#CABPOM October: Alesmith Old Numbskull and Cornish Blue.

Its been a few months, but that doesn't mean the cheese and beer pairing has fallen by the wayside. In fact its stepped up somewhat as I did 50 pairings in September and October in preparation for the e-book I am writing. I still had some spare time (and more importantly spare cheese!) to do a pairing for the blog though.

This month its a Trans-Atlantic mash-up with a beer from across the pond and a cheese from sunny Cornwall. I picked up the beer (a bottle of Alesmith Old Numbskull if you haven't yet read the post title) from Brewdog online. There are still some left if you're quick. At £15.29 its at the pricier end of the spectrum but for an 11% beer in a 750ml bottle its comparable to the price of a bottle of wine (and in my view much tastier).

It pours dark amber with fluffy off-white head. Amazing sticky orange marmalade and underlying ginger-snap biscuits. Quite sweet, light bodied, oranges, crystal malt, orange pith, balanced with malt bitterness. Touch of mango, long dry orange juice fairly pithy finish. It reminds me somewhat of Franciscan Well Bell Ringer with a bigger hop-hit.

The cheese is on the milder side of the blue spectrum, though still fairly funky and creamy. The pale yellow paste has a few slashes of blue bacteria which of course yield the most interesting flavours. Its also on the firm side for a cheese.

Initially the cheese is lost against the hop onslaught of the beer, but it soon regains ground stomping an hitherto unseen fruitiness into the middle of the mix. The gentler carbonation (Alesmith bottle condition expertly, some UK brewers could learn a thing or two) means the cheese sticks around a bit longer allowing a progression of flavours to develop. 

Its a solid, complementary pairing but I think a funkier, stickier blue cheese might even be better still. Try a Gorgonzola piccante or even a Shepherd's Purse Yorkshire Blue. For those of you that aren't blue inclined then you can't beat a good mature cheddar with a barley wine. The hops are pretty brash; so pick something with plenty of flavour.

I also got bottles of Wee Heavy, Yulesmith (summer), X and Speedway stout all of which were tasty, though the darker beers were perhaps a tad over-boozy. The pale ales were exceptional though and the 650ml bottles were finished in short shrift. I was aware of Alesmith from their rave reviews on rate beer, but now I have tried some I will definitely be looking out for others.


More barrel aged beers

Clicking the "new post" button after the best part of two months away from my blog is not done without some trepidation. Will the words come easily or will it be a struggle? Perhaps more nagging is the feeling that perhaps no one will read it after so long away. 

It wasn't particularly a planned absence, but became prolonged due to a number of real life changes which seem to be very much for the better. I now have a new job, new place of abode (still in Northern Ireland) and my fiancée has moved in with me. I've an impending wedding to plan for, not to mention the cheese & beer e-book (book?) I'm writing.

Anyhoo, enough introspection for one post and on to the subject that you're all here for...beer. And not just any beer but the barrel-aged kind. Yes, I know a lot of people will have already decided the beer is not for them, but bear with me and I'll attempt to change your mind.

The beer that has been aged in this case is an imperial stout. These tend to be the best for barrel-aging as the complex malt base is often robust enough to withstand additional spirit andwood flavours. The ABV can't harm either, helping to coddle that increased booze hit some people are all too familiar with as a side-effect of barrel ageing.

These beers also contain additional flavour components in the form of coffee beans and vanilla which marry well with the flavours of the spirits in question; namely an Islay and a highland whisky: 27 y/o Caol Ila and 14 y/o Clynelish to be precise.

I was a big fan of the base beer: "Pours garnet-tinged viscous black with a foamy mocha head. light chocolate, lemon a rich fruity coffee on the nose. Thick bodied, smooth, rich carbonation, smokey coffee first, then fruit, rich coffee, dry coffee on the tip of the tongue. Chocolate, a touch of orange peel not much sign of the vanilla but a fantastic stout. Can feel the coffee buzz a few sips in." How did the barrel aging cause the beers to evolve? I opened my bottles to share with my (future) father in law to find out.

The Clynelish barrel had imparted a sourness to the beer in both taste and aroma but it had also gained underlying honey, seaweed and soap. There was also some cola flavours and malty sweetness where previously there had been none. The finish was quite warming in alcohol but not at all harsh.

Caol Ila brought some meaty iodine and sticky tar to the table. Light smoke was the only contribution to the taste from this bully of a whisky, with a gentle caress of alcohol integrating much more smoothly than in its younger sibling.

Although both well-crafted beers with differing but related flavour profiles; I think I actually enjoyed the base beer more. Yes it was a sweeter after dinner sipper but it was one which evolved as the drink progressed. The whisky aged beers pulled out all the stops at the start but became a touch samey by the finish. Perhaps more people to share them with would have helped. Still, an example of barrel aging done well.

Big Thanks to Andy @Tabamatu who gifted me the original Kopikat at the beer blogger's conference earlier this year and to Dan @dandanglover for hand delivering the barrel aged variants to me during my flying visit to Edinburgh. If you're ever in town check out the shop he works at Great Grog for a decent selection of UK and overseas beers.