Wednesday, 21 January 2015

#254: Teeling Good

Yes, I know, whiskey. The thing is, I don't just drink beer and before Christmas I had the chance to go to a Teelings whiskey tasting with work, and it felt a damned shame not to turn booze into blog.

Thanks to the nature of the event there was a good deal of marketing storytelling and it was here that I learned an admittedly common-knowledge and interesting fact; the Teelings were distilling at Cooley before Cooley was sold to Beam, and, crucially, the family took with them the old whiskeys that were ageing in Cooley at the time. This whiskey was then bottled and sold as Teelings; thus, the phoenix on the label. It's worth remembering that all the whiskeys are bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered. The Single Grain is not caramel coloured for certain, the others I simply don't know; I would assume the same.

Anyway, we started with the Single Grain, but I'm not going to write about that now; I have a bottle of my own that I'm going to de-construct on my own time, because I call the shots.

We moved on then to the Small Batch, the regular release. This is aged in Nicaraguan rum barrels and has a mild, sweet nose that echoes the previous inhabitant of the barrel. It's surprisingly fruity on the palate, with citrus and floral notes playing on a vanilla base layer. 46% and a very good standard everyday whiskey. Supposedly it's good in cocktails, but I'm not barbaric enough to find out. It makes a very pleasant sipper.

The Poitín was next, and we were reliably informed that this is in fact the Small Batch from above, pre-ageing; essentially new make spirit. It's a blend of malt and grain, and gives a wonderfully soft floral nose. Apple and macerated cherries, raisins and blackberries with caramel and rose petal notes make cursory appearances too. Juicy and ripe stewed apple and Bramley apple jam play the biggest roles on the palate, and the whole thing is bizzare but tasty without the warmth of the wood. 

Next up was the brand spanking new Single Malt, which was being tasted for the very first time outside of Whiskey Live! (this was October, remember). The experience here is more refined and balanced with citrus and tropical fruit playing against spice notes on a warm vanilla and chocalate base layer. The finish has plenty of lingering orange and lemon flourishes, and the experience is at once invigorating and cosy.

We finished the night on the Vintage Reserve 21 Year Old Single Malt. The interesting variable in this expression is the inclusion of Sauternes barrels in the make-up, as well as the use of peated barley - around 3%, apparently. There is a peaty nose too; nothing too intense or phenolic, just a layer of blue turf smoke under the tropical fruit, pineapple, citrus and slightly tart green apple that form the flesh of the aroma. It's beautifully complex, with biscuity vanilla sweetness, toffee, peach and a proper wood character at first, along with the light smokiness that subsides to allow bubblegum sweetness to round things out. There's no sharp sting, just warm, smooth and drinkable whiskey that, with the aid of the peated barley, stays engaging throughout.

The verdict: the Small Batch is a great whiskey, and with a similar price to the typical Irish 'house' whiskeys it blows those right out of the water. As such, well worth the purchase. The Poitín was fascinating to try alongside the Small Batch to see the full effect of the wood ageing, and is delicious in its own right, but I reckon I'd take any of the others over it. Both of the Single Malts were great, but I don't think you get enough bang for your buck with the Vintage Reserve. The best buys, then, would be the Small Batch and Single Malt, though I'm not including the Single Grain in that.

Notes on the Single Grain are forthcoming, but suffice to say for now that it is absolutely worth the buy too.

Monday, 19 January 2015

#253: Celebration Libation

I've long been enamoured with the doppelbock, but Ayinger's Celebrator has long evaded me. Thankfully, a bottle found its way to me in a suitcase from Glasgow over Christmas, and it didn't disappoint.

Celebrator is dark mahogany in colour with an off-white, tiny-bubbled head and instantly gives the nose some serious apples. Red apple syrup, toffee covered apple and rum and raisin pudding make for an appropriately wintry aroma. The palate gets much of the same treatment, but runs through the gamut of doppelbock flavours too; rum-soaked dark fruits, raisins, candied apple, toffee and chocolate malts and a lingering impression of blackberries and cherry. The complexity is great despite the mere 6.7% ABV, and compares favourably to the likes of Doppel-Hirsch, wonderful though that is.

A fine beer by any standards, and definitely one to seek out and enjoy, as ever, with as much mature Gouda as you can shovel onto the lower portion of your face.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

#252: Thirsty Like the Wolf

Like The White Hag, Wicklow Wolf stormed into action with a full range of bottled beers in 2014, and I tried my best to get the lot. Alas, the porter evaded me, but that will be pinned on when it next crosses my path.

