28 August 2008

Curry source

For my evening curry I thought I pick up another couple of bottles of cheap Asahi from the supermarket. There was none left when I got there, however (demonstrating the efficacy of our new restrictive off licence laws), so I plumped for a lager I'd not had in ages and never reviewed here: the legend that is Pilsner Urquell.

The original beer from Plzeň, an SABMiller brand these days, pours as golden and as fizzy as one might expect. Those very Czech hops stand up well against the hot and sour vindaloo sauce -- the sharp bitterness cutting through the spice with each mouthful. After eating it's even better, refreshing and cleansing the palate. Sitting over it a bit longer, a funny thing happens: as it warms, the malt comes out in the flavour profile. Of course, this sort of beer is meant to be served cold, but at temperatures approaching cellar, and beyond, it offers a wonderfully balanced experience, with the sweet porridgey grains enhanced with the Saaz sharpness.

Pilsner Urquell is a beer worth savouring and I'm glad there was no Asahi.

25 August 2008

Get up the yard

Dubbel, of Young CAMRA Collectiv fame, noted recently the preponderance of beer festivals around the UK August Bank Holiday. I certainly did my bit, heading north on Saturday to Hilden, for the second year, to attend the annual bash in the brewery yard there. We didn't get as good weather as last year. In fact, it pissed down for most of the afternoon, but I got in early and managed to stake my claim on a bit of prime dry real estate under one of the gazebos, making sorties into the brewhouse bar nearby as necessary.

The selection, as usual, came from a variety of breweries in England, Northern Ireland and the Republic, and the Irish industry was particularly well-represented this year. On arrival I decided that what we were experiencing was very much porter weather, and fortunately Messrs Maguire Porter was on tap. I started with this one, having previously enjoyed it during the brief period it was available in bottles. It's not a beer to blow socks off, but a well-constructed easy-going affair, with the characteristic black malt charcoal dryness. The texture from the cask edition is a massive improvement on the bottled version, being superbly rich and creamy. All-in-all a good start.

Golden ales featured heavily at the festival, as they did last year. I started with Everard's Tiger and really shouldn't have bothered. This reeks of a mildly-bleached brewery floor and follows it with yet more bleach in the taste and absolutely nothing else. Something must have gone wrong here.

Two beers from Ossett in Yorkshire followed: Silver King is a very pale and rather dry ale with just a teensy hint of summer fruits in it. Quite dull, really. Beijing Gold is shade or two darker with an interesting flavour I couldn't quite put my finger on. Fortunately, I had the CEO, Brewmaster and Chief Taster of the up-and-coming Clanconnel Brewery to hand (hi Mark), and he had no problem identifying it as Chinese five-spice, and aniseed in particular. It was certainly interesting, and very tasty. Keep an eye out for Clanconnel's Weavers' Gold coming your way in the autumn, by the way.

Abbeydale were out in force again, and Larceny was the beer I tried: it's a rather lagery affair with a nice refreshing sharpness but not a whole lot else. Titanic was another return visitor, but the beers really weren't up to the standard of last year: White Star is a creamy pale yellow ale with an unfortunate gastric acid harshness. Lifeboat is a darker amber and was served rather cloudy and loaded with yeasty flavours. Oh dear. I couldn't detect much behind this so I doubt I missed anything special through lack of condition.

Two golden ales really stood out for me on the day. The first was Elsie Mo from Castle Rock, served under a pump clip that would have Alcohol Concern tutting into their soda waters. It's light and easy-going, perfumed with breezy peach blossom flavours. But the standout was one which has seen its share of plaudits in recent years: Crouch Vale's Brewer's Gold -- CAMRA's supreme champion two years running. It's a very pale shade of yellow, gently hopped against a subtle graininess, creating a delicious sherbet-like flavour. Another light and approachable quaffing beer full of understated class and quality.

Before catching my train home, I finished with a couple more local beers. Hilden Halt was a new one for me -- their strong dark red ale. I suspect this wasn't in great condition, being cloudier than I expected, but I still enjoyed it. The malt is running the show and imparts a delicious chocolately flavour of the sort I most associate with Clotworthy Dobbin. Halt has more of a fruit character to it as well, however. Rich, filling, and just the thing as we head into autumn. My beer of the festival was another one produced on-site: a new "wheat ale" called Barney's Brew. Frances from the brewery told me that it follows, to some extent, the recipe for the legendary Belfast Bap, and is named in honor of its inventor Barney Hughes. With the sparkler screwed off (see right) it's a nearly-headless golden-amber beer with an amazing spiciness that just catches the back of the throat and then warms all the way down. I'm reminded of the late lamented Maeve's from Dublin Brewing Company, and reckon this would work similarly well as an accompaniment to curry. How do you make wheat do this, and why aren't more people doing it?

I had time for one last beer before hitting the road, and made it a pint of O'Hara's Stout -- a favourite everyday beer of mine and one I'd never tried on cask where, it turns out, it's rounder, roastier, chocolatier and generally so much of an improvement on the pasteurised bottled version (speaking not of the nitrokeg abomination).

A final note of thanks to Frances for arranging a couple of beers on the house for ICB members attending. Overall, I found 160km to be a very small distance to travel to experience this kind of quality.