Thursday, 28 June 2012

#47: Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel and Euro 2012 Update

The past few days have been pretty interesting. Not only have I tested and decided upon the final four beers in  my own pathetic incarnation of Euro 2012, but I've tried some other things too, including the Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel

Recently I've been planning a trip to Brussels, and it's my intention to make a day trip to Bruges to visit De Halve Maan Brewery, as well as, you know, see Bruges. I'm not quite sure if this beer is actually made there, but I thought it would be good to test out the brand anyway.

First of all, the price. At €3.80 for a bottle, it can cost up to a whole euro more than an Abt 12. I am not impressed

It pours the anticipated murky brown that glimmers red in the light, with a conservative but creamy head. On the nose you've got very strong dark chocolate, herbal and liquorice notes with sweet green apple, rum-soaked dark fruits and spice hiding in the background. Very nice, really fruity with a strong malty backbone, although I have to say it's almost offensive, with those liquorice and herbal qualities that I'd normally expect from a porter jumping right out of the glass. The taste is similar - dark chocolate mousse to the fore, followed by apple, raisins and berries, with a spirit-like alcohol finish (courtesy of the 11% ABV). The body's nice and rich, but as I found with Westvleteren 12 it seems to deteriorate over time, becoming ever so slightly thinner. This is a very nice beer, but with the quality of the quads I've had in the past, it somehow manages to fall right to the bottom of my list in that style. For the money, it's just not worth it. I'll try their Tripel soon, and see how that compares.

In other news, Piraat has been tried again and it's proved it's worth. Also, I only recently found out that it was voted Best Belgian-Style Strong Pale Ale at the World Beer Cup this year. Clearly I'm not the only one who thinks this is the best thing in liquid form since the Earth's seas came to be.

Another beer I tried was Brooklyn Brewing's Black Chocolate Stout. I've spoken at length about my love/hate (but mainly 'meh') relationship with stouts and porters, but as the tipsy knight who bravely yet recklessly rides the drunken destrier, I feel it is my duty to delve deep into the styles I am least comfortable with. As such, I went for this Russian Imperial stout in the hope that it would show me what the style can achieve when it wants to. And by the beard of Zeus, it did just that. Notes haven't been taken, but you can bet your ass I'll be buying another 3 or 4 bottles of this stuff to work through, so a post won't be too long coming.

Finally, I once again drew names to assemble the fixtures of my Euro 2012 Beer Championships.

Ireland v England
Germany v France

I know, big stuff. The real semis have already started, for those of you living in a cave (with internet access), so I apologise yet again for the delay. In my defence, I tried a good new beer, a fantastic new beer, and I reacquainted myself with a dear old friend in the time I should have been writing.

Time well spent?
I think so.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

A quick note...

I'm drinking Piraat now, trying to determine whether or not it really is as good as I thought it was at first. The plan was to take notes and create a new post, but I decided I didn't need to, not yet. Because after the very first sip I knew I'd be getting plenty more of this absolute stunner.

Piraat is pale ale perfection.

#46: Euro 2012 Quarter Final Draw and Matches!

Yes, it's late, but who cares? There's a wee break before the semis and I did need time to try the beers, so what harm! Once again though, I promise that if I do this again I'll have prepared much better. 

On to the draw then! As I've said, I literally drew the names from a hat to ensure an entirely random fixture list. It went as follows;

France v Netherlands
Ireland v Czech Republic
Poland v Germany
England v Spain

QF 1 - France v Netherlands:  This is a good one. The La Trappe Tripel is a great beer, and as the only Trappist beer in the competition I had thought it could be a finalist at least. However, I had not considered the possibility that I could be blown away by 3 Monts. Despite not knowing what the fuck to do with the cork, I was really very impressed with the beer. Far from the boozy, malty Belgian style ale I had assumed I'd be getting from Flanders, I got a very nourishing, refreshing, strong lager-tasting ale. First on the nose is champagne yeast and grassy hops, followed by fresh straw and zesty citrus fruits. Herbal, almost. The taste brings malty bread and caramel into the mix, with a grainy wheat and barley follow, finished off by a slight hit of syrupy alcohol and moderate dryness. Really, I didn't know what to make of the style, and that's something that always thrills me when tasting beer. As such, well done France.

QF 2 - Ireland v Czech Republic: Another quality match, with two quality beers, and probably the toughest choice I've had to make this round. On the one hand, you've got Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne's Carraig Dubh porter, one of about three beers of the stout/porter style that have really impressed me in flavour and aroma. Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil was the first, followed by this and Wrassler's XXXX from Porterhouse, and I have to say that on trying Wrassler's again recently, I don't think it's quite as good as the former two. Chocolate, toffee, coffee, liquorice and dark fruit all combine on the aroma, with the taste more or less matching it. I loved the complexity of it and the way it's all carried on a nice creamy full body. I hope I'm not letting my love for Dingle (and my bruised national pride) cloud the decision, but I'm honestly more drawn to a bottle or two of this than a Budvar. After all, no matter how well the Budvar caters to my lager needs, I don't even think it's my favourite of the style, broadly speaking. Sam Adams or Spaten may have a thing or two to say about that. Now, there's an idea - quest for my favourite lager, or indeed lager style. For now though, Carraig Dubh puts Ireland through.

