Sunday, 19 February 2017

#331: Wild Things

Oddity seems to be Wild Beer Co's thing and if there's anything I could take away from the label and description of Shnoodlepip it's that it is odd. One couldn't possibly come away with anything like a meaningful set of expectations of a beer that contains spelt, pink peppercorns, hibiscus and spends four months in French red wine barrels and is fermented with a combination of saison and Brettanomyces yeasts. 

Whatever the case it's at first clearly dry but with a nice prickly, tangy sourness to the fore. The nose gets herbal, floral and spicy stuff but I'm of a mind to assume that's as much a saison yeast contribution as it is a flower contribution but hey, it works so who cares. It's also cooling, minty and quite green on the palate with is wholly unusual but nothing like the ghastly concoction found in Fantome. After some time it opens up to some almost juicy fruitiness - again, tart - before the flash of pepper does make itself known at the finish. 

There's no reason a beer that's seen so much extra-curricular fiddling should work to reach a beautifully balanced, drinkable and refreshing conclusion but Schnoodlepip does. 

I had less luck with the Brett Brett Double IPA (no prizes for guessing what this is), even though it first presents a gorgeous aroma - cool, fruity and sherbety, all lemon skins and acid that gets the hopes up. To taste it's very slightly tart, but the headline of this beer is a big bitter effect that, while dry and approachable to begin with, gets tough going as time goes on, as it becomes more and more bitter, tangy, syrupy and coarse at once. One to pass over.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

#330: Tradecraft

This is a companion can to the Aftermath I had in Amsterdam from Californians Black Market Brewing, and the first blackberry sour ale I've had to date - interesting not only as a point of difference from the usual cherry/raspberry stuff but also considering the ease with which wild blackberries can be foraged in Ireland.

The beer is called Tradecraft and I believe it's one of a few versions of the same base beer, each fruited differently. 

At 3.8% it opens wonderfully tasty and very drinkable; a pinky-peach-tinged amber, it shows off blackberry jam sweetness and a typical sour wheaty grist on the nose; this is most likely some descendant of a Berliner weisse. There's a fullness to the body I wouldn't have expected for the strength, almost feeling rich and confected with the jam thing still doing it's work. This is all scrubbed up neatly by a wave of tartness and bubbly carbonation leaving only that light, friendly, pinkish sweetness behind. 

Lots of delicious fun.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

#329: Tildonkers

In the second half of 2016 something changed in my beer drinking. The over-saturation of new Irish beers (which is not in itself a problem to me - more choice and the good ones will stay on while that bad ones will drop off) finally overwhelmed me in what I considered the original purpose of this blog; to chart a course through the hypertrophic growth of the Irish craft beer scene, buying and trying virtually everything new that Irish brewers were making as well as assessing new and exciting imports. In itself, this would be a full time job, requiring another full time job or two to fund it.

And all of this before we get to drain pours. Yes, among Irish beers and a few imports I found myself not enjoying more and more new beers and where once I would stick it out for the sake of getting my money's worth I've now taken to gleefully dumping them. 

The result of this is that I've become more enamoured with the beers and styles of beers and breweries that I know or at least am pretty sure I'll like. So for a time you'll be seeing fewer new Irish 'Indian pale ales' [sic] and more imports and for that I make only a half-hearted apology.

Still, it hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for new beer and breweries so when goods from Hof ten Dormaal made a brief appearance at the Bierhaus I took a pair of bottles home.

I'd heard plenty of cooing over Frambuesa i Chocolate from proprietor Dave who'd encountered it in Brussels and I wasn't disappointed when I found it in my own glass. It's described on the label simply as a 'dark beer with raspberries' but pours very much like a stout. There's a sour, lactic tang to the nose that immediately introduces tart raspberry and, yup, it's fresh, sweet and tart juicy raspberries on the tongue too. Any worries about the chocolate side of this beer being a powdery, sickly sweet mess are unfounded; this is by far and a away a dominantly sour beer with real puckering power going on and just a smooth slickness of dark malt to help round things out. It's desperately easy to drink and one wishes it was easier to find.

The Zure van Tildonk 2014 is, like the above beer, another limited edition and another sour beer, this time a familiar hazy blonde. So familiar in fact that it plays like a fairly convincing tribute to the beers of Lembeek at first, with a sharp acidic sourness on a beautifully full body. Behind that, though, there's a strap of sweetness throughout, not unlike the kind of thing you find in the older Rodenbachs but without the deep, chewy malts of those beers. I often think of lemon sherbert when I come across a pale sour beer with echoes of sweetness but I think this is by far the most appropriate recipient of that descriptor; it finally actually tastes like lemon sherbert and it is delicious, even if it does turn a tad syrupy towards the finish.

