Monday, 31 December 2012

#110: St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

This is the penultimate winter seasonal beer in my collection (for now), and the very last Christmas beer. It's the one I had pictured in my mind when I first thought of trying a 'Christmas beer', and as such, the one I've been looking forward to most.

This is because it's brewed by Brouwerij St. Bernardus, one of my favourite brewers, responsible for the gorgeous Abt 12 and Prior 8 among others. I was hoping for (and kind of expecting) an Abt 12 with spice, and I wasn't very much disappointed.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale pours as dark as the Quad of the range, with a big, long lasting, creamy off-white head. Dark fruit dominates the aroma, all the usual suspects of figs, plums, raisins and the like, with just a hint of green and red apple too. There's spice alright, but it's limited to clove as far as I can tell, with the rest of the beer's 'spicy' aroma more akin to Belgian yeast. The taste is perfect, as far as a Christmas beer goes. Clove is joined by vanilla, toffee and tiny hints of cinnamon as decorations to the already rich and powerful dark fruit tree. The 10% alcohol produces a lovely warming sensation, and I suspect is also responsible for the way in which the beer totally coats the inside of the mouth, allowing for a nice lingering aftertaste. It's a sweet beer, but sweet in strictly malt and fruit sense, as it totally avoids being a cloying sugarbomb like some other beers.

I enjoyed this much more than any of the other winter or Christmas beers so far, so I would certainly recommend it. I must also say, however, that I don't think I'd reach for this over an Abt 12. Which is important, seeing as the difference is quite minimal, despite being almost twice the price. Still though, worth a go if it's around in the New Year.

Speaking of which, being the last day of the year, you'll probably see a few Golden Pints doing the rounds on the beer blogosphere. When I started this blog in April, I was excited to compile a similar list, but like a football league table at Christmas, nothing is final, not yet. As such, I'll leave that sort of thing until I've actually been doing this for a year, in April. In the meantime, just Google the Golden Pint  and you'll find seemingly infinite results, or head on over to The Beer Nut to have a look at his.
No, not just because this blog gets name-dropped, but because 8 Degrees Ochtoberfest would also be my pick of the year.

Thanks for bearing with me through this often mind-numbingly repetitive process of 'reviewing' beers, and enjoy the New Year festivities, if that's what you're into.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

#109: A Winter's Ale

This is the one of the last Christmas/Winter seasonal beers I have in my possession, and the third from Ireland, after the Yule Ól and Sanity Claus. I would have posted about this around a week ago, but I was having too much fun doing very little for Christmas.
8 Degrees Brewing's A Winter's Ale pours a hazy amber, much lighter than I expected, with a bubbly white head. At first sniff, it's not much different from a pumpkin ale, although I find it thankfully has more in common with the Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin than the bland and artificial Pumpkinhead. Cool clove is ever-present, with spicy peel and zest notes taking the back seat. Clove is again present in the taste, although this time it's accompanied by a lovely dark fruit and sugary malt character. The finish has a low hop and spice flavour, reminding you of the beer's seasonality. 

It's very tasty, to be sure, but it never really takes off. This could be the lack of complexity or the lightness of the body, but I feel it doesn't really reach it's full, satisfying potential.

Again, the search goes on. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

#108: Ridgeway Christmas

The following three are all from Reidgeway Brewing in Oxfordshire, seeming made for export to the US market, yet somehow finding their way to our shores. The novelty factor is high in these parts. You have been warned.

First up is Santa's Butt. The label explains that the 'butt' in question is not the big fella's arse, but rather a volume of liquid, in this case beer. It's a porter and pours like one, being ruby red when held to the light. The nose has touches of coffee but is generally red berries and sugary sweetness all the way. This is emulated by the taste, with sweetness, fruitiness and malts dominating. It doesn't start to feel like a porter until the very end, when the coffee you thought you smelled finally comes back into play. Like Innis and Gunn's Winter Treacle Porter, it is driven by a sugary sweetness, but thankfully it never quite threatens to cloy like that particular beer. 

