30 September 2007

The great taste of brut

It's a beer I've been intensely curious about for years, staring at me from the end of the top shelf in Redmond's every time I go in. However, it took my recent visit to Brussels for me to finally buy a bottle of DeuS, attracted by the bargain basement price of €10.

The manual attached to the neck outlines the tortuous method of brewing and conditioning this "brut des Flandres". It's made and bottled in Belgium then shipped to France to mature.

Despite the champagne overtones in the presentation, this is quite a sweet and fruity honey-coloured ale. The strength is a prodigious 11.5% ABV, but it bears no resemblance to the likes of Bush or any other high-alcohol Belgian. Instead, it's a rather light, sippable affair with pronounced overtones of clove and ginger.

DeuS is, by all accounts an odd beer. I don't know if all the work that goes into it is really worthwhile, but it is certainly well-crafted and interesting.

28 September 2007

Bohemian travesty

I have very fond memories of the dark beers of the Czech Republic and was full of anticipation on dropping in to Dublin's Czech ex-pat bar this afternoon. There was a wide selection of taps, and lots of strangers among them. I opted for a Staropramen Granát. Mistake!

This light red-orange coloured beer is possessed of a sharp, acidic and frankly gastric bitterness which put me right off.

I will be back to the pub to try some more of what's on offer, but I won't be touching this again.

24 September 2007

Lacking the lactose

A couple of months ago I complained of undetectable cream in St Peter's Cream Stout. I'm beginning to suspect that brewers' definition of "cream" is very different from mine, since last night I had a Samuel Adams Cream Stout and must confess to being unable to detect any cream here either. It's a rather thin stout, with a sparkly mouthfeel and mild caramel flavours. In fact I'd place it closer to a Vienna lager or some class of dunkel in style, and very much not what I'm after in a stout, or a purportedly creamy beer.

Somebody please explain cream in beer to me. Perhaps too much nitrogenation has ruined my vocabulary.

23 September 2007

oooOOOwww

The worst bit about organising a crawl around every brewpub in London is ending up with Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" stuck in one's head, except with the word "brewpubs" instead of "werewolves". I think I've just about exorcised it now though. Anyway, you can read the full article on how I got on over at IrishCraftBrewer.com; I'm only here for the beer.

I started at The Cock & Hen and moved on to The Florence, both of which brew two beers. In the former I had a pint of Bonobo, a warm copper-coloured ale with the classic light foam of hand-pumped ale. Like many of the best English bitters, it's complex yet quite light and easy-drinking. Rather than a sharp bitterness, it has a long sour finish and just a touch of a metallic tang at the end. Quality stuff, and I criticise it only for being too much like the better known quality cask bitters. I'm not sure I'd be able to pick this one out in a line-up. I'd give it a go though...

No such criticism for Weasel, the other beer from this stable. It's a dark golden and faintly carbonated ale, but all parallels with the normal summer ales end there. This gives off a heady hops aroma and follows up with zesty citrus hops on the palate. It's a beer that really keeps your attention.

One thing that really surprised me about the London's brewpubs was how similar they are to normal pubs. Just about all of them have a raft of normal beers on tap and only the brewing equipment, where visible, indicates that anything else is going on. Zero Degrees is the only exception I found, with a full set of taps of house beer only. The industrial décor and hipster soundtrack meant it's not the cosiest pub I've ever been in, but I do have a lot of time for this sort of establishment. The seasonal was a pomegranate wheat beer, which was sweet and wheaty but lacked any real fruit power. Much better was the Black Lager: a super-dark, super-thick treacly number, loaded with molasses and burnt caramel. I took my time over it.

Find of the day was another amazing summer ale, this time at Brew Wharf in Borough Market. Orange-hued Wharf Trader is a mere 3.9% ABV but absolutely packed with explosive hops flavours. Almost painfully sharp and quite quite delicious. I also had a brief taste of their Wharf Best, a citric and appley bitter, quite light and pleasant but nowhere near as much fun as its brother.

A quick thanks to Alex and Iain, the brewmeisters of Brew Wharf for taking the time to show me around and chat. Like all the best brewers, these guys love what they do.