Two wonderful beers, and more than enough to build up a considerable bank of credibility for the brewer in my book.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

#328: Blackeyed

I am more than prepared to eat, or indeed drink, my words. When I - and many other beer folk loitering on Twitter in Ireland - found out that Brewdog's canned imperial stout was hitting the shelves with a price tag of €11.95 I scoffed and virtually shook my head and said "well really". Sure enough, a combination of The Beer Nut and Matthew Curtis (follow both) pointed out that 1) it would be roughly the same price here as it is direct from the brewer, a rarity in Ireland's alcohol tax landscape and 2) that the bourbon barrels, vanilla and particularly the Vietnamese coffee beans used are pretty expensive stuff. Still, it's a €12 can of beer 12.7% ABV or not.

Obviously, the beer in question is Black Eyed King Imp - Vietnamese Coffee Edition. Obviously I only went and bought one. Obviously it turned out to be rather good.

Obviously it's pitch black with a brown head but this doesn't stay long. The first vapour wave to cascade from the glass is a smooth sweet vanilla thing - thankfully not a whack of bourbon - though it does come with a slice of wood. All the characteristics you'd expect from the additions are there; dark chocolate, vanilla, espresso - it's quite difficult to separate the beer from the additions, in fact. From this, I guess you have to accept it as a well integrated beer the likes of KBS but with all the character and intensity that I never got from bottled KBS. It's not dramatically complex but it is incredibly rich, delivering plenty of dessert-like characteristics and balancing black bitterness. I was hoping for the sort of savoury turn that Bourbon County Vanilla had, but I suppose more patience is required for that sort of thing to develop; here, the cask influence is much more of a syrupy, full-on bourbon player.
All in all, it works bloody well and is the closest I've come to reliving the wonders of the aforementioned Bourbon County Vanilla Brand stout from a couple of years ago.

So for all my initial naysaying I inevitably recommend this, and I even recommend tucking one away for a while.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

#327: Thursday Morning Comeback

I lengthy application process for a post grad diploma in Brewing and Distilling (it worked, wahoo!), a number of artistic projects, a busy work schedule and, perhaps most devastating of all, a long post-in-progress that I never saved and lost to the ether all conspired to keep me off this blog for quite some time. Indeed, I was glad to forget about it and consign it to the scrapheap for a while, such was my preoccupation.
But, there is a gap in that mess this morning and I am nothing if not persistent so here is the only collection of beer notes I am bothered to salvage from the many logged last year; after this, it's winter 16/17 onwards and no looking back.

We will look quite a ways back for now though, all the way to August of last year and a quick roundup of beers that were had out and about in Amsterdam.

Neerlands Wild
We start, as ever, in 't Arendsnest, with Emelisse's Oak Aged Imperial Stout, the Ardbeg version. As a 9%er it's robust, dry and bitter but lacking any sign of that booze. Alas, it also lacks any sign of Islay. It is smoky, but in a rather more Irish, roasted barley kind of way. It's in no way bad, but you don't get a great return for the ABV or the cask.

My sweet tooth pulled me then towards Jopen's rye wine, Don't tRye This At Home. And yes, it sweet. It's murky, sugary but not cloying, offering a satisfying dessert beer thing along the lines of Schneider's Aventinus, minus some spice. Chewy toffee syrup-smothered malts form the main effect and the whole thing nicely scratched an itch.

Next up is Neerlands Wild from Klein Duimpje. It's dark and sour to start with, all pulped red berries. There are some really big woody tannins that elbow into the middle and dominate proceedings. What's worse is that this soon reveals itself to be some bourbon-barrel hamfistedness the likes of which Alltech have been perfecting over the years; shades of the good stuff - balsamic vinegar, juicy red fruit - are completely lost amidst coarse, bitter wood shavings. Tough going.

The only other bar I visited in Amsterdam itself was Craft and Draft on Overtoom. As it's part of the same empire as the Arendsnest and Bier Temple, there were a couple of overlaps on the tap list, but Craft and Draft had beer from absolutely everywhere. Still, I stayed Dutch with Noordtwaarts Saison, brewed for Morebeer at Noordt. It's dry if not bone dry, but has a decent peppery scrubbing effect, leaving it tasty, light and incredibly easy to drink. I'm not sure whether they were indicative of an actual spice addition or not but there's also some coriander and lemon in the otherwise caramel-toned finish. Pleasant stuff, if not quite Dupont territory. 

