Wednesday, 29 August 2012

#76: Second Tier Beer

OK, maybe I'm being harsh by referring to these next two beers as 'second tier', but in my defence, my previous experience of this brewer set expectations high. The brewer is the Carlow Brewing Company, and those past beers are described in all their lovely glory here and to a lesser extent here. As such, I suppose these following two are maybe not second tier in a general sense, but they certainly don't compare favourably to their brothers.

First up is Curim Gold, described as a Celtic Wheat Beer. When I first tried this as an innocent craft beer beginner, I thought I was getting an Irish brewer's interpretation of what I understood to be a wheat beer - a German Hefe or Belgian Wit. Alas, what you get is a simple wheat ale. It pours a very fizzy golden/amber, with a creamy, bubbly white head. On the nose I got faint bubblegum and lots of fruit, with a slightly grainy lager-like aroma throughout. The taste opens with malt akin to the English ale toffee flavour, and proceeds through refreshing, light citrus fruit to the metallic hops and biscuit finish. The body's light, and far too gassy for my liking. In fact, it felt like sparkling water at times. The website suggests that it would by a good accompaniment to hot, spicy foods, but I think I'd rather stick to a quality lager or IPA. 

This next one was always going to have it's work cut out. Generally, I don't go for an Irish Red, and the only one I think I've really enjoyed is the Fran Well's Rebel Red. This is precisely why this beer was the last to be purchased, but every beer deserves a fair chance, so let's get to it. O'Hara's Irish Red pours a surprisingly dark red, with lots of bubbles sticking to the glass and a very small bubbly head. On the nose it was hops first, and like the Curim above, they gave off a metallic note. Other than that it's very balanced between malty toffee and sharp bitter fruit. Here my notes peter out, and I describe the taste as being much like the aroma. Again the beer has too much carbonation for my own personal taste. It's not at all a terrible beer, but it's so very ordinary.

That being said, I reckon I'd pick it up over the Curim any day. Both are lesser beers than the Leann Folláin, Irish Pale Ale and Irish Stout.

Monday, 27 August 2012

#75: Double Bock

These are two beers that have been sitting in the cupboard for quite a while, and that I picked up on impulse during separate beer runs. Both are German, both come in swing-top bottles, and both are bocks.

First up is the Flensburger Frühlingsbock. It pours a slightly hazy pale gold, not unlike a glass of piss. Unfortunately, there's a certain urinal element to the aroma too, as the stingy yeast is what hits me first. Already I'm thinking this may be an off bottle. Grapefruit is very pronounced, as is the metallic bite, and both do their best to smother and hide the quiet caramel malt underlayer. The taste is practically the same, except that it has none of the yeastiness of the aroma, and packs a bit more malt into the finish. 

I'm finding it hard to find nice things to say about the beer, but really it's just not good. It may be an off bottle, though I can't help but feel I'm getting paranoid about 'off' beer. Maybe I sometimes need to admit that beer can suck. 
At least this one comes in a really nice bottle.

The Doppel-Hirsch is a completely different story. Yes, it too comes in a lovely bottle, but the contents are far more impressive. It pours a dark yet crystal clear brown, with a small slice of creamy off-white head. The aroma opens with a touch of something I pegged as tobacco, which is nicer than it sounds, followed by a hint of booze and a sticky sweet malt bomb. This can be divided into toffee, chocolate, brown sugar and maple syrup. In the taste, you get all those with added dark fruit, vanilla and wood. The body's nice and thick and completely coats your mouth, while the 7.2% ABV lends a touch of heat to the finish. 

This beer has surprised me, and I can already see it becoming a regular tenant of the cupboard. In my notes I signed off describing it as something like a Quadrupel with the drinkability of a lager, and I stand by this. I do concede that for some it may just be too much of one thing and not enough of anything else, but as someone who prefers the warmer, maltier beer, I have to say I bloody love it.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

#74: Sally Brown

The second of the Italian craft beers that I was gifted for my birthday last month is Sally Brown, a sweet stout, also from Birrificio del Ducato. The imperial stout Verdi was good enough to spark my interest in the range, so I was looking forward to their standard aul' dry stout.

