beers / BLOG / the beer life

Winter is leaving (a beer geek post)

Winter 2013 is almost over down under, thankfully, because it has been a strange few months in Beer Bar Band’s brain. Job and personal circumstances put me in an uncertain frame of mind. Happily, life is looking up again.

I jokingly suggested that turning 33 would be a big deal, alluding to the pop culture-esque Christian reference of the age. Somewhat surprisingly, turning 33 has actually been very significant so far, at least in terms of life as a middle-class westerner (i.e. money, debt, career, responsibility, experiences, running another half-marathon…you know, first world problems). My age of 33 is quickly shaping up to be truly momentous and memorable in my own understated way.

Despite good times of indulgence and new experiences, I’ve mostly felt as though time has been working against me this winter. The short days have flown by, with so much left to do. Sadly, this stalled my desire to blog slash write about all things beers, bars bands. Time to get back to it!

Many wonderful and unique craft beers have been consumed through the past three months, dominated by divinely delicious Imperial Stouts. It’s the middle of winter after all, so the style is most appropriate.

A special mention goes to the massive 8 Wired Bumaye, a 16% abv Imperial Stout aged in Pinot Noir barrels. It is loaded with superbly massive taste. A strong flavour of chocolate, coffee and berries dominates. It has a bold warming alcohol hit, and its deeply complex body delighted my imperial stout geekery. Hardcore beer p0rn, Bumaye has been one of my beer highlight for 2013.

Bumaye is a pricey beer for a 330ml bottle (around $18), but I highly recommend the drinking experience it provides. Grab two bottles, drink one now and hide the other away for five or so years. It will be very interesting to taste how it mellows with time.

A bottle of 8 Wired Bumaye imperial stout

Then…we had an even more filthy moment with this explicit beer whilst in New Zealand recently (much more to come soon about that wonderful trip). A 22% abv, ice-distilled version of Bumaye was pouring at Hashigo Zake, as part of an 8 Wired Brewing tap-takeover, which also featured the brilliant Ø for Awesome imperial amber ale collaboration by 8 Wired, Renaissance and Nøgne Ø.

a 65ml glass of iced Bumaye on the Hashigo Zake menuIt was our first night in Wellington and we had already shared beers with brewers at The Bruhausthen drank our way through the ParrotDog range at that brewery’s birthday party event. On stepping into Hashigo Zake, we could not go past the Ø for Awesome, despite an already big night, because it was a limited release beer (first released in early 2013) that we never expected to see again.

To make things plain messy (nicely), the availability of the ice-distilled Bumaye would end our night with a coma-inducing sip of pleasure. It was sold in 65ml glasses for $(NZ)7 and drank like a port wine mixed with chocolate and bourbon. And wow, it was a face punching experience of super hot sweetness that I’d happily do again.

A  bottle and glass of Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch IslayBack tracking to June 30, I kicked off my year of thirty three (aka, my 34th year of life) with a bottle of the Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel Islay Edition for breakfast. Joy! I love imperial stouts, I love smoky beers and I love Islay whisky. This 10.9% abv beer gave me everything I wanted at 10am in the morning (yes, that’s something I only do on my birthday) and I’d probably place it one spot higher than the regular Beer Geek Brunch Weasel on my imaginary list of all-time favourite beers. I hope we see more of it one day, because a chat with Mikkel Borg Bjergsø while he was in Melbourne last year revealed that the Islay aged version of this beer was unlikely to be made again anytime soon. (boo!)

As mentioned in a previous post, my birthday would feature a side-by-side tasting of the famous Trappist beers. And it did. And it was awesome.

The afternoon revolved around my first taste of the coveted Westvleteren XII. I lined up and poured the big four, including the Rochefort 10, La Trappe Quadrupel and St. Bernardus Abt 12.

Believe the hype, Westvleteren XII is a pleasure to drink. The beer is so wonderfully put together. It is one of the most refined big beers that I’ve ever experienced.

Four bottles Belgian Quadrupel beers

Westvleteren 12 in a Westvleteren glassWhilst certainly a subjective and unscientific endeavour, ranking these beers from best to “least best” proved to be a surprisingly easy task when based on the mouthfeel, drinkability and personal enjoyment of these four Belgian quads. My order of preference was:

  1. Westvleteren XII
  2. Rochefort 10
  3. St. Bernardus Abt 12
  4. La Trappe Quadrupel

The Westvleteren XII really was in a class of its own, due to its balance and consistency. The flavour and body was full, perfectly cushioning the complexity and hiding the brew’s high alcohol. From start to finish, cold to warm, it remained unchanged. This famous beer left me wanting more. A great deal more.

