Thursday, 4 February 2016

#308: Smoked Alaska

This is a straggler from what can loosely be called the Christmas stash - a string of beers accumulated over the winter with no real regard for the fact that I couldn't possibly consume them all on or even near the day itself. 
As it happened, this one hit the glass this past weekend.

It is Alaskan Smoked Porter, somewhat of an American craft beer classic these days. Dating from 2012, this one didn't quite stink of smoke upon pouring its inky black and bubbly off-white head, at least, not in the sense I expected. It is smoky, but in a rather ordinary, pleasantly mild Irish dry stout way. This stands up to tastebud scrutiny, the palate treated as it is to a smooth, silky and medium-bodied dry porter with washes of mild tobacco leaf, soft, sweet milk chocolate and, right at the finish, a haunting flash of rauchbier meatiness. There's some complex dark fruit reminiscent of a much bigger imperial stout, but nothing to tax the 'buds very much; this one stays very much in the realm of the sensible.
For all the craft beer cred attached to this cap, what you get is a beer more subtle than supercharged, more brains than brawn, more contemplative than cocky.
I'll take that over a hot stinky boozebomb any day.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

#307: Canned Shenanigans

Rascal's Brewing announced themselves with their Ginger Porter in 2013 and have been producing a shapeshifting range of draught since then. At last their beers have been packaged for takeaway consumption in the form of these three cans, new arrivals to many outelts around the country in the past couple of weeks.

I start with Yankee White IPA, listed on the Rascal's website as one of their seasonal world hop series. Hopefully this is now a regular beer, because it is absolutely fantastic.
A clear, pale gold it pours with a small white head, and the aroma is a fresh and clean blend of lime and grapefruit, juicy orange and an ever-so-slight witbeer wheatiness. It may have been a cold, January afternoon, but with the sun shining on and out of the glass, it felt like July. To taste it's a dry, coarse, wheaty grain bill to start, with bitter citrus backing this up immediately. There's definitely a good fist of wit-like spiciness, despite the absence of any actual wit spice - it's soft and full yet drinkable, and has flashes of mellow pepper and candied lemon rind. It strays from bright, US citrus fruit to a very European crunchy greens thing, all the while remaining dry, super clean and eminently drinkable.
Seriously good stuff this.

I followed with Big Hop Red, a beer I first had at last year's cask festival at the Franciscan Well. It's dark copper and on the nose seems a bit more rough on the edges than the Yankee, offering caramel and orange and not a whole lot else. Despite the name it's not hoppy in a very big way, but it does offer orange and... well, orange, atop a chewy caramel fudge base. What I don't appreciate is the slightly rubbery, burnt bitterness we usually get from a black IPA. In the end it's better than the blandest of Irish reds, but far from the punchy, hop-forward red I was expecting, or indeed the flavourful version I'd previously had.

To finish is Rascal's flagship beer, their Ginger Porter. Like any good porter this one's black and just off-white and gives light roast and milk chocolate on the nose. It's sweet, here, and the aroma suggest anything of the ginger. Ditto on the palate; this is seriously silky, light and drinkable, and plays friendly, thin milk chocolate notes against a lovely sweet and spicy fresh ginger backdrop. The ginger is mild, measured and mannerly without seeming limp or lost, so gingerphobes needn't worry about being. This is very deftly put together beer, a million miles away from the hamfisted spiced beers we come across every autumn or winter.

All are worthy of the effort and the money of buying them, but to this drinker, the Yankee shines as the crowning achievement. 
Bonus points are awarded here for being easily the prettiest cans in the country.

Friday, 29 January 2016

#306: Going Big

It is perhaps the most beautifully named beer I've ever come across, and it's not half bad either.

It is, of course, Howrye, a rye wine from Brown Paper Bag Project, brewed at Ramsgate in Kent. At 10% it pours a slightly hazy but most clear red, and smells unsurprisingly sweet at first. Orange, toffee, and slightly boozy, it could have been a hot soupy mess like Porterhouse's Louder*, but it stays good and enticing. It's sweet at first to taste too, with caramel, toffee, boozy orange pith and a hint of a flash of a smidge of bitter citrus skins at the very finish. Bittersweet and intense is how it goes. When I consider the contribution the rye has made I start to find little pockets of peppery heat, but I' eventually forced to conclude that this is largely the power of suggestion and instead I'm feeling the only half-hidden heat of the alcohol throughout. 

Rye fetishists will either lament the lack of rye influence or immediately and gleefully detect the influence that I'd missed. 
Who knows?

