31 March 2008

Last refuge of the scoundrel

I like to know where my beer comes from. It makes no difference to how it tastes, but it adds to the educational experience of drinking beers from around the world: this is how it's done in that place. I'm slightly bemused, then, by the label on my bottle of William Wallace Ale from the Traditional Scottish Ales company, dedicated to the eponymous Scottish nobleman, and offering us a place of origin no more precise than "Scotland" and then a postcode. I can only speculate as to why they'd prefer people didn't know it's made just outside Falkirk (I assume, unless it's contract brewed elsewhere), but there you have it. Nothing like pride in where you come from...

William Wallace is in the 80/- style, though bears little resemblance to the kegged heavies I drank while living in Scotland some years ago. It has the characteristic lovely dark red colour, but is quite lightly carbonated making for a full-bodied yet easily drinkable texture. The taste is dominated by big sweet caramel flavours with just a hint of a tang from the hops. Fairly simple, quaffable and satisfying.

And from a genuine Scot, to a fake one. Martin's of Belgium have been churning out their "Scotch ales" under the Gordon label for years, and I'm not adverse to those I've tried over in the low countries, even if it has been quite a while since my last one. Until it arrived in Ireland recently, I had never seen Gordon Finest Gold before: a 10% ABV monster in an innocent green bottle with the only twist-off cap I've ever seen on a European beer.

It pours a red gold colour and is another beer lacking much by way of carbonation: a spotty, uneven thin white skim sits on the surface for the duration. Definite waft of malt on the nose. That pale sugary malt comes through in the flavour in a big way: this is powerfully sweet to the point of sickliness and really quite difficult to drink. With most of the Gordon range you get a similar strength but it comes with dark and smoky caramel flavours to create an enjoyable sipping experience. This beer is just plain hard work for not much reward.

And, though up-front about its tartan fakery, it won't even tell us where it comes from either: "Brewed in Benelux" is far as it goes. Can't seem to find that place on a map.

27 March 2008

Lights by name

It's bilingual puns again today, I'm afraid. Sorry.

Solas is a bar on Wexford Street in central Dublin. It's a very up-market modern sort of place, big into its cocktails and achingly hip soundtrack. In short, it's the sort of fashion-victim lounge I generally avoid like the proverbial. Oddly, however, it has a very slightly better-than-average beer selection, though leaning towards the wit-and-weiss school of daring, with just a couple of Chimays representing decent ale. Bizarrely there's a Bass tap, something normally only found in slightly ropy suburban drinking dens and those frequented by even ropier Taoisigh. But I digress.

The first tap in the row dispenses a house beer called Solas Lite. "Solas" is Irish for "light" in the illumination sense, so somebody probably thought this was hilarious. Anyway, I have no idea who makes it or what it's doing there. The staff were as bemused by the whole thing as I was. What they could tell me is that it's a yellow lager, it's very low strength (3.6% ABV) and it's dirt cheap: €3.60 a pint. Cheap unbranded beer is not something one readily associates with this sort of bar. In fact none of those three words really fit in with the stoli-and-prada brigade. Nevertheless, the proprietors are proud enough of this to have had custom glassware made -- the engraving just visible against a black background (right).

Unsurprisingly, the intrigue around Solas Lite is far more interesting than the beer. It's bog-standard pale and gassy as hell. The flavour, such as it is, is dry and there's a touch of diacetyl which suggests to me that it may actually have been made by a human rather than a machine.

Being upmarket, Solas doesn't have a Bud tap, but this is pretty close. The colour and strength are wrong for it to be a simple rebadge, however. And yet an owner who has specially commissioned a beer and accessories is seemingly not enough of a beer enthusiast to have ordered something interesting. And yet it's been around too long for it simply to be a disguised batch of something else that didn't turn out as expected. None of it adds up, and I doubt I'll ever get to the bottom of it unless someone out there knows.

Anyway, here presenting Solas Lite: probably the dullest enigma in the beeriverse.

23 March 2008