The name and label of this seasonal offering will prove a whole lot more memorable than the contents, while there's nothing really negative to say about the beer. It's tasty and drinkable, albeit instantly forgettable. And that's OK for a novelty beer.

Next we have Reindeer Droppings, an English amber ale, according to the label. It certainly pours amber, and supports just a tiny head, evidence of the light body that is only confirmed upon drinking. The aroma is mild to say the least, and is dominated by an unadventurous hoppiness. The taste delivers more of that bland hop quality, which is drowned out completely by the nutty finish. All of this happens on the back of a water-thin body, to create an experience infinitely less memorable than the already Santa's Butt.
Oh well.

Pickled Santa is the third of the lot, and the most appropriately Christmassy. This is mostly down to the use of spices (or spice flavourings) in the beer, adding to the novelty factor that I expect when I pay for such a beer. The aroma is not unlike the Shipyard Pumpkinhead I had a while back, with vaguely clove and cinnamon-like smells dominating from the off. The taste isn't much different, offering the same clove coolness alongside a sugary sweetness. It's not a very good beer, but to be fair, none of these are. To say it's the best of the bunch probably doesn't tell you much, but it's better than nothing.

Over the weekend I had the chance to pop out for a few drinks, and with this being such a rare occurrence of late, I made an effort to try something new.

First stop was, as usual, the Abbot's. I had a Barbar to start with, but followed it with an Augustijn on tap. An 8% tripel, it was sweet and grainy, with sugary malts blending well with lighter citrus notes. The pub soon became uncharacteristically cramped and loud so we left for the newest craft beer bar in Cork, the Porterhouse. This branch of the well-known Dublin crowd opened last week on Sheares Street, and I've been looking forward to checking it out. Instead of going for one of their own beers, I opted for one I should have tried a long time ago - Metalman Pale Ale. This is the brewer's flagship beer, and it's bloody gorgeous. It's very hoppy and fruity, though not as tropical as the summer seasonal Windjammer, and packs tons of refreshing flavour into every sip. Definitely one to enjoy again.

The three Ridgeways were the last of my Christmas beers*, and I'm bloody glad of it. It's high time I had something strong, dark, and Belgian, because to be honest, I can't think of anything other than a Dubbel or Quad to reach for over the big day.

Happy Christmas from the The Drunken Destrier.

*Christmas presents pending

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

#107: Crazy Time of Year

While Dungarvan's Coffee and Oatmeal Stout is a limited Winter brew, it's not a novelty Christmas beer. I think it's fair to say that this most certainly is.

I've had completely contrasting experiences with Whitewater Brewing in the past. First I was very impressed by their Clotworthy Dobbin (though I've yet to write about it), before things went a bit tits up with Belfast Lager. I'm interested to see how this one goes...

Sanity Claus pours a clear, light ruby red. It could easily pass for an Irish Red, in fact. The aroma really only comes alive when the beer warms up, producing lovely chocolate malt and liquorice notes. Interesting, and not at all what I expected. The taste is good too, with buttery fudge, woody malts and a nutty finish calling most of the shots, with hops providing a little bitterness and not much flavour. It's good, if a little low-key. I certainly wouldn't turn to this as a winter beer, let alone as my beer of choice for the big day itself.

The search goes on.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

#106: Dungarvan Coffee & Oatmeal Stout

This being my first day of the Christmas holidays, it's only fitting that I present a Winter seasonal offering from Dungarvan, their Coffee and Oatmeal Stout, complete with snazzy new art deco labelling.

It pours a satisfying black with a tan head, although holding it to the light shows it's really dark brown. The aroma is deep and malty at first, with a sweet fruitiness and herbal notes emphasizing the disturbing lack of coffee. This absence is also noted in the taste, which is much more like the standard Black Rock stout than anything else. However, it's got a much lighter body than that particular beer, making it a bit less enjoyable.

