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I’ll admit that I haven’t been into this craft beer drinking-n’-wanky-reviewing jobby for very long; the calibre of my “reviews” should tell you that. I’m not one of those people who can detect the scent of grapefruit and vestal virgins in a beer, nor can I taste liquefied rainbows and unicorns. However, I did think I knew the mechanics of the brewing process fairly comprehensively, how it’s generally quite simple, and that there wasn’t all that much room for “innovation”. Turns out I am continually surprised, not necessarily by innovation, but by the dragging out of old brewing techniques to add something special to the beer, or, if I’m being cynical, to add marketability. The latest surprise was from the brewery I formerly maligned, Stone & Wood, and this, a take on a (yet another) variety of brew which I had never heard of - the Munich Dunkel Lager. The different technique? The ancient method of using superheated stones to boil the wort, which for obvious reasons is not a widespread practise anymore, but can apparently lend some very unique flavours to a brew.
I’ll be honest here - this is the beer that started my re-evaluation of this brewery. I was very pleasantly surprised - I wish they’d brew this more often (it’s a yearly thing), although I can understand why it’s only limited batches as superheating those stones must in itself be a mammoth pain in the arse. But it produces a quite interesting brew in this case. A lovely dark ruby hue, a very savoury aroma in which even I can smell toasted malts with the usual strong hops, and that slightly roasted, smoky flavour which I associate with beers brewed in old fashion (rauchbier is another one that comes to mind). As you’d expect, the malt flavours dominate over the hops but the latter do come through at the end with a nice bitter (but not overly so) finish. I was impressed, and I plan to get a few more of these before this year’s brew is finally sold out. I still don’t know if it’s worth all the effort on the brewer’s part, but I do look forward to trying the different iterations of this brew in the future.
Sigh are one of the most intruiging bands Japan has ever produced. And if you know your Japanese metal, that’s a big call, but I’m making it anyway. Starting out in the early 90s as European-inspired black metal but with some very Japanese flourishes, they have progressed musically on pretty much every major release. This, a limited edition reissue of their second album Infidel Art, is strange and ethereal even today - black metal with symphonic elements thrown in seemingly haphazardly (not symphonic black metal ala Dimmu Borgir or similar cruddy extreme metal acts), with complex keyboards played effectively over dirty guitar riffing and tortured screams and screeching black metal vocals. It sounds like a mess, and it could have very easily turned out that way, but through some inspired, original songwriting and atmospherics they more than pulled it off - they created a masterpiece. This is up there with my favourite Sigh release, and Sigh remain one of the few black metal acts I like who are more innovative. I generally like my second-wave black metal raw and primitive (like early Mayhem), and I have very little time for modern examples of the style. Sigh are the exception, as they seem to understand what black metal is all about without being stale - a very hard thing to pull off.
The link with the beer? I suppose I could grasp at straws and say it’s like innovation come full circle or some such shit - but I just thought the colour schemes went together…