Tuesday, 30 April 2013

#144: Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne Béal Bán

I'm finally getting around to this, the third regular brew of the West Kerry Brewery (Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne), a brewer that's given me a good and a great experience in the past.
I assumed Béal Bán was a pale ale, and even though it doesn't quite align with others of that style, I'm going to stick with that designation for the sake of argument.* It pours an amber/gold hue with a big sudsy head. The aroma doesn't give much away, just a light sweetness and a suggestion of fresh hops. Later on, the sweetness becomes more discernibly like the candy shell of a Smartie. The taste is much better, with loads of citrus and grapefruit to the fore, even a hint of peel, while remaining relatively low on the bitterness. What follows is a strange but delicious smoky toffee flavour that lingers right to the finish, and sticks to the mouth thereafter.

Incredibly drinkable and very tasty, this would be a good sessioner if it wasn't for the price. It may have nudged Cúl Dorcha out of the way, but it's still not as good as the Carraig Dubh.

*As it turns out, this is an English-style bitter, according to the website. I guess that makes more sense.

Friday, 26 April 2013

#143: Silly Stuff

I've seen this around quite a few times, but I've never thought to try it until now. Maybe my thirst for a strong Belgian ale has just been revitalised by the Abt 12 and Piraat, but this seemed a steal at €2.25 and 8% ABV. So much so, in fact, that I expected the worst.

Scotch Silly proved me wrong from the outset, though, with an incredibly malty aroma hiding notes of bitter and over-ripe fruit, with hints of toffee and chocolate in there too. It's deep and complex, and doesn't show any sign of the strong alcohol. The palate is more or less the same, but it brings a soft sweetness to proceedings, as well as a gorgeous vanilla flavour that covers the mouth at the finish. A beautiful beer and my first of the style, this could be called a malt bomb, but rather than the cutting harshness of a Doppelbock, it smoulders with the smoothness of a good Dubbel.

Highly recommended, especially if you can find it at a price like this. I'll certainly be stocking up.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

#142: Beta

Another fantastic beer on tap at the Abbot's of late is the St. Bernardus Abt 12, another of my favourite beers of all time. Like the Piraat yesterday, this was a filled swingtop bottle.

It pours a dark, relatively clear ruby red, without the haze you get from the bottle conditioned version. The aroma is sublime, with rich, spiced rum-soaked dark fruits to the fore, and a brown sugar and molasses sweetness underneath. Over time, the beer warms up to produce a nice chocolatey malt character. The taste is equally as impressive, with the same complex mix of fruit, sticky malts, and a touch of spice. The green apple note I found in the bottled version is here too, and just like the nose, that chewy, chocolate toffee character just grows as time goes on.

I never thought I'd say this, but there's a chance this could overtake the Piraat at the top of my list. I guess I'll just have to try them side by side again.

It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Friday, 19 April 2013

#141: Alpha

As you may have heard, this beer is my favourite. Seeing as it just appeared on tap at the Abbot's, I had the chance to try it again. Between being broke, generally lazy and working nights, I don't get the chance to go out as often as I'd like. Thankfully, the guys at the Abbot's were very accommodating and filled a half-litre swingtop bottle for me.

Piraat pours a dark gold, or a perfect amber, whichever you like. The aroma is all malty sweetness at first, and is a bit subdued by the cold. It's bready and full of sticky caramel malt notes, with the honey note I found in the very first bottle in attendance here too. There's even a light hop presence, something I didn't really pick up on at the first tasting. The palate gets more or less what's promised, but with a more noticeable fruit character of peach and apricot, and a touch of pithy bitterness at the end that balances out the syrupy almond finish. The alcohol is pretty high at 10.5%, but it doesn't really show in the taste, just the warmth after the swallow, but that's to be expected.

I still think this is my favourite beer, although I do have some trouble categorizing it. I'm not the only one though, as I've heard this called an IPA, a blonde and a Tripel before. I would say the vague but sufficiently descriptive Strong Golden Ale should do it. It's not hoppy enough to be a Double IPA, and lacks the soft dryness and spicy, grassy hop character of a classic Tripel. It's a strange one, just like it's stablemate the Gulden Draak. 

