Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Smoke Beers Round the Campfire...

During the previous week a mate of mine had his 30th birthday, where we enjoyed a few mid-week Guinness at the Drunken Poet (all ready for St Pat's Day this weekend). We decided that with a long weekend coming up, we should use it to go camping to continue the celebrations.

We made our way down to Apollo Bay, and after our first attempt getting lost, we made it to the place we thought would be good for camping. However, seeing we were a bit late getting out there, a lot of families had already set up, and seeing this camp was going to be a bit boozy, we thought it best to move on. Being disappointed by the next try, we were on our way to another option with my eyes on the sun as it started getting low. Thinking we were lost, we stopped at an intersection and as we were turning around to go back to a clearing we had found near the road to just set up for the night, we spotted a small sign for the camping spot. Getting to the site, we again saw lots of families and not much space to set ourselves up with, but noticing the camping spilled out onto the other side of the field, we found a spot amongst the trees to quickly set up the tents before it got dark...Phew.

Seeing we got there late-ish, we just had a bbq and Coopers Pale Ale around the campfire. A good staple of mine it went down well as we talked crap and enjoyed see the stars and the moonlight through the trees, while being slightly annoyed by those getting too drunk on the other side of the field.

Using the quiet of the morning to check out area and take photos of the nature around us, we put the field beside us to good use with cricket and frisbee, while trying to keep out of the way of kids on their little motorbikes. After immersing ourselves (as much as we could in this setting) with nature by the river, we set ourselves up for the evening and I sorted out the beer journey.
With the theme of smoke beers to go with the camp setting, we started in Canada with a Dieu du Ciel Carbonniere. I though this would be good especially with the potential some of us may not have tried this style of beer before, as I think this is a good beginner smoke beer. The sweet malt character keeps the smoked ham aspect back a bit.
Next off the block (block, wood, burning, smoke...get it?[ahh, almost a bad as the dad jokes coming out over the weekend]) was the Haandbryggeriet Norwegian Wood (wood eh?...and the bad jokes keep coming). Happily I found the extra layer of Juniper berries was a good step up, and found the lads enjoyed the added dimension to the beer. I found the smoke was sensed more in smell than taste, as the berries really overtook the smokiness on the palate, even thought I liked the combination.
Stepping up in flavour and tradition in this style, was the Aecht Schlenterla Fiche Doppelbock. Definitely a beer I wanted to try after our own attempt with the Hickory Stickery Bock. The doppelbock style sweetness was quite big in it, so of course I enjoyed it personally. The other really interesting aspect of this smoke beer is that instead of beech wood being used to smoke the malt, oak is used instead. I'm not sure if it diminishes the 'smokiness' of the beer, or if the doppelbock simply takes over the flavour on the front of the tongue, but the spiciness that comes towards the back I guess shows that they may have used french oak ('duh, the beer is made in Germany' I heard you say), and really added another dimension to the beer. I think we also senses a bit of saltiness in this beer to go with the spice on the back edges of the tongue.
Unfortunately, the upward trend did not continue with the 8 Wired The Big Smoke, which while I thought the roasted dark malt would work well with the smokiness, it did not seem to work out that way. The dark malt aspect came off a bit too astringent for me, with some bitterness at the back which overtook the smoke and left you with an ordinary taste in your mouth.

Alright, now for the big step up, and what I had really been looking forward to. Having both Yeastie Boys peated smoke beers available to try together was pretty cool for me. Having heard a bit of hype I was a little concerned I thought I would be polarised towards the group that don't appreciate these beers. With us with a sample of each beers at the same time meant we could really compare and contrast the two.
The original Rex Attitude was a real step up from the previous beers, as there was a real density or broadness to the smoke, and it reminded me of one of my favourite beers, the Mikkeller Black in Islay Wiskey barrels, so I latched onto it ok. I guess, the problem is that being use to having the dark base beer backing up the peatiness, the smoke came off a bit high noted and dry, even though it had a good body to carry it over the tongue. When tasting it against the xeRRex, the depth of the peaty smoke came off a whole lot better for me personally as it seemed better integrated, rich but balanced through the extra strength. However, these beers being what they are, there was a definite divide as to which one each of us enjoyed more. Those that may have been whiskey drinkers probably enjoyed the original than the imperial version of this beer. Still, a most impressive couple of beers could be agreed on by all.

Seeing we could not take the smoke any further than where it was, it was time to change tact and just bring on some big classic beer. Stass pulled out a Grand Ridge Supershine, which we have had a case of for a couple of years now. The beer has melded greatly over that time with some great butterscotch and toffee notes, which of course I personally loved. It seemed many of us were the same, and was a great beer to reset our tastebuds with (as much as was possible at this stage of the journey). To celebrate a year since Stass and I first tasted it, I took a bottle of Brooklyn Brewery Black Chocolate Stout to share with the boys. Again, the dark chocolate flavour is so full and rich in this imperial stout, it just goes down a dream, and made our own home brew imperial stout taste worse than it really is. Still, it got us to where we wanted to end up, content.

After the first night, it was interesting after these beers there was a bit more thoughtful conversations had. Like the questioning that occurs when appreciating a good beer reflects itself back onto the drinker, and they start looking at themselves. Still, the alcohol fueled contentment that bring on this questioning and a hypnotic campfire, keeps the conversation relaxed and philosophical, and was great to have one of these with the birthday boy.

So, a big thanks to the boys for being my guinea pigs for another beer journey, and being open to the beers I had to show them. Of course, there is also a big Happy 30th Birthday to be given to Tim.



PS: The interesting thing about tasting smoke beers around a campfire, is that the next day, your clothes smell like the beers you were tasting the night before.

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