Monday, 31 August 2015

#287: Oud Beersellers

Cool beer in a sunny garden is the very meaning of summer and few beer styles perform well under a clear blue sky - such as it might be in an Irish summer - as a lambic.

This one is my first from Oud Beersel, and it is their standard Oude Geuze Vieille, a 6% effervescent, pale orange in the glass that smells spritely, slightly cidery and woody. There's not even a hint of vinegary sourness about this, thankfully, and it stays in the realm of citric acid and farmy, yeasty simplicity. To taste it is an eminently refreshing dry, bitter leafiness, with a follow-up of tart lemon and overripe green apple. There's even the perception of sweetness in the apple drop and sherbert sourness, but all in all the beer plays like a weirdly well-rounded, grainy and satisfyingly tart geuze. 

It's tempting to call this kind of beer complex, bearing in mind that sourness is meant to be the sophisticated acquired taste for the beer geek, but in reality, this is a simple, straightforward, even archaic type of beer.
A gorgeous geuze, worthy of your time.

Friday, 28 August 2015

#286: Rover, Wanderer, Nomad, Vagabond

Hoppy lagers are a natural progression in beer style fashion and seem to be having a day in the sun of late. Why this must be distinct from a clean and dry IPA was once beyond me, but I have to say that from the examples I've had, there is a lot to be said for a cold fermented clean beer hopped to the nines, and storied hop nutjobs Eight Degrees recently gave us Nomad for late summer, their take on the questionably billed India Pale Lager.

It certainly looks like a pale lager; clear gold with a pure white head, but it is bursting with as much sharp citrusy hops as any of your other Mitchelstown-born IPAs. Nelson Sauvin, Citra and Cascade are the hops listed and there's plenty of the latter two to be found on the aroma, with all the lemon and grapefruit zest and slight flashes of orange marmalade. To taste it's sharp as cats' claws at first, all freshness and punch, and clean and dry to finish, inviting plenty of big gulps. Closer inspection reveals tropical mix juice and pineapple with a simple, biscuit malt backbone and a long, lingering bitter finish afterwards.
At this rate it shouldn't have time to warm up but if it does you might find a prickly, perfumey effect at the death that raises an eyebrow, but not enough to interfere much with the beer's overall goodness.

As such, another certified Good© beer from the Antipodean Brewo Duo.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

#285: Bierhaus Miscellany

This dredging of notes goes as far back as the beginning of May, through June and up to July, such is the unwillingness of the Destrier to let good beer go.

And this really was good beer.

Shortly after the Franciscan Well's Easterfest (I know) I was looking to catch up on those beers I'd missed in the festival garden and the Bierhaus is the most logical place to do this.

Trouble's Fallen Idol was first up. This is a heavenly concoction of brown sugary malt topped with pithy orange and lemon bitterness with a full, chewy, raisiny body. You could drink lots of this, and I'm coming to regret not having much more at the time. Excellent stuff from Kildare, and had I had it at the aforementioned festival, it could easily have been my beer of the show.

Another contender for the beer of the show at the Easterfest was O Brother's Bonita, though I didn't know it at the time. I caught up with this black IPA towards the end of June.
The nose gets smoke, coffee and an almost meaty savoury note that suggests a serious and complex beer to follow. There's nothing grave about the flavour though, however enigmatic it may be; the chocolate and coffee roastiness that separates a black IPA from an IPA is absent here. In fact, there's not much 'black' about the flavour at all, just bright zest and pithy bitterness with citrus fruit skins and dark malts. The finish is strip-your-palate bitter and lasts for ages.
This is my kind of black IPA; silky smooth, almost creamy, with dark chewy malts in favour of coarse roast malts that often only serves to interfere with the effectiveness of the hop profile.

All good things must come to an end though, and Trouble, who are churning out some of the country's best beer of late, give us Vic Secret S.M.A.S.H, a single malt, single hop beer, in case you're wondering. As I would find with the Equinox version in Dublin, the bones of this beer is a very grainy, slightly coarse, herbal, floral, even vegetal bitterness. There's some mango and lemon pleasantry on the nose, suggesting something sweet and juicy that alas, just isn't there to taste.
A faint presence of coriander, lemon shavings and flashes of lemon biscuit are to be seen only in fleeting glances behind the prickly, husky dominant character. 
Perhaps I've been unlucky or unfair in my meetings with the S.M.A.S.H. series, but I think it's more likely that the beers just haven't lived up to Trouble Brewing's sky-high standards.

