Tuesday, 21 June 2016

#320: Original Sip

De Dolle Brouwers. I knew the name - I even knew the name of one their beers, Stille Nacht, but I'd come across neither before Oerbier showed up in the shop a couple of months ago.

Oerbier seems in fact to be something of a flagship brand for De Dolle, if the cheerful sliding Oerbier-man gif and NAT EN STRAF (wet and strong) tagline that introduces you to the brewers' website is anything to be believed. 

Oerbier simply means 'original beer', representing as it does the first and signature brew of the house. It pours a red-tinted dark brown with a big beige head that produces a wonderful and enticing aroma; amidst the brown sugar, sweet cherry and blackberry there's a dappling of tart fruit, like a Rodebach Grand Cru but with the scales tipped dramatically back in favour of the rich malt and leaving only minimal traces of that sour wood. The first sip sticks much more closely to that richer, sweeter side of things with raisins, toffee, Christmas cake fruit and spiciness and sugary blackcurrant jam all playing it nice and quad-like, before just at the finish there is a ghost of this tart cherry lingering in the background. Lactobacillus is used to achieve this, according to the website which also proclaims the wonderful ageing opportunity this beer presents.
It's already beautiful now, but I'm inclined to agree. 

See you in a few years, Oerbier.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

#319: Standing to Attention

A few from the Kernel were a nice surprise to stock, terribly briefly as can be imagined, at work, and among the six we had were these three pale ales and an IPA.

First is the Pale Ale Chinook Amarillo. I'm not surprised to see that this is hazy, almost murky even, but there's not a hint of untidiness to be sniffed or tasted; what you get is juicy bittersweet orange and mandarin that's clean but surprisingly short-lived. The bitterness, however, lingers for a long time, and the lasting impact is of a bright, fresh experience.

Even better is the Chinook Zeus Citra; this one is even juicier and brighter, even fresher, even if it's still murky as hell.
There's dark, sharp orange zest that plays sweet and tingly with the bitterness - it's fun, expressive, stuff that is ridiculously easy to drink.

Cascade Chinook is next up, and, despite being the same age as the other two, seems blander and nowhere near as fun. Still, it's hard to resist the waves of bittersweet citrus and slick, refreshing malt body. 

The last hoppy pale of the range is the IPA Amarillo Mosaic. It's stinky - aromatic, one might say - and, once again, gives plenty of citrus. It's not as clean as the others; there's a woody, wet hay thing that interrupts the juicy hop nose and the slicker, thicker, higher ABV feel of it makes it more of a sipper than the rest.

Those four make up most of the range that passed through the shop and their nature made drinking fresh an imperative. The other two, an Export Stout and a Porter, are yet to come.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

#318: Galway BayFest

OK, not a true festival, obviously, but a recent Galway Bay tap takeover at the Bierhaus felt pretty festive to me, even if I was mean and stuck to the limited editions, ignoring the core range yet again.

Not that I'm having any doubts about whether or not that was a good idea, because it absolutely was.
It begins with Heathen, a(nother) black Berliner weisse. Handed to me in black and tan, it is an exceptionally light body to begin with, except for a brief flash of something fuller and creamier in the grist. There's sharp acidic sandpaper on the tongue with plenty of that grist but no blackness to speak of - this is all relatively bright on the flavour spectrum, even if it does lack a hoppy seasoning to go along with it. There's lots of fizz, a blink, and it's gone. It's not often that I'd compare beer to water in a good way but this is a stupidly refreshing, incredibly drinkable and rather plain beer that puts itself away pretty fast. That might not be enough for those who demand more flavour, but at 3.5%, I could find enough wheat-supported citric acid to let this beer flow fast and fun.

303 is step up in the flavour department, billed as a tart pale ale. There's plenty more citrus to the fore of this one, though more bitter and less sour than the Heathen, as you'd expect. Sherbety lemon curd, lime zest and pithy bitterness do a good job of cushioning and balancing what acidic sourness there is, before the thing turns surprisingly herbal in the middle. In fact, I don't know what sort of profile the Azacca hops were supposed to bring to the table but for me there's a crunchy green coarseness throughout that doesn't allow much of the pungent fruit I was expecting to shine through. It's tasty, but it's less drinkable than the Heathen (again, a for a beer with more flavour and more alcohol that's not surprising) and doesn't quite hit the hoppy sour heights of either Trolltunga or Sky Mountain for me.

