Aberdeen members' bottle share
This month, we meet members in the Granite City
Wednesday 07 November 2018
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Beer and food
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4-6 Exchequer Row, Aberdeen, AB11 5BW
I reached the conclusion some time ago that it’s next to impossible to have a bad night out in Aberdeen. The people are great, there are some superb bars and restaurants, and some of our favourite breweries are close at hand. This is doubly true for any evening that involves Fierce Beer, the local purveyor of big, flavoursome beers, designed to be paired with food. In an issue focused on beer and food, the opportunity to invite some of our most loyal local members along to Fierce’s awesome new bar in the city centre was something of a no-brainer (as the kids say).
True to Aberdonian form, the invitations were snapped up within about 20 minutes of being sent out and, before I knew it, the table we’d booked out at the back of the bar is crammed with the Beer52 faithful, itching to get started.
Bar manager Cameron gets things rolling, with a quick rundown on Fierce for anyone who was unfamiliar (which turns out to be very quick, as everyone is familiar) and an introduction to our first beer of the evening, the brewery’s session IPA, Easy Shift. As a ‘limbering up’ beer, Easy Shift is as good as it gets; weighing in at 4.5 % abv, it’s a perfectly balanced modern IPA, with lashings of late-addition hops providing fruity and floral notes on a fairly sweet malt base.
Another Fierce classic is up next: the brewery’s multi award winning Café Racer, a smooth, coffee-infused porter, of which I would happily drink bottle after bottle.
“It’s a really smooth beer,” enthuses Grant Webster. “I love how the coffee notes come across without being at all harsh. It’s more of a warm, roasty flavour.”
“This is about the smoothest beer I’ve ever had from Fierce – very keen on it,” agrees Peter Rowe. “I’ve had their Moose Mousse before, but this one, I like it a lot.”
Darren Birnie says he didn’t used to be a fan of dark beers, but brews like Café Racer have changed his mind. “To be honest, my taste is changing now. When I first started with you guys at Beer52, I was very much ‘I don’t want any of this dark beer – none of this porter, smoky nonsense’. And now, with beers like this, I can see some really nice, complex flavours coming through. The coffee, the chocolate of the nuttiness. It’s absolutely superb. Very drinkable.”
The last of our Fierce lineup has been brewed specially for a pineapple-loving brewery investor: a kettle sour, packed with pineapple cube sweets, pineapple juice and a small amount of pineapple extract. That’s a lot of pineapple, but not so much that it overwhelms – there’s a lovely yoghurty sourness that makes it hard to tell where the pineapple ends and the lactobacillus begins.
Sean Kelly comments: “It’s very fruity, very drinkable, and an interesting beer to follow the porter. It’s got a wee sourness to it which is very pleasant, but it’s not overly tart. There’s a lot of citrussy pineapple of course, which goes well with the creamy mouthfeel. It’s like a dessert, but without being overly sweet. Fierce have always been good at sours, but they just keep getting better and better. It’s great to see, as I’m a really big fan of sours.”
Three Fierce beers down, we crack open the first of two extra beers I’ve brought along for the group to explore. The first is an old favourite of mine: Fantôme saison, from Belgium’s Brasserie Fantôme. It’s a fresh and fruity farmhouse ale, bright gold and bursting with musty hay notes, citric zing and a little sourness to cut through. You can pick this up for around £12 for a 70cl bottle in good bottleshops, which is an absolute steal. To be completely honest though, I chose it for tonight because the magazine in your hands is published on Halloween, the bottle has a cute ghost on the label and I’m a shameless hack.
“I get wine and flowers, and all those Belgian yeast flavours of course,” says Michael Topp. “It was a bit of a shock to start with, but I do like it now. The more you drink the better it is. I think I preferred the pineapple beer though.”
Darren Jones says: “For a saison it’s okay - and I generally hate saisons. Saison’s are usually about 4%, but this one’s a decent strength and packs in a lot of flavour.”
The final bottle of the evening is a total curve-ball, and a bit of a risk as I’ve not tried it myself. Michilimackinac Line 5 Edition 2 from Leelanau (brewed by Michigan’s Jolly Pumpkin) is billed as a wild imperial stout, fermented in bourbon barrels previously used to mature Buffalo Trace. To say it’s an oddity is a spectacular understatement, as it really has very few of the characteristics you’d usually expect from a stout, except that it’s dark.
There’s precious little bitterness, either from the dark malt or the hops, and what’s present is overwhelmed by the sour, funky Lambic-like character of the barrel fermentation. Presumably as a consequence of the hungry and indiscriminate bacteria, there’s also very little residual sugar, resulting in a much drier beer than you’d typically expect from a stout. The contradictions split the table, with some heated discussions breaking out.
For Matthew, it’s “very sharp, but a grower” and “a bit vinegary,” while Eve Clark finds the “balance between bitterness and sourness” much to her liking. “That tastes nothing like the way it looks,” says Derek. “I’m waiting for a punch in the face from coffee and peanuts, and it’s like ‘hang on’! No bitterness, very soft mouthfeel, didn’t expect that at all.”
“Guys, you do know that’s off, don’t you?” chips in Darren, drawing an “it’s not off, it’s open fermented” from Gwen Leiper. “That’s not a stout in any way shape or form,” continues Darren. “And there’s a marmite dead yeast flavour too, which is completely inappropriate here. It’s just bad beer.”
“I don’t think its unpleasantly sharp, or vinegary,” adds John Horn, diplomatically. “It’s 8% but it doesn’t taste like it. I suspect that if you would like to buy me a pint and then ask if I wanted another one, I might actually say yes. Before falling off my stool. I’ve had some beers at 8% and you can just taste the alcohol – not with this one.”
While the official part of the night is over, my new friends have no intention of letting me escape, and the drinks and excellent chat continue into the small hours. I awake for my train the following morning, next to a half-eaten Chinese takeaway and a camera full of increasingly erratic photographs. Aberdeen, you beautiful swine: you’ve done it again.
Sincere thanks to the entire staff at Fierce Bar, and to our amazing Aberdeen members. Our children's children will recall this night in song.
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