Wednesday 22 September 2010

The End of History

Many a beer enthusiast does not see the point; a 55% beer? what's all that about then? It can't be beer, yeast can't ferment to that sort of alcohol concentration. Of course it can't, this is a beer that has been concentrated by freeze distillation. OK then, it's not a beer, it's a spirit - that's the declaration. For goodness sake, it's even been stuffed inside a dead animal, that just can't be right.

Whatever the reader thinks of the hype, and I've wondered at times about the way BrewDog whip up controversy, but it is conceptual in my view, and the packaging could be considered art, although I respect those that disagree. When I criticised the naming of their 41% beer I was promised a sample by James, it never came, which miffed me a little more. I remained curious about an IPA amplified, it seemed that it might be an idea too far, but I was willing to try for myself before passing judgement. It has yet to happen.

Time overtook things, James and Martin surpassed themselves by producing The End of History but at £500 a bottle there was no bloody way I was going to buy one. I really wanted to try this. Having tried Tactical Nuclear Penguin and enjoyed it, even if I thought it a little expensive for what it was, I was keen to have a go at The End of History, and to my pleasure they organised an event in The Sheffield Tap which we decided to attend.

I've already mentioned that there were some very good keg beers available. There was some delightful cask available to enjoy too. For a Wednesday night there was just far too much jolly exciting beer for the good of my health. Just to add to this weekday nights debauchery some of the beers we got to try were completely free, really, do these people not care about my liver?

I can't remember all the beers I had, but three stood out as being exceptional, if a little controversial. These were; Bashah Reserve, I Hardcore You and, of course, The End of History.

Bashah Reserve is a Black Belgian Double IPA and controversial in itself due to the fact that this is such a mashed up style. I know that many beer aficionados will criticise this sort of nonsense, without actually realising that that's the point, it is nonsense. My god people, is it that important?? and no, I don't think it is. It's a tasty black beer, well hopped and fermented with some sort of Belgian yeast, that's it.

The fresh beer I enjoyed around 18 months ago, or whenever it was. It was a little harsh perhaps and Jeff Pickthall suggested it needed some ageing. Perhaps BrewDog got wind of this, I suspect sometimes they do bring out ideas that Jeff and I have already thought about, we really should stop hanging around thinking and drinking and do more, well, doing. That way perhaps Hardknott will be first instead of us being accused of copying BrewDog. Either way, James and Martin stuffed some of this iconoclastic beer into a couple of whisky casks along with soft fruit and left it to fester for a while.

The results? Looking back at my tweets from the evening I seem to get confused about what fruit is used in one, but the other was raspberries. I prefer the one that was matured with the fruit that wasn't raspberries, tayberries perhaps. Both had fantastic vanilla flavours and aromas that I love very much in these styles of barrel aged beers.

I Hardcore You was on keg, if I remember correctly. I've not had either Hardcore IPA or I Beat You and some seemed to think this blend fails to be even as good as either of the base beers. I don't know about that but I liked it, bordering on the barley wine IPA at 9.5% it is very hoppy but balanced with a sweetness and alcohol that was very satisfying, even if it's not a beer to drink much of.

Interestingly, this style of beer is often condemned by the fans of session beers. However, it's just the sort of beer that HardknottAnn likes to drink, I continue to wonder if the mainstream beer world misses a trick by not promoting barley wines to women. We can argue the toss about why women tend to prefer these stronger sweeter styles of beer, but be it a different gender palate or just some social conditioning the fact remains it is there. It's still beer and it's liked by women.

The End of History, that's why I was here. There was a bit of a scramble for this one, and I was just as keen as everyone else to get my hands on it. James, who was pouring out the measures, caught my eye and I swear he gave me an extra large measure, cheers James, guess that's an end to the Sink! argument then.

But what is this spirit-beer like? Well here are my spontaneous tweets;

  1. Hop flavours balanced with barley malt sweetness to make a powerful spirit very different, but at the same time similar to whisky.
  2. Hot spirit taste but with powerful hop flavours; not overly bitter. Very definitely hop rather than brutal bitterness.
  3. Fruity smell reminiscent of a good liqueur like Benedictine.
  4. End Of History - nose is Belgian and spirity.

There, I don't think in hindsight I can improve on that. But what is the point? It cost £500 a bottle I am told. Sure, you get a roadkill stuffed animal thrown in, if that does it for you, but at the price it's around £38 a 25ml shot and that's not with any mark-up if you bought it in a bar. I think the most I've ever paid for a single malt is about £8 for 25ml measure. This is really a little over priced.

But then again, it is very different to any other spirit I know. It's hoppy flavours and aromas are very interesting and I think the comparison is a good Islay whisky; very few would have much more than the occasional dram. I think there is a future for this type of drink, whether it is a spirit or a beer is academic in my view, it's what it is and it's link to beer due to the hop connection is fine in my view.

On a closing point a comment was made about aromas that seemed wrong. Esters in a spirit would normally be associated with impure distillation but if you freeze distil a belgian beer then it perhaps is not so strange, in fact, I'd go as far as to say that's one of the things I liked about the drink, I could have just sat with my nose in the glass and taken in the lovely fruity banana and spicy aromas, had there actually been anywhere to sit on this busy night.


Cooking Lager said...

500 sheets is a sting for a bottle of unaged immature hopped whisky but so long as there are enough mugs out there to go for it, your brewdog shares will improve. Not improve to the point of being worth what you paid for them, matey, but improve. Maybe they can bottle there own piss and sell it for a grand a bottle?

Unknown said...

Cookie, totally agree on the price, I'd like to see as version that compared favourably with a 10 year malt. About £20 for a 330ml bottle of 40% is around the mark.

As for the shares, we'll see, their projected turnover is on track as far as I can tell. More will be revealed at the AGM in December I dare say.

Phil said...

Re: marketing barleywine to women, wasn't that what Pony was about? Or was that something else entirely?

I do remember my sister, back in the 70s, drinking quite a lot of Gold Label, essentially on the grounds that it was a lot easier to get blokes to buy her one of those than a pint.

StringersBeer said...

Ms. Basford's label art for brewdog is really nice.

We've come to know and love them for their gimmicks rather than their beer. I hope they're happy with that. Chuckling bankwards, I expect.

Unknown said...

Phil, Pony? before my time I'm afraid.

But I think stuff has moved on since the 70's, thankfully.

Stringers, I think BrewDog is known for more than their gimmicks, it's just the gimmicks that get them noticed.