24 October 2016

Just super

The SuperValu supermarket around the corner from me has featured in a few posts this year, including the one about them setting up their own growler station (no, I haven't seen anyone actually use it since then). Their bottled beer offer continues to improve and today's post is about three that I found on the shelves there that I'd not seen in the independent off licences where I normally buy my beers.

In the interests of blogger ethics I should point out that I've done a couple of recent paid gigs for SuperValu's parent company, but I think it's indicative of how serious they're taking their beer offer that they're willing to commission content from a communicator as talented, handsome and modest as myself.

To the beers, then. The first is Kelly's Mountain Lager. This Kildare microbrewery is better known (to me anyway) for its safe and mostly quite dark beers. I'll admit I was sceptical of their lagering abilities, and the wonky label didn't exactly inspire confidence. I put this to the full sensory test for lager, ie consuming it cold from the fridge on a sunny evening after I put manners on my lawn. It's only 4.2% ABV but it has the dark gold colouring of a bock, or even a märzen. And the flavour is along those lines: heavy with a golden syrup sweetness, accentuated by the low carbonation. There's no discernible hop character and only a couple of very minor technical imperfections -- I get a bit of green apple and some greasy esters -- but the finish is clean and it's properly crisp and quenching. Not the world's greatest pale lager but it does the job that the style is best at doing.

The Kenmare brand is exclusive to SuperValu and its sister companies, I think, with the beer brewed at Brú in Meath. Kenmare India Pale Ale talks a big game for a supermarket beer: "Extra Hopped IPA" says the front label, with "a blast of citrus" promised on the back. Well! It's dark orange with a slight haze and the aroma is quite sweet, with a sort of chocolate and caramel effect that isn't very IPAish at all. There's a definite fun spiciness in the flavour, even a touch of herbal dank, but that heavy residual sugar is there too, and it's the sugar that builds on the palate as you drink, to the point that it becomes cloying, more cloying than you'd expect at a modest 5.1% ABV. I think this may be one of those beers where the label copy was written before the hot liquor tank was plugged in, and describes what it's supposed to be, rather than what the contract brewery delivered. It's not a bad beer but it doesn't really let the hops shine the way they want to: the balance tilted just a little too far towards the malt.

Last up is Garage Days from Corrib Brewing under their Wild Bat label, a pale ale at a full 5% ABV. I got huge fizz from this, though at least some of that was down to the glass I chose. Beneath the foam it's a rich amber colour with a slightly funky orange smell once you get past the gassy CO2. It's another malt-heavy one, but not as sweet as the Kenmare, more rounded and balanced. The hops bring a decent amount of fruit and spice but it's all very old world: jaffa, cloves and pepper. There's also a slightly hard metallic edge and some headachey hot alcohol. The label refers to how the recipe started life as a homebrew favourite and I get a definite homebrewish feel from it. It's enjoyable to drink but doesn't seem as polished as most commercial pale ales.

OK, so SuperValu has a good selection of new stuff but they all seem to lack a wow factor. Nobody goes to the big multiples to be wowed, I guess.

21 October 2016

The cask task

JD Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival: are any words more stirring to the human soul?  Late October means it's time for my annual ritual of cycling out to the South County coast and seeing what's on the pumps in my two locals. I usually stop in Blackrock first but decided to start in Dún Laoghaire this year, to catch the cavernous Forty Foot before it got loud and crowded. As in recent years, English hops was the theme, with every one of the 30 festival beers using nothing but.

An awkward five new ones were on the wickets and I began with three thirds. Banks's Gold Ingot certainly looks the part: a perfect blingy gold colour. Spicy and citrus is promised on the clip but that's a bit of an exaggeration. It is plenty bitter though, the grass and metal of down-home English hops, with East Kent Goldings, First Gold and Flyer being the varieties billed in the programme. A light biscuit malt sits behind this but that's about your lot. The galvanic pencil sharpener metal is the last bit to fade from the palate. It's certainly punchy and invigorating, but very much in an English way, a flavour which precludes modern fripperies like citrus.

Bigger things were expected from the first of the international collaborations, Hop Session, brewed at Everards with Afro-Caribbean Brewing of Cape Town. It's a slightly darker gold than the previous one, though the same 4.3% ABV. There's a little bit of a tropical buzz here, achieved with Bramling Cross, Challenger and Cascade. Not quite pineapple and passionfruit, but definitely something approaching a mango, set against harder grapefruit and spinach. The malt is an afterthought but there's just enough of it to keep the hops buoyant and, if not in balance, at least not harsh. While almost passing for a new world beer, its roots show at the end, however, with an earthy metallic twang.

