Thursday, 31 January 2013

#120: Fuller's London Pride

Who would have thought that thus far, one of the best pints I've ever had would be a humble London Pride?

Granted, this is much different to anything I've had from the bottle or can. Those servings are all well and good, being reliable and tasty, and while I loved some Pride only a few months ago, it's not something I go out of my way to get anymore. That is, until it appeared in it's cask form at the Bierhaus. 

Eager to finally have a true cask experience (I do not include the fumbled ball that was the Helvick Gold in B&C), I made my way to the 'haus at opening time to get stuck in - I even watched as the cask was prepared, and gladly accepted the very first pint of the stuff.

Cask London Pride pours copper as you'd expect, and the aroma is gorgeous. Like so many English ales it's balanced to perfection, and while that often crosses the fine line to boring mediocrity, here everything seems so very lively. With the first sip, I think I understand what's going on. The hops are incredibly potent; that's not to say it's very bitter, not at all, but it really tastes like what I imagine fresh, whole cone hops to taste like. The effect is cooling on the tongue, which only enhances their fruity bitterness. The finish picks up on the caramel malt and throws in a fist of peanuts to seal the deal. The aftertaste is woody and longlasting.

While the flavours here are the same as what you'd get from the bottle, they're delivered so much more effectively. I don't know whether this is purely down to the cask, or the ultra-freshness of my pint, but I like it. 

No, I love it.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

#119: Dark in Belfast

A while back I tried Whitewater's unimpressive  Belfast Lager, and as such, despite trying their brilliant Clotworthy Dobbin way back in the summer, the brewer hasn't been very well represented on this blog at all. Their Sanity Claus was average, so redemption is in order for this Belfast brewer.

Clotworthy Dobbin is first up, and it pours a nice dark mahogany with red highlights. A nice fruity character ushers in a generally sweet and dark malt aroma, with a woody bitterness peeking it's head above the surface. The taste is different. Part dark ale, part porter, it's good good bitterness from the hops and a delicious toffee and peanut flavour in the middle. The finish is chocolate, and all throughout there's a quiet presence of raisins. Very interesting, very tasty, and highly recommended.

Copperhead was also available, but I passed it up for a Belfast Black. This stout pours exactly as you'd like a dry stout to pour - black and tan, with it's true dark red colour visible against the light. The aroma gives a surprising amount of fruit and a muted coffee bitterness and hinted cocoa notes. The taste opens more or less the same, with that fruity character complimenting the darker roasted malts to a pleasing end. It's very smooth, very drinkable and very light, which may be a nice way of saying it's a bit bland. I reckon  this belongs on tap, be it cask or keg, because it seems to be an enjoyable and effective sessioner while struggling to warrant another purchase of a bottle.

So far, the star of the range is Clotworthy Dobbin, and I can't see much competition coming from Copperhead.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

#118: Anchored

The Anchor Brewing Company is up there with Sierra Nevada and the Boston Brewing Company in terms of it's old-school American craft beer reputation. At least, that's how it is in my mind. So, to celebrate the 49ers' upcoming appearance in the Super Bowl, I've decided to finally explore this San Francisco brewer's work.

First and foremost is a beer that everyone's seen, heard of or tried. Anchor Steam Beer is the centerpiece of the range, and is named for it's very own style - a steam beer, or California common. I don't exactly know what that is, you'll have to look it up yourself. It pours a surprisingly dark amber with a small yellowish head. Sticky malts and light fruity hops make up a balanced but gorgeous aroma, with elements of spice dotted here and there too. The taste is also full of surprises, with chewy, buttery malts opening things up. Bitter grapefruit peel follows up, and the whole thing is very syrupy and satisfying. 

Great beer, really better than I'd anticipated.

Liberty Ale is paler and cloudier than the steam beer, looking rather more like honey. Piney hops of the West Coast persuasion dominate the aroma, smelling fresh, juicy and appealing. Citrus fruit opens the tasting too, and the beer starts to feel more like a Sierra Nevada styled affair until a lovely sweet malty finish takes hold and leads you to the finish, where a final spike in the hop bitterness signs off proper. 

A gorgeous beer that I can see myself having again. In fact, I'll probably be having both of these again very soon. Clearly it's a brewery worth exploring, so explore I shall.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

#117: Copper & Gold

The Dungarvan Brewing Company is well established nowadays, and have just re-branded their products this winter. Everybody interested in Irish craft beer will likely know the stuff inside out, so why don't I? I drink their Black Rock Stout regularly enough and sampled their winter seasonal recently, but my only venture into the rest of their regular range was a disastrous cask offering of Helvick Gold that I refused to accept as being the norm for that beer. To celebrate the trendy new art-deco labels (and to pair them with the similarly styled Metalman glass), it's time to give Helvick a chance to redeem itself.
Before we come to that, though, we have Copper Coast. This red ale is indeed copper, and like many reds I've had in the past, it offers an aroma of rather boring balance. Woody, nutty and slightly bitter, it could be anything. Things don't change much on the taste, although it does develop some nicer toffee, caramel and fruit notes as it warms up, but by then it's watery body and lack of depth in the malt or hop profiles will have worn your attention span fairly thin. 

