30 June 2008

Nostalgia: not what it used to be

It's almost five years since I was in Australia. In the week or so I was there I worked through as many of their beers as I could get my hands on, which meant a lot of pale lagers. I haven't retained much memory of most of them -- though Toohey's Extra Dry sticks in my mind as my go-to lager. Had I been blogging at the time, I'm certain I'd have given an honourable mention to Boag's Premium, from Tasmania.

Declan from the Bull & Castle gifted me a bottle, only slightly out of date, following a root through through the pub's backroom store. Never one to refuse free beer from a pub manager I took it home to give it a proper write-up.

Grassiness is the dominant characteristic here, on the nose and in the foretaste. Oddly -- and maybe this is the bottle showing its age -- the aroma had a kind of sharp, sugary tartness to it, almost like a lambic. The flavour is very definitely bitter, however. Green and slightly vegetal, though not straying far from the clean refreshing lines of hot-country lawnmower lager.

Perhaps not as good as I remember it, but better than the brewery's Strongarm lager, and not bad at all for free.

Anything else back there, Declan?

26 June 2008

A completist writes

OK, it may well be some time before I encounter Brew Dog's Buzz, since it's not likely to be imported on cask, and one sort of Paradox isn't really the complete set, but I was still really happy when I saw the two Brew Dog bottled beers that I had yet to try on the shelf in Redmond's last week. (Most of the rest I covered here, with a pint of Hype in Manchester last year).

Hop Rocker is the inevitable pale lager, and one I might not have bothered with if I hadn't been wanting to try them all. An odd beastie of very bright but pale yellow hue, with just a hint of a haze through it. The aroma is bitter and almost lemony, though not especially strong. They've struck just the right balance with the carbonation, giving that refreshing cleanness you want from this style without it being too much of a bloatmaking fizzbomb.

The flavour is... interesting. The citric notes are there all right, presumably deriving from a light hopping, albeit with some pretty pungent varieties. But there's also a strong sugary character to it as well. It's not the syrupyness of your typical tramps' lager, but more like the candysugar flavour from certain Belgian beers. The two flavours don't sit too well next to each other for me, and I'm not sure how a committed lager drinker would find them. It's an interesting beer, but just not in the right way.

I'm consistently amused by Brew Dog's labelling (even if certain humourless busybodies don't get it). I also used to live in Aberdeen, just down the road from the brewery. I found it impossible to read the description of Hardcore IPA without hearing the lilting Grampian tones. The text is reproduced on the right. It's the word "relatively" in the last sentence that's pure Aberdeen to me. Roll that R.

Like the brewery's lighter Punk IPA, this 9% ABV bad boy is pale yellow in colour. Hardly any head is produced on pouring, nor is there much aroma -- just a vague hops-and-boiled-water smell of the sort you get on a brewery floor. The first taste leaves you in no doubt of how much alcohol is in here: big, high intensity boozy warmth fills the mouth. But that's not to say it's malty, oh no, the bitterness actually stings. There's no trace of the fun-and-frolicsome fruity, citrusy gee-whizz American hops. This is a serious hard-as-nails Calvinist IPA with no quarter offered. Well, almost no quarter: as it warms up the caramel malt notes begin to make themselves felt and the sweet-bitter flavour takes on nearly a perfumey character. But the aftertaste remains big boozy bitter hops. Hardcore, as the label says.

I don't really know many other IPAs of this kind of power and strength, but if I had to compare Hardcore to another beer I'd be more inclined to point at Sierra Nevada's Bigfoot barley wine than, say, Great Divide's Hercules IPA. There's a definite market for this sort of beer, and I'd say it'll sell well on the other side of the pond, but extreme experiences like this aren't anything I'll be running to repeat on a regular basis. Now and again, however, it's worth it.

And just as I post this, I discover the brewery has started a blog announcing a new bottled imperial stout in their range. My completist plans are in ruins. Thanks a lot, guys.

23 June 2008

Cloistered

It was miserable on Saturday. Sheets of horizontal rain to the accompaniment of the occasional ka-thunk-ka-thunk-ka-thunk as bits dislodged from my incomplete roof. In the early afternoon I trekked down to the docklands to see if Ely HQ was selling O'Hara's stout on draught, like its sister house on Custom House Quay. It was, but that was a very damp Beer Nut enjoying his pint and steak sandwich by Grand Canal Dock. Lesson learned. If ever an evening was meant for staying in and exploring strong Belgian ales, it was Saturday.

The warm-up act was St Bernardus Prior 8. At first taste I wasn't astounded by it, and then scolded myself for getting so blasé about what is a really really good beer. Brown of body, it's heavily sedimented, with skirls and eddies of yeast clumps riding the gas bubbles inside. The texture is one of the high points: lightly carbonated, leaving a smooth body and a superb thick and creamy head. The flavour is not especially strong and is redolent of dark fruit: plums, damsons, that sort of thing. The lees contribute just a bit of a sharp kick on the end. Other than the understated flavour, my other criticism is that the mouthfeel is just a little thin for such a strong dark ale, though that could be down t