Sunday, 31 March 2013

#135: Franciscan Well Easterfest 2013

It's Easter Sunday, and that can only mean one thing in Irish Beerdom: The Franciscan Well Easterfest. Seeing as I got my festival over and done with yesterday, there's no time like the present to give my evaluation of it.

First impression upon walking through the arch was the feeling of relief, followed by joy and excitement. My last (and only other) festival experience here was a bustling mess, so to see the place so quiet and relaxed, with all kegs and casks full and ready for tapping put me in a good mood.

Kindred Spirit
Being from Cork, and being hopelessly biased, the first stop had to be Eight Degrees and their whiskey barrel-aged stout, Kindred Spirit. The last beer of this style I'd had was the understated Jameson Stout from the Fran Well, so comparisons were inevitable, and right away I can find more of a whiskey hit on the nose of this one. At 7.5%, it's even a little boozy. The taste is of a good, hearty stout, with roasty, toasty malts coming through at first, before some nice stickier malts, dark fruit and of course, whiskey follow through at the finish. The barrel-ageing process seems to have worked wonders here, as you can really pull the base stout apart from the vanilla and sweet woody malts of the barrel. Expect this to be bottled in the coming weeks, and I'd recommend you pick up a pair. It could very well be a nice one for ageing yourself.

Next stop was Dungarvan, who had their beers on cask. I'd tried everything else, so it was an easy decision to take their Mahon Falls Rye Pale Ale for a spin. Pouring a hazy copper with a weak, soapy head, it doesnt promise much in the glass. This effect continues with the subtle aroma that doesn't do much to describe what's happening inside, but at first tasting, things change for the better. It's light bubblegum-like sweetness does it's best to reign in a very hop-forward character, with fruity notes dotted here and there. I haven't got much frame of reference when it comes to a rye beer, so I didn't know what to look for in this. Perhaps the underlying graininess or hint of a spicy bite, but in truth, it's the hops that take centre stage here. The bitter aftertaste is lip-smacking, and the cask serving works wonders in showing off the freshness of the hops. Another one to try again.

Opus II
Moving onto the Galway Hooker bar, I found they had a tap of Opus II, a dark wheat beer brewed exclusively for Tigh Neachtains in Galway. Exploration is the name of the game, and explore I did. What I found was a very unusual beer, with roasted coffee bitterness playing off a potent fruit bouquet, none of which was suggested by the spritely wheaty aroma. It's nice enough and worth a try, but I don't think I could manage a pint, let alone a couple. I was hoping to try some Bonaparte Stout, listed on the menu, but it seemed to be absent from the bar.* Oh well, onwards then.

Returning to the hop-forward beers, I opted next for a taste of O'Hara's Double IPA. Reactions to this one appear to have been mixed, from what I'd been reading on Beoir, with many people suggesting that it was a little unbalanced and hopped to death. I can only say that I wholeheartedly disagree. While it truly is a hop bomb, with tropical fruit, citrus peel and even pine notes dominating, there's a gorgeous honey undertone that provides just enough balance to keep your palate intact. There's plenty to savour here, especially if you like your hops. I forgot to ask the brewer if this was to be bottled, but hopefully it will. I'll definitely be looking to try this again.

Heading upstairs to find out what the mystery keg of Sierra Nevada was, I discovered a row of apparently experimental casks from Sharps. Nothing caught my eye, so I went for the Sierra Nevada Tumbler on keg. I'd had it from the bottle before, but this is a completely different beer. A light grainy sweetness on the aroma belies a grassy, woody undertone in the taste, all of which is blown to smithereens by the very strong, almost peppery, copper-tasting hops. This was so potent that it made it very difficult pick out anything beyond the bitterness, even having an adverse effect on my next beer...

...which was White Gypsy's Mustang. I only went for a taste of this, seeing as it's extra alcohol points meant more money and less coherence, but it was actually a pretty good beer. Tropical fruit abound in this one, and there's a nice hop character, but ultimately, my tongue was still recalling the metallic hops of yesterbeer, making it difficult to enjoy. For what it's worth, it tasted like a more hop forward (and more American) version of Metalman's lovely Pale Ale.

Which brings us to Metalman. There were four iterations of their Chameleon on tap, as well as the Pale Ale, Alternator, and two versions of Windjammer. Tough decision, but I had to go for the Windjammer on cask, considering how great it was on keg last year. Anything hoppy on cask comes alive, and this was no exception. The strong, bitter, tropical fruit character you'd recognise from previous years is still there, while the whole thing is kept grounded by a slightly sweet, biscuit malt backbone. Very nice, I hope I can get this as regularly as I could last year. 

