Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I’m not much of a winter person, I prefer to bask in the sun in a gecko like fashion whilst sipping on chilled IPA and generally not doing very much other than absorbing a combination of alcohol and vitamin D into my system. The great thing though about the onset of colder weather is that for some reason all those strong, rich barleywines and imperial stouts that you’ve had squirrelled away suddenly seem to taste better. Since I started blogging back at the beginning of this year I’ve started to become a bit of a beer hoarder, I’ve even got a couple of bottles I’m purposefully ageing to see what the results will be but I still find it difficult to keep my cellar well stocked. Beer, you see, is brewed for the sole purpose of drinking and I still feel a little weird having all these nice bottles tucked away and not actually drinking them and sometimes a fancy bottle just begs to be opened.
I might share this beer... and pigs might fly
I purchased this bottle of Avery Brewing Co Hog Heaven, a ‘dry hopped barleywine style ale’ during this Septembers visit to Colorado and as much as I fancied stashing it away there’s always the danger that those delicate hop oils will dissipate and I won’t taste the beer as the brewer had intended it to taste. So, last Friday after a cold, wet and miserable journey back from work I decided to get into this behemoth of a beer but would it be heaven sent or would it be banished to hells fiery furnaces, er… down the sink.
I know the beers in Avery Brewing’s core range quite well, I’ve enjoyed their IPA several times in the past and really liked their White Rascal witbier on a hot Colorado afternoon this September. The brewery was founded in 1993 in Boulder, Colorado and has developed a reputation in the States thanks to their expansive range of experimental and barrel aged beers such as the complex Reverend Belgian Style Quadrupel and the absolutely fearsome Mephistopheles imperial stout. Hog Heaven weighs in at hefty 9.2% ABV and a whopping 104 IBUs, interestingly only a single variety of hop is used in both the boil and for dry hopping and that hop is the powerfully bitter and twisted Columbus. This beer is brewed all year round but like all Avery beers it’s sadly not available in the UK, I picked this 22oz bottle up in Wilbur's Total Beverage, Fort Collins, Colorado for $7.99 (about five pounds.)
Before opening up this beer I pause to take a look at the gloriously well designed label which is a real treat for the eyes, the top of the bottle is given a touch of extra class too with the addition of some silver coloured foil emblazoned with a large red ‘A’ for Avery. I’m hoping as much pride has gone into the design of the beer as has the design of it’s receptacle. The burnished copper liquid doesn’t do so much as pour but ooze out of the bottle like a sticky, runny honey. This deep, auburn coloured beer is quite lively on the pour and produces a large beige head that quickly reduces down leaving a halo of off white foam around the edge of the glass.
The aroma is breathtaking, an expansive melange of fragrances pummels your nasal passages. There are stewed apples and blackberries, bitter orange marmalade, earthy pine cones, burnt sugar, toffee apples and Calvados notes all present on the nose and you’re left wondering how all these elements are going to manage to combine into something whole. In fact they do so beautifully, starting with an earthy, piney bitterness which develops into a wedge of sharp pink grapefruit dipped in caramel, the flavours are exceptionally well balanced. However this beer is heavy and sticky in your mouth and it almost feels like you’ve eaten a spoonful of Lyle’s Golden Syrup as cloying flavours of burnt sugar and grapefruit bitterness cling to your palate. The benefit of this is that it gives Hog Heaven an exceptionally long and lingering finish that almost seems to go on for hours at a time, it tastes fantastic but it’s thicker than your average glass of Shiraz and as such can be a little overbearing.
Ultimately this was a very enjoyable beer for me, it’s that richness that separates a beer like this from something like an American style double IPA. I spent plenty of time enjoying this large bottle all to myself like the selfish bastard that I am and delighted as new flavours of lemon, sage and treacle developed as the temperature of this beer gradually increased. It’s a beer I’d recommend for sharing when it’s late in the evening or serving with your cheese course after a particularly large roast dinner. It’s a beautifully crafted beer that’s as rich and intense as it is complex and it comes with my heartiest of recommendations.