QF 3 - Poland v Germany: Being cheap is not always a good thing. Sometimes a low price tag is the mark of a low quality beer, so it can be hard to decide whether it's good value or pisswater in a bottle, but it sure is exciting to find out. Zywiec, along with fellow Polish recession-friendly Tyskie, is somewhere in between. It's not particularly bad - I thoroughly enjoyed the cold pint of it, and I suspect I'd enjoy it even more with food - but it has to be said that it's not particularly good either. In this case, the price point is a good thing. Yes it's not great, but you won't exactly be throwing all your ducats away. Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier on the other hand, is about €1 more expensive, but offers a vastly improved drinking experience. The malty backbone balances the strong banana, citrus, spice and hoppiness that you get at first, before mellowing out into a nice bready yeast finish. It's ridiculously refreshing, and dangerously quaffable. I will concede, however, that I may  be biased to this brand - my first love of a style that welcomed me into beer geekdom. Regardless, I believe it's a fantastic Bavarian Hefe-Weizen that gets bonus points for being more accessible and affordable than others. Perfectly balanced between true, traditional craft beer and international brand. Germany go through hands down.

QF 4 - England v Spain: British ale really puts to shame the variety of craft beers we have to choose from in Ireland. Fair enough, they had to deal with Heinekenisation (there's a brand new word for you) just as we did, but it seems to have seriously stuck with us. Nonetheless, our craft beer scene is growing and that's something to be proud of. Fuller's is an English brewing institution, and it is too something to be proud of. And you know what? They are proud of it. In London. Hence, London Pride (note: this is almost definitely not where the name comes from). It's their flagship beer, and with good reason too - it's bloody delicious. Perfectly balanced with a strong toffee malt character, fruity follow-up and a nice bitter finish. Drinkability is great - it's quaffable, thirst quenching and you'll probably want another. England are in the semis, and in this competition, there are no penalty shootouts.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

#45: Euro 2012 - Beer Quarter Finals

Ok then, with the actual Quarter Finals starting tonight I thought I'd better get my act together and announce the second group of beers in the last eight of my own tournament. I do have a confession to make though - I've let Italy down by failing to hunt down any of their craft beers. I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to find such in my area, but The Beer Nut pointed out to me that I should be able to get some Brewfist beers at least, which would surely represent the Italians better than Peroni... As such, I'm going to have to go with Spain instead, to be represented by Estrella Daura, simply for being a light and refreshing drinkable lager that is Coeliac friendly. As someone with Crohn's disease, I appreciate beers like this cropping up on the shelves, whether or not I need the option at this point in time. However, it seems unfair to me that Spain (or Italy) should suffer a poor beer representation and as such, I will allow for a 'substitution' if I get the chance to try a better beer before the competition ends. Otherwise, I promise I'll prepare better for the World Cup in 2014! On with the qualifications then...

In Group A, Poland escape the drop with Zywiec. It's a fairly standard Euro Pilsener-style lager that is cheap as chips and goes down well with strong curries or anything chilli. Fair enough, it may not be an obvious Best In Show, but when Greece and Russia are the two to beat, it was easy for me to make the call.

In Group B, Mikkeller's Texas Ranger chilli stout was a very interesting proposition - Beer Geek Breakfast was also a contender - but like football, my own Euro 2012 isn't always fair, and I've opted to send in La Trappe Tripel for almost purely sentimental reasons. I picked up a bottle of this in a supermarket in Amsterdam, and for someone whose love of beer extended to the various bottled macro lagers we have clogging up Irish shelfspace, you can understand that my tastebuds went into orgasmic shutdown under the caress of my first Trappist Tripel. I soon got the Dubbel on tap, and I was sold to real beer. Good job, Netherlands.

In Group C, it's as I've said - Spain with Estrella Daura. During my first flare-up, I was struggling to find the cause of the terrible stomach pains and was advised to opt for Coeliac friendly food where available. Result.

Lastly, in Group D, with England already through on London Pride, it's got to be France with 3 Monts. This was my first Biere de Garde and I really have to scope out some more of this stuff. It's very, well, farmy, with grainy malty tastes that actually put me in mind of a good lager, as opposed to the Belgian-style Pale I was expecting. Surprisingly (and dangerously) for an 8.5% beer, it drinks extremely well, with only a light dry heat at the end warning you of your imminent intoxication. Very refreshing, good warm weather beer, yet still fulfilling and nourishing. Great stuff.

So there we have it. 
The eight Quarter Finalists are as follows;
Budějovický Budvar - Czech Republic
Paulaner Hefe-weizen - Germany
Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne Carraig Dubh - Rep. of Ireland
Fuller's London Pride - England
Zywiec - Poland
La Trappe Tripel - Netherlands
Estrella Daura - Spain
3 Monts - France

Unlike the real Euro 2012, the Semi Final draw will be done completely randomly from an actual hat, to liven things up a bit.

In the meantime there are some interesting prospects in the cupboard, with Straffe Hendrik Quadrupel awaiting appraisal, Piraat awaiting reappraisal, and Paulaner just might finally be written about properly on this blog. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

#44: Rochefort 10, Euro 2012 Beer Update

With the Euros going on everyday and me trying to plan a trip to Belgium, I've been pretty distracted in the past few days and in truth, I haven't drank a whole lot of beer. Sam Adams Boston Lager is still my drink of choice for sipping from the bottle while watching the matches, but I did get to retry Rochefort 10 the other night. 

