Hooray for freebies! This collection arrived courtesy of Molson Coors Ireland who seem to be on a bit of a PR drive at the moment, hot on the heels of their recent acquisition of the Irish microbrewing veteran Franciscan Well down in Cork. No Rebel Red in the bundle, however. Instead there was a bottle of Sharp's Doom Bar: a dull brown bitter which even from the cask I've never been a fan of, and which isn't in any way helped by the clear glass bottle. Also a bottle each of rightly acknowledged classic English IPA Worthington's White Shield and the newer blonde ale Red Shield: a worthy sibling. A bottle of P2 imperial stout would have closed off this set from the William Worthington Brewery in Burton nicely, but moochers can't be choosers.
And then the ones that really interested me: three brand extensions from the company's American faux-craft line, Blue Moon. The styles are varied -- a pale ale, an amber ale and an abbey beer -- yet the strengths are pretty uniform at around 5½% ABV.
I opened the Belgian-Style Pale Ale first, a beer known elsewhere as Pale Moon. I notice the unpleasantness a few years ago with the Confederation of Belgian Breweries hasn't prevented them describing this as a "Belgian Pale Ale" elsewhere on the label, despite it never having been near the low countries in its life. Corporate shenanigans aside, how does it taste? Well, not of very much. It's far more of a dark amber than would be normal for a pale ale, and there's a weight which comes with that: a slightly sugary malt thing, though without any of the caramel or toffee depth that one might expect. On top of this there's a mild fruity tang which I think owes more to the orange peel and hibiscus they've inexplicably thrown in here than the Cascade hops they also claim. The label adds further that wheat has been included, making the whole thing a sort of hybrid of standard Blue Moon and pale ale. Odd that it doesn't have more going on in it then, but it's not unpleasant either. Anyone looking for an American-style pale ale, or something in the Taras Boulba genre, will be sorely disappointed.
I was hoping for something a bit more interesting from Blue Moon Spiced Amber Ale. This is a few grades darker: a beautiful chestnut red and lighter in texture than the Pale Ale. Complex it isn't, but it's certainly interesting. The one flavour that jumps out is the cinnamon, toasted grain and brown sugar of Christmas cookies, not in any way sickly or artificial, but smooth and pleasantly warming. This is one of two Blue Moon winter seasonals and is perfectly, seasonally winterish.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale. This poured quite a pale, clear red and completely headless, despite lots of interfering fizz. Unsurprisingly it's sweet and caramelly but this isn't given any fruity depth by any Belgian yeast flavours, which makes it a non-runner as an abbey beer. Overall it's just too thin and one-dimensional to be worth anyone's time, especially since it'll likely be sharing shelf space and price brackets with several world-class Belgian dubbels.
Generally speaking, Molson Coors's attempt to twist their passable orangey wheat beer into different styles is not something that's in the drinker's interest, even when he's getting the bottles for nothing.