We interrupt your holiday shenanigans with a message both grim and hopeful. Christmas is over, and for the vast majority of us, there’s not a lot to look forward to beyond the outrageous capers of New Year’s Eve. Ah, but at least there’s beer. And this month has provided plenty to keep us going through the dreariness that is January. So let’s see how this last month panned out, and ponder briefly what the next year will bring.
Hello darkness my dear friend
If there’s ever a reason to be glad of winter, it’s the sudden emergence of dark beers. December certainly hasn’t disappointed, and for the first time in Romania, new releases of dark beers outnumber their paler brethren.
Let’s take a look at Hop Hooligans first, who return with a new batch of their barrel aged American Imperial Stout, Never Over. The first time round, they aged this bad boy in 2 different types of bourbon barrels, Heaven Hill and Buffalo Trace. For this year’s batch, they decided to play around a little bit more and released 5 versions, all aged in different barrels: Heaven Hill, Buffalo Trace, Buffalo Trace with coconut additions, Buffalo Trace with Vanilla beans, and heading to Scotland now, a smoky, peaty Laphroaig barrel.
Besides a fancy array of variously conditioned Never Overs to get excited about, the Hooligans also brought back another crowd favourite, Time. This Imperial Stout was also well acquainted with the insides of a Buffalo Trace barrel, which slowly worked its magic to add a new dimension to an already world-class beer. Finally, fans of the sweat inducing Chupacabra Spiced Stout will be pleased to see that the pesky goat murdering fiend has ascended to the throne, and returns this month in Imperial form. Coming in at 9.5% ABV, and loaded with
butt mouth puckering peppers (Chipotle, Habanero, Pasilla and Aji Amarillo), plus coffee and chocolate, it’s a lip tingling delight.
Fresh from Cirque du Zburătorul, we say ‘allo, ‘allo, to Cal’Maro. The latest concoction from the Bucharest based gypsy brewer is a Brown Porter, infused with cold brew coffee. Brown porters are sadly not often seen in Romania, so it’s great to see this one pouring on tap and by the bottle. With a wonderfully malty taste, hints of chocolate and a blast of coffee, it’s also bound to juggle your memory of cheeky kids’ rhymes from the Communist times.
Now for something a little different, we head to Oriel Beer, who celebrated their 2 year anniversary this month. Famed for their range of Belgian style beers and sumptuous barrel aged offerings, it’s with some surprise that we discover they’ve brewed up a Stout. ‘Oh my my…’ comes in two finger-licking varieties: peanut butter and cotton candy. While Oriel have used adjuncts in their beers before, this is the first time they’ve opted for a less traditional approach, and it leaves us curious to see what the new year will bring.
In the same vein, we turn now to Hophead, and their latest release, Mănăștur. Named after the greatest neighbourhood in Cluj (no poetic licenses apply, this place is GOAT), and the place they have called home for the last 4 years, this Stout is the last of their 4 anniversary beers released this year. Brewed with coconut cakes from neighbouring bakery Delicii Sanatoase, toasted coconut flakes and a sprinkle of orange peel, this is a decadent and heartwarming stout that went down a treat with our Christmas dinner.
Sticking to the basics now, Bere Noah released their first dark beer this month. The Moonspell is a surprisingly rich, chocolaty Stout, with a nice, bitter finish, that is made with just the standard beer ingredients of water, malt, hops, and yeast. Brewer Călin might give you a heads up that it’s not as thick and full bodied as other stouts on the market. But as far as we’re concerned, The Moonspell is a masterfully handled balancing act, showing that sometimes the basics are all you need.
Blackout Brewing also revisited dark beers just in time for winter, and the second batch of Quantum Suicide was released this month, in two versions. The unadulterated base Russian Imperial Stout is a rich and delicious concoction that features over 15 different types of malt and a mere sprinkling of hops. It also shows how this ambitious brewer has advanced in the space of a year, with rough ends trimmed up, and a sense of order amid the chaos. Besides the regular Quantum Suicide, we’ve also been treated to the coffee series, this time featuring Costa Rica Anaerobica coffee by Yume Coffee Roasters, and a touch of vanilla. We also have it on good authority that there are 3 or 4 special, one off kegs which may see the light of day in a few months at upcoming festivals or events, so keep your eyes peeled.
There’s still no light at the end of the tunnel, so let’s press on and head over to the Bereta brewery, where the boys have been playing around with dark malts once again and, for the first time since their black IPA, they’ve brewed something dark that isn’t imperial strength. Chocolate City is as close to a regular stout as Bereta are likely to get. Featuring cocoa nibs and cardamom, it hits a healthy 6.5% ABV, and promises to be as teeth dissolving-ly delicious as their iconic Diabetus.
