Beavertown Sapling IPA

On the one hand: oh dear, another Beavertown special. If only I still used ratebeer I could look it up and see what it is. Nice graphics tho.

 And on the other: 65 IBUs? Yep, I'll take one ta! And hey, it's Beavertown - gotta be good, right?

Cracking open the can I can smell the smell that means lots of bitter hops - but what is it? Resinous? Green? Dank? (However nebulous a descriptor that last one is)

So. It's not particularly fruity. Perhaps some yellow citrus notes. Not too tart. There's a fresh white wood thing. A peeled stick maybe? Or is that just me channelling the cool label?

There is a smell I can only describe as bitter. Clearly, this ain't a smell according to the current model of human olfaction, so I must be smelling some hard to verbalise aroma which I generally associated with bittering hops.

Pouring out the last of the can I'm sooking (or "huffing", if you like) the very final dregs trapped behind the lip of the opening. As always, this creates a fine aerosol or mist of what is—at least in this sort of beer—the very essence of the bitterness.

If you haven't done this before you really should (but go and get a properly hoppy can to do it with). It highlights a particular aspect of the beer in a way you don't otherwise experience. As when rubbing heavily peated malt whisky onto your hands to find the cereal behind the peat, or misting your tongue with brandy from an atomiser spray, it's good to explore flavour from odd angles occasionally.

In the particular case of Sapling, the huff reveals a powerfully bitter dry earthy sandiness behind which there is sweet yellow fruit juice, although not orange. Perhaps it's one of those odd mixtures of banana, apple, and a token gesture's worth of pineapple. I think I mean 'smoothie'.

I'm still not getting very close to what the bitter-associated smell is. Let's just leave it at "bitter" and ask the smell scientists to revamp their model to fit.

The taste is satisfyingly dry. There is a juiciness and a persistent bitter hoppiness which dries things out nicely.

A lemonade note. Metallic hops. Ripe yellow fruit - perhaps tropical.

This is a very, very fine beer, and especially in its 65 IBUs - the best kind of bitter.

I have but two complaints. The first is that 330ml is not quite enough, even at a strength of 7.1%. 500ml would perhaps be excessive, but 440 is a pleasant number. The second is that the ABV is entirely deceptive. Only in the thick texture is there any indication that the alcohol is higher than normal.

In conclusion, well done to Beavertown, good work. And, by way of a post script, it occurred to me some time after I'd written my notes on this beer that maybe the name is quite apt, since it reminds me of peeled green sticks. Or perhaps not.


Little Pomona C'est Si Bon-Bonne

My first thought is that the tannins are beautiful. Present, prominent, yet in no way abrasive. They curl round your tongue and in behind your teeth like a cat settling on your shoulders; it's lovely but if it it weren't lovely the cat wouldn't care and would still do it. Purring, rounded, but irresistible.

Then there's a metallic, earthy note, which isn't quite iron. Is this bottling perhaps slightly less clean than other Little Pomonas? After all, relinquishing control of the maturation of a cider to an oak barrel, however carefully sourced, however thoroughly the bunghole has been sniffed, is always something of a risk.

Peach pits. And a rather pleasant acidity.

They're definitely mineralic, these tannins. Almost blue steel (as when one has made steel tough by heating it, perhaps by drilling it at too high a speed or without lubricants).

It seems to me tonight that of all the Little Pomonas this is the one where tannic structure is most important.

From memory I think I can dismiss The Rainbow and The Unicorn as flighty creatures of fruit.

The Old Man and the Bee had a ripe richness which dominated other aspects of its character. Feat of Clay was brighter and sunnier - youthful choirboys beautifully chanting psalms rather than the Mongolian throat songs of Bonbonne.

If this were wine I'd call these tannins chalky. Can I do that with cider?

Blue steel.

It's too full bodied to compare with Chablis, and there are these compelling tannins. But the blue steel.

It stays with you. The tannins don't want to leave. Like Secret Service agents, inexorably polite, Ma'am-ing to left and right and not moving no matter what you say.

Behind all that tannic action, there's something which might be fruit cake or dried apricots.

Here, tonight, this is the best cider I've yet tasted from Little Pomona, and I think it's a strong contender for my cider of the year. You should seek it out and try it.

