Monday, 28 October 2013

#184: Swift

The October Bank Holiday Weekend means only one thing to me, and that's the Franciscan Well October Beer Fest. You can keep your 'jazz'.

After being bustled by the throngs at last year's festival, I made a point to get in early this time around. How else can a man take notes? I was quiet enough around 4 o'clock when I got in, and as with my previous festival experiences, I was a bit spoilt for choice. Painfully ignoring the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is something that will live with me for months. Still though, I was on a hop hunt, so much of the dark strong Belgians were out of my sight. 

I opted instead to start in the U.S, and my first Anderson Valley beer, their Hop Ottin' IPA of 7% ABV. Turns out this is a solid choice, with loads of tropical fruit, grapefruit and orange pith and sugary malts on the nose. It's zesty bitterness is pinned down by a creamy body that speaks plenty of it's candy, caramel biscuit malt backbone. Nicely balanced but delivering a nice slap of fresh-tasting hop notes, I'll be coming back to Anderson Valley in the bottle. 

I couldn't avoid Belgium forever, so Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor was a must, ticking the hop box at least in theory. In practice, it's not far off; lemon sherbert and a herbal, almost medicinal leafiness makes a fine aroma, while the taste allows more of the overripe banana and bubblegum sweetness through. The star of the show, however, is the mildly spicy coriander, complimating the lighter citrus flavours of the beer. Full-bodied and buttery, it might not be for everyone, but I enjoyed my half. 

Flying Dog's Wildeman wasn't going to be one for a while, I was told, and Thornbridge's Wild Raven was getting it's line cleaned upstairs, so in the meantime I took a break from the hops to try out the Franciscan Well's own Dunkel Weisse. Despite completing the banana, citrus, bubblegum and clove checklist expected of a good Dunkel, it's falls a bit flat on it's light body and carbonation, feeling a bit thin at times. A pint of this with a sausage in a bun would have been a treat, but a half pint after two thick and ballsy beers left me wanting. 

And so with Thornbridge Wild Raven back on, it was to the upstairs bar I went. The aroma is odd, with charcoal, black pepper and a hint of lime zest, with the taste bringing things to a whole new level of weird. Burnt rubber and seaweed were surprising, but definitely present, while a herbal, spicy, citrus fruit hoppiness and and a woody, sweet biscuit malt backbone tied things to reality. A strange experience, no doubt with thanks to the line-cleaning. I think I'll have to try this in the bottle.

On that sort-of bum not, I realised the place was getting incredibly busy, and decided to call it a day. A poor choice, as it turned out, because a keg of Black's Black IPA was tapped before I even made it to the bus stop. Oh well...
Great line-up and organisation from the Franciscan Well yet again, though I have to say I'm looking forward to the early spring festival even more.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

#183: On the Hop

I've finally gotten around to drinking some Kinnegar, after realising the amount of Irish beer I've left  hitherto untouched. 

It started with Rustbucket, a rye pale ale. True to it's name it pours a rusty orange, and the aroma gives fistfuls of lovely juicy citrus and pine hops, with a coppery sharpness and a bubblegum sweetness underneath. Good stuff. This promised a decent bitter bite which was duly delivered, along with some slightly peppery notes. A touch of pineyness lingers on the  caramel malt backbone, and you know you're drinking one of the nicest pale ales in the country. 

I followed this with Limeburner, which takes the form of a more cautious Irish pale ale. It's as drinkable as you'd like with a biscuit malt backbone propping up some light grapefruit hops, with not much assertiveness on either side of the palate. A good half-litre, but lacking the punch and impression of the Rustbucket.

The Devil's Backbone amber ale was last up, making the shopping basket thanks to the success of a more recent, more local amber. Unlike the 8 Degrees offering, however, there's not a whole lot on the aroma. Yes, it's berries and malt here and there, but things really don't take off until the palate. It does take off though. Sugary toffee, toasted bread, sweet biscuit malts, even a slightly smoky note, all punctuated by a very light and very much back-seated hop character. 

Three worth trying from Kinnegar, with Rustbucket my pick of the bunch.
I'll be having more of these, please.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

#182: T'isn't the Saison

I had one of those odd occasions recently where I opted to buy a Brewdog beer on a whim - this almost never happens, but it seemed like a good idea to pair it with a beer already in the cupboard.

