Tuesday, 22 July 2014

#231: Beer Geek Breakfast

Mikkeller and their ilk comprise the trendiest circle of the craft beer Venn diagram; gypsy brewing big stouts, lambics and hop monsters and dressing them in the artsiest of labels, these beers tend to fan the flames of enthusiasm among drinkers of craft beer and cost a pretty penny.

Such is the case with Beer Geek Breakfast, at least in part. Though it isn't extortionately expensive, it has quite the reputation with beer geeks worldwide, so I expected quite a lot, especially from a 7.5% stout brewed with oatmeal and coffee.

Things start pretty well, as I've never seen such a thick looking beer, pouring a thick, oily black with a dark brown head. Impressed by this, I was further impressed upon nosing, where I was greeted with a mighty shock of coffee beans, cocoa butter, dark chocolate mousse and a herbal hoppiness. The palate gets treated to thick chocolate and toffee malts, a tiny presence of some cool, green herbal hops and a ridiculously assertive afters of coffee ganache. And that's it. It's not bad, I enjoyed the bottle, but for me it lacks the subtlety and richness that make a great, complex beer of this strength and type. 

You can do better for fewer pieces of gold and silver elsewhere.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

#230: Amber Mine

Two new Irish craft beers today, something I haven't done in a while. Something I also hadn't done in a while is revisit Amber Ella, and once that glorious procedure was done my thirst for sweet amber only grew. Luckily, Carlow Brewing Co. have a new beer of just such a style on the market right now.

Amber Adventure is much clearer than Amber Ella, and makes quite a photogenic beer. The aroma is a million miles from the 8 Degrees offering, giving plenty of deep toffee, chocolate and caramel ahead of anything that could be considered a hop character. This is rectified in part upon the palate, where flowery hops come into play with orange marmalade, but ultimately the slow, unctuous killer tide of toffee malt overpowers. Like the Double IPA, this beer (at least in its bottled form, because draught DIPA was fantastic) doesn't hit the mark of its billed style and leaves me unsatisfied, even though the beer is objectively enjoyable.

Another of Irish craft brewing's leading lights released Mine Head, an American Pale Ale, which is a very interesting proposition indeed from Dungarvan. Helvick Gold is a beer that took its sweet ass time in impressing me, and when it did it was only to the point of being a rather good session blonde, something I rarely need or want. Since then, I've found myself much more pleased with the likes of Mahon Falls and Comeragh Challenger, both of which contain noticeable strands of Helvick and which led me to rediscovering my love for Helvick as an effortlessly quaffable blonde with that unique Dungarvan yeast character. As such, I was very interested to see would Mine Head be a step into the unknown for this brewery, with sweeter malts and more assertive hops. It looks like a Dungarvan beer; cloudy orange with a soapy head. It smells like a Dungarvan beer; citrus, lime marmalade and an alondy roundness with a yeasty, sandalwood thing going on the background. It tastes like a Dungarvan beer; at first it's not unlike Helvick, with citrus and earthy, flowery hops leading the charge. With time it gets more lemony with some mouth-watering peach notes, and only a hint of trailing bitterness to suggest a heightened hop bill. 

As usual, a delicious beer from Dungarvan, but not quite like any American or American-style pale ale I've had, more in the regions of an Irish or British version. 

And we don't mind that, do we.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

#229: The Big Guns

The only Dutch beer to make it back from Amsterdam was a big one; De Molen's Bommen & Granaten, a barleywine in what must surely be the truest sense of the word.

A thick and oily pour gives us a hazy red/orange beer with nothing in the head department. It seems to have traded all its bubbles for huge sticky sweet malts. If you feel like getting your nose dirty you can dig and find some grapefruit and toffee syrup in there, but the best course of action is to get this one on the tongue. Despite it's heady aroma, this beer is actually nice. It's virtually uncarbonated and still has plenty of those sticky sweet toffee malts but there's also a good expression of fruit; peach, apricot and raisins, as well a hint of residual brown sugar. There's alcohol warmth in there too, but for all its muscle, Bommen & Granaten avoids being a harsh beer, à la Louder. My only problem is that there's just not enough complexity in the flavour to justify a whopping 15.2% ABV.