This was my favourite beer when I first tried it a few months ago, and it was immediately the first beer on my imaginary Top Five list. Piraat, Abt 12 and Westvleteren 12 followed soon after, but I realised recently that apart from the St Bernardus, I've only ever had each of those beers once. And in the case of the Piraat and Rochefort 10, that was before I discovered some of the really good stuff. So, I decided to re-evaluate the beers and see if they remain worthy of a glorious Seven Hells! 

This Rochefort 10 pours different from the last - it's dark red, very still, and the isolated strains of fizz streaming up the side of the glass are the only indicators that you're not looking at red wine. Initially there were a few bubbles on top pretending to be a head, but even they disappeared almost instantly. Very strange, but I later realised that this was down to the lack of sediment in suspension and my relatively tame pour. This also had an effect on the nose - much fruitier than I remembered, with the usual dark fruit such as raisins and figs actually taking the back seat with cherry, raspberry, blueberry and blackberry to the fore. There may even be hints of strawberry and apple in there too. This sweetness is kept grounded by the deep and intense woody malts of chocolate, caramel and hints of cinnamon. The whole thing makes for a very nice complex aroma. The taste seems to be the other way around, with deep nutty toffee and chocolate up first, with the fruit on the follow and a nice tang of yeast at the finish. The alcohol is potent to say the least, but it doesn't take from the beer and while the heat can't be hidden (thankfully), the flavour is completely. The combination of the bubbles that become active in your mouth, the alcohol heat, and the layers of taste leave a tingling sensation on the tongue afterwards, accompanied by a long lingering malty aftertaste. The second pour (I was using my tiny Chimay tasting glass) yielded more yeast sediment and, as such, a much more substantial head. 

Like the Abt 12, I can't help but think of Christmas pudding when I drink this, and I'll definitely be having a glass by the fire after the turkey. Seven Hells, it really is as good as I though!

On the subject of hell, with Ireland mauled by a rampant Spain in the Euros last week, it really was time again for some beer consolation. We already have the first half of the quarter finalists in Ireland, England, Czech Republic and Germany. For France, it's looking good, with 3 Monts, Gavroche and Belzebuth all on the table. Netherlands may also be on easy street, with the competition's only Trappist beer selection looking good to follow Germany out of the group, although Danish craft beer maestros Mikkeller are well equipped to challenge them. The range of Polish beer in my locale is far from inspiring or groundbreaking, but the shameless satisfaction of quaffing a Zywiec, Tyskie or Lech with a nice cheap curry may be enough to see them through, especially when you consider their opposition. Spain and Italy, most likely to be represented by Peroni and Estrella, are fighting it out for the revered prize of Most (Least?) Mediocre Euro Lager, and it must be said that unlike the rest of the nations up there, the eventual winner will probably just be making up the numbers. I've read that Italy is going through a sort of craft beer Renaissance at the moment, but that's yet to make an impact on Cork shelves.

Watch this space...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

#43: Schneider Weisse, Macardle's Wrong

I would apologize for the terrible pun in the title, but in truth, I regret nothing.

A strange duo, this. Of course, I didn't drink these two in a single sitting, just catching up on more notes. Significantly, I'm finally getting around to trying Schneider Weisse, a beer that should have been one of the first on my list to try when I became interested in craft beer, but I just never got around to trying it, seeing as my hefeweizen needs were already being catered to so well by Paulaner. Before long, Belgian beer took precedence over the Bavarian nectar in my beery explorations. As for the Macardles, this is just a bottle I saw for the first time in an off-licence in Kinsale. It was Irish, and it came in the rare proper pint bottle, so I gave it a try. Of course, as soon as I bought it, every alcohol-selling shop I came across was selling it too. Oh well... Also worth noting is that yes, I am depressed with the shocking display that Ireland just offered up against Spain, and I'm really considering opening up a Westvleteren 12 to ease the pain... Either way, I'll soldier on and offer the same consolation I did against the Croats - at least our beer is better. More Euro 2012 to come next week.

The Schneider Weisse Tap 7 pours like a Paulaner - cloudy, massive foamy head and closer to a dark orange than to a pale amber. On the nose it's typical hefe, with sharp citrus notes and sweet yeasty bread taking the front seat, with banana and clove riding in the back. Honestly, there's a chance these banana and clove notes may only be here because you expect them to be. Malty caramel and bread, grassy hops and light candy notes are all very subtle but nonetheless crucial to the beer's complexity and balance. The first big sip is bloody refreshing - it's light and fruity enough to be truly thirst quenching and quaffable, but flavourful and well, full enough to be a very interesting drink in it's own right. I would say that it lacks the body of other hefes, but only in a small way towards the end. Citrus and banana up front, with fresh grassy hops and a muted candy-sweet finish. It's better than the Weihenstephaner Hefe-weissbier in my opinion, but maybe not as intense as I'd like from this style. I know it's supposed to be relatively light and easy-going compared to, say, a Tripel or something, but it just feels a bit too understated. Regardless, it's a good beer, and I'll be hoping to try more from Schneider Weisse.