*it should be noted that Louder is much, much better if left alone until well after its best before date.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

#305: Sennesible

These three from Brasserie de la Senne arrived shortly before Christmas and, despite the prodigious efforts one makes to drink everything new that crosses one's path, it took a while for the trio to find space in the fridge.
My previous experience with de la Senne is limited to the delicious Manneken Penn and the nasty (at least in that instance) Taras Boulba, so this could have gone either way.

First up is Zinnebir, not really billed as anything and suggesting only a general Belgian blondness in the glass; it's hazy and smells fairly plainly of yeast, wet grain and husky wheat. To taste it is unsurprisingly dry, bitter, and coarse, but remains quite drinkable for all that. Amid the folds of that typical Belgian grist you can just about pick apart some lemongrass and white peppercorns, which liven things up a bit - just in the nick of time too, this gets a bit boring halfway through. The only other excitement is the hint of fleshy lemon and grapefruit that appears at the very end of the long, lingering bitterness. 
Not a world beater then, but not bad either.

Brusseleir is the black IPA of the bunch, though it doesn't pour so much black as a dark cola brown/red. There are hints of astringency on the nose with burnt coffee and toast, as well as touch of uncleanliness - this really isn't promising much, though I accept I didn't pour carefully enough to prevent a load of yeast sediment filling the glass. Thankfully things are much cleaner to taste, and instead of that harsh, grating, roast bitterness that a black IPA sometimes throws up you get a soft, sweet-accented beer with a rather straightforward cola, coffee and juicy orange profile. Things stay prey low key throughout, and while that doesn't reflect a fantastic return for the 8% ABV, points for subtlety and drinkability must be awarded.

Completing the trio is Jambe de Bois, another 8%-er, this time a tripel. It's a relatively clear pale gold and has almost the same aroma as the Zinnebir, all yeasty, gristy coarseness, though without any wonkiness. Much unlike the Zinnebir, though, is the opening of soft, pillowy coriander and clove, and things only get cosier as it warms to spiced honey and lemon drops. This is by far the most enjoyable glass of the three, and should you find room for only one of these in your fridge, let it be the Jambe de Bois.

So, none of them reach the heaven's high of Manneken Penn, but they are far from the all time low of  the dodgy Taras Boulba linked above. Sensible.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

#304: Old and New

Pannepot is my kind of beer; as a bit of a simpleton, if it ain't hoppy then it may as well be thick, chewy and sweet. So when aged versions Pannepot Reserva 2010 and Grand Reserva 2010 are made available to me they seem destined to be hits.

Into the cupboard they went and having shown the respectful few weeks waiting, it was eventually time to break them out. Naturally the Reserva came first.

Much like the base Pannepot, the Reserva is a near-black, brown-tinted affair wearing a stout's cream head. Sheer notes of phwoar hit first on the nose; the complexity unfolds in waves revealing leather and oak first, then vanilla and tobacco leaf, then figs and raisins, then spiced marzipan. Not bad, to understate it grossly. The taste does this sort of backwards, in that it's much more orientated toward the almost-boozy rum-soaked dark fruit side of things, turning to demerara sugar and finally to slightly vinous, port-like wood and raisins. For all its 10% it drinks stupidly smooth and easy, and as much as I love it, I feel I'd be exaggerating if I said I noticed a marked improvement in this from layman's Pannepot.

I have a similar problem, if it could be called a problem, with Pannepot Grand Reserva, in that as beautiful as it turns out to be, I can't tell if it's any better for its apparent aggrandizement. Still, that's not really a worry for a seeker of delicious beer. Thankfully I do have some slightly different buzzwords with which to describe the beer so my integrity as a taster is intact. This one looks blacker than the other, and immediately smells surprisingly sweeter; dark, molasses-tinted toffee, raisins and Dutch pancake syrup (you know the one, not quite maple syrup and not quite golden syrup - candi syrup?) and blackcurrant jam. To taste it's yet another exclamation of success with woody maple syrup, chocolate raisins and chewy, slightly savoury malt and a touch of tawny port again forcing me to the conclusion that whatever De Struise do with Pannepot it kind of doesn't matter; you still get a winning beer.

Now, if one of those bizarrely specific principled criminals out there put a gun to my head and told to pick one from the three I'd go with the Reserve, as this one seemed at the time to have the most wonderfully complex mix of aroma and flavor. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Whatever the mileage, though, you should be heading in one direction: Pannepot.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

#303: Milking It

I begin 2016 on The Drunken Destrier in much the same way as I began 2015; with a thumping great big imperial stout.

