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The Hobby Drinker Blog

route 666

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I was told, or warned, about this beer – El Demonio! It’s one of those fancy innovative stouts, but this time with chipotle instead of cinnamon or maple syrup. I’ve had chipotle stouts before, but usually they have some chocolate in there too. It looks like Sanfrutos has gone for more of a desert experience than a dessert one.

The beer looks robust and sticky, but doesn’t produce a lot of head. It does have a strong, smoky aroma, almost in the realm of rauchbiers, but with a spicy twist to it too. The chipotle attacks right away, snapping at tongue and palate, but it doesn’t go overboard. The background flavor is difficult to pick out, there’s a little smoke and savoriness, sort of meaty, but the pepper is what stands out. It has a certain amount of staying power, leaving a prickly trail for minutes after swallowing. It’s a little bit demanding, not the kind of beer you drink mindlessly while paying attention to other things. Oh, you can pay attention to other things, but you won’t be able to forget about this little devil of a beer.

Supplier: Más Que Cervezas
Price: €4.20

eternal depths

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Life can be a complicated thing. You think a decision is simple, but then you realize there are many factors at play. This applies not only to your own decisions, but understanding the decisions that others make. There are reasons within reasons within reasons, everything fitting together like a finely made toy. Another thing that fits together finely is a well-made beer, and Basqueland is a brewery that has a history of making beers well. To be honest, I have come across more ales than stouts from them, but everything is top of the line and a delight to have in the glass. I don’t suppose Matryoshka is going to be any different.

It’s weirdly slow-pouring, but sits nicely in the glass, without an abundance of head. There’s a slightly green plant-y aroma, like freshly pulled carrots or zucchinis. It smells a lot like a standard well-made beer, with a nod to the earth that produced the ingredients. While other stouts have had enticing scents and more subdued flavors, this one goes the other way. The taste is full and earthy, hinting at bitter but sticking with slightly savory. It’s a pretty classic Russian Imperial Stout, heavy and slightly bristly, but pleasing in the end.

Supplier: Más Que Cervezas
Price: €5.65

breakfast in the dark

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Still on the lookout for smooth and soothing stouts, dark like the depths of night. Who’s going to make one better than a northern brewery, Scandinavian maybe, or Baltic? It’s been some time since I’ve sat down with a Pohjala, and maybe it’s about time to get reacquainted. This looks like one of the more special ones with it’s umlauted name – French Toast Bänger. It’s an imperial stout, not pastry, but it features maple syrup, vanilla and cinnamon. The color scheme on the label makes me think more of cocktails like Tequila Sunrise, but I guess it could also be reminiscent of bonfires and hearths, perfect for sitting around with a good stout that has a way of keeping the fun going.

It lets off a warm fancy breakfast aroma, cinnamony and syrupy. It might be a little heavy on the sweet side, with no bacon or hashbrowns to balance it out, but on chillier nights you might prefer something with a little more calories to burn. It’s not quite as sweet as expected, but it is smooth and milky. Banana surfaces in the taste. So it is like a deluxe pancake, with bananas, whipped cream, maybe a light dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder. It has the robust body that I expect from northern stouts, and Pohjala has always been a good example. Although it doesn’t really get sweeter, it does seem to take on some stickiness as you go farther down in the glass. It’s not unpleasant but it might keep you a little less talkative than normal. For some people that might be a good idea; for some others it just means we enjoy the beer and our own thoughts in our heads.

Supplier: La Buena Pinta
Price: €7.70

another heavyweight

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Coincidentally, there’s another Jumbo in the list, Mumbo Jumbo India Stout to be precise. This is a hopped stout, with Chinook, calling itself a classic stout with a hoppy punch. I wonder if this is going to be something of a black IPA. While it’s enjoyable to wallow in the depths of a pastry or barrel aged stout, there’s something about a hoppy beer that clears your head and lets the world in. The clash of expectations with the dark beer and the hop brightness also promotes focus. It’s not quite freezing cold, although the days get dark early at this time, and the spice of a hoppy beer can be like sitting next to a cozy fireplace. Of course, that’s also true of an extra flavorful stout. Well, let’s see how Mumbo Jumbo measures up.

