Wednesday, 31 October 2012

#92: Franciscan Well October Beer Festival

Cork played host to the annual Guinness Jazz Festival this past weekend, so the city was packed to the proverbial rafters for the duration of the Fran Well's beer festival. I knew the event was popular, but I was completely unprepared for the fighting for standing space activity of the place. Perhaps I'm getting old, but I was very put off by the whole thing. It's difficult to enjoy a night out when you're so terribly antisocial. Anyway, below are the details of my own very short stay at the festival.

I&G Winter Treacle Porter
My first of the night was Innis & Gunn's Winter Treacle Porter, their seasonal for this time of year. I've had mixed experiences with this brewer in the past, but the name of this beer alone is what pulled me in. It poured black as you'd expect with a sugary sweet nose reminiscent of the Floreffe Melior I had a while back. Candy, cloying sweetness was the order of the day but unlike that particular beer, there was a touch of bitterness at the end to spice things up. Alcohol heat was just about noticeable too, but all in all it's a beer for the half-pint glass at most. I like sweet, but when I can't actually taste the malts, things aren't going great.

Poperings Hommel Bier
For the next one I went to the brilliantly selected Belgian bar, and opted for a Poperings Hommel Bier. Grainy, floral hops opens the taste on this one, before a nice sweet malt fullness unexpectedly takes control before returning to the lighter, fruitier characteristics of the beer to finish. Bitterness is lower than I'd expected, and there's an element of the wheaty farmhouse ale to this beer. In fact, I'd place this somewhere between a spicy Belgian blonde and a lovely wheaty Wit.

As I scanned the rest of the taps I spotted Piraat, and I couldn't resist another go. Notes on that beer are aplenty on this blog. Suffice to say it was as gorgeous as ever.
Upstairs, my better half went to try the bottled ginger beer they'd gotten in. Chalky's Bark is an accompaniment to their fennel beer Bite, and true to the suggestion, it was certainly bark rather than bite. There's plenty of nice herbal and spice qualities to the beer, as well as a hint of fruitiness, but there's none of the hot ginger notes you need in a good ginger beer. I was glad of the Piraat in my hand at this stage.

Lindeman's Framboise
By now, the bustle was getting to me, and I decided to throw in the towel. On the way out, though, I bought and sampled one more beer - Lindeman's Framboise. I was very excited about this beer, what with it being my introduction to the style. The first thing I noted was how much I loved the appearance of the thick pink head on top. The taste opens beautifully and not unlike a foamier, thicker version of the blackcurrant cassis popular in the Netherlands. It's very fruity, very sweet and surprisingly refreshing, before quite literally turning sour at the finish. It's not at all a bad taste, in any way, but for the uninitiated it's just weird.

I must stress that the only reason I didn't enjoy this visit as much as I should have is that I'm generally opposed to loudness, merriment and large social gatherings. The organization, promotion and range of beers was incredible, and for that the Franciscan Well deserves some serious praise. I'll definitely be coming to their next festival, and I strongly recommend you do too.

For me, it'll be a quiet afternoon trip next time.

Friday, 26 October 2012

#91: Lagerland

Two Irish lagers to report today, from Dublin and Dingle respectively. 

First off, it's the newly-bottled Crean's Irish Lager from the Dingle Brewing Company. I picked this up about an hour after it arrived in Bradley's, seeing as it's something I've never tried before. Until now, it's been available on draught in pubs around Dingle and I imagine dotted around the country in places. It pours a nice clear and fizzy gold, perhaps a shade darker than a pilsener style lager, with a little foam on top. I have to say there's very little on the aroma, with wet grain and mild sweetness being the only things I can get out of the glass. Unfortunately, the same has to be said for the taste. There's very little flavour and quite a lot of carbonation - one of those kinds of beers. I was desperately hoping to enjoy this lager from a place I'm so very fond of, but I fear Crean's has a bit too much in common with the South Pole itself; it's cold, harsh and empty, even if it is a nice idea.

