Saturday, 3 October 2015

#291: Amsterdam

I finished summer with the now routine visit to Amsterdam, this time following on to Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Munich. With the refugee crisis reaching boiling point first at the border of Hungary and then at Keleti station in Budapest, we thought it prudent to cancel the Budapest leg of the trip in favour of an extended Prague stay. Beer was not the focus of the trip, but needless to say, it featured heavily nonetheless.

As usual, beery things began in De Bierkoning and unfolded in the gorgeous and surprising back garden of my uncle's house near Hoofddorpplein. 

Amsterdam's own Oedipus comes first with Mama, brewed at Brouwerij Anders in Belgium. As a 5% IPA, this should have been very straightforward. Hazy yellow and screaming of lemon is all well and good, with spicy, zesty and yeasty qualities in equal measure inviting you in, but it lies. It lies, because it's just not as fun as it suggested it was going to be. There's a lick of spice, some wet grain and a herbal coriander twist but ultimately way too much wit/tripel cross-breeding for this to be enjoyed as anything like a drinkable IPA. In this way it reminds me of the lesser 't IJ beers, obsessed as they are with that pseudo-Belgian hereditary yeast character. This will probably have its fans, but it hasn't found one in me.

De Prael's IPA is exactly like the Mama, only with added misery in the form of some diacetyl on the nose. Apart from this it is again dominated by yeast and spice and the hopeful hint of grapefruit is less in the US sort of way and more in an old wonky Bock way. As it warms it begs you to find some lemon and orange on the nose but that utterly fails to shout down the butterscotch element that only grows more and more offensive. Ouch.

Much more luck was had with Brouwerij 't IJ's Amber Ale. It is indeed dark amber and immediately announces itself as beautiful. Bittersweet orange and mandarin skins and serious amounts of zesty  pithy grapefruit; this is New World hopping done simply and done well. Clean and dry and certainly the most astringently bitter and juicy of the trio, it scratches an itch that I would find hard to scratch for the rest of the trip.

Playing it safe was Gueuze Girardin 1882. Surprisingly dark brown it pours, unsurprisingly woody, cidery and vinous it smells. Waxy bitterness and a not-too-sharp but not-too-round sourness characterises the drink, with some tangy apple cider and almost whiskey-like malt warmth opening up with time. I'm not sure if I'd file this under C for Classic, but I'd give it a lifetime pass to G for Grand. Certainly at around €2 for a tiny 275ml bottle.
A couple of Bierkoning pickups made it out of Amsterdam, but more on those later.

The Arendsnest is still my must-visit bar in the city and on a sunny afternoon it is simply unbeatable. I started with Texels Tripel, a low carbonation, white-capped 9%er. All I could pull from the nose was a bit of generic biscuity grain, but I'll charitably put this down to the serving temperature. Thankfully, there's a lot more going on on the palate; the wheaty heft of the beer is more like a strong blonde at first before the honeyed tripel spiciness kicks in at the finish. It's bitter in a weird, soft kind of way, all coriander and orange skins. For 9% it is a very easygoing sunny day tripel, even if it isn't a world beater.
Vrouwe van Gramsbergh

Keeping things strong is Mommeriete's Vrouwe van Gramsbergh, a 9.5% quadrupel. There's more of a nose to this one, thick as it is with nutty toffee chocolate, brown sugar and cola. To taste it's a rich and semi-sweet dark fruit bomb, dominated by delicious raisiny malt and chewy tobacco and fig. There's even more chocolate here to sign off, and the whole thing plays like a highly enjoyable if predictable quad. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Black and Tan
The last beer of this short, sweet session was Emelisse's Black and Tan, this version aged in Wild Turkey barrels. It looks, well, black and tan, while the aroma has a holy shit amount of coffee. There may be some typical barrel-ageing fare like woody vanilla, but mostly it is chocolate covered liquorice bliss. The palate gets dollops of sticky black fruit jam and bitter dark chocolate, washed down with strong, cold black coffee and a flash of boozy heat. And all in the space of a 10.2% tasting glass. Hats off Mommeriete.

The San Marino of the gathering presented itself during the Sober Destrier's mandatory trip to the excellent Apenheul primate park in Apeldoorn, where the restaurant was serving Gulpener Ur-Pilsner. It's actually a decent pils, if a little short on pilsy hopping, offering instead just plenty of clean, straw-like malt refreshment. Serviceable, but here appearing, quite literally, as an afterthought.

Next stop, Lagerland Berlin.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

#290: Way Back Home

Before I delve into the messy business of logging every beer of my two week sitting tour of European cities, there is the important business of catching up with home comforts to be done.

