Sunday, 22 February 2015

#258: Franciscan Well Winter & Cask Ales Fest 2015

Anyone who regularly reads this blog will know that my festival visits are swift and clinical to a fault, and despite that being something I'd like to change (some day maybe I'l actually relax and enjoy a beer fest), the Franciscan Well's Cask and Winter Ales festival last weekend was no different.

Almost everything is on cask, and certainly everything I had was hand pumped (it's not every day you get so much fresh cask) and there were plenty of newbies for me to try.

Pictured: 5 Malt Dark Ale (L) and Roaring Ruby (R), supposedly.
I ordered two newbies to begin with, Torc Brewing's 5 Malt Dark Ale (4.5%) and West Cork Brewing's Roaring Ruby (4%). I was handed two beers that looked almost identical, and that was just the start of the confusion.

The beer I was told to be the 5 Malt Dark Ale was a hazy, rust coloured affair that didn't give much on the nose. The taste its a pleasant and full blend of red fruit malt with apple and woody caramel in behind, doing their best not to spoil things. There's just a flash of citrus and bubblegum before the taste abruptly ends. Nice and sessionable this.
The Roaring Ruby (again, I was assured this was the Roaring Ruby) was by contrast a darker experience. It looks darker, it smells darker, and with plenty of toffee, strong roasty coffee beans and milk chocolate it certainly tastes darker. However, it does all of this in a rather light and limp fashion so that after the half pint is finished, I can't say that I enjoyed it very much. Approaches good things but ultimately is fairly bland.

Now, the evidence is fairly damning; it appears these two beers are the other way around. That's not how I was served them by the trusty Fran Well staff, so I'm sticking with my story here. As such, your results may certainly vary.

Staying with the red theme and looking to step it up a notch, I head to Rascal's Big Hop Red, at 5%. The aroma here suggests New World hops, with an initial citrus flair. This is matched on the palate; orangey, almost sweet marmalade notes are to the fore, with a light peel note offering some sort of tongue tingling bitterness and a waxy afters. The hops are certainly there but they are reined in, keeping the beer nicely balanced and drinkable. Perhaps it was just the lightness of the previous two, but this one felt positively slick in the mouth and full of flavour on the night. Lovely stuff.

Metalman were in town with Heat Sink, a chilli porter of 4.9%. Eight Degrees' Aztec Stout is the only thing I had had for comparison, and I really wasn't a fan, so this could have gone either way. Thankfully, it proved much more enjoyable than the Mitchelstown offering. It pours black and soapy and gives some roasty toastiness on the nose, but not much overall. I could just about detect a smell I immediately recognised as Tayto smokey bacon crisps. I shit you not, this is exactly how it tastes to begin with - smokey bacon Taytos. There's a decent amount of cocoa butter to stand up to the tingle of spice at the finish that turns in no time into a proper heat at the back of the throat. This is well worth trying, despite the fact that it leaves the mouth thirstier than it was to begin with.

Sticking with dark beers, it was time to start climbing the ABV ladder, with Independent's Whiskey Stout, of a hearty 7%. It appears thick and black and certainly stout in its aroma; a fair amount of spirit makes its way to the nose with chocolate and bittersweet coffee in tow. The palate then gets a slick of the same stuff; bitter dark chocolate, mocha and malty chocolate biscuit, with a hint of woody fullness, though without any of the vanilla or spice you might expect from a barrel-ageing (which I'm assuming this is). Satisfying stuff, and a good return for the money and ABV.

I knew by now that it was time for the big guns. The first of those was Trouble Brewing's Beoir #2, brewed with plenty of help from the men and women of Beoir and a follow-up to Beoir #1 brewed in Black's. The style aimed for here is an imperial red, and it's immediately the boldest beer of the festival so far. There's loads of stuff in this; a big, hearty body and a ripe and juicy fruit profile. A toffeeish backing provides cover for some sweet jelly bean-like fruit notes and some lovely grapefruit, mango and strawberry highlights. The attack is sharp and zesty but not exactly bitter, balanced as it is. Hats off to those involved, I'd like to see more of this.

