BABY, IT’S COLD INSIDE
The thermometer has taken what that famous meteorologist Stevie Ray Vaughan referred to as a “Cold Shot”, so a not particular young Leapster’s fancy has turned to the kinds of black ales, brown ales, porters & stouts that have their winter socks on, or perhaps going by the general thickness, included them in the brew. There are one or two exceptions herein, but basically that’s the direction we’re headed in this time around.
COOPERS EXTRA STRONG VINTAGE ALE (SA, 355ml, 7.5%)
This is apparently Coopers’ “we’re throwing down the pants of our minds and goin’ for it” all stops out big hitter beer. My reservation about commenting on it is that the label sez it will improve over time, wine-style, and I’ve never had a stubby of it old enough to judge the aspersion.
They talk about plenty malt, plenty hops, plenty complex but I don’t think it’s that complex. It’s clearly writ large in the flavour department but I’ve struck more fascinating wars and/or integrations between hops and malt. The colour is a nice red, the flavour is anything but offensive, and there’s integrity in that Australian thing of “even when the beer gets up there in alkyhol, we don’t go sweeeeet.” But it’s more crisp and concise in the gob-hole than you’d expect for the nominal style, extended fermentation and higher alc hit. This is not all a bad thing, as, in the Coopers tradition, it kind of works as what it is without being particularly definable in terms of conventional styles. Also it’s pretty pleasant to drink which is good too. It’s not exceptional though, and that seems to be what they’d set themselves up for with this one, so that may be an issue to some. If it makes any difference, this review is based on an encounter with the 2013 model. It’s definitely no worse than 8 out of 11 on the LLL “one better” scale, and I can see that some folks might rank it a point or so higher.
“BARRIQUE OKARMA” OAKED INDIA BLACK ALE (Baskerville, WA, 6.5%)
From the Feral Brewing Co. of the left coast of Austraya, who despite a life-long deep suspicion of breweries, particularly Australian small-batch ones, which feature mammals on the label, have been growing in my estimation.
This was recommended by one of the boys from the “House of 600 Beers” in Acland St, St Kilda, and he was right. It’s odd, it’s strangely “sprung” in terms of balance re big big malt and hops that keep on coming and it is emphatically NOT one of those light-hitting dark coloured but eee-zee drinkin’ fellers.
But it is a very satisfying heavy duty beer that charges the cake hole and keeps on a-whompin’. Genuinely complex, not entirely civilised but strangely slick for all its brawling eccentricities. Not 100% one of my home styles, but I absolutely see why folks would go for this. 9.5 on the Leapster scale.
FOUNDERS BREWING BREAKFAST STOUT (Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 355ml, 8.3%)
Brewery of what I’d call consistently eccentric product-base that for me has a remarkably high success rate. I consider them pretty reliable. In my experience they’re not who you go to for conventional ‘session beers’ that you can stick on all evening. If they do that stuff, I haven’t come across it. What they do very well is beers you could knock down walls with. One thing I don’t go for a lot is additives in beer outside of the usual barley malt/hops/yeast/water and maybe sugar deal. To me, if you want eccentric flavours, you can produce those with that list of ingredients. What the more abbey-oid, craft-ingling end of the Belgian beer spectrum do with conventional ingredients proves this, I think. However this stout includes chocolate and coffee additives, and really does a memorable fantastic job of it. A stout is a stout. You don’t stick it in your drinking roster where a lager would go. But this is a beauty. Unpretentious, no mentions of Imperials or Russians, and it’s bigger and more engaging in flavour than many of the alternatives. I like it a lot. 10 out of 11 on the LLL scale.
ROGUE MOCHA PORTER (Newport, Oregon, USA, 355ml, 5.3%)
Drinks crisp for a porter, especially as it’s not short of flavour. The flavour may be the problem. If you’re a hardcore coffee drinker, the bitter real coffee hit looming over the shoulder of the grainy, slightly gritty black malt might be just what you’ve been tracking down in Hankerville. I like coffee and real coffee-flavoured other stuff that isn’t coffee, and this is just too bitter for me. There’s no creeping sweetness like you get with some big and dark beers. Had there been, I’d like it more. But it’s the absence of exactly that which makes it surprisingly light-tootsied and refreshing for the style. If it sounds like something you’d go for, it probably is. For me, 7.5 out of 11, but if you’re one of those folks who don’t reckon it’s coffee unless it’s brutal enough to break the little cup in half and then kick your head off, bump that up maybe a point and a half. The beer isn’t that powerhouse in the coffee department, but those are the folks who I suspect would most enjoy it.
HOLGATE TEMPTRESS (Woodend, Vic, 6%)
And here we go again. Labelled as a ‘chocolate porter’, but where you might expect the slightly sweeter kick and the extra body, there isn’t. But it’s a smooth drinker, it’s not chewy or grainy at all, and there’s a few intertwining strands to the flavour package without making a whole fandango out of it. The oddest thing about it is that the alcohol seems prominent, possibly pushed more out of the background by the vanilla beans in the mix. It’s probably the most defining characteristic of a beer that is otherwise not overly emphatic in any particular direction, and it will probably be the deal-sealer or deal-breaker on how much you like it. I’m consistently somewhere between Snooze Valley and Confusion Junction on this brewer’s product. In this case, I don’t find it under-carbonated, I think it has its merits and it lives up to its style claims. It’s just not something that dazzles me. You may feel differently. 7.5 out of 11.
ESTRELLA GALICIA PREMIUM LAGER (Coruna, Spain, 4.7%)
Let’s change up a little lighter, and loaf around with a lager. I like the tendency to err slightly on the side of malt in some of the Spanish and Italian beers. They generally seem to know to punctuate it with enough hops so all stays cool in the neck-wetting stakes. I don’t entirely get why they put maize in their beers, but it never seems to rain on the proverbial parade particularly. I hadn’t staggered across this one in a while, and it’s perfectly serviceable, and would carry off a decent-level impersonation of a session beer in the usual Euro lager tradition, but I can’t say it’s exceptional. It’s vaguely in the Peroni Red ballpark, probably a shade or two finer in flavour – i.e. ‘fine’ in degree and style, not necessarily meaning merit. As a lighter style lager, I can see the benefit. It’s around 7.5 out of 11 on the Leapster scale.