Kagua Rouge

Total Score: 7.55/10 Peppercorns1DarkFruits1Clove1Tulipglass1

This is one I had a while ago, intrigued by the addition of Sanshō (aka Japanese pepper) – an ingredient I was wholly unaware of until I tried this beer (an enlightening minute of Wikipedia later and I’m buffed with information on this curious spice). I’m a big fan of craft beer crossing cultural boundaries, some of my favourite beers have come from Japan, and a great deal of my favourite beers come from Belgium – just look at my top-100, it’s a who’s who of classic Belgian brews. So when a Japanese brewer like Kagua (otherwise known by the unimaginative and slightly self-conceited name of Nippon Beer Co.) decides to mix an East-meets-West style brew I’m definitely going to give it a go, how could I not?

Poured from a classic 330ml Belgian-style bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: Cloudy deep bronze body with a pretty dense beige head that leaves light lacing inside the glass. Appearance a bit cloudy given the style, but otherwise this beer looks moreish. 8/10.

S: Yep, that Sanshō has an unmistakable and difficult to describe aroma that stands out loud and clear from first whiff – it’s like a mix between pepper, ginger and clove that really piques my interest as a lover of spice (they say “spice is the spice of life”). Background hints of dark fruit (plum mostly) and a cider apple character mingles with a caramel malt and musty yeast layer. There’s a decent amount of complexity going on here. 8/10.

T: Flavour hits you with a bang of spice – pepper, ginger, clove – right from the off, before bringing in a boozy Christmas cake dark fruit centre, some light caramel malt sweetness drops in, herbal notes towards the finish – which is dry and a touch boozy. Maybe it’s the Sanshō, but the flavour profile comes across a tad prickly, but otherwise this is a tasty drop. 7/10.

M: Medium bodied with a nice dense (though not creamy) texture, yep – ticks all the boxes, could be smoother and less carbonated, but otherwise excellent. 8/10.

D: Totally worth trying this beer just to experience Sanshō for the first time – it’s definitely different to anything I’ve ever tasted before and it numbs the mouth a little (like Kava, but less intense). As far as the beer itself goes – it’s a bit of a marriage of slightly disparate flavours, but thankfully it’s not a marriage that ends in divorce, in fact it gets better as I become more accustomed to the Sanshō character. Not a “10/10 would try again” brew, but then again what is? 8/10.

Food match: Hmmm, this is a tough one… I’m going to say: abura soba with ichi-mi.

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Heretic Torment Dark Belgian-Style Ale

Total Score: 8.95/10 Clove1DarkFruits1Wood1Tulipglass1

This came HIGHLY recommended by a fellow craft lover (i.e. the craft of loving). When I say HIGHLY in all-caps I’m not practically shouting through the internet at you – it means this guy really gushed over it and was even so bold to say that “if I love Belgian brews…” [indeed I do] that “this represents the best stab by an American at a Belgian styled beer. Ever.” Pretty big words IMO, I’ve had plenty of excellent Belgian styled beers from US brewers such as Sierra Nevada, Victory, North Coast, Cigar City, Clown Shoes, etc… not sure if Heretic here have managed [damn I really wanted to keep that alliteration going…] to top the works of these top flight US brewers [hmmm, I’ll allow it]. I guess that’s one of the many reasons I drink beer and write about it – to find out if this is the ultimate US brewed Belgian styled beer.

Poured from a wax-sealed 650ml US bomber sized bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: Fuck it smells good… jumping ahead I know, but this really smells good, OK focus Doc. Presents an almost opaque deep dark chocolate brown, bit of mahogany in there too, and a tan head that drops back to a lace ring. Splotches of lace on the side of the glass too, not bad at all. 8/10.

S: Spicy cinnamon notes mingle with rich caramel and dark fruits (date and fig mostly) with a slight woody tone that gives an impression of dryness in the finish that may or may not be there. This aroma is close to flawless – there’s plenty of complexity and balance going on, I would be hard pressed to pick between this and Chimay Blue, although I do love cinnamon [it’s like a naughty Rastafarian]. 9/10.