The first I had was the IPA, and these days breweries live and die by their IPA, or if there isn't any, their pale ale. The good news for Wicklow Wolf is that this one makes a good first impression. Punchy citrus galore is what greets the nose, with orange and lemon marmalade leading the bittersweet charge. Candied citrus skins (like the ones you put in your Christmas pudding) grapefruit and pungent peach all make appearances too, and with time, the nose becomes even more like confected mandarin or mango. Mouth watering stuff. The flavour is mouth watering too, with a potent bitterness of orange pith and grapefruit shining above a lightly sweet backbone. There's an ever so slightly sugary element to the Starburst fruitiness on show, but nothing that detracts from the impact of the beer. A very good start from the Wolf, with a 6.2% IPA that shows plenty of balance and drinkability while not skimping on flavour.

The American Amber was next, and just like the IPA, it seems like the real deal right from the off. Juicy, bitter hopping is the first stop on the aroma, with sweet lime and grapefruit rounding out the sharpness some. It opens the same way on the palate, with grapefruit peel and caramel biscuit following up, before a lingering, grain husk finish. The impression left on the mouth is that of an orange zest biscuit, whatever that is. It's not a million miles from the IPA, though it shows a more recessive hop profile and a grainier, 'dirtier' malt body. As an amber it is more Amber Ella than Amber Adventure, but is not quite as bold and delicious as the former while proving much more exciting than the latter.

Locavore Blonde came third, and like White Gypsy's Emerald a while back, it is made from 100% Irish ingredients - hops 'n all. A hazy gold, orangey sort of blonde this is, and what at first seemed like an innocent and fresh nose turned out to be a citrusy mustiness, with melon and softly sweet bubblegum all playing their own subdued roles. It's just as light to taste, but nowhere near the almost limpid Emerald. Digestive biscuit forms the bones of the beer, and the highlights are all crunchy, herbal, leafy stuff with a touch of lemon sorbet. Perhaps the least memorable of the beers, though it serves as a perfectly sinkable and more impressive all-Irish effort than the Emerald.

The last I had of the range was the Kentucky Common. The ever reliable Wikipedia describes a well-made Kentucky Common as 'an easy-drinking, slightly sour brown ale'. It's certainly brown, and the aroma is lightly smoky with sweet caramel and light milk chocolate forming the base. There's a flash of rye bread, as well as some slight coppery sharpness and spicy, herbal qualities. Unsurprisingly, the taste is malt-forward. Subdued Yorkshire toffee, milk chocolate and caramel malt offer a fairly plain backbone with a soft roasted bitterness performing the only lead duties. Of the purported sourness there is no sign. Like the Locavore, there just isn't a lot going on, but rather curiously, it turned out to be the quickest drink of the four. The smooth milky texture and lukewarm malt sweetness probably helped that a lot, but it was far too easy to go through the half litre. This would be a great option for a sessioner, if we didn't already have a plethora of gorgeous session beers in this country. 

One thing's for certain though; with no proper dud in the bunch Wicklow Wolf are the real deal, and they've surely brewed Ireland's best ever Kentucky Common.

EDIT: The porter appears as if from nowhere to answer my call and take its place alongside its stablemates. Black Perle is its name, and it's another goodun. It pours black with a reassuringly dark head and immediately produces a rich aroma of nutty, cold coffee. Chocolate fruit and nut - not unlike Plain Porter - form most of the basis of both the nose and palate, with a bitter, burnt grain bite at the finish. It's cocoa milk smoothness makes it surprisingly quenching. A good, sinkable porter that keeps the Wolf's ball up.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

#251: Goose in the Barrel

The first beer blogged in 2015 is the last beer drank in 2014. It is also technically the first beer consumed this year, having stretched over two nights into the early hours of the 1st of January. That's how potent the beer is, both in alcohol and flavour.

The beer is Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout. As the name suggests, it's an imperial stout aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels atop whole vanilla pods, produced as a once off in 2010. At just over four years old, I thought it was about time I did the deed.

In the glass it's pitch black with brown and red tints on the surface, and loses its tiny head almost straight away. With some contemplative swirling the glass stains yellow and leaves behind long alcohol legs.
The bourbon hit on the nose comes instantly; before the bottlecap has hit the table the air is filled with molasses and woodsmoke, as well as an alcoholic toffee booziness akin to illicit poitín. It's almost a bit harsh on the nose, though not because of the 13% ABV, but because of the power of that bourbon barrel character. This is underpinned by chocolate, coffee and a vanilla sweetness, the overall effect being aggressively malty. 
There's bourbon on the palate too; for me, it comes first. It also dominates proceedings initially before warmer, rounder yet still sticky notes of caramelised biscuit, maple syrup, toffee chocolate, Tootsie Roll(R) and a fantastic salty, savoury turn at the finish smooth things out. It starts as big as you'd expect but reveals surprising complexities thereafter, with enough participants from the nutty/chocolatey/biscuity/grainy/fruity categories to avoid any sense of cloying or brutishness. Extra points for some satisfying umami stuff at the end.