A new breed of dark souls
We’ve seen a number of brewers embracing their old friend darkness once again, but December 2019 has also seen a few new faces making an appearance. Propaganda Brewery is the newest gypsy brewer on the Cluj scene, and following in the shoes of Blackout, is calling the Bere a la Cluj brewery home for the time being. Their first release was Kronos, a hefty Russian Imperial Stout, loaded with ingredients from across the globe: Peruvian cocoa nibs, Madagascan vanilla, and Guatemala & Etiopian coffee from Yume Coffee Roasters. Coming in at 9.1% ABV, it’s an ambitious brew, but our local gypsy brewers tend not to do things by half.
The second new brewery to emerge into the realms of dark beer are Bers Nova – formerly known as Artisan Brewing. While you might have seen some of their contract brewed beers at various events over the summer, they’ve now started production at their own brewery, and have currently released 2 out of 4 beers. Tear of the Dark is their take on an American Porter, and is one of just 3 of the dark brews to be released this month without any additions. Their beers are still working their way across the country from Oradea, and for those outside of the city, your safest bet is ordering them directly from their Facebook page for the time being.
Back at the Bereta brewery, the winners of the second draft of Bereta Brewing Community homebrew collaboration series are already poised to make an entrance. First up, Bozhidar Asenov from Low Frequency Brews joined the lads to create an Imperial Milk Stout, laced with salted caramel and raisins, and possibly aged in a rum barrel of some variety. The second brewing community brew-day saw Shu Xi ascend the brew house steps, to create a Brown Porter, of course, laden with vanilla, lactose, cacao nibs, and even more salted caramel. Hats off to the home brewers and the Bereta lads, it seems we have some curiosities to look forward to in the coming year, plus 2 more BBC brew days coming soon.
A last glimmer of light
But among all that darkness, Romanian brewers did manage to pump out a few beers that positively glowed in comparison. Let’s first inject some Dopamine into the discussion, and take a look at the much anticipated collaboration between Blackout Brewing and Hopdrops. We were expecting their double dry-hopped double IPA way back in October, but due to a fickle batch of yeast, the re-brewed beer didn’t make it out of the tank until just before Christmas.
It was a gift well worth waiting for however, and take two of Dopamine was a wonderfully smooth, full-bodied DIPA that packs a fruity punch. When asked, the brewers couldn’t think of anything they’d do differently next time – which is unheard of for guys that are typically their own harshest critics.
A couple of months back, Hop Hooligans and Dry & Bitter Brewing Company asked themselves a somewhat rhetorical question: ‘You guys into Biotransformation?’ We don’t know about Marian and her brewing lads, but for the Hooligans, adding hops during fermentation, a practice used to extract longer lasting aroma compounds from the hops, has been somewhat common for some time now. The two breweries put their skills together and released this DDH NEIPA earlier this month, a gem of a beer that also has some pineapple thrown in the mix to round off the hop aroma of Simcoe and Nelson Sauvin. As for those of you unsure if you’re into biotransformation just yet, this excellent article might also help make your mind up.
Bereta also hit us with their last IPA of the year, making them the most productive brewery in terms of new beers this year. Don’t Believe the Hype saw a break from the hype train, with a more sessionable, citrusy IPA on offer, first on tap, and eventually by bottle, once it recovered from some bottling line induced trauma.
Speaking of Bereta and Hop Hooligans, we’ve often felt a bit guilty for all the innuendos sparking up in our monthly reviews. But with stuff like Pulp Friction and Melon Party, can you really blame us? Well, this month provided us with more fuel for the fire, and Ground Zero added a new dimension to it all. The result was Circle Jerk, a Milkshake IPA with cherries and mint, pumped with 13kg of Simcoe, Centennial and Ekuanot in the dry-hopping, brewed at Ground Zero, and released with a splash at Hangar earlier this month.
Putting our propensity for immature penile jokes aside, let’s take a moment to properly see what this is about. Circle Jerk is not just a collaboration beer, but rather, the embodiment of what the three most iconic craft breweries in the country are aiming for the future. What started off as a joke between the lads at Haze Fest earlier this year continued with an open-house brew day on Hop Hooligans‘ 3 year anniversary, and judging by a Bereta post a couple of weeks ago, it’s likely to grow into a larger concept.
