Monday, 30 December 2013

#203: The Good Stuff

Guinness is unavoidable in Ireland, and the draught version is inexplicably championed by even the most discriminating of palates. In a place devoid of good beer, a pub that 'does a good Guinness' will do. As if pouring it well will make it any less watery and flavourless.

However, the Diageo giant does make Guinness Foreign Extra which is a fine drink, with this Special Export being top of the range. It's made for the Belgian market as far as I know, and is the strongest variety at 8% ABV.
Like the Foreign Extra, Special Export pours black and tan and produces an equally pungent aroma of rubbery burnt toffee and dark mascerated fruit. Tobacco and brown sugar tie it down. The taste is a delicious blend of dark, sticky, malty sweetness, smoky highlights and that recognisable coffee bitterness.

For me, this is better than the FES, though not by much. In terms of value for money, the FES is definitely the way to go. Still, it's certainly worth a try.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

#202: Old School

Brewdog impressed me recently with their seasonal offering Hoppy Christmas, so much so that I opted to shell out for this special brew, and old-fashioned IPA.

They've called it Old World India Pale Ale and had the labels drawn beautifully by Johanna Basford, which combine with the larger bottle size to make this a very presentable beer indeed. It's also rather pretty in the glass, pouring a hazy orange with a creamy off-white head. Bright lemony pith hits the nose first, followed by waxy orange peel and pungent grapefruit. The presence of the caramel backbone is muted but there's a strangely potent bready, yeasty character to the nose. The fruit attack continues on tasting, with loads of citrus, pineapple and soft banana supported on a sugary caramel malt base. Again, there's a slightly farmyardy tanginess right at the finish, but that only makes the beer more refreshing.

Surprisingly drinkable for a 7.5% IPA, this is very refreshing stuff indeed. Cuts through the heat of a pepperoni pizza admirably.

Friday, 27 December 2013

#201: Great Divide Belgian Style Yeti

I bought this about a year and a half ago in the Abbot's and considering the BBE was up on October of last year, I'm guessing the bottle was a bit old at that stage already. Being an imperial stout of 9.5%, I wasn't too concerned with spoilage.

And I needn't have been. Great Divide's Belgian Style Yeti pours black as night with an off-white, almost brown head. The aroma is amazing. If I described it as smelling purple, would that make sense? Plums, forest fruits, berries and blackcurrants make for a surprisingly fresh and fleshy fruit aroma from the beginning, before it warms to jam and dark chocolate mousse and plum pudding. This is one of those rare beers that demands serious attention from the nose before you even consider taking a sip. The palate matches the beauty of the aroma, delivering rum-soaked fruit, coffee beans, vanilla and sugary chocolate malts all atop a thick and oily body. 

This is an exceptional imperial stout. Rich and indulgent, one that I hoped would never end. 
Unfortunately it did, but not before elbowing its way into my Golden Pints. If you see a bottle of this around and you're a fan of big imperial stouts, don't hesitate to pick it up.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

#200: Golden Pints 2013

Two hundred posts in and it's time to finally do a proper Golden Pints. I'd really hoped to do a few more posts before this, but rather than agonizing over writing about delicious beer over Christmas, I figured I would get this job out of the way and enjoy drinking delicious beer over Christmas. Now there's a plan.

Best Irish Draught Beer
Few Irish readers will be surprised that this goes to Galway Bay's Of Foam and Fury, coming right at the end of the year and delivering the experience everyone wants from a DIPA. Very honourable mentions go to Kinsale Pale Ale, O'Hara's DIPA and 8 Degrees' Amber Ella.

Best Irish Bottled Beer
Here Amber Ella stood out for me, despite some feeling it was secondary to the draught version. It was fresh and incredibly flavourful, and certainly one of my highlights of the beer year. Franciscan Well's wonderful IPA is a close second.

Best Overseas Draught
Thankfully I actually got some overseas beering in this year, and with some fine results. Ramses Oak-Aged Shire Stout was absolutely to die for in the Arendsnest, while runner-up Ayinger's Altbairisch Dunkel made for a wonderfully flavoursome yet drinkable half-litre measure. 

Best Overseas Can/Bottle
Much of the action in this category happened late for me, with stuff from Hardknott, Great Divide and Jopen all seriously impressing. I guess that's what happens when you save special beers for the winter. This is why I wanted to have a few posts done before the awards, as I've yet to write about Great Divide's Belgian-style Yeti. It is amazing; one of the richest, most complex and intense examples of a Russian Imperial Stout I've ever had. Post soon to come.

