Wednesday, 13 May 2009

A Beer Night: Number Two

A few months ago we had a beer night and it was a proper riot. This weekend we had another. The main purpose, other than just drinking lots of good beer, was to open the mini-keg of Thornbridge Halcyon that I picked up from my brewery visit in March. The night was as before: we open a beer, drink it and give it a score out of ten. Yes, it’s a really simplistic and reductive way of marking beer but that’s how we do it. It’s only a bit of fun. Although it’s hard rating beer like that and far from scientific; it’s simply a reflection of what we enjoyed (or didn’t) on the night, scored by four guys with different tastes in beer.

This beer night was enjoyed by Me, Matt (who was with me on the brewery visit and co-owned the cask, and whose flat was ground control for the evening), Sean (who was also at the last beer night) and Lee (who wrote this fine piece about San Francisco and City Beer Store).

This is how the night went, in this order.

1. Sakara Gold. 4.0%
Egyptian lager brewed by a subsidiary of Heineken. Matt recently returned from a holiday to Egypt and brought a few beers back with him. This one was pretty nasty. Fizzy, soapy, bland. No distinct flavours. The sort of stuff which probably tastes great under the Egyptian sun but which tastes bloody shit in a basement flat in Camden.

Mark: 1.5
Matt: 3
Lee: 4
Sean: 4
Total: 12.5

2. Stella. 4.5%
No, not that Stella. This was another Egyptian bottle, presumably trying to cash in on the name of the other one. This is also brewed by a Heineken subsidiary and has apparently (according to the bottle) been brewed since 1897. You would’ve thought in that time they would’ve been able to make it taste of something. Nope. My notes read: ‘tastes the same as Sakara - maybe a nastier tang, maybe more sweetness’.

Mark: 1.5
Matt: 3
Lee: 4
Sean: 4.5
Total: 13

3. BrewDog Zephyr. 12.5%
I wanted to get this one in early before our palates started getting knackered. There’s not much more to say about this beer that I didn’t say in this post. It’s just incredible. Everyone was blown away by it. There is just so much going on in this beer that sharing a 330ml bottle between four was just not enough. It’s got biscuit grain, so much tart (a Cantillon-esque quality) and sweet strawberry flavour, loads of character from the whisky barrel (smoke, oak, vanilla) and the boozy ABV only comes through in the warm glow that it leaves behind. Just wow. Better than a fine Champagne. I can’t wait to see what a year or two does to this beer (which I accounted for in the marking by knocking of a ½ mark).

Mark: 9
Matt: 9
Lee: 7.5
Sean: 8.5
Total: 34

4. Adelscott. 5.8%
It’s one of those beers you see in France in cans or little stubby bottles. This one was from the can. If you remember Desperados from the last Beer Night then this is a fair equivalent (minus the Proustian feelings on my part). It’s a ‘whisky beer’ in the loosest sense. And it’s another Heineken brew. Ridiculous. A beer night and three of the first four beers are made by Heineken?! Anyway… this is super-sweet but some hints of bourbon (really?! bourbon?) are in there, mainly a nutty-cherry flavour. The beer has no finish. Pretty crap, although knocking back one is no problem.

Mark: 4
Matt: 4
Lee: 5
Sean: 5
Total: 18

5. Stone IPA. 6.9%.
This had been in my fridge for too long and I feared that it was going to be past its best. And it was, which was a real shame and the marks are no reflection on how good this beer really is. But that’s how beer nights work – you mark it on how good it tastes there and then. Tonight it was fairly sweet, plenty of the C-hop character was there, it was just dulled down and instead of its usual juicy, fresh bitterness at the end it was dry and piny and missing an oomph. Even though it wasn’t as good as it could be it still did pretty well.

Mark: 7
Matt: 7
Lee: 6
Sean: 6.5
Total: 26.5

7. Gadds’ Oyster Stout. 6.2%.
Sean and Matt’s local brewery and it’s the brewery which made them who they are. This is a great looking stout with milk chocolate, roasted grain and candy sugar in the nose. In the mouth it’s chocolaty, toasty and coffee-bitter at the end with a great earthy and oaty sweetness. I love this brewery and they are doing some excellent things. Eddie the brewer has a blog here and if I were to stick my neck out I’d say that Gadds’ brewery could be one of the next big things in British brewing (ssh, say it quietly…).

Mark: 7.5
Matt: 6.5
Lee: 8
Sean: 7.5
Total: 29.5

8. Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel. 10.9%.
I picked this up at the Planet Thanet Beer Festival last month. I was there with Matt and Sean and thought I should share it. Crudely put, it’s brewed with coffee beans that have been eaten by, and then crapped out of, a weasel (here's the Mikkeller blog about the poo beans). You might think that Zephyr couldn’t be beaten? Well I’m going to go right out there and say something big: this is one of the best beers I’ve ever had. I absolutely loved it. It looks so sexy in black with a creamy, tan head. It’s all chocolate and coffee and earth in the nose. The body is smooth and rich and thick. It’s oaty and going savoury and there’s earthy-lemony hops at the end. There’s bitterness from the coffee and loads of dark chocolate. It’s so addictively drinkable. I am so glad that I bought two beers when I got the chance. Just mind-blowing.

Mark: 9.5
Matt: 8
Lee: 8.5
Sean: 9
Total: 35

9. Thornbridge Halcyon. Mini-keg. 7.7%.
What a superb beer this is and we had 9 pints of it to share. Lots of caramel beneath a huge floral, earthy, dry bitterness. For its strength it’s very easy drinking, balancing on that knife-edge between sweet and bitter, calling you back in for more sweetness to ease the bitterness. This beer is something special, but then everything Thornbridge do is mighty fine. Halcyon is Jaipur on steroids, as Kelly Ryan describes it here.