I had about three quarters of an hour fantasising about living in Hampstead and having The Horseshoe as my local, while enjoying Hampstead Summer, made by the McLaughlin brewery based in the pub. It's a refreshing golden ale, not totally off the wall, but with definitely more character than any of the bigger brewers' summer ales.

Mash, reputedly a monstrous den of Nathan Barley types in the West End, was intended to be my last stop of the evening, but when I got there the brewpub was bare. And the doors were locked. So my last drinks were earlier in Bünker in Covent Garden, the only one of the lot I'd been to before. It was packed and loud and pretty horrible, but I was quite impressed by the beer. I had a Soho Red, which was rich malty and full-bodied, as well as a taste of the seasonal called Coppa (I think: submit a comment if you know better), a light and fruity ale, passable but a little bland.

An enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, day out. Most of these establishments are newcomers to the London pub scene, so here's hoping we'll be seeing more on-site brewing in the near future.

But London: where have all the beer mats gone? Are sticky tables some sort of fashion statement? Next time I'm bringing my own.

22 September 2007

Keep your kriek

I made two fruit beer finds in Brussels last week. The first is Mandarin Mortal which struck me first with its incredibly amateur label. Presumably the brewers at Mortal, caring not for image quality, have their minds on more important things. From the mandarins I was expecting something sweet and Fanta-like, but instead got a marvellously bitter and peppery beer with the orange flavours playing second fiddle to the beer complexity. Great stuff and, icing on the cake, served in a stoneware ostrich eggcup. There really aren't enough beers served in stoneware, in my opinion.

The second hit was Bon Secours Myrtille. If your kitchen French isn't up to it (mine isn't) then the blueberries on the label are there to indicate what this is made with. It's dark red and heavily sedimented, giving off a strong blueberry aroma. On tasting, the wheat beer base lends texture, but stands aside to let the delicious sour fruit flavour come to the fore.

Brussels may be best known for making fruit beers from lambic, but so much more is available.

21 September 2007

Yes, Your Majesty

I've a bunch of half-written posts sitting about from my recent travels, but my last fit of buying random German beer also left me with two bottles of König Ludwig which have been telling me they're not getting any fresher every time I open the fridge. For the sake of a quiet life I put them to work this evening.

König Ludwig Dunkel is a dark red-brown colour with a fruit-and-nut aroma. The full body and light fizz make for a superb mouthfeel, but tastewise it's a little disappointing. It makes you work hard to pick out the flavours: nuts again, caramel, a whiff of smoke, and a long dry finish. While it's clearly well put together, I prefer my dunkel to do more of the work for me. I'm just lazy.

Which is why König Ludwig Weissbier is my sort of weiss. There's no beating about with subtlety here, just big phenolic fruit notes and a rich texture that makes it both refreshing and filling. This is a powerful beer and definitely a cut above the usual offerings.

There. That should keep the mad kraut quiet for a bit...

20 September 2007

Stahhht, innit

Work had me back in London today. I went over yesterday to arse about and try a few new beers, of which more later. This post is just a taster of two stouts I had. One was Samuel Smith's Extra Stout, quite a dry and bitter affair, though tasty nonetheless. Full-bodied, with a smidgen of chocolate sweetness at the front.

Tastier yet is kegged Meantime London Porter, a sumptuously rich black beer from the Greenwich craft brewery. There's little by way of dryness or bitterness here, just lashings of sweet chocolate flavours. I hazard that despite not containing any actual chocolate, this is chocolatier than Meantime's Chocolate ale. Meantime London Porter is the perfect dessert beer.

18 September 2007

Scattergun

Of course, any trip to Belgium will involve a fair bit of sticking a pin in the beer menu, especially the three-inch-thick menu of Delirium Café, holder of the official world record for most beers in stock (2004 in total). So, I've a couple of themed posts to do, based partially on beers I brought home, but here's everything else.

First up is Cuvée des Trolls. This is an easy-going but rather bland affair carrying herbal hints but not much else. Also from western Belgium comes Forestinne, a red gold ale which offers much stronger herbal flavours with pronounced pine and juniper notes. Sweet, vaguely medicinal, and very tasty.