Sally Brown pours pitch black with a bubbly off-white head. I realise it's hard to make that out in the darkness of the picture, but you can take my word for it that that was pretty much how it looked in the glass. On the nose I got hints of smoke and light roasted malts, with a sharp fizzy sweetness to it that reminded me of the Porterhouse Oyster Stout. The taste has pretty much everything the aroma does, albeit with a touch of chocolate malt somewhere in the middle. The body's pretty light and easy-going.

Overall it's not a bad beer, but not great either. Certainly not worth the price I'm afraid.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

#73: Big Feet Means Big... Hops?

Sierra Nevada produce some great stuff. Their Pale Ale is what I'd consider the standard in American IPAs, while their Torpedo IPA is probably my favourite of the range, being an affordable, available and tasty India Pale Ale of manly strength. Their seasonals have been good to me so far, and the Stout and Kellerweis were great and good respectively, despite lacking notes on the blog. All in all, it's a good range, and I've yet to try the rest. As such, I was very excited to finally crack open my 2012 Bigfoot, a barleywine-style ale from our Chico friends. 

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 2012 pours with a big head, surprising for a beer of 9.6% ABV. It's a dark copper toned beer, and I have to say it looks good in the glass. On the nose you can't escape the waxy pine bitterness from the hops. It's exceptionally hoppy and fruity, yet the quiet malt undertones can be found if you pay attention. The taste delivers loud and sharp fruity hops, with that pine/peel bitterness present in the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Torpedo also showing up here. The hops seem to lend a sticky coating to the sides of your mouth, aided by the high alcohol content and chocolate malt notes. It's delicious and easy to drink, despite it's potency. As time goes on and the beer warms up, things start to get really interesting, as you get more complexity in the aroma and taste with deep toffee chocolate notes (not unlike those in a Black Chocolate Stout stout) somehow finding their way into the beer and wonderfully complimenting the citrus, grapefruit and herbal hop qualities already living there.

This beer carries a slightly higher price tag than others on the range, but for anyone who enjoys their hoppy Americans, it's certainly worth a go.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

#72: Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask

I've only had one bottle of Innis & Gunn before, and that was their flagship oak aged ale, Innis & Gunn Original. I think I enjoyed it at the time, though it may be time for a reappraisal. Also, I've heard good things about their Rum Cask matured beer, so further exploration into the range may be warranted. 

This is their limited edition stout aged in whiskey casks from 'a famous Irish distillery'. Hmm. 

Innis & Gunn Irish Whiskey Cask pours pitch black motor-oil colour with a small off-white bubbly head. The first thing I notice about the aroma is that it really is exceptionally fruity. Belgian Quad-like fizzy sugary dark fruits dominate the nose, with deep and warm malt notes underneath. In fact, the coffee and smoke bitterness I'd normally associate with a stout is very subdued. Milk chocolate and toffee notes develop with time, but ultimately it's the dark, booze-soaked fruit that really stands out in the aroma. This Quadrupel-like fruitiness is in the front of the taste too, but here the woody toffee, warm caramel and chocolate elements come into play a bit more. The finish provides warmth via syrupy alcohol and caramel, and the whole drinking experience is enjoyable.

I must say, I liked this beer much more than I though I would. I can't stress just how much like a Quad it smells (for a stout), and it's definitely the fruitiest stout I've ever tasted. The roasted malt character that usually defines a stout is very muted, but flavour in this beer is otherwise loud, and worth paying attention to. 

This beer isn't cheap, and you could spend less on better, but if you've got the dosh, it's worth a go.

Friday, 17 August 2012

#71: O'Hara's Light and Dark

I'm going to be completely honest here: I hadf absolutely no idea that O'Haras made such good beer. I had their Curim wheat beer a long time ago, and I'm pretty sure I thought it was 'meh', while their Irish Stout was tasty but uninspiring. As such, I was never captivated by the range, and held off on exploring it for quite some time, despite being very widely available and quite affordable. Now, I realise I've been missing out.

