Ale to the King.

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Brew at the Bog Special: Review: The Beers

Brew at the Bog, a festival who’s beer is supplied almost exclusively by Brewdog? This is something Ale to the King couldn’t say no to!

Ale to the King believes that beer is best viewed in the context in which it exists, be that history, whether its from bottle, draft or pimped-out carton, environment its drunk in, distance from birthplace… the list is almost endless. So Brewdog beer served at an inaugural festival that bears much of their branding in the Highlands was a special context indeed.

The beer selection looked great, with pre-festival reports of Punk IPA, 5AM Saint, Zeitgeist Black Lager, 77 Lager and the IPA is Dead range (Citra, Bramling Cross, Sorachi Ace and Nelson Sauvin). Sadly, upon arrival the IPA is Dead range was nowhere to be seen and bar staff weren’t sure what had happened to it. A shame, since I was really looking forward to trying those I have yet to have the pleasure of, but the beers offered were still something to get excited about!

The weather was incredibly cold, the wind and chill blasting in from the Moray Firth, bringing with it flakes of white from the snowcapped mountains. The first beer I tried, and my general go-to grog, was the Punk IPAThe cold really pervaded all the beers, blasting them ice-cold. Using Ale to the King’s previous review as a control, the iciness of the Punk IPA on pump really brought out the tropical flavours, totally overriding the citrus notes. It also boosted the sweetness in the after-taste, leaving the mouth feeling like it was coated in glycerine. Certainly odd but for a different, exciting tasting experience I’d really recommend throwing a can or two in the freezer and drinking at sub-zero temperatures.

The 5AM Saint on pump was similarly altered by the temperatures (I really felt sorry for the bar staff, clutching freezing cans and plastic cups all day). Compared to how it normally comes it was especially sharp and mouth-clenchingly tart. Unusually it took on a very bitter quality on the mid-taste and there was a great, new prickliness to the after-taste. Another one to put in the freezer for a taste experiment.

The 77 Lager was, predictably, unaltered by the cold. Being a lager its naturally served cold; not this cold mind, which lowered the flavour intensity somewhat and really brought out a quality of fine mineral water.

The Zeitgeist Black Lager felt extra carbonated and left a pleasurable tingle on the lips that turned prickly in the cold air. Despite this extra fizz the Zeitgeist Black Lager brought out a unique and overwhelming peppery flavour. A serious twist on an already intriguing beer and another worth experimenting with.

So despite the lack of the IPA is Dead range the beverages on offer at Brew at the Bog were a brilliant, very interesting lot that really changed in the conditions the festival afforded. Unless the beer storage and delivery are changed next year, prepare your tastebuds for an intriguing and surprising journey.

Review: Punk IPA

Beer: Punk IPA
Brewery: Brewdog
Type: India Pale Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 5.6% Vol.
Film watched while reviewing: Total Recall

This is a powerhouse of a beer. Punk IPA isn’t weak, weighing in at a respectable 5.6% and has a Hell of a nose. As soon as I poured it into my dimple mug I was hit by an immediate kick of overwhelming elderflower with a slight hint of flour. It also comes with a pungent citrus flavour that lights up the nostrils.

The colour is gorgeous, a bright golden hue like sunshine topped with a bright white, thick, foamy head.

The first element of the sip doesn’t have a great deal to it. There’s a slight lime and grapefruit flavour. Its on the midtaste however where things really kick into gear. The grapefruit becomes ultra-bitter, along with the lime and other tropical fruit flavours, but the kind of fruits that come in sugary sweeties. These really cling to the sides of the mouth.

The after-taste to finish has the highest level of carbonation of what is a very lightly carbonated drink. The flavours die down and stay at a nice level, hovering at a level most other beers never reach the punch of at their height; and boy does it linger. It won’t dislodge from your maw any time soon.

This is a fantastic beer and one of Ale to the King‘s all time favourites. Its a very singular experience, pure, driven and powerful, like watching Crank or listening to a Motorhead album, and thus it delivers exhilaration few can match.

When in doubt, when you can, go for Punk IPA.

Review: Bombardier

Beer: Bombardier
Brewery:  Wells & Young’s
Type: Extra Special Bitter
Served: Bottled
Alc: 4.7% Vol.
Show watched while reviewing: Alan Carr: Chatty Man/Stand Up for the Week.

For a beer that makes such strong claims to ties to traditional English brewing its a shame that Wells’ Bombardier lists two ingredients as Colour E105C and Stabiliser E405. Its already got some points against it in my book for that reason.

