Tuesday, 24 March 2015

#261: Old School

While I've been awash with IPA and pale ale of late (figuratively speaking of course) and busily hunting the latest and greatest of the Irish craft beer scene at large it has been easy to forget about the styles of beer that first got me interested in beer and brewing. 
For me, and I would guess for many, good German and Belgian beer started me on a journey that would lead to this unforeseeable state of affairs in which I spend too much time thinking about beer, writing about beer and not nearly enough time drinking it.

With that in mind, and with my quest for a decent Munich-style dunkel still unresolved, I was intrigued to see Weltenburger Dunkel in the Bradley's Fridge.
Big German mug compulsory

At 4.7% and pouring clear mahogany, the Barock Dunkel certainly looks the part of a drinkable dark lager. The nose gets a gentle treatment of raisin and apple and a general sense of malty toffeeish roundness. The palate is clean but does get a nice fist of dark mark flavours, with toffee and raisins again headlining among syrup, roast chestnut and a slightly smoky finish. All of this manages not only to avoid becoming oversweet, but actually remain quite dry. Refreshing, sessionable yet supplying all that dark malt; this is the beer I've been looking for. Sure, it's no Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel, at least not to my rose-tinted glasses, but it does its job very well.

On the back of that I decided to return for the helles and the doppelbock, two more of my favourite styles (there may be a pattern in there).

At 5.9%, the Barock Hell packs a bit of a punch that manifests itself in a slight golden syrup character on the palate, while the rest is all the biscuity, grainy, almost husky stuff you expect from a Helles while remaining, again, clean and exceptionally easy drinking. Gentle flowery highlights suggest a sober and functional hopping. A great, uncomplicated but satisfying helles for those interested, and I certainly am. This Biergarten quaffer stuff, but then, almost anything is for the willing quaffer.

The last of the three was the Asam Bock, a doppelbock of 6.9%. Chestnut brown with big dark head, this looks the part too. What makes a good Munich dunkel so good is that, to me, it offers the same flavour profile as a doppelbock, subdued to a session strength without sacrificing too much the body. This appears to be the case with the Weltenburger range, because the Asam Bock is choc-a-block with burnt toffee, tobacco leaf, more raisins than you'd know what to do with and an underlying woody base note. Like the dunkel, I detect just a flash of something more savoury at the finish, and again I liken it to some slightly smoky (not smoked) malts. Despite being fuller, thicker and more chocolatey than the dunkel, the Asam Bock too manages to refrain from too much sweetness and is more drinkable than you'd expect. 

All three of the Weltenburger beers scratch an itch for me, so much so that I even bought a bottle in the Bierhaus (a bottle in a bar, who would have thought?).

Friday, 20 March 2015

#260: Kilter

Working in an off licence sometimes comes with a perk or two, and among these is the occasional free beer for tasting.

This is one of those times, and the beer is Fulcrum.

Fulcrum is brewed by Clear Sky, a contract brand brewing their beer at on Hilden's kit. Described only as a wheat beer, the drinker is left to decide exactly what that means. For me it's Bavarian more than it's Belgian, pouring an opaque yellowy orange and giving plenty of citrus, particularly lemon, banana and simple pleasant wheaty stuff. That simple pleasantness is how the palate works too, being exceptionally light but not watery, and again showing off lemon, banana, wheaty biscuit and a hint of bubblegum sweetness, as well as the faintest flash of waxy bitterness at the finish, but nothing for a hophead to get excited about.

It's definitely German in its aspirations, and while it may not hold a candle to the likes of Schneider, Weihenstephaner or Ayinger, it would compare favourably with the more ubiquitous of the style (at least in Ireland), namely Erdinger, Paulaner and Franziskaner. The main downfall of the beer is twofold; first, the price, which will typically be above any of the aforementioned German masters, and second, the sheer dominating carbonation, which severely damages drinkability for a style of beer that should be so effortless.

Regardless, we got a few bottles for tasting and if you call in to O'Donovan's in Bishopstown (the one on Looney's Cross) you can have a taste for yourself. 

Monday, 9 March 2015

#259: Next Degree

The release of a new Eight Degrees beer has become a very exciting prospect for the Destrier, so when I sauntered in to Bradley's on a mission to find rye IPA Gasman I audibly gasped to see, alongside it, another new beer. Hurray!

