21 December 2005

Lemony? Nicked it.

Down at Kronenbourg HQ they appear to have been sitting around a bottle of Hoegaarden, attempting to dissect it and find out what makes it tick. The result of their endeavours is Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc. It is paler than Hoegaarden, being a very light greenish hue. It tastes overwhelmingly of lemons. I know lemons and witbier have a long history, and that finding a slice floating in the froth is quite normal in bars across Europe, but I shudder to think what would happened if you added actual lemon to Kronenbourg Blanc. Probably some kind critical lemon mass and a zesty implosion. Suffice it to say that I don't intend to find out. More spice and less lemon would have improved this recipe. Mine's still a Hoegaarden.

12 December 2005

Brrr

Recently I was braving the Christmas shopping crowds on a weekend afternoon in Dublin. Having acquired most of what I was looking for, with the evening closing in, I stopped off in a city centre hostelry for a refreshment before heading home. Sitting over my pint of stout I lamented that Ireland lacks the seasonal winter beers that civilised countries produce. What I wanted was a small glass of something deep and rich and red, but what I ended up with was a pint of plain.

Never fear, however: Maguire's to the rescue! The current seasonal beer at the Burgh Quay brewpub is called Jul-Ól, and is a wonderfully dark (almost black) winter ale. Perfect for an early evening tipple this time of year.

With my taste for winter beers awakened, I revisited the produce of Weltenburger-Kloster, this time their Winter Traum ale. It's an excellent rich aromatic beer, and full-flavoured as long as it isn't served too cold.

05 December 2005

Tradition schmadition

I'm all in favour of screwing with tradition for the hell of it. It makes the world a more interesting and diverse place. So I was amused when I saw that La Trappe, not content with the usual dubbel and tripel styles of Trappist beer, also make a "Quadruple". For all the iconoclasm of the name, however, it's a fairly normal strong, dark Trappist ale, weighing in at a fairly hefty 10.9%. It remains drinkable despite this and is chock-full of varied fruit flavours. Nice for a change from the Belgian norm.

03 December 2005

Knock-offs and Knock-offs

Currently on the shelves in Dunnes we have BB Bürgerbräu, a Czech lager from České Budějovice (formerly Budweis). It makes it quite clear on the label that it is a real Budweiser beer, and that this is now an EU-protected geographical designation, à la Champagne and Stilton.

However, for all its concerns that a big nasty American corporation has stolen its intellectual property, Bürgerbräu still has the feel of a cheap knock-off, of Budvar. It has the deep rich golden-syrup colour of Budvar, and does a fairly good impression of that full malty Czech taste. But it doesn't quite go all the way to perfection, lacking the smooth drinkability of Budvar. I think I'd pay the extra to trade up.

Fair play, however, for the game attempt to take back the Budweiser designation. I notice a few new Bohemian lagers around in Ireland these days. Here's hoping they can turn this geographical designation issue into a real campaign.

01 November 2005

Pelgrim's prowess

Rotterdam was the destination last weekend. I made a beeline for the city's only brewery, Stadsbrouwerij De Pelgrim. It is a brewpub and restaurant in picturesque Delfshaven, taking its name from the Pilgrim Fathers who left from the church next door to travel to America. I'm sure the thought of a brewery on the spot would thrill them no end. They do five beers, though the house witbier was off when I paid a visit. Their blond is in the Belgian abbey-style, quite similar to Leffe, though it is stronger and has a crisp bitterness that shows it is handmade rather than mass produced. Mayflower Tripel is again aping a Belgian original, and doing a very good job of it too: it is strong and cloudy and very satisfying. Much rougher round the edges than a Trappist tripel and better for it. The last of the regulars is Stoombier. It is a red ale, lighter than anything else on tap (5%) and I found it quite plain. There is a subtle hint of fruit somewhere in the flavour, but it's barely noticeable. Lastly, Pelgrim always has a seasonal beer (Seizoensbieren) available. Autumn is bock season, and the Pelgrim Bock is a classic: full of sweet treacle with a slight, but not overpowering, taste of burnt caramel.

Bock season extends beyond the microbrewery, and each of the big brewers produce one. Amstel's is pretty easy-going, lacking the bombastic caramel sweetness of its rivals, but gaining drinkability in exchange. Heineken's is quite burnt tasting, but with enough sugar for it to remain pleasant, similarly Grolsch's. Hertog Jan's bock is a rich red colour, rather than brown, and especially heavy and sticky.

Two other beers from the weekend of note: Wieckse witbier is the commonest witbier in Rotterdam. As someone who is used to Hoegaarden I found this a bit too rough and bitter for my taste. Finally, I tried Gordon's Halloween beer. This is an ale, light brown in colour with a subtle fruity taste that belies a whopping 8.8% alcohol. A wonderful little beer.

Rotterdam is a good destination for beer tourism: it is compact and easy to get around, offers quite a bit of variety (I didn't even get to any of the specialist 200-beer bars, of which there are several) and has a damnably pleasant brewpub. All this with none of the overcrowded chaos of Amsterdam.

