Wednesday, 30 May 2012

#33: The Perfect Nightcap?

Belgian ale really is, for me, the perfect nightcap. Pour me a Karmeliet or a Piraat any day of the week and it will be the perfect drink - no distractions, just sitting at the desk with the notebook and the beer, enjoying the fine fruits of someone's fine labour. As such, a beer that is actually called Nightcap (Slaapmutske in Dutch) should be pretty well suited to the job, which is why I picked up a bottle of the Slaapmutske Tripel in Abbot's recently. Well, that and the fact that the moon on the label is sporting a bitchin' cap. Either way, it's name and it's children's-book-illustration label promised a lovely Belgian ale to have before bed, and that's just my sort of thing.
The Slaapmutske Tripel sure pours like a nice nightcap - it's amber/honey tone and bubbly three finger head all remind me of the glorious Piraat (honestly, I'll shut up about it eventually). On the nose, however, it's much different. This smells less like the tripels I'm used to and more like a Pale Ale or IPA - fruity hops live here, and quite a few of them. Citrus and peel are balanced by the muted caramel and yeast maltiness you'd normally expect from a tripel, and it makes for an interesting bouquet. The taste is not much different, with orangey bitterness at the front and a sweet, malty finish. It's nice, but it's not as complex as I'd like. Well, either that or it's just hoppier than I'd like. It's got a medium to full body that does carry everything quite well, so you do get to enjoy the flavours. 
Overall, there's nothing really wrong with this beer, but I think the reason I didn't feel much about it is because I was expecting (and hoping for) something a bit more like an Abbey or Trappist tripel. All the same, it's definitely worth a go at the very least.

#32: Rochefort 8

After my recent flurry of Irish ales, I think it's fair to say I started missing Belgium. Belgian and Trappist ales are what really got me excited about beer and while it's nice to try a pint of local stuff, there's nothing quite like a glass of complex, fully flavoured and often strong Belgian nectar to finish the day. Granted, I'd had two glasses of Piraat on tap in the midst of my Irish ales, but it's  just not the same as opening the bottle and pouring yourself a masterpiece. 
As such, you can imagine my immense joy at finally deciding to show my Rochefort 8 a good time. The 10 was one of those beers that genuinely blew me away, and since then I've endeavoured to try the rest of the Rochefort range, as well as to keep a bottle of Rochefort 10 in the cupboard at all times. So far, I've failed in the latter, but seeing as it's a pretty accessible beer I don't think I need to stock up urgently.
Rochefort 8 is a, ahem, lighter drink than it's big brother, with 'only' 9.2% ABV. It pours a hazy brown with a two finger off-white head that lasts for yonks, and has lively carbonation. On the nose I got Belgian yeast with citrus, cherries and zesty fruit aromas, spicy bread malt, and after a while, caramel chocolate malt. It's also worth noting that I forgot to check my pour, so pretty much all the sediment was in the glass from the get go, which is why the Champagne-like yeast smells were a bit strong here. It didn't take much from the beer, but I would like to try it again without... The taste is incredible. Caramel maltiness right up the front with dark fruits, raisins and cherries in the middle and finish. Bread and yeast all the way through. The taste - as well as the mouthfeel - does peel off towards the very end, but that's no real harm. It's still delicious and the mouthfeel is still creamy and satisfying. Also, I can't help but enjoy the alcohol heat given by some of the stronger Belgians, and this one is no exception.
I will probably be trying this again, it's a brilliant beer, but I'm not too sure I'd pick it over the Rochefort 10. That being said, maybe I do need to try this without dumping in all the yeast at the very beginning.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

#31: Porterhouse No.2

A while back I promised I'd work my through the entire Porterhouse range, starting with Hop Head and Plain Porter, and here I am staying true to that promise. The next two beers I tried were Wrasslers XXXX stout and the Porterhouse Red. I was very excited by the Wrasslers, which I found surprising - I usually approach stouts and porters with nothing more than curiosity and a touch of hope. This one, however, changed my mind.
Wrasslers XXXX is supposedly brewed from the same recipe as Michael Collins' favourite drink made by Deasy's of Cork, back in the day, and if that's true, it's easy to see why the Big Fella went for this. It's pitch black and pours with a dark tan, creamy 2-3 fingers of head that leaves a sticky lace behind. Stunning. This is matched by the smell with dark fruits, smoky sweet malts and coffee all hitting the nose first, with medicinal, dark chocolate and Christmas pudding aromas developing as the beer warms up and you give it a swirl. Complex and inviting, to say the least. Chocolate and toffee are on the tongue too, with a caramel and fruit finish, and slight medicinal or liquorice hints at the back. Overall, the taste isn't extremely complex, but it's still delicious and has just enough layers to keep you very interested. It's strong and fully flavoured, a powerful stout, and the best beer from the Porterhouse that I've had yet.
Next up was the Porterhouse Red. I can't say I was too thrilled at the prospect of trying this, but then again, I don't think I've ever truly been inspired to drink an Irish Red. Still though, I've been surprised by beers in the past, and they all deserve a chance at least. It poured a crystal clear ruby red with tame carbonation and a finger of white head. On the nose, it was mildly hoppy with spice and grass, lightly malty with caramel sweetness, and on the whole just muted. There's nothing off going on in here, just nothing spectacular either. Or maybe there is, but you practically have to get your nose wet to smell it. The taste is not much different - muted all round, with a malty start and a bitter finish, as you'd expect. Fruit and pine were the most discernible flavours in here. The feel is smooth and light though, which makes this an easy beer to drink.
That's four down in the Porterhouse bottled range, with about the same to go, and so far the Wrasslers XXXX is the winner.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

