It probably says a lot about me that the best summers of my young adulthood are forever bound in my memory to a particular off licence beer promotion. The one spent dossing about Belfast (there was no work to be had, honest) was all about the dirt-cheap Michelob Golden Draught on sale at the tiny offy just off Botanic Avenue (we had to clear our fridge of its extraneous contents, like food, and shelves). I left college several years later and took up my first proper job the following June. Having rented what seemed like a massive one-bedroom apartment in Harold's Cross, I discovered that the Londis opposite the park was doing six-packs of Moosehead Lager for a fiver. It seems now as if every evening involved climbing the hill up to the shop, filling my German army surplus rucksack with Moosehead and striding jauntily homeward with the sun on my back. It was probably only most evenings, however.
Moosehead Lager has been a regular fixture on the Irish beer market ever since, though the price has gone up quite a bit -- it being an early victim of the Great Euro Changeover Gouge, in which the licensed trade indulged shamelessly. And of course my interest in lager isn't what it was back when we had warm summers, so I have not felt the need to indulge in any Moose-related nostalgia.
And then, just a couple of weeks ago, I noticed a red-label Moosehead Pale Ale on the shelves in DrinkStore. Like much of the stock there it was covered in dust so I searched the bottle for a best-before date. There was none. I asked the proprietor who assured me it had just come in, but went to fetch the box. No date on that either. I'm not a stickler for dates -- no Irish ticker can afford to be -- but it does make a difference with pale light beers: that stale mustiness you get is really not nice.
I decided to take a chance anyway. Fortunately, through the miracle of Twitter, the brewery found me and taught me how to decode the encrypted born-on date on the bottle (the first letter is the month, the next two the day, and then the year followed by 52, so my G03852 means my beer was made on 3rd July last year -- should still be fresh enough).
On pouring, I discovered an incredibly pale beer, pretty much pilsner-coloured. No aroma to speak of, but there's a bit of body to it. Unfortunately, once the taste kicks in, this body gives the impression of being sugar-derived. Not that it's especially sweet, but there's no hop character at all -- there's really nothing to the flavour except that minor sugariness. Perhaps ice cold it might be enjoyable, but the carbonation would likely be all wrong without the refreshing lager fizz. I retain my fond memory of Moosehead Lager, but I won't be buying the pale ale again.
While I was at it, I opened another pale ale from eastern North America. Genesee Cream Ale is another super-pale ale which doesn't really resemble ale at all. There's no head on this one, despite unpleasantly large amounts of fizz. The body is bad-lager-thin and there's a vague dry, sour, burnt corn kind of flavour, a bit like nasty English keg ale -- Worthington's in particular -- only with fizz instead of nitro. Not pleasant, even though I was having it cold. "Cream" and "ale" are two words I really wouldn't associate with this travesty.
So, there you go: proof that ale -- lager's sophisticated cousin -- can be just as deserving of lager's reputation for bland rubbishiness. Remember that this Friday is lager time on The Session, and you lot can tell me whether your own local yellow fizz matches the quality of these ales.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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