Friday, 27 September 2013

#177: Hair of the Goat

After releasing the satisfyingly drinkable Green Bullet earlier this year, Mountain Man look to step things up a notch with Hairy Goat, their IPA. Like the Amber Ella from 8 Degrees, this was launched at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival in the RDS this month.

It pours copper, certainly a shade or so darker than the Green Bullet, and has a gorgeous aroma of grapefruit, mango, citrus and pine, with herbal undertones coming through in parts. This is all set against a classic biscuit malt backbone that lets the hops shine and the mouth water.
It tastes good too, but the hop profile isn't nearly as assertive as it appeared to be on the nose. Tasty notes of citrus pith and a coppery prickliness form the main bitter bite of the beer. Thankfully, there's no big sweetness (it is only 4.5%) to overpower the hops that are there, just an almost coarse, dry graininess. It's incredibly drinkable and, like the Green Bullet, cries out for a pint.

Definitely the nicer of the two. Keep it coming Mountain Man.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

#176: Amber Alert

The newest 8 Degrees beer was unveiled at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider festival in the RDS earlier this month, but unfortunately I couldn't make the trip to Dublin. Thankfully, bottles from my favourite (I think) Irish brewery are quick and easy to come by in Bradley's. And so, here stands Amber Ella.

The aroma is incredible. There is some serious hop punch in this, with bright and bitter mandarin and peach notes balanced by a caramelised biscuit malt backbone. Some perfumy herbal stuff starts to develop over time, as well as a bubblegum-like sweetness. The taste is similarly gorgeous, packing some proper pine needle bitterness in amongst the already brisk, cooling smack of orange peel and pith. This is tied down - though not completely - by a sugary honeycomb character that adds plenty of warmth and smoothness to proceedings.

This is a great beer, and a serious contender for my pick of the year. I'll be getting more, and I recommend you do too.

Friday, 20 September 2013

#175: Galway Bay Bottles

With college now in full swing, I've been too busy to devote much of time to the blog. Thankfully, though, I've found bits of time here and there to sample some beers, among them this trio from Galway Bay. Until now, my only experience with the brewery was their delicious Voyager NZ I had in The Black Sheep.
First up was the dry-hopped IPA Full Sail. It's dark orange to look at and very hoppy to smell, with bitter lemon skins edging into maple syrup territory as time goes one, and that's fine by me. The promise isn't quite fully realised on the palate, with the hops taking second place behind sweet woody grains and yeasty notes á la Helvick Gold, while still retaining that lovely fruity resinous bitterness, even if it isn't as assertive as I'd like. It's still bloody delicious though, and has bags of flavour, whether it tickles your IBU bone or not.

Next up is Stormy Port, which I reckon I did no favours by serving too cold. There's next to no head and the aroma is fairly muted, although it does produce some nice smoky coffee, liquorice and light fruit notes. On tasting, it's malts galore, though not so much as, say, Dark Arts, but still has plenty of the same toffee and caramel characteristics. Again, like the Full Sail, it lacks a bit of punch while remaining satisfyingly robust.

The last one out was Buried at Sea, their chocolate stout. Unlike the porter, this black beer is truly black, with no light coming through. The milk chocolate character is quite subtle on the nose, and allows some of the sharper, roastier stuff to come through. Things drastically improve with the first sip. Milk chocolate, coffee and malted biscuit bliss. The texture is silky smooth and the body nice and full, but it's the sheer drinkability of the beer that takes me by surprise. I would love to try this on draught, and I highly recommend seeking it out.

Overall, a good show from Galway Bay. Bring on the Voyager.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

#173: Munich, Part 2

I kept telling myself that I would not, under any circumstances, be lured into the Hofbräuhaus. This sentiment was enforced on our first night there, where we said we'd pop our heads in just to see the famous beer hall. The wall of heat and sweat was just awful. Still, one afternoon it seemed pretty empty, so I just had to. Inside, I had a Maß of the Hofbräu Dunkel, which was very nice indeed. Thick and chewy and slightly smoky, like a more drinkable doppelbock. Great stuff...
...though not nearly as great as the Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel. More malts, more toffee, more raisins, more syrup and more cola. Absolutely beautiful, and one of my beery highlights of the entire trip. 

Augustiner am Platzl is another nice place to sit for some time, even if their Helles does play like a Spaten - nice and drinkable but pretty much forgettable. Much nicer is their Dunkel, which is also effortlessly drinkable, and though it occupies the same dark fruit and toffee spectrum as the Ayinger version, it's nowhere near as richly flavoured. Pick of the Augustiner bunch was their Weissbier, which was thick and fluffy with loads of citrus, banana, clove and pepper, and was excellent drinking on such a hot day.