One thing is for certain though - as long as the Abbot's keep this one coming, I'll be a very happy man.
Needless to say, fully recommended, as is the Abbot's Ale House.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

#140: The Destrier Celebrates

To celebrate the Destrier's first birthday, I had a number of ideas. The first was to re-evaluate Sam Adams Boston Lager, the first ever beer I took notes on, and subsequently, the first beer written about on the blog. Unfortunately (and rather weirdly) it was nowhere to be found. The second idea was similar - revisit my favourite beers of the past year, namely St. Bernardus Abt 12, Piraat and Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout. The first two are currently on tap at the Abbot's Ale House, so there's my weekend planned. The third idea was to try something new, something that I've been wanting to try for a long time. Initially it was a lambic beer, but the recent arrival of Orval to the shelves of the Abbot's decided it for me. It would be that last* and most elusive Trappist brewery. 

Orval pours a hazy amber with a bright head, darker than I'd expected. The aroma first produces a soft, sticky, candied citrus fruit sweetness with highlights of sour lemon sorbet. It's earthy, herbal and even a little bit medicinal underneath. So far so good. Strangely enough, the complexity promised on the aroma doesn't seem to be all there on the palate. There's a grainy, farmhouse-like bread malt backbone and a very light hop bitterness that lingers long after the finish, but the real star of the show is the spicy character in the middle. It's what makes the beer great as opposed to good. Feeling a little underwhelmed by the taste, I decided to bring out some cheese and crackers - the first responders for any beery incidents. This brought out a nutty almond note in the flavour of the Orval, and the whole experience was more enjoyable for it.
Am I missing out on something here? Were my expectations too high? It was served at cellar temperature, as per the label's suggestion, and it was about as fresh as it could have been at just three months old. 
Perhaps that's the problem - age. Luckily, I have another bottle set aside for cellaring.

Another beer I have for cellaring is the Winter 11-12 bottling of Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout, one of my big finds of the year. However, I want to see how that tastes in another year or so, so I procured a fresh bottle for the occasion.

This Black Chocolate Stout is absolutely gorgeous. The thick dark chocolate malts and light hop character are there on the aroma as per usual, but the taste is certainly different from last year's, with strong roasted coffee notes and liquorice aplenty. Really, it's absolutely delicious. The malted biscuit opening is like the inside of a Malteser, while the dark chocolate bitterness lingers long after each sip.

I strongly recommend this beer, and for me, it is the chocolate stout to beat, as well as my number one Russian Imperial Stout.

*Correction: Second to last, I forgot about Engelszell in Austria

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

#139: The Destrier's First Birthday

That's right, today marks twelve months to the day since I started this blog. In truth, my journey into craft beer began a good few months prior, with my first systematic tasting (and subsequent note-taking) happening just weeks beforehand. The blog had only seen nine months of existence when the Golden Pints rolled around at the end of last year, so I decided not to take part. As such, I present to you, here, my own abridged and altered incarnation of the 'awards' - I think it would be rather silly of me to do the whole shebang in April. These beers can of course be considered for the real Golden Pints at the end of the year, assuming they are still relevant.

So, how did the first year of the Destrier go?

Best Irish Beer - 8 Degrees Howling Gale Ale became my go-to beer for any occasion, both on draught and from the bottle. It's balanced and very drinkable, but it gets my love for being delicious and interesting every time. It's followed closely by the brewer's Ochtoberfest and Metalman's Windjammer.

Best Overseas Beer - This was always going to be tough one, with my top three or four favourite beers all coming from overseas. The plaudits have to go to Piraat, which filled me with liquid joy every time. Very closely followed by Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout - it's effect on my palate in making me love stouts was a very important development indeed, one that just gives it the edge over the Abt 12 and Rochefort 10.

Pub/Bar of the Year - Hands down the Abbot's Ale House. Always something interesting, always good value for money. Not to mention it's relatively regular carriage of Belgians like the Piraat and Abt 12 up there.

Best Beer Blog/Website - For making me want to start my own blog, The Beer Nut.

For what's left of this year I'd like to - Travel more/explore more beer while travelling, finally start homebrewing.