And thirdly of the thirds, Theakston Vanilla Stout, ratcheting up that ABV to a hulking 4.5%. It tastes like more, though: thick and rich and sweet. A bitter treacle overtone shows the hops working in the background while the main action is a dialectic struggle between sticky vanilla and dry roast. While I enjoyed it, a third was plenty.

The last two weren't actually part of the festival line-up, but that's no reason not to tick the buggers. Next is Blondie by Nottinghamshire's Grafton Brewery. Closer to copper than blonde, by the looks of it. It's sweet and tart, like sour candy with a hint of strawberry shortcake. Summer fruit is definitely what I found in the aroma when I'd sipped down far enough to smell it. An out-of-keeping putty bitterness is where the flavour ends. Not a bad beer overall, and rather more interesting than I was expecting.

We stay in the Midlands for the last round: Sadler's Peaky Blinder black IPA, brewed with today's craft-beer-inclined Brummie gangster in mind. It's fully black and smells powerfully of cabbagewater, molasses and sherbet: a combination which promises complexity, if not actually a good time. And so it is in the flavour. It has a soft effervescence and strong herbal-floral taste that probably looked lovely on paper but ends up tasting like old bathwater. There's an intensity which I'm sure comes from the hops but which doesn't deliver proper hop-like flavours. It's extremely rare for me to be saying that a black IPA needs extra bitterness but I think this one does. I love black IPAs that are sweet and tropical and also enjoy the extremely green and vegetal ones. This takes a third path and I don't really want to follow it.

Time to turn the ship around and make for Blackrock. The Three Tun Tavern had its new Cask Marque cert propped on the bar. Well done to them and, with the system seemingly live in Ireland, I hope some of the non-Wetherspoon cask-serving pubs will take advantage of it.

Another round of thirds, starting with Tring's Warrior Queen, a 4.6% ABV pale ale. Not much of an aroma from this but the flavour is a weird squeaky green bean thing, all sharply tangy with a chalky mineral backdrop. It's very odd. The literature tells me that Fusion is the hop what done it. Use with caution, I guess.

Next it's Epic Brew from Wadworth, a golden ale brewed with Epic hops. It's only 4.5% ABV but very thick and sweet with a floral sort of spice. After a few minutes of trying to place what it reminded me of I came up with honey: it's that specific mix of summer meadow pollen and sticky sugar with an edge of waxy bitterness. It finishes quickly, adding a lager feel. Epic is an overstatement but it's decent stuff, for one at least.

Old Crafty Hen is next, a Greene King brand extension I've seen many times in clear glass bottles and would normally have passed over except the programme mentioned it includes Greene King's near-mythical 5X strong ale in the blend. I'm in. This occupies the madman slot in the Wetherspoon festival line-up: there's always at least one big strong beer, though at just 6.5% ABV OCH is lighter than usual. It's lovely, though: a big juicy tannic raisin thing, soft and sumptuous. I expected building sweetness but it doesn't do that, staying dry and clean all the way down. I'm really surprised at how much I enjoyed it, but the chances of me buying it in a clear bottle are still basically nil.

Right, next set of thirds. Evan Evans Autumn Frenzy. Copper-coloured, with a maple syrup sort of sweetness. The watery finish has this weird savoury mushroom quality making me wonder if they're going for a full-on forest floor leafmold thing. So, OK, it's autumnal, but nobody wants to drink a third of a pint of fungal maple syrup. I think I get what it's trying to be, but there's still a really dull brown bitter at its core, dragging down all the seasonal bells and whistles.

In the middle is Titanic Brewery's SEA ("seriously enigmatic ale" -- if ever a name suggested a batch of something else that went wrong), another brown one, at 5% ABV, and another odd one. The flavour is more muted than Autumn Frenzy, but it's thicker, almost like a gloopy nitrokeg bitter. That mushroom thing is there again but this time there are no brighter notes to lift it off the forest litter. There's a bit of cleansing tannin but it doesn't do enough to keep this beer from being heavy, cloying and difficult.

The day's second and final international collaboration was Braddon Bitter, produced at Wadworth in association with BentSpoke of Canberra. Brown again, and with some nice burnt caramel and a sharp dark fruit thing, all blackberries and sloes. I had to check if Bramling Cross was in the house but turns out it's all Admiral and Cascade. It's pretty dry, sucking moisture off the palate and finishing tight, sharp and astringent. This is another one of those beers I'm really enjoying a third of but more than that would probably get difficult.

