I think we need a better vocabulary around the subject of sourness in beer. I hear a lot of stuff described as sour and I’m rarely quite sure what someone means. Usually it just means they’re a malty beer drinker and they don’t like a thin pale ale. (Such as Oakham Citra being described as “sharp”.)

Keep in mind that beer is always acidic… be it berlinerweisse at a pH of 3 or malty ale at a pH in the low fours… and palates vary… but some things are definitely detectable and definable.

Here’s a few forms of “sour” I come across:

Sharp – what I call the sharpness of thin pale ales, the Session IPAs of this world, I actually hear people take a sip and say “oh, that’s sour”… I’d not use the word sour personally, but I do use the term “sharp”. See also: being contacted by a bar and asked why a beer is so sour… worrying about infection… then hearing it is a 3% session pale and thinking: ah-hah… Some I know think of this as a lack of “balance”, especially in new-style Brit-IPAs that lack the meatier crystal malt character of some of their US counterparts.

Lactic – this is a properly biting lemon-juice sour which can be often found in mouth-puckeringly dry berlinerweisse, but also sometimes in bigger sweeter beers which take the edge off it. It is a “clean” sourness, not one that usually comes with a “sour” aroma, it can be described as enamel-stripping at times, but shouldn’t be too challenging to the white wine or cider drinker. Ice cold it is amongst my favourite type of summer refresher, especially at typical sub-4% strengths.

Acetic – always bad in my opinion, but accepted by some in some styles. Basically this is vinegar, sometimes complete with malt-vinegar pong. Usually a sign of badly kept cask ales. Sometimes mildly deliberate – notably in the (in)famous Duchess de Brogdoggognogwhateveritisyer...

Brett – I still don’t quite understand this one. I see bretted beers decribed as a “sour style” and I’ve had folk say they won’t have bretted beers because they “don’t like sours”. I’m still a bit confused by this. I’ve had some sour-ish bretted beers but I don’t think of brett as a giver of sourness. Usually it is more umami and woody spiciness… but hey ho, it is worth mentioning. The sense of “sourness” could come from them often being dry (little sweetness) and not hugely hopped (little bitterness). Perhaps this subject needs a bit of deeper exploration beyond Orval ;)

Ropey – this is sort of my own one. Is is that specific sourness you only seem to get in old fined cask ale. I suspect it is the finings going “off”… it’s a sort of tang, I call it a “twang”, a discord in the beer flavour. It is distinct from any of the above… think old pongy cheap port perhaps, not acetic but soured. Needs more analysis… unpleasantly.

There are probably others but these are what I some across most often in talking to folk who buy beer at various levels and drinking beer myself. Are their tannic sours, citric? Not sure. But the point is we need more precision as currently the word “sour” is doing me ‘ed in.

Aroxa “beer uno kit” – an evening of tainted Budweiser

Aroxa Uno kit

Aroxa Uno kit

I bought this Aroxa “beer uno kit” last year. They’re designed to make a litre of tainted beer per capsule so it seemed rather wasteful doing it with just Kat and I so we sat on the kit for a little while until we could organise an appropriate get-together (Note: BBE date on kit was July 2014 and kit was kept in a cool & dry spot). Eventually we managed to get a couple of other people involved and we did the tasting on Wednesday March 13, kindly hosted by The Table in Cambridge. It’s a pity we didn’t have a few more folk, but alas I don’t actually have that many beer-chums in Cambridge. (I should have popped down to North Herts for this I suppose.)



In the end our tasting panel consisted of Bob Arnott, Andrea from The Table, Kat and myself – plus a random chap who popped in for a coffee and tasted a couple of samples. I rocked up with 2 boxes of Budweiser (much to the amusement of one of the regulars), my own jug, and some plastic sample “glasses”. The Table folk provided water and some palate-cleansing plain bread.

The Table is on busy Regent Street – it has a huge plate-glass window and we were using the eponymous large central table. I definitely got some funny looks from passers by… twisting open colourful medicine-like gelcaps and pouring their content into a jug, whilst surrounded by cans of Bud…


Aroxa uno - Unboxed

Aroxa uno – Unboxed

The Aroxa kit is beautifully packaged. I appreciate the quality and look of it but do wonder how much it adds to the price. What you get for your money includes great presentation and plenty of information.

