This time last week (being Tuesday afternoon) I was at a certain underground cult bar sampling – for free mind you – two truly excellent beers from 8-wired. Oh, I do hope you’re jealous now. It will only get better later on.
The second of these (bear with me on this) was The Grand Cru, an 11% Belgian Quadrupel, a dark, woody amber brew with an aroma and initial taste of, we decided, papaya and some kind of melon with a light sourness. There was a noticeable but not unwelcome alcohol warmth in the middle which never overpowered that wonderful complexy Belgianiness, and a lovely sweet and sour finish. I cannot recommend this one highly enough if you happen to see it, particularly as I am not usually a fan of sour beers. It was brewed with sultanas and aged in pinot noir barrels so I presume it’s the remix version of The Sultan from last year but it’s far too long ago for me to make that comparison fairly. All I know is that you should hurdle the weak and trample the lame that get between you and this beer. Oh, it’s good.
As to why I started here with the second beer I sampled it’s because the first was the mighty Bumaye, a 17% monstrosity of an Imperial Stout. I had to start with this one because I was sure it would sell out quickly. Søren claims the Grand Cru is the most vinous beer he has ever tasted. Unless he skipped the Bumaye, I respectfully disagree. I went expecting something brutal and vicious, given the name and my experience with the Mikkeller Black, a worthy quest and a trial by fire and brimstone. I even had a song lined up to match it with. But to my surprise the Bumaye was a weird, smooth, sweet brew that I could easily have mistaken for some kind of wine or port.* The pinot noir barrels this was aged in have done their work, as the aroma and flavour are dominated by dark, fruity or berry winey goodness. Pitch black, virtually headless and lacking carbonation I honestly have no idea how to rate this one. I have never had anything quite like it, though it is fair to say I would totally love to try it again. Soon. Because at the moment my opinion is provisional.
Why? Again, bear with me. I got in as early as I could to sample this and I honestly don’t know how this might affect perceptions. I had had the Boris, a Russian Imperial Stout from Feral, an Australian brewery, at Beervana 2011 because as you may have gathered I do like me some big beers, and initially I was gobsmacked. Dangerously smooth and sweet for a nearly 12% monster. But when I went back towards the end of the night it had morphed into a still good but far harsher beast, with a vicious alcohol kick and almost burning finish. When it finally arrived at a certain underground cult bar it was somewhere in the middle. My question, to those who have more understanding in these areas, is whether with these very big beers the sweeter portion of the brew finds a way to rise to the top of the keg or whether I’m just a terribly inconsistent taster. I’m leaning towards the latter but for those with an opinion and nothing better to do, send your answers to whatthehelliswrongwithmymouth.com. Or, like, post a comment here, whatever.
Now, as to why I’m talking about sampling the Bumaye on the Tuesday three days before Beervana…all shall become clear. In the meantime, on to the big show.
After entering the stadium and receiving my slimmed down bag-o-goodies (not even a pen? what the?) and having located the Australian bar via the somewhat randomly located map on page 28 of the guide book, I began with the Amasia by The Mash Collective, (7%, Rumweizen – whatever that may mean). A copper-amber body, described well as having banana and malt flavours, it was less rummy than expected and surprisingly light in the mouth, though still full-flavoured. Apparently it’s actually a Dunkelweizen. Well, ok then. Mash Collective is a side project from Stone & Wood who did the Pacific Ale (review #7) which was similarly solid without being outstanding. Off to a good start though, even if in time the cut-off price point of 6.5% would soon start to hurt badly.**
After that, I hit the Murrays. I had missed their Heart of Darkness last year and was pleased to see it back, but first I just had to try the Seasons in the Abyss, an 11.3% Farmhouse Imperial Stout (farmhouse? write to me at morestuffidontknow.com), the only bottle pour of the evening and a good one. Unexpectedly sweet on the nose with a smallish tan head, bitter then anise in mouth, with more anise bitterness to finish and a slight wininess throughout, a good, deep, dark, and dense proper big beer. This was an early bolter for the best of the night but I do like my black sambuca. If you don’t then this one ain’t for you.
Ah, the Heart of Darkness. A 9.6% Belgio Imperial Stout, with a similar tan head and black body as the last one but this one had a slightly funky roast and banana thing going on that didn’t quite work, with a alcohol sting and a slightly harsh finish the previous two big beers were lacking. Not a poor beer by any means but not one I would seek out again.
That was the end of my Aussie adventure. If a nine-and-a-half percent beer looks wussy it’s possibly a good time to pace yourself. It was time to cleanse my palate with a nice clean pilsener or something. Of course then it all went to hell when I spotted the Feijoa Lambic…
8-wired Bumaye – 9/10 (pending). If it tastes like this consistently, which is yet to be verified, then this is a big, beautiful and bizarre drink. I’m almost hesitant to call it a beer. It is what it is, and I must have it again.
8-wired Grand Cru – 8/10. The best sour beer I’ve had, not that there have been many. Again, I must have more.
The Mash Collective Amasia – 6.5/10. Definitely interesting, and really quite good. Would drink again.
Murrays Seasons in the Abyss – 8/10. One of the better anise-based big beers I’ve had and hence one of the better overall beers. A standout even on a night of fairly consistent high quality.
Murrays Heart of Darkness – 5/10. Not bad by any means but not my cup o’ tea. An interesting idea but not something I’d crawl over broken glass to sample again.
* Of course, I do not drink port. But the Bumaye is pretty close to how a non-port drinker might expect port to taste. I presume.
** For beers or ciders under 6.5% abv the price was one $2 token for a 75ml taster, three tokens for a 250ml serve. Over 6.5% it was two tokens for a taster, four for a full serve. As a guy who wanted to sample a wide range of often big beers the problem soon became obvious. If I hadn’t resorted to trying to distract the bar staff while they were pouring my tasters I might have found myself dangerously sober and dangerously poor. Given that it works out to be the equivalent of between $13 and $30 (!!) a pint, on top of the $40 entry, I might humbly suggest that the pricing structure still isn’t quite right. Oh, and while I’m at it, I realise I chose poorly but to the General Practitioner, that hot dog was not worth six bucks.