27 November 2008

London calling

Another beer brought over to my place on Saturday (cheers Séan) was Meantime London Pale Ale. As it happens, I bought a bottle of it on my last trip to Sainsbury's, so I've had well more than my fair share of this recently, and it's one that warrants repeat visits.

A straight-up honest half-litre bottle contains a slightly hazy orange beer at 4.3% ABV. The head forms tight and lasting, with zesty fruity aromas ascending from beneath. These continue in the slightly grapefruity notes in the flavour -- signature of the American hops. But they're not allowed dominate, sitting next to some of the delicious floral English variety, redolent of juicy oranges with a hint of peach and some black tea tannins giving a dry finish.

Basically, this has all the benefits of the US and UK pale ale styles with none of the catches: no overcarbonation, no metallic tang, no tiddly bottle and no understated flavours. Beautiful.

So I'm psyched for next week's trip to London and a return visit to the Pig's Ear Festival in Hackney on Wednesday evening. Anyone out there going to be around?

24 November 2008

He came bearing urbock

Thom arrived over to Beer Nut Towers on Saturday evening carrying a swing-top flagon of Eggenberg Urbock 23°. With assistance from some other guests, we managed to put away all two litres of the 9.9% ABV dark Austrian lager.

And it's tasty stuff, though takes a bit of getting used to, what with the intense sugary sweetness. Until it warms up a bit there's not much else to be said about it, but after a while the strong boozy flavours start to kick in, with burnt caramel and more than a hint of sherry, accentuated by the minimal carbonation levels.

This is very much a beer for considered post-prandial sipping. Eggenberg have a number of distilled beer products in their line and this stuff tastes like it's already half way there.

Cheers Thom. You're welcome to revisit when you've refilled the flagon.

20 November 2008

Best in show

I was in early to the Belfast Beer & Cider Festival on Saturday. When newer arrivals appeared and squinted inquisitively at the beer list I gave them one unequivocal recommendation: Dark Star Hophead. Yes, perhaps it's not a beer to start a sampling session with -- partly because of the intense flavour, and partly because it makes other pale bitters seem hopelessly inadequate -- but it's not one to be missed, and I was surprised it hadn't already sold out. Shame on you, beer philistines of Belfast. And thanks.

The aroma starts Hophead as it means to go on: fresh, green hops, like sticking one's nose into a bag of Cascade. On tasting it combines with the malt and there's a little of the sherbet character I enjoy in the likes of Goose Island IPA or, closer to home, Meantime Pale Ale. But it's no American wannabe: there's a considerable English floral character here, and a dry, not-quite-metallic, finish. Certainly it isn't a beer of balance, but that matters not one jot to its supreme drinkability.

Hophead is probably my beer of the festival, but one of the dark beers really left a lasting impression too: Old Slug from the RCH brewery down Somerset way. This porter really goes to show how amazing the simplest black beer can be when served naturally, putting me strongly in mind of my experience drinking Porterhouse Plain directly from the conditioning tanks. The nose is rich, freshly ground coffee in spades, and the flavour too is sweet and coffee-like, sitting on a silky-smooth creamy body. That particular combination of knee-weakening aroma, flavour and texture is something I only seem to get from cask-conditioned stouts and porters, like O'Hara's at Hilden during the summer and Druid's in Cork at Easter. We need something of this sort in regular production south of the border. I can't imagine anyone with half a brain going back to nitro stout after their first mouthful.

It's very easy to have a go at CAMRA. I was particularly scornful of their "CAMRA supports choice" banner in Belfast, given their prime directive limiting choice to beers produced and served in a manner of their own choosing. But I have to admire the Northern Irish branch's determination to pull off an event like this in a market environment which is almost as hostile to decent beer as the one where I live. Of course, being able to ship the beers over from Britain without trouble from the exciseman helps enormously in assembling the line-up. I guess I'll have to keep petitioning the southern breweries if I'm ever to get my pint of cask stout down the local.