Scotland

Fundamentals #4 – Tempest Mexicake Imperial Stout

When I think of chillis and Hop Burns & Black, my mind is immediately transported back to the first ever Chilli Karaoke event that HB&B supremos Jen and Glenn organised. The event, which took place at the short-lived Beerkat on Holloway Road, involved singing half a song, eating a Scotch Bonnet pepper and then attempting to sing the remainder of your chosen tune.

For some reason I decided to be the event’s first ever competitor. I had picked Yazoo’s 80’s synthpop belter Don’t Go as my track of choice and as I began to channel my inner Alison Moyet it was all going swimmingly - that is, until, I ate (and subsequently spat out) the pepper. The remaining minute or so, which felt like a great deal longer, was spent attempting to sing while fighting back a near uncontrollable urge to vomit up the contents of my stomach. It was a lot of fun and should Jen and Glenn decide to hold the event again I strongly encourage you to take part.

This week’s beer has nothing to do with Scotch Bonnets but it is from current Scottish Brewer of the Year Tempest Brewing Co. Mexicake is an adjunct-laden imperial stout that features cinnamon, vanilla beans, cocoa along with a large addition of Ancho, Mulato and Chipotle chillies. With Hop Burns & Black being slingers of excellent hot sauce as well as beer, it’s the latter that has piqued my interest.

As its name would suggest, Mexicake is a Mexican inspired imperial stout and it’s that which has influenced that impressive bill of adjuncts. I caught up with Tempest’s Head Brewer Douglas Rowe to find out what the addition of three different varieties of chilli adds to this beer.

“The combination of these flavours along with the heat compliments the other flavours in the beer nicely and helps balance the sweetness in the beer,” Rowe says. “Achieving the correct balance is the key to making a good beer, no matter which style.

“We dose the chili at different stages throughout the process to achieve various levels of heat and flavour. We also make up a fairly spicy chilli extract, which we can then dose in later in the process depending on how the beer is shaping up!”

However, don’t expect Mexicake to blow your head off. Instead, expect a mellow wave of heat that is balanced by the sweetness of the vanilla and cinnamon along with a wave of what tastes to me like black treacle from the ton of malted barley used in each brew of this beer.

What’s most impressive about Mexicake is just how well all these flavours work together, creating a very balanced beer that drinks easy, especially when you consider its hefty ABV of 11%. It’s a winner for me and on this evidence it’s not at all surprising why Tempest has won the lofty title of Scottish Brewer of the Year.

The fundamentals of beer are anything that makes up the sum of a beer’s parts. Water, barley, wheat, oats, sugars, yeast, bacteria and even adjuncts such as fruit or maize are all fundamental parts of what make up our favourite beers. You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog Total AlesGood Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. Pick up a bottle of the amazing Tempest Mexicake in store or online now.

#HBBAdvent Beer 23: BrewDog Neon Overlord Mango & Chilli IPA (Scotland)

BrewDog says: This chili mango IPA lures you in with intense juicy fruit before sending you reeling with a habanero knockout punch. This dry, light- bodied IPA has devastating bitterness backed up with spicy heat, firing your tastebuds on all cylinders - citrus, chili and resin, on light biscuit malt. The mango adds a sweet, almost soothing layer, which balances the incredible intensity of this twisted India pale ale.

We say: OK, so we're properly sick of BrewDog's stunts too. The casino thing? Spare us. But it can't be denied that the Scottish attention-seekers knock out some pretty great specials, one of which being the new Self Assembly Pope (like drinking a Bounty bar) and another being this one. Neon Overlord appeals to us for obvious reasons - chilli and beer, together? Bring it. If you hate chilli beers, this may not float your boat quite so much. But if you don't mind a little kick, OK, a LOT of kick, then this is the beer for you. A fruity hit from the mango followed by a powerful chilli rush. We love it. - Jen

Each night, we'll reveal the day's hand-picked beer from our Big Beery Advent Calendar. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter or Instagram (#HBBAdvent). Neon Overlord was so popular at ours that we've completely sold out, but keep an eye out for more BrewDog specials in the future.

#HBBAdvent Beer 3: Fierce Beer Fuego Feroz Spiced Pale Ale (Aberdeen)

[NB: Some editions of the calendar feature Fierce Beer's Cafe Racer, a glorious coffee and vanilla porter.]

Fierce Beer says: Fuego Feroz is to be consumed with caution! This Pale Ale is packed full of Habaneros - so it is hot! FIERCELY hot! It will smack you around the chops like a wild Nino going full pelt at a Pinata. You have been warned. (Spice levels may vary)

We say: Well, of course there was going to be at least one chilli beer in a HB&B collection. We absolutely love this zesty beer from this new Scottish brewery. Beer writer Matthew Curtis of Total Ales recently featured Fuego Feroz for his No More Heroes column on our blog, and describes it thus: ”The chilli heat hits you like a blowtorch to the face, but habanero heat is a pleasant, savoury heat. The lime juice tempers this and add a touch of sweet, zingy balance, which mellows this beer out. It’s that lime kick that reminds me of sipping on margs in some of my favourite cocktail bars.” It’s delightfully refreshing and invigorating, and just writing this is making us thirsty - Jen

Each night, we'll reveal the day's hand-picked beer from our Big Beery Advent Calendar. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter or Instagram (#HBBAdvent). Look out for Fierce Beer Fuego Feroz when it's back in stock, either in store or via our online shop.

No More Heroes XXVII – Fierce Brewing Fuego Feroz Spiced Pale Ale

Just because it’s getting colder outside doesn’t mean you should stop making margaritas. Or indeed, drinking beers that taste like them, because that’s the first thought that came to mind when I first sipped on this week’s beer. That and, “ouch.”