T: The balance continues to surprise with how well this has been done – it’s sweet but not overly, the above notes: cinnamon, rich caramel, date, fig and that woody note work so well together and the finish has just the right amount of dryness to pull it all back. There’s a lingering aftertaste of cinnamon as well. Yet I don’t feel that it’s outclassing Chimay Blue (though it has been a long while since I’ve had a Chimay). Also it’s a tad boozy (like a granny on bingo night). 9/10.

M: Medium bodied with a decent and creamy carbonation, but a touch too gassy (as the burps are my witness). 9/10.

D: Yeah old mate wasn’t far off: This is one of the greatest US brewed Belgian styled beers I’ve had. Everything was pretty much spot on, would drink again [and again, but maybe not a 4th time – I can be mercurial with beers]. 9/10.

Food match: I would def cheese platter this baby… [that sounded less weird in my head].

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3 Ravens The Druid 2017

Total Score: 8.55/10 DarkFruits1Bubblegum1Wood1Tulipglass1

I don’t mind that druid guy, he’s alright, and the beer – we’re about to find out. So this Belgian Quadrupel is barrel-aged in Shiraz and Port barrels, nice! Well I’m looking forward to this one, the bottle label describes some pretty awesome flavours: “Dark malt sweetness, banana & bubblegum esters combine with raisin, fig and plum characters from the Shiraz & Port barrel aging process…” You had me at “bubblegum”, which I love and don’t find as often as I would like to in any beer. My ideal beer would be some sort of liquid Bazooka Joe [PATENT PENDING!] brew that isn’t too sweet but full of that juicy bubblegum goodness… ironically I can’t stand chewing gum – yes, I am a complex creature.

Poured from a 330ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: Deep cola, opaque body with a tasty looking tan half centimetre of head on top. Head retains rather well, better than some Belgian Quads I’ve tried. I’m not going to lie to you – this is one appetising brew sitting in front of me. 8/10.

S: “I wish I had, suuuum… BUBBLEGUM!” – Confidence Man. This aroma is all deliciously dark fruit esters, and importantly: bubblegum. Yep, that allusive flavour and I’ve finally got my nose on it. Bit of brown sugar/molasses notes as well. This is one sugar-truck of beer I’m about to dump on my tongue. Could be a bit more complex is my only negative. 8/10.

T: Dark fruits (plum, raisin, hint of fig) mingle with a touch of over-ripe fruit, brown sugar/molasses character, some woodiness from the barrel aging, less prominent bubblegum (oh well), and a dusty/medicinal herb note in finish. Touch of booziness as well, but it’s at a “grandma pouring brandy on the Christmas pudding” level of warmth – nothing to be distracted by. Not getting much in the way of Shiraz flavours though – some pepperiness and vinous characters might well to the flavours on offer… then again it could become too cluttered as well. 9/10.

M: Medium bodied with a creamy/dense carbonation. Pretty spot on texture – loving how creamy it is – it’s like the double cream granny used to dollop on her brandy boozed Christmas pudding! 9/10.

D: Much credit to 3 Ravens: this is a Quad that rubs shoulders with the Belgians, it’s got all of that “good” stuff. Plus it’s not a sugar-bomb (my pancreas thanks me) so my teeth feel moderately safe [it’s true: I cannot drink Founders Old Curmudgeon anymore due to cavities]. Pity it’s only a limited release then. 8/10.

Food match: Mounds of roasted game meats with a pile of parsnips.

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Murray’s Hell Of The North

Total Score: 8.75/10 DarkFruits1Bananas1Clove1Chalice1

Murray’s – it’s been too long! Now that we’ve got that out of the way: “Hell of the North”? Really?! What does that even mean? [It was at this point Doc realised that he was not actually speaking with a person, or even a brewery named Murray’s, but that he was simply strolling further down the cobbled steps of his own sanity, or lack thereof… pity Doc dear reader]. Apparently this “Strong Dark Belgio Ale” is brewed with not one but three different Trappist yeasts – and considering there’s like 6 Trappist brewers out there [Err, more like 11 Doc] that seems like a bit of excessive yeast pitching there.

Poured from a 330ml bottle into a Duvel tulip (because I left my Chimay chalice back in Canberra… *sniff*).