(Now, quite clearly I'm not in any way impartial. The owners and makers of Little Pomona are very dear friends of mine, and I've helped out at every harvest since 2014. But that aside, I do think this is an exceptional bottle of cider)

Boring technical stuff: C'est Si Bon-Bonne is a dry, still cider from Herefordshire. It's made mainly from Dabinett, along with Harry Masters Jersey, Ellis Bitter, and Foxwhelp (I helped pick and press these last two). It was a wild ferment in an ex bourbon barrel, left for six months then racked into glass bonbonnes and aged without oxygen for a year.

You can read more about Little Pomona here.


Pilton Ice

Is it just me, or does everybody think of the Piltdown Man when they see a bottle of Pilton? Just me? Right. Fair enough.

This empty bottle held a most rare, and most tasty, liquid. Britain doesn't have the right climate to permit cider makers to make ice cider al fresco, so there's a good deal of faffing about with chest freezers, not to mention the difficulty of pressing frozen apples, or, as has happened in this case, the freezing and slow careful thawing of already pressed juice. The result is delightful.

(I should say, by the way, that this tasting note was written at a point when the bottle had been open a few days)

Colour is a vivid red amber. Not quite copper. Vivid and beautiful.

The nose is very earthy. It seems tannic  - so I guess it's making me think of apple skins. Mossy sticks. Spices and apple skins. Herbal? Aye, herbal, green-grey, lichen on stones . It's a fascinating herbiness. Grey-green, but not as sweet as sage.

The taste is tangy sweet, but with drying tannins. Earthy again. Vivid fruit acidity. Red fruits. Dark. Not yellow. Perhaps some green gooseberry acid. The tannins are very gentle. There's some bitterness in the finish, but it serves to balance the intense sweet attack. A delicious, complex drink.

I'd class it as Outstanding. Can I have some more please?


Tannins of Wood and Skin

I've thought about it every time I opened the cupboard and saw the can looking at me (and it's been in there for a solid month and a half). I can't escape the feeling that I'm missing some sort of cultural reference or in joke or something. I've googled 'BAE' and think I have a handle on that, but then, a badly formed search term can throw one off the scent forever.

Despite all that, I'm reasonably confident that I can still assess this beer fairly. If not, well, oh dear, how sad, never mind.

So, what I'm drinking is a Sour Ale with Pinot Noir grapes, aged in French Oak. I don't know anything about Stillwater Artisanal except that they're American (and that only because of the label).

This is a beer not heavily carbonated - although the style doesn't seem to lend itself to a good head. (Note to self: Investigate relationship between pH, acidity, brewing adjuncts, and head formation / retention) It has an attractive red-amber colour with an interesting (and, to me at least, unusual) gold rim.

The nose starts off with the sort of grubby, earthy sweetness that French oak so often gives to beer or whisky (something to do with malt perhaps?). Then there's the flat sweet note of sour beer, and something a bit straw-like - akin to a cider, but not as sweet.

The palate has a sherbet-y acidity. Perhaps it's a combination of oak sweetness with kettle souring but it seems more sweetie-like than many sours.

(NB! I'm assuming this is a kettle sour, purely on the basis that it lacks the depth of a koelschip/lambic style beer)

There's less tannin than I'd expect given the Pinot Noir grapes and French oak, although now that I've mentioned Pinot, I can indeed taste red fruit. And perhaps the tannins of wood and skin are coming through in the bitter finish this beer has. Or perhaps not.

The red fruit notes are really quite generic - there's not a specific fruit I can pick out.

I would rate this beer as Good. It's more interesting than most kettle sours, but then they have thrown Pinot grapes and French oak at it, so one would expect some complexity.

I'm still not sure what to think about the name. I suppose brewers produce so many different brews that after a while it must be difficult to think of new names. Certainly, it's no sillier than, say, Disco Forklift Truck. I suspect it comes back to my original point -  I feel that I'm not in on the joke.


I Might Change My Name To Hendre Huffcap

My very good friends TallAsAVan and DrinkBritain kindly gave us this bottle last Christmas. They said that it was something rather special, so when the Prodigal Wean came up the road for a few days that seemed like a good occasion to open it.

I could tell straight away that it was something out of the ordinary. The muzzle took nine half twists to remove. Nine, I tell ye! And take a look at that picture. Have you ever seen such a nubbly little cork, even on a bottle of gueuze?

The three varieties of perry pear used for this bottling are Antricotin, Rock, and Hendre Huffcap. Gotta love perry, just for the fruit variety names! 

To start with I was a wee bit concerned that it seemed very bretty but that cleared off pretty quickly, so maybe it was just bottle stink.