The 650ml bottle was enough for two nights, and the beer is unlikely to be around; Goose Island brew a different version of this every year as a once-off, as far as I can tell. Nevertheless, if you see it or any of its stablemates, buy it.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

#250: Golden Pints 2014

2014 hasn't been the busiest beer year for the Destrier; what little travelling that was done was not beer-orientated and the cursory trip to Dublin didn't even happen. As such, though I drank my weight sure enough, there's less of a palette to choose from than I'd like. Still, the tricky business of selecting the best must go on.

Best Irish Draught Beer: Eight Degrees Simcoe and White Hag's Black Boar. Trouble Brewing's Graffiti, the Full Irish and Kinnegar's Black Bucket also make good cases, but Simcoe's juicy hop front and sugary, lightly spicy malt body made it very hard to turn down when on tap in the Bierhaus, while the Black Boar immediately announced itself as one of the most impressive Irish stouts I've ever had.

Best Irish Canned/Bottled Beer: There's nothing particularly jumping out at me in terms of exclusively bottled beers, but one I bought plenty of has again been Simcoe. Always tasty and always well priced. The White Hag and Wicklow Wolf bottles also made good impressions across the board, with particular merit in the IPA from both and the Samhain Oktoberfest lager from the White Hag, simply because of the style of the beer is one that is hard to get a hold of at the best of times, and when it's done well (as it is here) it's a real winner.

Best Irish Cask Beer: There really aren't many to choose from, even though the Bierhaus try to right that wrong. Dry-hopped Kinsale Pale Ale is always good from the cask, but nothing showed off the serving style better than the Franciscan Well's Coffee Porter way back at the start of the year. Smooth, round, warming mocha deliciousness that puts the bottled form to shame.

Best Overseas Draught: I accidentally haven't written about it yet, but the two year old Boon Gueuze on tap at the Bierhaus was one of the most delicious draught beers I've ever tasted. Cidery, sour, sherberty lemon curd delivered perfectly from the keg. Not far behind it is the Kriek of the same age, from the same brewer, with tart cherry rounded out with deep marzipan and cream soda. Hoppin' Frog's B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher made an incredible rich, complex and warming imperial stout, but its price and availability make it an impractical choice.

Best Overseas Canned/Bottled Beer: It has to be Hanssens Artisinaal Oude Kriek. Sitting and drinking this in the sun was one of the most enjoyable quiet, beery moments of the year. Honourable mentions for  way back in January and some 2012 Chimay Grande Réserve.

Best Overall Beer: Impossible and unfair to choose.

Best Pumpclip/Label: The design of the White Hag bottle labels perfectly reflect the boldly flavoured beers within.

Best Irish Brewery: Eight Degrees. Amber Ella made a return, as did Hurricane. We got Simcoe, Vic Secret and Nelson Sauvin, the brilliant Full Irish and finally the winter trio of Dubbel, DIPA and Imperial Stout. There were others throughout the year but these are fresh in my mind, and the regular Howling Gale is still a bottle to buy plenty of. And you know what? They were all good.

Best Overseas Brewery: A smattering of specials and some deliciously fresh (and rebranded) Jackhammer make Brewdog one of the few non-Irish breweries I've endorsed more than unusual throughout the year. Only by a whisker, though.

Best New Brewery Opening 2014: A dead heat between The White Hag's U.S.-flavoured ballsiness and Wicklow Wolf's mastering of a number of styles right from the off. Mescan were not far behind, and their Belgian-styled farmhouse brewery is probably the most fascinating brewing project in the country.

Pub of the Year: For choice, value, service and lack of loud noise: the Bierhaus.

Beer Festival of the Year: Again I only made it to the Franciscan Well festivals, and the best is as always the Easterfest. Those who attended this year's RDS fest will have something to say about that.

Supermarket of the Year: Dunnes Stores seemed to constantly have 4 Schneider Weisse for €9 this year, which is a bloody good deal. The presence of Howling Gale also made it a handy place to do the shopping.

Independent of the Year: Same as last year, Bradley's. The selection continues to grow, and the new beers cropping up over Ireland and beyond always find their way to North Main Street before long.

Best Beer Book/Magazine of the Year: An easy pick; Sláinte

Best Beer Blog/Website: The blog I read most of was again The Beer Nut, but visits to The Tale of the Ale, Beermack and Irish Beer Snob were constantly taken, and picking a favourite is simply a case of selecting the most active. Which I cannot do. The wonderful Belgian Smaak must also be mentioned here.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: This is the year that I discovered mature Gouda, and proceeded to have it with more or less every beer I could.