Mark: 8.5
Matt: 7.5
Lee: 7
Sean: 6.5
Total: 29.5

10. Thornbridge Halcyon. Bottle. 7.7%.
I wanted to try the mini-keg and bottle side by side to look for any differences. This bottle is the 2008 vintage green-hopped with Targets. It’s similar to the mini-keg just with more fruitiness and pine bitterness in the hop bite at the end. I got oranges, pineapple and tropical fruit in there on top of a big bitter kick and that sweet toffee base. The other difference that we felt between the two was that the bottle was slightly less bitter than the keg (the keg is dry-hopped and the IBUs are bumped up a few points) and fruitier. This is one great bottled beer. I really can’t wait until Thornbridge can get more bottles out when they move to their new brewery.

Mark: 8.5
Matt: 7.5
Lee: 7.5
Sean: 7
Total: 30.5

11. BrewDog Paradox Springbank. 10%.
Another fairly rare beer (to go with the Zephyr, Beer Geek Brunch Weasel and mini-keg of Halcyon), this was brewed for the Japanese market and only a small number were sold in the UK. It’s a great barrel-aged stout, chocolate, smoke, cherry and coconut. It’s earthy and packed with dried fruit. A proper good barrel aged imperial stout.

Mark: 8
Matt: 7
Lee: 7.5
Sean: 8
Total: 30.5

12. Meister Max. 8%.
Another Egyptian beer. For this I will simply type in exactly what my drunken notes say. ‘Boozy, ethanol, over-sweet, odd. Egyptian stuff of earlier plus more booze. Very undrinkable – not good. Too strong and not enough flavour. Stupid. (Heineken again).’ My favourite part is ‘stupid’ because it describes the beer so aptly. This was horrible. And considering the beers which came before it it was lucky to get the high scores that it achieved.

Mark: 1
Matt: 1
Lee: Missed this one as he had to get the tube home, no great loss for him.
Sean: 0.5
Total: 2.5/30

There we go, another little beer night enjoyed. We were trying to decide whether this one or the previous one was better for the beers but we couldn’t come to a decent conclusion. I think that the better few beers on each night were just so good that it didn’t matter about all the other ones in between. As a recap on this one, the top three were:

1. Mikkeller Beer Geek Brunch Weasel (the best shit beer in the world)
2. BrewDog Zephyr (the most complex beer I’ve ever had)
3. Thornbridge Halcyon Bottle (surprisingly the bottle just edges it, but neither Lee nor Sean are hop heads so preferred the less-bitter bottle) and BrewDog’s Paradox Springbank

These nights are great fun and we have plans for a couple more - one for a stout and dark beer night (probably when it gets colder) and one for a Belgian special featuring a battle royale between year-old versions of some classics. The best thing about these nights is that we always have a great time and get to share great (and some terrible) beers. Opening the beers, talking about them and enjoying them together has the ability to make a great beer that much greater. Beer is made for sharing, it's the most social drink in the world and there's nothing else like it.

Notes: we served everything in over-sized wine-glasses like total nonces and we opened the keg at the very beginning and drank it throughout the night. We didn’t rate dinner this time (for those interested, it was pizza from Somerfield and was average at best). And for the record, Sean wanted it known that he was massively hung over from the Reading beer festival the day before. Pussy.


  1. Neither Sakara nor Stella Ordinary taste any better under the Egyptian sun, though I'd have ranked the former slightly ahead: they do a fine pint in the Sofitel Cairo. Stella Extra is Egypt's drinkable lager and I have to question what kind of so-called friend didn't bring any back for you. Yum yum.

    Totally agree with you on the Meister Max. And there's a Stella equivalent which tastes exactly the same.

  2. Is Avery's disease contagious? I have never, nor will I ever drink a beer from a wine glass! I don't care if Christ himself is in town!

  3. TBN, now I know about this Stella Extra I am also questioning him... I bring Mikkeller, he brings Stella!

    I don't really get the Meister Max and when it is drinkable in Egypt?!

    Wurst, come on man, you aren't meant to take much notice of the small print! We used wine glasses because Matt had four of them and if we'd have had pint glasses to share a bottle of 330ml beer then we'd have just got a silly little amount in the bottom of each. A glass is a glass and this did us well all night. Even filled to the top from the cask :)

  4. Sounds like and awesome night! I really need to get my hands on a Weasel and the Zephyr, they sound fantastic. I'm calling the new mega-beer store here in Atlanta when I get home and see if they can get them.

  5. I think the Egyptian special brew is for when you feeling like being naughty and contravening the Divine 18th Amendment, but want to get it done quickly.

  6. Mark, you might be able to get the Weasel but it's unlikely you'll find the Zephyr - the bottle I had was a pre-release and they only sold 35 of them. They are selling 750ml bottles soon though, but there's only going to be 250ish! It's a pretty special and rare brew.

    TBN, good point. Surely there's a tastier way of doing it though? Double house vodka and diet coke (made by Heineken?! they seem to have monopolised the beer), perhaps.

  7. Nice. Looks like you had a lot of fun.

  8. Funnily enough I once went to a lecture about research into how glass shape affects flavour. I think the gist of it was that as different glasses have to be drunk from at different angles the tilt of your head will vary and this affects how the aroma gets to your nose. Those Belgians might be on to something ...

  9. So I take it the weasel beer is not vegan then? ;-)

    Another fine night it seems. Now I'm really jonesing for the Zephyr. Like I true junky I immediately turned to paranoid reverie--How'd he get *two* bottles???