The night finished on the only beer that could have followed that - Black's High Vis, a 9% IPA. There's not a whole lot to say about this beer in that it's relatively straightforward as these kind of things go; orange, pithy bitterness, lemon skins and grapefruit, a touch of sugary malt and proper peely marmalade. Loads of citrus flavour with enough bitterness to counteract a hefty malt body makes for an enjoyable, easy-drinking strong IPA. 

I had seconds and went merrily on my way.
Roll on Easterfest!

Friday, 20 February 2015

#257: Metal Can

Much of a hubbub was made of the first canned Irish craft beer on the market; for a long time, Metalman had been teasing the idea, whetting the appetite of those who have been enjoying cans from the likes of Founders, Brewdog and Beavertown for some time now. Not only are there the practical advantages (indulging incognito, easier to recycle, harder to break, completely light-proof, better for preserving freshness, stackable, etc.) but Metalman's entry bore special significance because it heralded the first time any of their delicious beers would appear in a take-home serving (not including the collaboration with Hardknott).

Thus, Metalman Pale Ale made a long-awaited return to my palate. It had been around a year since I'd had the draught version - a shame because of the quality of the beer but testament to the myriad of great Irish beers to be occupying yourself with these days - so comparing with the draught version would be very unfair.
That said, it surely isn't as good.

Pouring clear copper, it's almost devoid of any aroma at first. When it does eventually drum up the courage and warmth to be smelled, it is simply awash with caramel. For the first few sips everything is OK; fruity, not exactly bitter, but noticeably hop forward, as you'd find the draught version I'm sure. Malts overcome this before long, to an effect that is not exactly cloying but certainly too much to enjoy. If you're really looking, you might find some grapefruit and other miscellaneous citrus notes clinging to driftwood for dear life in a sea of caramel, roiling with the odd swell of toffee malt. Amazingly, the beer remains quite drinkable - quaffable even; the four cans I bought didn't last very long. All of this would be disappointing but ultimately fine if it wasn't for the fact that, rather inconveniently, there are just way too many better pale ales and IPAs on this island, and many at a better price point, for this can to eke out a living.

The very first run was by no means a disaster, but improvements will have to be made if Metalman Pale Ale cans are to match the brewer's own very high standards.

Also; Metalman, please can Windjammer.

Friday, 6 February 2015

#256: Eager Beavers

When Beavertown beers first started to appear in our shops, 8 Ball, the rye IPA was one of the canned offerings I was most looking forward to trying, rye being a new favourite beer ingredient of mine. It's a shame it took this long to procure, but the results were at least worth it.

8 Ball is hazy and orange and smells like sharp, coppery-bitter orange skins and sweet marmalade from the off. There's a sort of wet grainy biscuit thing and a suggestion of grass, but the real joy comes on the palate - as it should. Again, it's all juicy orange marmalade, rind and grapefruit. There's a good bit of residual sugar in there too, and the overall effect is of a bittersweet and admittedly unsophisticated beer, but it's plenty enjoyable for all that. However, like the previous Beavertown releases I've tried, the price is a tad too high to encourage me to repurchase, especially as Irish beers of this sort (*coughSimcoeRustbucketcough*) do a better job below the price.

Another recent Beavertown appearance was Holy Cowbell, a so-called India Stout. It certainly smells that way, bursting with fistfuls of grapefruit, mango and mandarin, with particular emphasis on the zesty bitter skins thereof. The bright, punchy effect of the aroma is enhanced by the fact that the beer pours opaque and black and supports a thick creamy off-white head. The taste is a perfect interpretation of the beer's name; it's milky and smooth in texture, carrying traces of cocoa powder and the like, but with plenty of the bitter, astringent tropical fruit and lemon zest in behind.

Where 8 Ball is underwhelming but enjoyable, Holy Cowbell excels, and the best beer I've had from Beavertown yet.

Monday, 26 January 2015

#255: Stragglers

There's little more annoying than flicking through your beer notebook (you all have one, right??) and finding about a dozen beers you've forgotten to commit to the blog and long since lost the matching photographs.
Yes people, the struggle is real.

This is just one of probably many posts where I'll indiscriminately lump loose beers together, throw them at the wall and see what sticks.