Thanks to those who read, and I promise I'll reward your patience by keeping updates fairly regular. No ghost blogs here, no siree!

Sunday, 14 April 2013

#138: Better Than The Best

Or at least, as good as.
That's what the O'Shea's range in Aldi is, when compared to it's flagship stablemate O'Hara's. I wasn't expecting much when I picked them up, so pleasant surprise was the order of the day.

First up is their Pale Ale. I pours similar to the O'Hara's version, albeit with a lesser head. The aroma is really nice, with a strong hop profile to the fore with fruity floral notes, backed up by biscuit malts. The taste delivers on the promise, with perhaps more toffee and butter from the malt than before. It's bitter, fruity and very drinkable. Perfect fridge fodder.

The Irish Ale of the range appears to be the equivalent of the O'Hara's Red, and reds don't often treat me well. This was more dark brown than red though, and the nose offered plenty of nice nutty and woody malts, with hints of toffee and even smoke throughout. It smells sweet, almost syrupy, with just a touch of roasted malt hidden in the background. The taste is more explicit, with a sticky, chocolatey malt backbone and a light hop bitterness that makes suggestions of dark and red fruits. The body is fuller than it has any right to be, for this price, and although the  style is mostly reminiscent of those boring English ale balance-a-thons, it's rich and warm enough to be thoroughly enjoyable (not to mention it lacks any of those metallic hop bites). Highly recommended.

I was mostly looking forward to the Irish Stout, seeing as how both O'Hara's stouts are delicious, so this was opened shortly after the red. It pours black and tan, and the aroma has plenty of roast character with a decent, herbal hop presence. The underlying sweetness is just hinted at here. As above so below, it seems, but it develops more coffee notes and a zestier bitterness. The only real problem is the carbonation, which was too active for me. Other than that it's a perfectly enjoyable beer, though it's surprisingly the worst of the three. I'll probably come back, but when I do, I'll be bringing a pale and a red friend.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

#137: Sierra Nevada Bigfoot 2012

I've gotten to the stage in my beer stash whereby all I have left are things I was saving either for an occasion, or just to age. Luckily, I had a couple of Bigfoot 2012s, a beer I think I can still replenish. Decoding Sierra Nevada's cryptic bottling date number told me the ber in hand was a little over a year old.
So, how does 14 months in isolation treat Bigfoot?

Pretty well, by the smell of things. Sharp zesty hops are to the fore on the aroma, with big grapefruit notes, pungent, oily citrus fruit rind and of course, deep malty sweetness that brings Scots Clan to mind. After a while, I even got a trace of cinnamon in there. The intensity of the aroma is matched by the taste, with a big, powerful balance of potent, bitter hops and thick chewy malts. There's a honey and brown sugar sweetness and even a dark chocolate note that pulls Brooklyn's Black Chocolate Stout to mind, while pine needle, clove and bitter fruit notes stimulate the tongue and the inside of the cheeks.  

The harshness of youth is definitely toned down a bit here, but it's still a bit hot at the finish. Delicious as ever, looking forward to having one of these next year with 2 years of ageing. 

Monday, 8 April 2013

#136: Dublin - Round 2

I was planning on posting during the past week but I just didn't have the time. Thankfully, my time was all filled up with drinking and eating in Dublin.