The Gasman first. I'd already had it and taken notes on the draught version in the Bierhaus, so that's what I'm talking about, contrary to the picture here. 
Pouring bright orange, it's positively pungent on the nose, with orange rind, sorbet and marmalade forming an expectation of bitter-sweetness to come. What came was more bitter, less sweet. My notes eloquently state that Gasman is 'off its tits with hops', and while that doesn't make any actual sense it is an accurate description of the experience yielded. It's abrasive in its hop-forwardness, with an explosive burst of pithy citrus fruit the curtain-opener for a rather grating bitter orange and spike of malt that somehow doesn't provide much sugary sweetness. Waxy citrus bitterness lasts forever and the thing can happily be described as a fruit bomb, even if the fruit in question is namely those of the more orangey branch of the citrus family. It's good, it's tasty, it's wonderfully hoppy, but the ABV of 7.8% and intense bitterness damages drinkability to such a degree that I find my pint a tad laborious towards the finish. Still, there's plenty to enjoy in the Gasman, preferably in *gasp* smaller measures. The bottle, then went down easier.

Polar Vortex is the second new beer from Mitchelstown in 2015, and it's an IPA of 5.8%. Instantly, it is far more approachable than the Gasman, though I can't attribute that to the alcohol level; the Gasman wasn't particularly boozy, nor is this particularly flimsy. Rather, Polar Vortex is just a far more rounded drink. Billed to showcase Cascade with Simcoe and Citra in supporting roles, it can't come as a surprise that it exhibits all the lovely pine needle, citrus pith and peel that a typical US west-coast IPA tends to have, but it does so with such aplomb that I couldn't help but only half-jokingly nominate it as my beer of the year. Grapefruit and orange peel are the other star players on the nose. To taste, it's both balanced and bold, with plenty of those bright, zesty, mandarin skin and pine needle stuff bouncing off an underlying layer of sweet candied lemon skins, pineapple and tropical fruit juice. The overall effect is of a punchy, sharp, wholly hop-forward beer that remains remarkably gulpable throughout, something that can be very difficult to achieve (as seen right now, with the Gasman).

Hats off Eight Degrees, master proponents of Irish hoppiness.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

#258: Franciscan Well Winter & Cask Ales Fest 2015

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know that my festival visits are swift and clinical to a fault, and despite that being something I'd like to change (some day maybe I'l actually relax and enjoy a beer fest), the Franciscan Well's Cask and Winter Ales festival last weekend was no different.

Almost everything is on cask, and certainly everything I had was hand pumped (it's not every day you get so much fresh cask) and there were plenty of newbies for me to try.

Pictured: 5 Malt Dark Ale (L) and Roaring Ruby (R), supposedly.
I ordered two newbies to begin with, Torc Brewing's 5 Malt Dark Ale (4.5%) and West Cork Brewing's Roaring Ruby (4%). I was handed two beers that looked almost identical, and that was just the start of the confusion.

The beer I was told to be the 5 Malt Dark Ale was a hazy, rust coloured affair that didn't give much on the nose. The taste its a pleasant and full blend of red fruit malt with apple and woody caramel in behind, doing their best not to spoil things. There's just a flash of citrus and bubblegum before the taste abruptly ends. Nice and sessionable this.
The Roaring Ruby (again, I was assured this was the Roaring Ruby) was by contrast a darker experience. It looks darker, it smells darker, and with plenty of toffee, strong roasty coffee beans and milk chocolate it certainly tastes darker. However, it does all of this in a rather light and limp fashion so that after the half pint is finished, I can't say that I enjoyed it very much. Approaches good things but ultimately is fairly bland.

Now, the evidence is fairly damning; it appears these two beers are the other way around. That's not how I was served them by the trusty Fran Well staff, so I'm sticking with my story here. As such, your results may certainly vary.

Staying with the red theme and looking to step it up a notch, I head to Rascal's Big Hop Red, at 5%. The aroma here suggests New World hops, with an initial citrus flair. This is matched on the palate; orangey, almost sweet marmalade notes are to the fore, with a light peel note offering some sort of tongue tingling bitterness and a waxy afters. The hops are certainly there but they are reined in, keeping the beer nicely balanced and drinkable. Perhaps it was just the lightness of the previous two, but this one felt positively slick in the mouth and full of flavour on the night. Lovely stuff.

Metalman were in town with Heat Sink, a chilli porter of 4.9%. Eight Degrees' Aztec Stout is the only thing I had had for comparison, and I really wasn't a fan, so this could have gone either way. Thankfully, it proved much more enjoyable than the Mitchelstown offering. It pours black and soapy and gives some roasty toastiness on the nose, but not much overall. I could just about detect a smell I immediately recognised as Tayto smokey bacon crisps. I shit you not, this is exactly how it tastes to begin with - smokey bacon Taytos. There's a decent amount of cocoa butter to stand up to the tingle of spice at the finish that turns in no time into a proper heat at the back of the throat. This is well worth trying, despite the fact that it leaves the mouth thirstier than it was to begin with.

Sticking with dark beers, it was time to start climbing the ABV ladder, with Independent's Whiskey Stout, of a hearty 7%. It appears thick and black and certainly stout in its aroma; a fair amount of spirit makes its way to the nose with chocolate and bittersweet coffee in tow. The palate then gets a slick of the same stuff; bitter dark chocolate, mocha and malty chocolate biscuit, with a hint of woody fullness, though without any of the vanilla or spice you might expect from a barrel-ageing (which I'm assuming this is). Satisfying stuff, and a good return for the money and ABV.