When I ordered De Prael's Scotch Ale I thought I was getting something along the lines of Dirty Bastard or Scotch Silly - you know, a chewy, toffee malt number. Instead I'm presented with a pale, orangey, honey-nosed thing; there are sweet floral bouquets and an odd streak of meaty rauchbier smoke that I guess was a misguided approximation of Islay peat. It's a bit bloomy, mushroomy even, with flashes of what might be heather. Or maybe those are the quiet bagpipes looping in the back of my mind as I sip. Either way it's interesting and quite nice.

Bald Eagle
Still, I had been looking for a less sophisticated sugar-bomb and I came closer to the mark with The Big Fat 5, an 8% IPA that is also a Morebeer release, this time brewed by 't Uiltje. It oozes pungent, ripe fruit of the banana, mango and pineapple sort, with a sweetness reminiscent of similarly flavoured baby food. Ditto says the palate, a sweet tutti frutti mix that won't stand as classic DIPA stuff in my book, but is a fun and fruity change of pace all the same. The body remains surprisingly light, which helps with drinkability at first, but by the of even the wee glass I had, I'd seen enough of the beer.

Kompaan's Bloedbroeder is where I finished up and it's a particularly meaty, bloody and sharply smokey stout. At 9% it doesn't carry the usual trappings a big stout; no booze, no chew, no real body or depth. It plays like a porter of half its size and while it may be objectively interesting, it didn't quite do it for me.

Unsurprisingly, later in the week I found myself back by the canal - this time a much sunnier one - outside the Arendsnest. Inevitably, I had another Morebeer DIPA in my hand, this time Bald Eagle brewed at Kees. It's beautifully fresh and tropical fruit nose lasts about two minutes in the direct sunlight before it develops a streak of cardboardy skunk but, thankfully, this only affects the nose. It's smooth and full bodied and drinks way too easy for its 8%, but that juice has to go somewhere.

Oedipus were back on the menu with Frazzled, a farmhouse stout with blueberries. It's mainly dry and definitely blueberried, with a murky and muddy purple-capped appearance to show for its weird fermentation and fiddling processes. Light and slightly tart as it is, it's surprisingly easy to drink, with a small blackcurrant cordial sweetness hiding in the middle.

The penultimate beer to report is Archimedes Q, a porter (geddit?) from Amsterdam's own Butcher's Tears. Porter my arse, this is sour red stuff right out the gap, with a finish of those Caffé Noir biscuits that they should really stop making. A helping of woody tannins gives you a clue as to what's been going on, but this is beautiful stuff. The mixture of sour, juicy Flanders red and respectably roasty elements is a new one on me, but Butcher's Tears have made it work wonderfully.

Finally, and rather underwhelmingly, is All Black, a foreign stout from Stanislaus Brewskovitch. It's dry and beefed-up and all well and good, but ultimately nothing more than an average, roasty stout.


Monday, 14 November 2016

#326: Monday Morning Takeaway

Late August found me in Amsterdam for a week, with a few day trips to Apeldoorn on the cards throughout. When I wasn't accompanying the Sober Destrier on those mostly searing hot commutes I, obviously, endeavoured to surround myself with delicious liquids.

The first of those is, almost predictably, Belgian. It's Oude Gueuze Tilquin, one of the big lambic hitters that I'd yet to indulge. I'm glad I did; opaque orange it appears, with a big beautiful white head. There's a real waxy, bitter-but-soft backing to the acidic wheaty fullness of the beer, but working and swirling the glass a little brings about plenty of farmy funk - think cowshed, hay and grist. The sourness seems to work the front and sides of the tongue and palate first before that waxed, lemon skin bitterness wades back in to offer immediate balance. Lovely stuff.

Staying with beers enjoyed on the balcony of the spacious apartment in Rembrandtpark is Jopen's Life's a Beach, a beautiful and sinkable session IPA. This drinkability lasts despite a touch of malty body that thankfully turns to clean grainy stuff allowing bright, fresh and simple grapefruit to stand alone. On such a hot day, it disappeared alarmingly fast.
As such, Oedipus' Mannenliefde saison was drafted in for support. Alas, it's got Szechuan pepper and lemongrass and turns out to be a spiced-up, minty, confected jumble that I don't understand the point of. What the hell did saison do to deserve this?

The sole American beer to appear in this post is a can of Aftermath IPA from Black Market Brewing in California, showcasing all the aromatic qualities you might expect; juice! Tropical juice! There's orange too and even a guilty pleasure streak of green rawness - a real brewday smell. On the palate it starts with a loud bang but fades pretty fast; the rich, juicy kick of marmalade and water-thin tropical juice is brief and becomes a nice, very light, fairly dry and quite bitter finish. Here at that finish is where the pith and zest of that fruit lives but ultimately it doesn't live up to the full-bodied and intense promise of the nose. And what a promise - that uncanny, powerful and unique smell of a freshly opened bag of C-hops.