#30: When Ya Get Drafted

Haven't posted in quite a while, and since my last one I've tried 5 new beers and one familiar beer on tap. I know, the excitement! Two of these were from the Porterhouse, whose range I am slowly working my way through. The other three were Irish ales that I had yet to try, and that I found on tap in the Crane Lane's new 'Crystal Bar', specializing in craft beer.
I hadn't been out in a while, and I was dying to go see what they had at the Abbot's Ale House, so you might imagine my excitement when I went in to see Piraat on tap, right there before me. This beer is one of the most impressive I've had so far, along with Rochefort 10, but I had hitherto only enjoyed it from the bottle. This Piraat was not drastically different, however. It was served cool for one, something I wouldn't do at home but hey, what the heck. Caramel, fruit and yeast dominated the aroma, and the gorgeous malty, nutty, caramel and honey flavours are all there too. I'd like to try this one again - it was delicious, but there was something different about it that makes me want to compare it to it's bottled brother. Maybe that was just the chill though. Either way, I'm desperately hoping they get this back in soon, it's stellar.
In the Crane Lane I had a beer that I really should have tried a long time ago - Eight Degrees Brewing's Howling Gale Ale. Very well balanced, with biscuit and caramel malts giving way to bitterness towards the finish, it's a solid beer, and fairly sessionable. One I'd come back to, and one that I will, seeing as I've a bottle of it tucked away in the cupboard.
The next two got me very excited, as I'd never seen them available to me before, although I'd heard of them. Waterford's Metalman Brewing already have a great reputation after being established in 2011, and they were recently awarded second and third place in Beoir's Beer of the Year awards, for Windjammer and Metalman Pale Ale respectively. Both of these were on tap in the Crane Lane, and it was Windjammer I opted for. This is their summer seasonal amber ale, and it is packed with flavour - you really can't help but be impressed with the fruit in this. Grapefruit is what I pegged first, with pineapple and citrus being hinted at too. This is all balanced nicely with the nut and biscuit malt notes that prevent it from becoming overpowering.
Finally, I tried a beer I'd never heard of before. It was Bruinette, from White Gypsy in Tipperary. This was tasty too, but for me those banana flavours hung around a bit too long. Honey, fruit and bread all make a brief and muted appearance, but the flavour seems altogether too concentrated in the banana zone - which is fine, if you're into that kind of thing. I would have preferred more balance in a beer like this.
Overall, three great Irish ales - from a selection of around 6 - on tap in a popular city bar, surely bodes well for the Irish craft beer landscape.

Monday, 14 May 2012

#29: Porterhouse No.1

I'm finally getting around to trying more Irish craft beer, this time in the form of two beers from the Porterhouse in Dublin, a very well established and respected craft beer institute in Ireland. Their reputation, along with the shocking realization that I was yet to try any of their wares is what drove to buy a small selection of their brews from Bradley's on North Main Street. They also stock the entire Eight Degrees selection, so you can expect notes on their whole range soon, along with more Porterhouse beers.

The first beer I tried was the Plain Porter. This is a 4.3% stout that does about everything a 4.3% stout should. It looks good with it's creamy tan head and transparent ruby-toned black, and it's aroma is typical of an Irish dry stout with smokey, roasted malts and coffee lording it over hinted toffee and chocolate notes. Bread malt and coffee dominate the palate, and chocolate becomes more potent as time goes on and the beer warms up. As for the feel, it's relatively light and it carries the flavours well, without being watery. 

Tasty stout, but not mind-blowing in any shape or form. I'll be looking forward to trying their Wrassler's XXXX stout for comparison.