Macardle's Traditional Irish Ale, then, is a decidedly average beer. Let's just get that out of the way. It's a standard ale all-round, and that's pretty much better than I was expecting. Clear copper in colour, malty and biscuity on the nose, and exactly the same on the tongue. The toffee and chocolate malts that are announced solidly in the aroma are late to get involved in the taste, and when they finally arrive at the end of your gulp, they're muted and elbowed out of the way by what must be that common hop variety, Regulation English Ale Bittering Hops. 

This nondescript ale cost me €3. That's 10c more expensive than a bottle of St Bernardus Abt 12. Think about that.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

#42: Tom and Gerry

More catching up on my notes here, with two recent acquisitions in Robinson's Old Tom and Weihenstephaner Vitus. Also, cheers to the Beer Nut for the tweet that was my first plug.

Let's go with Gerry first then. Weihenstephaner Vitus weizenbock, my first of this style, though I'm very familiar with weizens in general. I was expecting a beer that was darker than a normal hefe, maybe even a dunkel, but what I poured was a pale lager-coloured ale with a fluffy white head, good fizz. On the nose, it's typical hefe-weissbier stuff - banana, clove and bubblegum, with a strange lemon sherbert tang and malty bread yeast. It's well-balanced and interesting. Fruity hefe flavours are on the tongue too, with sticky sweetness from the fruit and caramel malt balanced well by a grassy freshness. It's maltier than a hefe, and in the case of this brewer, nicer. The 7.7% ABV lends a delicate alcohol heat while the whole thing manages to stay refreshing and drinkable. Good stuff, but maybe not something to rush out and buy as soon as possible.

Robinson's Old Tom is also on the slightly stronger end of the scale, with 8% ABV. It's a dark ruby red ale that downright refuses to entertain anything like a head, with a very strong chocolate malt aroma with backgrounds of sweet candy, bubblegum and spice rum. Golden syrup and toffee apple are hinted at, while hops appear as subtle berry and cherry notes. On the tongue, toasted bread with toffee and caramel malt are balanced by green apple and dark fruits with a mildly spicy, bitter hops finish. It's full bodied and lightly carbonated, with a very slight dryness from the alcohol. Good stuff, something different I reckon.

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

#41: Beer, Cheese, and a Song of Ice and Fire

This is the first time I've tried to properly enjoy cheese with beer. Result? Resounding success. 
Thoroughly enjoyable interplay of flavours, and most of all, a very satisfying mix of textures, with the crumbly red cheddar from Dubliner washed beautifully away by the rich full bodied St Bernardus Abt 12. The salty tanginess (a word I've just fabricated) of the cheese really helps intensify the fruit and deep malts of the Abt 12.
It's definitely worth noting that I know absolutely nothing about cheese. We've only ever had cheddar cheese in our fridge, and until now, my consumption and enjoyment of the stuff has been exclusively as an ingredient of pizza. Apart from that, I've never even considered enjoying cheese as a foodstuff all on it's own. Granted, my cheese of choice is far from a 'specialist cheese', but it is a decent strong cheddar, and may serve as a Sam Adams or Sierra Nevada-type 'gateway cheese', if you follow me. Even now, for this tasting experiment, I brought salted crackers with me, in case the cheese thing went tits up and I needed a buffer. However, I now think I'll be leaving the crackers... 

My eventual inspiration to try cheese with beer came when I was browsing the Chimay website. As someone who almost gagged at the thought of rich, strong, unctuous cheese all my life (I've always been a man of rather plain tastes) I was astonished to find myself looking at the wheels of Chimay cheese pictured online and practically drooling. Mind you, there's still a line I won't cross; anything with blue or green mould in it is still too far for now, but we'll see where this beer and cheese exploration takes me. 

Who knows, I might be gobbling rinds of creamy, stinky blue cheese in no time...

Another discovery of the night is that after trying the Gulden Draak again I've decided that it's a great beer, and a very tasty one, but it just doesn't get the call-up to my dream team of beer.

Finally, the beer and cheese proved a delicious and satisfying accompaniment to some Game of Thrones - seriously, I'm starting to question why I would ever leave the house. I encourage you to try this asap - a great beer, some cheese and a novel - pure luxury.

#40: Westvleteren 12

Aha, here we go. This is one that everybody knows, and that most people love. It's supposedly the best beer in the world, and with a reputation like that, it surely wouldn't disappoint... would it?

Westvleteren 12 pours a dark murky brown with red highlights in the light, and pitch black in the shade. It's got a thick and creamy off-white head, and it bubbles menacingly from the bottle. Thankfully, no spillages here. Primary aromas of champagne yeast with deep layers of dark fruit, toffee apple and caramel sweetness. Although there was no spillage, opening the bottle was enough to rouse the yeast from the base and initiate a cola like fizz on the top. After a small while, the yeast element dies down, as does the sparkling fizz, and you can enjoy the chocolate malt and caramel notes much better. It's looking pretty good right now...

...and then you put it in your mouth.* It really is gorgeous stuff. Deep earthy malts to the fore, bringing slight funk with the toffee apple, bubblegum and candy sweetness. The finish then is predominantly dark fruits with the usual stuff - raisins, cherries, berries and figs - and a slight spice touch that livens things up a little bit. As time goes on, the chocolate note at the very finish grows more and more powerful. Delicious. The complexity is great, and it's all carried on a creamy, velvety, thick full body that slightly degrades as time goes on. Takes nothing from the beer though.

