as you may know already from my post on Sunday, on Friday I got to try a bottle of aged Thomas Hardy Ale which was a fantastic privilege and a great experience. However, you don't just wander aimlessly into a plus 12% matured beer, there needs to be a bibulous pre amble. And so it was; Davefromtshop had carefully selected a few bottles, as had I, to try before and after the main event, the details of which are below.
We started low, as is always the best plan, with a beer I had lovingly carted back from Crete, Craft Black lager. I knew what to expect as I'd had a few bottles in On the Rocks but it was a first for Dave. The beer is, as you would expect, black, with a nice head of neat white bubbles and an incredibly intense sweetness that takes you back a bit at first. However, whilst its not subtle, and initially you could be forgiven for worrying that it would be too sweet, the flavours mellow out as you drink and it turns out to be an interesting, enjoyable, if unsophisticated drop.
Up next was Belfast Blues, from Birrificio Indipendente Elav. This is described as a bitter, which seems strange coming from Italy. I recognise, of course, that there is much new in the Italian beer scene so am not going to suggest that I expected a lager, but what we got was something really surprising and interesting. The beer is bottle conditioned (I think it certainly retains a yeast sediment) and was difficult to pour clear. Its also lively, although it would have probably benefited from being a little chilled on both flavour and carbonation fronts.
It was bitter, yes, but in a dry hoppy way, more pale ale rather than trad bitter, with a a wonderful herby aftertaste. Adding the yeast makes the beer easier to quaff and balances the bitterness better leaving a fantastic beer. A great introduction to the brewery's beer.
Next up was the Chiltern 30th anniversary ale. We tried it last time and were fairly underwhelmed, this time it was nearer its best before date and so had longer to mature. On opening it, despite my having taken it all the way from home on the bus, it didn't explode, although there was a fair champagne sounding pop, and it immediately smelt incredibly rich and strong in alcohol.
The aroma reminded me of a strong stout in some ways, but maybe a Fullers Vintage. Either way it was confusing, because the copper brown beer in fact had no such taste. Interestingly though, this older bottle had a very subtle edge to it that the younger one didn't, a kind of pleasant cherry flavour which worked really well with the dry bitterness and warming mouthfeel. Quite a puzzle of a beer, but much nearer to the excellence we had anticipated in the bottle we tried earlier in the year.
The Birrificio Indipendente Elav Indie Ale was up next, an "independent beer" which also carried a sediment but which we had no problem leaving in the bottle. Initial tastes were harsh - incredibly dry bitterness, not matched by much other flavours, almost metallic, and quite thin. So we added the yeast. It only heightened the ascorbic taste! It was strange, and not obvious what was being aimed for, the bitterness was impressive but it was neither an IPA or a indeed any other identifiable style, and its independent taste didn't help it to shine. A hop too far I think.
A totally different beer next, the last that I brought from home, Thornbridge Evenlode Brown Porter. This is a beer I remember trying on draught at the Hallamshire House and enjoying. It was a while ago, and to be honest I was quite surprised to read on the label that it was matured on blackberries, but it was too long ago to say for definite that I hadn't picked up on that from the cask.
I needn't have worried though. The blackberry taste came through well, not too strong or overpowering, and melded with and complemented the brown malty porter brilliantly. Its certainly an unusual taste, but incredibly well balanced, a really subtle blend of flavours that gives an interesting new angle to the porter style - especially with an interest developing in sour stouts. After a few bum offerings from Thornbridge on cask of late this as a reminder of what they do well.
On the night our next beer was the coveted Thomas hardy Ale, after which we needed something at the exact opposite end of the flavour spectrum to compete with its strong tasting signature. Dave had been given a very large bottle of Hop-Ruiter, described as a blonde hoppy beer, and brewed in Belgium by Dutch brewers Scheldebrouwerij, so we shared that. It was suggested that they brewed the beer in Belgium because it would attract more praise as Belgium is well regarded as a brewing country. I'm not sure I could attach too much reliability either to the claim that this formed part of their thinking, or the insinuation that Dutch beer isn't well regarded, but either way, maybe one of those factors has influenced the unevenness of this rather puzzling ensemble.
Hop-Ruiter uses Belgian yeast and that is noticeable in the aroma and taste, its not particularly blonde, but Jesus wept its hoppy. Here though is s similar problem to the Indie Ale - its so dry and ascorbic you can't really get the benefit of the Belgian yeast or indeed any of the other flavours, such as the fruity notes that such yeast helps to showcase. Its just a big dry hoppy bitter beer, with little that stands out apart from the nagging questions it begs about what they may have intended.
That said, its quite hard following an even slightly past its best Thomas Hardy Ale, so maybe I need to try this one again. We both agreed that the fact it was a much larger bottle than is normally on sale also didn't help, so I reserve judgement on this one.
The last beer of the night was selected to stand up to any previous flavours and aromas and indeed, expectations we might have encountered. Birrificio Indipendente Elav Techno double hopped IPA was exactly as we had expected, but perhaps in a better way than with their Indie Ale. Yes there was massive "assertive" hops, as label writers seem to like to say, but there were some subtleties in the overall flavour that brought out the best parts of the bite in the hops used.
It was a really satisfying, perhaps slightly challenging hop monster, but if I had a complaint it was that it maybe didn't have staying power - the initial thrill of tingly zesty hop was amazing but it didn't lead anywhere. Even the addition of yeast failed to make much impact.
Overall this was a night of great beers, some really interesting ones from new (or at least new to us) breweries and some rather incredible ones from those well established. Given that the Hardy's suffered from a minor but forgivable yeast malfunction, I think I would say that the joint best beers were the Belfast Blues and the Evenlode Porter on the night.
All I need to do now is start planning my festive treats by cracking a few examples from my collection. I'm very much looking forward to the return trip beer tasting at Chez Beefy in January 2013....