Tuesday, 19 August 2014

#235: Having a Blast!

A 'decidedly robust IPA' is my sort of thing. And coming from a brewer I've been enamoured with ever since Black Chocolate Stout it seemed a sure-fire winner.

Brooklyn Blast! is an IPA of 8.4% and a cursory glance at the beer's webpage reveals a hefty hop bill of Willamette, Magnum, Cascade, Fuggle, Aurora, Zythos, Bravo, Simcoe, Sorachi Ace, Amarillo and Experiment 6300. That's eleven, if you weren't paying attention. Such are the fruits of an effort to produce something of an Anglo-American IPA. 

Things start strangely with an aroma of fruity stickiness that suggests seriously overripe grapefruit, banana and sweet lemon spongecake. The hazy golden fluid washes the palate with orange marmalade and sweet toffee notes, before strains of lime, grapefruit and mango come into play. There's even a little bit of tropical fruit and despite the overall warmth and sweetness to the beer, as well as the lack of any real attack at the front, there's quite a long lingering citrusy bitterness.

Alcohol heat is there in flashes, but is nowhere near as hot as the Black Chocolate Stout or Monster, and the beer drinks a great deal easier than it ought to. 

A big win by Brooklyn.

Friday, 15 August 2014

#234: Divine Inspiration

When I heard that there was an Irish brewery starting up with a mission to commercially brew Belgian beer styles - with dedication to the point of using classic Belgian Duvel style stubby bottles - I was very excited. That brewery was Holy Mountain in Mayo. Much hard work in the neat farmhouse brewery (documented here) as well as a name change to Mescan, and beers are finally flowing. Distribution is low, so it took a trip to Mayo by what must be a very dedicated Bierhaus team for me to get my hands on a trio of bottles.

I started with the Stout, which pours suspiciously pale for the style, showing plenty of light through its red/brown depths. There's nothing iffy about the nose though; slightly smoky dark fruit and a hint of tobacco, which much of the same on the palate. Blackberries and roasty malts fight to be heard over a very effervescent delivery but just about get the job done. While hinting towards the darker, more savoury aspects of Foreign Extra, it remains resolutely conservative, and more drinkable for it. Not bad at all.

The White followed, and just like the stout, it proved incredibly drinkable fare. Despite not listing any spice among the ingredients, this white delivers a heavy handed hit of coriander and clove atop the light, citrusy wheatiness. This perfectly offsets the sweetness of said malts, avoiding flirtation with cloying over-sweetness in a way that Olé Olé couldn't. A solid wit to add to Ireland's roster.

I finished on the Blond, which, despite once again being a quite sinkable affair, failed to produce as much notable characteristics as the other two. Sure, there's the background of caramel biscuit, a whiff of citrus fruitiness, and a finish that pines towards a spiciness that is just unwilling to attend, but this beer passes by too easily for my liking. Unlike the other two, which managed to be eminently drinkable while asserting their own character, the Blond fails to perform for me.

All in all, a good showing from Mescan who, despite all the hard work to date, are still at very early stage. I look forward to seeing what they do with the bigger Belgian styles.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

#233: Singled Out

Eight Degrees. You can't help but love them. At least, I can't. When trying to think of an Eight Degrees beer that I didn't at least find 'great', I am brought back to their Aztec Stout. This is actually a decent, chocolatey, drinkable stout in that close-to-bland sort of way that springs a prickle of chilli heat upon the back of the throat at the finish, making for a weird experience, and in my eyes, killing the beer's drinkability. I also consider the Winter's Ale, with it's lightness and nutmeg-y oddness failing to strike a chord with me. But even these two beers have merit and are worthy of experiencing; both have unorthodox extra ingredients, both are limited in release.

Since inception the Mitchelstown outfit has only gone from strength to strength. Kindred Spirit. Ochtoberfest (please come back). Hurricane. Cyclone. Amber Ella. Russian Imperial Stout. Zeus Black IPA. The Full Irish (please stay forever). Horn8's Nest. Amber-Ella again. And now these two beauties. 

Vic Secret seemed a questionable name to me before I found out that Vic Secret is indeed an Australian hop varietal, and this is the first in a range of single hop beers. Rather than brew a handful of blank canvas pale ales, there's some stylistic experimentation going on here too. This one is a black IPA, and it's the best I've had so far. As should be the case with any single hop beer, the hops are up front about their business; a veritable market's worth of tropical fruit and strawberry Hubba Bubba (I know right?) hit the nose hard. Things are rounder when it gets to the palate. Dark, silky coffee and liquorice caress the the inside of the mouth while never subduing the intensity of the grapefruit and mango highlights that burn bright and leave a trailing bitterness. There's a familiar burnt rubber twinge that interrupts the blackberry jam malts, as I find in many beers where thick, dark malts are forced to do battle with bright and bitter hops. Overall a truly scrumptious beer.

The next hop to get VIP treatment is Simcoe, residing in the comfortable and delicious accommodation of a rye ale. The nose finds notes of sweet Jesus. Razor-sharp lemon skin and pith bitterness slices your olfaction in twain, before onrushing orange marmalade - with bits, of course - does its level best to soothe you. Unsurprisingly, and rather like the Vic Secret, there's a bitter fruit attack on the palate. Grapefruit and yet more orange are the big players; pine needle and resiny stuff provides background harmonics. I don't get much grassiness or peppery spice from the rye, as it all seems rather pedestrian compared to the long-lasting coppery bitterness that dominates proceedings. At the very end (if you're careless with your pour) a muddy homebrew quality becomes part of the malt profile, but that doesn't take away from the beer's performance. 

Two more stunning brews from Mitchelstown. Hon Cork.

Friday, 25 July 2014

#232: Some New Kind of Kick

I don't think I've ever had a German beer that wasn't a lager or a wheat beer, which, when considering the vast variety of styles and flavours achieved within those two base types, is testament to the brewing prowess of the people.
As such, it's very exciting to pick up a beer from Munich that is not only neither a lager or wheat beer, but a craft beer in a style very much adopted as craft; an imperial stout.

Crew Republic's Roundhouse Kick is that beer, and it pours opaque black with a thick cream head. the aroma is a gorgeous blend of blackberries, bitter burnt coffee beans, sweet toffee, honeycomb and a bit of booze. Unsurprisingly it sticks to inside of the mouth like nothing else, plastering the walls with dark roast coffee, malty biscuit, black and forest fruits and berries and at the death, some spirity heat. 

A good imperial stout that manages to have enough going on to please a discerning stout fan while remaining quite accessible, which, by consequence, prevents it from reaching the lofty heights of imperial stout godliness.

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.