Want even more information? There’s a QR code on each card leading to the Aroxa page for the flavour. I’d thought at first this could be a useful tool for presenting the information on a large screen… but the format isn’t really right for that, it is also a bit of a drawback that the pages on the Aroxa site really don’t work well on small screens.

There is an instruction card which is clear enough. The only note I’d make is that some of the capsules were quite difficult to open… not so simple as “twist off top”. Half of them needed a firmer grip and a bit of a squeeze to loosen. I gave in and had to rip the top off one capsule.

I poured everyone a “control” glass of Bud, and then we worked through the flavours in the order listed in the box…



2,3-butanedione – Diacetyl – “like butter, or butter popcorn”

A classic? Also much debated – most brewers I know seem to hate even trace diacetyl, due to it being an indicator for a pile of sloppy practices. However as the notes for this one say, it is sometimes considered appropriate in some styles of beer. I have also heard it asserted by some brewers that this is total garbage.

All a matter of taste? Sometimes when you’re tasting beer and this one comes up you’ll overhear someone say what a wonderful butterscotch note it has – or what a great buttery mouthfeel. They love it – and this is not uncommon.

Diacetyl has interested me for a long while as it is much discussed and I’ve never been sure if I’m detecting it properly. All of us had some trouble picking this one up on the nose although I think it was pretty distinct on an initial short-sharp snort for me. In the mouth the difference was clear – albeit the taint quite light (according to all of us). The Bud had an added mouthfeel and even umami from the diacetyl. I think we all thought it was actually better than plain Bud!

dimethyl sulphide – DMS – “like sweetcorn or tomato sauce”

Another one commonly talked about – usually in the context of lagers. Not one I’ve given much thought to and I don’t think I’ve ever detected it distinctly in any beer – I don’t drink much lager in general.

Like the diacetyl we all had trouble picking this up distinctly on the nose – but there seemed to be something there. To me the first sip of the tainted beer was “horrid” – from my notes. And correct to its reputation – creamed sweetcorn I thought. The horridness quickly dissipated however, and a couple of sips later it was in “I could drink it” territory.

I really don’t know about the “tomato sauce” element to this. But I’m not really a user of tomato sauce.

ferrous sulphate – Metallic – “like ink or blood”

This one I know mostly from times when I open a bottle and sadly note a bit of rust around the top. Bad quality caps? I clean the rust off and hope the taint isn’t in the beer – invariably it is.

The taint gave the Bud a sharp astringent aroma, although only lightly so. On taste it was immediately obvious – and pretty undrinkable to all of us… except for a random chap who’d wandered in for coffee. I gave him a sample of this and of plain Bud and he preferred the ferrous sulphate tained one. So there you go… no accounting for taste.

I don’t drink ink, and only have a passing familiarity with blood – but yes, there’s a definite resemblance to the latter. More so iron nails – ever do some woodwork and for lack of a better option hold some nails in your lips? That. It might also be akin to heavily tannic wines.

hop oil extract – Hop oil – “like hoppy ale”

We weren’t sure what to expect from “hop oil” – given this is a bit of powder in a capsule we weren’t really expecting “hoppy” in the modern sense. And it wasn’t – it was a bit odd really.

This one divided us a bit. I got a peppery thing on the nose, not unlike some hop notes – but it really didn’t agree with my mouth. There was a pepper/resin hint but mostly a horrid sort of crushed-ant formaldehyde/plasticy thing at the back of my mouth and up the nasal passages. I found it quite unpleasant. On my side was the random ferrous sulphate lover… odd.

Kat and Bob didn’t mind this one so much, definitely seeming to have enjoyed it at first. Kat says that for her it built up from being OK to being unpleasant.

I’m not sure what the use of this flavour standard is… it didn’t give me an experience akin to anything I’ve had with a beer before. The card says “like hoppy ale”… hmmm.

hydrogen sulphide – H2S – “like boiled or rotten eggs”

The classic “Burton snatch” – the struck match of a Burton ale. I found this pretty much clear and as expected on the nose, albeit a bit on the stronger side than usual. Funnily enough it seemed to improve the beer in the mouth – adding an umami not otherwise present, that fended off the bland sweetness of Bud.