Not one I'd come back to.

Helvick Gold is once again aptly named, because aside from being gold in colour, it immediately seems to be worth much more than the copper. Citrus and tropical fruit hops announce the aroma, with underlying hints of bubblegum cropping up here and there. Your tongue picks up on this thread, with the pleasant juicy fruit flavours unfolding to reveal a quiet malt character, before a quick kick of bitterness finishes things off, leaving a lasting nutty aftertaste. 

I'm immediately thinking of the Metalman Pale Ale, and I reckon this is one of the best bottled pale ales in Ireland. I'll be returning to this one, hopefully on tap too.

Friday, 18 January 2013

#116: Franciscan Well Jameson Stout

In a week that's seen my most local brewery officially become part of the Molson-Coors family of brands, I finally decided to open up their most recent limited edition, a 7.7% stout aged in Jameson whiskey barrels. Whatever reservations one might have about the takeover, there can be no arguing with good beer, and I certainly don't doubt that the quality of beer - especially in the brewpub - will stay the same as ever. 

So, let's see what this pre-Coors Fran Well beer tastes like then.
The Jameson Stout, as I've decided to call it, doesn't betray much of it's whiskey-barrel credentials through the medium of aroma at first, instead offering plenty of good roast malt character expected from a stout of any caliber. As the beer warms up (from the slightly below room temperature state of my cupboard), toffee and maple syrup make brief aromatic appearances. The taste opens like a very regular stout altogether, with light coffee bitterness and even a herbal hop character coming into play in the early stages. This unremarkable but enjoyable stout flavour fades away rather abruptly, before a touch of heat appears to sign things off. It's not at all unpleasant, with the soft alcohol warmth reviving the deeper malts hidden in the folds of the flavour, and leaving you with an aftertaste that reminds you what you've just been drinking.

It's nice, but I have to say I preferred their Alpha Dawg I had last year.

I've read much about the Coors takeover of the Franciscan Well, and what disturbed me far more than the facts of the business move were the comments from some members of the craft beer public. The very idea that people are willing and ready to boycott their local brewery so suddenly makes me quite sad. If the beer stays the same (which I believe it will), there should be no reason for alarm. Sure, it maybe calls into question the terminology of 'craft beer' and the criteria a brewer must fulfill to use it, but if labels are what worry you most, you should stick to drinking Brewdog, you rebel you. 

I wish everyone at the Fran Well the best of luck, and congratulate them on their well deserved success.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

#115: Oh Aye (part 2)

My good friend Lachie gifted me two more bottles of Scottish beer that I'm sure I can't get over here. Simply put, here they are, test driving my lovely new Metalman glass.
The first is a British blonde from the Isle of Arran Brewery, the aptly named Isle of Arran Blond. Wheat is used in the brewing process, and you can tell by the way the pale amber beer supports a slice of white head all the way to the bottom of the glass. Right away the nose is hoppy, with citrus fruit dominating proceedings, particularly lemon. Maybe it's because it was chilled to the limit, but the aroma didn't give away much else. Just the pleasant balance of a British pale ale tipping gently toward the hoppier side of things. The taste is much more interesting, being nutty, malty and hoppy in all the right places, while always maintaining that refreshing citrus character and bitter smack to the finish.

Well balanced and very tasty, this would make a good sessioner.

The other beer in question is Cairngorm's Black Gold, a stout. I had it 'off the shelf', so to speak, and I reckon it was the right choice, because chilling may have concealed the lovely coffee and sweet toffee malts that dominated the aroma from the off. It's milky and just a hint fruity too, and these aromatic characteristics are matched almost exactly in tasting. It's light, smooth and incredibly drinkable, sliding down the throat with the bitterness restraining itself to just a tickle on the tongue.

Tasty stuff and great drinking, another good potential sessioner.

Aside from the Scots, I've had a chance to retry Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot, once again the 2012 'expedition'. It's better than I remembered from the first time round, as I was surprised at how powerful the sweet toffee, syrup and caramel malts are, standing side by side with the trademark piney Sierra Nevada hop character, which is equally powerful. The only downside is that at 9.6% ABV, the alcohol packs a punch, though not to the point of being seriously detrimental to the experience. At least, not for me. In any case, it's certainly more complex than I recalled.

I do see how a bit of aging could work wonders for this beer, as I've been tipped in the past, so suffice to stay I've been stocking up.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

#114: Do Blondes Really Have More Fun?

Who knows? Who really cares?

