Thursday, 10 May 2018

#351: Mother Derp

Summer is upon us, which in Ireland means it's nearly springtime, which means it's time for saison. This from Glazen Toren arrived in the shop last year alongside three or four stablemates, and is presented in an attractive and only slightly annoying paper wrapping. 

Saison Dupont is still pretty much my touchstone for the style and, as well as matching its abv of 6.5%, Saison d'Erpe-Mere has a similar white pepper-laced wheat biscuit character. This is further improved by a big, pillowy and fluffy body, enhancing those estery qualities before finishing peppery and dry. 
This is endlessly drinkable, like a saison should be, even if that abv would suggest otherwise.

In a completely different vein of saison is Northern Monk's Patrons Project 7.01, a DDH Saison. I was hooked by the label, which is as good a reason to buy a thing as any. What I didn't know until I had the beer in my glass and the label peeled back for info is that this is a New England saison. IPA had it coming, but who knew they would do this to a saison. As such, the beer pours pale and milky as you'd like and gives plenty of sweet and thick citrus fruit, as well as  the also anticipated savoury edge that has flashes of wild garlic. However, these boffins know what they are doing and the Wallonian yeast brings maturity in the form of pepper and, more importantly, does a great job drying the beer up and keeping it sharp and bright above its dank depths.
New England is not really the place I want my saison to be going but, for all my aversion to Brewer's Armpit™, this works rather well and puts to the sword many recent exercises in gluey, sweaty dankness chucked together by the best and brightest in modern craft brewing.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

#350: Golden Stones

Alongside Stone Berlin's now more ubiquitous presence in Ireland, a couple of special Californian mothership stragglers were presented last year by Four Corners.

First among them was their Imperial Russian Stout, 2016 edition. It proclaims decadence and luxury and makes a good fist of that with its weight and heft, but the general flavour leaves a bit to be desired; liquorice is the main effect, underlined by a less pleasant overwrought and overcooked coffee. Bitter dark chocolate and folds of sweet malt do their best to round it out but it never strays too far from harshness. Despite this, it does remain drinkable and was very much drank.

I had better results from Old Guardian 2016, their semi-classic barleywine brewed with Pekko hops, a new one on me.  They worked too, if the Bigfoot-esque nose is anything to go by; burnt caramel and brown sugar form the core of a beer otherwise healthily spritzed with the orange zest and spicy resin of an American west coast hop profile. On further tasting that demerara sugar does thicken up to something a bit more complex and malty adding satisfactory weight and balance without seeming too sweet. A rock solid American barleywine is the result, resplendent with crystal clear red complexion and a thick slice of cream, looking every bit as delicious as it tastes.

The barleywine is one to pick up if there are any more extant in the wild, while the stout may actually have benefited from some time to smooth out its harsher edges.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

#349: The Mule

I mentioned in an earlier post that a handful of beers made it home with me from London in November, all of them cans, all of them plucked hastily form the fridges in Mother Kelly's.

Yes, I went to Mother Kelly's and didn't write about it. When we arrived on what I foolishly thought would be a quiet Tuesday evening in mid November, the hangar-like space of the place was heaving. Standing room only, then. Drinks for non drinkers weren't particularly exciting, so just the half for me - a characteristically robust De Molen stout, whose name I forget. It was a surprise when it arrived smoky; I'm A-OK with smoked beers and smoked porters especially, but, like my love for Ardbeg, there's a time and place and mood for such a thing. Not loving the beer and very much not loving standing awkwardly in that broad strip of open space in front of the bar, we grabbed the cans and left after a few unsatisfying sips. I hope to be back, preferably just after opening time.

Much better luck was had with the beer muled home, and first among them was Vibrant Forest's Citra pale ale. There's a lovely fresh, piney zing that screams textbook Citra, gloriously clean, until I dump a load of muddier dregs in, which seemed to add a slightly meatier, savoury edge to proceedings. Still, the goodness is bright and sharp enough to keep it tasty throughout.

Even better is Sweet Leaf from Wylam. At the time, I noted it was easily among the best of that sort of IPA that I'd ever had, that sort being the oaty, dank expressions that may or may not mention New England on the label. This revelation is because it doesn't have the negative (to me) aspects of a 'dank' IPA; no sweat, no hot garlic, no acid buzz on the palate. Instead, it remains an incredibly juicy lemon with bursts of tropical mango and peach that's way too easy to put away. In my absence, ProAddition begain importing some Wylam beer, though I'm not sure if this is among them. If it is, it comes highly recommended.

