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.

Ironmonger

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.

Monday, 4 April 2016

#313: Lervig

Speaking of Lervig, this bunch of bottles forms most of their available range in Ireland and, after the lacklustre showing from Lucky Jack and Hoppy Joe, they represent a marked improvement of fortunes.

We start with the Rye IPA, as I did, jumping right into the middle of the ABV spectrum on these bottles at 8.5%. It looks orange, it smells like orange skins, and it even tastes like orange; all pithy, bittersweet, pithy and juicy marmalade. In the background there;s flecks of lemongrass and, believe it or not, cumin, just hinting at an underlying spiciness, though I'm known to be suggested by the presence of rye in a beer like this. What I can say is that it's delicious, juicy, sharp, zesty stuff that doesn't show much of its 8.5%.

The White IPA came next, a style I have renewed faith in thanks to Rascal's wonderful Yankee. Where Yankee offers a bit more hoppy attack to a vaguely wit-like body, Lervig go all out with coriander and orange peel. There's a full, fluffy body with plenty of that coriander on show, with flecks of pepper and a crunchy bitterness. On top of this, the beer is incredibly fizzy, and this gets in the way of proper enjoyment. Otherwise, there's no real show of the hop profile that would contribute the IPA-ness to this beer. Ultimately, it's a big burp waiting to happen, and leaves me thirsty for Yankee.

A beer for a different occasion altogether is Konrad's Stout. The nose gets memories of Brooklyn's Black Chocolate, with rich dark chocolate mousse and crème de cassis joined by a bit of phenolic heat. Superbly rich it is in the mouth; thick slabs of malted biscuit, dark chocolate and raisiny, sugary sweetness. It's bitter in balance too, but, interestingly, there's no real roastiness to speak of - this certainly leans more comfortably toward the confected, malty sweet side of big stouts, but without falling over the edge into the sugary swamp-wastes of Dragon Stout Spitfire. Good stuff, this, and an excellent dark companion to the Rye IPA.

The bum note of the piece is the single hop showcase, Galaxy IPA - no prizes for guessing the star of the show here. Only, galaxy isn't the star of the show; the aroma immediately tells you this isn't clean and clear, but fusty and gristy. You can kid yourself that the waves of considerable bitterness are evidence of some enjoyable hop expression but that's simply not the case. This is an under-performing beer that fails to showcase much of anything, least of all its single hop.

So, there's some seriously good stuff to be found in the Lervig line-up, if you're willing to wade through some problem areas.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

#312: ScandAmeriCans

Recent dwellers of the Bradleys fridge (and about to start a chain-reaction of posts that I've been putting off for aeons) are these two cans from Lervig, another one of them cool Scandinavian craft brewers.

The fisherman chic reels you in and the promise of hops is clear; Lucky Jack is an American Pale Ale and the red, also ostensibly American in style, is Hoppy Joe.

Lucky Jack isn't very lucky at all, it turns out; it's a rather tame and unexciting standard pale ale that fails to reach the heights of, say, Howling Gale, my benchmark for non-American American pale ales. Instead it offers a generally gristy and lightly citrusy affair that's easy drinking, if not very (or indeed at all) engaging.

There's not a lot more to be had from Hoppy Joe. Particularly hoppy it itsn't, but red it is. It's not squeaky clean on the nose, being a bit gristy (again) and leafy, with some happier flashes of orange. It starts well enough on the palate, with thickish toffee malt propping up orange and lemon highlights before, oh, no, a mucky, rubbery finish? Did I pour too hard? Is it even can conditioned? I don't know, possibly, but a long burnt rubber bitter finish has me throwing in the towel and pouring the rest away.

Fear not though, I assure you we'll have much more joy from Lervig next time around.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

#311: Independence Day

These two were winter seasonals from Connemara's finest, and possibly only (?) brewery. With a three-way blend of intrigue, excitement and worry, you see the beers are both barley wines, both barrel-aged, and both wax-sealed in 500ml bottles.

Why intrigue? Because this is not the sort of task an Irish craft brewery does very often. Why excitement? Because generally speaking I am a big fan of barley wines. Why worry? Because this could be a hot sticky mess even before it gets defiled by a rude Bourbon barrel.

And it's this one we visit first. Independent's Bourbon Barrel Barley Wine gets off to a rocky start; having fought your way through the wax to get the cap off, a gentle nosing of the bottle reveals that same wax is stinking to high heaven - a soft, grubby substance wrapped around the opening of the bottle isn't the nicest way to say hello. Brewers take note, try and emulate the hard, clean plastic finish of the wax jobs of, say, Maker's Mark or, closer to home, The White Hag's barrel aged Black Boar. 

Anyway, in the glass it's much cleaner; a heft of honey and caramel announces itself first, thick and sticky and just about on the right side of acceptability. There's a flash of bourbon vanilla and wood here too, just about managing not to put me off. On the palate it starts out pretty well-intentioned, all toffee caramel, honey and just about hints of juicy orange before all is drowned in a sea of bourbon barrel. For a terrifying second my taste-memory is forced into flashbacks of the spine-tingling Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, a ham-fisted, Hills-Have-Eyes brute of a barrel job, but this gladly fades. The whole beer does calm with time, rounding out to let more of the malt speak (and lets face it, it's only malt doing the talking here). A rocky road, but one lives to see another day...
...before one thrusts oneself into the Brandy Barrel Barley Wine as recklessly as ever. Again we get a clear, dark red beer but this time the aroma is near mute at first, slowly revealing dark sweetness in the form of black treacle toffee, syrup, raisins and booze. Yet again to taste it's hot and heavy to begin with, but with time shows off some sweet, fleshy fruit, sticky toffee and bittersweet orange chocolate, all soaked up by some oak. There's no real essence of brandy that I can find in here, and after the first few steps of our dance I'm still not quite sure if this one is doing it for me. Still, it's easily the better of the two, even if that may have something to do with my low tolerance for anything but subtle, sensitive and measured use of bourbon barrels. The brandy barrel, with its lack of brandy DNA on show, turns out a decent beer if you make it sit and wait in the glass like a bold child.

So there we have it. Not at all the hot sticky messes a little part of me was fearing they might be, but neither of these beers are as successfully barrelified as the Whiskey Stout from a while back. If this is the first time Independent have brewed a barley wine (commercially, I believe it is), then I'd be more enthusiastic about a tweaked, refined and eventually nailed version of the base beer that I could try sans barrel before we go back into the woods.