Looking for new craft beers to try? Join me on this epic craft beer tasting adventure and discover 15 of the world’s finest brews…(from Beer Hawk)
Turning 30 was a little different from every other birthday. It came with a sense of sophistication, style, and luxury. Sylvie surprised me with this craft beer gift box of 15 different beers from Beer Hawk. To say it was one of the greatest gifts I could have ever wished for would be quite the understatement.
I have no doubt that we’ll both discover a few new favourites along the way, so let’s dive in and crack open a few cold ones!
1. Red Cap Chimay Trappist Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium
Let’s kick this hoppy adventure off with a premiere Trappist beer from Chimay. Brewed at their monastery brewhouse in Belgium by Trappist monks (yes, the religious kind), these chaps have been perfecting their coppery classics since 1863.
This Red Cap Chimay is the oldest of the Chimay beers. It’s a moderately dark beer, sweet and wheaty with that peppery sweet aroma you get with so many quality Belgian beers. I liked that it was smooth and silky, with an unctuous, almost syrupy head that masks the fact that this is a powerful, 7% ABV beer.
This is a full-flavoured Trappist beer, not too heavy and definitely one of the most drinkable Trappist beers I’ve ever tasted. However, I found the slightly sour aftertaste was enough to put me off wanting another one.
The Red Cap Chimay Trappist Beer gets a 3/5 from me.
2. Harviestoun Old Engine Oil Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Scotland
As soon as you poor this 6% bad boy, you can see why it’s called Old Engine Oil! It’s as dark as the night, with a lively butterscotch head that initially looks like Coca-Cola. The aroma is rich and malty and as the head settles down, it looks and smells like roasted coffee grounds.
The taste is surprisingly light and sweet, like sweet dark chocolate and licorice. Not at all what you’d imagine from its gothic disposition. I was waiting for the bitterness to kick in but was pleasantly surprised at how gentle it was when it did – just enough bite to keep it interesting, but not enough to overpower the sweet and toasty goodness.
Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil was a big surprise for me, very moreish and easy to drink, whilst maintaining enough complexity to keep it interesting. You could enjoy it on a cold winter’s day with a book and a log fire, or even at the top of a mountain with a picnic after a long bike ride in the sun. This is a real find.
Harviestoun’s Old Engine Oil gets 4.5/5 from me!
3. Anchor Steam Beer Review & Tasting Notes | US
Anchor Steam is a fairly mainstream craft beer, one of the bread-and-butter brands for any pub/bar trying to broaden their gluggable offerings. Brewed in San Francisco, this light amber ale doesn’t look remarkably special, and I was disappointed to see the head die so quickly. It is a beautifully rich and deep amber colour, though, I’ll give it that.
There’s nothing all that special on the nose, although the hoppy, all-American aromas are enough to get you excited about tasting it.
On first taste, the zest and extremely refreshing hoppy flavours put a big smile on my face. It’s quite a viscous beer and you can really feel the texture in your mouth, which I love. There’s a very subtle bitterness to the aftertaste, which is incredibly smooth and leaves you wanting more. And more…..
All in all this is a really high quality, barley malt beer. You could drink it all day and night and still want more. What I love most about it is the silky, creamy aftertaste that lingers in the mouth for an eternity, begging you to drink another. It may not be the most complex or interesting beer out there, but it’s safe bet and I find it strangely reassuring to think that most decent pubs/bars will have it in stock. One more please, barman!
Anchor Steam Beer gets 4/5 from me!
4. Ilkley Brewery Dinner Ale Review and Tasting Notes | England
The quirky Ilkley Brewery, in Yorkshire, offers a broad food-friendly array of quality beers for all occasions. This “Dinner Ale” is, as you may have guessed, the perfect pale ale to accompany food, and has that lovely, light golden translucence – the colour of spring sunshine.
The head is soft and fluffy, with light, crisp and clean aromas that encourage you to dive in and take a few big gulps.
This ultra-hoppy and zesty pale ale dances on your tongue with almost no bitterness whatsoever, and I love the citrussy bite at the end. It’s incredibly gluggable and at only 3.3% ABV, you could quite easily drink it all day without feeling too fuzzy.
If you’re after something nice and light, with a crisp, hoppy flavour, this is the pale ale for you. It would be the perfect companion at an all-day BBQ in the sun, or with a rich and heavy five-course meal…or with curry!
It has the depth of flavour of Sierra Nevada, but is lighter and easier to drink. It’s the sort of beer I’d recommend to someone taking their first steps away from the mainstream beer brands: it’s the least intimidating pale ale I’ve tried in a while. I’m really impressed with the Ilkley’s Dinner Ale, it really is the ultimate beer to enjoy with food.
Ilkely Brewery’s Dinner Ale gets a whopping 4.5/5 from me!
5. Timmermans’ Framboise Lambicus Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium
Lambic beers must be brewed within a 15km radius of Brussels, and Timmermans have been doing it for over 300 years. Just by looking at the bright pink label, you can see that you’re in for a fruity surprise. And, actually, this raspberry lambic beer pours with almost the same pinkish red intensity. It doesn’t really look like beer at all.
