Friday, 8 May 2015

#268: A New Old Friend

Sierra Nevada Bigfoot is one of my favourite beers ever, one that never fails to deliver an indulgent, complex, invigorating drinking experience, not to mention it's suitability to ageing, thanks to the fact that it is at once a hop and malt bomb. 

So when The Sober Destrier says she'll buy me a bottle of it only on condition that I drink it that very day in the sun, and not squirrel it away for seasons untold, I clearly can't say no, even if it is a spanking new 2015 bottling. And I'll be damned if I won't be writing about it, regardless of how often it has and will continue to appear on this blog.

Bigfoot 2015, like the others, is a particularly burly monster when fresh. Deep toffee and chocolate sweetness delivered with syrupy aplomb is the greeting, with heady alcoholic effects elbowing their way into the sensory experience too. Grapefruit dominates the citrus fruit hoppiness in the aroma, but not without a smothering dollop of sweet deep malts. The palate gets things a tad gentler than this; a wash of orange pith and sugary marmalade open proceedings, again followed by some thick toffee and booze soaked light fruits, skins and all. The booze thankfully disappears from the latter stages though; there's no coarse, grinding burn to interrupt the flavour, but it's still pretty full-on. Green crunchy stuff, leafy, fresh C-hops and even some ripe, red berries can be found throughout too.

Overall, this beer when fresh is definitively bittersweet, and although it supplied a wonderful beery moment, it simply isn't the Bigfoot I love. 
At least, not yet. The Bigfoot I love is the one inside this very bottle, at least one year from now.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

#267: Head in Hands

These two notebook stragglers come from the Florence brewery in London as part of the Head in a Hat range.

No, I hadn't heard of it either, but a look at the website reveals a pretty interesting setup. The concept behind these beers is that of raising old recipes from the past, as well as doing some experimentation for the sake of it. I can get on board with that.

The first is Tommy, a 4.2% IPA with a recipe from 1914. It's refreshing to see the blurb not entirely endorsing the whole '"heavily hopped and stronger for shipping to India" myth, and this beer certainly doesn't aspire to appease any modern standards.

In the glass it looks limp and pissy, and it takes some effort to inspire a head. The nose is interesting from the offset, with grain sweetness and the like making up the bones of it alongside a lightly fruity backing that's quite difficult to pin down. It's mild and approachable. The taste, on the other hand, is weird. First sip gets a nice, spicy, herbal thing before it becomes coriander and liquorice (no joke) among vaguely lemony highlights, all pretty much lost in the folds of cloying caramel. There's some just-about-detectable herbal, vegetal bitterness to be found at a stretch. Curious, but I'm forced to conclude that I just don't like it.

Curiouser still is Gin, a 4.1% summer ale brewed with botanicals from the City of London Distillery. It pours crystal clear orange and the head, like in the Tommy, just rushes away. The nose and palate get the same harsh malt-forwardness as the Tommy, but I stick with it to try and find just a hint of juniper. I didn't.

These two beers represent a noble pursuit, but to this drinker, both fail to function as beers one wants to drink again. Still, if I'm in the area I'll definitely be visiting the gorgeous brewpub, though I imagine I'll be drinking the Florence range before I go venturing back into the past.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

#266: Easterfest 2015

It seems like aeons ago now, but this year's Easterfest was another good'un. This despite the notable absence of an Eight Degrees stand, though there were plenty of worthy breweries to take their place, and a few first-timers to the festival too.

Seaweed Saison
I started with one of the regulars though, who had brought one of the most irregular beers of the festival. Dungarvan Brewing and Nøgne Ø teamed up on Seaweed Saison, with the Nøgne Ø head brewer Kjetil Jikiun travelling to Dungarvan for the brewday. The beer is (obviously) a saison with added Dillisk seaweed, and it was served here on cask. It comes a cloudy yellow with a nice slice of foam and immediately announces itself as nice. It's smooth, full and fluffy in texture with a sort of light waxy bitterness throughout, an odd salty tang in the middle and a round, softly sweet lemon curd thing to finish. It's excellent, really, and the first few pulls are beautiful, fresh and invigorating. However, it just isn't that drinkable; I was glad I'd settled for the half pint of this, it's just not the sort of thing you could take too much of. That said, as an example of creative and delicious brewing, I do advise you pick up a bottle, just don't expect to be downing it in one.

