3 Bottles + a Book: Hoppy Bock, Old Red Barn and Beer Crafts

It’s Wednesday, which means that it’s time for 3 Bottles + a Book. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

The first bottle up is Hoppy Bock Lager from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing. Now, I don’t know why it’s called a “Bock Lager,” since pretty much by definition bocks are lagers – unless you count Boston Beer’s Triple Bock or ales brewed in Texas and misnamed in order to comply with some of the most ridiculous beer labelling laws in the United States – and I’m sure that some hopheads out there will be equally curious about the “Hoppy” part of the equation, since this is hardly an overtly bitter beer. But one sniff and you’ll understand that this is more about aromatics than bitterness, and that the moniker is apt.

The nose of Hoppy Bock is one of the most attractive I’ve experienced in a bottom-fermented beer for some time, lightly sweet and floral, with some soft herbals and something almost approaching lavender. The start of the body is a tad more benign, with an inauspicious, slightly watery entry, but grows more interesting with every second it sits on the palate, adding first some very light caramel notes, then green herbs and soft florals, followed but a more significant bitterness and a surprisingly dry and quenching finish. There might not be a huge amount about this beer that I associate with the bock style – maibock at a stretch, maybe – but I certainly do find it most enjoyable and admire the complexity of the nose and finish.

Next is a bottle that arrived only this morning, but which I’ve pushed to the top of the tasting queue because, frankly, I’m curious about it and off to Montréal for the Mondial de la Bière tomorrow and so otherwise won’t be able to try it for a week or so. It’s from Winnipeg’s Half Pints Brewing and represents their first adventure into the wacky world of so-called sour beers, influenced, they say, by a “mixed yeast culture” and barrel aged for two years.

Old Red Barn is reddish auburn in colour, with a huge cherry pit aroma combining vanilla with cherry notes and something not necessarily funky, but more old and musty, although not in a bad way. The body is vibrant and quite tart, a little too much so, honestly. (I prefer to call such beers “tart ales” rather than “sour beers” or just “sours,” but this one is making me reconsider my position.) Beneath the tang there is cherry and plum, plus some woody notes, but while the sourness – ahem, tartness – stops well short of the vinegar I’ve experienced in some such beers, it is still beyond the relative finesse of the best of this class of ales.

Shifting gears in a fairly dramatic fashion, bottle number three is Poit Dhubh (“Potch Ghoo”), a blended malt whisky from the Gaelic Whisky Collection. Composed of unspecified whiskies, but said to have Speyside and Islay characteristics, which give you some clues, it is unchillfiltered and aged for 8 years, partly in sherry casks.

The nose sits right where you might think the median between Speyside and Islay might be, a little oily and iodine-ish, but also creamy and a bit floral, caramel making an appearance and a hint of kiwi, as well. The body is slightly on the rough side, as you’d expect of a whisky so relatively immature, but forceful in its personality, with caramel and overripe fruit up front yielding slowly to a seductive smokiness and a dry, almost ashen finish. This is not a massively complex single malt, but at just over half the price of ten year old Ardbeg, it provides budget friendly solace for peatheads. (For Ontario readers, this has arrived, at the LCBO at a price of $52.25.)

Today’s book arrived out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and I must admit that its appearance was not greeted with enthusiasm. Beer Crafts by Shawn Gascoyne-Bowman is all about making artsy, tacky things out of beer paraphernalia, and that is definitely not my thing. But perhaps there’s more to it.

The back page photo of a PBR carton cowboy hat put me immediately off, as did the first page I turned to, which detailed how to make “Bekki’s Beer Can Crocheted Baseball Cap.” I would not be caught dead wearing either, and neither would I fashion a “Beer Can Lantern” or a “Bottle Cap Headband.” But perhaps you would, in which case you might appreciate the instructions contained within this book, which appear to be fairly detailed and precise, even if some begin with the clichéd “first, open a beer,” apparently to absorb space in what are really pretty basic instructions.

Still, I digress. The bottom line for Beer Crafts is that if you’re the type of person who would make and use or wear stuff make from beer packaging, then you’ll love this book. If you’re not, well, we can chuckle over it all at the pub, but you’re buying.

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