It's a shame it has taken me this long to write about Trouble Brewing's Oh Yeah!, because it is a simply wonderful beer. The nose is bursting with bitter and juicy fruit, predominantly citrus, as well as actual Juicy Fruit (TM). The fruit expression here is really something else, with round and sweet tropical stuff bouncing off bitter lemon and orange peel. Lime skins and mango make for a bracing palate, with an astringent bitterness that lingers for ages and all sorts of bright and dark fruit shit going on. This is black IPA/Cascadian dark ale done right. Perhaps the only beer of the same or similar style to beat this would be Kinnegar's Black Bucket.

Smuttynose is one of the more recent U.S. imports to show up in Ireland, and it didn't take long for me to shell out for the IPA, Finestkind.
It pours a hazy orange and looks a great deal more attractive than what must be the worst ever beer labels. It smells sharp too; fresh orange skin, sweet orange marmalade and some straight-up grapefruit. The palate doesn't quite get an experience to match - there is some of the hop-forward bite suggested but the flavour is marked by a more assertive warm toffee malt and round, fleshy citrus sweetness. Enjoyable stuff to be fair, but not exactly what the punter might look for from a U.S. IPA. Better hunting on home ground, folks.

Very little beering was done in Paris at the start of last year, with most of my consumption taken up by sweet, cheap bottles of Chimay Bleu. With time at a premium and beer tourism low on the agenda, bottle shopping was limited to the local Monoprix.

Rince Cochon is one of the beers picked up there, and there's unfortunately not much to say about it. Pale, yellow and clear, with a clean, grainy, biscuity and lightly spicy nose, there's not a lot to get excited about. This turns out to be the case, with generic sweet malt and a hint of coriander stuff making for an utterly pointless beer.

Much better luck was had with Duvel Tripel Hop 2014, graced as it was with the presence of Mosaic. It looks as pale and light as the Rince Cochon but immediately giving you way more for your money; a good deal of fresh cut grass, lemon skins, spice and even a hint of tropical fruit. Yes, tropical fruit from a Duvel. There's a surprisingly potent bitter front to the taste, with more lemon zest, mango and some warming spice. The whole thing is a wonderful interplay of sweet, bitter and lightly spicy elements atop the usual drinkable and refreshing Duvel backbone. Lovely stuff, and even though it doesn't quite reach the heights of 2013's Sorachi Ace version it's clear the Duvel's annual Tripel Hop output is well worth seeking out.

La Goudale is one of the most accessible of the French Bières de Garde and I was intrigued to find it in a 500ml can. However, rather like the Rince Cochon, it leaves a lot to be desired. It's similarly pale and light, although it does have a more interesting herbal and spice character; coriander and digestive biscuit are big players again, with a leafy, lemony bitterness making a brief and ineffectual appearance, as the overall experience remains a bit syrupy and oversweet.

Sierra Nevada's Snow Wit is a white IPA that featured recently on The Beer Nut; it was here that I was reminded of the beer's existence and absence from this blog, and so opened this can of worms of a post. It's light shade of cloudy yella, and the nose is immediately earthy, spicy, herbal, odd and altogether more Wit than anything else. The taste goes a similar direction; bursting with citrus fruit and punctuated with pepper, lemon zest, coriander and pillowy wheat, but the action still says more about witbier than it does about U.S. west coast hops. For all that it's still a good and enjoyable beer, but, much like the Brewdog/Weihenstephaner collaboration, you'd likely be better served with a dedicated witbier or IPA.

Accompanying this was Nooner - not the year-round German style pilsner brewed by the Chico crowd - but the limited session IPA in the vein of All-Day. It's fruity and a bit sticky on the nose, with some lagery biscuit base propping up a decent zesty, grapefruit hop profile. Simple stuff. It's the same to taste, though the hop presence is faint enough, with the star of the show being sweet orange marmalade, abrupt though it is on an alarmingly clean and light malt body.

Much more enjoyable was Celebration, which was on draught at the Bierhaus. It may come all the way from California, but I wasn't expect so little on the nose, though that may well have been the cold serving temperature. It did give flashes of marmaladey, citrusy sweetness, but the best was yet to come. Juicy is an appropriate term to use at this point. The flavour was surprisingly fresh for a Sierra Nevada beer, with a good bitter front opening for a sugary malt backig. At first taste even a little bit coarse; all bitter mandarin and lemon skins before it softens out more fleshy orange or tangerine thereafter. A waxy bitterness gets left behind, but that's not to say that there isn't a residual malt sweetness throughout. 