The nose was very complex, and quite intense. There was pear and elderflower, mossy sticks, a touch of what might have been spicy honey, plus fresh silage or cheesy straw. Inexplicably, the overall effect reminded me of stir fry. The Prodigal Wean liked it too - she suggested, "the fresh greenness of spring onions without the onionyness", and, "ginger?”.

The palate was light and airy (one of the things I  love about good perry - that it can be so light and yet also intense). It tasted of green apple skins, more of the green sticks from the nose, a touch of clean dark earth, and honeyed pear juice. 

And just to wrap it all up, there was such a lovely clean finish. Pretty much everything about this bottle was perfect.

So thank you DrinkBritain & TallAsAVan for the gift, and thanks Wean, for that spring onion tasting note. 


Things Not To Do With A Pineapple

That Boutique-y, the hydra-headed bottling offshoot of Master of Malt, produce some very fine drinks. Indeed, I was lucky enough to attend a tasting hosted by the estimable and very congenial Dave Worthington earlier this summer where he let us try a two decades old Tormore which was quite the best expression I've ever had from that distillery.

However, their approach is somewhat scattershot. And whilst an open mind and a willingness to experiment is to be commended, I'd respectfully suggest that some things might be better left unbottled.

As witness this oddity, That Boutique-y Gin Company Spit-Roasted Pineapple Gin Batch 2.

According to the accompanying press release, during the second Golden Age of the Cocktail fruit gins were all the rage. But then, and again according to the press release, the second Golden Age of the Cocktail was the 1950s-1960s, an era which also gave us whiskey flavoured toothpaste and jellied salads. Which makes their judgement in matters of taste suspect, wouldn't you say?

The nose is certainly very pineapple-y. Not fresh pineapple, but the juice, from a carton, or perhaps the syrup from a tin. Hang on though, where's the juniper? Seriously, there's no juniper.

The palate is suprising. It's very thick, sweet, syrupy, and sticky. I'm reminded (although I'm pretty sure it's a false memory) of an old liqueur that's been at the back of the drinks cupboard for years, perhaps a dodgy knock-off Benedictine clone, or a not very orange-y Cointreau-alike. I suppose the faux-Benedictine memory must be the gin botanicals.

In conclusion, bleh. If this had a clear gin character, or fresher pineapple notes, then maybe. But as it is, bleh.

Rereading the blurb, I see that pineapple gin was supposedly also popular in the 1920s. Which means that after this batch of 3300 bottles is done, we ought not to see any more until the 2060s. Fingers crossed.


Sweet Wine Wednesday - Aged Sauvignon Blancs

Sweet Wine Wednesday, a Glasgow-based wine trade tasting group, has been on the go, sporadically, for nigh on ten years, and for most of that time it's been a running joke that one of us would threaten to bring along his vertical of aged Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Well, it finally happened, and it was a delightful surprise. (I hesitated over my choice of adjective there. Really, I need a word which means delightful with a touch of astonishment)

We tasted three vintages of Villa Maria Clifford Bay Sauvignon Blanc, the 2001, 2002, and 2003. The oldest of these was bottled under cork.

All three were in very good condition, very clean and lively, with plenty of fruit still showing. I'd say that the ripe tropical notes of a fresh Kiwi Sauv had diminished in all of them, and green flavours were much more to the fore. "Peas and asparagus" is a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc cliché, but it was very applicable here.

For me, the 2002 was the most tart, and I found plenty of gooseberry notes, as well as an intriguing green chilli aroma. The 2003 rather reminded us of Riesling, in that it seemed to have a mineralic or petrol note, and a distinctly sherbet-like palate.

But the real revelation, and my favourite, was the 2001, the last vintage of this wine to be bottled under cork. There was a richness to it, a creaminess, which I've never encountered in a Sauvignon Blanc before. It reminded me of rice pudding or lemon cream. It was wonderful.

I can't quite credit that I'm actually writing this down, but the conclusion that we took away from this tasting was that we ought to lay down some Awatere Valley Sauvignon Blanc, with a label tied to the necks saying, "Not to be drunk before 2030".

What I can credit, and say most firmly, is that New Zealand winemakers, and Villa Maria in particular, have risen considerably in my estimation. Whilst I've always known that they are experts in capturing the fresh fruit flavours of wine to be drunk young, I never entertained the notion that these sorts of wine could be in it for the long haul. Until now....