1906 RESERVA ESPECIAL (Spain, 6.5%)
I was surprised by the alkyhol content when I read it on the label, which I guess is Coolsville, Daddy-o, because there’s no enshrined official law that says when the alc/vol is big you have to have a wall of booze-reek opera fall on top of your head. It’s a lager, a real good one in a style not a billion miles away from the standard Australian lager style, but just a bit more pronounced in flavour. It’s no revelation, but it does what it does quite well. Your not particularly adventurous buddies Johnny VB and Freddie Crown Lager ought to have no problems with this one. 8 out of 11.
INNIS & GUNN TOASTED OAK IPA
(Edinburgh, Scotland, 5.6%)
This was a nice little surprise, and I’m a regular when it comes to this mad Scottish type brewer. They banged on about the multiple additions of hops on the label, and I was figuring that and the beer’s conditioning on the “toasted oak” barrels (as opposed to the various woods they expose the other beers to) would lead to fairly extreme flavours. As much as I like just about all of their product, the results of them dabbling in some fairly esoteric styles and then combining that with an array of woods on which they let the beer mature and gain extra flavour lead to, well, something you want/need to spend a little time considering, rather than necessarily a belter of a bolter. Despite being labelled an IPA, despite the multiple hops dunking, despite the toasty oaks, this comes over like an embiggened version of a good Australian lager (that kind of salty, a bit grainy, drinkable kind of thing) just with everything blown up in degree. I like all the others they do, but this is real good too, and should be consumable and maybe enjoyable for all but the most conservative craft beer avoiders. Anyway it happens to be approached, I’m giving it 8.5 out of 11.
DOGFISH HEAD 90 MINUTE IMPERIAL IPA
(Milton, Delaware, USA, 355ml, 9%)
OK, they throw in multiple additions of hops until the Universe implodes from the weight of it all, and they tell us all about it. And the point is (which they don’t bang on about on the label) they balance it out with plenty of malt, complexity and sweetness, and it’s a really great beer, if a heavy one – one of the best on the regularly produced craft beer roster. The best of the big-hitting Belgian beers don’t have a lot over this one, if anything at all. You want it cold – ignore what the experts tell you. Not a session beer in a bazillion years, but unless it’s 40-odd degrees Celsius and you’re exposed to the elements, there’s not a session that one or two of these won’t enhance. 10.5 out of 11.
SALZBURGER STIEGL BEER (Salzburg, Austria, 4.9%)
If I’ve said all this before, I’m just reinforcing the case. Brilliant international-style lager. This is how it’s done. Slightly sweet taste, not cloying in a million years, it’s just an edge that gives it a clear and flavourful point of difference from a billion or so other thirst-quenching lagers. Everything about this one is done perfectly. It’s golden, it’s a bit playful, and like Joel Grey says in the movie Cabaret, it’s “byodifool”. Really truly absolutely HAS to be cold. Under those terms, it’s 10 out of 11. You craft beer worshippers will believe a lager can fly.
NEW BELGIUM FAT TIRE AMBER ALE
(Fort Collins, Colorado, USA, 355ml, 5.2%)
Flagship brew of this mob, which I gather they use as the hook to draw folks in to their more eccentric styles. One gulp and you know they’re going to slap on that designation “biscuity” on the label, and they do. It’s a bit Belgian-y, but it’s not all that biscuity much less bludgeoning you over the cranium with anything extreme in hops, malt, sweetness, big-itude, flavour or anything else. It’s a perfectly drinkable, pleasant beer and that’s about the whole show, but you can easily see why this is a good entry-level one for the folks just gingerly starting to paddle their laughing gear around in the craft-y beers. It ain’t broke and I don’t think they’re fixing it. Roughly 8.5 out of 11 on the Leapster “one better” scale.