A pretty simple one really – although Bob found it at odds with his typical experience of classic Burton ales such as White Shield (which he drinks a lot of because as well as being a good beer the bottles are great for homebrew – labels come off with ease… noted!) I’ll grab some White Shield next time I see it… for “research” purposes. Bob also suggested trying Adnams Southwold Bitter for similar “research” reasons. (Both are beers I’ve had in the past – but not recently, and very infrequently.)

Personally this one hit home, reminiscent of beers for which I’ve often remarked “this seems heavily Burtonised”. Although I probably have my finger on the wrong button there as the sulphury note is probably caused by other problems.

isoamyl acetate – “like bananas or pear drops”

Yep, banana. Pretty distinctive… and really very odd to drink Bud with this taint alongside normal Bud. It really could have been a crappy Kristallweizen!

Not much else to add… flavour wise just a bit too lolly-banana compared to the real thing, but this is probably because it lacked other flavour elements of a proper wheat beer. Pear drops? I’ve never had one. I must find some to enhance my flavour education because this is used a lot in flavour descriptors. Albeit Bob and Andrea didn’t seem to get much of a pear drop note out of this one – it was all banana.

3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol – Light-struck – “like a skunk or freshly-brewed coffee”

This was an interesting one for all of us. A much discussed beer problem and one we all think we know – but without certainty. How many Brits have sniffed a skunk?

Immediately and distinctly obvious on even “arms length” aroma. I got strong whiffs of it as I prepared the tainted beer. And it really is that “supermarket lager” smell… you know, typical multinational brand clear and green glass sort of stuff. Now I’ve had it confirmed I know I’ve smelt this many many times before.

The taint even came through pretty strongly in the mouth for all of us – which I think isn’t usual when present in beer. None of us really “got used to it” either.

Skunks I don’t know… and whoever thinks freshly brewed coffee smells like this really needs to buy better coffee. Yuck! All of us were drinkers of good coffee in various formats, and we were sitting in a good coffee shop – the opinion on this was unanimous. However – the strong aroma gave me an immediate shot of nostalgic recollection. It’s a smell I’ve come across bushwalking back home in Western Australia. But from what? I think it is particular to scrubby coastal area. Most likely a particular plant. Sort of a heavy musky animal aroma.

trans-2-nonenal – Papery – “like cardboard or oxidized beer”

Ahhh… all cask ale drinkers know this one far too well. Sadly. It is a serious problem in UK “real ale” drinking, oxidation is rife in cask ale.

Yet I drink with folk who’ll happily down several pints of a really quite nastily oxidised beer and claim it is wonderful. Then there are the ones who’ll drink a good hop-forward golden ale and claim it “nasty” but love it when it is still on three days later because it has “smoothed out” and “mellowed”. Ah, anyway, enough of a rant.

On the nose this was pretty typical and what I expected. In the mouth *POW* … yuck. Worse than I’ve ever found in a beer, thankfully. It was pure “wet cardboard” – the flavour sense directly akin to a strong wet cardboard aroma.

2,4,6-trichloroanisole – Musty – “like corked wine or a damp cellar”

A slight odd-one-out being a taint none of us had really heard much about before. “Musty” beer?

The aroma was distinct and horrible. Mildew. Damp. I took a sip. I spat it out. Disgusting. It was like drinking the smell of damp. Retch. Quoting Bob: “Fuck, that is revolting!

In the distant past I’ve done a wine tasting and sales course and had to taste corked wine. And yes, quite similar – horrible mouldy flavour. Sometimes well hidden in big strong reds, but distinct if you know what you’re looking for. Thankfully I have never had this in a beer, and I hope that remains the case. However I do think I’ve had very similar in several ciders. Cider is a minefield of horrible flavours.

