Wednesday, 31 December 2014

#250: Golden Pints 2014

2014 hasn't been the busiest beer year for the Destrier; what little travelling that was done was not beer-orientated and the cursory trip to Dublin didn't even happen. As such, though I drank my weight sure enough, there's less of a palette to choose from than I'd like. Still, the tricky business of selecting the best must go on.

Best Irish Draught Beer: Eight Degrees Simcoe and White Hag's Black Boar. Trouble Brewing's Graffiti, the Full Irish and Kinnegar's Black Bucket also make good cases, but Simcoe's juicy hop front and sugary, lightly spicy malt body made it very hard to turn down when on tap in the Bierhaus, while the Black Boar immediately announced itself as one of the most impressive Irish stouts I've ever had.

Best Irish Canned/Bottled Beer: There's nothing particularly jumping out at me in terms of exclusively bottled beers, but one I bought plenty of has again been Simcoe. Always tasty and always well priced. The White Hag and Wicklow Wolf bottles also made good impressions across the board, with particular merit in the IPA from both and the Samhain Oktoberfest lager from the White Hag, simply because of the style of the beer is one that is hard to get a hold of at the best of times, and when it's done well (as it is here) it's a real winner.

Best Irish Cask Beer: There really aren't many to choose from, even though the Bierhaus try to right that wrong. Dry-hopped Kinsale Pale Ale is always good from the cask, but nothing showed off the serving style better than the Franciscan Well's Coffee Porter way back at the start of the year. Smooth, round, warming mocha deliciousness that puts the bottled form to shame.

Best Overseas Draught: I accidentally haven't written about it yet, but the two year old Boon Gueuze on tap at the Bierhaus was one of the most delicious draught beers I've ever tasted. Cidery, sour, sherberty lemon curd delivered perfectly from the keg. Not far behind it is the Kriek of the same age, from the same brewer, with tart cherry rounded out with deep marzipan and cream soda. Hoppin' Frog's B.O.R.I.S. the Crusher made an incredible rich, complex and warming imperial stout, but its price and availability make it an impractical choice.

Best Overseas Canned/Bottled Beer: It has to be Hanssens Artisinaal Oude Kriek. Sitting and drinking this in the sun was one of the most enjoyable quiet, beery moments of the year. Honourable mentions for  way back in January and some 2012 Chimay Grande Réserve.

Best Overall Beer: Impossible and unfair to choose.

Best Pumpclip/Label: The design of the White Hag bottle labels perfectly reflect the boldly flavoured beers within.

Best Irish Brewery: Eight Degrees. Amber Ella made a return, as did Hurricane. We got Simcoe, Vic Secret and Nelson Sauvin, the brilliant Full Irish and finally the winter trio of Dubbel, DIPA and Imperial Stout. There were others throughout the year but these are fresh in my mind, and the regular Howling Gale is still a bottle to buy plenty of. And you know what? They were all good.

Best Overseas Brewery: A smattering of specials and some deliciously fresh (and rebranded) Jackhammer make Brewdog one of the few non-Irish breweries I've endorsed more than unusual throughout the year. Only by a whisker, though.

Best New Brewery Opening 2014: A dead heat between The White Hag's U.S.-flavoured ballsiness and Wicklow Wolf's mastering of a number of styles right from the off. Mescan were not far behind, and their Belgian-styled farmhouse brewery is probably the most fascinating brewing project in the country.

Pub of the Year: For choice, value, service and lack of loud noise: the Bierhaus.

Beer Festival of the Year: Again I only made it to the Franciscan Well festivals, and the best is as always the Easterfest. Those who attended this year's RDS fest will have something to say about that.

Supermarket of the Year: Dunnes Stores seemed to constantly have 4 Schneider Weisse for €9 this year, which is a bloody good deal. The presence of Howling Gale also made it a handy place to do the shopping.

Independent of the Year: Same as last year, Bradley's. The selection continues to grow, and the new beers cropping up over Ireland and beyond always find their way to North Main Street before long.

