26 February 2009

Famous British reserve

Is Fuller's Brewer's Reserve No. 1 supposed to be about 30% cheaper than the Vintage Ale? I was surprised. Though there's probably something seriously wrong when I pay over €6 for 500ml of beer then make off into the night giggling at my crafty steal.

Anyhoo, this is a new one from the iconic Chiswick brewer, and is presumably the first in a series of limited edition ales they're planning to produce. As I mentioned not so long ago, barrels are in. This 7.7% ABV ale has served nearly a year and a half in whisky casks. To be honest, I don't think they did it a whole lot of good.

You get a very clear amber ale with an off-white head. The nose is slightly sour and lambicky, and there's a definite tartness on the first sip. However, it really makes you work to find the vanilla and whisky notes, unlike 1488 which shoves them right in your gob. On the plus side, I enjoyed the slight scotch-like throat burn, but overall I think I'm siding more with this Englishman than this one.

Having expected some sort of huge sticky, woody monster, I feel I got off lightly with what's really quite an understated easy-drinking ale, one which also rewards slow sipping. But I do think the price is just a bit on the high side. At €10, Fuller's Vintage 2007 represents better value, in my opinion.

23 February 2009

Up the Badger's Arse

Deveney's off licence in downtown Dundrum has set up a regular series of themed beer tastings -- a laudable effort at broadening the horizons of south Dublin's beer drinking public. I went along to the first one on Friday, just to give some support, of course, and nothing at all to do with the free beer. My fellow ICBeebie Ken lives nearby, so I dropped in on him beforehand to sample a very tasty pale ale he had cornied in his shed (Ken's brewery goes by the name of Badger's Arse, and you can see him impressing Oz and James with his coffee stout here).

When we eventually got to Deveney's, Ruth had queued up her samples -- from J.W. Dundee, Goose Island, Speakeasy, and Sierra Nevada: the USA being the evening's theme. We offered constructive criticism on the order of tastings and then got to talking beer and the specialist beer market in general. She said that the importer who dropped off Samuel Adams Triple Bock told her not to open it as it would scare the punters. I'd noticed it around before, in its sleek non-descript nip bottle with the outrageous €9.99 price tag, and reckoned it wasn't worth satisfying my curiosity. The Samuel Adams range are a mixed bag -- for every classic there's at least one stinker, in my experience. €9.99 is just too much of a gamble for that brand. But with minimal goading, Ruth agreed to pop one open for us.

Mind blowing, is the operative term. This totally flat, super-thick 17.5% ABV beer is a walking tour of dark ale flavours, with a fully live and interactive cast of characters. We start at chocolate: heavy, bitter, 80%+ cocoa, dark chocolate. From there we pass through rich coffee and maple syrup (an actual ingredient) into fresh liquorice, tawny port, fine cigars, and back to steaming hot chocolate puddings. The whole experience put me in mind of the Lost Abbey Angel's Share I had at the Great British Beer Festival, except instead of coming from a cask in a different country available for a couple of days last year, this came from an off licence a few minutes' bike ride from my house. Magnificent, and worth every cent being asked. Ken agreed, and Ruth had two sales on her hands immediately.

The bonus is that the teeny blue glass bottle has a cork. One sip goes an astonishingly long way with this, and after a small post-prandial glass it can be put back in the cupboard, like any good digestif.

This is just the sort of beer we almost never see in Ireland. Get your hands on it now.

Finally, thanks Ruth and thanks Ken for the beer and a fun evening. If you're at all local to Deveney's, be sure and sign up to their mailing list via deveneydundrum@eircom.net. If the tastings go on like they started it'll be well worth your while.

19 February 2009

Division of labour

The six-pack I bought at the Big Mikkeller Launch back in September has been sitting quietly in my attic ever since. Most of the bottles could do with a bit more ageing, I reckon, but a couple had dates recommending drinking by next autumn, so I figured they were ripe enough already.

At first glance it's hard to tell what separates silver-labelled Kølle from bronze-labelled TræKølle: both barley wines are the same strength, same bitterness level and from the same company (Amager, in association with Mikkeller, with co-operation from retailers Ølbutikken and ØlKonsortiet). Rather than try to pick a drinking order, Mrs Beer Nut and I decided to open them both at the same time and take it from there.

Kølle has that typical heady, alcoholic barley wine aroma: sweet yet hoppy. It follows this with a massive super-concentrated grapefruit hit, then comes a big metallic, galvanic tang -- nasty, like licking a pencil sharpener -- and then a long slow burn of citric hoppiness. It reminds me a lot of the insanely unbalanced Mikkeller Simcoe IPA being served at the European Beer Festival. A glance at the label suggests that Simcoe is indeed the single hop employed here. A bit more ageing might have let it mellow, but I couldn't be sure that something as good as, say, Bigfoot, would be likely to come out the other end. It's an awful lot thinner, for a start, making it hard to believe the strength is a stonking 10.5% ABV.

TræKølle, it seems, is the same beer matured on bourbon barrels. It's a little darker and strikingly lacks that fresh citric hops aroma -- all taken by those greedy angels, I guess. Unsurprisingly, the flavour is dominated by vanilla oak notes, the bourbon history being more than suggested. I'm inclined to say that the hop character is low, but that could be just by comparison with the other Simcoe bomb. It is bitter, however -- both beers claim 90 IBUs -- though here it's more of an acidic character against Kølle's sharp fruitiness. TræKølle is a mellower, calmer, sipping sort of barley wine, even though it does share the skinny body of its wilder sibling. We both preferred this version.

So there we have an object lesson on the effect of bourbon barrel ageing on outrageously hoppy beers. I reckon we can expect more of this kind of thing as 2009 progresses. Barrels are in.