More hop-themed shenanigans came from Rascal's in the form of their Kiwi Pale Ale, a first entry in a series of beers designed to show off the attributes of Wakatu, Waimea and Motueku. Shown off they aren't though; this pale orange pale ale had a worrying unclean nose that smothered even the slightest suggestion of any fruit underneath. Waxy bitter and effervescent were the first things I saw fit to write down, which says a lot about how much enjoyment I could gleam from the beer. It's sweetness goes from slight to cloying in a matter of seconds, and the only remaining actual flavour descriptors I can pull out of the beer is some wet grain, biscuit and cardboard. I wouldn't be going back.

The last beer here (this time from way back in spring) is Wicklow Wolf's Solar Eclipse, a saison released to coincide with, yep, the solar eclipse on March 20th. It's was bizarrely dark for a saison and sporting a subtle, hard-to-find, vaguely coarse graininess that just about approaches the farmyard character I look for in a saison. To taste it was dark fruit, sherberty and refreshing with a not a hint of that sharp slightly-sourness that you might find in Dupont's benchmark for the style. Totally absent from my notes is the strong banana hefeweisse thing that, after Ronan behind the bar pointed it out, seemed incredibly obvious and in-your-face. Sniffing and sipping again, it was bewildering that I hadn't immediately pinned it down, and others around the bar agreed.

It's official then; I don't know anything about beer.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

#284: Capital Wandering

Way way back in the now dust-covered month of July I had the chance to nip to the capital on the train for a day, to meet and return with the Sober Destrier. If seven hours in Dublin means anything, it's pints.

It was daunting stuff getting up at around 6am for said train, and with a bit of a delay near Portlaoise it was well after 10 by the time I walked onto the platform in Heuston. My handwritten 'Dublin Pubs Opening Times™' guide told me that the earliest opener for a discerning drinker was also one of the spots I've missed a number of times on previous trips.

J.W. Sweetman's was really the perfect first stop; sure, it was awkward being that guy, walking in the door at 10.30 looking for a vegetarian breakfast while the staff was still setting up tables and mopping the walkways, but they were friendly, accommodating, and, above all, they didn't blink when I asked for a tasting platter of their house beers with my breakfast.

Said breakfast was delicious, filling, and kept me occupied until 11, when the beers were deemed fit for drinking. Whether this is by law or by policy I do not know. The Blonde was the most sensible place to start; light and lemony, with a tingling of citrusy hop but really a liquid biscuit that serves as a pretty good breakfast beer, being fresh, bright and light but crucially not watery. That said, I'm not sure it would hold my attention for a whole pint. 
Red was next and it's a fairly bland affair. Again it's light with a vague woody caramel thing going on but ultimately it's just so bland. I noted at the time that this might scratch a normo's 'ale itch' but it lacks anything exciting enough to keep a beer hunter interested.
The Pale Ale is more an English than an American example, gives a big juicy orange character upfront and favours a respectful and respectable lingering bitterness over a lupuline assault. The body is a bit light here too, like the others, but no harm, no foul. Orange chocolate toffee is the impression it leaves on the palate, and so far it is the most enjoyable of the bunch.
Porter for breakfast is an exceptional idea, especially when your porter smells like coffee and woodsmoke, like this one does. Immediately it wins the platter, with a medium to full body delivering loads of meaty, milky chocolate and cold coffee. It's not a smoked porter, but one could easily be fooled. The lack of a nitro serving wins it yet more points, as does its background tobacco leaf complexity. At this point, I was considering the pint.
The last beer was unknown to me; marked only as the brewery's seasonal, I opted to try it blind to see if I could guess the style. Dark malts abound here, with toffee and raisin opening for something a bit tangy. Exceptionally clear though it was, I couldn't help but think it might be a Dunkelweiss, with its sour fruit and toffee chocolate palate play. Either way, it wasn't nearly as good as the porter - none of them were.

With the belly full it was time for a few non-beery engagements before I found myself wandering into Porterhouse Central for a tap scan. This yielded what I think is Trouble Brewing's Equinox S.M.A.S.H, labelled in the Porterhouse simply as Marris Otter, a beer I can't find mention of elsewhere. Like the Vic Secret S.M.A.S.H. (notes to come), this had an unpleasantly coarse, husky grain thing going on that put me in mind of scorched barley or the like, with bitter lemon skins following up to give you some idea of what should have been happening. At only 4.8% it's incredibly in-your-face, and I just can't get on board with the offensive graininess. Trouble are brewing amazing beer at the moment, this is not one of them.

