14 January 2010

Snob factor 9

There's nothing we stuck-up euro beer geeks like more than cracking open a couple of lovely Sierra Nevada Torpedos and guffawing over how those clueless Americans keep getting our local styles wrong, the fools. Wheat beers tend to be Exhibit A: very few US craft breweries seem to have got the hang of the spicy Belgian variety or the full and fruitsome Bavarian iteration. And then there's tripel. I did rather enjoy the Alesmith-Mikkeller-Stone joint effort recently, but as a juicily-hopped American beer rather than a warmly piquant Belgian-style one.

Which brings me to Victory's Golden Monkey, a straight-up attempt at a tripel by the Pennsylvania brewer. This is a remarkably light and thin affair. It has that slow-building tripel warmth -- at 9.5% ABV it would want to -- but it just doesn't build high enough, dropping away into wateriness after the first few seconds. The spices are in place, but again not to enough of a degree. In fact, what with the coriander and orange peel vibe, and the lightness of touch, this could nearly pass for a very good Belgian witbier, except without the quaffability. It's a good beer, and enjoyable drinking, but I can't help feeling it needs to raise its game a bit more if it's to stand beside real Belgian tripels. That or, like the Alesmith-Mikkeller-Stone one, be its own unique thing and sod the damn Belgians.

Moving on, I'm finding it harder to be snooty about Victory's Storm King imperial stout (though obviously I'll give it my best shot) because, while I've enjoyed many in this style from American brewers, and from European craft breweries who work in the American vernacular, I've very little reference to what what an "proper" old-fashioned British imperial stout should taste like. The 16-year-old Courage Imperial Stout I had a couple of years back (thanks Ron!) wouldn't exactly be typical, though the well-balanced Czar's Imperial from White Shield brewery, sampled at last year's Great British Beer Festival, would perhaps be closer to the mark. A mark that Storm King misses completely. Now, never let it be said that I have something against big west-coast hops in black beer: I don't, and I'll offer both Yeti and Gonzo as examples of how it can be done well, even in strong dark beers. But Victory have over-egged this one badly, in my opinion. I mean, the beer smells lovely, with succulent peaches overlaying sweet dark malt: not what one might expect from an imperial stout, but good beer is good beer and labels aren't important. Hope dies with the first sip. It's horribly, sharply, bitter, and this is accentuated by very high carbonation. No quarter is given to smoothness or warmth. The roasted flavours come in second, jarringly dry and rather acrid, and the finish is given back to the hops, being harshly metallic. It's certainly an interesting beer: there's lots and lots to keep your darling little tastebuds occupied, but more in a House of Horrors sort of way than a pleasant nature walk.

So, it's not that Storm King isn't a "proper" imperial stout: I wouldn't enjoy it regardless of the designation. And I do rather like Golden Monkey for all its untripelness, I just wouldn't swap it for the "real" thing (reminding me that I have a blind tasting of tripels to do here some time soon). I guess you just have to be happy there are people out there willing to take the risk, throw tradition to the wind and mess about with so-called perceived wisdom. The world of beer is better for them.

Snobby and patronising: I'm on a roll today.

22 comments:

  1. Well, to be a total snob I find most Victory beers ill balanced, so totally get where you're coming from here.

    'good beer is good beer and labels aren't important' - amen to that.

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  2. Well, Hop Wallop's definitely off-kilter, IMO, but I thought cask HopDevil was the very picture of equilibrium. And damn tasty with it.

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  3. Hop Devil in a bottle is unashamedly imbalanced towards the hops in my opinion, unless you sip it over the course of a full screening of the original Seven Samurai in which case you have time to allow the background spiciness flourish and even things out a little. Still, hop heavy, would love to try on cask.

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  4. Thanks Mark. Interesting to know. I must give it a go.

    Though obviously there's another beer much better suited for pairing with The Seven Samurai.

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  5. I've HEARD lots of good things about Victory but never actually TASTED any good things. The HopWallops and HopDevils I've had have been way past their freshness or just missing something and I didn't like the Storm King - to me it was overpoweringly full of neat booze flavour.

    Still, I keep an open mind. And I'm happy to drink Americanisations of styles to see how they take the tradition and make it their own.