Stonwell Cider
Finally, for my last drink at my first succesful beer festival, I decided to try a cider. This was really a shot from the hip, my last cider being a Bulmers a few years ago. It could have gone either way, but with Stonewell Cider serving from keg and cask - both of which appear to be a rarity - it had to be done. I went for the cask, and boy was I glad. It pours hazy and very pale, with next to no head. To a beer drinker, it doesn't promise much. The taste, however, is sublime. My cider experience doesn't give me much flavour descriptors with which to enlighten you, but all I can say is that it tastes like the purest, most elegantly sweet and, above all, most beautiful apple juice you've ever had. Alongside so many great beers, I wouldn't have put my money on a cider to shine, but it really did. If you get the chance, I strongly recommend readers to try this wherever they see a tap. Failing that, their bottled Medium-Dry is closest to what I was drinking, and I'll certainly be picking up a couple.

It's impossible to pick a favourite from the eight drinks listed above. However, the Stonewell might have to be my find of the festival, because it truly was a revelation. The only down points of the day were the absences of UCC's brewery and the half-assed showing from the Porterhouse. Overall though, it was a great festival, and the Franciscan Well are great hosts. I'll definitely be attending in the future, and I recommend that you do too.

Next up for the Destrier? Dublin Round 2.

*Correction: It very much was on the bar. Curse these eyes.

Friday, 29 March 2013

#134: Achel Bruin

It's been far too long since I've had a Trappist beer, or even a really good abbey beer (come back to me St. Bernardus!) so to find a lonely bottle of Achel on the shelf of the Abbot's was truly a godsend, especially considering that I've never had it before. So, let's get to it.

Achel Bruin is the dubbel of the range, and pours very much like one. It's a rusted, dark ruby colour with a lovely smooth off-white head of tiny bubbles. The aroma is equally enticing, being sweet, malty, boozy and fruity in equal measures. However, it's not until you take the first sip that things really take off. But oh my, how they really take off.
Big woody malts open things up, with hinted toffee and caramel turning to the characteristic dark fruit and red berry flavours you'd expect from a dubbel. Raisins and green apple skins round things off, and the little kick of alcohol at the very finish does nothing to damage the flavour or drinkability of the beer.

I was expecting a good beer, and got a great one. This is a perfect dubbel, one that deserves to be enjoyed again and again. Hopefully I can source some more of this after the summer.

Next up is the Franciscan Well's Easter Beer Fest tomorrow, and it's about time for me to re-acquaint myself with the outside world of beer.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

#133: A Pair of Rogues

Readers may have felt that there's been a recess in activity on the blog of late, and they'd be dead right. This is because my drinking has been reduced to bottles at home, and even those are limited to economical options (such as Lidl's savage 4 for €5 deal on Franziskaner Weissbier - there's the fridge sorted for the next few weeks) or the isolated adventure bottle. C&R Drinks recently took charge of Rogue in Ireland, and as such you'll be seeing more of these in fridges and shelves - and hopefully tapped in bars - from now on. When I saw these two, I decided I'd finally give them a go.

Rogue's Dead Guy Ale is not in fact an ale, but a lager. A Maibock to be exact, and it certainly fulfils the necessary criteria at face (or nose) value. The aroma gives candy sweetness and biscuity malts with a grapefruit tail, like a much nicer version of the Flensburger Frühlingsbock. The taste continues in a similar vein, with a sugary, malty opening that never threatens to overpower the fruity citrus follow-up. A light buttery toffee note at the end is the perfect counterweight to the light bitterness found throughout. 
Predominantly malty, but not dominantly malty, with surprising balance. I nice beer all round, and a good rendition of the style.

More adventurous is the Juniper Pale Ale, a beer brewed with - you guessed it - juniper berries. If you're anything like me, you might not know what a juniper berry tastes like, and therefore struggle to find it in this pale ale, but that's no matter. Because whatever they're putting into this stuff, it works. Far from the fruity or spiced beer overtones I was expecting, this beer opens up just like any other U.S. 'west coast'-styled pale ale. The pine and citrus peel bitterness to the fore immediately brings Goose Island's IPA to mind, which is very much welcome in my books. The taste doesn't pick up on the strong bitterness you might expect after the aroma, but it still seems to pack all those lovely floral and fruity hop flavours into the beer. I might be tempted to say it has a touch of spice or floral curiosity from it's namesake ingredient, but I fear I might be imagining that.
It's delicious, yes, but I'm not quite sure if I could be convinced to part with money to try it again. Especially when it doesn't seem to have achieved much with it's special ingredient.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

#132: Leeds

Over St. Patrick's weekend I went on a day trip to Leeds, a trip that had much to do with football and very little to do with beer. However, as I was researching any possible stops on our travels I discovered that Brewdog Leeds was opening just two days before out arrival. Sorted.

