If you were going to split beer enthusiasts into two broad churches, one would worship the malt and yeast characters in beers made by actual monks; the other would worship hops and flee to the New World, or more specifically, Portland, Oregon.
As for the site of Armageddon, neither party would have picked New Zealand, from whence this beer came. It is certainly the American, hop-filled vision of the end times rather than one imagined by Trappists.
Epic says: “In the beginning, there was nothing. Then an impish brewer piled a ludicrous amount of hops into a batch of beer. This zymurgical big bang is Epic Armageddon, an apocalyptic assault on your preconceptions and taste buds. It may be too huge for this fragile planet so enjoy this beer like it was the last one on Earth”
I say: Pours a orange-copper color. The aroma is hops, the flavour is hoppy to the point of being oily and resinous; pine forest and orange. No maltiness or any other character, just hops, which amply conceals the 6.66% alcohol punch. The finish is bitter. It’s unbalanced just like a good India pale ale should be.
It’s probably no great surprise that I’m a sucker for seasonal beers: they’re a key diversion for the neophiliac drinker. They give brewers the chance to bring their wilder experiments to market without the threat of destroying the good name of a brewery. If they’re a disastrous mistake, at least it is fleeting. If the beer is a success, you’ll have an excruciating wait until next year.
Monteith’s Doppelbock Winter Ale is back in season; it is a rich, malty and alcoholic ale that is out of style, if you’re a beer purist. It is not a doppelbock by any stretch of the imagination (a “A very strong and rich lager” according to the BJCP style guidelines), so I’m not sure why the doppelbock deception made its way onto the diminutive 330ml bottle. Frankly, I can’t say the word “doppelbock” often enough, armed with the knowledge that it translates as double-goat from German, so I can understand their conceit.
Monteith’s say: “A profound enveloping winter beer. Monteith’s Doppelbock Winter Ale is a smoothly rich beer with a dense head, a powerful aroma, and chocolatey malt notes ñ the perfect way to cheer yourself up this winter. ”
I say: Is it legal to say that beer cures seasonal affective disorder? In the glass, this faux-doppelbock bears a striking resemblance to Coca-Cola, brownish-black and thin. Dull aroma and a fading head, like an elderly uncle. The flavour is heavy on the malt with a touch of allspice. In previous seasons, Monteith’s was producing a more intriguing and richer brew than this from their New Zealand brewery. They can do better in the coming seasons.
Spiced beers generally fit alongside those other joke beers like chili beer or a perfectly-skunked Corona. In the official judging guidelines, they’re relegated to the category of “Spice, Herb, or Vegetable Beer” to languish amongst the beers that simply don’t work elsewhere. At best, they get passed off as a Belgian specialty ale, a beer with too many characters to characterise.
Most of the people who brew them are certifiably mad; the type of brewer who thinks that the one missing flavor from their porter is pumpkin. I like the hint of coriander and orange peel in a Hoegaarden but don’t really want a beer that boasts that its primary appeal is that it tastes unlike beer but more like garden.
Thus I approached Taieri George with caution. It comes from the brilliant brewers at Emerson’s as a spiced ale, brewed seasonally and released on March 6, the birthday of brewer Richard Emerson’s father, George. It’s also named after a train. A train in New Zealand.
Emerson’s says: “The beer pours a reddish brown hue and offers a delightful aroma of freshly baked hot cross buns with a hint of chocolate…the luscious malt and spice flavours are balanced with just enough hop dryness”
I say: It is much like liquified hot cross bun, pouring with a foamy, dirty brown head at the suggested 8 degrees C. I imagine this is how the Easter Bunny tastes if you put him through the Pacojet. The added cinnamon and the spiciness of the nutmeg aren’t at all cloying and balance with the malt, and the high alcohol content remains slyly hidden. This is a fantastic beer for Winter. This batch, bottle-conditioned since March, would probably hold up to more aging, developing into something even more complex for next season.
Price: A$10.99 per pint bottle