29 July 2007

Here be dragons

Many mythical beasts are hybrids of known species, and the Gulden Draak is no exception. I suspect it has a Flemish red ale somewhere in its ancestry, providing the deep ruby hue and lip-smacking sour flavour notes. Gulden Draak is no easy-going, Rodenbach-style, light ale though: it's a 10.5% monster, and could pass for stronger. All that alcohol gives it a warmth which suggests that the Belgian Scotch ale style may be its other close relation. By and large, however, there's very little out there like this: a sour Scotch ale; a Belgian barleywine; a "dark tripel". You could while away many a fireside hour discussing this one.

They probably have little call for firesides at the home of Dragon Stout. This rich, thick 7.5% stout is a legend in Jamaican beer, and rightly so. It is possessed of a marvellously complex aromatic floral taste: rich, sweet and moreish. A beautiful beer to sip, which you have to since it only comes in half-pint bottles. When I got to the end I felt the need to run an immediate comparison with similarly-strong Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, which highlighted that the two are very very different drinks. Guinness Foreign Extra is much fizzier and far drier in comparison. Despite GFE being Ireland's best mass-produced beer, I'll take the Jamaican over it anytime.

27 July 2007

Ultra vires redux

Last year I took the bold step of reporting on a cider which was being made by a local brewpub. I said at the time that "you won't normally catch me drinking the stuff", which you won't. Today I broke that rule a second time, and once again for a very good reason. I was in the Bull & Castle discussing the state of Irish brewing with one of the management and some ICBers. The subject turned to an Irish craft cider on guest at the pub, going by the name of Johnny Jump Up. None of us were big cider fans, but I decided that a test bottle was in order, in the interests of keeping track of what Irish brewers were up to.

It has been many a year since I've tasted Bulmers (by which I mean Magners, to those of you not in Ireland), but my memory is good enough to know that Lucozade-orange Johnny Jump Up does a remarkably good impression of it. Suspiciously, the first ingredient listed on the label is "cider". It doesn't have the seriously off-putting vulcanised rubber taste (despite sulphur dioxide also being in the ingredients), but it is seriously sweet in a way that apples aren't. It's also remarkably flat, making it eminently drinkable if you can get past the sweetness, which I couldn't. The big hit is that they're charging €6.20 a bottle for this.

If you want overpriced flat Bulmer's, this is the lad for you. I wonder who does their market research?

23 July 2007

Pale ale fails

I was lucky enough to be present at last week's tasting session, organised by the philanthropists who are IrishCraftBrewer.com in conjunction with the humanitarians of The Bull & Castle. The evening was themed around IPAs and wheat beers, and commercial examples of both were provided to accompany the homebrews, namely Erdinger, Watou, Goose Island IPA, and Galway Hooker. One generous attendee, who works for the award-winning McHugh's off licence in Dublin, brought along a further IPA and one I hadn't tried before: Hophead IPA from New Zealand's Brew Moon brewery.

Over two years ago I came across Brew Moon's Dark Side stout and was quite impressed by it, despite it being past the drink-by date. The Hophead was similarly expired (do they walk it to Europe?) but suffered much more from it, having a powerful musty aroma. IPAs are designed to be robust-tasting, so the staleness wouldn't necessarily be a disaster, except the well-meaning fools at Brew Moon have made this one organic, which seems to inevitably ramp down the flavour quotient, letting the bad taste come through. It could well be that, when fresh, this is a subtle and delicate ale: crisp, floral and refreshing. But is that what you're after in an IPA?