First up is the most acclaimed of the beers, an extra stout with 6.0% ABV and a great Irish name. O’Hara’s Leann Folláin pours pitch black with a nice big foamy tan head, just like my kind of stout. Roasted coffee and smoke are the first notes I pick up on the aroma, and I can't help but think how Irish it smells. Underneath is a warm and smooth layer of caramel, with chocolate and syrup elements dotted here and there too. Bitter notes are offered  by the hops and coffee smells. The taste is beautiful, with a bitter coffee opening and potent hop presence falling away to chocolate and dark fruit, while the finish has a sweetness not unlike the Porterhouse Oyster Stout. Brilliant beer, and thoroughly enjoyable. This will definitely be a regular in the cupboard.

Next is a dry-hopped IPA that I chose over their Irish Red, because to be perfectly honest, I don't really get excited about Irish Reds - the only one that really got me going is the bottled Rebel Red. Anyway, O'Hara's Irish Pale Ale pours a gorgeous crystal clear golden-amber colour, allowing you to enjoy the activity of the sparkling bubbles inside. A small white foam caps it off, and I have to say it looks lovely in it's proper glass. On the aroma, I couldn't help but think someone had squeezed a bit of lemon juice in to my beer - very noticeable juicy citrus flavours hit first, with a nice oily hop aroma that gives off those American peel and pine notes. There are small hints of spice, maybe clove, while the whole thing sits atop a nice layer of bread or biscuit malt. Smells delicious! The taste is great too, with juicy citrus fruit opening with a more prominent peel element this time, followed by a hot pepper and herbal spiciness. The finish warms into a bubblegum-like flavour, while the the bitterness from the start and middle stays around long enough to round the beer out. The body's light without being wimpy, and the whole thing is nicely hop-forward. Great tasting sessionable IPA, one I didn't expect to enjoy this much.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

#70: Chimay & Schlenkerla

As you may have noticed, I'm trying out a new look for the blog, complete with sensual beer photography backgound. In fact, I took that photo when trying out the first beer below, which was about two months ago. Also, I've added the dropdown 'Beer Seeker' menu so you can see what the Destrier thinks of your favourite beer, as well as the Followers gadget, so you can join the site. Please feel free to do so, and have a nice brew.

For this article, I'm catching up on some old notes for beers I tasted a couple of months ago, hence the rather unusual pairing.

First up is the Chimay Première, as it's named in the 75cl bottles. It's a Dubbel, and it pours a bronzed ruby-red hue, with a quickly dissipating off-white head. Carbonation is quite active, making it fairly bubbly, while the overall look of the beer is slightly hazy. I imagine this is from the small amount of yeast sediment in the pour. This is enforced by the very strong wine-like yeast note that hits first on the aroma, while malty chocolate, bread and red berries also make themselves known. It smells good, though not very complex. Wine yeast is to the fore of the taste too, with woody, nutty toffee following in the middle, accompanied by malty bread, with darker fruits signing off. The nice bread malt quality only improves with time, as the beer sits warming up in the glass. The mouthfeel is gorgeous, with a nice velvety fizz on a medium to full body, and only a touch of alcohol heat at 7% ABV. This is a nice beer, but I think I'd have the Tripel instead, and I'd definitely have the Quadrupel instead.

Next is one that caught my eye with it's oppressively German labelling: Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier Märzen looks brilliant in the bottle, and not too bad in the glass either. This smoked marzen pours like a Coca-Cola - clear red tinted black - and with a similar amount of carbonation. Unlike cola, however, it's got a creamy two fingers of off-white head that retains a film. I'd heard lots about this beer smelling like bacon and, well, it does. Smoke and meat smells dominate the aroma, and it's bloody strong too, but crucially it's not overpowering. Beneath the smoked bacon smell there's a stout-like coffee and roast malt aroma with hints of tobacco. Nice stuff, despite how it sounds. The taste is terrific, with the smoke lingering long after the swallow. Malt notes are more prominent, and the perceived stout qualities are more potent too. The mouthfeel is good, and isn't as overly carbonated as it looks, ad is actually pretty creamy. You still know you're drinking a marzen, though, as the drinkabililty is good and the beer's quite refreshing. I'll probably drink this one again, simply because it's just so different to anything I've had before. Looking forward to trying their smoked wheat beer, as well as their winter seasonal Urbock.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

