Thursday, 23 January 2014

#209: Double Dutch

As I've no doubt mentioned a thousand times, I was in the Bierkoning in Amsterdam over the summer and found myself crippled by the vast selection and friendly priced-ness of the place. However, it wasn't here that I bought these two beers for the return leg. Rather it was a joint effort between Albert Heijn and the over-the-counter bottle shop in Brouwerij 't IJ.

Both of these beers are from that brewery, and both are ballsy organic 9%-ers.

Struis was described to me in the IJ bar as 'barleywine-ish', and that was good enough for me. It pours a murky brown and produces an aroma that is at once weird and beautiful. Clove and candies citrus fruit accompany squashed over-ripe banana, suggesting a sweet palate to follow. It is sweet, but nearly as much as you'd think. Banana bread and clove rocks and a surprisingly potent slab of toffee malt of almost Doppelbock proportions. Thick and syrupy dark fruits and brown sugar are the stars of he show but there's plenty of lingering bitterness in the background and finish. A nice beer, sort of like a complex steeping stone between a Tripel and a Quadrupel.

Columbus is, according to the website, an amber ale. I think. It's murky orange in the glass and the aroma is citrus fruits gone a bit sour, with even a hint of cloudy apple juice. There's no sourness to taste though, just chewy caramel malts, cereal grain, cool spices and herbs, flowery hops, green apple and pear cider. Hmm. The overall impression from that mess is of a beer that is fruity and flowery and spicy and with a lingering tingling bitterness. Great stuff, complex but very drinkable, especially considering its ABV.

I just don't know what to make of the IJ stuff. I mean, clearly the beers are wonderful and delicious, but regardless of the style designated on the label there is a common thread running through the flavours of all the beers of theirs that I've tried. Brouwerij 't IJ don't just make different types of beer, they make different types of IJ beer, as if it's a style in itself. Perhaps it's a yeast strain they use, or just a bit of brewing wizardry beyond my understanding. Regardless, the brewery is unique and as such should be celebrated. I certainly look forward to my next visit. 

Monday, 20 January 2014

#208: English Brawn

Yes, I'm still writing about the beers I've had over (and just after) Christmas, what of it?

I've paired these two simply because their respective brewers have designated them as strong ales. Vague? Perhaps.

The first of the two beers is from Fullers, their Golden Pride. The name suggests some genealogical relation to their flagship London Pride, and by pouring a clear Lucozade orange, it certainly looks like that beer. Unsurprisingly, the aroma is completely different; rich sweet malts with raisin and honey notes not completely unlike a Sauternes, though of course not as overwhelmingly perfumey. A light tingling spice and citrus pith note is the mean contribution of the hops, and brings to mind a pleasantly fruity English-style barleywine. The palate opens with a slab of thick chewy caramel malt that fades to reveal the citrus and green leafiness of the hop character, before the 8.5% alcohol takes hold and turns the taste a bit heady and perfumey right at the end. 
Nice and intense yet remaining plenty drinkable, this is one to try. A perfect winter warmer.

By contrast, Morland's Hen's Tooth looks a sorry character in its clear glass bottle. When will Greene King and Spitfire get the message about clear glass? Anyway, I tried not to let this discrepancy influence my tasting, and found that I needn't have worried. This beer is an amber/red colour and gives an aroma of grain, bread and tin foil and nothing else. Even after plenty of time in the glass, the air above the beer and in my nostrils remains largely empty, aside from the nondescript malt and slight off-ness. The palate is a bit more lively, with an almost taste-able note of 'bland' amid miscellaneous toffee, caramel and grainy stuff, and remains just about drinkable enough for me to finish the half litre.
Disregard the the clear glass. Bottle this in Swarovski crystal and it will still be a bit shit. 

Fullers win hands down.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

#207: O'Hara's DIPA

I tried this beer when it first started to appear, at last year's Franciscan Well Easterfest. Then, it was one of the stars of the show for me, but since its bottled release it's been inevitably criticized for its lack of hoppiness, and comparisons with the brilliant Of Foam And Fury left it looking very much like second best. 

Undeterred, I approached O'Hara's Double IPA with an open mind and an eager palate. 
It pours clear and amber with a white foam and produces a leafy green hop nose, suggesting mint among other herbal stuff. The underlying sweetness has a bit of lime marmalade about it, but things come to life on tasting. The palate is sugary and toffeeish and peppered with candied pineapple and grapefruit.

Despite being a very delicious beer, this DIPA lacks the sharpness and bitter hop attack of a US version of the style which is probably what left many Irish drinkers understandably feeling short-changed by the naming of this beer. Don't be deterred though, this is a very good beer well worth trying, one that I hope stays a permanent fixture on the shelves of the offies and supermarkets around.

Friday, 10 January 2014

#206: Stone Cold Crazy

As I mentioned when speaking about Bear Republic, the arrival of Stone beers to our shores caused an unavoidable rush of excitement to my head, and despite it costing me around €25 for the five bottles, I simply had to pay up. All that remains now is to refrain from pricey beer runs for at least this month...