The combination of the taste and mouthfeel left my mouth tingling after every sip, and with that gorgeous aroma that kept me busy for the first 5 minutes of the tasting, it's an intensely satisfying beer all-round.

Now then, I suppose I can't neglect to address the question everybody will ask about Westvleteren 12: Is this the best beer in the world?

No. Probably not, at any rate. It's been one of the best beers I've had, yes, and one of my top five favourites, yes, but any one of those other four beers could be better in my eyes. And that's not to mention the staggering amount of great beers I've yet to try. To be honest, I don't think there even can be a 'best beer in the world'. For instance, at the moment Pliny the Elder seems to be edging this as the best in the world, but as I've mentioned before, I generally don't go for hoppier beers. Therefore, it's very likely that Pliny wouldn't even break into my top five. It's all about personal preference.

As such, I feel it's important that I recommend you buy it only if it really means that much to you. I dropped €50 on six bottles of this, and as great as it is, I can't see where the extra €6 per bottle goes when compared to, say, Rochefort 10. In fact, it would be very interesting to see this compared blind to the Rochefort, seeing as it's my favourite of the style at the moment. Ponder no more though; the work has already been comprehensively done right here.

*No, the beer.

#39: Euro 2012 Group Stages and Loosely Linked Beer Talk

Euro 2012 started on Friday, with Poland, Greece, Russia and the Czech Republic fighting it out. Needless to say, the tournament didn't start for me until Spain played Italy yesterday. It was a promising day, with Cork winning the Munster Semi-final and Italy and Spain ending in a draw, an Ireland win would have been perfect. Flags and scarves up, Sam Adams in the fridge, cheap Ireland charity t-shirt on the back... Anyway, we know what happened. In an effort to redeem my national pride and to desperately induce some sense of superiority over the Croatians, I reflected on the fact that we have better beer. Well, probably. I did some research a few weeks before the tournament - as I planned to stage my own Euro 2012 of Beer - and I realised I was going to have trouble buying and trying the beers from some of the participating countries, especially at short notice. For example, I don't know where in Cork I can get my hands on some Croatian, Ukrainian or even Russian beer, and some countries (Spain, Poland, France, Portugal) are only represented in my locale by absolute toss.

So instead, I will do one beer per matchday, with the first four obviously in hindsight (I told you I'd be distracted). 

For matchday one, it was really no contest. I've never had a Greek or Russian beer, and I have to make this clear, I'm not about finding the best beer, just my favourite, and in this case Budějovický Budvar takes it for the Czech Republic. A full-flavoured pilsener that I found ridiculously enjoyable with my curry a while back.

For matchday two, we had more interesting prospects. Netherlands, Denmark and Germany all produce fine beers, with La Trappe, Mikkeller, Wieckse Witte, Paulaner and Weihenstephaner all vying for the considerable honour of being called my favourite. Portugal and beer is a venn diagram that in my mind only has one tiny and insignificant interception - Sagres. Nothing there, then. I would even consider Heineken for the Netherlands, because I have to say having a 250ml glass of the stuff on tap in a sunny Amsterdam really is a much different experience to being served a pint of the fizzy water we get here. That's all redundant, though, because I don't think I was ever not going to choose Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier for Germany.

Matchday three was once again more straightforward. Italy and Spain don't offer much that I've experienced and enjoyed - Peroni was my most recent, with it being unremarkable and, to be honest, not even very refreshing, which I consider the very least a beer like that should be. Croatia was a no-go for me so Ireland have it in the bag. It's a close battle between Porterhouse Brainblásta and Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne's Carraig Dubh, with the latter edging it for it's massive success in making me really enjoy it, despite it's obvious handicap of being a porter.

Finally, matchday four had England and France fighting for the points on the pitch, and they were really the only two contenders in this group. I do know that Sweden have some goods to offer, but I can't say I've tried any, so I can't vouch for that. I also have to admit that I've been slacking on my research - I haven't tried Trois Monts yet. It appears on paper to be the best French beer I can get a hold of, with the only others I can get a hold of being Kronenbourg 1664 and Desperados. It would have been unfair to the good people of France if I put either of these forward only to get destroyed by any number of classy English ales. Don't worry, though, I plan on selecting 4 runners-up beers to make up a quarter finals scenario. How these will be selected is shut up, that's how. Seriously though, rules and regulations for this competition are corrupt on a Turkish football scale. Anyway, my winner for Group D has got to be Fuller's London Pride. It might not be groundbreaking or game-changing, but it's damned delicious drink. Quaff away, but with Trois Monts on the horizon, a beer of a style I am very much attracted to, England may not exactly be running away with it. Money permitting, Sweden may also launch a late challenge for the remaining spot...

So, a recap of the top placed finishers in each group:

Budějovický Budvar - Czech Republic
Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier - Germany
Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne Carraig Dubh - Ireland
Fuller's London Pride - England

Once again, I can't stress enough how the competition is about me finding my favourite and most enjoyable drink, as opposed to judging what is technically the best beer. I simply haven't got the beer knowledge for that sort of thing, to be honest. Also, in an effort to make this as fair as possible, I'm only going to allow one entry per country. This is mainly to prevent me from giving Ireland two beers in the quarter finals, though it doesn't account for me being forced to choose relatively shit beers for countries that I just can't get good beery access to.