4-vinyl guaiacol – Phenolic – “like cloves or wheat beer”

On name alone this didn’t come out as we expected. In the beer world “phenolic” tends to be use a lot to describe smoky flavours, we were thinking Islay whisky – “yay” thought me, and “yuck” thought Bob. It’s Islay versus Speyside – I’m firmly in the Islay camp.

However – this is a different phenol, much to Bob’s relief. The aroma was a bit Belgian, and the flavour more so. Whilst the notes say a signature of German-style Wheat beers Bob though more Wit than Wheat. I thought Hoegaarden – so that’s about right.

This is another one that made the beer more palatable to me, even if in a very odd “flavoured beer” sort of way. As for “cloves” – I’m not so sure, maybe lightly so but with a slight coriander seed element, or that could just be some associative memory. I’m the sort of weirdo who will occasionally fish a clove out of the spice cupboard to chew on, so as a flavour I know it very well.

Wrap Up



All up this was an excellent fun exercise. I think if you have 8 or so folk in a homebrew club, or similar, it would be well worth splitting up the cost of a kit a like this and giving it a go. For some this will just be for confirmation and thus confidence… yes, that really is “skunk”, etc. For others it might be a bit more eye-opening. The advantage of having at least 8 people is that it won’t cost you much more than a tenner each. Not bad for the experience.

However – a single pass like this is fun and interesting, but I don’t feel it is enough. If I had such a club of people I’d try to arrange four dates and get four kits. Do the first run and then do a series of blind tastings. Really lock in some certainty. It’d still cost you less than 50 quid per person – if you’re a flavour and beer nerd like me that’s money well spent I reckon. I’m not personally sure the 10 flavours in the Aroxa kit are ideal though – and I’d carefully consider the competition, FlavorActiV is a bit more expensive but has a different set of flavours and also a 20-flavour kit. And I could really have done without that “mouldy” 2,4,6-trichloroanisole … despite hardly putting any in my mouth I thought I could still taste it an hour later. [Edit: Rich of The Beer Cast has now written up his experience with FlavorActiV kit – check it out for a comparison!]

A brief discussion was had about whether or not you could do this sort of thing as a paid-for gig. A format involving sampling tainted beer followed by some good beers and food would be the way to go we thought. But what would people pay? Probably not enough… the 10-flavour Aroxa kit is £82.80 (FlavorActiV do a similar one for £96 inc-VAT), the required 11 litres of Budweiser (or similar) is about £25, add in some food and decent beer at a price of, say, £15 per head … assuming 8 to 10 people you have a per-head cost range of £25-£30 quid. Would someone pay £50 for a session like this? (First test: would I? I’m not sure. I’d probably consider it… but then I’m a beer nerd, I’m shelling out much more to do a 2-day Beer Academy course.) Maybe with the good food and beer split out of the price as an optional “good food and beer will be available to purchase after” – and thus a price for just the tasting of about £35?

Thanks once again to The Table for providing space (and bread) for the tasting session. Do visit them – they have great food, excellent coffee, and also some tasty beers in the fridge. We were mighty glad to cleanse our tastebuds with some Pressure Drop and Five Points brews after the session.

Five Points - Hook Island Red

Five Points – Hook Island Red





#GBBH – bitching about beer

GBBH beers lined up in my kitchen.


To open, a Twitter conversation observed & enjoyed last week:

Next up Quercus Smoked Oaked Porter #Sainsbeerys

— Phil Hardy (@Filrd) September 18, 2013

@Filrd The crate of that in Sainsbury’s has been untouched, all 3 times I went in recently. How is it?

— Nathaniel Southwood (@NateDawg27) September 18, 2013

@NateDawg27 @Filrd I rather liked that one. Do I like too many?

— David Martin (@rdgmartin) September 18, 2013

@rdgmartin @Filrd Nah, I think some people are being dicks and are too fussy.

— Nathaniel Southwood (@NateDawg27) September 18, 2013

There’s a bunch more to the conversation but as Nate is in Twitter-stealth-mode at the moment you’ll need to be following him to be able to see the juicy bits.