In 2015 I'd Most Like To... up to 2014's ambitions to go UK beering, with a particular eye to Scotland. More urgently, though, is to increase blogging activity, which has slowed down over the past few months.

As ever, thanks for reading and have a happy 2015!

Monday, 22 December 2014

#249: Imperial Brew Ceremony

Eight Degrees did good work with their Back to Black series last winter, and this year they have done something similar; a trio of strong beers just in time for Christmas, under the moniker of A Very Imperial Winter.

The first of the three I had was the Belgian Dubbel. As far as I can remember, this is the first time the Mitchelstown outfit has made a fist of one of the classic Belgian styles that are so well suited to this time of year. It pours a clear, dark red with a cream head, and was described to me at least a couple of times as Christmas pudding in a glass. This isn't immediately apparent to the nose however; it gives plenty of yeasty, fruity stuff you'd expect from the style, with a good dollop of red and green apple syrup, raisins, cherries and, rather conspicuously, soft over-ripe banana and clove. There are flashes of Chimay, but no more than that. The taste is almost exactly as the above, although it is dominated by sweet, estery banana and clove elements that remove it too far from the warming dark Belgian sphere and too close to the lighter Belgian and Bavarian Venn diagram of flavours. Still, it remains enjoyable most of the way down, before the tangy sweetness becomes a bit more work than a warming, smooth Dubbel should be. 

I got a better response from the Double Irish, presumably the Full Irish but doubled up, which is fine by me. The aroma is juicy, bold and sharply bitter, belying some aggressive hopping. Lots of grapefruit and orange marmalade make up the guts of it, with darker mandarin and tangerine stuff hiding in the folds of the sweet fruit, along with mango, a hint of pine and just a smidgen of Starbursts. The citrus fruit explosion keeps exploding on the palate, and it is bitter. Again it's all orange and mandarin, with more oily pithy skins suggesting orange essential oil, along with grapefruit and all the other usual suspects delivered with aplomb. Like the Full Irish upon which it's based, the malt backing is recessive, though at this ABV there are some guest appearances from caramel and toffee roundness, but nothing to seriously upset the hopheads. 
Excellent beer.

Finally we have a Russian Imperial Stout, a style they brewed convincingly enough last year as part of the aforementioned Back to Black series. This one makes all the right impressions from the off; it is ridiculously good looking with a pitch black body and a dark and dense brown head. As we know, however, there is more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking, and this beer evokes that with its deep chocolate,chewy toffee, brown sugar, and a tickle of fresh ground coffee beans; all warm, subtle, complexity. There’s not a touch of the 9% alcohol either here or on the palate, where it’s rich and chocolatey again, with more caramel and brown sugar than you can shake a stick at, as well as a touch of raisiny goodness at the finish. 
Like last year’s version, it isn’t the boldest or brashest of imperial stouts you’ll have, but it’s certainly a satisfying winter warmer.

Three well worth trying this Christmas, with at least one big winner.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

#248: Lost and Found

Trawling the notebook is bad enough without trying to find groups of beers you know you intended to review together. Thankfully, these two made themselves available right away.

Founders Curmudgeon catches my eye with ease in Bradley's. The old man on the label - probably the titular curmudgeon - and the stated use of molasses and oak ageing is enough to get my money.

At home, the beer is a surprisingly bright red. Unsurprisingly, the nose is a heady phenolic mix of syrup, molasses, sweet overripe fruit, macerated berries and glazed cherries. The aroma does approach the dreaded soupy heat, but at a very safe distance. Orange chocolate and vanilla become more apparent with time. The palate gets the full brunt of the toffee, with vanilla and chocolate following up. The body is slick and thick but carries with it a pleasantly sprite carbonation. With time, marzipan and treacle come forth, before an intense finish of burnt brown sugar. 

It may sound messy, but don't take my word(s) for it; this is actually a quite subtle beer that is dominated by sweetness, but never overpowering. The slight heat and great depth of the malts might not be everyone's cup of tea (with good reason; this stuff is all too easy to get horribly wrong) but Curmudgeon gets it just about right.

Next is Founders Breakfast Stout. It is as black as they come and forms a dark tan/brown head that fizzles away to nothing in no time. The aroma is not as immediate and aggressive as the Curmudgeon, with dry coffee, chocolate and a slight tang of smoke creating a olfactory presence that is actually quite light, and even a little bit Irish. Sticky malts coat the mouth with toffee chocolate, raisins and figs, before everything crescendos in a substantial and lingering coffee-like bitterness. It's good and it beats the much lauded Mikkeler breakfast stout, but the same or less money could be spent on a more complex and invigorating strong stout.

Still, Founders' performance sustains its consistent high standard.