My first visit to a Brewdog bar was far from ideal, being accompanied by two non-beer drinkers as well as being tired from the drive, flight and the painful football. As such, it was just the one for me. I was planning on having a guest tap initially, but with nothing really inspiring there, I went for a Hardcore IPA, something I should have tried a long time ago. It pours a hazy amber and straight off the bat there are very strong pine notes, as well as a curious underlying bubblegum sweetness. It's very bitter, obviously, but really it's quite balanced. This is because there're some deep chewy malt flavours hinted at beneath the hops, as well as some fruit, but they never get fully realised.

Good, but not quite a Sierra Nevada Torpedo, which is kind of my standard for the style. Still, once the heat around the trendy new bar cools off and the hipster crowd disperses, I imagine Brewdog will be a nice spot for an aftenoon drink.

That was going to be it, but then there was the airport. With around two hours to kill and a bar serving cask ale, I didn't stand a chance. Unable to make my mind up, I went for a platter of 1/3 pints, for the sweet price of £3.75. First up is Theakston's Best Bitter, offering up a subdued malt backbone on the aroma, with a strong nutty, almost woody flavour. The finish has a slight touch of citrus, but overall it's low on everything, remaining just about drinkable. Black Sheep Best Bitter was next, and promised a fairly similar experience, with light fruit and grainy notes throughout, before turning pretty nasty at the finish. Finally, their Golden Sheep was mindblowing. Really, my mind was blown, my perception of cask beer changed forever, by the sheer blandness of this beer. I truly believed that any cask ale was better than a pint of Bud or Amstel, but this really challenges for the prize of world's emptiest beer. 

I must stress that all of these were pretty bland, but I think that's down to the clear lack of freshness of the casks. Could have been there weeks for all I know. As such, I don't think it would be fair to judge these beers on this tasting. Still, if you're in Leeds Bradford Airport and craving some craft beer, you may be better off with the over-priced bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Otherwise, ask about the freshness of the casks.

Either way, to even have such a decision to make in what is a pretty small airport still amazes me. Well done LBA.

Monday, 18 March 2013

#131: Guinness Extra Stout

Let's face it - there's no escaping the Guinness machine on St. Patrick's Day. The entire population of the United States makes it's way to Temple Bar for pint of the stuff, and it's reputation as the unofficial drink of the nation seems untouchable. All in all it's very easy to resent, especially when the drink on offer is usually Guinness Draught, one of the blandest pints you'll ever have. 

Safe to say I was determined to avoid the big G on March the 17th just out of principle. 
However, when I saw we got some of the classic pint bottles of Extra Stout at work, I couldn't resist the novelty factor.

Guinness Extra Stout pours like a nice black with a tan head, like any other good stout. Honestly, I don't know why people don't go for this over the nitro stuff. The aroma is subdued, but produces some nice fruity notes along with the usual roasted malt character. This is more or less the same on the taste, with dark roasted grain and coffee flavours complimenting a light bitterness at the finish.
Tasty and drinkable, but then you already knew that.

This one comes third in the hierarchy of Guinness stouts, after the Special Export and Foreign Extra, and before the Draught in last place. It's well worth a go, and always a reliable one. If you're ever in a supermarket with a craft beer drought, this will do a good job.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

#130: Left Hand Milk Stout

This one has been relatively popular here for quite a while, with many people saying good things about it. I couldn't resist the hype (or the label) for any longer, so I decided to give it a go.

Left Hand Milk Stout produces a sweet aroma from the the very start, with surprising notes of the sharper, zestier fruits, with hints of chocolate and coffee lurking in the background. It's nice, and it's mellow. Equally understated is the flavour, which opens with smooth milk chocolate and is followed by an almost sugary sweetness. It's not exactly as deep or complex as you might like it to be, but it's nonetheless very satisfying and packs plenty of flavour. Also, it's curiously filling.

As for a recommendation, it's definitely worth a punt. Just know that that punt could go further elsewhere.

Friday, 8 March 2013

#129: Straffe Hendrik Tripel

It's been a while since I've really enjoyed a tripel, so I decided to give this one a try a few days go. I've already had the quadrupel in this range, something I vaguely remember to be enjoyable but average.