I admit to being one who can be pretty fussy and negative about beer. Although I doubt Nate’s comment above is directed at me as I’m merely one of many similar fussy beer geeks. However, after pondering the conversation I am coming to the conclusion that broadcasting my dislike of specific beers really is being a bit of a dick. I have since unlinked my Untappd from my Twitter. I still want to write my beer notes (which are mainly & most usefully for my own future reference) but I’ve decided that it doesn’t do anyone much good to be telling the (very limited) “world” of my Twittersphere that I think beers are crap – in fact it can be quite the opposite of good. Two reasons:

  1. Being bitchy and negative about a specific beer can upset fellow beer drinkers and can also make brewers angry, or even hurt. (I’m sure I have managed to trigger both together.) This isn’t a positive contribution to the community.
  2. Just because I think a beer is crap doesn’t mean anyone else will – I try to go into drinking a beer with a clean mental palate, but if someone I know has moaned about a beer (or said it is brilliant) this can be difficult. I don’t want to put others in the same situation.

I drain-poured three of the Great British Beer Hunt (GBBH) beers I tried. They just weren’t making my mouth happy and these days I find I have less and less patience for beer that doesn’t sing to me. If I’m not experiencing pleasure in drinking a beer then it is probably going to find itself in the sewer, pronto. I’m beginning to think of my liver as a finite resource.

GBBH beers on the shelves in Sainsbury's

Attention Sainsbury’s shoppers, there’s some damn good beer in isle 3.

What does this say of the GBBH line-up, that there are at least three crap beers in there? No!, of course not. All three have received positive feedback from people who’s beer tastes I respect, and sometimes don’t agree with. I love smoked beers, but really didn’t like Querkus, however Bob Arnott who “positively dislike[s] smoked beers” found that he “really quite enjoyed it“. No – the only thing my own mixed opinion confirms of the GBBH line-up is that it is diverse. That’s what is wonderful about beer above other drinks: the sheer diversity of flavour and experience encapsulated by one small word. For every beer I don’t like there’ll be many who love it, and vice versa.

In fact, what the Sainsbury’s GBBH promotion is doing is shoving a vast variety of beery tastes and flavours right in the faces of their shoppers. They’re backing brewers established and new, big and small – from Thwaites to Hardknott (to make a probably-wrong guess at the extremes of the set). The range covers styles from the everyday humdrum to the truly odd, from the pale and insipid to ichorous mouth-coating flavour-bombs. Sprinkle black pepper on my beer, are you nuts?! Encouraging exploration and experimentation. Half the beers in the range have interesting food paring potential – in fact I really think Sainsbury’s should be pushing a food element as a background theme to the GBBH.

Quite simply Sainsbury’s are doing a FAR better job of championing beer than, for example, the “Let There Be Beer” campaign – and they have been doing it every year for a while now.

I probably won’t buy more of these beers from Sainsbury’s – but that’s just because I don’t really do supermarkets much (once a month at most) and Sainsbury’s is possibly the most difficult of the major ones for me to get to. But maybe if I’m in the area, maybe then. I’ll not declaim this beery marketing exercise, and will diss the beers no further – for Sainsbury’s are doing good work for the promotion of beer diversity, expanding the horizons of beer drinkers, and that is good for all of us.


Now, I can’t promise I’ll never tweet about a beer being crap again – that sounds an impossible task. It’ll happen. Also, I will continue to say exactly what I think of a beer on Untappd, and as always I’d suggest that with any such a website that brewers bold/masochistic enough to look must take any individual feedback with a grain of salt (unless specific flaws are described, especially obvious ones like “half the bottle is now spread across my ceiling”). I don’t “rate” beers any more – any ratings that I have on Untappd are historic. I’ve decided that simple numeric zero-to-five/ten/whatever scales just don’t make sense for the experience of drinking a beer. It’s too complex and too much comes from context, too much is subjective, moods alter experience, as does time and place – I will stick with words, not numbers, even if the words are “this is shit”. I think everyone sensible in the beer community knows the nature of rating/review sites and this is an OK place to put such opinion as compared to the much more social/shared medium of Twitter.