However, it does have a lovely chestnut brown colour, the type you’d expect from an old English fashioned beer. But that’s what the colourant is probably for. The somewhat fluffy white head stays nicely atop the drink and doesn’t go anywhere fast.

On the nose there’s a sweet but not sickly flavour of something akin to squashed-hard candy-floss which seems to eminate from the foam.

The foretaste is slight, a pleasant honey flavour with a smoothness that pervades the whole taste. The mid-taste leads on to something rubbery and something like a smooth walnut purée.

Smoothness is also present in the after-taste which is very faintly smokey, like the taste of cigarette smoke but if it were actually pleasant.

Its a sleight beer, smooth and palatable, but just knowing it has those chemicals in it means Ale to the King can’t, within my heart, recommend it. Even as I drink it I can only think ‘this isn’t fair; they’ve cheated to create this’ and like an Olympic athlete using illegal drugs to enhance performance, it has to be disqualified.

Review: Bad King John

Beer: Bad King John
Brewery: Ridgeway Brewing
Type: Stout
Served: Bottled
Alc: 6.0% Vol.
Show watched while reviewing: Top Gear

Ale to the King’s first review since Aledvent Calendbeer goes back to its English roots with Bad King John by Ridgeway Brewing. I was first attracted to this one because of the lovely old, old, old fashioned label modelled after the Bayeux Tapestry.

This is a beer that will confound your expectations. When pouring you’re confronted with an impenetrable wall of blackness by the beers colouring; honestly, its pitch black. The head, however, is surprisingly light for a beer of this colour, there is very little of it however and it doesn’t hang around for long.  Its also a very sticky beer that leaves very definite legs (if a wine term can be appropriated) that do, by contrast, hang around.

The nose is pretty malty and has the sweetness that comes with that giving a definite flavour of golden syrup and coca cola.

On the first sip however it has a very light taste, strangely so and quite oddly fruity, bringing to mind fresh apricots. The mid-taste subtly switches, however, to an opposite taste. Its roasted, almost burt, like a very well done roast chicken covered in the requisite and traditional herbs.

The after-taste is another roasted taste, but from a totally different, famously roasted item, that of rich, high quality coffee. Its really delicious and the viscosity of the beer really makes this not only cling to your mouth but is so thick it actually seems like its pushing it into the walls of your maw.

There’s a slight fizz showing not a great deal of yeast at work but this is a very nice beer, if not excellent, but the complexity and subtly are stand out qualities, especially in a stout.

Review: Christmas Ale 2011 – Aledvent Calendbeer 25

Beer: Christmas Ale (2011)
Brewery: Anchor Brewing
Type: Spiced Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 5.5% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 25

Merry Christmas! Here we are, the final beer in Ale to the King and possibly, hopefully your festive countdown towards the big day itself. Just going by the bottle and label itself I knew immediately this would be the one that would see us out in style. With bold, red capitals declaring MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR surrounded by a very nice, old fashioned tree this not only celebrates the big day but also welcomes in the new year.

Very appropriate I thought, but I’m pretty new to a lot of the world of ale so I was very pleased to hear this was even more in the spirit of Christmas than I’d thought. Turns out Anchor Brewery has brewed a special  Christmas ale every year since 1975, entirely unique, a different, closely guarded recipe every time. And this year’s is a cracker (pun entirely intended).

The nose is absolutely delicious, very unique and very defined. Its brilliantly spicy and immediately hits with strong crystal ginger. Its a great sensation that’s slightly backed up with mulling spices.

On pouring the head is a creamy tan and has real staying power way down to the glass. The colour is a very dark chocolate or heavily varnished old wood.

On the taste you’ll notice its incredibly dry, the driest I’ve ever tasted that really sucks the mouth together. Unfortunately the taste is a little more muddled and undefined than the nose.

The foretaste is of dried figs mixed in with the spices is not unpleasant but isn’t entirely a treat. The mid-taste is rather more pleasurable and the spices, which dominates right through to the end, compliment the sweetness and dryness of the roast chestnut tones.

On the after-taste the spices come together with remnants of the crystal ginger, dried figs and chestnut into a melange of notes which is where the dryness really kicks in. Unfortunately this is a warm, cottony flavour which leads to a certain clagginess that’s perhaps overly-emphasised by the dryness.

So, ultimately its a beer with a lot of promise that fails to deliver on that, but its still something very special and unique regardless. In a way, it sums up one of the most iconic things of Christmas, a knitted sweater from your grandma. You hope its going to be something great, and despite being what it is, you just have too much goodwill and appreciation for the effort that’s gone into it to regard it with anything other than warm feelings. Merry Christmas.