We couldn't stay away from the Weisses Bräuhaus for long, and when I went back I tried something unusual. As the beer drinker and driver of the couple, I'm always on the lookout for a good non-alcoholic beer. The last time I was in the Franciscan Well I remember them listing this one amongst their bottles, so I said I'd try it here, to give myself a break. Schneider's Tap 3 Mein Alkoholfreies is a pretty good beer for what it is - better than the Paulaner and Erdinger versions so common back home, anyway.

And now, the dregs of the notebook. The Ratskeller is in the courtyard of the Rathaus, and as such should be avoided by seekers of good value and service, but for the tourist it's a pleasant place to sit and look around. Unfortunately, the Löwenbräu Helles they served was one of the least memorable beers of the trip. Back at the hotel, I discovered a vending machine selling bottles of Franziskaner and Augustiner Edelstoff, and I had to try the latter. It's very refreshing and oh-so-easy to drink, and tastes pretty good too. On our last day in Munich, I finally got to have weisswurst for breakfast, and accompanied it with Tap 7 - Unser Original. It was, of course, perfect.

Munich is great, and the beer is great. You don't need me to tell you that. I have to say though, one great disappointment was the service and reception. Twice, in the Hofbräuhaus and Weisses Bräuhaus respectively, we had orders confused and ended up paying for things we didn't want. The only explanation or excuse we were offered on either occasion was a shrug of the shoulders. I mean really. The most shocking moment of all was when the HB server from one of the above incidents went away pulling a face and shaking her head dramatically when she saw no tip. Insulting is the word for that, I think. Other than that, service was mixed, with Ayinger people being disinterested one day and enthusiastic and helpful the next, and HB and Schneider servers only sweetening up when they've seen a tip. The hotel service was excellent and incredibly friendly, and I recommend LetoMotel in Moosach to any Munich bound travellers out there. Either way, I was both sad and glad to leave the place - sad because I expected much more warmth from the people of Munich, a place I was so prepared to fall in love with, yet glad because the overnight train would have me waking up in (well, near) the much friendlier Amsterdam, by now my home away from home. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Drunken Destrier - Now presented in spectacular Twitter-vision!

That's right, now the Twitter users among you have another way to observe the arduous, thirst-inducing and slightly sad process of one man trying to drink as much of the world's beer as possible.

Just click here!


#172: Munich, Part 1

We arrived in Munich pretty early - far too early to go to the hotel, but not too early for beer.

Never too early for beer.

So we started by doing what every tourist does in Munich and headed to Marienplatz. After some oohing and aahing we walked on to Tal, where, just as with the Poechenellekelder, we found one of our intended destinations accidentally. It was, of course, Schneider's Weisses Bräuhaus. Liquid breakfast came in the form of Tap 4 Mein Grünes. It's refreshing yet bracing, with a cool spicy hop profile to accompany the wholesome Schneider Hefe character. Great stuff. 

Some actual breakfast was in order though, and we went elsewhere to find it - one half of the travelling duo is vegetarian and non-beer-drinking, so it would be unfair to set up camp in the Weisses Bräuhaus. Still though, you can't get away from beer in Munich, and I accompanied my breakfast with Hacker-Pschorr Dunkel, which was poor enough, being a bit too watery to carry anything other than a light, semi-dark malty sweetness. 

Ayingers Wirsthaus was another on my agenda, and we wasted no time in ticking it off the list - their Kellerbier was my first, and it was nice enough, though a bit forgettable with it's biscuity malt backbone and very little else. Their Helles wasn't as grainy, and had more of a metallic hop bite that was actually quite pleasant. The Jahrhundert lager was much better than both, being slick-textured and full-bodied while maintaining a grainy sweetness and lightly bitter refreshment with the liveliness of it's cask delivery.
The Ayinger Bräu-Weisse was delicious too, being quite pale - paler than a Schneider Weisse, anyway - and spicy, with plenty of fruity sweetness to match. Satisfying and refreshing, though not as impressive as the Ur-Weisse, which was darker and heartier, with more banana and bready malt to buff up the light fruit and spice character.

So far, so good.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

#171: Brussels

I'm finally working through some of the notes from my trip in August, and after landing in Amsterdam and spending a couple days there, the next stop was Brussels. 

As I'd expected, things started with some pretty classy hotel drinking. Ideally, I would have chilled the Achel Blond in the fridge we found in the wardrobe just before we left, but it was cool enough, so on I went. It's sweet and a bit spicy on the nose, while on the palate it's candied citrus fruit, biscuity grain and pepper all the way. Brigand is surprisingly more yeasty in the aroma, with banana and spice dotted here and there, while the palate is a more refreshing blend lightly bitter lemon with some herbs and grain husks chucked in for good measure.