You see, Fuego Feroz, a pale ale from Aberdeen’s Fierce Beer Company, isn’t like other pales. In fact the label even warns that this beer is to be consumed with caution. That’s because Fuego Feroz is brewed with habanero peppers and the spicy flavour these impart is balanced by the addition of fresh lime juice.

“We actually wanted to make an all-chilli beer, so added the habaneros on their own first,” Fierce founder and brewer Dave Grant says. “However the flavour was a little dull, so we added fresh lime juice too.”

The combination might sound a little wild, and believe me when I say this is a long way from your run of the mill pale ale, but somehow it just works. On tasting the beer the chilli heat hits you like a blowtorch to the face, but habanero heat is a pleasant, savoury heat. The lime juice tempers this and add a touch of sweet, zingy balance, which mellows this beer out. It’s that lime kick that reminds me of sipping on margs in some of my favourite cocktail bars.

“Chilli and spice lovers really love it, and can’t get enough,” Grant says.

This is without a doubt a beer for chilli (and hot sauce) fans. Its similarity to a margarita also means that it pairs well with dishes such as fish tacos or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, breakfast quesadillas. Caution is advised, however, as heat levels vary from bottle to bottle and you could end up playing Russian Roulette with your palate if you’re not careful.

Music Pairing – Kurt Vile, Pretty Pimpin’
The best way to tame chilli heat is to mellow it out with something creamy. As I don’t have any natural yoghurt to hand, this sublime slice of chilled out alt-pop from Kurt Vile will have to do instead. This track features one of the most hypnotic and enjoyable pieces of guitar playing I’ve heard in years, and as it gently trundles on throughout pretty much the entire track, you’ll soon forget that the beer you’re drinking has set your mouth aflame.

Find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, Good Beer Hunting and on Twitter @totalcurtis. You can find Fierce Beer Fuego Feroz in store or at our online shop to get it delivered to your door.

Matthew Curtis's No More Heroes X – BrewDog Albino Squid Assassin

Before we begin I want to do a little exercise. Gather all of your thoughts about BrewDog. Collect every last iota of opinion you hold for or against the Scottish brewer. Regardless of whether this newly formed mass of consciousness is mostly fanaticism, ambivalence or spite, I want you to place it in a box, seal it and push it to one side.

All done? Good. Finally, take a few deep, audible breaths, sit back and relax. Now you can concentrate on enjoying BrewDog for what they’re best at: making beer.

I’d imagine that you’re already familiar with BrewDog’s core range of beers. After all, its flagship, Punk IPA, sits resplendent on supermarket shelves across the length and breadth of this fair land.

As solid as BrewDog’s core range of beers is, the real highlights for me recently have been its special releases. Born To Die, a limited release double IPA was my beer of the year and Black Eyed King Imp was one of the best barrel aged imperial stouts I’ve seen come out of a UK brewery. Its latest release; a rye IPA ridiculously named Albino Squid Assassin easily ranks among them.

Squiddie, as I’ve affectionately begun to refer to it, pours a satisfyingly russet shade of red with a rocky off-white head. It absolutely stinks of American hops with tangerine, pink grapefruit and candyfloss aromas fighting for your attention. Squiddie is loaded with citrus flavours that are balanced out with a sweet, white pepper spiciness and just the right amount of sweetness to stop it from becoming cloying. It’s one of the most accomplished beers BrewDog have produced to date.

It doesn’t even look like a BrewDog beer thanks to some great design from artist Joe Wilson that adorns the can. I still have no idea why it’s called Albino Squid Assassin though.

You can find more from beer writer Matthew Curtis at his excellent beer blog, Total Ales, and Good Beer Hunting, and on Twitter @totalcurtis. 

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 23: Harviestoun Ola Dubh 18, 8% (Scotland)

glenn@hopburnsblack.co.uk

Each night, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Harviestoun says: "Ola Dubh 18 is what you get when you age Old Engine Oil in casks formerly used to mature Highland Park 18 (‘Best Spirit in the World’), which imparts a fruity, whisky character into our rich, dark beer."

We say: Like whisky? Like beer? This is your night-before-Christmas-Eve beer. The great thing is, you don't have to stop at just a dram. This is Glenn's stocking stuffer (don't tell him) - beautiful, rich, peaty goodness.

Big Beery Advent Calendar - Beer 4: Brewdog Hinterland, 9% (Scotland)

Each night at 8pm, we'll post a blog about the day's hand-picked beer in our Big Beery Advent Calendar - why we love the brewery, why we've chosen the beer, why we think you'll love it too. Feel free to comment below or have your say on Twitter.

Brewdog says: "A 9% abv oatmeal milk stout brewed with vanilla pods and cocoa, it is a eulogy to the depths of the imagination – and what dwells therein. On the aroma, deep reverberating roasty bitterness and sweet dark chocolate. Also in evidence, woodsmoke, rich vanilla, mocha and marzipan. When tasting, Hinterland reveals itself as the beer moves from cellar temperature to something warmer, yielding all of the above plus dried fruit, rich ganache and ending on a resoundingly warming finish redolent of chocolate liqueur or plum brandy."

We say: People are quick to diss Brewdog, with its ill-advised PR stunts and seeming ubiquity. But we’ll have no truck with Tall Poppy Syndrome here. At the end of the day, Brewdog continues to make some of the tastiest beers in the country and this limited edition stout is one of our favourites of 2015. A treat to look at, with its intricate label designed by artist Johanna Basford, this feels like a treat when you drink it too. And we all need to treat ourselves sometimes. (Ed: often.)