Between this and my next purchase I was handed a half glass of Black Lightning, the latest from 9 White Deer. Stag Bán doesn't do much for me, and I was pleasantly surprised by the relative richness of Stag Rua, a beer in a style that has a lot of explaining to do, so I was intrigued to hear the Ballyvourney outfit had opted for a 6.5% black IPA on this one. Just as well too, because it's the best beer they've brewed to date by far. A decent whack of bittersweet citrus fruit plays off a light roasty backbone - this is BIPA by the numbers - with a touch of pith here and juicy, orangey stuff there, all remaining very drinkable despite the strength. I'm looking forward to seeing more of this and more like it from 9 White Deer.

Next up was Metalman's Equinox, the latest in their shape-shifting Chameleon series. It's a wheat lager of 4.6% and does exactly as you'd expect; it's a lean, clean, belch-inducing, summer quenching lemon machine. Lemon and orange are added to this, alongside coriander, but for me there's only evidence of the former, and it does a good job of scrubbing the tongue and refreshing the palate before I move on to bigger, bolder things.

Not quite yet though, as I opted then to try the third 'funny ingredient' beer of my visit, Bo Bristle's Wild Irish Ale. Hold your horses though; this ain't no spontaneously fermented farmhouse ale, rather it's a simple 4% pale ale brewed with the addition of elderberry, hawthornberry, ginger and rowanberry. It's a better palate than mine that can find each of those ingredients expressed in the mouth, but it does offer up plenty of husky, herbal and vaguely floral effect if that's your thing. It wasn't for me.

O Brother were one of the festival newcomers and I opted for their Fixer, billed an American Red. I certainly wasn't expecting a punch of burnt, bitter coffee and scorched malt, and was further surprised with the follow of red berries and citrus peel. Decent, but nothing special. I missed O Brother's Bonita, a 7.1% black IPA, which is a shame, as it appeared to be one of the beers of the festival. Oh well.

Before I moved on to the big guns of the festival, I decided to try some palate cleansers; Killarney Brewing Company were newcomers to the festival too, and brought with them some nice branding and Devil's Helles and... something else. I'm a sucker for Helles lager so that was my pick. It's a hazy one, all vegetable crunchiness with a cool, herbal hop character. It's close, but no cigar for me; there's none of that cool-fermented cleanliness that I prefer in the style. I'll be keeping an eye on these guys though, their leaflet had a good smattering of styles that I'll be looking forward to trying.

Seasoned festival-goers White Gypsy were also pouring a Helles, and this seemed to be even further away from the goal than the Killarney version. It's yellowy-orange and hefty in the mouth. So far so good. A flash of citrus surprises me, before things really unravel with a bit of weird cheesy off-ness at the finish. Not good. 
Model T
Much better was their Scarlet, a sour of 5.2%. It's an amber-brown affair that gives plenty of sherbety sour raspberry but with a good roundness too. An unsophisticated sort of sour, perhaps, but it makes for a decent refresher.

The final leg of my festival began with a long-awaited glass of Black's Model T. It's only 6.5%, but has more flavour than it has any right to. Hazelnut chocolate greets the nose, while the palate gets a wash of full, milky, smooth chocolate - texture is a big player here, and it wins. Creamy vanilla and chewy toffee just about make the cut. Excellent stuff, and one of my highlights of the festival.

UCC's pilot brewery had pUCCa, a 5.5% pale ale that promised a good fist of citrus and apple on the nose, but performed less than perfectly on the palate, with tropical fruit juice and candied pineapple and mango lost under way too much sweetness. A touch of bubblegum finishes it off.
Thankfully, the students also brought Innocence, a 9.5% quadrupel that, going by the pUCCa, could have been a disaster. Thankfully, it wasn't. There's nothing innocent about the shit loads of dark fruity chocolate to the fore, being a far-from-perfect-quad but still quite enjoyable. It's sweet to finish, and while decent enough, it never approaches the shadow of the Belgian masters. Bonus points to UCC for also bringing pretzels, the essential beer festival snack.

Stonewell Tawny
The final purchase of the festival was, as is becoming a tradition, a cider. Stonewell blew my mind with their casked medium-dry a couple of years ago, and this year they were pouring Tawny, a 15% cider from the keg. Shit. It is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect; thick, slick, tart cider with vinous, boozy overtones and an everlasting buttery toffee finish. I can still vividly remember the taste, and my taste buds tremble. It's bold and puckering and absolutely not taking the piss, a proper finisher...