OK, enough cask. I'd be lying if I said I hadn't been eyeing up the new Wetherspoon can all afternoon. Treason is an IPA from Windsor & Eton, 5.8% ABV and a hazy orange colour. There's a balanced orange fruit bitterness and a hint of dank in the aroma. It tastes fresh and fruity with distinct overtones of Punk IPA and Bibble. Citrus! Resins! Cool! Acceptance! It is very nice, and top marks to the brewery for putting it together, but it does taste like quite a few other beers to me. It's just as well that quality and flavour trumps individuality every time.

Overall, quite a good festival this year. No stand-outs, but the beers I didn't enjoy were at least interesting. And that, in general, is the best any blogger can hope for. The festival continues until Sunday and I'd imagine that several in the line-up will be around for a while after that.

19 October 2016

Belgium's smallest pub crawl

A mid-afternoon flight home meant I only had time for a handful of beers on my last day in Brussels. I began by nipping across to Cantillon, to restock my cellar with lovely lovely gueuze. There was much of interest on the bar blackboard there, but only by the 75cl bottle, so not practical drinking for the solo traveller in a hurry. Back, then, to Moeder Lambic, which had just opened its doors.

I started my day, as perhaps one always should, with De Ranke's Cuvée de Ranke. It's a handsome clear gold colour and smells like a classic gueuze: it has that woody bricky quality. The resemblance ends on tasting, however. It's powerfully tart: a big smack of raw sour power followed by a hard mineral edge. A softer chalkiness rolls in behind it and then the more subtle flavours emerge: lemon zest and a pinch of vanilla. 7% ABV gives it plenty of warmth as well, limiting its ability to refresh, I thought. Though perhaps not as harmoniously constructed as gueuze, the different elements are well coordinated into a single smooth sour experience.

A stablemate to follow: Kriek de Ranke, the same strength so presumably the same beer with added cherries. It's honkingly sweet at first, the cherry syrup mixing with the alcohol for a disconcerting cough-mixture effect. That sharp nitre sourness peeks in around the edges, but doesn't really get to do much. While Cuvée de Ranke could fill in for a gueuze when none is available, this is no substitute at all for decent kriek.

There was a new house beer on the menu, a companion to L'Amer des Moeders. La Moederation is also brewed by Jandrain-Jandrenouille and is 8% ABV. It looks like Duvel, all pale and slightly hazy, and it smells like Duvel too: a familiar strong candy-sweet aroma. But it doesn't taste like Duvel. It doesn't taste like anything really, which is very sad. There's a sort of white-sugar plainness, and a dry saison-like fruity quality from the suspended yeast. But there's no contribution from the hops and the flavour screams out for a bit of green punchiness. Give me 80cc's of Styrian Goldings, stat!

My wander back towards the station left enough time for a very swift one at an old favourite, the charmingly eclectic Poechenellekelder. I think I'm reaching that happy stage in life where I can go into a Belgian beer café, even one with a reasonably substantial menu, and there won't be any new beers to tick so I can settle down with something familiar. And I nearly did that here, but for one niggle. I was reminded recently that while I have a review of a vintage version of De Dolle's Oerbier on here, I'd never written about the original.

So Oerbier it was, a dark brown 9%-er. It smells warm and dark, like moist fruitcake: all raisins and bread. The first impression on tasting it cold is of a rough and gritty Belgian yeast flavour, and then all the heat of that high strength. I had been expecting smooth and warming but it's really rather rough and savoury, with the fizz level somewhat overdone. When the temperature rises a few degrees a kind of malt loaf flavour emerges but it's still tough going to drink, which isn't ideal when you're watching the departures board on your phone. If you just want strong and dark and Belgian, Oerbier is that. But in the complexity stakes it's a long way behind the likes of Rochefort. Like the sour beer I came in on, the established classics still have the beatings of the younger upstarts, in this old fart's opinion anyway.

17 October 2016

A cool reception

Each year the European Beer Consumers Union holds a reception in Brussels for MEPs and the drinks industry, just to remind them of us, the humble consumers, and our concerns over issues like provenance, ingredients transparency, taxation and whatnot. I missed all but the first few minutes of last year's but decided to go over to this year's as a special one-night trip. The venue was a beautiful community centre with a garden, and the weather played ball too. Beers from many parts of Europe were brought along for the guests to try.