My suspicion of honey beers took a knock with Barbar Blond, a quite mild but surprisingly strong (8%) golden ale. The honey flavour isn't very strong, but instead there's a rich malty taste and a heavy filling texture. On a lighter note, there's St Idesbald Blond, clear and refreshing with just a hint of bitterness to it.

Similarly light, golden and refreshing is Rulles Estivale which has just a final bitter hops kick to give it personality. Rulles also make a Tripel which is loaded with tasty bitter fruit and which lingers long on the palate. The same can't be said for Lamoral Tripel, unfortunately, it being rather light, thin and generally disappointing.

Some of the most interesting discoveries were on the darker side of the spectrum. I'm a big fan of Flemish red ales so was expecting much from Bourgogne des Flandres. It pours red-brown and is dry with notes of raisins and fruit-infused tea. There's a lingering sourness which makes it a beer to savour, unlike reds such as Rodenbach which tend to have a short lifespan in my vicinity. Curiously, Bourgogne des Flandres is made using maize but doesn't seem to suffer from this. Good Belgian yeast and blending techniques cover a multitude of sins, I guess.

On this bitterly cold Dublin morning it's hard to believe it was only Wednesday last that I was sitting in the balmy garden of Hopduvel in Ghent, basking in the last of the evening sun. While there, on another menu pin-stick, I tried Grottenbier, a spiced bruin from St Bernardus. As the speleological name suggests, this beer has an earthy characteristic, warm and bitter. It's a little like the aforementioned Flemish reds, just a little heavier.

Finally, my find of the trip and another inductee for The Beer Nut Weird-Stuff-In-Beer Hall Of Fame: Captain Cooker. This is Belgian-made, but on a New Zealand theme, with manuka (tea tree) leaves. I reviewed the sterner New Zealand version, Spruce Beer, last year. This is a much more approachable product, however. It has a sweet perfume aroma and a mild flavour with notes of Parma Violets and eucalyptus. All very refreshing and a marvellous fusion of two brewing traditions.

That's not the end of the posts based on the trip, the others will be trickling through over the coming weeks. Bet you can't wait...

Captain Cooker

17 September 2007

Leffe behind

Yes, yes. I know. In a country so rich in brewing tradition, creating such top quality artisan beers, I shouldn't stoop to the McBelgian mediocrity of InBev-owned Leffe. But occasionally one has no choice. And very occasionally there's something one hasn't tried before. And so, to get it out of the way before I move on, here's my Leffe round-up.

I skipped the sweet sticky Blonde on this trip, so I start with Leffe Brune. This is a deep brown ale, tasting vaguely of chocolate, but ultimately lacking any real distinctive flavour. Slightly more flavoursome is Leffe Radieuse: a malty red; alcoholic and bitter, but still a bit bland at the end of it. My new find was Leffe 9°, a 9% ABV dark ale bearing a royal blue stripe on the label. It tastes heavily alcoholic with a rather chewy texture, and is perhaps the only member of the family that stands up for itself.

Ultimately, the Leffe beers really are pale imitations of the better Belgian ales, and the Trappists in particular. Still, I was impressed by Leffe 9° so I'm not going to write them off completely. When stranded in lagerland they can be a lifesaver.

16 September 2007

3-Pak

Not to be confused with the excellent restaurant of the same name in Ghent, ' t Pakhuis in Antwerp is the city's only brewpub, and I paid a visit on Friday. The décor is in the northern European faux-industrial style of brewery-pub-restaurant, all mezzanines and glass and steel. There are three beers in the repertoire. Antwerps Blond is a cloudy wheatbeer, similar to a German weiss. It's fruity with a hint of dry spice, though a little watery overall. The same problem affects Antwerps Bruin which offers a curious mix of sour Flemish red flavours and caramel notes on top. The latter comes out more as it warms and improves it considerably. Finally, there's Nen Bangelijke, a deceptively powerful clear golden ale. While the strength, colour and glass all resemble the typical Belgian golden ales, the flavour in no way does. This is warm and bitter rather than fruity, and carries overtones of almonds in the aftertaste. Very tasty indeed.

Like any brewpub, 't Pakhuis is one of those places that it's nice to have, just for something different. I wouldn't recommend beating a path to it on arrival in Antwerp, however. Go look at some Rubenses instead.