A: Cloudy seal brown body with (surprisingly for an 11.5% ABV brew) a sandy-coloured half centimetre head that sticks around for a while. Pretty decent effort here from Hell of the North. 8/10.

S: Plenty of stuff going on with my olfactory senses here – plum, raisin, date, banana, candi sugar, clove and mace give the sense that this is going to be one BIG beer… too BIG? Time, in this case 20 seconds from now, will tell. I will also add a touch of bready notes trying to struggle against the tide of sheer sugar-bombery. 8/10.

T: Wow, this is pretty f#*king well-balanced… I suspect the three Trappist yeasts have something to do with that. You’ve got all the above flavours (plum, raisin, date, banana, candi sugar, clove and mace) coming together in all their complexity and grandeur, but without it being an out-and-out sugar-bomb (which frankly I was expecting). Hints of a metallic/burnt caramel flavour in the aftertaste detract ever so slightly from a Belgium-matching “Strong Dark Belgio Ale”. Oh yeah, and you don’t get to 11.5% ABV without a hint of alcohol – this has that hint. 9/10.

M: Medium bodied with a light but dense carbonation… pretty bang on here. 9/10.

D: This is definitely a beer I could get more acquainted with on those mild Brisbane winter nights… as a stalwart Belgian Strong Dark Ale devotee (just look at my top 10 beers of all-time list and you’ll find 6 of those beers Belgian brews) my only disappointment with Hell of the North is the fact that I’ll never get my hands on it again – unless Murray’s re-release it… please Murray’s make this beer again! I will buy an entire slab if you do! 9/10.

Food match: Murray’s says cheese platter and I tend to agree as long as you live close to a major metropolitan hospital.

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Unibroue Trois Pistoles

Total Score: 9.15/10 WhiteWine1 DarkFruits1 BrownSugar1 Tulipglass1

Whenever I think of Unibroue I wonder if it’s pronounced “unibrow”, and then I start thinking about people with unibrows and I find it difficult to focus on the splendid beer I’m about to drink… does anyone else get that or am I just weird? [don’t answer that!]. So yeah, Trois Pistoles is the beer Dennis (I guy I know who sells beer and got me on to Rodenbach Grand Cru) says is THE BEST beer that Unibrow make. So yeah, go the unibrow… or shave off the bit in the middle… either way I’m looking forward to this epic brew.

Poured from a 355ml bottle into a Duvel tulip.

A: Dark chestnut brown hazy body with a dense packed 1 cm khaki head that reduces to a light lace cover on top… looks can be deceiving but this looks like one mighty tasty drop! I am, as you will see from my previous ratings, though more partial to dark beers. 10/10.

S: Botrytis (or ‘Noble rot’) grape big on the nose with lingering background notes of plum, dark cherry, macerated figs, a hit of brown sugar and sourdough yeast in the finish. The aroma is fragrant and moreish, however it is fully slanted towards sweet with little in the way of a balance noted here. 9/10.

T: Tasty and dry are the first things you notice, sweet as well but more restrained than expected, if I was going to describe a beer with colours this would be an aquamarine/purple mix with a touch of gold thrown in – it is one tasty drop. How would I compare it to Chimay Bleu? (it’s primary style combatant in the war for my affections) read on to find out as I’m describing the flavour here mister. Botrytis (though in lesser form), plum, fig, dark cherry, brown sugar, black pepper and sourdough yeast are balanced throughout with a finish that is fairly dry with sweetness that cuts the bitterness until the aftertaste – which is an ever so slight medicinal herb note. Damn. 9/10.

M: Medium bodied with a dense and light carbonation. Mouthfeel is spot on! 10/10.

D: Could I drink this all day? Yes. Is it as good as Chimay Bleu? It’s right up there with Chimay Bleu, in fact I think it’s a dead heat between the two, which is a surprise even for me: I never imagined that some upstart Quebec brewer would be able to compete on the same playing field as Chimay, and I think the texture of this brew is better than Bleu. Negative? The price – I can almost buy 2 Chimay Bleu 330ml bottles for the price of one of these, crazy! 9/10.

Food match: The Canadian flag dipped in blue cheese and maple syrup.

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