Awash with lager though I was on said trip, I couldn't help but make a beeline for the Bierhaus tap that was then pouring 8 Degrees' latest special, a reiteration of Ochtoberfest, this time appearing as a bock. The original Märzen is one of my favourite Irish beers ever so a beefed-up bock version wasn't to be missed.

This Ochtoberfest is a beautiful bright amber but doesn't smell of much beyond a decent helping of toffee malt. This doesn't go anywhere except the palate, where it's joined by more caramel chewiness and non-lupuline bitterness; it's a spiky, stalky, vegetal bitterness that punctuates a beer that is otherwise so full and smooth in texture. Perhaps I'm lager-tired but, despite being clearly malt-forward and sweeter than it is bitter, it doesn't quite scratch the itch I have for darker, heftier, malty lagers. That said, there's some good quaffability here, even if it doesn't reach the heights of the ancestral Märzen.

Radical Brew
The second Cork beer on the bar was a cask of Radikale's Radical Brew, a beer brewed with gin botanicals from Blackwater Distillery. Honestly, this should have been terrible. The fact that was served cool with the low, natural carbonation of cask should have made it even more horribly undrinkable and weird. But it wasn't. In fact, this clear red pour is actually quite subtle on the nose, with suggestions of white pepper and juniper the only evidence of deviant brewing. The taste is a burst of clove, juniper wood and pepper highlights on a stripped back, purely functional malt base. There's a nice spiced beef thing too; this could be the clove playing off the malt more than anything else, but again, it works surprisingly well and the cask serving helps this cooling, spicy half pint appear warm and cozy at the same time. Hats off to Radikale on this one.

The final indulgence comes from Kinsale, and it's Blacks' Sour Brown Ale, and beer that is unsurprisingly brown but surprisingly not very sour. Certainly there's not much on the nose, and this theme follows through on the taste too. It's woody and flashes sourness to begin, but finishes way too quickly, with it's main talking being more malty filler than show-stealing sourness. Drinkable, but not great.

Next up, Amsterdam.

Monday, 7 September 2015

#289: Off the Vine

The Sober Destrier's studies recently called for a brief visit to Belfast Zoo and as I was driving the eight hour round trip, the original Belfast pub crawl idea was out the window. On the day, all we had time for was a five minute layover at The Vineyard, a serious off-licence on Ormeau Road. UK beer is what I was after here, looking to exploit the availability of beer we do not yet import from our nearest, dearest neighbour.

Partizan's Mo Chi (that's Mosaic Chinook to you and I) IPA is up first. To call it OK is as generous as I could be without inflating the merits and virtues of this beer. Lemon, lime and grapefruit are the token citrus hop expressions but they lose out to a rather coarse, grainy thing that I can't stand, and that doesn't allow for much drinkability.
Fairly bog standard stuff from Partizan.

More charismatic, in spite of the homebrew quality of the labels when compared to the beautiful Partizan branding, are the beers from Kernel.
Mine were both black and both positively oozed with character befitting of their respective stylistic billings.
India Pale Ale Black is the black IPA (duh), and black indeed it is in the glass. Not so black is the ripe orange, lime and lemon zest of the aroma, tough it does all sit atop a layer of black coffee and dark roasted malt. 
There's a coarseness to this too, but tit is the result of an interplay of up-front roasty bitterness from the malt and an intensely punchy hop profile. This cold coffee and bitter fruit effect is the M.O. of the beer, with lemon skins and chocolate offering up yet another interesting contrast of flavour. The gum-tingling bitterness of the beer lasts for ages and the overall effect is juicy and ripe, if a little harsh at first. I'm still not a devotee of the black IPA, but this one, being plenty black and plenty IPA, is a bloody good one.

Don't mind what it says on the label; Kernel's Imperial Brown Stout is even blacker than the BIPA, and at 9.9% I can only conjure up some large, isolated bubbles in lieu of a proper head.
Earthy is the aroma at first, turning to cold, strong, roasty coffee thereafter, and dark chocolate mousse after that. It's chilled, so the nose is ultimately more subdued than I'd like from such a big beer.
The taste is anything but understated though, opening savoury, almost meaty, like a well toned down Rauchbier. Rich, malty dark chocolate sweetness is the order of the day with raisiny milk chocolate and a long bitter finish. Come to think of it, the Cadbury's Fruit and Nut bar analogy I use for Porterhouse's Plain Porter could also be applied here, only you have to imagine that the Plain has been imperialised, wrapped in thick dark chocolate malt and injected with a touch of booze. There's an almost total absence of carbonation, leaving the beer slick and oily and, despite how it sounds, inherently easy to drink.
There's a chance that I may be easy to please when it comes to imperial stouts; I can understand how the texture and weight of a beer like this could be discordant to another palate, but to this one it plays like a big black cosy chair.

