So, as I mentioned in the previous post, X-Ale 2014 was held last Saturday. A ticket-only, closed-door mini-festival of fifteen extreme, unusual and one-off beers, held in an underground bunker while the Sevens chaos began again outside.
It was great fun. If Hashigo Zake hold it again, I’ll go again.
But where do I start, with fifteen notable beers to write about?
You start at the end, of course.
I’d been holding back on the Southern Tier Crème Brûlée (9.6%) for the entire afternoon, having heard so much about it before hand. “Our very last keg” of the beer, to be precise – Southern Tier having decided to stop exporting their beers for some reason.
I certainly wasn’t disappointed. Brewed with vanilla amongst the ingredients, this imperial milk stout was spectacular and delicious, and it truly lived up to its name.
Big, bold and dark, topped with a head that looked just like whipped cream. Lifting the glass to the nose brought a huge delicious aroma of caramel poured over a rich vanilla ice cream. The first sip completely filled the mouth with thick sweet custard, milky and rich, buffeted deliciously by the sharp burnt flavour of a freshly made caramel sauce.
Indeed, as I drunk it, my sense-memory more slid back to my favourite childhood desert. Brown sugar, slowly caramelized with a vanilla bean in a pot, poured over rich, fat, New Zealand vanilla ice cream. And this was those flavours, in a glass, including the slightly harsh burnt sugar after-taste of a very natural, very rich caramel.
Some may say there’s a quintessential beer. An archetype of a beer. It’s probably somewhere from golden to medium brown in colour, and it carries a perfect balance of malt and hops. A beer that when someone hears the word, thinks “yes, that is a beer. Beer is that thing.”
Southern Tier’s Crème Brûlée is not that beer. There will probably be drinkers, beer fans and otherwise, who will dislike this beer due to it not tasting like a beer. There was very little “beeriness” here at all. Perhaps none. 
It’d be a hop-head’s nightmare.
Others may say that the same frothy sensation and caramel desert sweetness could be achieved with the right mix of ingredients and liqueurs. And they’d be right.
That is very much missing the point. This is a beer, brewed as a beer, combining a number of malts and hops, and a bit of vanilla and lactose sugar for vital flavour and sensation. Brewed in a tank, poured into kegs; served slightly cold through a tap into a beer glass.
It’s quite an achievement. I’ve tasted no beer quite like it. Many similar, but none quite like it. Which is part of the joy of beer!
Give me someone who says “they don’t like beer,” and I reckon that if I could pour a small serving of this Crème Brûlée stout into a glass for them, saying “well, try this then,” they’d likely acknowledge that, maybe, there might be a beer or two out there that could be worth drinking.
On that note, it’s worth mentioning the first beer I tried on arrival at X-Ale was also something very far from any quintessential “beer.” Garage Project had come along with a Bourbon barrel aged 14% monster version of their Bastard Rye golden ale.
And it tasted like nothing other than a sweet bourbon, mixed with a bit of water. No carbonation to speak of, no hint of hops, just a lot of sweet malt and barrel-aged whisky flavour. It was a bit light and thin (hence the mixed with water remark), and it wasn’t really my thing, but it was a beer that showed another aspect of the myriad possibilities of this wonderful drink.
 Which is a hell of a shame. Both because their excellent beers will be difficult to find in New Zealand, but also because it’s just going to re-open the ‘grey import’ market, with the problems that can come with beer coming into the country without due oversight from the brewer.↩
 Though, in full disclosure, I was drinking it after a long afternoon of full-flavoured beers, so my palate was likely a bit too fucked-up to pull great subtleties from the glass.↩
 Albeit a very small tasting glass, on this occasion. I went back for seconds.↩
 A thing worth trying. I convinced a whole room of “I don’t like beer” people to “more please” through the use of a few bottles of Yeastie Boys rich and spicy Her Majesty 2010.↩