dark lord day through the brewery in Indiana. Luckily due to a partnership between 3 Floyds and Danish based Mikkeller, the beer is now available for the first time outside of the US in Copenhagen Denmark. The beer has achieved mythical status online, possibly in part due to the difficulty in getting a hold of a bottle.
I picked up one of the 2015 burgundy wax versions in Mikkeller bar Viktoriagade. I chose the 2015 over 2016 in the hopes that at 15% it might be slightly less boozy with a year in the bottle. In my opinion one of the biggest barriers to people trying this beer, after it’s scarcity, is it’s price tag. It stopped me from trying a bottle in the past but this time curiosity and the beers larger than life reputation got the better of me.
At 15% I had to stop and force myself to take it handy with this one. It is shockingly drinkable for its strength. It smells of very dark chocolate, sweet coffee and bourbon. It’s jet back, oily thick with a short lived dirty tan head. For a beer brewed with coffee this actually has a lot less than expected. Definitely a lot less than the likes of Speedway stout or KBS. The coffee it does have is sweet and probably better off for it. In Imperial stouts coffee can become the dominant flavour and it can run the risk of becoming astringent. The chocolate and malt sweetness is balanced by some smoke. I don’t know if smoked malt is used in the beer, possibly it’s coming from the barrel, but there’s a perceived burnt or ashy character creeping into the beer. Vanilla and a very mild earty spice round it all out. I expected the beer to be full bodied and heavy but the mouth feel is extraordinary. Thick and chewy, sticky and almost syrupy. It clings to your mouth like chocolate milk.
Probably the most stand out aspect of Dark Lord was how balanced and drinkable it is. It sounds painfully pretentious but I think I had an expectation that a beer this lauded was going to be a challenge to drink. A slow sipper that you needed to take your time with. The beer definitely has nuances and an impressive diverse array of flavours but Jesus it was fun and easy to drink. A fantastic beer that luck and bank balance allowing i’ll try again.
Cantillon – Blabaer (2014) 5%
A “blueberry” lambic from Cantillion. While the word blabaer translates to blueberry in English, the fruit used in this lambic is actually bilberry. A closely related European relative of the blueberry. Produced in collaboration with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø of Evil Twin fame, blabaer is produced exclusively for the Copenhagen bottle shop Ølbuttikken. Unsurprisingly this makes it an exceedingly hard lambic to find outside of Copenhagen. Beyond generous beer trades or bottle shares your best bet is getting straight onto Ryanair and spinning off to the Danish capital.
The few times I’ve visited Ølbuttikken, blabaer hasn’t been available. Even going to the one shop that stocks it, it’s not an easy beer to find. Lucky with the opening of the Evil Twin owned Himmerget there’s a number of vintages available behind the bar. Himmerget deserves a post in its own right as the variety of Lambics and selection of vintages in the bottle list needs to be seen to be believed.
I settled on a 2014 bottle, what I guessed would be a good compromise between young fruity lambic, slightly matured brettanomyces and aging souring bacteria. It pours somewhere between ruby red and pink (…the bar was dark). This was probably the most brett heavy lambic I’ve ever tried. It was overtly medicinal in smell and taste. Especially as it started to warm up in the glass. Slightly sweaty, some leather and some wet dog but mostly reminiscent of your grandparents medicine cabinet. The fruit in this is subtle compared to other fruit lambics I’ve tried but it really helps to make the beer shine. Berry flavours, being naturally tart sit perfectly alongside the trademark sharp acidic sourness of an aged lambic. Obviously it’s dry and the lack of sweetness might be part of the reason the berry flavours take a back seat. Overall it’s complex, it changes sip to sip and benefits from warming slightly. A unique and enjoyable beer.
Russian River brewing co. – Pliny the Elder 8%
The most famous IPA/DIPA in existence but possibly the most famous craft beer in general. Much sought after and particularly difficult to obtain for anyone on this side of the Atlantic. This was brought back from the US by a friend. I had tried this beer once before at a bottle share but this was the first time sitting down and having a few stern words with a bottle.
I have…. controversial opinions about Pliny. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s got a beautiful hoppiness, lots of citrus fruit but also that trademark simcoe weedy resinous pine. It’s got a sweetness, more caramel malt than fruit. Slightly bready. It’s decently bitter, probably accentuated by the bit of heat at 8%. It’s a lovely drinker.