Disappointing, but only because I expect a much higher standard from this brewer. Otherwise, it's an acceptable beer.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

#105: Rounding Up

These are my last two beers that aren't Christmas novelty or seasonal beers, at least for now. They were selected pretty much at random, just to make up the numbers in a 5 for €10 deal.
Thwaites IPA pours clear amber with a big soapy head. Slightly acidic hop notes are potent on the aroma, and there's a hint of bubblegum in there too. The taste isn't much like this. Rather, it's more like any number of forgettable English ales. Exceptionally boring balance of biscuit malt and hop highlights, it's rather flat in the flavour stakes. Still though, it's plenty drinkable, if unremarkable, and totally unlike any IPA I've ever had. 

And I mean that in a bad way.

The other beer is Mariestads Export, a lager from Sweden. It seems to be pretty popular up there too, if that tells you anything. It pours the dark gold of a standard lager, it has the sweet, slightly corny malt aroma of a standard lager, but it's big surprise is it's thick syrupy malt character that dominates the taste. Amazingly, it manages to do that while still remaining completely forgettable. That being said, I must admit I was pretty satisfied to have this with my pizza.

Not the best pair you'll ever have, but you could do a lot worse.

Monday, 10 December 2012

#104: Fuller's London Porter

I picked this up as part of the 5 for €10 deal in Tesco at the moment, and it's one I've been thinking about for a while, considering my good experiences in the past with Fuller's London Pride and Black Cab Stout. The label on this one promises a rich, dark and complex beer, so let's have it.

London Porter pours pretty much black with a tan head, although you do get to see the ruby red hues when held to the light. The aroma is gorgeous, right off the bat. Herbal notes hit first, and they unwrap to reveal the sweet brown sugar, smoked woody malts and toffee notes. Coffee is in there too, and just the right amount. The taste is virtually the same as the aroma, but offers more dark fruits to compliment the dark roasted malt backbone of the beer. Hops can be found if you're looking for them, but rather like Trouble's Dark Arts, this is something of a malt bomb, and I'm all for that.

Fantastic beer and a new favourite, strongly recommended.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

#103: You'll Ól

Let's not fool ourselves, Christmas is taking over the world at this time of year, and that bleeds into the craft beer world too. Novelty beers are aplenty these days, and this particular one is my first of the year, and comes courtesy of the excellent and growing selection at Bradleys. Also a reminder that you can now buy online so there are even fewer excuses for not trying the goods.

Yule Ól is brewed by White Gypsy in Tipperary, I brewer I've got masses of respect for. While their Belgian Dubbel was dubious, the Russian Imperial Stout was good drinking and I look forward to trying their APA and Doppelbock. Interesting to see how this fares. 

It pours like a glass of Coke, with a similarly short-lived fizzy head. The aroma gives sharp sweetness, hints of bubblegum, quiet woody malts and a touch of red berries. I can't quite describe it, but it feels lacking in richness or something. The taste opens better, with juicy red berries the order of the day. Darker malts betray the light presence of the toffee and coffee malts described on the label, before again tapering off into a slightly dry, very light-bodied finish. Really, I can't say this a bad beer, but I feel let down. It just doesn't have the richness or fullness of flavour that I'd like in this style. It feels very much like a beer without confidence, much like the Belgian Dubbel. 

Certainly worth a go, I can see this being quite popular. However, my favourite White Gypsy beer remains my first, the Bruinette. I'm eager to investigate the other two bottled beers, as well as explore the core range of draught beers that earned them their reputation in the first place.

Friday, 7 December 2012

#102: The Session - Don't Believe the Hype

This month's Session, and my first participation, is hosted by Good Morning, and questions the role of hype in the life of a beer.

Now, I'm well aware that almost everyone and their mother is going to be writing about Westvleteren 12, particularly with the release of the six-pack 'bricks' earlier this year, but I can't possibly avoid the subject. I did a little write-up on this beer in the past where I briefly discussed it's reputation, but I'd like to expand on that.

So, you may have heard that this is the best beer in the world. It's highly rated on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. It's generally highly rated in the blogosphere. Those YouTube reviewers tend to go nuts just talking about it. It has to be amazing, right?