Best Overall Beer
An impossible choice really, as it could be any of the above. Any answer is likely to leave me feeling uncomfortable. However, when I look back over the year of beer, the liquid that stands out the most will have to be Of Foam and Fury. Whether it was travelling to a freezing Dublin to try it, its freshness in my memory or its genuine top-notchness, I can't ignore the prominence of this beer.

Best Pumpclip/Label
Another tough one, but Brewdog's recent 'Old World' series had gorgeous illustrations by the artist Johanna Basford. As a long-time producer of pen and ink illustration myself, her website makes for great scrolling.

Best Irish Brewery
An easy choice and a victory Eight Degrees. With a barrel-aged stout, a pair of North and South Hemisphere-hopped IPAs, a fantastic amber, and a winter trio of chilli stout, black IPA and imperial stout, they really have been churning out some great stuff this year. All on top of brilliant old reliables like Howling Gale Ale and Knockmealdown Porter.

Best Overseas Brewery
Hardknott are a only a tea-stain away on the world map, and as such are an excellent source of brilliant and fresh treats. I look forward to exploring their range further.

Bar of the Year
Easily the Bierhaus for me. Always a great selection on draught and tap, and the perfect place for an afternoon drink. If only it opened an hour or two earlier. I didn't get to the Abbot's much this year, something I hope to amend ASAP.

Beer Festival of the Year
Of the two I went to? But that seems silly... oh alright then...
Fran Well's Easterfest. The focus on Irish craft beer is much more enjoyable than their October Beer Fest, with the lineup this year yielding delicious Kindred Spirit, White Gypsy Mustang and cask Stonewell Cider.

Supermarket of the Year
I suppose it would be unfair to award this to Albert Heijn, seeing as we don't have it, and its brilliance is less a result of its ingenuity and uniqueness, and more a side-effect of being in a country which doesn't punish the existence of alcoholic beverages with murderous tax rates and all that other stuff I don't understand but am plenty angry about. For us, Dunnes Stores did a good job, expanding their craft range and always having a group deal or two on the go.

Independent of the Year
This is where the real shopping got done, and Bradley's was my most frequented spot of the year. They too expanded on their range and acquired the beer nerd's catnip; books, glasses, mugs, pitchers, bar mats, metal signs, even a Schneider Weisse shirt or two. Was a great off-licence, now a beer haven in the city.

Best Beer Book/Mag
Cormac McCarthy doesn't write beer books, so I didn't get around to much beer reading. I did read through Dave Line's Big Book of Brewing though, and a great read it is too. Perfect preparation for your entry into homebrewing, and a nice step on the road to consuming all the beery knowledge you can get your hands on.

Best Beer Blog/Website
I've thoroughly enjoyed the Beermack. Reports on the delicious happenings in the capital take the newest and best Irish craft beer into consideration, as well as the latest foreign imports to reach our shores. Well written and honest opinions, what more do you want.

Best Beer Twitterer
I'm only new to that myself, so I really don't know. 

Best Online Brewery Presence
To be honest, with Facebook and Twitter all the Irish breweries are pulling their weight and interacting plenty with their desperately thirsty fans, so a winner is hard to spot. Eight Degrees seems particularly active on Twitter and have a nice website, so that seems as good a bet as any. 

Food and Beer Pairing
The weisswurst and Schneider Weisse in Munich was irresistible, and I'm looking forward to eating the delicious Carrigaline farmhouse cheese with a range of beers over Christmas, but I simply can't stop craving the humble soft pretzel to go with any wheat beer, lager or pale ale. 

In 2014 I'd most like to...
Go UK beering. I haven't done any proper UK travel in a very long time and now seems as good a time as any, with London in particular drawing my attention. That said, I've rather shockingly never even been to Scotland... In the meantime, the year should get off to a good start with a trip to Galway.

So there we have it. Thanks to all of you who take the time to read this beerlog and to those who have donated real life beer in the name of, er, science. Happy Christmas from the Destrier. 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

#199: Barrel-Aged Leann Folláin

Leann Folláin is one of the best stouts in the country, and one my favourites from anywhere. As such, it only makes sense that it should be the perfect base beer for barrel-ageing, following on from Franciscan Well's Jameson Stout and 8 Degrees' Kindred Spirit

Barrel-Aged Leann Folláin pours as black as the original version, and produces an equally tempting aroma. The mocha and dark fruit of the base beer is paired up wonderfully with woody vanilla from the ageing process. The palate matches this, and carries it all on a silky, milky body. Delicious and dangerously drinkable despite it's strength and full-flavoured-ness.