The smell is sweet and fruity, exactly how you’d imagine, and the fizzy head gives it a cherry-cola kind of vibe. The taste is frightfully sweet but it does have a smooth aftertaste; it’s moor like a pear cider than a beer, actually.
Well, this simply isn’t really my kind of beer, if you can even call it a beer. I can see the attraction; it would be extremely refreshing on a hot summer’s day, and a sweet little pick me up at the end of a day on the real beers. But, to me, this is to beer as Starbucks caramel coffee ice-creams are to coffee: it’s for people who don’t actually like beer.
Timmermans’ Framboise Lambicus gets a not-so-fruity 2.5/5 from me!
6. Maredsous Benedictine Abby Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium
Oh my golly gosh! This deep amber Benedictine beer is gorgeous to look at, with a smooth butterscotch head that refuses to fade. It feels equally as full-bodied in the mouth with a deep, oaky-malt flavour that turns to creamy caramel on the tongue. I love the silky aftertaste that contains not a hint of bitterness and just a bite of pepper – it doesn’t stop giving.
At 10%, this is a seriously powerful beer, and, although it doesn’t taste that strong, you can feel the alcohol on your breath as you breathe. And did I mention the aftertaste? Wow!
This is my kind of beer: rich and malty with soulfully smooth overtones of cream caramel, but not so sweet that it feels too heavy or syrupy. It’s complex and interesting to the very last drop and I’m already desperate to find a local supplier.
The Maredsous Benedictine Abby gets the holy grail of 5/5 from me!
7. Brewdog 5am Saint Red Ale Review & Tasting Notes | Scotland
Godfathers of the contemporary craft beer movement, BrewDog are leading the way in the global war against bland beer. The 5am Saint is a beautiful, deep ruby-red ale that pours with a lively head. It really is magical to look at!
On the nose it’s wild and intensely hoppy – possibly the hoppiest of all 7 beers I’ve tried so far. In the mouth it’s crisp and sharp with just a little bitterness. I absolutely love the intensity of the hops and the dry, malty finish, which has subtle hints of pine.
The 5am Saint looks and smells incredible, and there’s nothing subtle about its hoppiness. I know it’s not exactly breaking news, and I know I’m not the first to say it, but BrewDog really have set a new benchmark with this little beauty.
BrewDog’s 5am Saint gets 4.5/5 from me!
8. Schlösser Alt Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Germany
The Schlösser Alt pours with a gorgeous ruby red colour, almost like volcanic lava. The head is impressive at first, but it didn’t take long for it to fade away – about twenty seconds all-in-all. Meh!
On the nose it’s incredibly light, almost nothing to smell at all, actually. Not sure what else to say about it.
In the mouth it’s pleasantly refreshing and smooth, although it’s ultra-light taste is dull and instantly forgettable. Its bark is certainly bigger than its bite. The finish is almost non-existent – only a slight bitter, metallic taste lingers, quietly encouraging you to move on to something else.
The Schlösser Alt is not an offensive beer, and I can imagine it being quite a reasonable beer to enjoy with a big richly-flavoured meal. I do love the colour, but there’s just not enough complexity to it to make me want to ever try it again. Even now, with my glass still half full, I can barely remember what it tastes like…
The Schlösser Alt gets a not so volcanic 1.5/5 from me!
9. Brooklyn Brand East India Pale Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA
This is the one I was most excited about tasting. This Brooklyn Brand IPA pours with deep honey hues, like vintage Les Paul guitars from the late ’70s – my favourite of all the Gibsons! On the nose it’s moderately hoppy, zingy and fresh. Very pleasant but nothing too life changing.
In the mouth it’s ultra hoppy, far more so than you would expect from the smell. It feels super silky and creamy and leaves an incredible toffee/buttery aftertaste.
Halfway through the bottle I’m really noticing that it’s 6.9% – yowsers!
Easily the smoothest, creamiest IPA I’ve ever tasted.
Comparable to the likes of BrewDog’s 5am, and Anchor Steam, yet considerably more elusive in its depth of flavour. It’s something to do with the aftertaste: subtle yet bold, all at the same time. It’s that perfect balance between depth of flavour and drink-ability. It’s strawberries and cream – I love it!
The Brooklyn Brand IPA gets silky smooth 5/5 from me – Oh my hop!
10. Goose Island IPA Review & Tasting Notes | USA
This is another one of the modern IPA classics. It pours with a gorgeous, deep amber colour, but not too dark for an IPA. Easily one of the best looking beers I’ve tasted so far. The aromas are seriously hoppy with lots of fruity overtones, slightly spicy on the tongue.
The taste is insanely hoppy and full-bodied with a welcomed citrus kick and a smooth chocolaty aftertaste. The head stayed with me right to the very end, which is always a bonus.