The other beer was their India Pale Ale, Hop Head. It pours a clear dark blood orange with good carbonation and an off-white head that leaves decent lacing down the glass. Actually, it looks kind of purple in the light, which is really interesting... The aroma is of hops, would you believe. Citrus and grapefruit hit first, with pine and thyme in there too. It's fairly bitter to taste, with peel and herbal flavours in the front and subtle hints of toffee or caramel malt hiding out in the back. The body's very good, it's smooth and almost creamy - something I would not at all expect from this kind of beer. 

Enjoyable. A decent hops experience, if that's what you're after.

#28: The Devil is Dead

I recently picked up a 75cl bottle of Duvel for €3 in the Abbot's Ale House. The price was irresistible but there was a catch - it was past it's sell-by date, by a whole year.

So, the reason I procured the supposedly dead devil was to find out if it really made a difference. I know that people generally don't age Duvel or beers like it so I know it might not have improved, but does it really go bad? For a bottle conditioned beer with an ABV of 8.5%, I can't imagine much damage would have been done. Let's see then.

The old Duvel pours much like a fresh bottle - slightly hazy yellow-golden colour, but with a foamier, soapier head than usual. Carbonation seemingly unaffected too. There is a tad bit of a difference on the nose however - it's yeasty, malty and fruity and smells quite like champagne. Initially, it tastes like champagne too, before the bready malt qualities, grapefruit and caramel sweetness, and dry alcohol heat at the finish remind you that it's Duvel you're having. The body is medium and carbonation feels light on the tongue. The slightly weaker mouthfeel is probably the biggest loss inflicted by the aging.

It's still a tasty and enjoyable drink - I polished off the whole bottle in a night - and at the reduced price it's much better value than buying a fresh bottle. I do concede that the aroma and taste is a bit more complex in a fresh bottle, and the mouthfeel a bit better, but the positives really outweigh the negatives here. 

#27: Goosed in the Sun

Yesterday I enjoyed my first beer in the sun of the summer. Admittedly, I only spent 3 minutes in the garden before begrudgingly returning to my work inside, but sitting in the greenhouse that is my kitchen is as good as doing so in the Mojave Desert. Maybe. Ok, probably not, but it's bloody warm. Anyway, I picked up a bottle of Goose Island IPA for €1.50 in Tesco the other day, as part of a new craft beer promotion they're running in their Irish stores. The first day I went in to the new craft beer section, the shelves were half empty already, with only the price stickers left behind to tell me what they had been selling. To my amazement, one of the (understandably) sold out beers was Sierra Nevada Pale Ale at €1.50 per bottle, and at those prices, it's easy to see the effort being made to lure people away from the independent off-licences. While I'm against that, I admit to being worn down by the price of the Goose Island - I had seen it around quite a bit, and was very curious to taste it, and as I wasn't expecting much I figured it would be better to pick it up cheap. How wrong I was.

The Goose Island IPA is a fine drink. It pours a lovely orange, amber honey colour, with a single finger of head and leaves a decent amount of lacing on the glass. It smells absolutely wonderful - citrus fruits, especially orange, dominate at first with hints of peel and pine in the background. This is virtually matched perfectly on the tongue with fruity hops at the front and back but with a light bready character to it as well. It's refreshing flavour is complimented by it's mouthfeel as the soft fizz and light body go down very well in the sunshine. I'm not what you'd call a Hophead, so the fact that it's not an all out bitter attack on the tongue is a plus for me. In fact, as it warms up, the caramel malt notes in the aroma and flavour become more evident, as do the hints of spice and pepper, but that back-of-the-tongue bitter finish is always there.

Very tasty and satisfying beer, and although I'd recommend it, if you're looking for a beer that is all hops hops and more hops, this probably won't be the one you're after. You'll still enjoy it though.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

#26: Brasserie d'Achouffe

It will not come as a surprise to anybody that Duvel was my very first experience with Belgian ale, but at that time, after my very first bottle, I wasn't that impressed. This is mostly because I had no idea what the hell I was drinking - I may have used a hexagonal tumbler... Anyway, while I now appreciate Duvel, I also now know that it is very far from being the be-all and end-all of strong Belgian ales. This I learnt in Amsterdam with a little bottle of La Chouffe, and when my interest in craft beer peaked back home, I was determined to try it and it's sister again. When I saw that the Abbot's Ale House was selling two 75cl bottles of La/Mc Chouffe for €8, I got my chance to try the both of them again.

La Chouffe was up first, and this golden beauty is every bit as delicious as I'd remembered. It's well carbonated, perfectly clear, and the 3 fingers of white foam on top make it a truly gorgeous blonde. It's nose is  gently malty with citrus hop hints, and light caramel sweetness. Spice and peel are hidden in there too. Caramel malt and sweetness is at the front of the tongue, and pepper makes itself known in the middle with fruit hops and spice finishing it off to make it a very tasty drink. I finished off all 750mls of the stuff in a couple of hours, as it's 8% alcohol is well masked. Nice fizz on the tongue and medium bodied.

