30 August 2007

A sudden chill

It's a damning indictment of the state of Irish beer that our largest independent brewer, owner of a chain of pubs which does not stock the vapid products of Ireland's macrobrewers, has always had a Bud clone in its repertoire. Because it has to. (Ireland's Bud, for the record, is brewed by Diageo down at the old Smithwick's plant in Kilkenny.)

I'm sure I tried this Chiller way back when the Porterhouse (or The Porter House, as it was then) first opened the doors of its Temple Bar brewpub. Recently, however, after years of tireless beer education I've become curious about it. How accurate a rendition is it? How do you make a tasty, hand-made beer that trades on its tastelessness?

Today I gave in and had my first Chiller in eleven years. Believe it or not, it really does take the worthwhile elements from pale American cooking lager and put them in a proper beer. It's very dry, but in a refreshing way, almost like my old friend Fischer. The mouthfeel has a stimulating sparkle to it which leads to criticism number one: the gassiness. I can't imagine drinking very much of this without becoming bloatis in extremis. Perhaps the reason the Porterhouse is so fond of ear-splitting skiddley-eye music is that it covers the belches of the Chiller drinkers.

More problematic was the chemical aftertaste that came with it, a bit like disinfectant. Could have been a bad glass or stale beer, but I sincerely hope it's not supposed to be there. I'll confirm this on my next tasting in 2018.
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Michael Jackson, inspiration, RIP.

28 August 2007

Scoop life

Thanks to beer blogger Maeib for telling me what I am. I've been doing this blogging lark for over two years now, but it's just this month that I find I am a "scooper": one who samples beer widely and takes note of all. In Hilden on Saturday I felt my scoopness acutely. As far as I could see, I was the only one of my kind present. You could say it was me and my notebook that made it a proper beer festival. But you wouldn't.

Having finished with the Hilden brews, I turned first to Moorhouse's brewery in Lancashire. The pump clip of its Black Cat dazzles with bling from the Brewing Industry International Awards and CAMRA's Champion Beer of Britain. I was disappointed, however, and found the black ale rather bland. Their Premier Bitter isn't much better, being quite thin and the least bitter bitter I've ever encountered. I was similarly unimpressed with two beers from Sheffield's Abbeydale brewery: Moonshine, a dull and slightly musty pale ale, and Matins, a vaguely hopped even-paler blonde cousin. At the far end of the festival bar, ignored by everyone, was Damson Porter by Burton Bridge. The base here is a very light porter, touched on by some sour damson fruitiness. Flavourwise it could have done with a bit more of everything.

A total contrast was Flat Cap, from Bolton's Bank Top brewery. This is a light ale sporting a superb zesty hoppiness. E&S Elland in West Yorkshire are similarly unafraid of the hop plant, providing Bargee, a light, smooth but marvellously tasty bitter, and Beyond the Pale, a deceptively pale ale with a powerful dry hops flavour. Titanic Brewery in Stoke-on-Trent make Anchor, a weighty yet quaffable orange ale, with an excellent hop-malt balance. Triple Screw was their other brew, a foamy red-orange ale: smooth, caramelly and satisfyingly heavy.

My finds of the festival, however, came from Manchester's 3 Rivers brewery. Their Manchester IPA is mega-hoppy, full-tasting, aromatic and warming: ticking all the IPA boxes. They also supplied Old Disreputable, a beautiful sweet black ale, reminding me of the Speight's Old Dark I found in New Zealand and which I miss every now and then.

At this point the railway timetable forbade any further tasting, and I failed to achieve the full scoop. I can't overstate how much I enjoyed this sort of drinking and am already making plans for the CAMRA Belfast festival in November. I might even get a new notebook, special like.

27 August 2007

Seven pints of the Devil's buttermilk

"Welcome to Belfast International Airport," the old joke goes, "please set your watch back 300 years." My native Northern Ireland hasn't garnered the best reputation for progressiveness and liberality over the years. The old puritanical streak left by the Planters can still be felt in the many spotlessly pretty villages which curiously lack pubs. Sunday trading is still a relatively new phenomenon and looked upon sceptically by the hardcore saved. So it is with extra delight that I report on a beer festival I attended on Saturday in the little village of Hilden, in the east Ulster heartland just south of Belfast.

The Hilden Brewery has been quietly turning out cask ales since 1981, mostly, I assume, for the export market as I have no memory of ever seeing them for sale. On the last weekend of August every year all and sundry are invited to the brewery yard for live music and a prodigious selection of real ales, both local and imported. This was my first ever trip to this sort of festival, whereby punters can buy an empty glass at the gate and have it repeatedly filled with wonderful liquids. Somewhere over 30 beers