Sunday, 7 August 2011

A-Z Of Beer Styles: Juleol & Julebryg

Juleol is the Norwegian name for Christmas beer. There are around 50 different Juleols and most Norwegian brewers produce one for November and December. They are typical dark lagers that are strong enough that they are only available from the state run off-licenses known as Vinmonopolet. The Mack Juleol is mahogany brown in colour with a flavour combining woody malt and lashings of stewed fruit. The Aass Juleol has a more pronounced caramel flavour and a hint of spice. Some breweries deliverately produce weaker beers so they can be sold in supermarkets, the most highly rated of these is the Nogne O Julesnadder which, at 4.5% abv, is just weaker than the 4.75% abv cut-off. Over in Denmark festive beers are called Julebryg and given the more enthusiastic beer culture there it's no surprise to find twice as many Julebryg as there are Juleol. The Norrebro Julebryg is a potent 7% abv brew which contains a "secret Christmas spice" while other Julebryg are more standard dark lagers. Sweden also joins in with Julol.

Most of these beers are bocks which are often brewed around the world for special religious occasions such as Christmas or Easter, and many breweries still produce them on a seasonal basis, even if they are not that bothered about paying homage to the Lord. They are usually at least 6% abv in strength and doppelbocks can be even get up to 10% abv. Things get even stronger with eisbocks, which are lagers that are “crack distilled” by freezing a doppelbock to be able to separate out the alcoholic part of the mix. This process often requires an ice cream factory willing to let a brewer play with their equipment.

Bocks usually have a similar flavour to Munich dunkels but they add a warming alcohol feel to the combination of dark fruity and roasted malts. They can also have some surprising flavours: Norway’s Aass Bock even has a hint of carrot cake. One of the strongest bocks is the Austrian Samiclaus. This is a brewed once a year and matured for 10 months eventually coming out at 14% abv. It has a combination of caramel and raisins that do not get blown away by the alcohol. Over in American the Rogue Brewery brew a robust Maibock called Dead Guy Ale, and to give it a bit more of a kick they do a version aged in bourbon whiskey barrels called John John Dead Guy, which has an oaky taste with apricots, berries and all sorts of over-ripe fruit.

Five to try-
1. Mack Juleol
2. Aass Juleol
3. De Molen Juleol
4. Norrebro Julebryg
5. Nogne O Julesnadder

A-Z Of Beer Styles: IPA

It’s sometimes said the India pale ales were “invented” in the late 18th century by brewers looking to ship pale beers to India. However the original IPAs were no stronger than other contemporary beers and records show that porters of the day could happily survive for at least a year on ships and so could easily survive the 4 month trip to India. In fact beers had been exported to India quite happily for many years. What is true is that Hodgson’s Pale Ales were popular in India and by 1840 had gained the name India Pale Ale.

IPAs have a dry hoppy flavour that is bitter and peppery. Brewers such as Meantime produce IPAs to 19th century strengths and bitterness while chain pub staples Greene King IPA and Deuchars IPA tone down the strength and flavour to produce creamy beers
indistinguishable from other golden ales. A good middle ground, and modern day classic, is Thornbridge’s Jaipur which has huge fruity flavours to balance the dry hoppiness. Scottish troublemakers Brewdog started their rise with a Punk IPA that remains their signature beer.

IPAs are a phenomenon in American microbrewing. The US IPAs have massive citrus hop flavours and intense bitterness – sometimes it feels like sucking on a hop. These are often strongly alcoholic and you will commonly find Double and Triple IPAs whose strengths get close to 10% abv. Goose Island and Sierra Nevada are good places to start. Belgian brewers took notice of this and started fusing US IPAs with their strong pale Tripels, creating beers such as the Achouffe Houblon IPA. The US brewers then started doing versions of these Belgian IPAs creating a cycle of increasingly intense beers. Some brewers have even created black IPAs – such as Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black. These are a blend of a porter and IPA styles – now that has got to travel well.

Five to Try -
1. Thornbridge Jaipur
2. Yeastie Boys Pot Kettle Black
3. 1516 Victory Hop Devil IPA
4. Goose Island IPA
5. Samuel Smith India Ale

A-Z Of Beer Styles: Helles

Local pride can be a great motivator. The success of the hoppy golden lager from Pilsen led to many central European towns and cities wanting something similar. The people of Budweis wouldn’t want to say that their Budweiser was just a copy of their neighbours Pilsner – it’s a different beast which we could term a Budweis style of beer – a beer whose defining characteristic is that it can solely be brewed in Budweis. You could come up with 26 different entries – and frankly it wouldn’t be worth doing either – but Helles is one of the most notable local German lager variants. It clocks in at around 5% abv and has similarities with some of the other German lager styles. However it was pre-dated by the Dortmunder.