No trip to the Bierkoning can be justifiably called complete without a bottle or two from De Molen, and the one I chose to open here is Counter and Attack, an IPA. Unfortunately, it's a rather dull one, and perhaps a reminder as to why De Molen's stellar reputation seems to be tied to the dark beers they produce. Despite a fresh nose there's a disconcerting fruit cordial sweetness that streaks through the entire thing, making it a particularly uninspiring glass.

Inside there was a new Dutch brewery to me, Oersoep, with Plan 9 From Outer Space. It's a cloudy, unfiltered and unpasteurised pils that proves clean, biscuity and leafy refreshment that's so easy to drink while remaining full, substantial and pillow-soft. Satisfying stuff.
From the same brewer comes Pulp Fiction, billed as a passion fruit pale ale. By pale ale, they must have meant in the Belgian sense, rather than the American, which was an initial suprise but it turned out to be a happy one. It's a tad funky, more saison or fresh Orval than anything properly wild, and there's a spritely dusting of white pepper and yeast contribution throughout. I can't find even a whispered rumour of passionfruit, or even anything like some fruit-expressive hops - this stays firmly dry, lightly bitter, slightly spicy and, despite not quite matching its billing, delicious.

The last beer to be opened in the apartment was Rodenbach Vintage 2012. Right from the first sniff, I was worried I'd gone too far down the sour path; balsamic vinegar is searingly intense at first and bounces terrifyingly off walls of thick, powdery chocolate. It is not so scary to taste, even though much of the experience is characterised by the mix of sweet and sour that elsewhere in life I avoid with an almost religious rigidity. It's acidic but soft, dampened and rounded and made beautiful by trustworthy and comforting wooden malts - think flecks of dark chocolate, vanilla and leather under a sky of overripe cherries and blackberries. Pure puckering pleasure.

That's it for take-home beer. Next up, drinking in the city.

Friday, 4 November 2016

#325: Haunted

Unexpected and unexplained hiatuses are the kind of things you always fear from a blog - it is most often the death knell of said blog, and for a while I toyed with the idea of simply listening to the wretched chokes and coughs of the Destrier as it passed through the portal into the grey wasteland of forgotten online materials. The longer I waited, distracted and weighed down by other projects, work and personal life, the more it seemed I could hear the virtual flies buzzing around the soon-to-be corpse of this blog. 

Thankfully, some spark did kindle the interest I had left in this endeavour and, more thankfully still, I had continued to drink beer and annoyingly take photographs and notes as I went. As such, I do have something to work with, though I've decided to simply leave behind a fair few notes from the last notebook (it has been that long) and start from scratch with materials I started gathering in late August. 

One of the few beers to make it from that last book is this - a few days too late to tie in with Halloween but a scary number nonetheless.

This is Fantôme. Fantôme is one of those (perhaps the archetypal) mysterious and often lauded breweries whose reputation seems to travel further than its beer; this brilliant profile of the brewer(y) by Belgian Smaak, however, explains that most of the beer does in fact travel far - more than 90% of it leaves Belgium. Recipes are ever-changing and shrouded in mystery, but the recipe for this 2015 edition of Printemps should probably be written down on a piece of paper and flung in the bin (shout out to my dad for this devastating put-down, best applied to the phone numbers of bad tradesmen).
The omens were bad; a stripe of skunky stuff is what first coils from the neck of the bottle, but this thankfully changes when you get the ghost into the glass. From here you get a pleasant if ever-so-slightly alarming shout of lemongrass with shades of lemon zest, mint and slightly acidic wheatiness. On the whole, though, it's a clean and cool leafy nose with a hefty smattering of prickly spice and an almost rosy perfume character. 

At this point I'm wary - there's no doubting that this is a heavily flavoured saison even if you didn't read the label - but still optimistic. I even concluded here that the aroma was a suitably summery, fragrant and fresh one.

There are fewer reasons to be joyful about the taste, though; cooling mint and lemongrass form the main effect with a sweet, syrupy lemon finish quickly and aggressively cloying and quashing any degree of drinkability. It's not refreshing, unsurprisingly, but it's also just not very enjoyable as a sipper, and despite being admittedly unique (it will certainly live long in my taste-memory) it's just not interesting enough as a novelty to justify finishing. The flashes of elderflower and lingering aniseed notes are cries for help, and after grinding through a full glass I decided to treat my sink to the rest of the 750ml bottle. 

This turned out to be an experience that started with just a wobble before gradually degenerating to the point where you have to assess the choices you have made and the options that now lay before you. Perhaps there is a reason this sort of thing doesn't fly in Belgium.