An even bigger step up in every department was required to reach the Two Hundred Fathoms pouring from keg. This year's edition it was, and oof is this a different beast on tap or what?
My first note is a scrawled 'ridiculous' that I remember being my only contribution for the first few minutes. This is pure, melted dark and milk chocolate mousse territory, pulling you through the rich, creamy, boozy stuff and all the way out the other side to fatty. This year's bottled version had plenty of oaky vanilla and whiskey hiding the background, but here, the vanilla has a fuller, sweeter Madagascan vanilla ice cream effect. With time the initial, intense, dark chocolate hit sinks into the rest of the beer to become real life, unashamed milk chocolate that I just can't get over. What I also can't get over is the very finish where it tastes, briefly, like barley malt extract, reminding you that, as dessert-like as it is, this is still a beer and it still tastes like one. 

Just a big, full, filling one that you wish you could have year round. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

#317: Easterfest 2016

We start May on the Destrier in the same way we finished that distant geological age of March in real life; at the Franciscan Well Easterfest.

As is customary with this sort of thing, the visit was brief and to-the-point, and on this occasion, meant that I found myself lingering for the entirety of said visit in the far corner of the garden-spanning L-shaped bar.
I Am A Berliner

Not to worry, though, because here is where I found UCC's Pilot Brewery, who only show up to this event every year, and they were pouring the perfect starter. I Am A Berliner is a delicious dark Berliner weisse that does give flashes of dark malt and milky smoothness to accompany an otherwise straightforward clean, lactic acid attack, with a bigger body than its joyous 2.9% deserves. Good stuff.

Turning to my left I got to try a Kinnegar special that has managed to evade me in the past and that I have renewed interest in, thanks to Yankee. In truth, White Rabbit has nothing like the drinkability of that beer but is an interesting sipper nonetheless, with big, coarse wheaty stuff opening for spicy, crunchy, herbal bitterness that tells of lupuline effort which, for me, doesn't reach any New World fruit expression fast enough.

Rotating to the right, I find myself facing Trouble Brewing's bar. Trouble have been churning out some seriously punchy hoppy stuff on draught for the past year or two and with a passionfruit lager on the go, appeared intent on continuing this theme at the festival. Last Crash it's called, and it immediately and unsurprisingly smells of sweet fruit juice; passionfruit, yes, but also a more-pleasant-than-it-sounds strawberry syrup and raspberry. It's light and fresh for all this, so it doesn't go anywhere close to the sort of sugary cloying effect you might expect from reading my notes. In fact, the finish turns with a tang to fullsome grain and slightly husky lemon bitters, gleefully mopping up any residual sugar and drying it out before it does anything it might regret. This is a refreshing fruit bomb, and not at all in the way that I expected from Trouble.
Now in the mood to stay at this section of bar, I go for Evil Robot, Trouble's American amber of the day, and I'm treated to a big American nose; sharp and zesty citrus to the fore but to taste it's a more round, slick and well-textured experience. What strikes me is the full on, intense and almost raw way in which this beer shows off its hops - this is green, bitter and leafy to go along with the juicy fruit, and while it isn't as sure-footed and expressive as some of Trouble's better recent output it certainly makes you stand up and pay attention.

Taken aback some, I return next door to the shelter of UCC's exclusively old-world stylings where I find one of my favourite styles under the name Gael Marzen Beoir. Ostensibly a Märzen, it pours pale yellow-gold and is utterly wonderful. To put it simply: clean straw with a touch of malty golden syrup sweetness before a bright, ever so slightly bitter finish. There's no clunky malt, no pillowy grain, no marshmallow doughiness, just a refreshing, respectable clean lager that could just as well pass for a very good (if a bit full) Helles. More satisfying, tasty stuff from UCC, and probably my standout beer of the day. I knew at this point I'd be back, but not before working up the ABV scale.


To that end I venture south to find Metalman's Spring saison brewed with lemon peel, thyme and pink peppercorns. If that sounds weird - yes, it is pretty weird. Not wholly unpleasant to be fair, but I prefer my saisons dry and thirst-quenching, not tasting like glycerine honey and lemon. 