#OpenTheRhetoric – Twitter & Beer Geerkey

@HardknottDave is a beer geek who also happens to be a brewer of some quite awesome beers. As with many small breweries the geekery doesn’t stop at the beer – Twitter[1] seems to have become a bit of a beer community phenomenon. I can keep tabs on the majority of the interesting UK beer scene by following a small knot of the UK beer hardcore, a collection of both brewers and drinkers. This is an incredibly useful research tool, the topic of research being “what beer should I buy/drink next?” Weighty and important stuff.

Omega Centauri

Omega Centauri - European Southern Observatory (ESO)

This Twitter “miniverse” is a loose-knit network of like-minded folk. If I were to visualise it it would be sort of like Omega Centauri. A dense highly connected core in the middle, folk constantly chatting about beer at a personal level. Here we find the @HardknottDaves (brewer), @MellissaColes (beer evangelist), @BeerReviewsAndys (beer blogger & beery IT), and @simonhjohnsons (enthusiastic drinker?) of the scene. These people generate the constant core thread of UK beer talk. As you get out towards the edges you pass through a dense zone of popular but less personally involved entities – accounts acting under the persona of a brewery/retailer/organisation – followed by many but interacting with few or none. Some, more centrally, take on a persona and interact 1:1 with many followers – such as @BrewDog – but have the kind of tinny hollow impersonal feeling of marketing. Others really are just one-way-spews of marketing announcements – though nevertheless of some interest. Finally as you gradually move out to the darkness of empty space you pass by the wider community of people who simply like beer and have the occasional interaction with the core. These folk dip in and out the the thread, a reply here and there, a retweet from time to time. Maybe once, maybe a couple of times a day.

This interesting and diverse community has given rise to a new class of “distributed event” – such as Twitter beer tastings. I’ve seen it done a few times, sometimes based around a whole selection of beers sold in a box for a Twitter “beer festival”, others a varied set of beers for a Twitter/blogger #OpenIt event. There are always a lot of interesting beers being consumed out there!

All this is beside the point in the title: #OpenTheRhetoric – a Twitter event for a Hardknott brewery special release. Rhetoric Ed.I – the first in a series of special beery one-offs by the brewery. This beer is described as “Star Anise Infused Quasi-Bombastic Belgique Quad” – if that doesn’t raise an eyebrow & pique your interest then you’re dead inside. An empty shell I tell you. Dave, Ann, and Alex at Hardknott distributed a small selection of Rhetoric to various beer bloggers and geeks prior to the official release, the beer wasn’t quite ready at the time (needed a little more bottle conditioning time) and we had to promise to not open it until the Hardknott beer-signal had been issued. I was lucky enough to get my mitts on a bottle when passing by the brewery to drop off empties from the Hitchin beer festival.

This sort of “one off” beer series isn’t a new idea. You could say it goes back a very long way in some respects – in the “old days” of brewing many beer batches would have been different from time to time, season to season. I can picture ye olde beerwives tossing something interesting into the brew, some warm spices in Christmas perhaps, a dead rat for a favoured cousin – then again I may be over-romanticising the past. Anyway, In more recent times real ale breweries in the UK often have a slot for a rotating “brewer playing around a little ale” (usually very conservative “playing”), sometimes such a brew works so well it becomes a permanent offering. Regardless of the format, releasing such varied beers is a great idea and an excellent service to those beer geeks like myself who’re more interested in change & difference than the tried and true & old and reliable. BrewDog are well known for this sort of thing in the form of their Abstrakt brand – so far I’ve religiously bought a few of every release (and still have at least 2 bottles of all of them). I’ve also recently noticed Arbor Ales doing a similar thing called “Freestyle Friday” – the 2012 Black IPA was particularly tasty, though a little over my bitterness threshold!

It especially tickles my interest when the beers are strong and have cellaring potential – full of hope we buy them and put them somewhere stable and once a year, say, we pop one open and enjoy the liquor within while radiating a self-satisfied smugness. Sometimes after a couple of years these beers taste like shoe polish & vinegar – with a small sob in remembrance of better times they’re interred in the u-bend of the sink.

Back to the beer that is, sadly, no longer at hand! You can read the original Rhetoric rhetoric here on Dave’s blog and you can read another blogger’s notes on the beer & event too. There are also, of course, a fair few comments lingering on Twitter, though they’ll vapourise in a short time. I see one RateBeer ticker got hold of it as well – it is also on Untappd thanks to myself.