Straffe Hendrik Tripel pours a hazy orange colour with a small cap of white foam. If it wasn't for the aroma (and small head) you'd think it was a hefeweizen. This is because Straffe Hendrik's tripel smells exactly as you'd expect a tripel to smell. It's got light malty sweetness playing off Belgian spice to produce a nice yet understated nose, before the taste amplifies everything. It's light and refreshing despite it's 9% ABV, hides some citrus fruit and orange peel in it's wheaty body, revisits those peppery, spicy notes from the aroma and finishes with a candy-like, syrupy sweetness that's as mellow as everything else in the beer.

There's nothing here that would offend or excite the seasoned beer drinker, but I must say it makes for one of the easiest-drinking tripels I've ever had.
It's enjoyable and satisfies a Belgian beer itch.
For now.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

#128: Salvation Libation

My first Paulaner Salvator didn't go down so well. I had just started to enjoy Doppelbocks as a style and I was pretty excited to try the original, from a brewery I used to love. After splashing out on a bottle in a bar, I was rather disappointed by the harshness of the beer. Clearly this style isn't the best suited to impulse buying. As such, I figured a more measured and prepared evaluation was in order.

The most important factor in home beer-ing for me is the control of serving temperature. For a Doppelbock, I tend to prefer it at room temperature. Just as I'd thought, the experience was far more positive from the beginning,
Pouring a lighter shade of red than I might have expected, there's no mistaking the depth of the toffee malt notes on the aroma. Other than the expected malt bomb, there's a surprising hint of green apple and even a touch of booziness. The lack of complexity on the aroma is reversed by the relative layering of the taste. It opens like a Dubbel, with red berries and pockets of dark fruit turning swiftly into chewy and sticky chocolate malts with, once again, a dose of alcohol heat to the finish.

It may not be clever, but it's certainly big. An interesting experience, but one you could probably replicate with my go-to, affordable doppel.

Monday, 4 March 2013

#127: Germanic Revelations

Sometime's a beer can do so much that it demands your attention, imploring you to take another sniff before you sip, and urging you to take your time with said sip, to better savour the details of the brew. Other times, a beer does so very little, telling you - well, nothing at all. This is that beer.
 It is Bayreuther Aktien Original, and it is apparently a Dortmunder Lager. As far as I know, I've never had a Dortmunder before, and I don't think I even know what it is.

Anyway, this one was new to Bradley's so I decided I'd give it a go. It's sister beer, a Zwickel, seemed a much more interesting prospect but was unfortunately sold out at the time. Besides, it's been a while since I've had a real thirst quencher, what with the failures of Shepherd Neame and the relative sippers that are my current house beer Torpedo and the Anchor Porter. Homebrewers will definitely appreciate the swing-top bottle, and may also appreciate the lack of any branding on the white stopper. 

As for the beer itself, it pours exceptionally pale, looking quite thin and watery as is fills the glass. Upon inspection, it shows a decent golden colour with a nice foamy head and produces an aroma worthy of any mass-produced lager - sweet grains and the slightest hint of hops, in this instance indicating a citrus character. This is more or less replicated on the palate, with a biscuity, malty opening turning to a light lemony finish, and doing so as quietly as possible. It's certainly not very flavoursome, and I can't  even say it does it's service as a cheap, satisfying, thirst-quenching lager because it just wasn't cheap.

To bulk up this sorry post, I've included some other Germans I've recently revisited from earlier stages in my palate's education.

Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier is very highly thought of, and understandably so, when you consider the brewery's heritage. Like Schneider, they seem to have a strong hefe pedigree that carries a lot of weight among beer drinkers. Surprising, then, that I've only ever had it once. This time around, it was absolutely splendid, producing all of the typical Bavarian wheat beer characteristics to great effect and with particular attention given to the strong banana note on the aroma. It's full bodied and bloody satisfying, being fruity by the bucketload while having a clearly discernible malt backbone often lacking in the style. Of course, I recommend it.

The other beer I decided to try again was Doppel-Hirsch, of Der Hirschbrau in Sonthofen. I wasn't expecting much from this beer the first time around, even seeming to think it had a poor reputation. I don't know where I got that idea, but one thing's for certain - I love this beer. Having recently re-evaluated Paulaner Salvator to good effect (post coming soon), I thought this was going to compare rather unfavourably, but it turned out to be quite the opposite. This malt-bomb is everything a Doppelbock should be; rich, sweet, deep and indulgent yet drinkable. Bonus points for the lovely labelling and swing-top bottles. Again, I recommend this, especially seeing as it appears to be one of the cheaper Doppelbocks in our shops, something that doesn't show in the drinking experience.

Here's hoping some Ayinger Celebrator appears at hand sometime soon.