I didn't really know what Beerbliotek's No Style Without Substance was when I picked it up - if I'd read the Imperial Cascadian Dark Ale on the can I probably wouldn't have bothered.
Lucky I didn't, then, because this is marvellous. There's no harshness or awkward clashing of black rubbery roast with heavy hopping; the malt plays like a superbly smooth imperial stout, with silky milk chocolate punctuated rather delightfully with a burst of lime and lychee, playing soft and warming up beautifully by the fireside. It may just as well be an extravagantly late/dry-hopped imperial stout, if not for the lack of any aggressive roast or coffee stuff. An excellent recalibration of my black IPA/CDA outlook.

Black Iris' Lost Art of Keeping Secrets brings us back to regular old IPA, and it's rather good, though it does have some of the aspects I don't like about NEW IPA. Those are expressed in this instance as heavy malt with a twang of acid, but there's still plenty of tropical and stone fruit stuff to enjoy. 

Last and, probably, to be fair, least, is UnBarred's Porter, brewed at Missing Link. Simcoe cryo hops are bragged about on the label but I just couldn't find them; the main effect is of a rather amateurish, homebrewed porter the likes of which many rural startups in Ireland are producing - think weak coffee, light milk chocolate powder and an ever-so-slightly rubbery underbelly. It wasn't terrible, but nor was it good enough to commit to the entire can.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

#348: Brewski-fiction in Outer Space

YellowBelly have long been absent from this blog, despite being bloody good brewers, and while their marketing has always been distinctively attractive, like a real sucker the two latest sci-fi themed cans reeled me in.

Hopped in Space came first, an IPA of 5.9% that pours rather dark, muddy and amber, though it was a bit jostled before opening. The nose leans toward the danker side of things but show plenty of mango, orange and slightly savoury-edged hop juiciness. It's very pleasant, and this largely follows through on the palate, though a wobbly finish carries you slightly toward chemical funk. It's not enough to ruin the experience for me, and matters even less as the beer goes on. The bitterness is light at first but builds up to a zesty, waxy citrus scrubbing, and that's fine by me too. The malt supplies some nice, light sugars to back all of this up, without showing much of the complex grain bill behind it. Nice stuff, this, and a good blend of the current, lo-fizz murk-juice trend in IPA with the (slightly) older fashioned pine and zest buzz of west coast IPA.

Back on Earth, but in a 1982 version of 2019, is Electric Dreams. At 4% it's much lighter than the the above and pours many shades lighter too; still hazy, but a nice pale yellow-gold. There was no fear of the hops here either though, and a lightning strike of lemongrass sears across the aroma first, perhaps unexpectedly for an Amarillo and Simcoe hop bill. More expected is the soft stone fruit and overripe citrus juiciness alongside a rather contrasting clean grass and grainy backbone. This graininess makes for a pleasant presence on tasting - the fullsome, clean straw of a good helles making a perfect stage for that wonderfully expressive hop profile. This leads to a dry finish and leaves an almost mint-like tingly bitterness in the afters, mopping up all that juice. I'm quite impressed with this, offering a convincing 'juicy IPA' buzz on a meagre 4% budget, with all the refreshing drinkability that entails. It almost makes you think that beers that endeavour to mimic fruit juice maybe shouldn't be 8% and thick as shit.

If these two are still in the wild, especially the fresher second, do try.

Monday, 12 February 2018

#347: Dog Walking

Getting married in November means you'd need to travel a fair distance from Cork to see that big hot thing in the sky so the de facto honeymoon brought us to London for a few days. It wasn't a beer trip, of course, but on the first night of our stay in the slick citizenM in Shoreditch, we discovered that the closest eatery of interest was a Brewdog outpost.
We arrived in the hope of pizza marinara, what we got was much better; two hearty and filling seitan burgers with chunky chips. In a city with plenty of highly specialised vegan restaurants and cafés, it was quite surprising to find what became my favourite food of the trip in a Brewdog bar.

Her seitanic burger was accompanied by a Punk IPA, while I took the Proto DIPA for a whirl. It's not particularly expressive in terms of hopping, with rather light citrus swallowed by a bigger tutti-frutti and mango sweetness. It remains drinkable and pleasantly balanced throughout, but doesn't do too much to excite the palate otherwise.

The next day, in another Brewdog bar, I opted for a guest bottle from lauded newcomers Lost and Grounded, their tripel, Apophenia. It's an intriguing one, showing plenty of white peppery saison stuff with spiced orange and a good whack of liquorice. I had to check the label a number of times to see if there was star anise in this but, no, just an exceptionally herbal and spicy yeast profile. This doesn't overpower the beer at any stage, with a light caramel sweetness tying everything down. What a wonderful sipper this is, one of those rare beers that has me reassessing and trying to break down the flavour with every single mouthful.