So the beer is good, and the bottle didn't last very long, but how much of that is down to the barrel-ageing process? It's goodness seems less determined by the whiskey barrel than, say, Kindred Spirit's, which had whiskey pawprints all over it. It does have more of a barrel character than the Fran Well offering though, so if you're in the market for a large bottle of barrel-aged stout, this is the one for you. A better base beer and better barrel-ageing results.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

#198: Back to Black

With college over for Christmas, it's time for me to finally transcribe notes on some of the beer I've been enjoying over the past week or two. This trio of 'Back to Black' beers was a generous donation from Eight Degrees, along with a second bottle of each for, you know, rigorous quality control. Thanks Eight Degrees!

On the first day I started with Zeus, the black IPA. The aroma is gorgeous to begin with, with a rather potent and pungent tropical fruit and lemon peel nose, suggesting a plenty hoppy flavour. However, the palate begins in a different manner; roasty coffee and a touch hot, it does let some bitter citrus fruit stuff through the gaps, but not much. It's nice, but not half as nice as it smells. Maybe it's a good iteration of the style, but I wouldn't really know. My opinion of the Black IPA as a style is indifferent at best, with no examples ever hitting the spot like a good IPA or a good porter, and Zeus isn't doing anything to change my mind.

On to the Russian Imperial Stout at 9% ABV. The most eminent aroma characteristic here is coffee, followed by caramel chocolate and some dark fruits, before taking a brown sugar turn after some time. Promising. The taste delivers sticky malts, toffee chocolate and bitter dark roasted coffee flavours on a thick and full body. While it may not quite reach the heights of, say Black Chocolate, it's a much smoother and more drinkable imperial stout. Kindred Spirit was supposed to be Irish stout reborn, but this has blown that out of the water.

The following day I was very excited to be popping open the Aztec Stout, a beer that's seen the intervention of cocoa nibs, vanilla pods and chipotle chillies. Despite the interesting additions, the aroma is more subdued than I'd expected, with milk chocolate and - you guessed it - coffee making up the bulk of it, with perhaps a hint of chilli somewhere in the background. The taste is roasty and chocolatey and this time there's no mistaking the spicy heat of chilli on the back of the throat after each swallow. Interesting to say the least, but I found the body wanting, especially compared (however unfairly) to the Imperial stout the night before.

A commendable effort that gives us two decent beers and one really good one. A good, Irish imperial stout is perfectly timed for Christmas too.

Monday, 9 December 2013

#197: Of Foam and Fury

As I mentioned last week, Galway Bay's new double IPA is the talk of the Irish beer geek town at the moment, and as it isn't being bottled until January I felt compelled to make a day trip to Dublin to taste it. True, Christmas shopping also played a factor, but the beer was always going to be the decider.

Before we got around to that, however, we made the traditional stop in Porterhouse Temple Bar, where mine was a Hersbrucker Oktoberfest, the special of the day. It was just about OK, being biscuity and grainy and disappearing quickly leaving a decent lingering bitterness behind, but carrying none of the off-sweet slightly dark malt flavours I prefer in a good Marzen. A total bust in a place that sells so much good beer.

Moving on, The Black Sheep was the most convenient Galway Bay outlet before the 7pm train, so it was there we went. My last visit produced the lovely Voyager NZ, but I remember being disappointed with the prices of the draught beers. This time I was more forgiving. The prices were the same (rarely if ever going below the €5/pint mark) but I appreciated the number and excellent variety of taps much more than before. That and the chunky chips, which were perfect for the cold. 

Of Foam and Fury pours a hazy amber and produces some wonderful tropical fruit hop aromatics. Pineapple, grapefruit, mango and orange pith are all there from the start, with some nice toffee and bubblegum sweetness coming into play as the beer warms up. On the palate, the malt backbone is sturdy enough but drenched in hop flavours, with the punchy orange skins, grapefruit and pine needle teaming up with the tropical fruit from before, all carried wonderfully on a full body. 

Properly hop-forward and bitter in the nicest way, but retaining enough balance to remain smooth and drinkable beyond it's 8.5%.
Hats off to Galway Bay, and keep an eye out for the bottles in the new year.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

#196: Narwhal

Hot (well, lukewarm) on the heels of the appearance of Sierra Nevada Hoptimum this summer is the Chico brewery's imperial stout, Narwhal.