The Rocheford 10 was the first Trappist beer I had when I began my journey to craft beer geekdom. It was great to revisit, and it is sweeter than I recalled. The excellent, yet almost chunky, complexity of Rocheford 10 helps it stand out from the rest, but it was the most hot in terms of alcohol characteristics. The heat works for me though, in the same way I enjoy the alcohol heat of whisky.

James drinks the Westvleteren 12 St. Bernardus Abt 12 lacked the fullness of the Rocheford and Westy, but the darkly fruity flavour was nicely punchy and the high alcohol was also well hidden. The sweetness was a notch too much to put it in the same class as the previous two.

La Trappe Quadrupel was another beer I’ve had before, but it was found lacking against the other three Trappist quadruples. The lightest in appearance and mouthfeel, it tasted too thin and short on fruity flavour against the rest.

Complementing these beers, Jenn put her fondness for cooking with beer into action by baking a chocolate cake using one of my all time favourite beers, the Bridge Road Brewers B2 Bomber (Mach II) Belgian black IPA.

It proved to be a perfect match for the quadruples, especially the Westvleteren, a lovely sweet-on-sweet complement, with the bitter chocolate contrasting the sweet fruitiness, the two actually worked together incredibly well.

A sublime moment, resulting in a super happy birthday.

And now for a little more beer geek p0rn that occurred in my mouth over the past month…

A pint of handpulled 2013 Red Hill Brewery Imperial Stout

In mid-July we finally attended our first Red Hill Brewery Secret Stash event. The brewery has held a Brewer’s Secret Stash for a couple of years now, usually one in winter and one in summer, but we have never been able to attend due to either clashes with other events, being in the middle of a detox period or because we were unable to travel there without the risk of intoxicating the designated driver.

This time round, Red Hill Brewery kindly organised a bus to transport drinkers from the city down to Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula, which finally made the event a certainty because I could avoid driving.

The Secret Stash was everything I’d hoped for, with wonderful beer after wonderful beer showcasing three years of Red Hill vintages.

I thought there was a hiccup to last year’s Imperial Stout release from Red Hill Brewery, a long-time favourite local beer, with too much vanilla dominating the flavour. It was not a fault, but an imbalance. This year, their special winter release is back to its absolute best. Smooth, full, rich, chocolatey.

James sniffs the Red Hill Double Barrel Aged Imperial StoutThen, there was a beer geek moment that I thought I had missed out on. In 2010 Red Hill bottled a Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. It was so limited that I missed out on purchasing any. To my great delight, they had held onto a keg and tapped it at this Secret Stash event. I wasn’t going to miss out this time!

The picture on the right shows my first sniff of the 2010 Red Hill Brewery Double Barrel Aged Imperial Stout. The rest was too explicit to show. In words, it was: incredible, punchy, boozy (yet oh so very easy to drink) and delightfully complex. A genuine “wow” beer moment.

If you’re a beer lover, I highly recommend attending any future Red Hill Secret Stash events. The brewery is also hosting a special Father’s Day event next Saturday, at which they will be pouring their new batch of whisky barrel aged Imperial Stout (that will also be bottled later this year). Check out Red Hill’s website for all the delicious details.

A bottle and glass of Dark Island ReserveAnother beer geek moment that I ticked off my “to do” list in the last month was drinking the Dark Island Reserve from The Orkney Brewery. The price tag on this 10% abv scotch ale demands a special occasion, and my 33rd birthday seemed to fit the bill for Jenn, who gave me this beer and the Nail Brewing Clout Stout (2011 release) on said day. Winning!

Speaking of expensive beers, for our 3rd wedding anniversary Jenn and I cracked a bottle of the very special beer that marked our engagement. Whilst holidaying in Perth earlier this year, we stumbled across bottles of a beer we believed was long gone – the original batch of Holgate Brewhouse Beelzebub’s Jewels, a pinot barrel aged quadrupel. In the Cellarbrations Carlisle bottleshop found bottles from the original, hand waxed, 2010 release. The staff were unaware of the gold they were sitting on! Only 200 bottles were released. Back in 2010 we bought 2 bottles at $55 each. At Cellarbrations Carlisle we bought 2 more, still the same price. That’s 2% of the entire release, which cost us over $200 in total. Fun, and totally worth it.

The beer was not as vibrate as it was in 2010, but wow, it’s still a divine drop. A real smooth sweet fruitcake of a Belgian quad. I still stand by the statement that this is one of Australia’s finest beers. This was validated when the latest release Beelzebub’s Jewels, from the 2013 batch, was the only Australian beer to win a gold medal at the NZ Brewers Guild Awards earlier this month.

Three years on, both this beer and our marriage are doing great!

A 750ml bottle of Holgate Brewhouse Beelzebub’s Jewels

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