So there you have it, for now at least. There may be more of this sort in the future, as I gradually rediscover lost notes from beers long since swallowed by the abyss.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

#254: Teeling Good

Yes, I know, whiskey. The thing is, I don't just drink beer and before Christmas I had the chance to go to a Teelings whiskey tasting with work, and it felt a damned shame not to turn booze into blog.

Thanks to the nature of the event there was a good deal of marketing storytelling and it was here that I learned an admittedly common-knowledge and interesting fact; the Teelings were distilling at Cooley before Cooley was sold to Beam, and, crucially, the family took with them the old whiskeys that were ageing in Cooley at the time. This whiskey was then bottled and sold as Teelings; thus, the phoenix on the label. It's worth remembering that all the whiskeys are bottled at 46% and non-chill filtered. The Single Grain is not caramel coloured for certain, the others I simply don't know; I would assume the same.

Anyway, we started with the Single Grain, but I'm not going to write about that now; I have a bottle of my own that I'm going to de-construct on my own time, because I call the shots.

We moved on then to the Small Batch, the regular release. This is aged in Nicaraguan rum barrels and has a mild, sweet nose that echoes the previous inhabitant of the barrel. It's surprisingly fruity on the palate, with citrus and floral notes playing on a vanilla base layer. 46% and a very good standard everyday whiskey. Supposedly it's good in cocktails, but I'm not barbaric enough to find out. It makes a very pleasant sipper.

The Poitín was next, and we were reliably informed that this is in fact the Small Batch from above, pre-ageing; essentially new make spirit. It's a blend of malt and grain, and gives a wonderfully soft floral nose. Apple and macerated cherries, raisins and blackberries with caramel and rose petal notes make cursory appearances too. Juicy and ripe stewed apple and Bramley apple jam play the biggest roles on the palate, and the whole thing is bizzare but tasty without the warmth of the wood. 

Next up was the brand spanking new Single Malt, which was being tasted for the very first time outside of Whiskey Live! (this was October, remember). The experience here is more refined and balanced with citrus and tropical fruit playing against spice notes on a warm vanilla and chocalate base layer. The finish has plenty of lingering orange and lemon flourishes, and the experience is at once invigorating and cosy.

We finished the night on the Vintage Reserve 21 Year Old Single Malt. The interesting variable in this expression is the inclusion of Sauternes barrels in the make-up, as well as the use of peated barley - around 3%, apparently. There is a peaty nose too; nothing too intense or phenolic, just a layer of blue turf smoke under the tropical fruit, pineapple, citrus and slightly tart green apple that form the flesh of the aroma. It's beautifully complex, with biscuity vanilla sweetness, toffee, peach and a proper wood character at first, along with the light smokiness that subsides to allow bubblegum sweetness to round things out. There's no sharp sting, just warm, smooth and drinkable whiskey that, with the aid of the peated barley, stays engaging throughout.

The verdict: the Small Batch is a great whiskey, and with a similar price to the typical Irish 'house' whiskeys it blows those right out of the water. As such, well worth the purchase. The Poitín was fascinating to try alongside the Small Batch to see the full effect of the wood ageing, and is delicious in its own right, but I reckon I'd take any of the others over it. Both of the Single Malts were great, but I don't think you get enough bang for your buck with the Vintage Reserve. The best buys, then, would be the Small Batch and Single Malt, though I'm not including the Single Grain in that.

Notes on the Single Grain are forthcoming, but suffice to say for now that it is absolutely worth the buy too.

Monday, 19 January 2015

#253: Celebration Libation

I've long been enamoured with the doppelbock, but Ayinger's Celebrator has long evaded me. Thankfully, a bottle found its way to me in a suitcase from Glasgow over Christmas, and it didn't disappoint.

Celebrator is dark mahogany in colour with an off-white, tiny-bubbled head and instantly gives the nose some serious apples. Red apple syrup, toffee covered apple and rum and raisin pudding make for an appropriately wintry aroma. The palate gets much of the same treatment, but runs through the gamut of doppelbock flavours too; rum-soaked dark fruits, raisins, candied apple, toffee and chocolate malts and a lingering impression of blackberries and cherry. The complexity is great despite the mere 6.7% ABV, and compares favourably to the likes of Doppel-Hirsch, wonderful though that is.