It costs the same as Hoptimum so it's by no means cheap, but if it performs as well in the flavour department it should be worth it.

It starts well enough, pouring black and tan and showing lovely dark chocolate and malted biscuit on the nose, while also allowing some brighter hop notes to shine through. The aroma is really all about the darker malts though, with brown sugar, coffee and dark fruit in the mix. On tasting, there's some chocolate, roasty stuff and a bit of bitterness too, but ultimately it's not as bold or complex as something like Black Chocolate Stout or Victory Storm King, a sin when it's 10.2% ABV. The star of the show is the texture, which is smooth, creamy and rich while remaining plenty drinkable.

Lovely drink, but you can definitely do better with your fiver.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

#195: Far Out

The tenuous connection linking these next two beers together is their origin in far-flung places, yonks away from me in Cork, coming from Iceland and Sri Lanka respectively.

To Iceland first, and Einstök's Toasted Porter. I've been seeing Einstök around for a while now, paying attention to their attractive labels while assuming very little about the liquid inside the bottle. If I was to chance one, I decided I'd better go for the porter.
My relatively low expectations were turned on their head early on, as I found this surprisingly good. It's fairly robust and carries flavours of chocolate, roasty coffee and, after some time, a dark sweetness. It's certainly not very sophisticated, but remains very tasty indeed. Looks like I'll have to give the rest of the range the benefit of the doubt.

From the other side of the world comes Lion Stout, a beer I expected to be along the lines of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Studying the label is an experience in itself, where you get to enjoy some shameless milking of the late Michael Jackson's endorsement of the beer, as well as the curious but appreciated presence of caramel colouring on the ingredients list. 
As for the beer itself, it pours thick and oily black, with a gorgeous malted honeycomb biscuit on the nose, accompanied by thick, sticky molasses notes. This segues nicely into rum-soaked dark fruits with vanilla and oak pitching in too. As you can imagine, this translates into a delicious palate of raisins, thick syrupy toffee, caramelised biscuit and even some light smokiness. 

Definitely the better of the two.

Monday, 2 December 2013

#194: What's in a Name?

It was pure accident that these two ended up together, with the only real links being their American-ness and their... *giggles*... rude names.

Still, if that's good enough in the politically and culturally undefined virtual nation-state occupied by the Destrier, then it's good enough for me.

First up is Founders Dirty Bastard, which I actually had back when Founders made their first appearance in the country and they were very much the talk of the town. The Irish beer nerd spotlight (if such a thing exists) has since shifted to Galway Bay and their Of Foam and Fury DIPA, with excited and digitised whispers of its glory reaching far and wide. Stay tuned for that...

Back to Founders, and this is only my second Scotch ale, the first of which being... *snigger* Scotch Silly. Dirty Bastard, Scotch Silly, they really get a hard time don't they. Like the Scotch Silly, this one pours a beautiful mahogany colour with a lovely off-white head. The powerful aroma of thick chewy toffee, dark fruits and dark chocolate begs you to tuck in. On the palate there's more delicious toffee, maple syrup, raisins and slightly smoky malts. It really is just a wonderful exhibition of dark ale flavour characteristics with chocolate and fruity rolling tobacco becoming prominent over time. Great stuff, and a perfect winter warmer.

As I write this, I find myself wondering why I haven't bought a couple of bottles for Christmas. I highly recommend it.

A few weeks later I was back in the territory of big Americans, this time via Belgium with Flying Dog's Raging Bitch. Flying Dog have a number of very good offerings on our shelves at the moment, so the purchase of this Belgian-style IPA didn't carry much of a risk with it. It pours a hazy amber and produces an aroma of pithy, sugary, raisiny red berry skins. What? There's plenty of bright fruity hoppiness with peach and apricot taking care of things on that end, with butterscotch and candied pineapple covering the sweeter side. The palate emphasises the bittersweet nature of the beer with pithy orange and grapefruit up front and banana and toffee at the back. Along the way there's some spritely spiciness, with the overall effect being a complex but drinkable (and delicious) beer. Another recommendation, despite this not being the freshest of bottles.

I seem to be always catching up with my notebook, but I reckon I'll be up to date after the next two or three posts. From there, it's straight into the 'special' stash. I can't bloody wait.