That beer was De Molen's Zus & Zo, a saison. I know, maybe a rainy Irish Autumn afternoon isn't the ideal time for such a thirst-quenching style, but who cares. It pours a pale, hazy gold and the aroma is instantly farmy. Wet grain, slightly sour and a touch citrusy, it smells pretty enticing. The palate says ditto. Thick and coarsely wheaty throughout, with a spike of sourness at the beginning that fades to the end. There's a very light bitterness and an underlying layer of sweeter caramel base malt. Even without a massive thirst on, this is very refreshing and tasty stuff.
For comparison I picked up Brewdog's Electric India, a hopped-up saison. Apart from pouring a shade or two darker, the experience is pretty similar to the De Molen at first, even lacking a great hop punch as expecteed from something that calls itself 'hoppy'. Still though, it's delicious. A sweet and sugary backbone forms the base, with a tang of sourness akin to the Zus & Zo, but the real life comes from the coriander and waxy orange peel. It's lively and flavoursome but still incredibly drinkable.

Two lovely beers showcasing different aspects of the same style. Who wins?

Me. That's who.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

#181: The Great Catch-Up Part 3: British Beer

This article is the one I've been least excited about. True, it has two nice beers from Shepherd Neame, but the thought of trying to drag the other two beers into something readworthy was tiresome. I tried a few weeks ago and grew bored just thinking about them. Sigh..

The first of 'those' beers is Flying Scotsman, from Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh. I had a nice time with Deuchars IPA last year, so I was happy enough to give this one ago.

It's not terrible. It's red, it's nutty, it's strangely corny, and has just a touch of fruit on the nose. The taste picks up a small bit, but ultimately the hints of raisins, toffee, biscuit and grain are all too weak to be considered full-blown flavours.Grand but bland, as the notes say.

The Caledonian 80/- is next, and brings the range from forgettable to plain bad. Sure, it has the same rusty red hue, but the metallic notes on the nose overpower everything else. The taste has some tangy red beery stuff with a very light bitterness, but ultimately it's incredibly weak, and actively works against my tastebuds. I wouldn't try either of these again.

To Kent then, and Shepherd Neame with two fancy-pants bottles, a welcome change from their almost guaranteed-to-be-rank clear bottled regulars. First up is the India Pale Ale. It pours copper in colour and has a very surprisingly pungent nose. Fruity and vegetal hops with citrus rind and marmalade poking through, you go Shepherd Neame! The taste is very English indeed, with the hop flavours present but in the back row, allowing a syrupy toffee and biscuit backbone to take control. Tasty, if not quite on the money. 

Finally, the Double Stout. Opaque black is the look of it, gorgeous milk chocolate is the smell of it. Some mocha, some sweet, syrupy malts, even some dark fruits, it's a very nice aroma. Things only get better on the palate, with a hit of cocoa powder and smokey, bitter coffee the order of the day. Some of that sticky toffee can be found in the background, but it's a fairly balanced beer overall - the hops lend a nice fist of herbal bitterness to proceedings. Great beer, and by far and away the best Shepherd Neame beer I've had to date.
And that concludes the tedious task of my catching up with notes.
Thank god.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

#180: The Great Catch-Up Part 3: Irish (and British) Beer

I believe I warned you about the lack of coherence to this feature, and as such I don't feel bad about throwing my notes at your face in this way. These ones are from the Bierhaus and I reckon it's best to take care of them now, that they might be relevant to the drinker in the days and weeks to come. 

My only smoked beer experience of the past comes from Schlenkerla, and that seems to be the universal standard. As such, when Metalman's Smokescreen popped up on the bar, comparisons were going to be made. First of all, it looks pretty similar, being very dark red, almost brown, and sporting a small short-lived head. The big difference is on the nose, however. Gone is the powerful yet somehow attractive smoky bacon smell of Schlenkerla's Marzen, and in its place there's a nice roast character, with some burnt toast hinting at the presence of smoked malts. Roasty fullness is the palate too, with a tickle of woody smoke in the background. It's bloody delicious, goes down incredibly easy, and impresses me about as much as any beer I've had from Metalman. Which is to say, a lot.