The third big black beer on show is Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout. This is one I've been trying to get my hands on for some time, assuming it would have the same old world class as a beer like Courage's Imperial Russian Stout.
It does have a bit of an old world feel to it, being earthy, malty, pub-smoky and slightly boozy, and with a mysterious discernible tang hidden somewhere in the folds. The palate is a gorgeous umami, savoury-ish malt thing at first, with a weight beyond its 7% ABV. There's blackberry jam - the possible source of that tang on the nose - and dark chocolate in spades too, all delivered on a velvety smooth and creamy body.
I likes 'em bigger, blacker and bolder, but this is a very deftly put together beer that I could stand to drink much more than 355 mls of.

Finally, we take a step back into the light with the only local beer I took away from Belfast. The supremely helpful Vineyard staff were honest about the shortcomings of the Yardsman range, but for some sick reason I felt compelled to take a Yardsman IPA for a trial. That I could have gotten more imperial stout goodness in its place is something I immediately regretted upon pouring the glass. 
Toffee, toffee, thin watery toffee is how the taste goes, which is a good deal better than the stink of rubber that constitutes the beer's aroma. I very rarely feel the need to jettison a beer, but this poor, sad, desperate and depressing attempt at an IPA went right down the sink.

I should have stayed in the dark.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

#288: Hirsch und Kölsch

I've never had a Kölsch before. As someone who has obsessed over most things fermented for a few years this thought shocked me when it occurred to me a few weeks back as I idled before the considerable beer fridge in Bradley's. Something needed to be set right.

The ubiquitous imported Kölsch is of course Früh Kölsch, so that seemed the sensible place to start. As a devotee of German, particularly Bavarian lager, I was eager to see if a bottom fermented beer from Köln could scratch that same itch.
It looks like it can; crystal clear and pale gold is how it appears before me, while the nose gets a surprisingly thoughtful hop treatment - all leafy, herbal and fresh cut grass. Hearty lager malt and light citrus fills in the blanks.
A chewy maltiness opens the palate, with golden syrup, biscuit, clean grain and straw and just a tickle of floral back-of-the-mouth bitterness wrapping up.
It's clean, perhaps not squeakily so, but ridiculously smooth and as satisfying to drink as any Helles.

Less clean is Holzar Bier from Hirschbräu, a wildcard purchase made in Kinsale some time later. Clear copper and with a big, slightly off-white head, I'm instantly intrigued. The aroma is quiet, almost silent, only making brief suggestions of Vienna malt and a touch of some grassy highlights. 
To taste it's instant gratification, because I've just been confronted with a round, hearty, malty, chewy flipper of a lager. Toffee and raisin make it more dunkel than Vienna while the purely functional, balancing bitterness pulls it back.
I'm always happy to find a maltylager with heft so this one goes down as a successful punt. 

Sometimes really simple beer can be really simply satisfying. Both of these eminently drinkable beers may not impress someone looking for the bizarre and the bold, but they've left boxes well and truly ticked for me.

Monday, 31 August 2015

#287: Oud Beersellers

Cool beer in a sunny garden is the very meaning of summer and few beer styles perform well under a clear blue sky - such as it might be in an Irish summer - as a lambic.

This one is my first from Oud Beersel, and it is their standard Oude Geuze Vieille, a 6% effervescent, pale orange in the glass that smells spritely, slightly cidery and woody. There's not even a hint of vinegary sourness about this, thankfully, and it stays in the realm of citric acid and farmy, yeasty simplicity. To taste it is an eminently refreshing dry, bitter leafiness, with a follow-up of tart lemon and overripe green apple. There's even the perception of sweetness in the apple drop and sherbert sourness, but all in all the beer plays like a weirdly well-rounded, grainy and satisfyingly tart geuze. 

It's tempting to call this kind of beer complex, bearing in mind that sourness is meant to be the sophisticated acquired taste for the beer geek, but in reality, this is a simple, straightforward, even archaic type of beer.
A gorgeous geuze, worthy of your time.

Friday, 28 August 2015

#286: Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond

Hoppy lagers are a natural progression in beer style fashion and seem to be having a day in the sun of late. Why this must be distinct from a clean and dry IPA was once beyond me, but I have to say that from the examples I've had, there is a lot to be said for a cold fermented clean beer hopped to the nines, and storied hop nutjobs Eight Degrees recently gave us Nomad for late summer, their take on the questionably billed India Pale Lager.

