Friday, 17 April 2015

#264: By Degrees

A few weeks ago, Dave and Ronan from the Bierhaus organised a trip to the Eight Degrees brewery in Mitchelstown. The first trip to Black's in November was a success (though notes were regrettably not taken - in my defence, Black IPA was flowing freely, as well as immature Model T), and given the way in which the Aussie/Kiwi operation is churning out top-notch hop fodder of late, this trip was highly anticipated.

The keg positively trembled when it saw us coming
We arrived not long after midday, and after being greeted by Scott we made our way directly to a neat little bar with a keg of Hurricane, which was all ours to abuse for the day. It was delicious as always, being quite round and fulfilling underneath its sharp citrus fruit attack. After filling our glasses we began to wander. Closest to us at the time was an open-top freezer full of hops that I think I heard Scott say contained €20,000 worth of lupuline goodness. I mean really. I was perfectly happy to stay by the Hurricane but to keep up appearances I guess we had to do the whole tour thing.

What surprised me for a brewery turning out a handful of core beers as well as a smattering of limited releases was just how small the system is. Yes, it's a craft brewery and all that, but I was expecting more than a two-vessel system. At the moment it turns out about 15 hectolitres, which will be upped to a five-vessel 60 hectolitre system with the new brewkit the guys sourced in Mauritius. 80% of the sales are made up by Howling Gale Ale and Barefoot Bohemian, so as you can imagine it's a pretty busy brewing schedule to keep up demand and have the other cores and specials on the go too. 

Sneaking some Full Irish from the FV
What they may lack in brewing capacity at the moment, Eight Degrees make up for with a rake of fermenters. There was plenty on the go, and we were treated to a sneaky taste of The Full Irish, around 1 week before it was 'ready'. Lemon and lime and low carbonation made it quite pleasant actually, but it was no Hurricane on the day. Another sneaky pull was had of Knockmealdown Stout, which I feel fared better in its youth than the Full Irish.

We crossed the industrial estate then to a newer, bigger warehouse, which was to be the new home for the brewkit arriving slowly from Mauritius. Said brewkit is a Kaspar Schulz system; German made (obviously) and apparently the system of choice for esteemed brewers like Sierra Nevada and Firestone Walker. There wasn't a lot to see in this new space, aside from some massive horizontal vessels that I'll leave the brewing men and women out there to geek out over. 

After a little look around and some Q&A it was back to the original warehouse, which has been home to Eight Degrees for its four years of operation, to indulge in a couple more glasses of Hurricane while we wound down the visit chatting with Scott. It was then that the Aussie pointed to the labels of all his beers by the bottling station and fondly recalled being shown an Untappd checklist by a guy who'd had all but one of the beers. Not to be outdone by another nerd, I pointed out with mock-modesty that I'd had them all at least once. So there, guy I don't know. More Hurricane and a luminous green t-shirt later and the bus had arrived to bring us back the Bierhaus.

Thanks so much to Scott for giving us the tour and to the Bierhaus for putting it together. We'll have to be back when the new system is up and running.

But wait, there's more!

It was also around this time that I had the latest Eight Degrees special, Enigma. They had originally thought that they'd been the first to brew with this hop in the Northern Hemisphere, but they may have been pipped to it by a week (Kernel in London may have been first). The hop in question is, yes, Enigma, and it's an Australian descendant of the Swiss Tettnang. I had some of the beer on tap and in the bottle, with these notes in particular coming from the bottle, for what it's worth. 

Pouring a pale, hazy yellow, the aromatic effect is leafy and herbal with plenty of citrus zest and lemongrass on show. It's quite different to the previous two specials and certainly intriguing. A full and wheaty body - typical of the brewer - gives more green, crunchy herbal-ness with even more citrus fruit, again predominantly lemon, but with a lick of sweet candied fruit. The bitterness is all the middle and there's a suggestion of spice too, but with none of the tongue-tingling afters of the Full Irish or Gasman. I didn't really know what to make of the hop profile; its not quite the bitter, citrus fruit bomb you'd expect, even though most of the fruit expression I perceived actually was citrus. Some honeydew melon sweetness made a show too, and the whole thing is more candied than it is pith and peel brashness. 
Whatever the case, it's a gorgeous beer, the third gorgeous special release they've done this year. 

