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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…
Yes, dear readers, another lager. Why do I do this to myself? Because I love all of you and want to be the voice of informative reason and….nah, fuck that, I just like whingeing.
So, I’ve had mixed responses to this brewery in the past. I originally hated their Pacific Ale, but I’ll do a re-review soon, because I’ve actually grown to like it, and drinking it in summer makes me comprehend what they were trying to do much better. But this is a review for their lager, and as much as I want to like it, I can’t. It’s not horrid, but it has all the usual hallmarks of adjunct-style lagers with a few hops added in there to try and mask the nasty. And it doesn’t work. Stale grain and odd bitterness at the end make for a middling drink. Avoid. They can (and do) do much better than this.
I’ll come out and say it - I prefer the Rolling Stones to the Beatles. I always have. I know that their backgrounds compared to their respective musical styles/images are a bit mixed up (i.e. the [originally] clean-cut Beatles were actually Liverpudlian thugs and the Stones were twats from art school) but the Stones, for me, were always harder edged and more interesting. And in terms of longevity, well, this album was released in ‘73, and the Beatles were, well, dead by this time. Let It Be, fuckers. And any bloke who can be clinically dead like Keith Richards and still be SOMEHOW WALKING deserves kudos. Anyway, digression aside, this album was laid-back, but quite dark and in some places raucous and hellish, like a lot of their catalogue. Famous for the single “Angie”, I like it for the infamous “Star Star”, or “Starfucker”, as it was called and should have remained so. A very cool album which was bagged by that shithead Lester Bangs but which deserves its place alongside their classics.
Coopers was the brewery that opened my eyes to the possibility of better beer. Growing up drinking the normal macro fare, when I had my first Coopers Red it was an amazing revelation. The Red and the Pale Ale still reign as among my first choices for session beers, even though my taste has largely moved on to bigger and hoppier things. I will always feel everlasting gratitude to this brewery for its role in making me hate Caaaarldon, making me realise that life is too short to drink crap beer, no matter how cheap it is. However, this brewery has done some horrible things, such as Coopers Clear, and some middling things, like this lager.
It’s better than your average macro pale lager, don’t get me wrong. On tap, this is actually quite drinkable, probably because it’s served ice cold. However, at fridge temperature, the more unsavoury flavours come out and does it no favours. On the whole it’s a fairly inoffensive Euro-style pale lager, but it’s got the typical stale malt notes, that grassy aroma that I find a little unappealing, and very little that’s memorable except for the faint, ever-present LAGERARSE. These sorts of lagers have to be drunk Aussie style to be palatable - near freezing, on a hot day with a shitload of dead charcoaled meat. Otherwise, it’s pretty bland.
Which brings me to this Judas Priest album. I think Judas Priest is one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time. They have a legacy that is unquestionable. However, they also have some very iffy moments. This is not exactly one of those iffy moments, but it definitely led them straight to Ifsville. This was where the more commercial elements they’d introduced in the previous album, Killing Machine/Hell Bent for Leather (name depending on if you’re the rest of the world versus America), really came to fruition. While those commercial elements worked quite well for the latter album, they fall flat on this one. There are a couple of their signature razor-shard speed metal tracks mixed with mainstream rubbish. They basically made an even-more accessible version of Killing Machine, and of course, every chump loved it, and people still say it’s their best. Which is complete bollocks: that honour goes to either the 70s masterpiece Sad Wings of Destiny, their 80s comeback Screaming for Vengeance or the utterly insane (if terribly overproduced) speed metal monster of Painkiller. British Steel is the first Priest album I ever owned/heard, and I still spin it occasionally because it’s a fun listen, but it’s in no way their best, and in fact led to the crime that was Point of Entry. Just as the lager above led to the abysmal horror that is Coopers Clear and Coopers 62 Degrees. I have spoken.
I’m not overwhelmingly familiar with this brewery’s output. I know I’ve had an English-style bitter which was a bit of alright, and - horror of horror - a no-carb beer (old reviews of these coming soon). Of the latter, I can safely say I would rather emulate a golden shower porn actor than drink that vile concoction again. Yes, it was that bad. Fuck it, bring on 2 girls one….actually, no.
