Monday, 26 May 2014

#224: Looking Ahead

My last post saw some year-old Orval come out of the cupboard, and to continue the theme of slightly more matured beers I pulled a Rasputin from that very same cupboard of late. It is also appropriate that I would post a beer from De Molen on the day I travel once again to Amsterdam for much beering. Much beering.

Hopefully, such beering will involve plenty more De Molen of this calibre. An imperial stout of 10.7%, I was surprised to see this pour ruby red in the light, before settling to form a foamy cream head. Another pleasant surprise is the immediate lack of booze on the nose, allowing the complexity to shine through; savoury, slightly smokey malts, wood chips, toffee and maple syrup, chocolate and dark fruits are all part of the roll-call, the effect being pungent and intense with just a hint of alcohol heat. 

This can be copied more or less word for word to the palate, with those same oily, raisiny, chocolatey malts coating the mouth. There isn't much in the way of hop character here, not even a sprig of herbal, green stuff, but that's not to say the beer is imbalanced; rather, the hops are doing all their good work behind closed doors, allowing that malted, honeyed biscuit base to drive the beer.

Fantastic stuff from De Molen, and one for the Return Leg Suitcase Shortlist.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

#223: Reverence

The first time I had Orval, about a year ago, I just didn't get it.

It was good, it tasted nice, I enjoyed it, but it didn't approach the depth, complexity or assertion of flavour that I expected from a beer so revered. That was a relatively fresh bottle, and thankfully I retained a bottle from the same batch to try now, at an age of one year and three months. 

Pouring amber with a rocky, ice-cream head, it certainly looks the part in the end-of-spring sunshine. The aroma is a gorgeous feast of fruity, citrus sherbert, a sharp tang of sour grain and a lick of cool, herbal, floral hops. The palate gets a treatment of bitterness to the fore, but in a distinctly spicy, coriander sort of way. This is old world. Earthy floral and herbal notes galore, and the base is of candied fruit, digestive biscuit and slightly syrupy malts, all the while supporting a refreshingly prickly, wheaty, citrus zest leading note. 

With its richness and complexity, Orval of just over one year old blows the younger beer out of the water. I'm now beginning to understand why this is one of beer geeks' most loved beers.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

#222: Franciscan Well Easterfest 2014

Three weeks later, I think it's right about time I digest the goings-on of the Franciscan Well Easterfest. The blogging hiatus that followed was brought on by end-of-year college activities that are pretty much unavoidable, but henceforth I should be devoting more time to the important business of beering. What better way to kick off a summer of beer than to recap an Easter beer festival? 

Well, there are plenty of better ways, but que faire, that's life. 

My beer festival M.O is generally to appear early doors on the first day and get all my work done before the atmosphere gets too jovial for my liking, but fate conspired that I wouldn't be able to show my face until the ungodly hour of 8 o'clock. By now the place was a heaving pile of humans and I wasn't much in the mood, so I went for a quick half of Hugo's Pils from JJ's Brewing Company in Charleville, which I found at first to be decent and balanced between grainy, biscuity sweetness and a tingling floral bitterness but ultimately my mind was wandering before I'd finished the glass. To avoid some of the crowd I ventured into the upstairs bar, where Sharp's were hiding away. Both the 6 Hop and Sharp's Special were incredibly, offensively bland and watery, and represented a genuine waste of time and money.
Totally disenchanted and still jostling for space, I decided to head for the Bierhaus, where I knew I would be able to find some of the festival fare.

Everything new from 8 Degrees piques my interest and the Full Irish was no exception. Nor is it exception to the rule that most of what they brew is delicious. It's fresh and intensely hopped, shoving plenty of pine needle and orange and lemon zest into your face, while the sweet malt base remains very much in the background. Loads of grapefruit to the fore and marmalade in the back, this is a true Irish-American that leaves astringent fruit notes on the sides of your mouth for yonks. 

Next up was Unite, a collaboration brew for International Women's Day that's been brewed the world over; a brilliant idea, whereby each individual brewery puts its own stamp on the 4% pale ale recipe. This was brewed at Metalman by Gráinne (Metalman), Adrienne (Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne) and Sarah (N17), alongside other brewsters on the day (as far as I can tell). It's all bright, bitter Cascade with an assertive biscuity, grainy base and a good fist of bubblegum sweetness. Good stuff, though it probably suffered from following the Full Irish, with its palate-ravaging power.
I couldn't pass up the chance to try Helvick Gold from the keg, and I wasn't much disappointed. Sure, it's not as bold as the Unite or Full Irish, but I was delighted to find the same light, bright citrus highlights and woody undertones as in the bottled version.

Fortified with hops from the Full Irish, as well as optimism from the other two, it was time to head back to the festival proper. Once I'd returned, I followed some sage advice from Bierhaus resident beer geek Ronan to try the Independent Pale Ale, my first from the Connemara outfit. It is class. Potent hopping delivers plenty of bitter citrus fruit rind on a meaty enough body. Sweetness is there for balance and doesn't much figure in the grand scheme of things. Look out for this in bottles. 
Following this was another pale ale and another new brewery for me, more specifically, UCC's Specific Pale Ale. This was not unpleasant at all, but quite weird. Green apple-flavoured Hubba Bubba was the keynote speaker, with everything else a rabble of sweet fruitiness that does well not to cloy. 

It's been a while since anything that Trouble Brewing have made has impressed me as much as their delicious Dark Arts, but they seem to be knocking out winners at the moment; by all accounts their menu of an IPA, saison, brown ale, rye red ale and wheat beer (alongside regular Deception) was top notch. Unfortunately, I only got to try the Lazy Sunday Saison, but boy was it delicious. Tart lemon curd, dry cereal grain and loads of fruity goodness. The lingering grain and yeastiness is accessibly farmyardy. This is incredibly refreshing stuff, and it compares favourably with the also-delicious Clementine and Rosemary Saison from the Franciscan Well.

The final beer of the evening was Cotton Ball's Indian Summer, a beer pieced together from their lager malts, ale yeast and American hops. Strange and beautiful, with its bright fruity and herbal highlights fighting back a toffee and biscuit malt backbone, it remains cool and refreshing, while never threatening to blow one's mind. 

All in all, the festival was as ever a huge success, with my Beer Of Fest™ a toss-up between the Full Irish and Lazy Sunday. Track both of these down, it will be worth it.