Next up is Dark Arts, although this time Trouble's already fantastic porter was pouring through a Randall filled with Connemara whiskey-soaked hickory, coffee beans and vanilla. Did someone say delicious? Yes, I did. Right after I tasted the insane woodiness, light coffee bitterness and is-it-even-there-ness of the vanilla. It's like a savoury-ish dessert in a glass, if that makes any sense. Either way, it was very good indeed.

I had myself a wee taste of Ormeau Dark, also from Trouble Brewing, and began to realise that the brewers in Kildare seem to know how to make a fantastic dark beer. This oatmeal stout is hearty, to say the least. The oats work wonders in filling the beer out, buffing up the already robust coffee, milk chocolate and malted biscuit flavours. It went pretty fast in the Bierhaus, so I hope I get to enjoy a full pint of it soon.

Finally, we leap off the island and land in Leeds. I've been to the city a few times (thanks to that great Irish tradition of supporting an English football team with which you have no connection), but I've only ever gone for a drink in the Brewdog bar. As such, the seemingly rich brewing tradition of Yorkshire has been hitherto unexplored by the Destrier, so when a cask from Kirkstall found its way to Popes Quay, I made it my business to be there. More than once. That's how delicious Kirkstall Pale Ale is. Rather than being a brash and bold hop assault (which I certainly wouldn't expect from a 4% Briton anyway), it was a paradise of tropical fruit that only grew riper and sweeter as time went one, like real life fruit. A light candied citrus fruit and caramel biscuit sweetness could be found underneath, but nothing strong enough to take away from the mildly bitter, juicy hops. Delicious and dangerously drinkable, I absolutely loved it. I'd be curious enough to taste this from the keg, but to be honest, it just seems so perfectly suited to cask. 

Seek out any or all of these beers, you won't be disappointed with the discovery.


#179: The Great Catch-Up Part 2: Founders Beer

Founders Beers have landed on our shores of late courtesy of GrandCru Beers. Hurrah! And with Bradleys doing a sweet 4 for €10 deal, this post was inevitable, wasn't it?

First up is the sessionable all day IPA, All Day IPA. For the approachable but cautious 4.7% ABV, there's a bloody good nose on this. It's sharp and zesty with notes of lemongrass, pine and even copper in a nice way. This very much follows suit on the palate with those bitter hop characteristics delivered efficiently via citrus peel and pine needle, with just a hint of caramel underneath. It finishes clean too, with none of the sticky toffee flavours of a higher alcohol IPA. There's proper bang for your buck in this, a beer that punches well above its weight in the hop stakes, even if it isn't the most complex or layered experience.

Founders Pale Ale is the next step up in the range, favouring a soft and seriously juicy grapefruit aroma over the sharp bitterness of the previous one. Not to say that it hasn't got it's own hoppiness, but in a rounder, oilier sort of way, and with more sweetness seeping through. This balance works wonders for drinkability; fruity, herbal and oily hops folded around a biscuit malt backbone making it every bit as quaffable as the previous beer. Bags of delicious flavour and very drinkable, but not better than what we get closer to home anyway.

A good jump up the scale brings us to the Centennial IPA of 7.2% and the pinnacle of the pales on offer. From its dark amber complexion it's easy to see that we're dealing with a bigger beer here, and the punch of hops to the nose only confirms this. This time around there are plenty of nice honey and brown sugar malts underpinning the marmalade, pine resin and orange pith notes that are to the fore. Syrupy toffee is pretty forceful on the taste, but not enough to eradicate the tickly bitterness of the hops trailing behind. Beautiful, pungent and bittersweet, this almost approaches a barleywine in its boldness. Four more of these might just be had.

Finally a change of pace is had with Founders Porter. Dark, Rich and Sexy is what we're promised, and by god is that what we get. Smoky, roasty goodness on the nose? Check. Sweet chocolate and light coffee bitterness on the palate? Check. "What's so special?", you ask? This beer is incredibly creamy. Thanks to the insane body those sweet chocolate notes become thick and luxurious chocolate mousse, while the smoky, coffee roastiness keeps things very drinkable indeed. When I try to visualise my perfect porter or stout, it may not taste quite like this, but it would need to have this exact texture. Full, wholesome and ridiculously tasty, this is really brilliant stuff.