The rest of the bunch are easier-to-find Belgians, but at their relatively cheap price (and lack of much else on the shelves in this particular shop) I decided to let them help fill the suitcase. 

Gulden Draak is a beer I've been enamoured with for some time now. It's a strange tripel/quadrupel hybrid that works wonders with its 10% ABV, much like its fantastic stablemate Piraat, whose style is also a bit of a discrepancy. However, this Gulden Draak 9000 Quadruple wears its style on its sleeve, so there should be no misunderstandings, right?
Wrong. Because the messers at Van Steenberge are not satisfied with simply delighting our tastebuds, they also want to mess with our heads. For a quad, it pours suspiciously pale, paler than the regular Gulden Draak in fact. Still though, there's not much to worry about, seeing as this beer is absolutely gorgeous. Loads of fruit wash over the palate; candied citrus, dark forest fruits, apricot and a soft prickly tripel-like spice sit atop chewy dark toffee and chocolate malts, delivered with warming spirity heat.
This may be the best beer I've yet to have from Van Steenberge.

The last beer isn't so big at all, but it's still worth dissection.

Saison Dupont Biologique appears to just be an unfiltered, organic version of Dupont's flagship saison (Q: Is the regular version unfiltered?), so I wasn't expecting much of anything new or different in the taste. It's a cloudy yellow beer, just like the regular saison, and produces a lovely aroma of bright, herbal stuff with a malted biscuit and wet grain backbone. I loved the suggestion of farmyardy stuff in the original saison, but there's none of that here. The palate is beautiful. A wheaty body is interspersed with lemon zest, coriander, mint and a waxy bitterness. 

Probably one of the most refreshing beers on the planet.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

#228: Dambust

A trip to Amsterdam is always a welcome excursion, not least because of the city's beery treasure. Unfortunately, this particular visit wasn't as jam-packed with beer activity as previous ones which, coupled with the disastrous closing of the Bierkoning on the last day, had a tragic effect on the return leg's suitcase.

Thankfully I'd picked up a few bottles in the Bierkoning for the stay itself, so all was not lost.
First up is Bierkoning special Vlo. This is a typical IJ beer in that it delivers a generous amount of coriander and lemongrass on the nose to introduce what seems to me to be a bitter, spicy blonde. There are some sugary malts underneath, mainly expressed through candied apricot and peach, but the beer remains largely in the arena of IJ's special, spiced and fruity way of doing things. Delicious.

There wasn't much Motueka Pale Ale left on the shelf which suggested to me that this limited edition beer, also from IJ, had something special going on. The first sniff verified this; a gorgeous shedload of oily pine needle and bitter tropical fruit attacks the nose in the nicest way possible, showing flashes of grapefruit pith and mango atop orange and lemon marmalade. The palate is equally spoiled by a bright and bitter hop attack to the fore delivering citrus peel, pine needle and some lingering tutti-frutti, balanced by some light marmaladey sweetness and carried on a pillowy, medium-full body. Noticeably absent is the IJ's classic spice/yeast profile, making this a clean-cut hop forward pale ale of Howling Gale proportions.

Yet another IJ special next, this time a collaboration with De Molen. This 9% DIPA is not wholly unlike the Motueka in that there's plenty of punchy tropical fruit on the nose. Lemon sherbert and a soft, earthy roundness is the difference. It's beautiful to taste too, being quite smooth and balanced with plenty of round toffee malt beneath some US-style pine and peel stuff. Unlike the Motueka, this beer does have the IJ's characteristic herbal, spicy-sweet fruitiness, making it a highly complex and enjoyable drinking experience.

My timing was atrocious for this particular trip, so I ended up being pretty lucky to stop by the Beer Temple at opening time on the last day. 