Dortmund lies in the west of Germany close to the river Ruhr. It started brewing pale lager abut 30 years after pilsners appeared when the town was populated by industrial workers and coal miners, thereby giving the beer a tough proletariat image. The heavy industry in Dortmund has died off in recent years and the beer’s popularity has also waned, partially because the style lacks a distinctive edge – it’s a balance of what you’ll find in other lagers. The original Dortmunder Union Export is available, but it is now made by a different brewery.

Munich caught onto the pilsner craze a little later than Dortmund but has had a more enduring impact. The helles beer originally produced by the Spaten Brewery is an incredibly pale coloured beer whose emphasis is almost entirely on the malt flavour. There is usually no aroma and hardly any bitterness at all. The beer was first sold in the port of Hamburg as a trial run, but it was soon selling strongly in the bars of Munich. Done well a helles is almost infinitely subtle, making best use of the purity laws. Done badly it’s just bland.

Five to Try -
1. Fischer Brau Helles
2. Ottakringer Helles
3. St Georgen Helles

4. Kaltenberg Hell

5. Stary Melnik Iz Bochonka Myagkoe

Sunday, 31 July 2011

A-Z Of Beer Styles: Gueuze

Many brewers are incredibly exacting about the ingredients they use and the way they make their beer. Specific varieties of hops are imported, strains of yeast are taken from famous breweries and clear local spring water is used. Lambic beers have a more random and chaotic approach. They use stale hops and instead of using a specific strain of yeast to trigger fermentation, they are left exposed in large shallow vats. Here wild yeasts in the air settle on the beer to trigger “spontaneous fermentation”. The beers are then left to ferment over a number of years giving range of different flavours. There are only a handful of lambic brewers, all of whom are based in the Senne valley in Belgium near Brussels.

Lambic beers are presented with an old world charm. Their brewers talk about cobwebs hanging off the ceiling and proudly claim that health and safety officers would have a seizure if they were allowed in. An excellent example of the lambic brewers craft can be found at the Cantillon brewery in the outskirts of Brussels. Now more a working museum than a commercial brewery you can guide yourself around and see the cooling trays, the rows of barrels and the piles of green glass bottles.

Gueuze is the traditional way that you will find lambic served. It is made by blending older lambic that has been ageing in barrels for many years with a livelier, younger lambic. The old lambic has a complexity and depth of flavour but is usually flat while the young lambic gives the beer its fizz. A key part of the skill of making gueuze is selecting the different barrels to blend together. Each will add slightly different flavours that the brewer must select from in order to achieve quality and consistency. The combination leads to an additional round of fermentation for the older beer which generally continues in the bottle. You will often find both a cork and a cap on top of these beers to make sure they don’t try to escape.

You can expect the beers to be dry, sour and somewhat fruity with a complex range of flavours and each brewer has its own distinct taste. Cantillon has an acidic grapefruit flavour with a hint of sweetness whilst Drie Fonteinen has lemons and apples to it. Girardin has a more rounded sourness to it, and Lindemanns showpiece Cuvée Rene beer is simply filthy in a way that will either delight or disgust. Mort Subite feels like a refreshing cider whilst Oud Beersel feels like a light blonde Belgian ale when the sediment is poured from the bottle.

The traditional versions are usually called oude gueuze and come in at around 5% abv, whilst the smooth Mariage Parfait from Boon clocks in at a very robust 8%. On an initial tasting you are likely to find gueuze strange or off-putting, making you think of cider gone weird. If you adjust to the taste it will be able to savour what is thought of as the champagne of beers.

Five to Try -
1. Girardin Gueuze 1882
2. Cantillon Gueuze
3. Drie Fonteinen Oude Gueuze

4. Lindemans Cuvée Rene

5. Boon Geuze Mariage Parfait

A-Z Of Beer Styles: Fruit Beer

The origin of fruit beers is not clear, but it may be a marriage of convenience. If a farmer had some fruit that had seen better days, then juicing it and mixing it with alcohol would leave you with something you could preserve. The fruit would help to add flavour before the use of hops was widespread, and its sugar content would create additional fermentation. Therefore the brewer and the farmer both win. These days the better fruit beers are usually based on fresh cherries or raspberries. Some beers even use gourmet fruit such as Schaerbeek cherries – however the price of the fruit means these are hard to come by.

