I mentioned in passing recently that Molson Coors's operations in Ireland seem to be ramping up somewhat, after three of years of light-touch beer distribution. It really hit home in the weeks that followed and as a result I've ended up with three sets of free samples from the company, which I guess represent three aspects of the Irish beer market.
The PR firm charged with promoting it all sent me a six-pack of their new lager Molson Canadian. From the full-spectrum advertising it's getting this appears to be pitched squarely at the mainstream drinker, a segment in Ireland which seems already to be at saturation point with beers such as Bud, Coors Light (licensed to Heineken), Miller, Carlsberg, Stella, Beck's Vier and Heineken itself, the brand leader. It's a little strange that they figured there was room for another, but there you go. The accompanying marketing material says Ireland is the first territory outside Canada to get Canadian, while the packaging says it's brewed in the UK. It seems unlikely that they're making it across the water just for us, so presumably there are plans to put it on the British market too at some point.
Unusually for this sort of beer it's a mere 4% ABV: 4.3% is the normal strength for these, demanded by the Irish market to such an extent that AB-InBev brew a special version of Beck's Vier at this ABV just for us. I welcome more lower strength beers, but it still seems kinda risky to me. Pouring revealed a pale gold lager topped by a healthy fluffy froth. It must also have knocked quite a bit of the gas out as it was beautifully smooth on the first sip, and nicely sweet too, akin to the better class of Munich helles, with a hint of dry grain husk. It all unravelled pretty quickly after that, however. The sweetness unfolds into a nasty sweetcorn flavour and is joined by a horrible metallic saccharine tang where the hop bitterness ought to be. By the third mouthful, that metal was all I could taste and only the low carbonation stopped it from being completely undrinkable. Quality pilsner it most definitely isn't.
For the casual drinker of "craft" beers, yet another seasonal from Blue Moon, this one called Valencia Grove Amber. The name suggests someone thought that what Blue Moon needed was more orange, but it's actually got less of a sticky fruit thing than usual. Instead the amber malt flavour is to the fore: an intensely sugary biscuit character that builds as it goes down with no hop bitterness or yeast spices to balance it. The finish is a dusty, musty burlap with possibly a vein of coconut through it. 5.9% ABV would suggest a heavy beer but it's not really, and the residual dark sugars reminded me of the sort of effect you get with England's less pleasant heavy brown bitters. Whoever this is aimed at, it ain't me.
It's hard to know whether to take the final two beers seriously or not. They come from a genuine small brewery -- Sharp's of Cornwall -- are of robust and flavoursome styles and are presented in very sober wrappings with thin san serif text and a graphic of the brewer's signature. But then they also arrived with a matching branded bar of chocolate each.
I opened the Honey Spice Tripel first. It's one of those beers that magically transports me straight back to Belgium on the first sip: that beautiful yeast-derived spicy warmth is present from the outset. There's a lovely honey perfume in the aroma and it drinks smoothly, without too much spicing or heat, despite a whopping 10% ABV. The flavour tails off quite quickly, however, leaving a kind of lagerish watery fizz on the end. Not very complex, but tripel doesn't necessarily need to be. Perhaps a bite of the lemon meringue white chocolate would open it out. Nope! The chocolate is delicious but massively overpowers everything else. The intense sugar and lemon zest completely coats the palate and it's impossible to taste anything through it. I began to worry if I'd ever experience another flavour again, and ended up using the remains of the tripel to try and wash it off. When that didn't work I reached for the water biscuits. Lovely chocolate, but not a match for beer or anything else.
To the Quadrupel Ale next, a reddish brown beer, so a little pale for the style, I think. It's also 10% ABV. The aroma is quite, quite beautiful: fresh C-hops in abundance giving an amazing mango and sherbet effect, like the best American amber ales. This is not a beer for aging. It tastes powerfully fruity, full of prunes in particular, but with elements of dates, figs and similar dark chewy loveliness. After a few sips I began to find the sweetness a little bit jarring but the peachy hop echo in the aftertaste makes it worthwhile. The chocolate is a 70% cocoa dark one and is a stroke of pairing genius: the bitterness counteracts the sweet malt perfectly, without interfering with the hops and actually helps clear the palate, something chocolate is not normally known for. With the prunes subdued, the more vinous qualities of the beer come out and I begin to see why the marketing bumf suggests this as an alternative to port as a digestif.
Molson Coors may not be supplying the best beers on the Irish market, but they certainly can't be faulted on the variety.