I just had two halves, the first of which was Fort Point Villager. This Californian IPA tastes very much like an IPA from California; grapefruit skins and the typical pine/peel profile is perfectly executed, balanced beautifully by mango, apricot and candied pineapple. A gorgeous IPA at a reasonable 6.5%.

Beertography by The Sober Destrier
After all this pale hoppiness (not to mention a delicious ongoing flood of Westmalle Tripel in the background) I needed something dark, think and heavy. I got it with B.O.R.I.S. The Crusher from Hoppin' Frog. It pours inky black with a dark tan head and smells immediately of mocha. The espresso coffee and Christmas plum pudding aroma is rich but remains just the tip of the iceberg. Chocolate mousse, malted biscuit, honeycomb and liquorice are all served on a creamy, silky texture. Even the teeny tiny serving satisfied my bud lust.

I brought a few bottles home, but thanks to my leaving the beer-shopping to the last hour of the last day, only one of them was Dutch. The rest were readily available Belgian beers for whose cheapness I couldn't leave behind. I'll get to those bottles next.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

#227: Bierhaus Miscellany #3

It's high time I post something. My notebook is getting fatter. Really, every few days the little bookmark seems to be further behind the most recent tasting note. What's more, the trusty cupboard is completely empty. Well, one of the trusty cupboards is completely empty. As for the others... well, obviously I'm not going to start chucking the imperial stouts, barleywines and lambics around, I'm not that desperate. Not yet.
For what will without a doubt be your immense reading pleasure, here us a smattering of beers from the Bierhaus over the past few weeks.

We start with Trouble Brewing, and what a year they are having so far. They're currently undergoing a trendy re-brand but more importantly they've upped their brewing game a huge deal. This was already evident from the saison I had at this year's Fran Well Easterfest, but I must admit I didn't expect much mind-blowing stuff to come from Graffiti, a session pale/IPA at 3.6%. However, a metric shitload of bitter zest and citrus pith leads the charge on my unsuspecting palate, balanced by a good not-watery biscuit malt base. It's clean enough at the finish but still allows plenty of the tropical and grapefruit hops to shine, while still managing to feel like beer in the mouth. To me, this compares overwhelmingly favourably to Founder's beloved All Day IPA, achieving more punch to the flavour and body despite being over an entire % weaker in ABV, though I concede freshness may be a factor where flavour is concerned. 

Horn8's Nest
Schlenkerla's Märzen is still a beer that I champion and recommend to all who will listen, yet that one time I had it remains the only time I've ever had one of their beers. So, a drop of their Lagerbier von faß seemed in order. I was informed by Bierhaus Dave (I think) that this beer isn't actually smoked at all; rather, it is brewed in the same vessels as the brewery's other smoked-malt beers. As such it collects echoes of their smokiness without ever reaching the famed smoky bacon notes. It's got plenty of body with its grainy, malty profile and light, blue smoke character, but not really much else. Perhaps if I was thirstier I would have enjoyed this cool and quaffable lager more, but between beers with much more assertive flavour profiles it seemed a tad tedious. 

On cask this particular day was King Cormac, a medieval dark ale from White Gypsy. No, I don't know what that is either. I don't know if anyone knows. I don't think anyone cares. It's acceptably medieval though, in that it's strange and archaic yet quite nice. At once sweet and savoury, slightly smoky and with a good dollop of raisiny malts. Chewy toffee and dark fruit, and only a light tingling bitterness. I suppose if your beer doesn't really fit into any particular established style you can name it what you like. If that's what's happened here, I'm OK with that. Definitely worthy of investigation, especially on cask.

Finally we get to Eight Degrees, a brewery I can now officially dub my favourite; consistent quality across a portfolio of exciting beers covering a number of different styles is exactly what you want from a local(ish) craft brewery. So, when they released a collaboration white IPA with By The Horns of London I was eager to see with my tongue-eye what they'd come up with, not least because of the unconventional style billing. Horn8's Nest is delicious. Bitter lemon and orange peel with a candied fruit backing is the guts of this beer. There's depth and complexity to be enjoyed between the astringent, waxy hops and quite sweet malts, but the beer never feels too heavy, staying on the right side of a medium body and remaining fairly drinkable for its punch.