I sampled Rhetoric Ed.I with about 8 other people, so I only had a few sips. It was also at the tail end of a day-long house-warming party. Thus I’m not going to offer any detailed thoughts on tasting notes and not make any attempt to give it any “rating” – I suspect we’re talking a 4, but maybe a 5, on Untappd from me. The aniseed was distinct, surely, but it wasn’t sickly & medicinal, Rhetoric came across as definitely beer not an alcopop oddity. I enjoyed the beer immensely – pleasingly everyone else who had a little enjoyed it too (to varying degrees). This includes a couple of folk who really aren’t keen on aniseed flavours at all, and another who really isn’t keen on beer full-stop. He also enjoyed the Hardknott Colonial Mayhem – there seems to be some strong beery evangelism built into Hardknott beer and I expect the conversions haven’t stopped at Hardknott Ann.

I’ll be buying some bottles of Rhetoric Ed.I – and so can you, while stocks last, just follow this link to the Hardknott shop!

[1] I’m not sure if there is any sort of similar projection of the community into Facebook – I don’t touch Facebook because it isn’t open, it isn’t friendly, it “farms” users much like dodgy food industries farm battery hens. I suspect Twitter may simply work better for the beer community due to its simplicity and openness.

Hardknott Granite, ’09 vs ’10

I’ve been building up a backlog of beer for long enough now that I can compare the same beer (by name) brewed a year or two apart. I get an odd sort of geeky pleasure out of doing this, especially when there is an appreciable difference between the beers.

This evening I cracked open two bottles of HardKnott Granite, the 2009 (bottle 196 of 504) and the 2010 (bottle 332 of 804). The bottle describes this beer as a “barley wine style beer for geological time scale aging” with an added blurb “Hide it away in your deepest darkets cellar to avoid temptation to consume before its best. Enjoy with warm enligntened company, in a temperate climate sometime before the next ice age. Savour with cheese and dark chocolate.” OK, so perhaps I’ve given in to temptation early, but unfortunately I don’t have a cellar – let alone a deepest darkest cellar (I so wish I did!)

When I first tried the 2009 a year or so ago I described it as smoky, I recall using one of my favourite phrases: “sausage beer”. A lot has happened since then. I’ve met Dave Bailey, the brewer behind HardKnot, a couple of times (or so) and even bought firkins of his more tame (but very good) beers for our local Hitchin beer festival. When I went to return the empties back in April my timing was rather good… just in time to buy a mixed box of Granite and Aether Blaec 2010! I’ve had one or two bottles of all of these but this is the first pair I’ve put head-to-head. So, transcribing straight from my notes here’s how they compared:

