I don't like tea. Just throwing that out there. I never have. I don't understand the fascination this country has with the stuff - enough of a fascination to start a war over and (just about) get a whole country addicted to opium over. It's just a bush, for crying out loud. If you wanted something addictive to bring back for the masses, you could probably have just brought back the opium you had in the first place, yeah? Or, on second thoughts, maybe not...
Anyway, back on point; I don't like tea. But I do like beer (duh). Which is the only explanation I can think of for buying today's subject, the Lapsang Souchoung-infused Musselburgh Smoke from Knops Brewing Company. Some beers are bad and some beers are weird. Musselburgh Smoke bucks the trend by being both bad and weird. Or maybe it isn't and it's just me.
You're probably asking yourself "If you don't like tea, why did you buy a tea infused beer?" which is a damn good question. It's also a question that I can't really answer well, except to say; I'm stoopid. See, on a jaunt to the local Aldi on Saturday evening, braving the epic levels of snow that the Beast from the East had just dumped on my doorstep, I played Beer Roulette and picked four random ales to help fend of cabin fever. Those not familiar with Beer Roulette, it goes a bit like this; you go into your beer shop of choice and basically pick x number of beers at random and then go home and drink them. I like my drinking games simple, just like me (before any of you say/think it). This can leave you with an ...eclectic mix of beers, to say the least. On this occasion, I ended up with this monstrosity. So to answer your question; I didn't pick a tea infused beer on purpose, it picked me. Or, I'm just an idiot.
Even after I got home and realized my mistake, I was determined to give this ale a chance. For all I knew, Lapsang Souchoung might be the best type of tea known to man and a beer made from it could be the single greatest invention known to man, since, well, beer itself.
I guess from the hints I've been giving above, you already know that this isn't the case. The fact that I can't seem to find Musselburgh Smoke on Knops website, seems to suggest that the brewery has washed their hands of it too...
Let's start with the basics. Musselburgh Smoke pours a dark, murky brown colour, like - unsurprisingly enough - well stewed tea. From certain angles and lights, it could almost be a deep reddy colour. If poured properly (i.e. not by me), you'll get a dark, foamy head, which disappears almost as quickly as chocolate in my house. First impressions, it looks nice and inviting.
Taking a sniff of the beer, things continue to seem inviting. There's a malty aroma - dark or roasted malts in particular - that tease your senses. There's also an overwhelmingly smoky character there too - a little overpowering, but not off putting. It's a sort of charcoal-y, camp fire-like smell. It's comforting, especially given the recent cold weather we've experienced recently. So far, to my nose, no tea-like aroma. Having never tasted Lapsang Souchong before, I'm not sure if the smoky smell comes from that or not. But, all good so far.
Supping down a big mouthful of the beer, things initially seem OK. It's malty, it's bitter. Nothing particularly special, but nothing particularly awful. It's not until the ale passes over your taste buds and down the back of your throat that things start to go wrong. The comforting smoky character mentioned above, suddenly decides it's had enough of being in the background and smashes its way to the front and centre. The only way I can think to describe it, is if somehow someone managed to bottle some smoke and then liquefied it and used it as an ingredient. It overwhelms any other flavour in the beer, to the point where all you can taste is smoke. Imagine sitting beside a campfire as the wind changes, blowing the smoke into your face. Try to avoid is much as you like, but you'll still have that taste - smoke, charcoal, fire - in your mouth for hours afterwards. This beer is like that. Not good.
I've Googled Lapsang Souchong and apparently a smoky flavour is part of the package. Is it as overwhelming and unpleasant as it is in this beer? I'm not sure. But at least that puts my theory that this batch was part of a fire sale to bed.
Again, maybe I'm not the best person to be reviewing this. I'm not a tea drinker. I haven't tried Lapsang Souchoung before. I don't smoke 60 roll ups a day, so the taste of stuff burning doesn't appeal to me. But I am a beer drinker and reviewing this purely as a beer, I can't find any redeeming factors here. Perhaps if you tick all the boxes above, this may be your ideal tipple. As it stands, for me, this is a big no no. Sorry Knops.