There was a series of adverts here in the UK a few years back from Batchelors, for their Cup-a-soup brand (if you're not from the UK, it's exactly as it sounds). The idea revolved around a pair of big hairy blue arms, giving a Cup-a-soup drinker a big cuddle, with the tagline 'A Hug in a Mug', implying that the soup was warm and comforting. I bring this up in a beer review, not to reminisce of days gone by, but because, hot diggity, you could use that exact same tagline for Brouwerij Kees Caramel Fudge Stout. Of course, Kees being based in Holland, the arms would probably be orange and fluffy. And holding a massive spliff. (Yeah, I know that's a bit culturally insensitive - I had to stop eating my haggis there for a second and smooth off my kilt, to debate whether to type it out or not.)
Genuinely though, this is a stunning piece of brewing from Kees. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect when I popped the bottle open, as this beer was part of the same order that contained Wild Beer Co's Dr. Todd and after that abomination, I wasn't confident with the rest of the beers from the order. I really shouldn't have been worried. 2018 has really switched up a couple of gears as far as the good beers I've tasted so far this year.
"Genuinely, this is a stunning piece of brewing from Kee's."
Anyway, back to the point in hand - Caramel Fudge Stout. Make no mistake with this beer, it is a wolf in lambs clothing. You see the name and you think 'This will be a nice little number to start off a nights boozing'. Then you see the ABV and probably blink twice to check that you aren't seeing things. 11.5%. Yeah, you may start a nights boozing with this stout, but I guarantee you'll probably finish with it too. This is some strong stuff.
But strong doesn't necessarily mean undrinkable. I know when some of you see 11.5% printed there, you immediately think 'super ale', or 'export', or maybe even 'meths'. 11.5% for a beer - even for a super ale - is mega strong. I've drank wine that wasn't even close to that. And sure, Caramel Fudge Stout does taste strong - even liqueur-like - but it has so much good stuff going on flavour-wise, that it isn't off putting. You do need to respect the ABV though - this isn't a beer that you can slug in one (well, you could, if you're an idiot). You need to sip at it, enjoy it, savour it. This is a beer to be enjoyed over an extended period of time. I definitely found myself changing my drinking style with it - rather than finish it over 15-20 minutes, it took me the better part of an hour to get through it, mainly because I didn't want it to finish.
"You see the ABV and probably blink twice to check that you aren't seeing things. 11.5%. This is some strong stuff."
Start with the smell. I wrote in my barely legible notes at the time, that I got a massive hit of toffee and cooked apple. It's like hot, sticky toffee and apple pudding, covered in caramel sauce. Surprisingly though, there wasn't much of a boozy hit from it, certainly nothing to forewarn of the monster lurking inside the bottle. It was almost welcoming, festive, even.
Which brings us nicely onto the flavour. And in this respect, it's everything I could've hoped for, given the name of the beer. There's caramel. There's fudge. There's a bit of stout as well! Three from three so far. But it's deeper than that. As I touched on above, this is more like a liqueur than a beer. It's got that silky, syrupy feel of a liqueur - you can practically bite off and chew the stuff. And there's real texture to it too - almost as though you can feel all of the sugar crystals on your tongue. What it reminds me of the most, is a good old Scottish delicacy called tablet, but in liquid form. Now, If you've never heard of tablet before, it's basically made by mixing a bunch of sugar with some more sugar, then add in some sweetened milk and allowing the whole lot to form into a sheet, like a wax tablet from days of yore. It's a bit like fudge, except it makes your teeth hurt just looking at it. The only way it could be more Scottish, would be if it was deep fried (and somewhere, someone has probably tried that). It's like all Scottish delicacies, in that it's designed to comfort you and take you away from the fact that you live in Scotland. I jest of course - the point of all Scottish food and drink is to kill you quicker, so you don't need to live here any longer (I am Scottish before anyone asks, so I'm allowed to be this cynical).
And behind all the sweetness, there's this boozy, warming finish. It slips down like a good whisky, heating you from the inside out. But despite the big alcohol hit, it isn't harsh; it isn't off putting. You'll find yourself wanting to come back to it again and again to see what flavours you get next. Sometimes it's like toffee apple. Sometimes there's a hint of chocolate. I even think I got the slightest taste of liquorice too. Then it'll be sticky toffee pudding, with gooey figs, covered in lashing of sauce. Man, it's only 10.30 on a Wednesday morning and I'm craving the stuff again.
And then takes me to the biggest downside of this beer; its availability. This isn't a beer you're going to find in your local Aldi. You'd probably even be hard pressed to find it in any beer shops in the country. I had to order it online, from Honest Brew. And even then, it was £5.99 a bottle. And it was worth every single penny of that price, it really was. I don't grudge paying that kind of money for a beer with this kind of quality. You can tell the amount of effort that's gone into making it and it's only fair that the brewer should be rewarded for that effort.
"This isn't a beer you're going to find in your local Aldi. I had to order it online and even then, it was £5.99 a bottle..."
I reviewed the beer on Untappd on Saturday night, where I gave it four and three-quarters out of five. You may be wondering why I didn't give it the full five out of five and I'll try to explain my reasoning here. Yes, this beer is amazing stuff, almost perfect in fact. But I couldn't give it the full score, because it's not a beer that I could see myself drinking regularly. This is something you don't want to sicken yourself of, something that you'd want to drink sparingly throughout the year. For a beer to get a perfect score, it would need to tick all the boxes as far as taste, feel and look go, but also be something that I could drink all the time and never get tired of. And as good as this stout is, it doesn't hit all of those criteria.
It does come damn close though.