Belgium shows the best and the worst of fruit beers. Some of the best are from Liefmans, a 300 year-old brewery who still wrap their beer bottles on tissue paper. Their Cuvée Brut is a blend of an oak-aged dark, sour ale with cherries that is left to mature for over a year. The inherent sourness of the beer matches wonderfully with the cherry flavours. Their Gluhkriek is another winner. It’s a cherry beer that is designed to be served warm like German gluhwein and it goes superbly with mince pies.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Hoegaarden fruit beers. Some bright brand manager at InBev decided that since Belgian Witbiers have a hint of orange, why not substitute other flavours by adding syrup and watering the beer down. Hence we have Hoegaarden Citron which tastes like supermarket own brand Sprite and Hoegaarden Rosé which smells like a processed raspberry dessert. Much better are the Huyghe Cherry Wheat Beer and the Invercargill Boysenberry Wheat Beer. In England the Melbourn Bros brewery makes fruit beers the old fashioned way with no hops and using wild yeast akin to lambics. Their beers are so good Sam Smith’s use them as the basis for their fruit beers.

Five to Try -
1. Liefmans Cuvée Brut
2. Melbourne Bros Apricot
3. Lancelot Bonnets Rouge
4. Invercargill Boysenberry
5. Red Oak Blackberry Wheat Beer

A-Z Of Beer Styles: ESB

What goes up must come down. But that doesn’t mean it stays down. Ales used to be brewed at higher alcoholic strengths before the 20th century. A combination of the temperance movement and wartime restrictions watered the beers down leaving bitter weighing in at around 4% abv rather than 6%. In 1971 the Fuller’s introduced their 5.5% abv Extra Special Bitter with great success, so much so that stronger “premium” bitters are often referred to as ESB after this London based beer. Fullers ESB is dark, woody and tangy with hints of nuts and fruit. It was originally just produced as a winter beer and Fullers have continued to make dark seasonal premium bitters such as Jack Frost, which contains blackberries.

These days premium bitters are many brewers’ answer to the continental style of premium lager that dominates drinking habits today, offering a more potent brew (and a chance to get drunk quicker). Wychwood’s Hobgoblin is one of the most successful – a full bodied mix of caramel and prune flavours that has more of a kick bottled than on draught. Jennings’ Sneck Lifter has such dominant coffee and chocolate flavours you could mistake it for a stout. Some premium bitters such as Ridgeway Ivanhoe have a pale amber colour and have very similar flavours to traditional bitters.

Most premium bitters are brewed in the UK but American microbrewers appear quite keen to play around with this style. Rogue’s Brutal Bitter is so hoppy that it is in danger of turning into an IPA. Australian microbrewers 4 Pines do a fine ESB that tastes of pine wood, cherry and caramel – it even stands up to being served ice cold. Norway’s Sma Vesen KvernKnurr could almost be mistaken for a Belgian Dubbel. In short, ESB has come a long way from its origins as a winter special in the early 1970s.

Five to Try -
1. Fullers ESB
2. Dorset Durdle Door
3. Wychwood Hobgoblin (bottle)
4. Jennings Sneck Lifter
5. Ridgeway Ivanhoe

Saturday, 30 July 2011

A-Z Of Beer Styles: Dubbel

Abbey dubbels are dark, malty ales that get their name from being twice as strong as regular beers – clocking in at 7 or 8%. The original dubbel was made by the Westmalle monastery and has a gentle mix of stewed fruits and spices with a heavy, creamy mouthfeel. The beer is generally found in bottles, however you should look out for Belgian bars that have it on tap. This seems to give the beer an extra vibrancy. Most of the Trappist beers stick to this formula with varying amounts of spice and yeast in the flavour. The Rochefort 8 and Westvleteren 8 add bitter coffee and liquorice flavours making a more intense brew.

On the secular side the Maredsous 8 plays up the fruitiness of the beer and is one of the finest dubbels around. Elsewhere the Dupont Moinette Brune has a caramel sweetness to it, the St Bernardus Grottenbier has a surprisingly heavy dash of coriander, Grimbergen Dubbel has a twist of orange and the Ciney Cuvée Brune has a port like edge. Dubbels will always deliver a dark fruitiness, but you may find a few surprises too.

You will also find dubbels in surprising places. In the South island of New Zealand there is a town founded by Scottish Presbyterians. In the winter of 2010 the local microbrewery produced a superb beer called Dubbel Happy that had an explosion of white chocolate, allspice, nuts and liquorice. It had incredible depth of flavour yet was balanced and easily drinkable. It was also produced as a limited run which the brewery has no plans to repeat, though they are trying out some other abbey style ales. You’ll find these one off brews all around the world – American brewers especially seem to have got the knack – and they are well worth taking a punt on.

Five to Try -
1. Westmalle Dubbel

2. Westvleteren 8

3. Moortgat Maredsous 8 Bruin

4. Rochefort 6

5. Dupont Moinette Brune