Granite '09 vs Granite '10

Granite 2009 Granite 2010
ABV 10.4% 10.1%
“Best Before” (or after?;) 10/02/15 14/02/16
Description on bottle This beer was created using Natural Lake District water extracted from volcanic rock. The heat of our copper drove the malt sugars to twice the concentration producing a burnt toffee flavour. This beer was created using water extracted from the ancient geology of Cumbria. The head of our copper drove the malt sugars to high concentration producing rich toffee flavours.
Cap Metallic Red Red
Opening Sharp, strong “psst”. Slow gathering of bubbles around edge of neck. Light “psst”. No visible bubbling.
Pour Tight cream head builds quickly. Foam holds, takes 2+ minutes to dissipate. Loose cream head. Dissipates rapidly.
Aroma Hint of summer bushfire after rain, with a burnt car tyre or two. Medicinal disinfectant note as of hospital ward. Fruity, boozy nose. Smells sweet. Hint of coffee.
Swirl Head re-builds easily, retention as before. Amost no head re-forms.
Enjoyed at 12°C 12°C
  • At first creamy texture fills the mouth, possibly a little too much condition.
  • Then the burnt notes hit the taste buds and insinuate themselves up the nostrils from behind.
  • There is a nostalgic memory of bushfire season.
  • A medicinal/disinfectant note makes itself apparent, a bit on the unpleasant side.
  • This is accompanied by black pepper and juniper berry notes, perhaps the disinfectant note is pine?
  • The beer begins to take on a resinous feel in the mouth, with a gentle warming at the back.
  • Slowly a sour-cherry edge appears, develops, and becomes one of the dominant dimensions.
  • Feel is heavy, sweet, syrupy.
  • Flavour hits as rich spiced fruit pudding.
  • Loads of date, raisin, and a hit of cherry; perhaps even the ghost of a squeeze of lemon.
  • Sherry, now fruitcake becomes rich Christmas pudding that has been fed sherry for as year.
  • A hint of melon jumps up and down for attention in peripheral vision.
  • Warm notes build, warm spices.
  • Now it goes through a cough-syrup phase, too much all at once.
  • This dies quickly leaving just warmth, building warmth.
  • I’m left with a lingering heat down going all the way down my throat.
  • A ghost of chilli and pine resin.
  • Working through the glass the medicinal notes become less present and the warmth and spice builds.
  • The hint of disinfectant never leaves though, but it is a ghost of a hint.
  • The body holds well, the beer feels great in the mouth until the last sip.
  • This beer stays big and bold all the way through the glass. It’s like drinking a magical warming elixir.
  • The mouthfeel becomes a bit heavy half way through. At this point the beer is pretty much dead flat.
  • Despite this the final mouthful leaves me wanting more, there is a suffusion of wellbeing.
Verdict This 2009 was not as good as I recall. I’m certain the beer has changed with age, though not for better or worse. I know I thought of it as a “sausage beer” (smoky) but this is certainly not how I’d describe it now. The actual smoky notes have gone to be replaced by burnt (post-smoke) flavours. The piney disinfectant flavour is a new one I think, or is given more prominence perhaps. I like piney flavours though so this doesn’t matter much. The sour note really is new I think, and I guess it comes with age – I wasn’t too keen on it. The 2010 was a surprise. I have pre-conceived ideas based on the 2009, and while I’d tried the 2010 on its own already I didn’t realise it was so different compared to the 2009 (as drunk a year ago.) The only thing lacking was a bit of extra mouthfeel that would come from extra condition. Possibly the 2009 is over-conditioned (Dave himself said he thinks as much) but I’d personally prefer to see the over-condition of the 2009 in the 2010 than the near-flat beer I drank tonight. Then again, this is described as a barley-wine and I’ve never had a fizzy barleywine! It’s also over 10% ABV and could very easily replace the entirely un-fizzy dessert wine you might normally find accompanying a cheese platter. I’d say the blurb on the bottle is quite on-target when it suggest savouring the beer within with cheese.

I guess I have to come to some sort of conclusion now. The 2010 is the better of the two, and while I’d like a little extra fizz in it I think that the massive flavour in the beer moves it into a territory where lighter texture isn’t too important. (I do believe I actually told Dave that I preferred the 2009 at some point, I stand self-corrected!) Keep in mind that these beers are 10% ABV, you want to sip them like a cognac or fine dessert wine. The 2009 is still a great bottle of beer, despite loosing out to its younger sibling. However I’m not certain age as treated it well, thus far, I remember more smoke and more malty toffee notes (but perhaps age is not treating my memory so well?) I have another bottle, or maybe two, so perhaps I’ll see what it’s like in a year… or five!

I do recommend getting hold of some HardKnott beers. I think they’re amongst the best examples of bottle-conditioned “real ales” you can come across. Secondary fermentation is what gives all Dave’s beers their essential fizz yet you won’t find a huge puck of yeast at the bottom of the bottle. Too many micros in the UK either don’t bother with bottle conditioning or they whack a huge load of yeast into the bottle and make it very difficult to pour clear. I find, in my circles, that “real ale in a bottle” has a bit of a bad reputation as a result (it’s either not real and too fizzy, or is is real and you end up with mud in your glass.)

I’ve successfully purchased HardKnott beers from MyBreweryTap and BeerMerchants.

I also have two different HardKnott Queboids, and three different HardKnott Aether Blaecs. I do look forward to putting them head-to-head as well sometime!