#69: Imperial Russian, the Russian Imperial Stout

I've just realised this is my third imperial stout in a row, so if you're not partial to the style, I apologize. This particular one has been sitting in the cupboard for about a month and a half now and I thought it was time to put it to good use. Anyway, it was time I refreshed my stock a little. My local Carry Out was doing a 4 for €10 deal on all the O' Hara's beers, along with a branded pint glass, and if there's one thing that can lure me in it's the offer of branded glassware - I just can't get enough of it. Articles on those beers should be up soon, and it's about time, seeing as the Carlow Brewing Company range is probably the most widely available bottled Irish craft beer range you could get your mitts on. 

This is a beer I picked up soon after falling in love with the Russian Imperial Stout style, thanks to Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout. The bottle was cool, the name was about as perfectly descriptive as a beer name can get and I didn't even know the brewer made such a beer. 

Black Sheep Brewery's Imperial Russian Stout pours completely pitch black and sports a nice finger and a half of creamy, off-white head. So far, so good. Milk chocolate is first on the nose, followed by a fizzy, sugary fruitiness and a hint of bitter coffee, all mellowed out by the warm caramel malt. This woody, malty caramel is prominent in the taste, where it props up the darker chocolate and toffee notes, and beautifully compliments the Christmas pudding-like richness of flavour. Dark fruit soaked with hot booze, very nice! The 8.5% ABV lends a syrupy element to the finish. It's got a good body and is very satisfying as a Russian imperial stout. If I had to compare it to the Black Chocolate Stout (which I do, because that beer is now my go-to beer of the style) I'd say it's a lighter, fruitier and more bitter version. Not to suggest it's lacking in body though - it's just as full and complex as you'd like.

Definitely one worth exploring.

#68: Verdi Imperial Stout

This Russian Imperial Stout is my first from Birrificio del Ducato, and my first from Italy that isn't Peroni or Moretti. A section of their range was recently added to the line-up at Bradley's, but at €4-5 for a bottle, they are probably better served as gifts. Also in the cupboard is their Sally Brown, an Irish Dry Stout, which should be an interesting one. If these two bottles pay off, I may take the plunge and explore the rest of the available range.

Verdi Imperial Stout, along with the rest of the 'Classic' bottled range, comes in a rather unusual but very attractive bottom-heavy bottle. Outside, it pours a black with highlights of a dark brown, and a great creamy tan head. Already I can tell there's a good thick body to it, as the head starts to leave behind a sticky lace. On the nose there are some nice medicinal and herbal notes, quite like the Ocean Goteborgsporter. Coffee and smoke lend a distinctive Irish-pub-stout character to the aroma, followed by the roasted malts, fizzy and sharp dark sweet fruits and brown sugar. Very nice to smell. Gorgeous chocolate malt with swirls of caramel open up the flavour, followed by coffee and dark fruit, with alcohol heat and a maple syrup hint signing off.

This is a very intense and sweet stout, with more of a smoky 'Irish' element to it than any of the other Imperials I've had. It's extremely tasty, with a great Imperial Stout opening and a lovely hot Belgian quad-like finish. Very enjoyable, but perhaps not worth the price when there are better things for cheaper.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

#67: Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

This is the big one. Piraat, Rochefort 10 and St Bernardus Abt 12 were all occupying the prestigious spaces of my Top 3 Beers, and it was no surprise as the Strong Belgian and Quadrupel ales were pretty much my favourite styles. Hefeweizens and IPAs were on the next step down, followed by lagers and bitters, with stouts and porters occupying the lowest rung of my preferred beer-style ladder. This is the way it would have stayed, if not for Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout. From the very first sip of this beer, I knew I now had a Top 4. Not only that, I had my opinion of stouts and porters blown to shreds and reassembled somewhere much closer to the top of that imaginary ladder. Since then, most of the beer I've bought to explore has been stout or porter, and much of it has been the Black Chocolate Stout. It's affordable and readily available despite being a seasonal brew, making it the perfect one to collect and age at 10% ABV. That's what I do, I buy it to put it away, then I can't resist the urge to open it, so I buy some more to replace it. It's a vicious cycle. So, there's my own storm of hype, let's see how my notes look.

Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout pours absolutely pitch black with a dark tan head that retains a film throughout. The aroma is gorgeous, and very potent to say the least. The first thing I get on the nose is rich dark chocolate mousse, with sweet toffee and caramel malt notes and an overall sticky, woody quality. The taste brings forth woody chocolate and maple syrup, and it completely coats the mouth - very intense. Dark quad-like fruit flavours follow up, before dark chocolate sweetness and a syrupy alcohol heat signs off. While there's absolutely no bitterness to the beer, there may be hints of hops in the aroma, with very light herbal or medicinal qualities fighting for breath beneath the heavy chocolate malt. The mouthfeel is incredibly thick and smooth, and it would make for a beautiful winter warmer - I just love the way you can kind of feel the heat in your nostrils when exhaling after a sup. I'll definitely be aging this, though I can't imagine it getting much better than it already is.

This is a beautiful beer, and I must insist you try it.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

#66: Augustijn & Aventinus

These next two were completely new to me, and I've been looking forward to trying them for quite some time. Augustijn Ale is brewed by the Brouwerij Van Steenberge, makers of Gulden Draak and the brilliant Piraat, while Schneider Weisse Aventinus is a Weizen-Doppelbock recommended to me by The Beer Nut, after I finally tasted the Schneider Hefe-Weizen (Tap 7). 

The Augustijn Blond was out of date, and I did detect slightly off flavours akin to the terrible St Bernardus Tripel. It poured like a good Belgian Pale, truly on the blonde side of golden. On the nose, I got the aforementioned 'off' smells - medicinal, cooked vegetable and metallic hint - but it redeems itself with it's fizzy, spicy fruit and underlying caramel malt. This routine is played out on the tongue as well. Off flavours need to be fought through initially, but the reward is sweet - sharp, juicy citrus fruit calmed and smoothed by the woody caramel malt. The body's ok, and I'm starting to think I was imagining the off characteristics. The beer gets better after sitting in the glass for a time. 

This is the fourth pale beer (Belgian strong pale ale or Tripel) that I've had similar dodgy flavours of aromas to. If someone could tell me how I an properly identify a bad beer I'd appreciate it - I don't like to think it's all in my head.

Next up is Schneider Weisse Tap 6 - Unser Aventinus. My first Weizenbock was the Weihenstephaner Vitus, and while it was enjoyable, it was not what I was expecting. No, I was expecting something much more like the Aventinus. It pours a muddy water brown with a small white head that doesn't retain. The aroma is lovely, according to my notes. Hefe smells are smothered by thick malty sweetness, dark fruits, hints of smoke and sharp twang of yeast. The taste opens with citrus and banana sherbert and yeast, followed by dark wooden toffee malt, dark fruits and a hint of bubblegum. There's a certain Belgian quality to this beer, and I can't help but find suggestions of Mc Chouffe dotted here and there in the taste. It's very tasty, very satisfying, and the alcohol heat at the end makes it a mighty comforting drink. 500mls of an 8.2% beer should not be this easy.

Both beers worth a try, but Aventinus is likely to be the only one that stays on rotation in my cupboard.

Monday, 6 August 2012

#65: From Ballyhoura to Brooklyn

It's about bloody time I wrote about Howling Gale Ale from Eight Degrees - I've had quite a bit of it since it became one of my go-to pints alongside Windjammer. I never really took notes on the draught version, but that's no harm as I think I prefer the bottled one anyway. Another beer I should have taken care of a long time ago is Brooklyn Lager, but I just never got around to trying it. My go-to lager has been Samuel Adams for so long, with Budějovický Budvar a close second, that everything else kind of slipped under the radar. Although, I see Aldi are selling Spaten at €1.29 per 500ml bottle. Could be worth a few ducats...