Centrepiece of the event was Browar Maryensztadt from eastern Poland who had a draught rig set up and brewery staff on hand to talk about the beers. The first to come pouring out was Wheat You, so a wheat beer then. OK, I'll try that. Turns out it's a lot more than a wheat beer: there's a superb fresh peach aroma followed by a juicy mandarin flavour. It's still softly textured like a weissbier and has some of the yeast bitterness of a wit, but there's a definite leaning towards pale ale sensibilities as well and it makes great use of the strengths of both kinds of beer. As a refresher after travelling 1000km it was perfect.

I didn't have such good luck with their next one, Czarnolas, described as a double black IPA and 7.6% ABV. It's very heavy and very sweet, tasting far more of caramel and hot alcohol than hops. A slight bitterness in the finish is the only claim the flavour makes to being an IPA of any kind. Dirty, boozy and difficult to drink, it's pretty much the opposite of Wheat You.

Another burning disaster was expected from Gorączka Sezonu, described by the brewer as an imperial saison. Eww. I hate strong saison and this one is a runaway 8.4% ABV. But... it's brilliant. It manages to be weighty and warming without tipping over into sticky and hot. The generous use of Cascade and Citra gives it a lovely pinch of lemon-and-lime bitterness but there's also a major snap of white pepper from, one assumes, the saison yeast. It's another beer that combines elements from different brewing traditions to fantastic effect.

Danish brewery Thisted was represented but nothing of theirs really stood out. Goldings "British pale ale" was a clear lagery gold colour and quite dry with a cereal crispness and a rather Germanic pepper and celery hop flavour. Perfectly drinkable but rather dull, and not at all what I'd expect from the description. The same goes for Boston, the American-style pale ale: very plain and grainy, and gold again. I don't think this lot have got the hang of either British or American styles. Their prestige beer was Madagascar, a stout with vanilla. It's very very dry, reminding me of gritty first-time stouts at homebrew meet-ups past. It doesn't taste of vanilla either, so that's a basic fail. Sorry Thisted: you do some great lagers, and I will defend your Limfjords Porter to the very death, but this sort of modern beer doesn't suit you.

There was a handful of British beers but I only tasted one: Embra, a red ale from the usually-reliable Stewart Brewing, from Embra, of course. It's thoroughly unexciting. The blurb promised Chinook but neither the flavour or aroma delivered any. It strikes me as the sort of beer that might shine with some cask complexity beneath, but cold from the fridge in far-off Belgium it just didn't work.

Closer to home there was a very inverted-comma'd "IPA" by Huyghe, created to celebrate the 25th anniversary of their Delirium Tremens brand. Delirium Argentum tastes exactly like standard Delirium Tremens: lightly fruity, slightly chewy, and quite easy drinking -- the ABV lowered to 7.8% ABV. Nothing too dangerous or daring here.

My token Dutch beer was Tasty Lady Porter, and I was a little apprehensive as I've found previous outings by this female brewers' collective a little unsettling. This is a classic, however. The aroma balances sweetness and dry roast in perfect equilibrium and the texture is textbook creamy. It tastes maybe a little too sweet with luxurious milk chocolate holding the centre but there's a pleasantly smoky edge as well. Very nicely done and a beer to drink in quantities bigger than teeny sampler glasses.

Which leaves only Italy and a bunch of breweries I'd never heard of. Score! I was drawn immediately to the paper wrapping of Margose by Birranova,  based way down south in Apulia. It's a straightforward classical gose: a wan pale yellow with a light savoury saltiness, turned slightly towards bathwater by the coriander but still lovely and cleansing.

Away up the north, to the west of Milan, is Birrificio Sant'Andrea and they had a saison called Sexon. Just 5.5% ABV and a pale orange, smelling not unpleasantly of stewed apple. It tastes like that too, with even a bit of complementary cinnamon spice. But that's your lot. It doesn't quite manage the refreshing crispness of good saison, staying just on the happy side of inoffensive.

From the same operation comes La Rossa del Gallo ("The Red Rooster"), badged as an English-style bitter but piling on the booze at 6.9% ABV. It's unsurprisingly strong and warming with some red berries up front and then a long genteel malt-biscuit finish. Softly spoken and elegant: a continental's idea of Englishness, perhaps.

And an imperial stout to finish, of course. Croce di Malto's Piedi Neri, complete with a rather literal rendering of the the tribal name. There's kind of a rough, hot, tobacco-like aroma which put me on edge but it's wonderfully smooth to taste with just a mild violet floral quality amongst the gentle cocoa and coffee. No loudness or brashness here, simply lots of class.