It certainly looks like a pale lager; clear gold with a pure white head, but it is bursting with as much sharp citrusy hops as any of your other Mitchelstown-born IPAs. Nelson Sauvin, Citra and Cascade are the hops listed and there's plenty of the latter two to be found on the aroma, with all the lemon and grapefruit zest and slight flashes of orange marmalade. To taste it's sharp as cats' claws at first, all freshness and punch, and clean and dry to finish, inviting plenty of big gulps. Closer inspection reveals tropical mix juice and pineapple with a simple, biscuit malt backbone and a long, lingering bitter finish afterwards.
At this rate it shouldn't have time to warm up but if it does you might find a prickly, perfumey effect at the death that raises an eyebrow, but not enough to interfere much with the beer's overall goodness.

As such, another certified Good© beer from the Antipodean Brewo Duo.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

#285: Bierhaus Miscellany

This dredging of notes goes as far back as the beginning of May, through June and up to July, such is the unwillingness of the Destrier to let good beer go.

And this really was good beer.

Shortly after the Franciscan Well's Easterfest (I know) I was looking to catch up on those beers I'd missed in the festival garden and the Bierhaus is the most logical place to do this.

Trouble's Fallen Idol was first up. This is a heavenly concoction of brown sugary malt topped with pithy orange and lemon bitterness with a full, chewy, raisiny body. You could drink lots of this, and I'm coming to regret not having much more at the time. Excellent stuff from Kildare, and had I had it at the aforementioned festival, it could easily have been my beer of the show.

Another contender for the beer of the show at the Easterfest was O Brother's Bonita, though I didn't know it at the time. I caught up with this black IPA towards the end of June.
The nose gets smoke, coffee and an almost meaty savoury note that suggests a serious and complex beer to follow. There's nothing grave about the flavour though, however enigmatic it may be; the chocolate and coffee roastiness that separates a black IPA from an IPA is absent here. In fact, there's not much 'black' about the flavour at all, just bright zest and pithy bitterness with citrus fruit skins and dark malts. The finish is strip-your-palate bitter and lasts for ages.
This is my kind of black IPA; silky smooth, almost creamy, with dark chewy malts in favour of coarse roast malts that often only serves to interfere with the effectiveness of the hop profile.

All good things must come to an end though, and Trouble, who are churning out some of the country's best beer of late, give us Vic Secret S.M.A.S.H, a single malt, single hop beer, in case you're wondering. As I would find with the Equinox version in Dublin, the bones of this beer is a very grainy, slightly coarse, herbal, floral, even vegetal bitterness. There's some mango and lemon pleasantry on the nose, suggesting something sweet and juicy that alas, just isn't there to taste.
A faint presence of coriander, lemon shavings and flashes of lemon biscuit are to be seen only in fleeting glances behind the prickly, husky dominant character. 
Perhaps I've been unlucky or unfair in my meetings with the S.M.A.S.H. series, but I think it's more likely that the beers just haven't lived up to Trouble Brewing's sky-high standards.

More hop-themed shenanigans came from Rascal's in the form of their Kiwi Pale Ale, a first entry in a series of beers designed to show off the attributes of Wakatu, Waimea and Motueku. Shown off they aren't though; this pale orange pale ale had a worrying unclean nose that smothered even the slightest suggestion of any fruit underneath. Waxy bitter and effervescent were the first things I saw fit to write down, which says a lot about how much enjoyment I could gleam from the beer. It's sweetness goes from slight to cloying in a matter of seconds, and the only remaining actual flavour descriptors I can pull out of the beer is some wet grain, biscuit and cardboard. I wouldn't be going back.

The last beer here (this time from way back in spring) is Wicklow Wolf's Solar Eclipse, a saison released to coincide with, yep, the solar eclipse on March 20th. It's was bizarrely dark for a saison and sporting a subtle, hard-to-find, vaguely coarse graininess that just about approaches the farmyard character I look for in a saison. To taste it was dark fruit, sherberty and refreshing with a not a hint of that sharp slightly-sourness that you might find in Dupont's benchmark for the style. Totally absent from my notes is the strong banana hefeweisse thing that, after Ronan behind the bar pointed it out, seemed incredibly obvious and in-your-face. Sniffing and sipping again, it was bewildering that I hadn't immediately pinned it down, and others around the bar agreed.

It's official then; I don't know anything about beer.