There’s a very vegetal aroma with the pop of the tab, a little bit floral but not fruity. It has a more savory character than even a black IPA might. The beer itself is a good dark color with just an off-white head. Once in the glass it gives off many more spiced wafts of scent. There’s grainy bread, maybe rye, caraway, a little bit of catnip sharpness and muskiness. The taste is very toasty but also with a good garnishing of hops. It has a warmth that many black IPAs did not quite reach, with their shining citrus hops taking center stage, so it does deserve the title of India stout.

Supplier: La Buena Pinta
Price: €5.50

choice memory

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If you’re not in the mood for something specific, just a general category, it can be hard to choose. You get FOMO or even buyer’s remorse, thinking there could have been something better if you had just paid a little more attention or were willing to throw down that extra euro. Stout and porter might not be such a broad category. Besides, it’s hard to find bad ones out there. So really, La Pirata’s Hard Decision wasn’t much of one at all, especially since this is a trusted brewery. Sadly, their taproom in Madrid closed earlier this year, after having filled the spot once held by Irreale. Change is always afoot.

Heavy looking, befitting the label, thin but resistant head of dark beige foam on top, slightly rum/whisky aroma. I’m guessing that’s the oatmeal, really. The taste is slow to slide out and the first sensation is the smooth texture that many oatmeal stouts have. A kind of syrupy bitterness builds up from mid- to aftertaste, with a touch of smoky licorice to boot. It might just be something an elephant would enjoy, when it’s time to relax after a day of being gawked at in the zoo. I recently saw the David Attenborough documentary of Jumbo, and he was given not just beer but also whisky to help him travel calmly. So Victorian. Also Victorian and beyond are the attitudes towards social needs, both of animals and people. Just suck it up and do your job, whether it was a job you chose or not. Anyway, big fan of stouts are not, this is a beer that’s worth a try as something smooth and not overwhelming, although with a hint of its power shining through. Pick it up, it shouldn’t be a hard decision.

Supplier: La Buena Pinta
Price: €4.50

don’t get washed away

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There are some very interesting labels on a can of craft beer, artistic, surreal, eye-catching to say the least. When choosing for Beermas you have to throw a little imagination at it, but Calenbeer only has to be pleasing. The mechanical fish on Althaia’s Batiscafo has an odd connection to the current weather and the season, being a toy that somebody might hope to see under the tree in the not too distant future. Of course it’s an imperial stout, souped up with cocoa and toffee, maybe to weigh down that fish in the depths of the ocean.

It’s a thinner looking beer than some recent ones, fine head of tiny, tiny bubbles, dark chocolatey color. The sweeter ingredients are very forward in the aroma, with a sugary high note and a rich caramelly base. The flavor has more of a jungle essence than I expected. It’s very leafy and green, and actually quite easy to drink. It doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of body although there is a certain amount of bulk to the aftertaste. Like a jaguar, it’s lying in wait for you to stop paying attention. The greenness makes me think of horchata, which isn’t quite the drink you reach for in December, but it does offer a light balance that might make it a good drink with some heavier desserts of the season.

Supplier: Labirratorium
Price: €6.50

measured by minutes

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Back to my stouts again, and now with a design that is also after my own heart. Matter Of Time was tucked away on a lower shelf, but the will of the universe was such that I patiently scanned until I saw it. I have Espiga in my mind as more of a traditional beer maker, but with Resident Culture they have put out this pastry imperial stout. There might be deviations from the path, there might be unexpected obstacles, but everything that has to come comes in its own time.

It’s one of those rich, thick looking stouts, generating a pretty good head without going overbroad. It has a strong chocolate aroma, pudding rather than cacao powder, promising a heavy but enjoyable mouthful. Indeed, the chocolate comes through in a powerful way, although there is plenty of stouty toast to lay foundations for it. It’s like the most gourmet Nutella sandwich. Even the breadiness has something extra, with notes of sunflower seed and a good dollop of banana. The mix makes it seem more like an afternoon beer, a busy drink that bounces off a snack (or two), more than a calm and quiet evening sipper.

