Are You Tasting the Pith? - 10th April 05
Having been involved as a judge in the International Beer Competition 2005, it was tremendously exciting to find that the medals boards had been swept by the Rogue Brewery from Oregon, USA. They won four out of fifteen gold medals, which is both an an unprecedented success and a huge achievement. It says that everything they do is the best it possibly can be. They have been judged by a panel of their peers, and not been found wanting in any area. And even more excitingly, Sainsbury's is (for a limited time) stocking them nationally, as they were sponsors of the competition this year.
Kicking off with their delicious Smoke Ale (5.5% abv), which is a great interpretation of the classic Bamberger rauchbier, which has it's malt smoked over a wood fire (alder in this case, rather than the traditional beech). This imparts a smokiness to the beer that is hinted at on the nose, but plainly apparent in the palate. Rogue's version is a little heavier than the German original, and a tad sweeter, making it very drinakble despite its specialist heritage. The smokiness is assertive, but not in-your-face, and while I'm not a huge fan of the style, this one was balanced enough to keep me going back to the bottle until it was all gone.
If Younger's Special Bitter (4.6% abv) sounds like a classic English ale, then it tastes like one too. There is softly fruity malt on the nose, with hints of light toffee, pale stone fruit (apricots) and a slight whiff of orange-pithy hops. On the palate, the beer is medium bodied, slightly sweet, with the flavours bursting on the tounge (again, more pale fruit maltiness, followed by a drying orange hop bitterness), and a long bittersweet finish. A classic ale, and if may be allowed to to get all Nick Hornby on you for a moment, perhaps in my Top 10 Best Beers Ever list.
Which brings us to the supreme champion, Mocha Porter (6% abv). For a porter to carry off the title of best in show is pretty unusual, but again, once you taste this beer, you can immediately see why. Softly roasted malt dominates the palate, with plenty of milky coffee and milk chocolate notes. The body is medium dry, with lots of mocha notes (duh), a touch of fruitiness from the malt, and a gently bittering finish before the long roasty malt aftertaste.
Styling itself as "the Emperor of Ales, (unlike the bourgeois King of Beers)", Imperial Stout (9.5% abv) is, again, a fantastic recreation of the style. Deep roasty notes, just a hint of alcohol on the nose, intense and slightly viscous palate which both molasses-sweet and bitter-hop-dry. Very long aftertaste, full of bitter choclate and coffee. Deep, intense, wonderful.
A very good week.
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