29 May 2008

Sodding great

It started with some puerile punnage last month on Knut's blog. Actions have consequences, even in the blogosphere, so next thing Knut presents me not only with a bottle of the hilariously-titled Soddøl, but also an actual can of sodd: the Norwegian stew after which it's named. That's me taught a lesson about idle blog-commentary.

I'm used to the (for want of a better word) sober approach to beer names employed by Norwegian craft brewers Nøgne Ø and Haandbryggeriet. When they make a pale ale, they're most likely to call it "Pale Ale". But their new compatriot, Inderøy Gårdsbryggeri, has taken a more liberal approach to labelling, and as well as this stew-inspired pale ale, they have a porter called Ankerøl and a kölsch-alike called Kvamsholmer. By the sounds of it they're a tiny operation in a hostile environment, but I wish them the best of luck. Especially since I can now say first-hand that at least one of their beers is excellent.

Red-amber Soddøl has that typical Norwegian high gassiness, making pouring a long-drawn-out affair, but leaving a firm and lasting off-white head above a lightly cloudy body. The dense sediment collects in the bottom of the bottle, of which more later. The aroma is sweet and candy-like and the mouthfeel very full. First up flavourwise are roasted, almost smoky, malt notes followed up with a heavy brown sugar sweetness. An understated bitterness finishes it off perfectly. With the substantial lees added to the glass, this bitterness rises slightly, but the heavy treacley malt remains the driving force.

After a few filling mouthfuls I thought to look at the strength and was surprised to see it's a mere 4.5% ABV. Big flavour in a sessionable beer is definitely something to be welcomed. It makes for a perfect year-round winter warmer, and I think I can see where the stew associations came from.

From this day forth there shall be no higher compliment to pay a pale ale than "That stuff? Tastes like Soddøl."

26 May 2008

Beer pressure

Beer Nut Towers is currently undergoing extensive renovation. As a result, I am making a concerted effort not to accumulate Stuff while I'm living out of cardboard boxes under a permanent pall of cement dust.

But I was sorely tempted when word went around both on ICB and Boards.ie that Lidl were bringing in a supply of electric minikeg dispense units this week for a limited time only. Geoff from the Bull & Castle even volunteered to stockpile them for anyone interested, since he has a particularly convenient branch of the German supermarket chain.

I resisted. I've nowhere to put it and I'm not really keen on feeling obliged to buy whatever minikegged oddities Aldi and Lidl bring in. The Franciscan Well do their decent Rebel Red by the minikeg, but they only sell it out of their pub 150 miles away. My only regular option would be Irish-made Warsteiner. No thanks.

However, the Lidl offer also featured two beers to go with the device and, it being another sunny day, I decided to go for the Grafenwalder Weissbier (their pils was the alternative). I documented my only previous minikeg experience here, and my reasoning was that the oodles of foam associated with the format would rather suit this type of beer. Now that I have a glass in front of me, I'm not so sure.

The problem is body, and the fact that this beer has none. It's extremely thin and really quite flat. It's also remarkably pale, so while the texture problems could be down to an unsuitable serving method, it's perfectly possible that the beer is just cheaply-made rubbish. The listing of "hop extract" among the ingredients goes some way to suggest this is the case.

In fairness, there is a brief flash of the fruity weiss flavour, but with no body to sustain it, it fades to wateriness almost immediately and that big head disappears far too quickly. It would be an easy-going party quaffer if it wasn't for the full 5% ABV. Just as well I have people coming round to help me out with the remainder.

23 May 2008

Oh no! More Budweiser!

Back when I was young and innocent -- in December 2005 -- I was quite positive about the arrival of a new beer from České Budějovice; but that was before I realised that the tide of imported pale lager would continue to rise until we risked drowning in the yellow fizz that still dominates our imported beer market.

Still, in the Bull & Castle this week I asked if there was anything new in stock and the options presented were both from the Budějovický Měšťanský brewery, the same one that makes BB Bürgerbräu.

Named after the brewery's foundation date, 1795 exhibits a lot of that typical budweiser maltiness. However, it lacks the weight of body that I think ought to go with it, ending up overly sweet but still rather slight. It's refreshing, in its own way, but so are dozens of other European imports, and Irish licence-brewed macrolagers for that matter.

The notebook in the picture on the right, by the way, is the larval stage of Knut Albert's beer blog. Knut had dropped in for a flying visit, and to exchange a bottle of Norwegian craft beer for two small tins of crappy Cuban lager -- an exchange rate which could do wonders for the Caribbean island's economy if continued on a larger scale. Anyway...

Second up was Samson, indistinguishable in appearance to its stablemate. The malt levels are down here and it steers clear of the almost-cloying sweetness of 1795. Unfortunately, there's nothing in there to fill that flavour gap. A touch of mild bitterness, but nothing you'd describe as hoppiness, not by a long stretch. This is one of the blandest bottles of