It's a virtual stop in the capital then for a taste of the Porterhouse's Hersbrucker Pilsner, the only standard-release bottled beer of theirs I've yet to try. It pours like Crean's - a darker shade of gold - but supports a nicer head for longer. The aroma gives plenty of nice soft hoppy notes, with light roasted malts providing a nice grainy, barley backbone. It's tastes good too, with a fresh, slightly floral character from the hops once again providing a light bitterness over the malt sweetness you'd expect from a pils. It's refreshing, easy-going and quite tasty. Good stuff.

 Of the two, I was going to say that Hersbrucker was the most likely to appear on the blog again (or at least in my belly). However, I reckon I'll gives Crean's one more chance in it's native draught form.

Monday, 22 October 2012

#90: Oktober in a Bottle

When I set out to buy myself as many 'official' Oktoberfest beers as possible, I realised that pickings were relatively slim. Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Löwenbräu and the Hofbräuhaus are all represented, but there were no signs of Spaten or Augustiner in my locals. The Fran Well have advertised the forthcoming presence of "imported festival beer" at their October Beer Festival, so I may have to return to the yellowy lager depths there. For now, I'm glad to have gotten through this lot - I enjoy the style, but after having four in a row I can't help but think writing about these could be as tedious for me as reading it will be for you.

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Märzen was the first out. It pours a bit darker than the rest - more amber than piss - with a soapy off-white head. There are some tiny metallic hop notes on the aroma at first, with the usual malt and grain taking over in the end. The taste is much better, with a light and grainy opening turning into a deeper chewy toffee malt before the end. Tasty, but nothing spectacular.

Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier pours more like a Helles, with a very big white head. Sweet lager malts dominate a similarly nondescript aroma, but then I can't really say here's anything wrong with that. It's medium bodied, it's nutty, grainy, sweet and very satisfying, and there's just a touch of bitterness hidden in the folds of light to medium malts.

Paulaner Oktoberfestbier looks like the  Löwenbräu, but the aroma gives off a much more, well, lagery essence. It's sweet and vegetal, with light metallic notes, but that doesn't necessarily describe the taste. It's warm malts like the others, but there's just a detection of grassy or floral hops along the way. Passable.

Finally, Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier pours a pale gold, probably in between a Hacker-Pschorr and a Paulaner. Those very mild tin foil notes are present in the aroma again, but that never really hinders the beer. Other than that it's wet grain, slightly vegetal like the Paulaner, and fairly light malts. The taste is lovely, opening like a good Munich Helles before leading into a darker sticky sweet finish. There's a very slight kick from the alcohol at the death, but that really just adds to the deeper malt notes at the end. Good stuff.

Of these four, I reckon It's between Hofbräu and Hacker-Pschorr, with Löwenbräu and Paulaner both passable. In the end though, I'd still opt for the much more affordable Spaten Munich Helles over any of these, while Eight Degrees Ochtoberfest remains my favourite Marzen. Perhaps these beers are better on tap, but I'm not particularly inspired to find out.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

#89: Playing Catch-up

I got my wisdom teeth out recently, so I'm off the drink (and most other things) for a while. Luckily, I've plenty of notes to catch up on. Of those, there's a group of bottled Oktoberfest beers on the way, and after that I'll be reporting on the Franciscan Well's October Beer Festival. Exciting stuff, but for now I'm afraid it's just some beery revision.

London Black Cab Stout is my first of the style from Fuller's, and one I've been looking to try for ages. It pours pitch black with a nice off-white creamy head, with very little light showing through. The aroma gives off plenty of smoke at first, before the heaps of dark roasted malt, subtle milk chocolate and pinch of salt (I know). The taste is pretty standard, with roasted malt, lingering smoke and a moderate bitterness dominating at first. in the latter stages of the taste, milk chocolate leads into a nice malty finish, a trait which becomes more noticeable as the beer warms up. Nothing incredibly special here, but a nice, easy-going stout. For the price, however, I reckon you'd do better with a Black Rock Stout.