Specially branded bottle & glass
Then, you hear the news. Super-special limited collector's gift packs are going to be released for export, far beyond the the boundaries of the brewery's own cryptic, clandestine sales operation.* Finally, now's your chance, beer nerd! Buy the world's best beer, it will only cost you €50! You can't afford to miss this!

And so I bought it. I poured the first glass of Westvleteren 12 and had one of those beer-drinking experiences that I adore, where I'm perfectly happy to spend the first minute or two enjoying the aroma of the beer. As nice as that is, it's an experience I'd had a few times before and I've had it many times since, for a lot less than €50. Your money buys you an undeniably nice Quadrupel, a style that can be so temperamental that it can be difficult to find your own favourite, let alone the best in the world. To me, it is neither of those, although it must be given credit for being the nice beer that it is.

So where does hype come into all this? For me, it was a small catalyst in influencing the purchase, with the greater factor being the seemingly limited output. I knew I'd never, ever go to the trouble of buying a case in Belgium, so it was a chance to get my hands on a relatively rare beer. I reckon some beer 'enthusiasts' approached it with preinstalled disappointment, before they had even so much as opened the bottle, in a bid to show that they could withstand the hype. To give a true evaluation of a beer we must be objective and without bias, whether for or against the beer. 

On that note, I'd say hype can unfairly add weight to either side of a beer's reputation, influencing customers and drinkers. As such, I'd say it's a bad thing.

* If you think that's good, take a look at this madness.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

#101: Czech 1, 2, 3 and 4

A while back I spoke about Budvar being one of my go-to session lagers, and I've only now realized that I've yet to dedicate a full article to it. To beef this one up, I decided to try some of the other popular Czech lagers that are so readily available in the supermarkets here, in the form of Staropramen, 1795 and Pilsner Urquell. Of course, all of these beers are pilseners. 

First up is the Budějovický Budvar, also known as Budweiser Budvar and Czechvar, depending on where you happen to be in the world. It pours a crystal clear golden colour with a conservative white head. The aroma offers some sweet, light malts with slight vegetal notes and a touch of metal foil in the hops. Standard stuff. The taste improves on things, with the corn-like vegetal note being ousted and replaced by a lovely biscuit malt character that turns into a syrupy sweet finish. Tasty and just a bit creamy, this is a very satisfying lager. 

Next up is Staropramen, which pours a surprisingly dark shade of amber and supports a nice big head. As expected it's all sweetness and grain on the nose, with hints of fruity, zesty hops thrown in, particularly of the citrus peel variety. Not much changes on the palate, with the light malty sweetness and syrupy finish complimenting the quiet hop profile, almost smothering the tiny hint of bitterness. After a while, you start to notice more prominent caramel and maple syrup notes on the aroma, something you don't get in the Budvar. Once again it's undeniably tasty and very refreshing. Another satisfying lager.

1795 is brewed by the Budějovický Měšťanský Pivovar, as far as I can tell. Paler than the Staropramen but darker than the Budvar, it too supports a small head. The aroma isn't much different from the previous two, with a return to the metallic bite and corn-like malt sweetness as in the Budvar. However, the taste is vastly different from that particular beer. Chewy, sugary sweetness is the order of the day, and the effect is not a million miles away from the dark marzipan sweetness of a doppelbock, although it is much less welcome here. It remains drinkable and all that, but I reckon one bottle is enough. Not half as refreshing as the other two, mind.

Finally, we have the original pilsener. Pilsner Urquell pours dark again like the Staropramen and also sports a big white head. The sweetness on the aroma is similar to the 1795, although it has much more of grainy malt character to it, along with a touch of citrus. The taste is even better, with nicely balanced malt and hop profiles dipping on one end into the toffee malt regions and on the other end into bright citrus peel hoppy regions. The experience throughout, however, remains generally light and very refreshing. Again, a satisfying beer all round.

And now, to pick a favourite. 

Budvar was already a staple of mine, and I was expecting a good showing form Pilsner Urquell, but I was not at all prepared for how much I enjoyed Staropramen. It's a genuinely good beer. All four are worth a try if you've never had them, with 1795 being the only one I'd be happy to leave behind for good.