Review: Delirium Christmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 24

Beer: Delirium Christmas
Brewery: Delirium
Type: Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc:  10% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 24 

The end is in sight and the big Two Five of Christmas day approaches. But many people say Christmas Eve is more fun than the day itself. Not exactly Ale to the King‘s view but one that’s entirely understandable, especially given the excellent Delirium Christmas. The bottle is exciting enough itself, with a beautiful and fun label that utterly reflects the brewery at first glance while also gives it a very unique Christmas spin. I’ve always been a fan of Delirium bottles, with their grey speckled glass and pink elephant and this version does them proud.

As soon as you release the bottle cap you’re struck immediately with a hit of very ripe, soft banana to begin with but then you get a an absolutely delicious and unique ice cream soda. I’ve never detected that in a beer before while I’ve been properly tasting but its a sensation I hope crops up much more often. Beyond that there’s also a nice sublte note of shredded wheat.

On the taste the entire thing is dominated again by that delicious soft banana and there’s some great fizz that stays with the beer all the way to the end, which is a real sign of quality.

Into specifics however the foretaste has a nice, bitter tang of Copella apple juice that seems particular to that brand. The mid-taste begins as nettles which morphs into the tingle of warm spiced cider. Its a Christmas taste that’s very particular to the season, particularly the kind served in the cold of a German market, but is rarely replicated in a festive beer and its an unexpected treat here. As the after-taste matures it becomes a pleasingly sweet sensation.

The colour is also very appealing as well, a rich, hearty ochre-red that pours not just cloudy but has globulized tiny floating particles of yeast that pepper the entire drink and never float to the bottom. The head is a tan, off-white and quickly dissipates, but the floating globules are the mesmeric show that’s almost magical; how apt for Christmas.

This is a lovely treat and one you should pick up when you can.

Review: Gordon Xmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 23

Beer: Gordon Xmas
Brewery: Anthony Martin
Type:  Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 8.8% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 23

Interesting one this. Gordon Xmas isn’t the most Belgian of names. No surprise, Anthony Martin isn’t a Belgian brewery; however this Belgian style beer was brewed for a British company in Benelux, an economic union area of Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.   A belgian style strong ale, brewed for a British company, in an area defined by economics as the province of three European countries.

The nose is great, very obvious and blatant; a very pure bonfire toffee that’s very sweet and smoky. You can smell the charcoal too, like its a home-made version of the sweet eaten as you breathe in the fumes from the bonfire. Its a cliché but its a very sugar and spice smell.

Ale to the King has seen this before in similar kinds of beers, a foretaste that’s hard to describe as anything other than coca-cola. The drinker wants to search harder but what’s obvious is obvious; its a matter that comes down to how it doesn’t dance across the tongue. Now usually this is an admirable trait in a beer, but here the fact it doesn’t work that way. In fact it works in its favour; the flavours come very clear and what’s more intriguing is that its a beer you can hold at various stages of taste. Even more so that its a strong beer at 8.8%; the yeast doesn’t fizz along your tongue yet its powerful stuff.

On the mid-taste, which you can hold in that stage for much longer than the fore-taste by perhaps sheer viscosity, and it is a very viscous beer, there’s clear spiced nuts. But its also got an elusive something extra which Ale to the King can only put down as a little dried apricot.

The after-taste is way easier to detect; in fact it practically shouts at you; dry almonds in a sticky sweet, viscous texture form. It holds your mouth such is its thickness and lingers with great sweetness.

The colour is a nicely tempting dark bronze while the head a quickly dissipating creamy white. This is a fine beer and Ale to the King would recommend it to absolutely everyone.

Review: Christmas Porter – Aledvent Calendbeer 22

Beer: Christmas Porter
Brewery:  Brewdog
Type: Porter
Served: Bottled
Alc: 6.2% Vol.
Aledvent Calendbeer: 22

Ale to the King has had a run in with a Brewdog Christmas beer in the past and compared to its regular output it didn’t come off too well and was less of a Christmas cracker than a damp sprout.

This one’s colour reflects the cacao element of the ingredients, that make up the three advertised extra special additives along with chilli  and festive spices. The festive spices speak for themselves, but the chilli? Who knows. Because its Christmas I suppose, that’s why. The head is white but dissipates quickly.

The nose is surprisingly light for a beer of these ingredients and strength with a definite overriding vanilla tone.  You won’t pick much up on the fore-taste however; its annoyingly nothingy and can only really muster the taste of celery. On the mid-taste the taster will initially get a strange minty sensation but later on down the drink those festive spices you’d find in a cheap mulledwine reveal themselves.

