I feel so cheap using a photo with a flash. Where has my style gone? Couldn't I have lined these up in a snow drift or something? Anyway, this was the second set of brews forwarded for review by importers Roland and Russell. The first review bottles, four from O'Hanlon's was a real treat, so I have great hopes for these six from Austria. Other exciting news from R'n'R for Ontarians includes their signing of Les Brasseurs de Gayant out of France to their portfolio as well as one of my favorites Southern Tier. I am especially pleased as they followed up my recommendation and are now seeking to get three of their brews - Unearthly IPA, IPA and Phin & Matt's Extraordinary Ale - added to the LCBO.
This week's focus, however, is Schloss Eggenberg. Eggenberg has been the site of brewing since the 1300's and has been the in hands of the current owners since 1803. Known as the brewer of incredibly strong lagers, this selection includes the 14% lager Samichlaus Bier and Urbock 23 which weighs in at a respectable 9.6% according to the BAers - which does make one wonder how long ago is was tagged as "one of the strongest beers in the world" given the multitude of X-treem! beer now well into double digits. In any event, I am looking forward to what the grouping teaches me.
- Hopfenkonig: The brewer's flagship pilsner - "hop king" for all of you who didn't follow Bowie during his '70s Berlin period. The room floods with the aroma of those steely hops, Hallertauer - I am pretty sure these are not the more approachable Saaz. I have read this described as spicy and even mellow but all it says to me is old spoon on old filling in old molar. A little fingers-on-chalkboard for me. Not that there's anything wrong with that but this is a pilsner and you know what I have written about pilsners. But be clear - I'd say that this is a very good pilsner. Gold straw beer under white lace leaving foam. Under the astringent sharp steel of the hop, there is graininess and pear juice from the malt. Maybe a note of honey way back there, too. There is mineral or stone quality in the mouth like a good dry riesling. And as it opens, the steel starts to take one a white grapefruit rind aspect. Subdued alcohol at 5.1% relative to the hopping. I like it - though 20% of BAers say no. But that is only on 15 reviews. Three people bummed. Big deal.
- MacQueen's Nessie: The bottle says "Original Red Ale" but it pours a vintage golden like the coloured of aged varnished pine under a thin rim of white. Quite a still beer with some whisky-ish notes, that is reminding me of Unibrou's Raftman. Also a bit musty like a stock ale but with all that some nice apple and passion fruit notes with just an edging of twiggy hops. It's reminding me of Church-key's Northumberland Ale as well. 17% of BAers do not like it but this sort of malty leathery sort of ale turns certain folk off but I suspect those are people who never curled or ice fished, so there.
- Doppelbock Dunkel: Dark mahogany ale under a disarmingly white frothed foam and rim. I am slightly confused by the double name, each of which I thought would suffice for a style - but then I am not as I do not particularly care about such things. There is a nice blend of treacle and turf in this brew. Dark sweets but also earthy, nutty with dried date up top. Really quite remarkable in its subdued balance. The water feels soft, grains biscuity and the yeast lightly creamy. Very sly for 8.5%. Five BAers all like it.
- Samichlaus Bier: the famous 14% lager that held the record of strongest beer at or around the time that people started changing the definition of what a beer was. For a drink that is stronger than a big Aussie red wine, there is plenty of science being applied here to make sure this is just not a big booze bomb. This brew pours a very attractive reddish light chestnut with a white rim and foam. The aroma is of fresh Boston brown bread, cherry and nuts. In the mouth the alcohol is surrounded by rich dried fruits like apricot, cherry, pear and maybe some figgy notes and a bot of nutmeg. The hops are there but subdued, serving to cut the cloy. In the finish as the fruit recede, a bit of vodka and dry grassy hops. 7% of BAers do note love it but I think there is plenty here deserving of respect beyond there mere level of alcohol involved.
- Urbock 23: labeled as "one of the strongest beers in the world," at 9.60% it is now a claim that is hard to make. Darkish straw fairly still ale with a thin white rim. A fairly lack-luster brew. Some fruit in the malt, maybe apple... but not much. Not much hop either and sort of tobacco-ish. Heavy and a somewhat rounded big pale lager in a way that is not exciting - sort of like an extra strong Polish mocne, top heavy and heady. What Molson Brador dreams it is. Interestingly, 12% of BAers do not approve either.
- Spirit of Hemp: short review - this is Hopfenkonig with a little bit of a green weedy effect added to the steely hops. The result is like adding Fuggles. Not bad but I am not a central European pilsner guy. Perfectly fine and attractive but not nearly the hempiness that you might expect from the name. The one BAer gives it 3/5.