There’s nothing not to like about the Goose Island IPA. It’s hoppy and fruity and smooth and seriously flavourful. That is perhaps my only problem with it: it’s almost too heavy in the mouth and it becomes a bit of a challenge to drink after a while. It’s the perfect ale to start off with, but I can’t imagine wanting to get through a whole case of these bad boys, and I wouldn’t want it with a meal. Still, it’ a very fine ale indeed.
The Goose Island IPA gets a solid 4/5 from me!
11. Goose Island Honker’s Ale Review & Tasting Notes | USA
Another dark and dreamy ale from the sterling brewers at Goose Island, the Honker’s Ale looks incredible and has a sweet, hoppy aroma. I really do love the way it looks in the glass – lively and vibrant.
It’s a lot lighter than the brewery’s IPA and feels crisp and fresh in the mouth. It still has great flavour, but it’s less explosive and easier to drink. It would definitely be a better beer to go with food.
The Goose Island Honker’s Ale is the perfect all-rounder. It’s light and refreshing, but still has some serious, hoppy flavour. I could quite happily drink this all day, everyday. I’d probably start off with a bottle of the IPA, but I’d happily move onto the Honker’s for the rest of the day/night.
The Honker’s Ale gets an rock steady 4/5 from me!
12. Westmalle Trappist Dubbel Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium
This intimidating Trappist beer pours with an intense, muddy brown colour, with slight tints of orange, like syrupy cough medicine. The head is insanely wild and erupted like a volcano as soon as I popped the cap.
I wasn’t too sure of the smell: it’s sour and, for want of a better word, soapy. Cheap soap at that – not very inviting.
The taste is woody and intense, with an odd finish that tastes like eating a toffee that still has its metallic wrapper on. It’s heavy, dark and syrupy, but not in a creamy caramel kind of way – not in a way that made me want to have more. In fact, I could’t even finish it.
If you’re a die-hard Trappist fanatic then you’ll probably really enjoy the depth and complexity of this 7% monster. But for me, it’s just too much of what I don’t enjoy. I won’t be drinking this ever again.
The Westmalle Trappist beer gets a 1.5/5 from me!
13. Flat Cap Otto Pilsner Beer Review & Tasting Notes | Czech Republic
A wonderful, light pilsner the colour of golden sunshine – it makes you happy just to look at it. You can smell it a mile off, with it’s fresh and vibrant aroma. It really is the quintessential Czech beer.
The taste is sharp and zesty, lemons and limes, with a bright grassy finish. I could drink this all night long!
There’s really nothing to dislike about this little pilsner beauty. It’s the perfect warm-weather companion and I can’t ever imagine getting tired of it.
The Flat Cap Otto gets a whomping 4/5 from me!
14. Liefmans Cuvee Brut Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium
This was a bit of a mind bending experience for me; I really didn’t know what to expect – especially because it comes in a wrapper AND a champagne-style bottle! It looks like a sort of fruit-beer-cava-champagne, but it pours much, much darker and has a totally opaque consistency – not at all what you’d imagine. Liefmans make this by mixing aged dark beer with whole cherries, and I think just by looking at it, you can really tell that there’s a lot going on there in terms of flavour.
On the nose it’s sharp and sweet and a little bit tart, I was looking for the cherries but kept getting apples. It smells like a West Country cider to me!
In the mouth it’s incredibly crisp and refreshing, with a full bodied fruity flavour that really electrifies your tongue. It’s more apples than cherries to me, a very interesting and unique experience.
I must also add that this was probably the most balanced beer (if you can really call it beer) of the bunch, with an impressively smooth and complex finish.
Not exactly your typical beer, but certainly one of the most surprising and interesting bottles I’ve tasted so far. You might imagine it would be too sweet and fluffy, but there’s so much finesse to it that I really found myself desperate – and I really do mean desperate – for more. This is a rare and duly noted find.
The Liefmans Cuvee Brut gets a very elegant 4/5 from me!
15. Poperings Hommel Bier Review & Tasting Notes | Belgium
The one I saved ’til last, this little beauty pours with a gorgeous, cloudy honey hue that looks about as Belgian as it gets!
It smells fruity, hoppy and peppery – almost exactly how you might imagine a hoppy Belgian beer should – it’s quite the cliche, actually!
In the mouth it’s sweet and fruity, with a refreshing hoppy wheat kick. You can really taste that it’s a hot beer (7.5%), but it remains very well-balanced from start to finish, just the right amount of bitterness gives it a toasted-wood-chip finish – incredibly drinkable.
Easily one of my top 10 Belgian beers! It instantly takes you to the streets of Bruges and Brussels and there’s simply nothing not to like about it. My only real gripe would be that the bottle is so small!
The Poperings Hommel Bier gets a monumental 5/5 from me!
Treat yourself to a box of craft beers from Beer Hawk and embark on your very own tasting adventure!
NB: This blog post took a month to write and I never drank more than two beers in one sitting. I absolutely encourage responsible drinking – little and often is my motto!