Beside this is the Metalman's new IPA, Ironmonger. A dark coppery red, this doesn't immediately look the part of my kind of IPA, a fear realised on tasting; it's heavily malty and quite bitter throughout, but lacks any meaningful hop expression. Disappointing from the brewer behind plenty of good hoppy beer.

From there to Whiplash, the new brand from Alex Lawes, brewer of good hoppy stuff from Rye River. Before we get to the hoppy stuff, though, Scaldy Porter. At 5.5% this shouldn't be as rich and thick as it is; blackstrap molasses on the nose with a big palate of coffee, dark chocolate and coarse, dry bitterness to finish. It's a sipper that's easy to appreciate but hard to love.
Easier to love is Surrender to the Void, a DIPA of 8.5%. It's got sweet and juicy pineapple and mango in spades, alongside bittersweet mandarin and orange skins - delicious. There's a savoury turn right at the finish and, while there's no real heat from the ABV, there's a slick, slightly sticky body that for me, discourages over enthusiastic sipping to get to that juicy centre. Still, very good stuff from a brewery (own kit to come) I look forward to seeing more of.

And finally, we finish where we began, back at the students' hangout with the UCC Pilot Brewery and their Season of the Witch saison. At 8.7% it's well above what I'd usally like for the style but thankfully drinks well for that strength. Still, there's a touch too much syrupy sweetness, while the wheaty, grainy body is just about right. Low esters and flashes of lemon add some spice to proceedings. 
On that good, if quiet, note, it was time to call it a day.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

#316: Sky High

Just as a hoppy sour led us to Buxton a few days ago, it is a hoppy sour that leads us away. This is another Scandi-Buxton collaboration, this time with gypsy brewer extraordinaire To Øl. It's brewed and bottled by To Øl at De Proef, as far as I can recall, though on Ratebeer it appears to be listed as being brewed by Buxton. Certainly, the kegged version of the beer imported to the U.S. by Shelton Bros. appears to be brewed in Derbyshire but I'm sticking to my guns and saying that this bottle is a To Øl/De Proef product, not least because of the fact that it came to the shop via Four Corners. I stand corrected; this is brewed and bottled by Buxton in Derbyshire, straight from the mouths of both horses. 

Whatever the case, it came to me bearing good news; Sky Mountain Sour is yet another successful showcase of the sort of tongue-tingling sourness and juicy citrus hop character that makes hoppy sour beer such a winning combination. It starts off with pure squeezed lemon juice - a sour stab of citric acid and, hey!, hops! Nice! There are little dabs of sweet orange and lemon congregating at the finish but this too is washed away with the scouring sourness of lemon following through. Despite how often I've used the word 'sour' so far, is that it isn't aggressively or overpoweringly sour - this is bright friendly lemon we're talking about here, not stinky vinegar. Most importantly, it's squeaky clean everywhere else, standing on a functional and pleasant wheaty, gristy base without any of the coarse drawbacks of that sort of thing. 

Another success story of the sour-hoppy arc. The perfect craft cliché? Perhaps. Should anybody care? Most certainly not.
Drink it if you see it. It's good, and it's a good deal gooder than many offerings from Scandi-Cool Tax* adherents To Øl.

*the Scandi-Cool Tax is a cool duty placed on products from Scandinavia directly proportionate to the level of coolness of the product (although, coming from Scandinavia, coolness levels are always through the roof). Whether or not the product is actually produced in a Scandinavian country is irrelevant; it is known that a phonecall from a Dane, Norwegian, Swede, Finn, or, in hard times, an Icelander, made to a brewer in any other part of the world, will activate the tax in regard to the beer(s) being produced in that brewery at the time of the phonecall. If the brewery is in Lochristi, the tax is permanently active and needs to be opted out of if a beer is being produced for a common-or-garden continental European. Nobody knows why, but we pay all the same.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

#315: Buxton

Hey, speaking of Buxton- you know where this is going.