I knew by now that it was time for the big guns. The first of those was Trouble Brewing's Beoir #2, brewed with plenty of help from the men and women of Beoir and a follow-up to Beoir #1 brewed in Black's. The style aimed for here is an imperial red, and it's immediately the boldest beer of the festival so far. There's loads of stuff in this; a big, hearty body and a ripe and juicy fruit profile. A toffeeish backing provides cover for some sweet jelly bean-like fruit notes and some lovely grapefruit, mango and strawberry highlights. The attack is sharp and zesty but not exactly bitter, balanced as it is. Hats off to those involved, I'd like to see more of this.

The night finished on the only beer that could have followed that - Black's High Vis, a 9% IPA. There's not a whole lot to say about this beer in that it's relatively straightforward as these kind of things go; orange, pithy bitterness, lemon skins and grapefruit, a touch of sugary malt and proper peely marmalade. Loads of citrus flavour with enough bitterness to counteract a hefty malt body makes for an enjoyable, easy-drinking strong IPA. 

I had seconds and went merrily on my way.
Roll on Easterfest!

Friday, 20 February 2015

#257: Metal Can

Much of a hubbub was made of the first canned Irish craft beer on the market; for a long time, Metalman had been teasing the idea, whetting the appetite of those who have been enjoying cans from the likes of Founders, Brewdog and Beavertown for some time now. Not only are there the practical advantages (indulging incognito, easier to recycle, harder to break, completely light-proof, better for preserving freshness, stackable, etc.) but Metalman's entry bore special significance because it heralded the first time any of their delicious beers would appear in a take-home serving (not including the collaboration with Hardknott).

Thus, Metalman Pale Ale made a long-awaited return to my palate. It had been around a year since I'd had the draught version - a shame because of the quality of the beer but testament to the myriad of great Irish beers to be occupying yourself with these days - so comparing with the draught version would be very unfair.
That said, it surely isn't as good.

Pouring clear copper, it's almost devoid of any aroma at first. When it does eventually drum up the courage and warmth to be smelled, it is simply awash with caramel. For the first few sips everything is OK; fruity, not exactly bitter, but noticeably hop forward, as you'd find the draught version I'm sure. Malts overcome this before long, to an effect that is not exactly cloying but certainly too much to enjoy. If you're really looking, you might find some grapefruit and other miscellaneous citrus notes clinging to driftwood for dear life in a sea of caramel, roiling with the odd swell of toffee malt. Amazingly, the beer remains quite drinkable - quaffable even; the four cans I bought didn't last very long. All of this would be disappointing but ultimately fine if it wasn't for the fact that, rather inconveniently, there are just way too many better pale ales and IPAs on this island, and many at a better price point, for this can to eke out a living.

The very first run was by no means a disaster, but improvements will have to be made if Metalman Pale Ale cans are to match the brewer's own very high standards.

Also; Metalman, please can Windjammer.

Friday, 6 February 2015

#256: Eager Beavers

When Beavertown beers first started to appear in our shops, 8 Ball, the rye IPA was one of the canned offerings I was most looking forward to trying, rye being a new favourite beer ingredient of mine. It's a shame it took this long to procure, but the results were at least worth it.

8 Ball is hazy and orange and smells like sharp, coppery-bitter orange skins and sweet marmalade from the off. There's a sort of wet grainy biscuit thing and a suggestion of grass, but the real joy comes on the palate - as it should. Again, it's all juicy orange marmalade, rind and grapefruit. There's a good bit of residual sugar in there too, and the overall effect is of a bittersweet and admittedly unsophisticated beer, but it's plenty enjoyable for all that. However, like the previous Beavertown releases I've tried, the price is a tad too high to encourage me to repurchase, especially as Irish beers of this sort (*coughSimcoeRustbucketcough*) do a better job below the price.

Another recent Beavertown appearance was Holy Cowbell, a so-called India Stout. It certainly smells that way, bursting with fistfuls of grapefruit, mango and mandarin, with particular emphasis on the zesty bitter skins thereof. The bright, punchy effect of the aroma is enhanced by the fact that the beer pours opaque and black and supports a thick creamy off-white head. The taste is a perfect interpretation of the beer's name; it's milky and smooth in texture, carrying traces of cocoa powder and the like, but with plenty of the bitter, astringent tropical fruit and lemon zest in behind.

Where 8 Ball is underwhelming but enjoyable, Holy Cowbell excels, and the best beer I've had from Beavertown yet.

Monday, 26 January 2015

#255: Stragglers

There's little more annoying than flicking through your beer notebook (you all have one, right??) and finding about a dozen beers you've forgotten to commit to the blog and long since lost the matching photographs.
Yes people, the struggle is real.