Well there you have it. I love Founders now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

#178: The Great Catch-Up Part 1: Dutch Beer

It's been over a week, I've almost forgotten how to blog. I absolutely hate these times, when I have plenty of notes (ie. beers to talk about) but no time or will to set them down in the virtual stone that is this blog. And so, throwing caution and coherence to the wind, I christen this post The Great Catch-Up. 
Feck it, I'll make it an annual event.

This particular post brings me back to the haul of beer I brought back from De Bierkoning, which started with De Molen's Single Hop Citra, and which also seems like a billion years ago. Ever since falling in love with Sierra Nevada's Torpedo (and being reminded of this by the Fran Well's IPA) I've allowed Citra to be crowned 'my favourite hop', that most ephemeral of reigns, so an expression of such by De Molen seemed an obvious choice for a measly ~€1.30. 

It pours blood orange and, ah, yes, is an olfactory celebration of Citra right from the off. Citrus peel and pith hit first, followed by grapefruit, pineapple and a pine resin stickiness that suggest more honey sweetness underneath. A belter for 4.8%. The palate is just as enthusiastic about Citra, though not nearly as ballsy. None of the syrupy sweetness remains, just a surprisingly clean grainy backbone. Still though, there's plenty of citrus fruit to enjoy, juice, pulp and peel. Despite finishing too quickly, the experience is a worthy one, and I regret not collecting the others in the Single Hop series - after all, comparing them is kind of the point.

Next is a beer from Ramses, a brewery I will love forever for making that barrel-aged Shire Stout, with Moby Dick, which is... well.. I actually don't know. I pale ale seems most likely, so that's how I will judge it. It's yellowy orange in the glass and has bananas and clove on the nose. Some tropical(ish) fruit and waxy bitterness follows up, with a very light malty sweetness forming the base. Rather like the De Molen beer, Moby Dick isn't as complex as the aroma suggests, as I'm treated to a very fruity, lightly bitter and touch spicy beer the quality of which could be described as 'good', and no more. Don't worry Ramses. I'll always remember the Shire Stout.

Finally we have Pandora from Maximus Brouwerij. It's orange and pungent, with stingy lemon juice and pine needle hops at the steering wheel, while a hint of juicy grapefruit takes the back seat. On the palate there's a lively bitterness with the same juicy fruit flavours accompanied by some nice leafy green notes, while a light caramelised sugar sweetness lurks in the background. Much deeper than I expected, this one, and much nicer too. Delicious stuff.

If nothing else, typing this post has been a mournful ode to the wonders of De Bierkoning. Fear not though, there's more from the lowlands to come in the next few months; I'll be damned if I'm not going to buy winter beers on my summer holidays.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

#178: Bierhaus Miscellany #2

Sometimes I sneak to the Bierhaus for an afternoon beer, but I hadn't been in ages. What's more, they've installed a Randall since the last visit, so a trip was certainly long overdue.

Mountain Man's Green Bullet was pouring through the Randall, which was filled to the brim with Chinook. The immediate smack is not of piney bitterness as expected, but of a woody, green, leafy freshness. Herbal and floral notes come through on the palate, though nothing too strong to overpower the lightly sweet, sawdust-thick, biscuity grain base. Dry and incredibly drinkable as ever, I reckon I could get used to this machine. Sure, it didn't add a layer of hop brilliance, but as an exploring of 'things to do with beer' it's pretty spot on.

Next up was some bittersweet Mocha from Batemans, which suggested nutty chocolate, butter fudge and coffee on the aroma.  It tastes at first like sticky burnt chocolate, before turning to warmer caramel and finally onto a lingering whack of coffee at the death. All throughout, an unpleasantly sharp black marker character makes the beer feel coarse and overpowering on the palate, stripping from it the subtlety that would have made it otherwise an enjoyable drink. As it is, it's just not for me.

In between the two I was offered a taste of the already lovely Amber Ella, this time from draught. Of course, it was delicious. There was a bit more of a bubblegum nose to it, with plenty of sweetness on the palate while remaining very hoppy indeed, delivering some beautiful tropical fruit bitterness through the folds of the malt background. Perhaps even better than the bottled version.

Until next time.