Chocolate Truffle Stout
First stop in the capital is The Porterhouse Temple Bar, especially considering it's stone's throw distance from the hotel. It's always quiet early in day and it's a great place to sit for a couple of hours, especially if you're trying their seasonal Chocolate Truffle Stout. This nitro stout pours thick and black with a tell-tale creamy head. The nose promises plenty of roasty goodness laced to death with cocoa powder, and on an empty stomach, I start to feel like it could be a bit much. However, it's quite the opposite. It's very light, and the chocolatey character doesn't really take off like you'd expect. More interesting are the vanilla and hazelnut notes in the finish, and it's certainly a beer worth trying. For the all-out chocolate stout experience though, it still has to be Brooklyn for me. 
Vienna Lager
The beer on offer was their Winter seasonal Vienna Dark Lager, so I went for a pint. Slightly roasted malts and a generic sweet lager graininess roll off the aroma, with just a hint of a sharp hop bite. Things are better rounded in the tasting of the beer, with grassy hops and even a touch of smoke highlighting a lovely, lightly sweet malt backbone. This is actually quite delicious, I went back for seconds later in the trip. 
On cask was Pure Gold, from Purity in Warwickshire. It's nice enough, if a bit boring. Grainy and inoffensive, with a woody, nutty finish that just about prevents you from falling asleep mid-sip. I'm all for the balanced session beer, but this just takes you a bit too close to blandness. 
Purity Pure Gold
A short stop in Porterhouse Central later in the trip yielded some Hop Head on cask, something I think everyone should try and get if they can. Having only tried the bottled version, I never fully appreciated the power of the hops as I did form the cask, while never feeling the beer was any bit unbalanced. 

Finding ourselves up Capel Street, we decided to see what The Black Sheep was all about. In the end, it was a bit of a mixed experience for me. The tap range is great, and my Voyager NZ was beautiful. It's loaded with tropical fruit on the nose, with a hint of the underlying candy-like sweetness betraying the balance to be tasted later on. Those strong, fruity hops take centre stage, but there's plenty of the chewy malt backbone to keep them under control. Lovely stuff, highly recommended. I wish the venue was as good, but I'm afraid I found the atmosphere - and welcome - a bit cold, like I wasn't supposed to be there, not to mention the very expensive drinks. I thought the Galway Bay beers at least would be reasonable, but I still paid €5.50 for a pint. As far as I can remember, nothing on the beer list went below that €5 mark. I'd intended on visiting twice, but it was hard to justify those prices and a 10-minute walk when the Porterhouse, Bull and Castle and Czech Inn were all on my doorstep (or at least, the hotel's). 
Speaking of The Czech Inn, we decided to pop in for a late evening drink while everywhere else in the Temple Bar area was packed to the rafters. Here, we found a pretty empty bar and a cosy seating arrangement for a quiet one. Mine was a pint of Zlatý Bažant, a fairly bog-standard lager from Slovakia that has a drinkability and light sweetness that had me quaffing faster than I'd planned. My beer may be average, but I do recommend The Czech Inn. The bar consists of the usual Irish pub suspects, the slightly less usual golden Czech suspects, along with the lovely Kozel Dark and, of all things, O'Hara's IPA. So, there's something for everyone, especially if you're avoiding the Temple Bar crowd. That's the only disadvantage the area has - Farrington's looked a lovely place, with Chimay Tripel and Gouden Carolus on tap (the only Belgian taps I'd seen for the entire trip), but nothing kills the mood like a guy with a mic and guitar singing 'I'll Tell Me Ma' to a packed pub. No doubt there was some dodgy Irish dancing at some stage.

The Bull and Castle isn't exactly quiet, but it's big, dark and sensible, so you can take your drink and be left to it. Seeing some interesting Irish taps I'd not had before, I went for a four-beer platter. The Franciscan Well Hopfenweisse was my first of the style, so I was puzzled by it's mix of typical hefe fare with strong waxy bitterness. Interesting, but not an instant hit. I'd heard much about Sabotage's shortcomings in the hop department, and I must say that I agree. It's very fruity and has a nice sticky malt backbone, but while the hops are there and tasty, there's just not quite enough to take it into memorable IPA territory. Once that get's sorted though, I think it'll be a very good beer indeed. I hadn't seen Rower's Red around before now, so I said I'd give it a go. Unfortunately, like so many other Irish reds before, it just fails to get me excited in any way, with it's toffee and nutty characteristics ranging from bland to, at times, plain unpleasant. Finally, Metalman's Equinox, an incarnation of their Chameleon range. It's got a nice, refreshing biscuity graininess to it, with highlights of citrus and even a champagne-like touch of fruit. Strangely enough, I found it rather bland at first, but after the second and third sips grew to love it. Of the four, it's the only that I would drink a pint of, and I now regret that I didn't. Hopefully it'll be around Cork for a little while.

L to R: Fran Well Hopfenweisse, Sabotage IPA, Rower's Red, Equinox