A fine beer by any standards, and definitely one to seek out and enjoy, as ever, with as much mature Gouda as you can shovel onto the lower portion of your face.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

#252: Thirsty Like the Wolf

Like The White Hag, Wicklow Wolf stormed into action with a full range of bottled beers in 2014, and I tried my best to get the lot. Alas, the porter evaded me, but that will be pinned on when it next crosses my path.

The first I had was the IPA, and these days breweries live and die by their IPA, or if there isn't any, their pale ale. The good news for Wicklow Wolf is that this one makes a good first impression. Punchy citrus galore is what greets the nose, with orange and lemon marmalade leading the bittersweet charge. Candied citrus skins (like the ones you put in your Christmas pudding) grapefruit and pungent peach all make appearances too, and with time, the nose becomes even more like confected mandarin or mango. Mouth watering stuff. The flavour is mouth watering too, with a potent bitterness of orange pith and grapefruit shining above a lightly sweet backbone. There's an ever so slightly sugary element to the Starburst fruitiness on show, but nothing that detracts from the impact of the beer. A very good start from the Wolf, with a 6.2% IPA that shows plenty of balance and drinkability while not skimping on flavour.

The American Amber was next, and just like the IPA, it seems like the real deal right from the off. Juicy, bitter hopping is the first stop on the aroma, with sweet lime and grapefruit rounding out the sharpness some. It opens the same way on the palate, with grapefruit peel and caramel biscuit following up, before a lingering, grain husk finish. The impression left on the mouth is that of an orange zest biscuit, whatever that is. It's not a million miles from the IPA, though it shows a more recessive hop profile and a grainier, 'dirtier' malt body. As an amber it is more Amber Ella than Amber Adventure, but is not quite as bold and delicious as the former while proving much more exciting than the latter.

Locavore Blonde came third, and like White Gypsy's Emerald a while back, it is made from 100% Irish ingredients - hops 'n all. A hazy gold, orangey sort of blonde this is, and what at first seemed like an innocent and fresh nose turned out to be a citrusy mustiness, with melon and softly sweet bubblegum all playing their own subdued roles. It's just as light to taste, but nowhere near the almost limpid Emerald. Digestive biscuit forms the bones of the beer, and the highlights are all crunchy, herbal, leafy stuff with a touch of lemon sorbet. Perhaps the least memorable of the beers, though it serves as a perfectly sinkable and more impressive all-Irish effort than the Emerald.

The last I had of the range was the Kentucky Common. The ever reliable Wikipedia describes a well-made Kentucky Common as 'an easy-drinking, slightly sour brown ale'. It's certainly brown, and the aroma is lightly smoky with sweet caramel and light milk chocolate forming the base. There's a flash of rye bread, as well as some slight coppery sharpness and spicy, herbal qualities. Unsurprisingly, the taste is malt-forward. Subdued Yorkshire toffee, milk chocolate and caramel malt offer a fairly plain backbone with a soft roasted bitterness performing the only lead duties. Of the purported sourness there is no sign. Like the Locavore, there just isn't a lot going on, but rather curiously, it turned out to be the quickest drink of the four. The smooth milky texture and lukewarm malt sweetness probably helped that a lot, but it was far too easy to go through the half litre. This would be a great option for a sessioner, if we didn't already have a plethora of gorgeous session beers in this country. 

One thing's for certain though; with no proper dud in the bunch Wicklow Wolf are the real deal, and they've surely brewed Ireland's best ever Kentucky Common.

EDIT: The porter appears as if from nowhere to answer my call and take its place alongside its stablemates. Black Perle is its name, and it's another goodun. It pours black with a reassuringly dark head and immediately produces a rich aroma of nutty, cold coffee. Chocolate fruit and nut - not unlike Plain Porter - form most of the basis of both the nose and palate, with a bitter, burnt grain bite at the finish. It's cocoa milk smoothness makes it surprisingly quenching. A good, sinkable porter that keeps the Wolf's ball up.