Proto SIPA
And what a horrible fall from grace the next beer took me on. Brewdog's own Proto Tangerine SIPA hasn't set the beer internet ablaze with angry reviews so I can only assume my glass came from a bum keg, and by Jesus was it bum. Gross, mildly cheesy, hot and plasticky, vaguely medicinal and, lo, Exputex. It was time to leave and I wan't too attached to the couple of pound sterling I'd handed over so I cut my losses and left.

I mentioned pizza marinara, didn't I? Wandering touristly around Soho we accidently found ourselves looking at Pizza Pilgrims in the charming Kingly Court, and we got the Neapolitan classic here. To go with it, the relatively local Brixton Atlantic APA. As American pale ales go it's a rather sound one, with more bread and cereal than is currently the fashion with this type of thing. The label speaks of C-hops and I find more grass and earth than I'd expect, but it remains tasty, easy-going stuff, just about right for pizza.

The next day in yet another Brewdog bar, this time in Camden, it was finally time to dip into Tokyo, pouring on keg. I was pleasantly surprised at how it remains very much an imperial stout, and actual beer, even at 16.5%. If I hadn't read online (much later) that jasmine and cranberries go into this beer, I certainly wouldn't have been able to tell by taste alone; shovels upon shovels of dark malt richness playing sweet, sugary, lightly bitter and vaguely savoury versions of chocolate, coffee, burnt toast, figs and raisins and yet more, thicker dark chocolate mousse. Most impressive of all is the total lack of boozy heat (I mean it's warming, sure) or headache fuel. Wonderful stuff that reinvigorates my interest in Brewdog's big stouts, something I always thought they did rather well.
Mr President

There was time to kill and more beer to kill it with so I went for Mr. President, a DIPA, also from Brewdog. This somehow contrived to be sweeter than Tokyo, lacking much in the way of balance but offering pleasant candied pineapple and Skittle sweetness instead. It's fine, it's grand, you know yourself. Like a many a beer these days, you do it once and you move on.

Some night in the midst of all this there briefly lived a can of Modern Times' Lomaland saison, back at the hotel. The spice is mild with lemon and honey syrup on Hobnobs taking centre stage, though it at least remains fairly dry in the finish. It's OK overall, if a bit burpy, and I couldn't finish the can.

Right downstairs in the lobby they were selling an NEIPA from Howling Hops in the bottle, and when I got it back to the room I found it had plenty of fruit, sure, but seemed to have left the rest of hopping work behind. There's no zest, so sharpness, no life, no dankness, no sweaty armpits, no garlic marmalade, no good, no bad. It's rather plain in that way, a flat journey through a watered-down strawberry-and-orange juice satellite town of NEIPA.

A handful of quite lovely beers travelled home with me, and those will follow soon.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

#346: Woodye?

I've long been a fancier of Dirty Bastard, the simple, sweet-toothed purveyor of syrupy, raisiny malts and brown sugar, but only got around to trying the more famed and fabled wooded version recently.

Of course, Backwoods Bastard opens with a whack of vanilla and wood syrup, though thankfully there's more than that to taste. It does stay in the realm of caramel toffee and malted biscuit, all smothered in that heady bourbon syrup. It's an enjoyably sweet and boozy nightcap, but it does harbour suggestions of the kind of thing that put me off bourbon barrel aged beers a long time ago - that harsh, overpowering sweetness that makes a beer taste flavoured, not matured or aged. That's just my taste, but I feel I find that problem a lot less in bigger, bolder beers like imperial stouts or particularly robust barleywines. Perhaps a more balancing hop bitterness or a more bracing roasted malt character is what I need before I start fully appreciating bourbon.

But then, what do I know. This is still a nice enough beer, even if I do prefer the philistine simplicity of it's smaller brother.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

#345: Octoberfest 2017

Lost behind the sofa of time were my notes from Franciscan Well's October Beer Festival, and it's here that we start 2018's blogging proper.

The October Beer Fest is an interesting one in the Franciscan Well; in contrast to the other two annual beer festivals hosted in Easter and (just last weekend) in January/February, all beers for October are imported. This keeps the beer list relevant even now, months later, as the festival afforded me the opportunity to try a number if imports I'd seen around in bottled form, but had yet to investigate.