Supplier: Labirratorium
Price: €5.75

an exception

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While there are Christmas beers happily floating around by now, there aren’t actually that many. It’s almost the same as official Oktoberfest beers. I guess it’s time to bend my Calenbeer rules and make an exception to my black beer standard, but with a Belgian beer that you could possibly sneak in with it’s seasonal brethren. Westmalle, a classic of the widely available Belgian exports, shows off its stuff with a Trappist Triple, in a uniquely collared bottle. Although the label is fairly simple, the fact of being Belgian lends a certain festive flair to the beer, so it should be welcome in the ranks.

The triple is supposed to be light, but it seems surprisingly so to me, one of those lemony straw colored beers. The head would make a pilsner proud, at least for a few minutes. The aroma is at once sharp and citric and mellow and bready. It feels like a tangy Belgian aroma more than anything. The taste starts out with a full round bitter, melting into a wheaty tang at the back of the tongue, and sweeping down the throat pithy bitter again. It’s almost medicinal, with a hearty bitterness that gives you the sensation that it’s good for you. Sometimes sweeter notes peek through, slightly lemon candy and slightly clover juice.

Supplier: Hop Hop Hurrah
Price: €3.75

one moment

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I’m still on my quest for shade and shadows, and Hop Hop Hurrah…does not have a whole lot of that actually. They have much more bright and saucy stuff, and a good selection of sodas and non-alcoholic beers, for the family oriented gathering I would guess. It’s not completely devoid of stouts and porters, though, Drunken Bros was in the fridge and a couple of super special barrel aged bottles were on high shelves. They were a little too special for my solo Calenbeer journey. In the end, Dougall’s fit the bill with their lovely Session Stout. At about half the alcohol of Bocq’s Christmas beer, it’s a good step back for a little breather before plunging deeper into the dark.

Warm dark brown color and fluffy beige head, along with a slightly smoky stout aroma. There’s also a tiny bit of musky hops. Or is that something they managed to pull out of the highlighted malt? It has a grungy flavor, earthy, bitter, a little bit salty. It’s a pretty standard stout on the face of it. The bitterness gives it strength, but it’s a light liquidy example of its type. It’s one of those especially clean stouts, the ones you can drink without paying attention if you feel like it. Very appropriate for a session beer. At the same time, it has character and subtle pride in itself that comes through over the tongue. The simplicity almost makes it a palate cleanser, but it doesn’t have the snap or astringency that you might want for that particular job; instead, it’s a pleasant interlude, a quiet moment of reflection. Who doesn’t need one of those once in a while?

Supplier: Hop Hop Hurrah
Price: €2.75

happy surprise

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Another step into the lighter side with a specifically Christmas beer. Belgian, of course. And more than 8%, so that’s one for the Christmas party. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of Bocq before, although I might have just forgotten, since I don’t go for Belgian beers as a general habit. I have definitely not tried Gauloise, even if I have had some other bit of brewing from them.

Dark ruddy brown liquid and barely beige fluffy head, festive looking and smelling. It has a very bright and cidery aroma, with hints of lemon and melon. The look makes me expect cinnamon or ginger, but I can’t pick it out. The taste is almost shockingly alcoholy, even knowing the strength of the beer ahead of time. It has a sort of liquid metal feel to it, slippery and moveable, but with a noticeable heft. Although there is a bit of a tang upfront, there isn’t the typical Belgian aftertaste, which I appreciate. I expected a little more of a warming effect, either from the strength or from the psychological idea of a Christmas beer, but it turns out to be a light touch, just a joy for the palate without burying you. As a final secret gift, there is cinnamon if you let the beer warm up a little more. As seasonal beers go, it’s a triumph!

Supplier: Labirratorium
Price: €2.85

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