This is just one of probably many posts where I'll indiscriminately lump loose beers together, throw them at the wall and see what sticks.

It's a shame it has taken me this long to write about Trouble Brewing's Oh Yeah!, because it is a simply wonderful beer. The nose is bursting with bitter and juicy fruit, predominantly citrus, as well as actual Juicy Fruit (TM). The fruit expression here is really something else, with round and sweet tropical stuff bouncing off bitter lemon and orange peel. Lime skins and mango make for a bracing palate, with an astringent bitterness that lingers for ages and all sorts of bright and dark fruit shit going on. This is black IPA/Cascadian dark ale done right. Perhaps the only beer of the same or similar style to beat this would be Kinnegar's Black Bucket.

Smuttynose is one of the more recent U.S. imports to show up in Ireland, and it didn't take long for me to shell out for the IPA, Finestkind.
It pours a hazy orange and looks a great deal more attractive than what must be the worst ever beer labels. It smells sharp too; fresh orange skin, sweet orange marmalade and some straight-up grapefruit. The palate doesn't quite get an experience to match - there is some of the hop-forward bite suggested but the flavour is marked by a more assertive warm toffee malt and round, fleshy citrus sweetness. Enjoyable stuff to be fair, but not exactly what the punter might look for from a U.S. IPA. Better hunting on home ground, folks.

Very little beering was done in Paris at the start of last year, with most of my consumption taken up by sweet, cheap bottles of Chimay Bleu. With time at a premium and beer tourism low on the agenda, bottle shopping was limited to the local Monoprix.

Rince Cochon is one of the beers picked up there, and there's unfortunately not much to say about it. Pale, yellow and clear, with a clean, grainy, biscuity and lightly spicy nose, there's not a lot to get excited about. This turns out to be the case, with generic sweet malt and a hint of coriander stuff making for an utterly pointless beer.

Much better luck was had with Duvel Tripel Hop 2014, graced as it was with the presence of Mosaic. It looks as pale and light as the Rince Cochon but immediately giving you way more for your money; a good deal of fresh cut grass, lemon skins, spice and even a hint of tropical fruit. Yes, tropical fruit from a Duvel. There's a surprisingly potent bitter front to the taste, with more lemon zest, mango and some warming spice. The whole thing is a wonderful interplay of sweet, bitter and lightly spicy elements atop the usual drinkable and refreshing Duvel backbone. Lovely stuff, and even though it doesn't quite reach the heights of 2013's Sorachi Ace version it's clear the Duvel's annual Tripel Hop output is well worth seeking out.

La Goudale is one of the most accessible of the French Bières de Garde and I was intrigued to find it in a 500ml can. However, rather like the Rince Cochon, it leaves a lot to be desired. It's similarly pale and light, although it does have a more interesting herbal and spice character; coriander and digestive biscuit are big players again, with a leafy, lemony bitterness making a brief and ineffectual appearance, as the overall experience remains a bit syrupy and oversweet.

Sierra Nevada's Snow Wit is a white IPA that featured recently on The Beer Nut; it was here that I was reminded of the beer's existence and absence from this blog, and so opened this can of worms of a post. It's light shade of cloudy yella, and the nose is immediately earthy, spicy, herbal, odd and altogether more Wit than anything else. The taste goes a similar direction; bursting with citrus fruit and punctuated with pepper, lemon zest, coriander and pillowy wheat, but the action still says more about witbier than it does about U.S. west coast hops. For all that it's still a good and enjoyable beer, but, much like the Brewdog/Weihenstephaner collaboration, you'd likely be better served with a dedicated witbier or IPA.

Accompanying this was Nooner - not the year-round German style pilsner brewed by the Chico crowd - but the limited session IPA in the vein of All-Day. It's fruity and a bit sticky on the nose, with some lagery biscuit base propping up a decent zesty, grapefruit hop profile. Simple stuff. It's the same to taste, though the hop presence is faint enough, with the star of the show being sweet orange marmalade, abrupt though it is on an alarmingly clean and light malt body.

Much more enjoyable was Celebration, which was on draught at the Bierhaus. It may come all the way from California, but I wasn't expect so little on the nose, though that may well have been the cold serving temperature. It did give flashes of marmaladey, citrusy sweetness, but the best was yet to come. Juicy is an appropriate term to use at this point. The flavour was surprisingly fresh for a Sierra Nevada beer, with a good bitter front opening for a sugary malt backig. At first taste even a little bit coarse; all bitter mandarin and lemon skins before it softens out more fleshy orange or tangerine thereafter. A waxy bitterness gets left behind, but that's not to say that there isn't a residual malt sweetness throughout. 

So there you have it, for now at least. There may be more of this sort in the future, as I gradually rediscover lost notes from beers long since swallowed by the abyss.