Best Beer Book/Magazine of the Year: An easy pick; Sláinte

Best Beer Blog/Website: The blog I read most of was again The Beer Nut, but visits to The Tale of the Ale, Beermack and Irish Beer Snob were constantly taken, and picking a favourite is simply a case of selecting the most active. Which I cannot do. The wonderful Belgian Smaak must also be mentioned here.

Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: This is the year that I discovered mature Gouda, and proceeded to have it with more or less every beer I could.

In 2015 I'd Most Like To... up to 2014's ambitions to go UK beering, with a particular eye to Scotland. More urgently, though, is to increase blogging activity, which has slowed down over the past few months.

As ever, thanks for reading and have a happy 2015!

Monday, 22 December 2014

#249: Imperial Brew Ceremony

Eight Degrees did good work with their Back to Black series last winter, and this year they have done something similar; a trio of strong beers just in time for Christmas, under the moniker of A Very Imperial Winter.

The first of the three I had was the Belgian Dubbel. As far as I can remember, this is the first time the Mitchelstown outfit has made a fist of one of the classic Belgian styles that are so well suited to this time of year. It pours a clear, dark red with a cream head, and was described to me at least a couple of times as Christmas pudding in a glass. This isn't immediately apparent to the nose however; it gives plenty of yeasty, fruity stuff you'd expect from the style, with a good dollop of red and green apple syrup, raisins, cherries and, rather conspicuously, soft over-ripe banana and clove. There are flashes of Chimay, but no more than that. The taste is almost exactly as the above, although it is dominated by sweet, estery banana and clove elements that remove it too far from the warming dark Belgian sphere and too close to the lighter Belgian and Bavarian Venn diagram of flavours. Still, it remains enjoyable most of the way down, before the tangy sweetness becomes a bit more work than a warming, smooth Dubbel should be. 

I got a better response from the Double Irish, presumably the Full Irish but doubled up, which is fine by me. The aroma is juicy, bold and sharply bitter, belying some aggressive hopping. Lots of grapefruit and orange marmalade make up the guts of it, with darker mandarin and tangerine stuff hiding in the folds of the sweet fruit, along with mango, a hint of pine and just a smidgen of Starbursts. The citrus fruit explosion keeps exploding on the palate, and it is bitter. Again it's all orange and mandarin, with more oily pithy skins suggesting orange essential oil, along with grapefruit and all the other usual suspects delivered with aplomb. Like the Full Irish upon which it's based, the malt backing is recessive, though at this ABV there are some guest appearances from caramel and toffee roundness, but nothing to seriously upset the hopheads. 
Excellent beer.

Finally we have a Russian Imperial Stout, a style they brewed convincingly enough last year as part of the aforementioned Back to Black series. This one makes all the right impressions from the off; it is ridiculously good looking with a pitch black body and a dark and dense brown head. As we know, however, there is more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking, and this beer evokes that with its deep chocolate,chewy toffee, brown sugar, and a tickle of fresh ground coffee beans; all warm, subtle, complexity. There’s not a touch of the 9% alcohol either here or on the palate, where it’s rich and chocolatey again, with more caramel and brown sugar than you can shake a stick at, as well as a touch of raisiny goodness at the finish. 
Like last year’s version, it isn’t the boldest or brashest of imperial stouts you’ll have, but it’s certainly a satisfying winter warmer.

Three well worth trying this Christmas, with at least one big winner.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

#248: Lost and Found

Trawling the notebook is bad enough without trying to find groups of beers you know you intended to review together. Thankfully, these two made themselves available right away.

Founders Curmudgeon catches my eye with ease in Bradley's. The old man on the label - probably the titular curmudgeon - and the stated use of molasses and oak ageing is enough to get my money.

At home, the beer is a surprisingly bright red. Unsurprisingly, the nose is a heady phenolic mix of syrup, molasses, sweet overripe fruit, macerated berries and glazed cherries. The aroma does approach the dreaded soupy heat, but at a very safe distance. Orange chocolate and vanilla become more apparent with time. The palate gets the full brunt of the toffee, with vanilla and chocolate following up. The body is slick and thick but carries with it a pleasantly sprite carbonation. With time, marzipan and treacle come forth, before an intense finish of burnt brown sugar. 