Overall, it's a great beer. It would definitely appeal to me more than a Duvel, and I'd happily have a bottle or two of this in the house at all times, but after the recent discovery of Piraat, I can't say this would be my go-to Belgian ale. Bring on the Scotch then!

Well, the Scotch ale. Because apparently that's what Mc Chouffe is. I'm not sure how or why, other than the kilt adorning the gnome on the label, but what I do know is that it's a dark ale, and I'm usually partial to these. It comes in at the same 8% ABV as La Chouffe.

In the glass it's hazy brown with red highlights and a decent off-white head that dissipates quickly, but retains a creamy film on top. Very attractive, I must say. It delivers deep strong bread and toffee malts on the nose with a dark fruit overtone in the background. Caramel/toffee malt is the first on the tongue with a real sweet fruity follow and finish. Hints of maple syrup at the end too. 

It's full bodied and interesting, but it's not going to blow anyone's hair off. That being said, neither is the La Chouffe, but both beers are well worth the try and being early entries into my Belgian craft beer education, I hold a soft spot for them. I'll be hoping to try this brewery's Houblon Chouffe and N'Ice Chouffe as soon as possible.

Friday, 4 May 2012

#25: Them crafty Belgians

For this one I've decided to break away from my usual reviewing style, and there are a couple of reasons for this. First of all, of all the beer blogs that I read and enjoy, not a single one gives a full scored or marked review, and I realised that I prefer that style. I think my own formula of reviewing the beer in four categories and then awarding it a mark is enjoyable only for me, and no one else. As such, I'll try to be more inclusive and instead just write about my experience and stripped-down reaction to a beer. This way, instead of simply reviewing beers I'm sharing my journey through the craft beer world with you, which is what I wanted to do in the first place. Also, even though I won't be publishing scores no the blog, I still write them down in my notes. This way, when I read over my notes in months or years to come, I'll know exactly how I felt about the beer at the time. Sometimes your notes might sound more appealing to you than the beer in hand actually was, you see.

The first strong Belgian ale I ever had was Duvel (contrary to what I said earlier about La Chouffe). This shouldn't be a surprise because everyone knows and (mostly) loves the beer. I liked it when I first had it, and it pretty much started my love affair with Belgian ales and effectively ended my single-minded obsession with Hefeweizens. So recently I decided I'd get my hands on a few and see how they all compare.

First up is the Duvel. I had all these beers in the Duvel tulip, so the pillar of carbonation was always there. Also leaves a cool island of foam in the centre of the glass when the rest of the head has died down. Smells nice and fruity with hints of spice, with a good malty background. The taste is citrus and peach on the front, sweet malt in the middle and a long bread and nut finish. It's a fulfilling medium bodied beer and that famous dryness is always going to crop up. It's good, but it's not really mind-blowing. Will do some damage at 8.5% too. 

Next is a strong dark ale in the form of Gulden Draak. This one's from the Van Steenberge brewery in Ertvelde, the same brewery that makes Piraat, and comes in a bottle wrapped in white plastic, which in fairness looks better than it sounds. It's mahogany in colour with a very conservative head, and sweet toffee malt dominates the aroma, with elements of dark fruit sneaking in too. On the front I got a beautiful caramel flavour with bread maltiness and hints of spice and fruit following in the middle and finish. Really it's very very tasty, and I loved it, but I can see how people could find it too sweet - there's little in the way of bitterness here.Velvety smooth mouthfeel makes this one really enjoyable, and the 10.5% ABV warms you up. 

As I've said, Piraat comes from the same brewery as Gulden Draak, and I'm starting to think that the guys at Brouwerij Van Steenberge know their stuff, pretty damn well. Also, I promise I didn't buy this just because of it's name and label. Not just, anyway... It pours coppery amber, darker than the Duvel, more honey-tone. Interestingly, honey is in the aroma too, hidden beneath the bread malt, peach, yeast and spice. Also the 10.5% alcohol makes itself known, but not too much. The taste almost brings tears to my eyes. Peach and apricot, beautifully malty, slightly nutty, delicious caramel sweetness and hints, no, just a singular hint, of honey. I think. Either way, absolutely brilliant. It's full-bodied and very smooth, and easier to drink than it probably should be.

Overall, three good ales today. Duvel is always a reliable one, and is stocked in just about every decent off-licence in the country. The other two are a cut above, particularly the Piraat. It's one of those beers that I could happily drink exclusively for the rest of my life. Maybe Van Steenberge will sponsor that...