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Getting To Know Nils Oscar

So, it’s onto the rest of Nils Oscar’s range. As my previous post said, I’ve not been the biggest fan of God Lager over the years, and maybe that had tarnished the brewery somewhat for me. My previous impression had tarnished the entire brewery – notions of style over substance, a boutique beer toted around for reasons other than ‘that it tastes really good.’

So when BeerRitz got a hold of pretty much the rest of their range, I was torn as to whether to dive in or not. Of course, as is always the case, pleasant surprises followed.

First up, Rokporter (5.9%abv), a self-styled Smoked Porter from the northern wastelands. The nose is full of sweet woodsmoke with only a hint of soapiness, and it’s certainly a heady enough mix to make you want to dive in. There’s bitter chocolate in the body; a drying, cocoa powder note, and the relatively thick mouthfeel is offset by a lively spritz. It’s a comforting taste – sweet, dry and full of muted freshly-chopped-wood notes – but it’s slightly too light to really warm you through, which is what I’d have liked, to be honest. Still, an interesting beer that would be a great match for cured meats.

Ctrl Alt Delete (which, by the way, is a great name) is a perplexing one, too. It pours a lovely tobaccoburst (one for you Les Paul fans out there) hue…all the colours of autumn swirling around in the glass as it settles. There’s that odd earthy note in the nose again; chalky, minerally and finishing with a herbal finish. Again, it’s a light beer to drink in terms of mouthfeel, and certainly isn’t cloying; but just misses the mark in terms of satisfaction. I want bready notes in the nose , I want a rich, sweet toffee-and-gingerbread flavour in the body of my Altbiers, and this just falls ever so slightly short. Maybe it’s too subtle – let’s turn it up a bit!

Kalasol (5.2%abv) rides to the rescue, however. What an interesting beer; a shimmeringly amber (remember those fake glass coals you used get in electric fires in the 70’s and 80’s? That colour) Vienna lager with plenty of grainy, nutty flavours happening in the body, and a clean, dry finish with a surprisingly assertive twist of orange peel at the end. The whole package is lovely; plenty of character, satisfying, and leaves the palate clean for the next sip, which happens at some rate. This beer would be wonderful with some Pizza or – as I have typed in capitals in my tasting notes – a massive, salty, soft pretzel. Lovely.

Hop Yard IPA (7.5%abv) proves that the guys at Nils Oscar are no slouches when it comes to hops, either. As the name would suggest, it’s a bold, brassy IPA with an axe to grind – high, riding bitterness appears almost immediately, puckering the lips and inviting another sip. Boiled sweets with an undertow of creamy malt dominate the body, and the sip finishes, offering a bag of sherbert lemons and pink grapefruit. Perfectly pitched and both sweet and dry enough to satisfy hop-monsters, it’s a bloody good beer.

So; overall, a mixed bag – but I’ve certainly adjusted my outlook when it comes to Nils Oscar. Now, can I have another Kalasol, please? Oh, and a gigantic Pretzel whilst you’re at it?


Hawkshead’s ‘Well Hopped’ Range

You may laugh, but I generally don’t take up breweries on offers of beer for review. There’s been a lot said about it in the past – about the obligation, the lack of credibility – all of which I vehemently agree with. But when Hawkshead contact you, exceptions are made. These beers were sent to me (and many others) and I’m bloody glad they were.

Sinply put – you don’t turn down Windermere Pale. Ever.

The three samples represent the ‘Well Hopped’ range; 6-7% in abv and hopped with an English and New Zealand bias. When you think about it, that’s the perfect analogy for Hawkshead; the traditional, quintessentially British attitude to unswerving quality and understatement, underpinned by the slightly zany, garrulous exclamation brought by Matt Clarke. Nowhere does that split-personality come across more than with these bottled gems.

Cumbrian Five Hop (6.5%) was my choice of the lot. Fuggles, Citra and Amarillo combine in the nose to give you a swirl of catty, lemon and tangerine notes underpinned by a herbal, slightly minty foundation. The body is clean, smooth, and with a definite note of cereal, reminding you that this beer is not all about the nose. Just when you think the beer is done, a long, dry, biting bitterness appears, making the next sip all too inevitable. Finally, a little hit of alcohol warmth shines through, leaving you to contemplate a very, very accomplished beer indeed.

NZPA combines the classic Kiwi hop family; Riwaka, Green Bullet, Nelson Sauvin and Motueka. Lighter in shade and tone than Cumbrian Five Hop, this pours a light, sunny gold and that aroma fills the glass immediately; Grapefruit, Lemon Pith, White Grape and Mango. Fresh, light, spritzy. It drinks pretty much as you’d want it to; light, elegant and sleek, carrying all those citrus flavours through the body and into a long, rasping finish.

Finally, Windermere Pale is labelled as ‘Bottle Strength‘ here; stronger than the Cask favourite at 6%, and a much different beer for it. Burnished gold in colour as opposed to uber-pale, I thought the aroma was actually less fleet-of-foot than the original. Sure, there’s all that pithy, dry-as-a-bone tangerine peel and peachiness coming through, but it finishes sweet and robust, rather than dry. There’s a herbal, hedgerow note in there too that’s interesting. I thought this version to be an interesting experiment with a (fast-becoming) modern classic, and a welcome one at that – but overall, I do prefer the original session-strength, lighter version.

All in all, another snapshot of what Hawkshead are doing right now in terms of Pales. Now I’ve just got to make sure I don’t miss those barrel-aged stouts that they’ve been hiding from us up there in deepest, darkest Cumbria…

Marble / Dark Star Saison Special

Towards the end of last year, I headed over to Manchester to do a spot of judging at the SIBA North event, along with Rob and Dean Pugh of Foley’s fame. A good day was had by all, and at one point I found myself sitting at a table with, amongst others, Mark Tranter of Dark Star. I obviously didn’t let on that I knew who he was – as I have previous, calamitous history when meeting people I admire (when you see me next, ask me about my cringeworthy the-time-I-met-Sam-Beam story). Anyway, during the course of that round, he revealed he’d been doing ‘some brewing’ whilst up here, and left it at that.

Turns out that’s just another example of Mark’s self-deprecating nature. I’m assuming now, of course, that he was actually over at Marble (who else) creating this interesting, tasty take on Saison. Special 2011 (9%) is a tasty one alright, Ember-Amber in colour, and with a pleasingly thick, billowy head that bursts and pops, releasing sweet bubblegum/Juicy Fruit notes as it does so. Drinking it, there’s that cutting, pithy, citrus aspect that provides refreshment and an intake of breath, which is swallowed up eventually by more honeyed sweetness.

For a Saison, it’s not light at all; it’s a big, boozy beer with tonnes of depth and sweetness that’s perfect for sharing about and savouring. I craved a cheeseboard whilst drinking it (something that Steve over at Beers I’ve Known did with great success here). As the offspring between two of the UK’s best brewers it’s tasty, complex and suitably boozy. Both should be pretty darn pleased.

If you see any about (and you might be lucky now) then don’t hesitate to pick one up.

Ossett Treacle Stout

I love this stuff, I really do. It’s got tonnes of latte-like coffee creaminess on the nose, which is followed by a more intense coffee hit. Within the deceptively rounded body there’s that sweet milk-chocolate note, which ends up super-sweet, courtesy of the treacle -and a slight hint of liquourice lurking in the background. You really can taste the bonfire-toffee treacle in there, but the red-fruity, slightly dry finish stops it being too cloying. If you’re after a fantastic stout – one that packs a lot of flavour into a modest 5.0% abv, this beer is for you. Lovely.
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