The second beer in my catch-up is my second from Whitewater Brewing, and it's Belfast Lager. Initially, not one that had me very excited but I was pleasantly surprised. It pours a pale shade of gold with a small white head, and looks pretty much like any standard lager. Sweet lagery grainy stuff is on the aroma, as expected, although it is accompanied by a noticeable hop profile that ventures into slightly metallic territory. This isn't the case on the taste however, as the fruity hoppy bitter smack is backed up by the sweet, clean and refreshing lager characteristic. It's kind of difficult to describe this one, because for me it's just so middle of the road. Well balanced, but not at all captivating, an acceptable beer. 

I'm not sure when I'll be able to drink beer again, but it shouldn't be too long. Until then, you'll have to take my word that when I'm back I'll be busier than ever.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

#88: Pumpkins, Hops, Malts and Moons

My first post of October comes late, and it's a general catch-up of my notes. I promised myself I'd be doing mini-features on two styles of beer around this time; Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers. For the former, there are still plenty of bottled samples around the place, while I've yet to see much pumpkin beers pop up. I'm not even sure if there will be any, although I am sure that I'll trying a pint of Trouble Brewing's Pumpkin Ór in the Bierhaus soon.

One pumpkin beer that can be found easily is Shipyard's Pumpkinhead. The brewer and their beers aren't very highly considered, but I tried to put that out of my head to give this a fair whack. Also, it was my first pumpkin beer, and I wanted to know what I'd be looking for if I get the chance to try some of the other pumpkins later in the month. 

Pumpkinhead pours a clear sparkling orange with a negligible eggshell head. On the nose, I actually got a bit excited - not much pumpkin, but plenty of clove and pepper, and a suspicious amount of cinnamon. The taste opens to more of the same, with cinnamon and clove dominating. Somewhere in the middle there's a kind of fruity sweet taste, which may be the pumpkin I'm expecting. It doesn't so much taste bad, it just doesn't taste very good. The artificial character, watery mouthfeel and overall quality of the beer puts me in mind of the horrid Blue Moon, even though I'd rate it higher than that mess. One thing they certainly have in common is that after half a glass, it gets very tough to finish.

On the nicer, happier place with J.W. Lees Moonraker. Unfortunately there's no photograph for this one, so you'll just have to take my word when I say it poured a very dark yet clear blood red, with a small off-white layer of foam. The nose gives off a touch of metallic hops, but it's not overpowering. There's a lovely deep malt backbone to the aroma, with biscuit notes that remind me of the biscuit in a Malteser. Toffee and chocolate are there too, as well as a Quad-like dark fruit. The taste is more or less the same, with deep and dark chocolate, toffee, biscuit malt and fizzy dark fruit leading into a warm caramel finish. It's complex yet quaffable, and a lovely one to have at this time of year. Certainly recommended.

Staying in England, we move to Cornwall and St Austell, for a taste of their Proper Job. Powerfully hopped, says the bottle. We'll see about that.

It pours a shade or two darker than gold with a foamy white head. It smells lovely, with citrus and resinous hops and a definite biscuit malt character underneath. It's certainly hop driven, but not exactly a hop powerhouse. Either way it's gorgeous. The taste opens with delicious juicy citrus, floral, and zesty hops, followed by smooth, warmer malt in the second half. In the same way, all the beer's bitterness stays to the front, although the lovely refreshing fruit character is retained to the end. A great beer, and another recommendation.

Finally, off to Germany. I'll be returning to this part of the shop soon when I try some of the bottled Oktoberfest beers, but for now I'm going to stick to another favourite style of mine, particularly for this time of year - the doppelbock.

Weisenohe Bonator pours a clear dark red with absolutely no head. It doesn't look totally unlike a glass of cola, but the smells gives the game away. It's very much like the Paulaner Salvator, offering huge malts, dark toffee, marzipan and a slight touch of marker pen/alcohol heat to finish. Some may say it's offensive, but it's just what I wanted. The taste isn't much like the Salvator at all, however. It's much less harsh, with the sugary texture and sweetness staying away til the very end. Until then, it's all toffee, dark chocolate malt and lovely dark fruit. Absolutely perfect for the style. What's less than perfect is the unusual lack of carbonation, as hinted by the failure to produce a head. As such, I'd like to give this another go; first to see if I get more fizz, and second to enjoy those wonderfully warming flavours again. A great beer for autumn and winter, and a third and final recommendation.