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  6. I fear I am becoming something of an authenticity snob, and this is even rubbing off on Mrs Velkyal who is now a devotee of proper IPA, not the hopbominations from the West Coast (although I quite like them).

    Perhaps it is a question of expectation more than anything, when I see the word "pilsner" on a label, I have very clear ideas of what it should be like, and so when BrewDog for example come out with a "pilsner" which so clearly isn't, then I am disappointed, whether or not it is a "good" beer is another question.

    There is a reason that these beer styles became so popular (ignoring here the argument about glass becoming affordable), and that is because they were perceived to be better than whatever else was out there at the time.

    I do sometimes wonder if I am too much of a "European Beer Geek" for the scene over here - will post about that soon.

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  7. Dare I ask what a "proper IPA" is?

    I'll bring the can opener, you bring the worms.

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  8. perhaps I should have said "British IPA"? But then that could suggest Greene King's (waste of) effort.

    Maybe, IPA made with British hops? But then if you can have an "American IPA" then surely there must have been an original, or "proper" IPA to begin with?

    Should I duck now sir?

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  9. No, no. You keep digging. You're doing a great job.

    We could leave it at "White Shield" and say no more.

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  10. Sounds like a plan to me!

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  11. American Stout:
    http://www.gooseisland.com/pages/bourbon_county_stout/59.php

    I know you like Goose Island from reading this blog. You would probably would like this one.

    As for selection, not sure if you have been in an American supermarket but after my Dublin visit, not too long ago, I was truly disappointed in the choice of beer and it made me appreciate the choices I have when I go pick up a beer or more on this side of the water. Thanks for the Red MacGregor review as that was great stuff. Picked up an 1845 today and will need to try that out this weekend, too.

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  12. Yeah, I've been meaning to pick up a Bourbon County -- it arrived here late last year.

    As regards selection, it's great here, but you don't go to a supermarket for it. That's why Beermapping is so incredibly useful.

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  13. I unwisely ordered a pint (imperial pint) of Storm King in New York last year. What was I thinking? Didn't enjoy it much and it took me far along to the road to Smashedville in the early afternoon.

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  14. I though the triple was a little bit of a let does myself and the stout to thin or such a big beer, but the stout did peak my interest in American hops in stouts again.

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  15. Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...
    "Hop Devil in a bottle is unashamedly imbalanced towards the hops in my opinion"

    I couldn't agree with this more. Just had this beer and I thought exactly the same. The hops just smash their way through and kill off everything else. No balance at all. It's easy to put loads of hops in an IPA, it's not easy to put loads of hops in an IPA ... and get a balance, tasty result.

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  16. "As regards selection, it's great here, but you don't go to a supermarket for it. That's why Beermapping is so incredibly useful."

    Or homebrew, which is how I, thankfully, ran across Irish Craft Brewer, which is how I ran across your blog here.

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  17. Ha! Indeed. The best antidote to hunting down Cascade and Centennial-driven beers and paying €3+ for 355ml bottles of them is to make your own in 20L batches for buttons.

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  18. Hop Wallop is a really interesting beer. 've never found anything else that so clearly demonstrates the effect of time on hop character. Fresh, it's almost overpowering, but 6-9 months in, and it's superb.

    I haven't managed to let any sit around for more than 9 months.

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  19. Dammit that's two Victory beers I have to go out and buy now.

    You people...

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  20. I quite enjoyed Hop Wallop. It seemed balanced so perhaps it was an older bottle.

    I found Storm King very challnging but on the whole enjoyed it. I didn't really consider that it wasn't your average Imperial Stout, what with the intense bitterness and hops.

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  21. I'm with pretty much everyone else, I really like the brewer, I really like the branding but I'm afraid that HopDevil is the only one that I can honestly say I'd spend hard-earned cash on.

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  22. If you want a good American imperial stout, try and get a bottle of Founders Brewery Russian Imperial Stout. It's fairly expensive even here in the states, but it's my personal favorite. Black as engine oil, dark tan head, creamy and very complex. The fact that's I'm in the Midwest and can get fresh bottles of it easily helps...

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