The first of the roster is (possibly?) their flagship, Axe Edge, an IPA with an apparently intercontinental blend of hops forming its lupuline highlights. And what highlights they are.
This is a near perfect IPA for me; pungent pineapple, grapefruit and passionfruit do indeed suggest the presence of US and Southern Hemisphere varieties, at least on the nose. The palate gets a loving treatment of sharp, bittersweet tropical fruit with plenty of zest, candied peel and generally lively fruit expression on a nice, full and soft biscuity base, no doubt helped heaps by the inclusion of oats and wheat. This is squeaky clean, bright and superbly expressive stuff from Buxton.

Equally enjoyable, if not as layered an experience, is Bloc Head. This pale yellow thing is listed as a saison on Ratebeer, but the label itself tells another story altogether - a sour farmhouse pale ale is the name of the game here, and it's this version of events that's corroborated by the liquid itself. A dose of pure squeezed lemon juice shouts down just about everything else going on, so at the very least, it is sour. There's no real agrarian character to the beer, though, but for puckering, thirst quenching prowess I forgive such superfluous designation. At least it can't be argued that it is an ale, and it is pale.

Being called Red Point is reason enough for people to expect you're going to be pretty much red, but Red Point the beer is actually not as red as you'd think.
I mean, it's more or less red, but still.
The nose gets pithy, juicy, clean and sweet ripe citrus fruits, but it's all bitter to taste. Thankfully it does keep up the good citrus work, all orange and lemon and zesty to the end, but at 7.5% it gives off more heat than it should. Some contemplative pretentious swirling and warmth brings sugary tangerine to life, but the peely bitter finish never lets up. Good, but not great, and not the hoppy beer masterclass that was the Axe Edge.

Last and most certainly least is Tsar, though it comes with the heftiest price/ABV combo of the lot. This imperial stout was already over a year old by the time I opened it up but that's usually no cause for concern, even if Buxton do recommend that you drink it fresh. Still, it's well within the BBE date and come on it's a 9.5% bottle conditioned stout. 
The first sign of trouble is the ridiculously overenthusiastic effervescence, producing a head bigger than the sun. Through this, there's not a whole lot of aromatic notes to be pulled other than some faint milk chocolate, but the whole horrible shitshow shambles to life on the palate, dragging by its ankles thick tar-trails of bitter scorched coffee. From the very first sip, it's a slog. Time and patience unlock some bittersweet dark chocolate but not enough to even dream of competing with the crime scene that is the main character of this beer.
Now, unless the taster is willing to accept that their palate is the supreme, finely-tuned standard by which all flavour in the universe should be gauged (and I'm not), he or she has to take on board the information given by the producers (who we assume to know the product better than anyone) when assessing that product.
"Drink Fresh" they said, and I didn't, so I'm willing to give Buxton the benefit of the doubt and assume that this Tsar was not the Tsar I want to be tasting.

If you see the Tsar and he isn't fresh, don't do it.
Stick to the Axe Edge and everything will be OK.

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

#314: Or, the Modern Prometheus

The would-be special guest star of the Lervig line-up is Trolltunga, a gooseberry sour IPA that shadows as a special guest in the Buxton roster, it being a collaboration between the two, brewed and bottled by the latter in England.

Sour IPA is sort of a two-birds-one-stone deal, combining two of beer geeks' sweetheart styles in one, and Trolltunga is evidence that that sort of Frankenstyle hybridization can work, damn it.

At the first flick of the switch, bright, sharp sparks of coppery and dank pellet hops, right from the bag, leap from the bottle. It isn't long until this is joined by trails of sour fruit, drifting to the top of the lab from the operating table below. The immediate impression on tasting is of grapefruit juice - not in the way we usually mean grapefruit when we talk about IPA, but like actual grapefruit juice - bitter, sour and tangy fleshy fruit. The citric acid on the front of this wraps around and hides much of the IPA part of the beer's DNA until, near the end, it becomes clear for a second and allows a fleeting glimpse of fresh, leafy greens through the sour patchwork of its glorious, reanimated face. Overall, the beer is much less an abomination, and much more a sour and juicy triumph.

It more than scratches an itch, even if it might upset some sections of the crowd who don't believe that anything good and sour can exist without festering barrels strung up by cobwebs, cobwebs adorned with dust and dust crawling with local ambient yeast that is just dying to spontaneously inoculate some innocent virginal liquid.