Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The star spangled banner

With Barack Obama's inauguration on January 20 2009, the US have entered a new era in politics. By association, so has the rest of the Western World. We are watching, very closely, with high expectations in the hope that Barack will bring something new to the world of politics, with positive and strong implications.

This week, I have chosen to discuss my favourite American Pale Ale, Emerson's APA, which shares many of the characteristics Barack Obama embodies.

The American Pale Ale is a popular beer style, which is usually amber in colour, and hoppy, malty and fruity in aroma and flavour.

Emerson's APA is a cloudy orange/amber colour, with an off-white head. The aromas are incredibly bitter with the hop and malt notes coming through strongly. And just as you'd expect the flavours are incredibly bitter with strong hop and robust malt characters making their mark.

Although the bitter flavours are incredibly robust, there are some beautiful fruit characteristics such as citrus, pear and pineapple which come through just enough to sweeten the stronger hop and malt characters of the beer. The new US President does present himself as a strong, yet likeable leader, and this fruity sweetness of the Emersons APA creates a smooth, pleasant flavour.

Although the sweetness (which also includes a touch of caramel) of the APA complements the ale beautifully, it is the hoppy bitterness which lingers on the palate long after the last of the bottle has been consumed.

And while the US have entered a new era with the appointment of Barack Obama as US president, Emersons are leaving one behind with the September 2008 brew of their acclaimed APA to be their last. So if you can get your hands on a bottle (there are still a few floating around), do, and enjoy its robust, smooth and soothing qualties. As Obama and the APA style have proven, SOME American characters can have a lasting impression.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

'Tis the Season to be Jolly...

Although Christmas has well and truly been and gone, my favourite bottle store did not receive their Christmas order until last week. So I decided to celebrate the season again, this time by enjoying some Belgian Strong Ales.

The Belgians sure know how to celebrate Christmas - the three beers I tried had ABV's ranging from 9% - 10.5%!

Affligem Noel Christmas Ale (9%) pours a gorgeous amber colour with a tan head. The alcohol content comes through on the nose, but was pleasantly mixed with toffee, biscuit and spicy aromas.
The flavour, however, was mildly disappointing. Although there was a complex mix of malt, toffee, sweet spice, raisin and grape flavours, all were overpowered by the almost spirit-like taste of alcohol, which left an unpleasant aftertaste. Great to try if you can get your hands on a bottle though, and I would suggest tasting it at a warmer temperature (about 10-12 degrees C), as the malt bitterness came through more as the beer warmed, subduing the alcohol flavour.

I tried the Delirium Christmas (also known as Delirium Noel) next, which pours a dark brown with ruby colouring and has an off-white head.

The aromas weren't too strong, spice, caramel and dark fruit all coming through, with a hint of yeast.The flavour, however, was amazing. Toffee, warming spices, prune and plum flavours all come through strong, with a strong malty bitterness to balance the intense sweetness nicely. Incredibly warming, and what is even more impressive is there is not a hint of the 10% alcohol on the nose, in the flavour, or in the aftertaste. My favourite of the three, plus it has the coolest bottles. Although it looks like a beer aimed at seven year-old girls, it would make even the most hardened drinkers feel light-headed!

At 10.5%, Gouden Carolus Noel was the strongest of the Christmas Ales. It pours a dark brown, close to black, with a tan head and has very dark aromas, including aniseed.

The flavours are both bitter and strong. Burnt malt, burnt coffee and spice, but it does have a subtle dark chocolate and caramel sweetness to pmake it drinkable. Incredibly dense, I couldn't even finish this one, but also very warming. Perhaps keep one in the beer cellar for those cold winter nights, as it would fare far better on those frosty nights than New Zealand's warm summer evenings.

The Belgians sure know how to celebrate Christmas, I was very 'Jolly' by the end of the evening, fa la la la la-ing all the way to bed. Keep the Belgians in mind for Christmas 2009.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Summer is here. And what could be better than sitting in the early evening summer sun with a beautiful summer ale in hand to quench one's thirst?
One problem: Our local breweries tend to lack in really good summer ales.

Monteith's Summer Ale is probably the most well known of those available on the kiwi market. Strong honey and ginger flavours on a crisp malt base, but lacking in any real BEER flavours. My best friend recently tried her first Monteith's Summer Ale on a scorching hot day in Taupo, and loved it because "It tastes like Ginger Beer!" Another gentleman once remarked it was a fantastic summer beverage if one ignored the fact it was supposed to be beer.
Beer is supposed to beer, so I cannot bring myself to really enjoy it. Perhaps with some ice and a squeeze of lemon I could trick myself into thinking it was just a sweet summer thirst-quencher...

Mac's Sundance is a more recent addition to the summer ale market. A slight ginger-like sweetness, but the citrus and lemon-grass are the prominent flavours, and this beer even has a bit of hop! However, unless it is consumed fresh from the tap on a hot day, it really fails to deliver anything remarkable. Mac's seem scared to really make the lemongrass jump out, which might have been achieved with a smoother malt base, and could have achieved a more notable beer.

Speights Summer Harvest Wheat Beer is the most recent Summer beer to make it to the beer chiller in our favourite liquor stores. A filtered apricot-flavoured wheat beer, it really fails to deliver on, well everything. Except of course the apricot flavour. The aroma is pure apricot. All you can taste, despite a hint of malt and hop at the very beginning, is apricot. And at the end of the glass, you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd just had a glass of watered-down apricots. Not only that, but the flavour is so sweet it almost tastes artificial. Perhaps with more emphasis on the malt and wheat character, it could have been a good beer. Unfortunately, we're just left with, well, apricot.

Lion and DB Breweries really need to re-think their summer ale ranges. Yeastie Boys, an up-and-coming brewing company with a cult following, produced a fantastic limited brew Summer Ale called Golden Boy. The strong malt and floral hop flavours created an incredibly very smooth and palatable beer. The flavours are incredibly complex, with subtle, sweet honey and spiced ginger flavours and a beautiful herb finish. The beer never loses its complexity and is incredibly refreshing and drinkable. The fact that it is not as sweet as the other summer beers really works in its favour, and the bigger brewing companies really need to take notice.

Unfortunately, the 08/09 summer stock of Golden Boy ran out pretty quickly, so we'll have to wait until next summer for another dose of the only notable summer ale of the season.