28 October 2005

Because I've not had enough German beer lately

Recently I picked up a bottle of Weltenburger Kloster Anno 1050. For a beer that's only 5.5% alcohol it tastes very strong. It has that chewy, syrupy taste normally associated with special-brew-type lagers of 7-8%. This makes it quite difficult to drink and a bit of a let-down, really.

21 October 2005

Not crafty enough

Back in 1998 when the craft- and micro- brewing industry started to take off in Ireland, brewing megalith Guinness, possibly fearing some kind of challenge to their overwhelming dominance, test-marketed a series of craft-style beers. They labelled them the "St. James's Gate" beers, and there was a dark lager, a red ale, and what I think was Ireland's first wheat beer. Anyway, I guess they bombed because they disappeared shortly after. Later the same year Guinness mass-marketed a new weissbier, Breó, which has since gone the way of its predecessors (it wasn't a classic of the genre, but it was nice to have a wee bit more choice).

Anyway, it looks like the guys up at Guinness HQ are feeling a bit antsy about the whole diversity issue again, and a new Guinness stout has appeared in Dublin this week. They're calling it "Brew 39" and it is the first in the Guinness "Brewhouse Series", limited edition stouts which will each appear for six months at a time. So what's it like?

Well, it's very very like Guinness: smooth and easy drinking almost to the point of blandness. The only difference I detect is a slight sweetness at the back of the taste. In short, it is Murphy's, brewed by Guinness, only not as good.

The Diageo press release on the matter says:
"Guinness Brew 39 has the same alcohol content as Guinness Draught, uses the same gas mix, settles in the same way and has exactly the same creamy head as Guinness. It will cost the same as Guinness Draught."

Which begs the obvious question: well why did you bother, then?

I think the answer lies in the fact that this is a series, and they want to get the drinking public involved in it before they throw anything (shock horror!) interesting at them.

So, even though I recognise that this is a cynical ploy by a gigantic firm to make them look like your friendly neighbourhood brewer, I still welcome this growth in the variety of beers available in Ireland, and look forward to the next in the series.

However, if you want a flavoursome and individual stout, there are many places to go before ordering anything branded as Guinness.

16 October 2005

Nice one Banks's

A short note in praise of Banks's Barley Gold, a magnificent barley wine from the Wolverhampton brewery. It comes in a tiddly 275ml bottle but packs a lot into that. A whopping 9.1% ABV, but still very easy to drink with a very complex sweet spicy barley flavour.

14 October 2005

Another season[al], another Wies'n...

The Porterhouse in Dublin are staging their annual Oktoberfest at the moment, with a variety of bottled and draught German beers, and one seasonal German-style lager. They call it Kölsch, being in the style of Cologne. It is a phenomenally dry blonde with the crisp grainy character that infuses all of the Porterhouse lagers. But mostly it's dry. Beer that makes you thirsty: it's a wonder there isn't more of it.

Also on tap they have Andechs Dunkel, which tastes like no dunkel I've ever had before. Rather than the usual smooth caramel flavour, this has a rough smoky taste, like drinking cheap Turkish cigarettes. An odd one, for sure.

10 October 2005

A brace of ales

Tried two English bottled ales over the weekend. The first was Marston's Pedigree, with which I was disappointed. It lacks any really distinctive flavour, going instead for a mildness that fades into tastelessness.

Fuller's London Pride is a whole different matter. Despite being of the same genre and similar strength there is a world of difference between the two. London Pride has a full-on heavy malty taste which is extremely satisfying. I did, however, detect a slight metallic tang which is a little off-putting. Still: quality stuff.

06 October 2005

More from Munich

A couple more notes on the beers I discovered in Bavaria last week.

Double bock beers are produced by the main breweries at Easter time each year. These are very sticky, rich, dark beers, not dissimilar to the Trappist dubbel style. Löwenbräu's version is called Triumphator, and has a sharp, burnt taste to it. Paulaner make Salvator which is extremely sweet and obviously loaded with sugary calories: a beerbelly in a glass. At the brewery-run pub in Erding, I discovered Erdinger make something similar, a "weizenbock" called Pikantus. This has all the rich flavour of the double bocks, but incorporates a wheatbeer softness that is very pleasant. And it comes in a clay mug: always a plus! Lastly on this front, I happened on Moncshöf Schwarzbier. As the name suggests it is stout-black and tastes something similar, though lighter and with more of a charcoal character.

In a town so dominated by big beer brands, I was lucky to find a brewpub, even if it is run by giant Löwenbräu. Unions-Bräu Haidhausen was independent until 1921, when it was bought by the big firm and closed down. It was reopened as a pub in 1991. They had two beers on tap: Helles and Dunkel. The former was cloudy, unlike any other helles I've found. It had a dry, light taste and was good but unchallenging. The dunkel had a satisfying richness to it often missing in German and Czech beers of this sort, though it was let down by a metallic tang.

The main impression I'm taking away from the beer scene in Munich is the absolute dominance of a few big players, and this, no matter how good the product is, will always rank it below somewhere where lots of operators make a wide variety of products: Belgium being the prime example. Munich the Beer Capital of Europe? I don't think so.