First among these is St Bretta from Crooked Stave, this version apparently brewed with pomelo. It arrives a slightly hazy yellow-gold with a thin slice of foam and, as is probably worth considering de rigueur for any wild ale, smelling of citrus and sour wheat. It's rather easy to put away too; that squeeze of acidic lemon juice plays of slightly waxy citrus bitterness and pear drop sweetness to give it a soft drink approachability, albeit with a wonderfully dry finish. With some time and warmth these characteristics meld to form a rounder sort of melon flavour, but the whole thing stays light as a breeze. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff that's well worth picking up in the (better priced) bottle.
Duchesse de Bourgogne

Duchesse de Bourgogne
is one that I've conspired to miss for much longer, a beer that often gets mentioned in the same conversation as the likes of Rodenbach and Liefman's Goudenband. Like those beers it's a dark red-brown pour with a surprisingly thick nose; sweet, perhaps creamy, maybe even edging towards diacetyl nuttiness. This makes more sense - and is more pleasant - on tasting. There is no sharp vinous fruit at first, but chocolate, leather and tart blackberry and raspberry jam. It's quite delicious actually, and that first impression on the nose dissipates quickly. Again it is shockingly easy to drink with its mild tartness and excellent stewed-apple dessert stylings, and once again I am sold that this is a bottle to consider. It may lack the seriousness and complexity of its perhaps more decorated Flemish counterparts but Duchesse is a lot of fun.

Staying wild we get to Buxton and Stillwater's Superluminal collaboration. A sour IPA from the producers of the wonderful Trolltunga and wild ale producers with the pedigree of Stillwater Artisanal? Sign me up. In the event, the beer is more determined to be sour than anything else, consisting of binary threads of citric acid and sweet grapefuit syrup. It's soft and squeaky clean, and doesn't really offer anything else besides those two threads, so I am not inspired to reinvest. 

Queue de Charrue (not a tripel)
The next trio were all new to me, beers that can't readily be got in this country in any form. First up is Queue de Charrue, I'm guessing the 'vieille' or 'oud bruin' version. I don't know quite how 'oud' or 'vieille' this is, but it's certainly brownish. In fact, it's more red, and this is true of the flavour too; it's an intstantly sort-of weird cherry and marzipan thing with that sweet-not-sour sherbert you get in a Double Dip. Bizarrely, this is called a tripel, of apparently 9%. A check of RateBeer listings for Vanuxeem (the brewer responsible, a client brewer) only lists one such beer and that is indeed a Queue de Charrue Tripel of 9% that is characteristically blonde. There is a Queue de Charrue Rouge, which is at least close to the ABV at 8.7%, while the Oud Bruin is a mere 5.4%. All this goes to say that I have no idea what I drank, and the Franciscan Well had no idea what they were pouring. Annoying to say the least.

Boulevard Tank 7 has a sort of fame of its own as a classic American Belgian-style farmhouse ale. I receive it with trepidation, as it looks wan and smells of lager skunk. There's more interesting things happening on the palate, with weak Belgian vagueries giving way to TCP and Cuvée de Medicine Cabinette. It's also kind of slick and sticky, smothering any chance that the admittedly attendant soft spice and esters had of expressing themselves properly. Poor enough stuff.

Though nothing was as poor as the Gulden Draak Brewmaster's Edition, aged in whiskey barrels no less. I still have a soft spot for regular old Gulden Draak and Piraat from my earlier beer drinking days as simple and pleasant beers but sweet Jesus this is awful. A stonking buttercream festival of dismay; a sugary booze bath without the hedonistic joy; a masterclass in diacetyl sadism. Just don't.

The accumulated experience of those last three beers drove me out of the Well's yard and down the quays to the Bierhaus for some palate cleansing. There was a festival happening here too, focused entirely on sour and wild beers.
First up was Oud Beersel Oude Vieux Lambiek, not geuze. Although, unsurprisingly, it tastes and plays rather like geuze. It does have a light sparkle, as well as a powerful whack of sour lemon sherbert and wheat. Simple, top quaffing stuff.

There was savage value to be had, especially with a Beoir membership card, from the cask engine, pouring Otterbank's Salubrious Summer Stout. This 10.4%-er came appropriately slick and smooth and oozing (in a good way) chocolate mousse, hazelnut praline, wood and milk chocolate. It doesn't hit the heights of their Brett Brux stout (I don't know if it's even been bretted or aged so comparison may be unfair) but it's terrifyingly easy to drink. There's no tartness, so I needed to get back on festival spec with the last beer of the day.

This was Barbera, from Hof Ten Dormaal, a wild ale with grape must, presumably from Barbera. The bones of this are Payottenland-ish; that typical sour-citrus-wheat thing, but there is a definite vinous thread running through, with whispers of blackcurrant and twigs hiding in the background. It was quite delicious, but as my only experience with a grape-must beer (big in Italy, I think) comparisons are impossible to make.

The glass empty, I left.