A momentous occasion – Craft Beer Hour celebrates its 200th edition this week.
I can’t actually remember when I first discovered it was happening, but I do vaguely recall rummaging around on Twitter and seeing it was coming up one random Tuesday evening, getting very excited, and fishing out a Meantime Chocolate Porter enabling me to participate. Since then it’s been a creative and social lifeline for me, a chance to touch base with those in or close to the industry I’m so invested in, a warm and friendly community, a nice way to break the week up and, of course, an opportunity to try some astounding beer. Other than a very occasional example which has been faulty in some way, every single beer I’ve had on a Tuesday evening has been fabulous in its own way.
A double-centenary milestone needs something suitably celebratory, and I’ve had a few “big” beers sitting in my collection for a while waiting for a special occasion.
Abstrakt AB:23 | BrewDog | 11.5% ABV
First things first: I quite like the Abstrakt branding (the newer examples like this one). It’s bold, simple, has a strong identity, and the wax seal (as annoying as it is trying to open it) lets you know this is not something to be undertaken lightly. Unlike most BrewDog bottles / cans, there’s no hyperbole trying to tell you what this does; it just tells you what it is and lets you decide the rest for yourself (much like a Kernel bottle).
This is a bourbon-barrel-aged barley wine, as it says on the bottle. It’s not an overpowering juggernaut like some “big” BrewDog beers; it has an air of class and aged sophistication. It reminds me of a vintage sherry, with a massive waft of vanilla in the aroma and then oak, gentle bourbon and caramel in the flavour, without too much bitterness. It has a robust, stern alcohol note weaved in there, but only as much as you’d expect from something nearly as strong as fortified wine anyway. The barrel ageing (for me) adds smoothness and balance, as well as that characteristic oak / vanilla / honey sweetness.
This isn’t a beer style that I’m terribly familiar with, but I am pretty certain that this is a stand-up example of it, and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.
Tonight was very much a “choose music to go with the beer” post, rather than the other way round. I never want to get too contrived in terms of pairing themes, and sometimes there isn’t a theme at all, but tonight (given that AB:23 is a barrel-aged beer and therefore has spent a considerable amount of time consigned to darkness in a wooden barrel) I wanted to find things that seemed “timeless”.
I’ve featured King Buffalo on here before, but this is a longer, more expansive affair. I love that although the band’s name makes you immediately imagine something crushingly heavy and monolithic (there’s a song here called “Monolith”, for a start), this is full of surprises. There are moments heavy enough to hurl yourself around to, but that isn’t the focus here; there’s a disarming delicacy and mellowness to much of this album. The intro recalls classic Pink Floyd, complete with chiming echoed guitars and drones, and there’s a beautiful acoustic track (“Down From Sky”). The final track is a thing of beauty – mystical, almost shamanic vocals over an ominous drone, leading to unhurried, mountainous riffs. This is a glorious album.
Again, I’ve featured Ancestors on here previously, but they have a new album out, and it has stopped me in my tracks. I’ve always been astonished at how much gravity and, well, timelessness this band manages to conjure up in their music; as epic as the most stirring movie soundtracks and as overwhelmingly heavy as the most monstrous doom metal. Heartbreak features heavily in the music I gravitate towards; Ancestors were one of the bands I discovered during my lowest period, but I can’t stress enough how much they helped me (along with Steven Wilson, All Them Witches and Tomorrow We Sail). This is sad, intense music, but it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.
Suspended in Reflections, again, feels like something momentous. The use of a church organ obviously helps with this (the second track being a devastating example of this), along with the harmony vocals, bruising melodies and huge, expansive sound. It’s intense, tear-inducing, heavy, comforting and absolutely beautiful.