Spain, Portugal, Poland, Russia, Italy... I apologize in advance.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

#38: Porterhouse No.3

Here we have the penultimate (I think) entry in the Porterhouse bottled range, until, of course, more of their wares become available to me. So far, the best of the lot has surprisingly been the intriguing yet drinkable Wrasslers XXXX, but I fear that beer may have some stiff competion in this next entry, the strong ale Brainblásta. Also tested is the terrifying Oyster Stout. That they actually use oysters in the brewing process should really be enough to put me off, but I'm willing to try any beer once, so I'll give it a chance.

First up then is the Brainblásta I picked up in Bradley's. This pours a dark yet crystal clear red, with a one-and-a-half finger white head, medium carbonation and decent lacing. This is also the strongest Irish ale I've had, at 7%, so I was pretty impressed by the size of the head it produced. The smell is terrific - caramel and bubblegum, candy-like sherbert sweetness with a malty toffee and chocolate background. Hops announce their presence by delivering citrus and fresh cut grass in small doses, while the whole thing forms an interesting balance. On the tongue, it's just as impressive. Bitterness at the front with toffee and caramel follwing in behind, biscuit malt undertones and a really nice candy fruit finish. Again, the balance is great and very interesting. It's all carried beautifully on a creamy smooth full body, and leaves just a touch of alcohol heat. Really good stuff, and dare I say, my favourite Irish ale...

The Oyster Stout, then, had it's work cut out to match the 'Tasty Drop'. It pours very dark but not quite pitch black - you can see the red hues in the light. It's two finger white head dissipates to film in next to no time, leaving behind very little lacing. On the nose, I at first got pretty much everything I'd expect form a stout - roasted malts, coffee and smoke, but with a very distinct and obvious sweetness, and something that reminded me very much of the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier - yes, it smelled a bit like bacon. This is in the taste too - definitely smoked meat, but with a sweet creamy taste to it too. There's a subtle and strange mint or eucalyptus freshness to the flavour, that really makes for quite an interesting drink. Coffee is in the flavour too, with a decent hops bitterness at the very back. It's light and very easy drinking, but I have to say, this is probably one made for the stout fan. There was nothing inherently wrong with the beer, but it was difficult at first to get through it. After the first few minutes though, I got used to the flavours and could really start to pull things apart in my mind. Once again though, I don't think I enjoyed the actual flavour and aroma of this beer as much as an avid stout drinker would.

So, two beers worthy of exploration from the Porterhouse, with the Brainblásta becoming my official Favourite Beer From Ireland. Next up in this range is the Hersbrucker Pilsener and the Celebration Stout. As far as I know, that's all of the Porterhouse bottles I have ready access to.

#37: The Collection

I don't know exactly why, but I felt the urge to assemble all my current beers on my desk and give them a good look. I discovered that I had less than I thought, and perhaps more worrying, that I had only one Belgian ale. Given that Belgian ales are my addiction at the moment, I think when my stock runs down I'll be pretty much restocking Belgians exclusively - especially when you consider that I've never had any of the Orval, Achel or Westmalle ales. Also, some strong pale ales wouldn't go amiss. For now, this is what I'm working with.