Onwards to the Porterhouse in Temple Bar where a can of Firestone Walker Easy Jack caught my eye. Like The Beer Nut, I'm surprised such a highly regarded U.S. craft brewery has managed to sidle quietly onto Irish import shelves without much fuss, but there you go. Perhaps all observers to the import market had already tried Easy Jack, and learned that it is an underwhelming, unfussworthy beer and are simply tired of being let down by U.S. IPAs. It's clear gold and my first impression is of the oddly full texture to the beer. Mango and grapefruit are there, but before you go thinking this is some sort of hop-bomb it all gets grounded by an old-world vegetal green-ness and graininess, with some lemon cheesecake making a final guest appearance. It's not a bad beer by any means, but as I say above, it is categorically unworthy of fuss.

By now I'd had some nice beer, some OK beer and even some bad beer. To remedy this I went to the nearest Galway Bay joint which was The Black Sheep. Only a schooner was had here, and that was Goodbye Blue Monday. I'd had this way back in January but neglected to feature it on the Destrier, so this schooner was to refresh my memory as well as interject some ridiculously great beer into proceedings. Juicy, bittersweet tangerine or mandarin (who cares which?) opens up. There's orange marmalade and tropical fruit too. The nose gets a proper burst of U.S. hops, peel more than pine, and the creamy texture and perceivably hefty grain bill on the palate is way more drinkable than it should be. A tad unusual and different from other beers of its type, it is essentially a very good IPA. Boom.

So I've had one of my favourite types of beer - the hoppy, bright, fruity kind. What about the other types? Not only that, but after a spicy snack on the way back down Capel Street my palate needed cleansing, so it was time for the day's first and only lager. For this I went to the Czech Inn, superior proponents of Czech macro beer and odd, empty daytime atmospheres with ancient pop music playing quietly and Wimbledon broadcast via Czech TV. Curious. The service and reception here is always good and if you grab yourself a seat by the window there's some great people-watching to be done. For accompaniment I went for Pivovar Herold's dark lager, which Ratebeer tells me is Herold Černý Ležák, a 5.2%-er of the Tmavý clan. It pours darker than the dark woodwork of the Czech Inn and sports a fetching off-white head. Biscuity, lagery grain is the dominant characteristic on the nose, even suggesting a slight tang that furrowed my brow. There's no such complications to taste though, just a smooth and creamy showing of chewy toffee and raisiny dark malts. It's no Altbairisch Dunkel but it's very good nonetheless. It also makes for good practice for next week's Amsterdam, Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Vienna and Munich round trip, which will no doubt be full of lager, many of them dark.

By now it was finally opening time for the new main attraction for beery trips to Dublin; the Beer Market, and I just about had time for a quick visit. This Galway Bay establishment boasts 20 rotating taps with a focus on imported things you won't find elsewhere. Despite this, my first pick was Galway Bay's own In Bloom, a gorse flower wit. And frack me was it a good choice. An uncharacteristically thick and full and, dare I say yet again, creamy body does this beer no harm. Sure, it's not the light refreshing quaffer you might expect from a wit but the texture only enhances the white pepper and herbal, spicy fruit interplay. There's not even a lot of the typical coriander note here, just a vague green herbal off-bitterness that bigs up the citrus side of the beer wonderfully. A purist might want to strip this down and knock it back, but I loved it.

In Bloom
There's a serious choice to be made looking up at the tap list and the barman wasn't holding back on the samples; he offered so many I had to turn most of them down out of guilt. I did accept a taste of Mikkeller's Juicebag, feeling in the mood for a sour. A 7.7% Oud Bruin, it really is sour. Too sour, in fact, forcing me to call it imbalanced. I'm sure this would scratch an itch for many people in the mood for some palate punishment but for me it took a step too far into the vinegar side.

Much more drinkable and enjoyable was the last beer of the day, Loverbeer's Madamin. This is another Oud Bruin/Flemish Red pretender, though a good deal paler than I'd expect from such a style. Before it destroys your face Madamin thoughtfully delivers a fair whack of chewy malts followed by a tangy, woody, wheaty sourness, crushed cherries and tonnes of sherbert. It's puckering and you find yourself chewing it over for ages afterwards, but it's good drinking, and a much more complex offering than the Mikkeller effort, and a whole 0.1% lower ABV!