On the after-taste the chilli does manifest itself nicely and quite powerfully and sets the tongue abuzz in a way a perhaps more fizzy, yeasty flavour should have done earlier. To spend a little longer lingering on the taste one will find the spices more resemble that of a curry, or tumeric. It’d be quite a nice experience but one can’t help feeling it betrays the festive spirit its trying to convey.

Its very admirable to try and mix it up a bit in that way in a limited edition, but am I just a stick in the mud by thinking experimentation is good, but if it veers so far away from something so explicitly Christmas, has it missed its own point?

Indeed this seems to be another case of too many chefs spoiling the pot as with Brewdog’s other festive beer reviewed this season. Thinking about it a couple of recent releases seem to have been made just for the sake of it to capitalize upon their meteoric rise to success; is our beloved Brewdog losing the plot and letting success go to its head?

It remains to be seen, but its the festive season, the season of forgiveness and the season to go a bit crazy, so despite this rather poor showing Ale to the King will let Brewdog have its moments of madness.

Review: Santa’s Swallie – Aldevent Calendbeer 21

Beer: Santa’s Swallie
Brewery:  The Inveralmond Brewery
Type: Scottish Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 4.3% Vol
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 21

Santa’s Swallie is this reviewer’s birthday beer, so lets hope it  The Inveralmond Brewery’s ale gives me a nice surprise instead of a let down.

Its a much paler beer than those of late on the Aledvent Calendbeer and the colour of lightish amber and the white, steadily dissipating head reflect this. It also got a noticeably sweet head, with a strong flavour of sugared almonds.

This is a beer that doesn’t want to reveal itself too fast and on first tastes has that sweetness of very ripe apricots walking all over the flavour. But once you give it a little explore there’s a few flavours to be had in between this initial blandness. There’s a bitterness on the foretaste, one of bitter lime drink without any gin. The mid-taste is one of the kind of wheat-grass one gets in those health drinks and for this reviewer to compare it to that isn’t a shining commendation.

The after-taste is just somewhat stale and I hate to say this but reminiscent of mainstream, claggy lager. Its a good job this reviewer’s birthday presents have been so damn good this year, because this ends a run of some very good beers with something that’s not just disappointing but a downright bad beer. To be fair the label does reek of ‘Christmas cash in beer’ and doesn’t seem at all like a quality brew and the beer only confirms that. If you want a happy Christmas its best stay away from this particular brew.

Review: Gouden Carolus Christmas – Aledvent Calendbeer 20

Beer: Gouden Carolus Christmas
Brewery: Brouwerij Het Anker
Type: Belgian Strong Ale
Served: Bottled
Alc: 10.5% Vol
Aledvent Calendbeer Number: 20

Well if Ale to the King thought it was on good ground with last nights 9% beer (this reviewer invariably prefers the taste of higher content beers) then we could be on for a winner with  Gouden Carolus Christmas from Brouwerij Het Anker, weighing in at a potent 10.5%. Yes, we’re in double figures now,  a scary place to be, but don’t we all like to step outside our comfort zone a little at Christmas?

This is a very dark brew, night on black; like an incredibly old, antique varnished wood. The head is pale off-white and dissipates quickly.

The nose smells of licorice, freshly split sapling and frankly alcohol. Perhaps a little too much on the latter part, but perhaps that’s my social predjudice of things smelling overtly of alcohol being considered tramp-fuel.

On the taste things are comparatively straight forward. Nothing hits you straight away and that’s perhaps because the yeast isn’t overly active and doesn’t make any taste dance across your tongue. The alcohol is fairly settled in and thus doesn’t kick you in the teeth like a lot newly infused cheap ‘supers’ and ‘extras’.

Its because the beer has a very simple taste. The fore taste is a very simple heavily salted butter note which matures into a very potent root beer profile. It merges rather unceremoniously into a very straight forward resin on the mid taste. On the after taste you get licorice. Some have said this is a the definitive taste of the beer but I think there’s a little more to it than that.

You’re left searching for something else, looking for something beyond these three flavours but you don’t really notice the alcohol until further down the drink. And that’s the trick. Its like hiding in plain sight, you totally bypass the alcohol through looking so hard and so its allowed to work its magic subtly, unnoticed. Its an undercurrent than runs through the entire beer, affecting and altering each of the three flavours without you noticing it.

Its almost like the beer is performing a magic trick which you don’t notice before you really examine it. Is it a great tasting beer? No. Good, yes, certainly. But that’s not what’s to be appreciated here. What’s to be really appreciated is the magic that Brouwerij Het Anker have pulled for Christmas time, just like Father Christmas.

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