In essence, an industrial estate outside Mitchelstown is a dreadfully boring place to be, but when the brewery housed therein is doing such compelling stuff, the trip is well worth it. I thank again those involved and leave you with a photo roll of the visit.

Inspecting the hops

Scott with the two vessel system

The Hall of Fermenters

Some of the new Mauritius kit
Some more of the new kit 


Friday, 10 April 2015

#263: California Dreamin

Lagunitas are one of the most recent American breweries to reach the Irish market, and one with a pretty good reputation for fresh, hoppy beers.
OK, maybe we shouldn't be looking to Petaluma for our fresh hop fix, but they nevertheless warrant at least a try, especially considering these were relatively fresh, for Irish standards.
I started with Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter Lagunitas IPA, a clear, bright orange affair with pleasantly sharp and zesty notes on the nose to begin with. It's brimming with the grapefruit and pine that you so commonly expect from this style, along with some pithy and slightly sugary orange. This is all much the same to taste, being rather clean and carrying a slightly gristy, biscuity malt backbone. I shit you not, there is a even a back-of-the-mouth, base-of-the-tongue tingling that puts me in mind of the coriander note of a wit, but it's never more than a suggestion; citrus rules the day, the IPA delivers as an IPA and everyone's happy. I mean, we could be happier, but still.

Little Sumpin' has almost the exact same thing going on the aroma; pine, peel, pith, citrus fruit with flesh'n'all. Where it really sets itself apart is of course the flavour, which is jam-packed with mango, mandarin and sweet orange marmalade - tons of the fruity stuff. Despite a bit of a spike of heat, the malt backbone never steps into the heavy toffee side of things; just pale, cereal grain straying into caramel, allowing candied citrus fruit to supply the main sweet undertones to the light, waxy orange skin bitterness throughout. Better than the IPA if you're choosing.

I skipped the Dogtown Pale Ale, opting instead for Hop Stoopid. Yes, just a week after shelling out the big bucks for a single bottle of Two Hundred Fathoms I decided to do it yet again on a large bottle of imported US IPA, a beery risk if ever there was one. I was rewarded with a sharp and bold nose that was yet again full of orange and grapefruit skin pithiness and a candied citrus fruit backing. There's a more tropical side to this one too, maybe pineapple or melon, but both complement a piney, honeyish bittersweet mix at the core. Bittersweet is probably the best way to describe the beer in brief; sharp lime and orange zest, pine needles, orange marmalade and a sugary, overripe fruit thing. This is not to suggest the beer is over sweet or balanced to the point of boredom - there's plenty for the hophead to enjoy, in both expressive fruit character and tangible perceived bitterness on the palate. Surprisingly, this was worth the €8.49.

Unsurprisingly, it was the best of the three.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

#262: At The Fathomless Depths

At last, it is time for me to dissect this beer, a wax-topped, hyped-up, black-as-Deaths-cloak imperial stout from Galway Bay Brewery, aged in Teelings Whiskey barrels no less.

The beer is of course Two Hundred Fathoms, and it is of course inky black with a gorgeous dark brown head. At 10% and with a whiskey barrel in its genealogical background, there's no keeping this one in the glass; bold and pungent the aroma reaches you fast, all deep dark chocolate, roasty and sweet coffee, a touch of booze and even a slightly savoury, saline thing going on. Appetising and appropriate to style. There's a touch of burnt chocolate and a suggestion of vanilla is the sole signifier of a whiskey cask pedigree.
The palate gets much the same treatment, with deep and full chocolate mousse and rich dark fruit opening for a really roasty middle section and a bittersweet dark chocolate finish. As suggested in the nose, there's a bit of savoury maltiness tucked into the folds, with the whole thing helped along by velvety smooth carbonation. 

Overall, it's an indulgent, decadent, yet deftly put together imperial stout, showing more subtlety than I was expecting. There's nary a smidge of booze on the palate, and while there doesn't seem to be any overbearing whiskey barrel influence, this can only be a good thing; many a good beer can be totally hijacked this way. At €8.50 a bottle, you'll be surprised to learn this actually represents a good value for money beer purchase, though with so much beer to get around to, it's unlikely I'll be buying more of this particular batch anytime soon.

Try it, Bradley's still have some left.

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!