The other Eight Degrees special of late is Olé Olé, a wit beer brewed to coincide with the World Cup. I missed the beer they brewed for Euro 2012, which appeared not to fall too far from the tree in terms of style, but this beer, by contrast, adds a whole new style to the brewery's list. Being labelled as a wit, you would be forgiven for expecting a Belgian style wheat beer, but what I perceived was a wheat beer that somewhat straddled a line between Belgium and Bavaria. It's soft, fruity and softly fruity in a lemon curd sort of way, pointing me towards Belgium. There's just a little touch of spice and green herbal stuff here though, and the body lacks the full, mouth-filling wheatiness of a good Bavarian hefe. It's incredibly light and drinkable, though I find a glass is just about enough. A pint, and I fear the lingering sweetness would overpower the lovely refreshing nature of this beer.

And scene.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

#226: Canned Laughter

One of my favourite recent trends is that of canned craft beer, and it seems I'm far from alone; more and more US craft is appearing in cans on our shores. 
The latest of these are from Ska Brewing, and the ever-reliable Bradley's is where I picked mine up. 

Much praise is lavished upon Modus Hoperandi so it had to be investigated first. The dark, reddened orange hue suggests there's plenty of shtuff to this beer, and this is only reinforced by the aroma. Thick swathes of grapefruit pith and peel, packing punch aplenty. Lime marmalade and tropical fruit smoothie feature as the beers sweeter notes. On the palate there's much of the same astringent pithiness, with added pine needle bitterness. After this you get a hefty sweetness; there's much residual sugar here, manifesting itself as syrupy honey and caramel. 

Undeniably good, but the Founders Centennial IPA that followed was even better, with slightly more going on and all delivered with more gusto.

The world of beer snobbery can be ridiculously prejudiced towards lagers, even though the relatively cheap and mass produced Czech or German lagers put much high-brow 'real beer' to shame. Just imagine a world without lager, with the category of 'cheap, popular, everyday beer' occupied by farty Bishop's fucking Finger and the like.

As such, it's nice to see hip trendy folk like Ska Oskar Blues canning a craft pilsner, in the form of Mama's Little Yella. They've done a good job too, as it looks very much like a pils. Indeed, it smells very much like pils. Golden syrup, wet grain and digestive biscuit are the big players here, but there's balance to be found in the form of nice lemongrass highlights.
Overall, a malty, grainy, grassy affair and a commendable effort, though it struggles to impress like Dale's Pale Ale.

Keep the cans coming.

EDIT: Eagle-eyed readers (or just eyed readers) will know that Mama's Little Yella is in fact Oskar Blues, not Ska, so I've corrected that. 

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

#225: Kriek & Sun, A Perfect Marriage

I've been saving this Easter gift for a sunny day where I'm not driving to work, and a couple of weeks ago one of those finally happened. 
I know, that's incredibly sad, but this is Ireland. We thrive upon this sort of thing.

This Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait dates from 2011, so has been treated to three years of age and, presumably, flavour development. My limited understanding leads me to believe that the fruit will by now be playing a lesser part than at the time of bottling, with more sourness to the fore. This was certainly the case with the aroma, with plenty of spiky farmhouse stuff hitting the nose first, followed by a damp earthiness and just the slightest touch of tart fruit hiding underneath. I was therefore surprised that the flavour was a slow starter; even though the palate is washed with sour graininess, there's no aggression to the attack, and eventually there appears tangy and sour cherry, without any of the sweet backing I expected I might find from a beer with so much fruit. Also surprising is the way in which the sharp sourness of the flavour rounds out with herbal, almondy notes at the finish. As such, the beer remains refreshing and drinkable despite its age and character.

Overall a relatively approachable yet boldly-flavoured beer, if that even makes sense.