Anyway, this is a beer blog…so where was I? Yes, this one. A schwarzbier according to beeradvocate.com, which doesn’t tell you much, and a limited release like the English-style bitter. And according to the label, a black coffee lager. Well, call me intrigued. As you can see, it looked and poured like a stout, but tasted nothing like one, really. Coffee of course was the predominant flavour and very upfront, but it didn’t really come across as a lager - which is a good thing. More like Coopers Dark Ale but with a much more distinctive taste. But not distinctive enough to make it a habit. As far as their limited edition beers go, I’d much rather the bitter, and they still haven’t made up for that no-carb abomination. Still, I remember it being pretty good for what it was, maybe nothing particularly special or different as I was expecting, but drinkable enough.
And behind it we have Acca Dacca. The comeback album after Bon Scott died tragically (and, let’s not deny it, fucking stupidly). I don’t like Brian Johnson-led AC/DC nearly as much as I like the early, arse-kicking, whiskey-and-beer-and-smokes-drenched AC/DC of the 70s, but this album is still worthy. The title track is, of course, utterly legendary, and you could tell they were channeling Bon’s spirit as it’s a real barnstormer of an album. Yet another original pressing, and another one banged up as all hell, but completely worth it. RIP, Bon Scott, this was a pretty fitting tribute.
Much of the reason I started this project on Facebook and why I continue it over here is about learning. With each new beer I drink, I learn. Not just about what I like and don’t like, but more about styles, brewing techniques, what travels well, &c. &c. And people who followed my last lot of posts know that I have developed a particularly strong antipathy towards lagers. Generally, I find them lacking in character and taste, and as they’re the brew of choice in the mainstream, there are a lot of really bland to bad ones. I have never forgiven my beloved Coopers for succumbing to the pressures of bean counters and making the worst example of a low-joule lager (and that’s facing some pretty stiff competition) I’ve ever had the misfortune of drinking. Even lagers made by reputable microbrewers I find to be fairly rank. And if they don’t have a bland boring taste, there’s what I call the “LAGERARSE” taste - a stale, grainy aftertaste that I’m sure is indicative of lagers but which I find wholly unappealing.
However, every now and then I come across one that is not just drinkable, but which I would happily drink multiples of in a night. This is the first time I’ve come across an American lager that I like (having, admittedly, only had Bud and Miller and a few Canadian lagers…which I don’t really consider beer, but anyway…). This one, Brookyln Lager, is brewed “pre-Prohibition style” according to the propaganda, and with an appealing hop aroma, and a really nice blended malt and hop profile in the tasting department. If this is what lagers were like pre-Prohibition, then seriously, fuck you, Prohibition. It’s partly your fault, Elliot Ness. This is what a lager should taste like, goddamnit. The lack of LAGERARSE is much appreciated, Brooklyn. Now, if only I could get it cheaply. Considering local brews are stupidly priced due to our excise laws, that’s unlikely in the near future. Bastards.
Now, as you might have gathered, I try to match a brew with a record if I can. And these two go together…well, they’re both from New York. Yeah…anyway, Sir Lord Baltimore should have been up there with Sabbath, Deep Purple and Zeppelin as the founding fathers of metal. In fact, they were apparently the first band to be described as “heavy metal”, in a rather deprecating way, of course. This one’s their first album from 1970, another original pressing, and it’s banged up as hell, but the scratches just add to the pulverisingly heavy sound, the almost uncontrolled chaos of the haphazard production, and the way they sound utterly manic and on edge. Apart from the one song where they do a weird Joni Mitchell-esque ballad they put in there for some reason, the rest of the songs are like a stampeding horde of barely-held-together post-apocalyptic trucks bearing down on you while you scream for mercy. Okay, maybe I’m waxing lyrical here, but the first time I heard these songs it’s kind of the impression I had, along with knowing the historical context of when these were laid to tape. Their next and last album was pretty shit - very streamlined 70s hard rock which suffered from the comparitively pristine production, foot off the pedal approach and apparent penchant for trying to write prog. Someone should have told them to keep it loud and ballsy and leave the prog to King Crimson. Anyway, one to definitely hear before you die.