The serious drinking started in the Poechenellekelder, which we found by accident while taking the mandatory look at Manneken Pis. We weren't here for long though, staying only to indulge in a Saison Dupont, finally. For a day that involves a lot of walking, this is the perfect refreshment. The aroma is earthy with lemongrass and menthol notes, while the body is nice and wheaty with plenty of the grainy sweetness involved, as well as a light tickling bitterness and just a tang of sourness at the finish.

From there, it was the Cantillon Brewery. It's a fair walk from the Grand-Place area with plenty of chances to get lost, so bear that in mind if you're a Metrophobe like myself. When you get there, you're treated to a self-guided tour of the brewery for a measly €6, along with a taste of their unblended lambic and another drink of your choice. The pure lambic is woody, tangy and delicious, while the Gueuze is more of the same, albeit a tad more balanced with grain and of course, carbonation. The Kriek was my pick of the bunch, but only by a shade, as the sherbety goodness and light sweetness of the cherry matching up perfectly with spritely, sour lambic. The shop also gives plenty of options for take-away goods. A trip to Cantilllon is highly advised.

Finally, on the way back to the centre, a stop in Moeder Lambic Fontainas was in order. The weather was good so everybody was sitting outside, while the long bar inside was virtually empty. Perfect.

Sticking to the specials (and the Belgians) first up was Manneken Penn, a collaboration between Brasserie de la Senne and two folks from Weyerbacher and Monk's Cafe respectively, from Pennsylvania. It's got fistfuls of syrupy toffee malt on the nose, as well as a fair hop profile that puts me in mind of toned-down Bigfoot. The taste is delicious, with thick malts and punchy fruit in harmony with even a bit of spice and toffee apple thrown in for good measure. It's listed as a hopped-up Dubbel, I learned after, and while I'm not sure it really tastes like that, it's bloody good.
Next was another from Dupont, this time their unseasonal seasonal Avec les Bons Voeux, which is their winter saison. It's spicier than the original, with more candied fruits cropping up here and there too, as well as a light caramel sweetness throughout. Not bad as such, but nowhere near good value for it's 9% ABV.

The last beer of the night was a Cantillon, seeing as it's so hard to pass up the chance of cask lambic. I opted for the Faro, and was rewarded with sherberty tangy goodness. The initial farmy sour kick at the fore turns to grass, wheat and even corn notes that linger for ages, before turning cidery and vinous at the back. Hard to describe, but so easy to drink.

And that was pretty much it for Brussels, but for the Rocheforts and Chimays in the hotel. There's so much for the beer explorer to do in this city; I barely scratched the tip of the surface in my three days there. I strongly recommend the city for anyone, beer lust or not.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

#170: The Fox and Goose

No, this isn't an article about a trip to an English country pub, that's just a half-arsed wordplay based on these next three beers from Sly Fox and Goose Island.

When ordering my Hoptimum from Drinkstore, I click-chucked two cans from Sly Fox into my virtual basket on a whim, pretty much as an afterthought. As such, I wasn't expecting much from Phoenix Pale Ale when I gave it its day in the sun.
Very juicy fruit fronts the aroma, with lemon zest and candied citrus following behind. Things are elaborated upon on the palate, with pithy and malty sections meeting in the form of strong hop fruitiness and caramel sweetness, both of which become more potent over time. 
This is a great pale ale with plenty of hop bang for your buck, but remaining well balanced and effortlessly drinkable all the while.

This is when the goose waddled in, in the form of Goose Island's Honker's Ale. This is described on their website as an English Bitter, though I wouldn't have recognised it from it's stingy, astringent grapefruit juice aroma, with sweet bubblegum and grain hiding underneath, alongside herbal and earthy notes. Strange, to be sure. I may perhaps have been reminded of England's best by the woody, nutty grain, red berry, black tea and slight notes of pepper on tasting, though mot much. The body's a bit too light and there isn't enough sweetness (or indeed bitterness) to inspire much of the same satisfaction as you'd expect from Britain's best session ales. A poor showing from Goose Island.

Back in Philadelphia we find our cunning fox, and this time he's brought the big 'un - 113 India Pale Ale. After admiring its lovely dark orange hue I was hit by how smelly the beer is. In a good way. Orange skins, pine resin and pungent, macerated citrus fruits make up a bloody good aroma, with the taste opening up with a proper, no-nonsense slap of bitterness right around the cheeks. This lingers all throughout, but even still there's a nice orange jelly sweetness that helps round things out in the middle. 

It's delicious, satisfying and carries a good dose of hops, as it's name suggests (113 is the IBU level). Both Sly Fox beers get a strong recommendation, while the Goose Island gets a rather disappointed shake of the head. Remind me to pick up the IPA next time.