31 December 2008

Lagerboy writes

On his recent visit, Velky Al donated some bottles of Primátor Excluziv to a corner of the Irish beer blogosphere (me, Thom and Adeptus). It looks like a junior drinker's dream: a lager proclaiming itself, in massive Lolcat lettering, to be 16%. In ABV terms, however, it's a mere 7.5%, though that's still not to be sneezed at. It pours a lovely shade of amber and gives off heady boozy aromas. The overriding flavour is sweet -- quite bubblegummish -- malt. It puts my experience of central-to-eastern European beers to the test as I'm not sure where to place this. There's a lot of märzen character in its breadiness but there's a fair whack of Polish mocne to be found in the nearly-but-not-quite Special Brew sugariness. All I knew was that it would have to be consumed quickly, while still cold, for fear of cloying. This I duly did, appreciating its filling warmth for some time afterwards. If you're going to be drinking pale lager in the midst of winter, this is the sort of thing to go for.

With the Primátor polished off, I returned to the fridge where I found a bottle of Gösser, an Austrian lager that's been a mainstay of Irish offies for as long as I can remember. It's really very poor -- thin, vaguely dry, barely beery, in fact. At a time when yellow fizz can be bought for half nothing you have to wonder what this is still doing on the market. For sale to idiots like me, I suppose.

And speaking of cheap yellow fizz, the first beer I ever wrote about on this blog was Euroshopper lager. Back in 2005, and for some years previous, it was my dependable house beer -- the one I'd have in for times when I just wanted a lager without having to think about it. The brewer and recipe have changed since then and I've got out of the habit of drinking this style of beer: my old reliables are far more likely to be O'Hara's Stout, Hobgoblin or Schenider Weisse these days, so I've not been in any rush to try the new version. However, there are occasions, especially this time of year, when drinkers of pale lager are going to show up to the house and require refreshment. My cheap beer of choice for this purpose these days is a Belgian: Hackenberg Export.

This is brewed by Martens in Limburg and, surprisingly, bears the logo of Dundalk-based importer Noreast, the people who bring us our Erdinger, Budvar and Shepherd Neame beers. The pils is a pleasing shade of darkish gold and very full bodied, given its place on the market, with a pleasant sweetness adding to its drinkability.

At €1.50 or so a can it's a little pricier than some of the other sub-premiums, but it's far ahead of them in quality terms. And better than any of the high-cost, as-seen-on-TV, lager brands as well. If I still have stock left over on the far side of New Year I doubt you'll hear me complain.

29 December 2008

Merry Tickmas

I did have quite a merry Christmas, thanks for your wishes, one and all. It began the day before Christmas Eve with a supermarket sweep in my parents' local Sainsbury's. Newry had mostly let me down on the Sainsbury's prize-winners, but I fared much better in Armagh.

I bagged a bottle of Barnstormer, for instance. It's quite a simple dark bitter; one which claims full-bodiedness but I found to be a smidge on the thin side. What separates it from the herd is the oodles of chocolate character, climbing forcefully out of the glass and adding a richness to the flavour which already has plenty of caramel malt, a strong English hops bitterness and more than a hint of warming roastiness. These attributes are balanced rather well and, sitting on that light body, make for a beer which is highly enjoyable to sink. If you're minded to buy it, get more than one bottle.

The other competition winner couldn't be more different. I'm still not used to full-flavoured beers which are clear and bright yellow, so I was surprised at what poured forth from the bottle of Doctor Okell's IPA. It gives up its secrets early, however, with a strong whiff of bitter grapefruity hops hitting the nose right away. Naturally, hops dominate the flavour, perfectly tempered with just enough light caramel to provide the balance and body it needs. I'd nearly say it was the perfect northern English IPA if it were actually from northern England, rather than a funny constitutional oddity just to the left of it. A deserving fellow prize-winner, and a cut above the Barnstormer in my opinion.

So much for other people's judgment. Time to make some of my own.

Quite often I'll buy a beer with a strong advance suspicion it'll be terrible. I'm frequently wrong, however, which adds an extra thrill to the pouring. This time round, Marston's Single Malt was the one I had second, third and fourth thoughts about before eventually walking off with it. I don't think I've ever liked a Marston's beer, and clear glass is never a smart move. Then there's the whisky associations, with the possibility of the sweet, cloying woody flavours that tend to accompany them.

It turns out, however, that the name is derived simply from the fact that only Golden Promise -- allegedly the preferred malt of Scottish distillers -- is used. Well, and some hops too, since my bottle had received considerable attention from the Skunking Fairy. Beyond that mild unpleasantness there is really not much to this at all. Tasting blindly I reckon I would be hard pressed to tell it from green-bottled euro-fizz. Light, bland and dull. Avoid.

Purity Brewing's Ubu amber ale was a much better proposition. I've really taken to US amber ales this past few months and was interested to see an English take on it. Obviously it's nowhere near as citrically hoppy as its transatlantic cousins, instead what you get is a fairly typical English pale ale: a good solid caramel malt base peppered with a dry tangy bitterness. It's unchallenging but still pretty tasty.

There's a similar red-gold colour to Theakston's Grouse Beater, but a very distinctive super-fruity nose, full of violets and raspberries. The sweet flavour is packed with summer fruit, ending in a rather odd dry chalkiness which I wasn't sure how to take. I was reminded a little of Poacher's Choice, but it's lighter and much less of a fruity smack in the gob. At the same time, I think one Grouse Beater is the place to stop.