But.. I think Pliny is showing its age. It’s been produced since 2000. Pliny is the old legend that’s beginning to be usurped by young upstarts. A lot of this might be personal taste but I think what constitutes a Double IPA nowadays has moved on far beyond Pliny. The general zeitgeist of DIPA brewers and drinkers has moved towards hop monsters. With the cultivation of modern super hop varieties beers can show a huge variety of fruit flavours, think tropical fruit, stone fruit, berries and mango . Pliny existed before the likes of galaxy, mosaic or citra. We’re currently very spoiled for choice and the quality of modern IPA’s is very high. This is without going down the messy and confusing world of New England IPA’s and the current trends towards unusual experimentation (fruit smoothie IPA’s, lactose IPA’s, milkshake IPA’s, etc, etc.)
I like Pliny, It’s a lovely beer and you could drink it all day (8% steaming though), I just don’t seem to be as blown away as others. I’m sure plenty would fight me tooth and nail about it or accuse me of only liking trendy beers (fucking give over) but if Pliny was released today would it hold the same weight? That being said had Pliny not existed I don’t think IPA’s and DIPA’s would have achieved the status and quality we see today. The IPA is the cornerstone of every brewery and they all want to produce their own Pliny. It’s rightly considered a beer legend. Definitely pick it up if you can.
Cantillon – Fou Foune (2014) 5%
An apricot Lambic from Cantillion. Another difficult to find lambic picked up in Himmeriget Copenhagen. And once again Himmeriget was packed with an impressive number of vintages.
This beer is one of the best examples of one of the more unusual characteristics found in fruited lambics. It’s bone dry but impressively fruity. Through spontaneous fermentation, the hard as nails Pajottenland micro-organisms have a theoretical attenuation of 100%. An oude lambic at 3 years has potential to contain zero sugar and be completely flat, hence the need for blending old and young lambics into a geuze.
It’s hard to reconcile a beer packed with this much fruit flavour but without the sweetness. The brett funk is present but for a lambic two years in the bottle, surprisingly subtle. The apricot and acidic aromas hide any earthy brett on the nose. The beer drinks beautifully. A brilliant balance of juicy apricot, a clean long lasting sourness and a touch of wood and funk. I’d go as far as to say this is one of the best lambics I’ve ever tried.
Brouwerij Westvleteren – Trappist Westvleteren 12 (XII) 10.2%
The mythical Westy 12. The beer with one of the most alluring and interesting stories backing it up. A Belgian quad brewed by secretive abbey monks at the brouwerij Westvleteren established in 1838. Released once a year at the front door of the monastery, one case per car, and it must be reserved 60 days in advance by phone. No other distribution, sold in unlabeled bottles (any printed bottles have been done so afterwards) and in hand printed wooden crates. And to top it all off after it’s popularity skyrocketed in the mid 2000’s it was rated as the worlds best beer for years.
I’m not the first to say it but in my opinion the “best beer in the world” label has been driven by exclusivity and scarcity. As Westvleteren got wider distribution and started to appear in two bottle gift packs, accompanied by a glass, interest started to drop off. That’s not to say the beer has now become easy to get a hold of, but it’s no longer the holy grail of abbey ales and no longer sitting on the top spot of “worlds best beer”lists.
To be honest a Belgian quad is a style I enjoy but not one I drink very often. I’m a fan of St.Bernardus 12, Rochefort 10 and Chimay blue, but the abv and sweetness makes them an occasional one and done beer. Craft breweries are producing modern iterations of the classic quad and some have been very good, Mikkeller’s monks blood comes to mind, but the classics have never really been beaten.
I picked up Westy 12 in Koelschip bar Copenhagen. Although considered a Lambic bar it describes itself as a Belgian beer bar and it carries enough non lambic treasures to back it up. It boasts multiple vintages of Orval, Westvleteren (8, 10 and 12) and interestingly petite orval, a smaller version of orval brewed at 3.5%, normally brewed exclusively for the monks at the abbey. Presumably to prevent tripping over robes and falling asleep during prayer shithoused. I picked up a 2013 bottle of Westy 12 on the recommendation of koelschips resident Belgian.
Westy 12 is a big, boozy, sweet, flavoursome monster. The regular flavours associated with quads are here in spades. Dark fruits, raisins and Christmas pudding. There’s a earthy spice here that goes beyond other quads. Yeast driven esters add an interesting layer to the beer but still drown in sweetness. Some characteristics here are unusual enough to have me slightly lost for a description. There’s something similar to cinnamon and reminiscent of cherries but that doesn’t quite do it justice. The beer has an unmistakable boozy heat but it just helps to lift the aroma out of the glass. The heat never tastes cloying or sharp, more warming than anything else.
Overall an unusual and very complex beer that might no longer be considered the best in the word but still requires the reverence its legend demands.
Honorable mentions to Alesmith – Speedway stout, Tired hands – Ourison, Fantome – Saison, Toppling Goliath – Golden Nugget, Crooked Stave – Origins and Warpigs – Smoldering holes. This post was already the longest I’ve posted so I’ll take it handy for now.