It may sound messy, but don't take my word(s) for it; this is actually a quite subtle beer that is dominated by sweetness, but never overpowering. The slight heat and great depth of the malts might not be everyone's cup of tea (with good reason; this stuff is all too easy to get horribly wrong) but Curmudgeon gets it just about right.

Next is Founders Breakfast Stout. It is as black as they come and forms a dark tan/brown head that fizzles away to nothing in no time. The aroma is not as immediate and aggressive as the Curmudgeon, with dry coffee, chocolate and a slight tang of smoke creating a olfactory presence that is actually quite light, and even a little bit Irish. Sticky malts coat the mouth with toffee chocolate, raisins and figs, before everything crescendos in a substantial and lingering coffee-like bitterness. It's good and it beats the much lauded Mikkeler breakfast stout, but the same or less money could be spent on a more complex and invigorating strong stout.

Still, Founders' performance sustains its consistent high standard.

Friday, 5 December 2014

#247: NewDog

Brewdog are always reliable and Weihenstephaner are makers of some of the best weissbier readily available to us on this here island. As such, a collaboration brew between the two seemed a safe enough bet and an interesting mix of old and new-world beer styles.

As you could guess, that beer is called India Pale Weizen and, as you could also guess, is intended as a hopped-up version of the German style. 

The aroma offers soft weissbier fare and a light fruity bitterness, but really not much else. Things don't stay as boring on the palate though, with the hops playing predominantly crunchy herbal notes off the sweetness of the malt base. Mint and coriander are the most interesting special guests, with the fruit character remaining somewhere between sweet lemon and pineapple; there's no real sign of the Simcoe used in the making.

Not the greatest beer you'll taste from either of these brewers, but there's still plenty to enjoy.

The next two are new additions to the Brewdog core range, and both came resplendent in their new packaging.
Brixton Porter is a proper black and tan porter, giving the nose some burnt malt and smoke, milk chocolate, a touch of savoury woody malt and a tickle of coffee bitterness. It's flipping good to taste too, opening with a round of chocolate and smoke before coffee and malted milk biscuit make for an incredibly rounded drink made all the better by the smooth, slick mouthfeel upon which it's delivered. Ridiculously drinkable and balanced without letting up in the flavour stakes. Top stuff.

This. Is. Lager. is a lager, obviously, and much was made of the bold claims about 'reclaiming' and 'perfecting' the world's most popular beer style upon its release. Whatever the case, the beer received plenty of praise and I was happy to get it in a glass before me. Like many of Europe's perfectly-fine-but-apparently-not-good-enough-for-Brewdog lagers, it's clear, gold, and doesn't smell of much. The taste is all Hobnobs and golden syrup underneath, with fresh cut grass, elderflower and lemon peel highlights on top. The finish is anything but 'crisp' or 'clean', leaving behind a delightful long-lasting bitterness. Yet more top stuff.

With craft beer in the UK and Ireland seemingly growing exponentially, Brewdog have the balls, brains and the beer to prove that they're still as relevant as ever. Tip of the hat to them.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

#246: The Promise

November was completely blog-free, but it was by no means beer free. With a thesis and a house move coming to a close, it's time to get back on the Destrier, to ride irresponsibly forth to Christmas. 

This is a special bottling of White Gypsy's 100% Irish beer and, according to the gorgeously screen-printed blurb on the back of the bottle, is less than a month old.

There is no mention on the bottle of any particular style, and at first this annoyed me
What glass do I put it in? The bottle suggests that it's to be taken by the pint but I would prefer a fresh hopped pale ale or IPA in something kinder to the nose. Only, I don't know that it is a pale ale or IPA. In fact, I don't even know if 'fresh and hoppy' is the goal here. This beer promised nothing.

As it turns out, it pretty much delivers. Emerald pours a pale cloudy orange, with an understated light and grassy nose akin to a decent pils. Wait, is that some citrus hoppiness coming through? Just for a singular whiff, before it turns to lemony biscuit. There's not a lot going on on the palate, just the same lemon and biscuit malt crispness. It's plenty refreshing and drinkable, but really not engaging.

Unfortunately, the concept of the beer proves more interesting than the beer itself.