First of the range was Stone Pale Ale. Despite championing in the unfiltered, unpasteurised side of brewing, this beer (and the rest of the range, in fact) poured surprisingly clear. It's not very pale either; dark orange and smelling of, well, not much. Caramel malts and wet metal hops but that's it. The taste is, to quote my own notes, 'lovely', with grapefruit and orange marmalade very much the arms of a bitter hop attack. It's refreshing and drinkable, but doesn't begin to justify the pricetag. The flavour profile isn't a million miles away from Howling Gale Ale, and the aroma on that beer is actually better. Local it is then.

Stone IPA seemed like the sensible place to go for an upgrade, and turned out to be the case. Despite pouring exceptionally pale gold and clear, it produced a potent and bitter-smelling nose of zingy, coppery, grapefruit pith hops right off the bat. The hop attack on the palate is delivered atop a caramel sweetness, producing a taste sensation that moves in stages from sharp citrus fruits, to rounder, softer peach and grapefruit peel notes, to warm and sticky malts, before eventually ending abruptly, leaving just some of the bitter highlights lingering on. Good stuff and certainly an step up, but the question of value for money still hangs over this one.

The next day I decided to take it easier with Levitation Ale, a garnet-coloured sessioner at a friendly 4.4%. The nose on this speaks mainly of C-hops, with the same grapefruit notes as the previous beer but on a more muted scale. Still, it smells fresh and pleasant. There's plenty of flavour and hop presence for its ABV, with the familiar pine resin and grapefruit peel backed up by a grainy biscuit base. Nice, but I reckon we in Ireland are spoiled for local pale ales and *sigh* red ales that are just as sessionable and with the same or more flavour. It also fails to impress like Founders' All Day IPA.

Finally for now, we take a look at Ruination IPA, a DIPA of 8.2%. Like the IPA, this pours clear and surprisingly gold, but there's no doubting the hop chops of the aroma; pungent pine, peel and grapefruit pith, with sugary sweet marmalade and just a hint of toffee adding weight. The palate is unsurprisingly bitter with loads of fruity hop character and not much of a malt base. In fact, the finish is alarmingly clean and abrupt, leaving your taste buds ravished but abandoned in the most cruel fashion. Hits the IPA hop-spot, but not worth the hype or price.

In this beery version of Snog, Marry, Avoid, I'm afraid none of these beers are getting hitched any time soon, with the the Stone IPA looking the likeliest lad. Even then, Racer 5 still seems to be the way to for US IPA right now. Hopefully the Oaked Arrogant Bastard will redeem Stone Brewing soon.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

#205: At the Races

Following on from the prophetic appearance of Founders Brewing wares in Ireland last year, more U.S-themed beer excitement was stirred up by Bear Republic and Stone Brewing, the latter of which will be described in Friday's post.

For now, we will have to content ourselves with this sole representative of Bear Republic's range, Racer 5.

It pours amber and shows some yeast in suspension, but there's nothing yeasty on the nose; big pine, grapefruit and tropical fruit characteristics hit first. The sweet malty base is hard to catch in detail but you know it's there, doing its best to support the mounds of juicy hops on top. They are resiny and carry perfect examples of the citrus, grapefruit, mango and pineapple notes a good IPA is wont to have. The palate delivers the same experience, translated into mouth-sapping hop glory. This time though, there's a more recognisable malt profile in form of a caramel biscuit base, but the star of the show remains the potent juicy hops and lingering bitterness thereafter. 

This is good stuff. Really good stuff. More hops does not mean better beer, nor does it mean more bitterness (which also doesn't mean better beer), but this has them both. It's plenty hoppy and relatively fresh with its September bottling date, and the aroma is so strong at times it stings like copper. The bitterness isn't mouth-destroying but it lasts for ages, and in doing so enhances the flavours of the hops. If you can get your hands on this, get a couple. You'll be glad of it.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

#204: Dutch Barleywine

These two have been in the stash since my trip to Amsterdam in August, and I've been waiting for the cold weather to open them to up. And so, to beat the post-Christmas blues and to ring in the new year they seemed the perfect tonic to the weather and times.

First up is Jopen's Barrevoet, which the label helpfully states was brewed in October and bottled in December of 2012. At a year old, this 10.5% barleywine produces an intense and complex aroma. It's a glorious and heady mix of marmalade and pithy orange skins atop a treacly sweetness of brown sugar and raisiny rum spice. Dark and powerful, this is already a beautiful beer. The palate delivers on this promise with a soft hop attack that's all mandarin skin bitterness before turning to more tropical fruit and allowing the sugary base through. 
Long after the beer is gone you're still sucking remnants of the syrupy sweetness and tingling citrus fruit bitterness from the sides of your mouth. Fantastic stuff, I shall be looking for more of this.

The other beer is from Amsterdam itself, from a brewery I've somehow neglected on all my visits. It's another barleywine from De Prael, and it's called Mary. For some reason.
It pours much paler than the Jopen and smells paler too. In fact, it barely smells like a barleywine at all; the potent hopping and thick sweet malts have been replaced by citrus fruit and spice akin to a pale ale/Tripel hybrid. This is how it tastes too, with a candied fruit sweetness a light tingling spiciness making it drinkable beyond its 9.6%. A review of the label tells me there's been orange and coriander added, which comprehensively explains the Tripel characteristics. Why they persist to call it a barleywine is beyond me.

So not what I was looking for when I picked up a barleywine, but still a tasty beer. Totally loses out to the Jopen, mind.