We’re seeing an interesting turn in craft terminology coming into play, and among the eternal debate between macro, craft and artisanal that Romania has been dealing with for the past 5 years, we’re now being brought face to face with ‘modern Romanian breweries’. There’s still some grey areas regarding this topic that we hope to shed some light on in our next entry, but for now, suffice it to say that there are some interesting times ahead.
Ho ho, no?
We couldn’t really discuss December without mentioning Christmas, could we? For the most part it has passed the beer industry by, and besides a few festive memes that keep cropping up and some questionable seasonal labels, we’ve also seen one Christmas beer released this month: Zăganu Roşie – Christmas edition. Coming in at a hefty 7% ABV, this is a spiced version of their regular Belgian-style Red Ale, only available on tap at the Zăganu bar. There’s only 4 kegs though, so if you’re lucky, you might still catch it before all the festive cheer runs out.
This year has seen several breweries going for a bit of rebranding, but the most dubious by far has been Brauhaus Sincu’s choice of Christmas labels. To their luck, we don’t yet have our own version of Worst Beer Blog, so any questions regarding their choice of festive marketing will have to go unanswered.
New stuff and things to come
As the year draws to an end and a new decade begins, there’s still plenty more to look forward to. This month has seen changes beginning to take place, new beginnings, and the start of the end of an era. Numerous breweries set to be growing in size, with positive news regarding Hophead as their new brewery begins to take shape. Bereta are also set to expand, with several sparkling-new fermenters arriving earlier this month and promises of more beer starting from January. The only question is, what should they be brewing more frequently? You can let them know your thoughts, just be sure to remind them that they’ve promised to stop putting radioactive goo in the mix.
We’ve seen something of a more official launch of Bers Nova, and besides the American Porter we mentioned earlier, they’ve also brewed up another batch of No Indie Rock IPA, this time at their own brewery, and for the first time, it’s widely available by the bottle. Two more are set to join the lineup shortly, a double IPA, and an American Pale Ale.
A number of other beers have been concocted this month, and we can only assume they’re currently maturing away in their vessels, ready for release in the next few months. Double Drop Crew return with another sour surprise, this time featuring clementines and spices. Tinged with festive joy, it sounds intriguing and we’re hoping it’ll see the light of day sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, Mustața de Bere have been making up for a quiet year with two new releases just as the year is drawing to an end, a Bohemian Pilsner and a Bière Blanche which, after travelling across the globe for photo purposes, can now be picked up from online shop Berero.
The Hooligans have also been working on a couple of interesting new brews, with two collaborations to look forward to. Metalhead Brewery crossed the border from Bulgaria, joining the guys to make a headbangingly strong and beastly … uhm, chocolate cherry stout? Ah well, whatever floats your boat, fellas. Also making odd hand gestures with the Hooligans, this month saw Anagram take over the controls for a day. This much anticipated collaboration resulted in what promises to be a thick and chewy DIPA, featuring grape must.
There’s much to be said and more about 2019, so stay tuned for the yearly review due to be published next week. In the meantime, we’ll be wrapping up this bad boy with the customary list of December’s new beer releases:
Atelierul de Bere Zimand – Porter – 5.9% ABV
Bere Noah – The Moonspell – Stout – 6% ABV
– Don’t Believe The Hype – Hazy IPA – 6.3% ABV
– Chocolate City – Stout with cocoa nibs & cardamom – 6.5% ABV
– No Indie Rock – IPA – 6.3% ABV
– Tear Of The Dark – American Porter – 6% ABV
– Imperial Chupacabra – Imperial Spiced Stout – 9.5% ABV
– You Guys Into Biotransformation? – Pineapple DDH NEIPA (with Dry & Bitter Brewing Company) – 6% ABV
– Time – Imperial Stout (aged on chocolate, coffee and vanilla) – 11% ABV – Buffalo Trace BA
– Never Over – Barrel Aged American Imperial Stout – 12% ABV
⇒ Buffalo Trace BA with coconut
⇒ Buffalo Trace BA with vanilla
⇒ Laphroaig BA
Hophead – Mănăștur – Stout – 6.4% ABV
Mustața de Bere:
– Albă – Bière Blanche – 4.3% ABV
– Blondă – Bohemian Pilsner – 4.9% ABV
Oriel Beer – Oh My My… – Stout – 7.5% ABV
⇒ Peanut Butter edition
⇒ Cotton Candy edition
Zăganu – Zăganu Roşie – Christmas edition – Spiced Red Ale – 7% ABV – draft only
Zburătorul – Cal’Maro – Cold Brew Porter