Last year it was the ridiculously well put together Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout from Goose Island, a beer that managed to tick all the flavour and texture boxes without destroying the palate or turning into a sticky mess. This year it is the turn of To Øl's Jule Mælk to usher in a calender year of beer blogging on this site, hopefully the most interesting one yet; with travel plans made and the cupboard filling up, I'm sure of this.

I was also pretty sure about this 15% milk stout, bestowed upon the world by the technicians at Lochristi, and expected it to be perfect fare to sign off on Christmas night with its promise of decadence and complexity.
The pour does as much to reaffirm this than anything; an unctuous absolute black with a tight, creamy cap, this looks dense. Not far behind comes the aromatics oozing from the glass with thick dark and milk chocolate, rich, roasted malt and, unsurprisingly, a potent alcoholic ghost peeking around the corner. It's much the same to taste, with a beautifully silky, full, malty chocolate mousse calling most of the shots, only allowing flashes of salted caramel through and, at the finish, a touch f tartness. The whole thing plays more sweet than bitter and, while it's certainly interesting drinking to begin with, there actually doesn't appear to be a whole lot going on to justify its 15%.

Not quite a clanger then - at 15% it manages to avoid any notions of sickly, cloying sweetness - but not quite a top tier imperial stout either. Which, reflecting on the reasonable €10.99 for 375ml price tag, seems about right. If I encounter one in the wild again, I might just be able to persuade myself that having one sit for a year or two might be worth the punt.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

#302: Golden Pints 2015

And so we come to the end of another calendar year on The Drunken Destrier. To my estimation 2015 has been the most successful year of beering on the blog if not for the volume consumed (which was considerable) than for the quality of the beers living in my notebooks and, eventually, here on the site.
With that, we get to the 2015 Golden Pints, an abridged version with only the 'main' categories considered.

Best Irish Draught Beer
An narrow victory for Kinnegar's Crossroads, a properly juicy, punchy, punget grapefruit and fresh citrus rind U.S. IPA that sparkled on draught and was almost as good in the bottle, though the take-home option suffered from ever-so-slightly wobbly grain twangs at the finish. Still, on tap it is a near-perfect example of a high impact, bittersweet U.S. IPA. Very close behind is Trouble Brewing's Fallen Idol, and close behind that is O Brother's Bonita, both incredibly good examples of bold, hoppy, black beers.

Best Irish Bottle/Can
We actually have a few cans on the island now so that part of the question is now valid, but the best still comes in glass. For me it's a dead heat between Eight Degrees' Polar Vortex and Galway Bay's Two Hundred Fathoms, both of which are stellar examples of their respective styles. For the record, the Eight Degrees entry is also fantastic on draught and, for what it's worth, KPA is the best Irish canned beer around.

Best Irish Cask Beer
Torc's 5 Malt Dark Ale made for a lovely, full but totally sessionable treat at the Franciscan Well's Winter and Cask Ales festival at the start of the year, but the big, juicy, surprisingly drinkable Hi Viz from Blacks was on the same bar on the day and seduced me into seconds, so that gets my vote. Another honorable mention here for Radikale's Radical Brew, a rye ale made with gin botanicals from Blackwater Distillery that shouldn't even be drinkable, let alone delicious.

Best Overseas Draught
As is likely to become a tradition here, my nominations for this category appear to all be ticks from my travels, and chief among those is Emelisse's Black and Tan Wild Turkey B.A. that came to me, of course, in Arendsnest in Amsterdam. Big, bold, and intense, yet never offensive, especially impressive when you're dealing with a potentially ruinous Bourbon cask.

Best Overseas Bottle/Can
This is easily the most congested category for me, and after a lot of deliberation I reluctantly pick a tie between Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout and two De Struise beers, Pannepot and XXX Reserva. I would have also put Pannepot Reserva and Grand Reserva in this category, but seeing as I've yet to elevate those notes to blog posts they can wait.

Pub of the Year
Galway Bay's new place The Beer Market is a wonderfully designed spot in Christchurch that offers the beer nerd a ridiculous amount of choice with their vast imported and local draught list. Sure, you can expect to pay for the privilege, but once you get the first couple in you'll start to feel like a swashbuckling beery adventurer to whom money is no object in the search for good beer.

I draw the curtains early here, and thank you folks for reading The Drunken Destrier this year.
You should all really do some actual work.