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!

Beer: Can vs Bottle

Emu Export(1)

There’s a stigma attached to canned beer. It’s cheap, lowbrow, and tastes awful. I’ve always thought so. Back home in the country a typical beer was a “tinny” of something like Emu Bitter, Emu Export, or Victoria Bitter (Australia’s favourite beer?) When I was younger I always hated beer and considered the contents of a tinny to taste… well, tinny. But perhaps, all along, the problem has been that all the beer I’ve tried from a can has simply been crap beer? I can’t say I like any of the aforementioned beers in bottled form either.

Wind forward a couple of decades and I’m in the UK. Nothing has changed my opinion of canned beer, to be honest the matter never comes up because no beer I’m likely to drink is available in cans. Then along comes BrewDog – they have a shocking suggestion: how about we package our Punk IPA in cans? Queue much derision from the beer-loving community. (Well, actually, I’m not sure if there was much outcry. The chatter in the blog comments and on the BrewDog shareholder forum was mostly positive and supporting – then again we’re talking about a bunch of people that kiss the ground that BrewDoggers walk on.)

In practical terms cans have a lot to offer, quoting from a can of Maui Big Swell IPA:

Welcome to the

Cans eliminate light damage
and reduce the risk of oxidation,
keeping our beer fresher
than in bottles!

Cans are lighter, chill quicker,
and can be enjoyed on beaches
and in sensitive environments.
Aluminum is the most recycled
and most eco-friendly material.

I’m not going to verify all those claims, but they certainly paint a damn fine picture. In the end however, as far as I’m concerned, the proof is in the tasting!

Unfortunately I’m probably not going to be able to try the same beer side-by-side from can and bottle until BrewDog’s Punk IPA cans hit the market. However, I can do a bit of an IPA side-by-side with similar beers to see how the canned beer shapes up. Our contestants are:

IPA Battle!

Some sketchpad notes:

St. Lupulin Extra Pale Ale

  • Aroma: oatmeal/malt, light resinous hop aroma (i.e. malt aroma more powerful)
  • Flavour: Fruity/biscuity malt, floral/resinous hop flavour
  • Look: Lightly clouded golden

Big Swell IPA

  • Aroma: resinous hops, oatmeal/malt (i.e. hop aroma more powerful)
  • Flavour: Biscuity malt, grapefruit/resinous hop flavour (really wouldn’t have picked this as being lower IBU than the Odell)
  • Look: Lightly clouded golden

Punk IPA

  • Aroma: Astringent resinous hops, honey note
  • Flavour: Grapefruit/floral hops hit, then bitterness, then following light malt sweetness
  • Look: Crystal clear golden (note: this is “old” Punk IPA, as up to around end 2010)

[Note: My nose/palate seems unfortunately slightly low-resolution today. Not unwell, just not enough sleep perhaps. Still enjoying the beer and lots of flavour, just not picking out the level of flavour I’d normally find in the Punk IPA.]

So, the verdict?

These are all great beers! I wish I’d tried a blind tasting because the Odell and Maui beers are very similar. I think the Odell was a little rounder in flavour, and the Maui crisper – could I call that “tinny”? No, I call it slightly hoppier and a little more bitter (despite the lower published IBU.) “Tinny” is such a horrible word, let’s move on to woodier thoughts.

I think that if I were asked in a blind tasting of all three beers to pick which came from a can I’d have chosen the Punk IPA. It’s certainly got the hops and bitterness turned up a notch or two. This Maui IPA is even “bottle conditioned”, pouring with a slight haze of yeast. It was certainly the liveliest of the beers and the side of the can bears the words “Live Beer! Keep Cold!”

But what about a beer that isn’t supposed to have tinny (shudder) notes? A porter perhaps? We can do that! Maui’s CoCoNut PorTeR:

Canned Porter?!

This is a bloody tasty beer. Deep toasted malt flavours, lots of chocolate, slightly soured malty sweetness, light yet distinct trailing toasted coconut flavour. I love it, I’d certainly drink this again. As with the Big Swell IPA, I really couldn’t say whether the can makes any difference as I don’t have the same beer handy in bottled form. (In fact, it’d have to be from the same batch ideally.) There isn’t anything “bad” or notably “tinny” about the beer, and it is highly enjoyable. This is a beer I’ll buy again. Both the Maui beers are beers I’ll buy again. I’m thinking of buying a case of both in fact – this is perfect hiking beer, no lugging heavy glass bottles around! I hope BrewDog really do run with the cans; long live canned craft beer!

I, for one, hail our mighty canned overlords!

[1] Photo credit to JonasPhoto