...that is, until I passed the Bierhaus on the way back. I knew they were pouring one of curiosities of the festival, Trouble Brewing's Hop Priority, an 11.1%-er they've decided to call a triple IPA. Well then.
It's got heaps of tropical and citrus stuff, namely grapefruit and mango, and whets the appetite for some searing bitterness. This doesn't really come, but it does scorch the tongue a bit. Underneath it all there's a solid sweetness that goes through phases of caramel, toffee and alcohol heat. I'd be willing to try this again, but on the day it was a bit harsh. Not terribly bad, not great. 

TL:DR I drank beer.

Friday, 1 May 2015

#265: Session 99 - Mildly Does It

I last dipped my toe into The Session when the blog was in its infancy, and since then I simply haven't had the timing or discipline to keep it up. It's only now that I've remembered that it's something I want to do in order to stimulate some beer contemplation that I otherwise wouldn't have entertained.

I couldn't have picked a better month to join in either, as this month's Session hosted by Fuggled asks us to consider what a localised mild would be in our respective locations, May being CAMRA's 'Mild Month', with American breweries getting in the act too, brewing their own versions of the ubiquitous British style. I know nothing of milds, and I don't believe there are any Irish breweries churning out something they've labelled 'mild', but I'm open to correction on that one.

So, where to start? Michael Jackson's Beer (Ultimate Beer in some online listings, the 1998 DK release) has a mild as a lightly hopped, often low alcohol English ale, intrinsically linked to industry with its superior thirst-quenching drinkability and inexpensiveness (p.100). It's an old style of beer, somewhat out of fashion, so it comes as no surprise that CAMRA would seek to promote and preserve it. In the admittedly dated The Big Book of Brewing (Argus, 1985), Dave Line's description is pretty much in line with this, though he more actively asserts its unsuitability to keg and the importance of a low ABV to the style (p.231).

On the face of it, though, it doesn't seem to have gone away. Any cask ale of, say, less than 5% that isn't billed as a stout, blonde or, my nemesis, golden ale should fit the bill of an easy-drinking session beer that one could surely call a mild. Malt-forward red ale of around 4.3%? Mild. Wait, you're calling it a ruby, or dark ale? Still malt-forward and still less than 5%? F*ck it, Mild.

If it sounds like I don't know what I'm talking about you're not far wrong; I don't recall drinking anything in the past couple of years that was called, unequivocally, a mild, but my point is that, at least from where I'm sitting, mild hasn't really gone away, only it may have morphed into something else.

As an outsider to mild's existence at large (it thriving in England 50 or 60 years before I was born) I would imagine that an Irish mild would be a red or dark red ale that is malt forward (but not thick and sweet), of a sessionable strength (approx. 4.3%) and ultimately easy to find and drink. That beer can also be found under the rough moniker of Irish red ale. If Irish brewers really wanted to push a 'mild' or 'Irish mild' as a thing, all they'd need to do is knock a single percentile off the Irish red ale and be done with, assuming in turn that the the lower ABV coincides with a lower gravity and less opportunity for the chewy toffee sweetness of the 'current' style. What we'd get then would be a sessionable, lightly-hopped, 3.3% red ale, and that surely can't be far off the mark. Veering into the dark red or brown territory wouldn't do any harm either.

The bigger question is, do we want or need a 3-4% ABV red/brown ale with little hop character and low gravity?

To link this up with a beer, I'm going to push forward something I certainly want and need; Via Maris.
Irish beer folk will already be familiar with Galway Bay Brewery's 3.5% table beer, and those who aren't should familiarise themselves as soon as they can. A sackful of mango, grapefruit and mandarin skin greets the nose, far more than it should from such a light beer. Lightly treads the palate too, being soft and easy without going limp or watery. It's still punchy, fruity and properly juicy too, approaching 'juicy banger' status. A soft bitterness shines through all and lingers, again, longer than you'd expect.

This is the only kind of 'mild' I'd campaign to see more of; not because it's hoppy - hops do not rule all - but because it's easily drinkable, low in alcohol (leading to supreme session possibilities) and has plenty of flavour. A malty 'mild' would do me well too, but if the reds of this land and the next are anything to go by, I don't think I'll be queueing for Mildfest 2016.

Remember to head over to Fuggled to read the compilation of entries for this Session. Cheers!