And that was it for the evening. Thanks to all the EBCU team who put it together. Remember: beer is not just for taxing or worrying about the public health implications of. You can drink and enjoy it too.

14 October 2016

When Friday comes

Friday evening. Work done for the week. Three friends have an event to attend elsewhere in town later but they meet in The Beer Market. It's a nicely flexible drinking space: you can session on pints if you like; you can buy something exclusive and spendy too, and the 33cl servings that most things arrive in are useful for co-ordinating the timing around the table.

One reveller goes for Summer Spreeze, brewed by Siren with input from Evil Twin. It's a lightweight session IPA at 3.8% ABV with additions of coffee and jasmine green tea because somebody thought that was a good idea. They don't contribute much, thankfully: a slight sweaty coffee note in the aroma and some mild jasmine spice, but then it's over to the hops, in a big way. No citrus, however: instead there's a heavy resinous dank and savoury garlic. It doesn't sound great but works really well and it's oily enough to pass for a beer almost twice its strength, with no trace of thinness or harshness. An odd twist on session IPA to be sure, but a fun one.

Another was drinking Fourpure's Burnt Ends, a smoked porter. The caramelised aroma of this smells like the burnt outer bits of barbecued meats, ie irresistibly delicious. At 5.8% ABV it's quite a big, dense beast but this gives it a lusciously smooth texture. Beyond the smoke, of which there is plenty, there's a quite simple chocolate and treacle sweetness of the sort that might make another strong porter cloying or difficult, but the smoke helps dry it out here and the end result is delicately balanced and very classy with it. I don't always appreciate Fourpure's offerings but this one is right in my wheelhouse.

Somebody thought it would be a safe bet to order Founders Nitro IPA, bless them and their innocence. Though perhaps I'm being unfair: Founders does turn out some very good hop-forward beers and maybe they know enough about it to not let one be ruined by the enemy within of beer flavour, nitrogen gas. But no, this is an absolute travesty, tasting all gloopy and soapy, like lemon washing up liquid. Hop flavours do their best work when they're distinct, separate and clean. This just smooshes everything together into a thick mess with a sharp edge yet not even properly bitter. Craft and nitro: just stop it. Stop it now.

And because the first one to arrive had finished his drink while the others were still only half way through, I... I mean, he, gets to have another. Back to Siren again, and Proteus, a pale ale. Only 4% ABV but a whopping €6 for a 33cl glass. It needed to be amazing at that price but unfortunately it wasn't. It's rather dark for a light pale ale, and that leads on to a thick syrupy texture with bags of toffee flavour. A bit of research tells me I'm to expect Motueka, Amarillo and Citra, with the emphasis on the first of these. But while Motueka often comes across as too sharply green for my tastes even that doesn't survive the malt onslaught so all that's left is a mere echo of indistinct hop fruit. Apparently this is version one of a series but I'm not sure I'll be buying a ticket to the sequels.

A nice mix of the good and the grim. Something to talk about on the way to the next engagement.

12 October 2016

New lager for old

Back in the spring I read with interest on a number of sources about a project Carlsberg were doing to recreate an old recipe from their archives. They'd started by isolating the yeast from a lager bottled in 1883 and then, with characteristic Scandinavian thoroughness, had acquired suitable heritage varieties of barley and hops, matched the water chemistry to what the brewery was using back then, commissioned wooden casks to 19th century specs, and even had specially-blown glass bottles created. And the answer to why they'd want to meticulously recreate a beer like this is literally because they can. Carlsberg is the birthplace of modern scientific brewing, its laboratory the first to identify both lager yeast and the darling of the crafterati Brettanomyces, in addition to many other achievements and discoveries over the years. If anyone has the data and resources to pull this off, it's them.

Historical beer recreations always interest me, to the point where I get quite frustrated by modern beers which are "inspired by" -- or similar weasel words -- beers of old. Do it properly or don't claim the heritage in your marketing. This Carlsberg Rebrew takes doing it properly to another level completely.

So I was delighted when Carlsberg's Irish brewing partners Diageo set up an evening where the brewery scientists got to talk about the project and, most importantly, I'd get to taste the beer. The Science Gallery in Trinity was, appropriately enough, the venue chosen. When samples of the beer were first distributed to the crowd it was interesting to observe the effect of appearance on taste perception. The room was dark, the beer appeared dark and it most definitely tasted dark: lots of caramel and even chocolate, a bit like an English strong ale or German doppelbock. Another taster in a more brightly-lit area really lacked the rich dark flavours, though was still undoubtedly malt-forward. Attendees were given bottles to take away so this gives me a chance to examine the beer properly.