All I know as that the girl on the label of French beer Bellerose seems to be having a swell time. I picked this up almost on impulse, although the 50's pinup did sort of swing things. It just looks so artsy and, well, French, and that's like catnip to the art student. Beyond the superficial yet shamelessly pleasing aesthetic of the label, however, there's quite a good beer. The nose gives plenty of spicy, zesty, citrus hop notes with light malty undertones, not unlike a decent Tripel or Biére de Garde (or at least the one example of the style I've tried). The taste is even better, with apricot and peach joining the citrus fruit bouquet before the clove flavour kicks in with that cool bitterness that I'm really starting to love in a beer. All the while there's a smooth caramel malt underpinning the dominant hop flavours of the beer, and true to the label, it's very refreshing and satisfying.

I didn't expect a whole lot from this Northern French bombshell, but as it turns out she's quite the fox.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

#113: Beer in Sneem

In my last two posts, I blogged about beers I brought with me to Sneem, expecting a total absence of craft beer, or even good 'premium' stuff. Typically, I'd expect to find Guinness, Murphy's, Heineken and Budweiser, with trendier places dispensing Coors Light and Miller, probably in bottles. Of course, I wouldn't at all expect to find anything in an off-licence. As such, it seemed essential that I bring a couple of quality brews to stave off the macro blues.

How delightfully wrong I was.

D. O'Shea's pub in the town serves Rebel Red and Friar Weisse on tap, along with the major brands listed above. Also of note to me was the Staropramen tap - I certainly wasn't expecting that. Riney's, also in the town, is a bar/general store/off-licence that I discovered to be selling beers from St. Austell, Fullers, Belhaven, Courage and Shipyard among others (I just can't remember the full range), including Kriek Boon. Yes, let it be known that one can purchase a Lambic in Sneem. Eager to exploit the choice, I brought a Courage Russian Imperial Stout.

I apologize for sounding so patronizingly shocked at the choice of beer in the town, perhaps it's just the Cork City coming out in me...

Anyway, I decided to try the Friar Weisse in O'Shea's, seeing as I hadn't had one in about two years. My palate has matured since then, and I highly doubt I gave this beer the respect it deserves the first time around. At first, the aroma is quite subdued with the cold, but with time and warmth it reveals the standard checklist 'weisse' items of bubblegum and clove, with the fruitiness characterized by citrus and hints of the expected banana. Nothing particularly unique going on here, but the taste makes up for that. Bubblegum sweetness appears again in light hints, along with the aforementioned citrus and banana, but things really come together with the Wit-like floral bitterness to the finish and the ever-present nutty undertone. I genuinely believe this is a German-syle Hefe with a difference, and that it would compete with it's Bavarian counterparts in a test of taste and drinking experience. 

As much as I love the Franciscan Well, I must confess that Rebel Red is the only of their beers that I regularly have. The others I've tried once each (until now) and never returned to. Perhaps this is because I tasted them so early in my craft beer education that I failed to appreciate them fully. Either way, I'll definitely be coming back to the Friar Weisse, and I'll endeavour to re-evaluate the other beers from my most local brewer in good time.

Friday, 4 January 2013

#112: Rochefort 6

For my second (and regrettably last) post from Sneem, I present the other beer I brought with me, the Rochefort 6. I'm a big fan of the 10 and 8 from this brewer, so I was excited to try this for the first time.

Rochefort 6 pours a dark hazy amber (despite how dark it looks in the photograph) which is pale by comparison to the other two in the group. The aroma is absolutely gorgeous, with sweet red berries dominating at first. It's borderline sour with the yeast moving around, but when it calms down the warm malt and dark fruit really open up. Unfortunately the taste doesn't quite match the standard of the aroma, with the malty, nutty toffee fading into a mildly fruity finish. The carbonation and alcohol lend a harshness to the finish that suggest to me that this beer might benefit from a little aging to mellow itself out. Surprising, considering the active carbonation and higher alcohol content of the other two beers are far form detrimental to their drinking experience.

I may have a particular bias towards the Rochefort 10 and 8, but even so, this beer doesn't really hit the mark for me. The aroma alone is enjoyable enough to make it worth a try, perhaps somebody else will fare better with the taste.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

#111: Grottenbier

I'm enjoying a short stay in Sneem at the moment, and as is customary for my short trips away, I've brought a couple of bottles of nice beer with me, in case of beery emergencies.

The first of those is Grottenbier. This 6.5% St. Bernardus product is apparently aged in caves, and is the brainchild of Pierre Celis. Certainly there's an element or two of the 'Celis' to this beer. It pours a cloudy chestnut brown with a finger of pale, white eggshell head. The aroma is spicy, almost sour to begin with, but it soon mellows out to reveal clove and coriander sitting atop an otherwise malty body. The clove and coriander are better defined in the taste, and make up a generally spice orientated taste. Once again, this only really asserts itself in the beginning, before warming up to smooth toffee malts, until the finish kicks in with it's lasting floral bitterness. 
The body's light but quite satisfying, and it's a very interesting beer. Affordable too, so I'd recommend it for sure.

Sneem is a gorgeous place, and though the weather doesn't quite do it justice at this time of year, the mist does give it a sort of ethereal beauty. Also, rumour has it there's a pub in this tiny town that sells Irish craft beer

Truly, a gift from the gods.