First of all, let's address the elephant in the room. Yes, that's a six-pack of Westvleteren 12 with two branded glasses. I bought this in February for €50 - the same price you'll get anywhere, apparantly - as part of the monastery's efforts to raise money for renovations. If nothing else, the pack pretty much doubles the value of this particular collection, if not for it's monetary value then for it's quality, and I'm not just saying that - I had the first bottle a few days ago, expect a post on that soon. These packs are actually still around, surprisingly, and while it is incredibly tempting to have such a rare and beautiful beer so accessible to me, I can't really say any beer is worth €50 for six 330ml bottles. I think I'll be saving my next Westvleteren purchase for the abbey.
The other six pack you can see is Samuel Adams Boston Lager. This is one of my top three session beers along with Paulaner Hefe-weizen and Fuller's London Pride. I'll be putting this bad boy in the fridge for Ireland's Euro 2012 games - I reckon €8 for a six pack of my favourite lager over three games is better than standing in a crowded pub paying at least €4.80 for a pint of Irish craft beer. Good beer, sensible drinking, order a pizza and where could you go wrong?
As I said, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen is one of my favourite everyday session beers - in fact, this one's probably at the top. Since the middle of December, I've never been without a bottle of this, and now that I finally have a Paulaner branded wheat beer glass I can only expect that I'll be drinking more. I've had about four or five since starting the blog, and that's not including the ones on tap, so I will be writing about it soon. Summer is upon us (or has been for about a month, apparently) so when the weather picks up I plan on doing a week or five days of wheat beers.
One of those will be the Schneider Weisse Tap 7. Honestly, I've no idea why it's taken me so long to try this. When I first got in to beer proper, German wheat beer was my style, much like strong Belgian ale is now. Though my tastes have changed since then I still love a hefe (duh, Paulaner) so I'm really looking forward to this.
Weihenstephaner Vitus is a beer that's related, I guess, being a weizenbock. I've never had one of these so I'm also pretty excited for that one. As a side note, at 7.7% ABV I think this is currently the strongest beer in Tesco, and given that I seem to prefer the stronger ones these days the purchase was inevitable.
Robinson's Old Tom is another one that got me very excited, with it's lovely bottle and 8.5% ABV, I was dying to see could I find a British equivalent of my favourite style. Likewise, I was very excited about Porterhouse's Brainblásta, which did not disappoint.
I have my second bottle of Young's Double Chocolate Stout to finish, and like I said before, when I do feel like a stout (it happens!) I'll be very happy to have this smooth drinker, even if it doesn't pack the punch I was expecting.
Also in the stout category is the Porterhouse Oyster Stout. I have to admit - I've already had this one, so there'll be a post about that up soon.
Another that I've already had is Eight Degrees Brewing's Howling Gale Ale. I had it twice on tap, but a slightly chilled bottled version sounds better to me than the ice-cold, possibly nitrogenated pint (I'm only just starting to learn how to tell - I don't get out much).
For the hot summer sun we'll no doubt be getting, I'm saving my St Bernardus Wit. After going off Hoegaarden recently, I miss having a nice wit to drink, with my best previous experience coming from Wieckse Witte, a beer I can't get a hold of here.
Cooper's Sparkling Ale will be my first Australian beer, and I have to admit there's not a whole lot I'm expecting to get from this, so it may be the case of just ticking Australia off the beer map. We'll see how that one goes before buying the Original Ale.
Macardle's is one I'd never heard of until I spotted it in an off-licence in Kinsale a couple of weeks ago, and although it appears to be made by Diageo, I decided it would be an interesting one to try. Also, it comes in a proper pint bottle.
Finally, I picked up a bottle of Warsteiner Premium Verum, a German Pilsener that I remember as being decidedly average. The reason I bought this one was that I hadn't tried it in very long, and I do often crave a quaffable Czech or Czech-style lager. I think I'll be having this one with a chicken curry - I had my first Budweiser Budvar with a curry recently and I have to say it was one of the most simple yet ridiculously enjoyable pairings I could have imagined.
So there we have it, my plan is for these beers to see me through the next three weeks at least, so there will be a slight let up of new-beer-exploration posts while I enjoy my Sam Adams and watch the Euros. I do, however, have a backlog of notes that I haven't yet turned into posts so it won't be a desert blog.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

#36:Pater & Abt

I tried two beers from St Bernardus recently, in an effort to erase from my memory the debacle that was their Tripel. The two I chose were the Pater 6, and the Abt 12. Much has been written about the Abt 12's similarity to the rare and supposedly brick-shittingly good Westvleteren 12, due to the shared history of the breweries, but I'm not going to bang on about it here. Google the breweries and you'll find the information from a much better informed source. The Pater 6, on the other hand, is one that I kind of only bought because it was dirt cheap. Only kind of, though - I still really wanted to try all the St Bernardus beers. Anyway, on with the liquid.

The Pater 6 pours a murky, rusty brown with a three finger foamy head and lots of carbonation. It's dark complexion led me to believe I'd be getting caramel malt by the bucket load, when actually the first thing to reach my nose was the grassy, sweet citrus peel and dark fruit notes of something else entirely. Malt is there though, in the form of sweet bread dough, as well as in the muted toffee background. The taste too is pretty much all malt, with woody caramel biscuit, light smokiness and a sweet fruit in the finish. The flavours are carried well by a great full body, with a nice fizz and a creamy feel. Overall the beer starts well and only improves as it sits in the glass. Probably the best Dubbel I've had, though I'll have to compare it to the Rochefort 8 to test this out.

The second St Bernardus here was also being compared in my mind to a Rochefort. This time it was the 10, and although the splendour of that particular elixir may have grown in my memory, I firmly believed that the St Bernardus Abt 12 would be hard pressed to beat the Rochefort quad. I also made sure to take plenty of notes and, as usual, give the beer a rough rating in each category to ensure that I remember exactly how much I enjoyed it when the time comes to try the Westvleteren 12.

The Abt 12 poured pretty much as I'd expect it to; a dark ruby red with tons of carbonation, a conservative creamy head and a nice silky lacing. Opening the bottle was enough to cue the gushing of foam, thereby raising up all the sediment. As such, the bready Belgian yeast smell was strong at first, with cherries, figs and raisins, bread malt, toffee and caramel malt and hints of over-ripe, slightly sour apple all forming a rich and quite intense complex aroma. It's one of those rare beers where I'm quite happy to sit there sniffing it for five minutes, like some sort of alcoholic pervert. However, my already considerable respect for the beer doubles with the first taste. Toffee malt is at the front, with caramel and chocolate, hot spiced rum, bread yeast, and the sticky fruit sweetness from the berries, cherries and green apple all joining in. You can definitely taste the dark fruit in this, especially with the strong presence of raisins at the very finish. It's beautifully complex and overall malty - just the way I like it. What makes the beer so damn satisfying though, is the fact that all those flavours are carried on the velvety smooth, creamy full body. It's fulfilling and very warming - you feel like you're drinking Christmas.

I definitely feel that this could contend with Rochefort 10 - I've already added it to my three-beer list of Stuff I Would Like to Drown In - but to find out for sure I'll have to compare the two side-by-side. I don't really know why I feel so compelled to actually compare them, but to be honest, it's probably just an excuse to drink two savage beers in a single sitting. Maybe I should throw in the Piraat too, for, erm... balance?