And so ends the trip.

Next up, Bierhaus Miscellany.

Thursday, 13 August 2015

#283: Beyond the Sea

Our third American post in a row finds us with two surprises, though, the America in question is the continent including the Caribbean as well as the U.S. of A.
A regular costumer from those United States once handed in two bottles of this beer from his local brewery as a surprise gift to the manager of my shop, one of which found its way to my glass. Thanks to both!

The beer is Kilt Lifter, a Scotch ale from Pike Brewing in Seattle. Although, more accurately, it is a 
Scotch-style ruby ale, distancing itself from the sort of big, chewy, sweet dark beer of the likes of Founders' Dirty Bastard. It's just as well too, because while this pale, ruby beer screams of toffee malt, biscuit and brown sugar it's nowhere near as big and brash as the Founders offering. To taste it's all toffee chocolate, red apple and raisins, like a doppelbock on a very short lead. It does have that chewy malt thing going on, again echoing a sort of toned down Dirty Bastard, with a kind of comfy warmth to it, despite its reasonable 6.5% ABV. The hops are purely functional, offering a counterweight to the malt without imparting any flavour from what I can tell. There's nothing wrong with a malt-forward beer in my book, particularly when there's no aggressive cloying, and in that respect Pike have done a decent job to keep this one alive and interesting for 355mls.

Another surprise came from the same manager (thanks again to Gene) on returning from Jamaica. The beer situation on Jamrock seems pretty stark, dominated as it is by Diageo products like Red Stripe, Guinness, and this, Dragon Stout. Only, this is not Dragon Stout, this is Dragon Spitfire, the 10% big brother to the 7.5% regular version.

I say big brother, but at 10% the good folk at Desnoes and Geddes (Diageo) have decided to package Dragon Stout Spitfire in a 250ml bottle. This is usually something I'd complain about, but really it's just as well; this beer is sweet. The nose is boozy and sweet. The taste is boozy and sweet, with cola, rum and sweet sugary toffee and more sweet dark rum and toffee sugar and boozy sweetness and sweet booziness and sugary death. Gone is the earthy, tobacco-stained complexity of an export stout the like of Guinness Foreign Extra, and absent is any semblance of roast anything that makes a stout taste like a stout.

That said.

Over the course of two hours of Mad Max, I did finish the bottle, even if it was more work than it was worth. I've never been to Jamaica, but if I ever find myself there, it'll be ice cold bland lager and Guinness Foreign Extra all the way.

Jesus I think I need some Irish beer and some hops, stat.

Friday, 7 August 2015

#282: Towards Victory

Victory are the latest US brewery on the Irish scene, though I did happen across some Storm King in the Irish wild a couple of years ago. Whether or not that was sourced through official channels I do not know, but I do know that it was a simply gorgeous beer, so hopes were high enough with this pair I found in Bradley's.

Hop Devil is the flagship IPA of the bunch with a respectable 6.7% ABV. It's fairly highly regarded on those reliable beer review websites and it pours a crystal-malt-invoked red. I was expecting a waft of citrus and pine but instead found those characteristics buried under something more vegetal, herbal, almost minty and, unsurprisingly, everything is propped up with plenty of caramel. I'm not afraid of caramel in my US IPAs, which is just as well, as everything in the flavour of the beer is also supported by a thick base of the stuff. There's something more conventional and comforting about the lemon zest, orange and peach you find here, and the whole thing is rather precariously balanced but soft and easy to drink. It's satisfying and more round than you'd expect, and certainly worth a go.

The double IPA of the range is Dirt Wolf, though at 8.7% it's not dramatically bigger than the Devil. Surprisingly clear and paler than that beer too, this DIPA isn't simply a scaled-up rehash of its younger sibling. A juicy, bittersweet but ultimately subdued aroma greets the nose, but there's no such limpness on tasting; this is bitter and punchy, the kind of effect that puts you in mind of chewing grapefruit skins. Not for everyone, but when one buys an American IPA one usually wants this sort of hop abuse. With time the flavour begins to more closely resemble the rounder, more accessible aroma with candied pineapple and flashes of tutti frutti fighting through the grapefruit pith and peel that is the star of this particular show. In the end you get apricot and peach, all sweet and juicy. This is tongue-ravaging stuff that will scratch a major hop itch.

A good show from Victory, one of the more successful hoppy imports of late.