It is definitely amber rather than gold, a clear dark red. The carbonation is low and the head no more than tokenistic. At 5.8% ABV it's stronger than any flagship lager is likely to be these days and the strength is very present in the flavour: a warming golden-syrup sweetness. Behind this there's a wholesome bread-like quality, very reminiscent of German bock, though without the hop load. Indeed the Hallertau hops really don't have much to say, imparting only the vaguest of green bitterness. A very faint dry roast right on the finish serves as balance for the sweetness and works with the lager cleanness to prevent the sweetness building unpleasantly as the beer warms: I was able to look after the entire 75cl all by myself.

Like pretty much every other beer critic who has written about the beer I am not wowed by its flavour. "It was … OK." said Martyn Cornell, who also featured in some of the publicity material around the project. To me it's a decent and wholesome medium-dark lager, a comforting autumnal sipper of which there are plenty of commercial examples. But as pretty much every other beer critic also said, it's not about how it tastes, it's about what it is. When brewers of things more interesting than basic pilsner start to recreate old beers with this level of historical fastidiousness, then things will get properly interesting.

10 October 2016

Hello from the other side

Normality and routine returns today after three weeks on holiday from the daily grind. I spent most of it bimbling around the USA but you'll have to wait a few weeks while I sort my stack of beer notes into semi-coherent blog posts if you want to find out what I drank there.

I returned to the shock discovery that Irish beer has not stood still in my absence so with bag unpacked and the first load of laundry on I nipped over to The 108 in Rathgar to seek out Galway Bay's newest releases.

Just gone on tap was the brewery's take on the highly-fashionable Vermont-style IPA, dubbed NE. I'll be honest: I was expecting it to be soupier. It's hazy all right, opaque indeed, but more of a pale yellow-orange rather than the full-on Sunny-D effect which is one of the style's gimmicks. The head retention was a bit poor but the aroma was gorgeous: pure, fresh citrus juice. The flavour is just as bright and juicy, with ripe mandarins the main feature, plus a pinch of peppery spice and then a green spinach edge on the finish, giving it a good bittering balance. At only 5% ABV it's extremely drinkable, though that greenness does build as it warms, becoming the sharp grassy effect you get in beers that have been dry-hopped too long. Still, the happy surprise is that there's absolutely no yeasty off flavour: it's all hop, all the way down. A strong candidate for regular re-brewing here, I reckon.

I just missed the first appearance of Ceasefire before I left. This is the second beer that Cigar City assisted with on their visit to Ballybrit and was formerly called Brigid -- some labels and tap badges still have the original name. It's a blonde sour beer with added rhubarb and sloe. While the texture is quite light it manages to create an illusion of stickiness with a kind of purple jammy flavour at the front -- it could be blackberry, or blackcurrant, but I'm guessing it's actually the sloes. And then beyond this there's a rather basic dry crisp beer with a kind of aspirin tang, leading to a damp squib of a watery finish. No rhubarb, and barely even any sourness. This is really rather a dull offering, putting in the bare minimum of effort with the flavour. Proof, if it wasn't already obvious, that sticking a big-name brewery on the label is not a guarantee of getting good beer.

Finally for now an autumn seasonal from Galway Bay called Harvest Altar, described as an "American brown ale". It has a big, but not immodest, ABV of 5.6% and uses it well, delivering a heavy satisfying body. This forms an excellent base for the warming chocolate and mocha-coffee flavours at its centre. And at the start, that's all I thought it did: it's a perfectly reasonable flavour profile for a wholesome autumnal dark ale, after all. Then the hops kicked in. I first noticed them in the aroma: a very vegetal English effect, like a bitter laden with late East Kent Goldings. As the beer warmed this came out in the flavour too: a definite hard bitterness which starts subtly but builds as it goes. I'm guessing the surprise hoppiness is another part of what makes it American-style, but you won't find any citrus here. I rather enjoyed it; it adds an interesting complexity to a rock-solid traditional style ale. Hopefully Harvest Altar will last until the temperatures really start to fall and we need to make our sacrifices to the winter gods.

For my part I'll be glued to the keyboard as the nights draw in, putting together my holiday blog posts. I've plenty of pre-scheduled content in the pipeline to keep the lights on in the meantime.