Howling Gale Ale pours a nice hazy orange with a small film of head that dissipates soon, and a decent amount of carbonation. On the nose, it's quite a nice blend of American and English Pale Ale styles - zesty, juicy citrus peel and pine hops hit first and hit hard, with an underlying malt sweetness and hints of clove. Lovely balance leaning towards the hoppier American side. It's very refreshing to taste with grassy, fruity, sweet citrus peel hops calmed by the caramel malt and hints of bubblegum. The body's medium and very drinkable, with good refreshing carbonation. Lovely beer. Could do with a bigger bottle for a 5% session ale, though.

Brooklyn Lager pours more amber than gold, rather like the Sam Adams Boston Lager. It produces a big foamy white head that retains quite well, fed by buckets of carbonation. Looks nice and frothy, like those tankards of beer pirates drink in cartoons (you know what I mean). On the nose, Boston Lager comes to mind again with a hop-forward citrus and grapefruit aroma, penned back by bready, biscuity malt. Nice grainy lager stuff, hopped up. To taste, it's very juicy and fruity up front, with zesty pine/peel refreshment leading into a bitter bite in the middle, and a barley-like grainy, syrupy malt finish. It's certainly got hops, but I feel it's overall a malt-driven beer. A really great tasting lager with a good body to match. Very drinkable. Also, I see in my notes that my final verdict reads 'surpasses Sam Adams'. Well then, there you have it. My new favourite lager. 

Sunday, 5 August 2012

#64: Down and Stout

Two Irish dark beers have been on the to-try list for quite a while, and after subjecting them to a few weeks in the dark, I finally decided to give them a go. In truth, I should probably have tried both a long time ago, but whenever I go on a beer run I get distracted by pretty Belgians and Americans. 

First up was Knockmealdown Porter from Eight Degrees. This is one of the beers that Tesco have recently started to stock by the six-pack, but I picked mine up on his own. It pours pitch black with a lovely off-white head that dissipates rather quickly - already you can see it's pretty light-bodied. Dark roasted malts are all there on the nose as you'd expect, but there's a definite hop presence making itself known too. It's grassy and a bit 'fizzy', and there's a strange blend of dark fruit with a sharp citric bite. The taste is smoky coffee and roasted malt with a bitter finish, and an otherwise absence of the complexity you find in the aroma. It's light, yes, and sessionable, yes, but it's far from inspiring. I'll be sticking to Howling Gale (which I realise I still haven't written about).

The Porterhouse Brewing Company's Celebration Stout is one I've been pretty excited about for some time. It's labelled on the bottle as an Imperial Irish Stout, which was reason enough to try it - after my Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout experience I've fallen in love with Russian Imperials. So, how would an Irish incarnation fare? Well, it pours the appropriate colour - pitch black with no light penetration - it's got a lovely tan head and it leaves a sticky webbed lace down the glass. Very nice. The aroma is deep, with medicinal, herbal aniseed qualities being followed up by sweeter chocolate or toffee notes. It's certainly got a malt backbone, but it does have a light hops presence. I have to say, the first taste was a bit of a let down after the aroma. It's bitter to start, and not as fully flavoured as you'd think for a 7% 'Imperial' stout. Still, it's got the sticky sweet toffee, smoke and roast flavour that completely coats the inside of your mouth momentarily, before a light fruity finish washes it away. Surprisingly, despite the ABV, I could easily drink a few of these. Sessionable is not a trait I'd look for in an Imperial Stout, but that's where it's headed with it's lightness. I'd like to try the barrel-aged version. 

Despite how it looks, I'd probably go for the Knockmealdown again before the Celebration - I reckon it's better value for money, and the ABV is more suited to a nice session porter. Also, it's much more accessible.