Monday, 4 June 2012

#35: Short and Stout

As I'm pretty sure I've said already, I'm not a big fan of stouts or porters. As such, I'm trying my best to explore the styles in an effort to find something I really like, or at least to give them a decent chance before I write them off. So far, Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil has been my favourite, with a complexity that seriously impressed me when I first tried it. Wrassler's XXXX from the Porterhouse range was a delicious and enjoyable runner-up, but other than that there haven't been many beers in the style that have impressed me enough to inspire second tastings or, more importantly, stocking up just for the sake of enjoyment. This is the latest pair of beers in my exploration of stouts, the nicely priced O'Hara's Traditional Irish Stout and the immensely appealing Young's Double Chocolate Stout.

First up was O'Hara's Traditional Irish Stout. At €1.79 a bottle it was definitely worth a try, especially seeing as the only O'Hara's beer I've tried before was the Curim Celtic wheat beer about a year and a half ago, and to be honest, I can't even remember how I felt about that. It pours pitch black with a thin, short-lived head, and inactive carbonation, and looks bloody lovely in fairness. On the nose it's standard dry stout fare; roast malts, smoke, hints of chocolate - not very complex, but it still smells pretty good. The taste is better, with smokey roast malt flavours and slight medicinal notes taking centre stage, and a light bitterness at the end livening things up. Not bad, but tasty enough to keep you interested. The body is good too, but overall the beer just hasn't got enough to encourage me to buy it again. I have heard good things about the Leann Folláin though, so I will give that a try too.

Next was Young's Double Chocolate Stout, and for someone who doesn't have a particular interest in stouts, I was ridiculously excited about trying this beer. So much so, in fact, that when I finally decided to throw money at the idea, I bought two bottles of the stuff. Now, I'm wondering if that was a good idea or a bad one, and to be honest, it could go either way at this point. It pours a thick pitch black like the O'Hara's, but with a nicer, creamier head that keeps longer too. Also, the lacing is pretty nice, and when you've finished your pint, it sticks to your glass smelling very much like Lyle's maple flavoured Golden Syrup. On the nose, it's actually the roasted malts and charcoal that hit first, followed by a light chocolate sweetness and smokey coffee notes. Aniseed and liquorice are here to lend medicinal qualities to the aroma, and as the beer warms up, that milk chocolate smell develops nicely. Chocolate is unsurprisingly at the front of the taste too, with a malty sweetness, light fruitiness and smokey bitterness getting in on the act later on. Once again, the milk chocolate only gets more satisfying as time goes on the beer warms up. It's not as thick and creamy as one might expect, but it's still got a nice smooth and fulfilling body to it that sets it apart from most of the stouts I've tried, although I can't say it's as thick and smooth as the Old Engine Oil. Anyway, it's not as exciting as I would have hoped, but I do get an inexplicable craving for a stout every now and again, and when that next occurs, I'll be glad of the second bottle in the cupboard.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

#34: Double Tripel

After the surprise hops in the Slaapmutske Tripel, I was ready return to my comfort zone with two Belgian tripels I felt I could rely on to provide the kind of malty, yeasty tripel I love the most. Once again, I can't stress enough that I don't have a problem with hoppy beers, it's just that I prefer my dubbels, tripels and other Belgian strong ales without the bitter bite, and I also concede that this is probably just because I got used to those kinds of beers first. This is subject to change as my tastes change - who knows, maybe in a couple of years I won't like Belgian ale at all...

As if. Anyway, the two beers I chose were the Tripel Karmeliet and the St Bernardus Tripel. The latter has been sitting in the cupboard for quite a while, mainly just to get that ridiculous amount of sediment to lie down, while the former I bought to drink asap - I couldn't wait to try it. Both beers surprised me, in a way...

The Tripel Karmeliet pours a pale gold lager colour, with a mad fizz to it and a monster head, though that could be down to my terrorist pour. Head retention is great, as is the lacing. On the nose it's the grapefruit that gets me first, followed by the caramel malt, nut and bread, as well as sweet toffee. Citrus fruit becomes more and more prominent as the beer warms up, which was a nice surprise. See? Sometimes I like the presence of hops! Nice complexity to the smell, so on to the taste. Sticky sweet caramel malts to the fore, with peanut, biscuit, fruit and yeast in the middle and finish. The alcohol heat at the very end gives way to a lovely grainy aftertaste that lingers a little while. Also worth noting that grapefruit makes an appearance in the taste too, to remind us that he's still around. It's mouthwatering, this one. Great full body and velvety smooth carbonation help make this a fantastic beer.

The St. Bernardus Tripel was surprising in a completely different way. To be frank, it was bloody disappointing. The only consolation was that I'm convincing myself it was a dodgy bottle, because I don't want to believe that this is what St. Bernardus have put forward as their tripel. It looked OK - clear golden with a small white head and fair carbonation - but things started to go awry in the smell. It was fruity, yeasty and medicinal, with a really damp or dank quality to it. The complexity that I'd expect just wasn't there in the taste either - hops, medicine and caramel malt with some generally off flavours. The mouthfeel wasn't terrible, with a medium to full body trying to make up for all that was lost on the nose and tongue. I really do hope this is an off bottle, so I may try it again in a little while. That being said, I'd much rather spend my money on the Tripel Karmeliet.