28 April 2009

Fork handles

The snow was thick on the ground as I sauntered down Chausée d'Ixelles in Brussels, one crisp clear day last January. I stopped in at a familiar convenience store to pick up eight cans of Rodenbach. "These will do for outdoor drinking when it gets warmer" I thought.

Today, there's still a bit of a chill in the air but the sun has been shining warmly all day. It has been a long and arduous one for me, so I've come out back to celebrate my blog's fourth birthday with the first of the summer Rodenbachs, a beer I've not tasted in the years I've been writing this.

And it's still brilliant. It has a power to refresh and revitalise like no other beer I know. The lightness of touch is sublime: a fizzy cleanness that maintains the refreshment quotient, just enough sour woody flavours to keep the palate awake and interested, plus a dryness that leaves it begging for more. Cold from the fridge, Rodenbach is the supreme lawnmower beer.

27 April 2009

Adding insult to hot ash

You have to feel sorry for poor old Gaius Plinius Secundus. Being buried alive in several tonnes of burning hot ash following the eruption of Vesuvius was probably bad enough, but the indignity of having one's name mispronounced on a regular basis must be far worse. For the record, the American Heritage Dictionary will tell you how to say it here.

Pliny the Elder is one of two from Russian River in northern California which were a gift from TheBeerGeek crew, and is a particular favourite of Chris's. I can see why. It's a strong IPA, and pours a pale marmalade colour with a light, even haze through it. Bitter? Oh yes, in a big acidic way. And yet it's not difficult or corrosive like some super-hoppy beers can be. Oranges dominate the flavour, in that oily way which reminds me of a Terry's Chocolate Orange minus the chocolate. I didn't get any grapefruit character until the first burp, which produced a taste sensation similar to chewing grapefruit rind. The label exhorts the drinker to consume it cold, and I think it might have been even more enjoyable if I'd been drinking it below 12°C, but it's a damn fine beer however you look at it. I've had bitterer; I've had hoppier; I've had stronger. But what we have here is what passes for balance among west-coast hop-bombs. And it works.

Second up is the marginally more sessionable (6% ABV) Blind Pig IPA. Here the fresh and zesty grapefruit flavours are right at the front. There's not a trace of harshness: instead it's soft and juicy, with hints of honeydew melon. The malt is just about detectable at the base, but it doesn't add much by way of warmth or weight. Instead, we get an easy-going well-balanced IPA which is all the more enjoyable for coming in a half litre bottle.

I've been listening to Chris raving about Russian River for a while now, and having tried two of their beers I can definitely say that the hype is worth believing.

23 April 2009

The darker side of empiricism

It's always a risk, going drinking with someone who has studied beer packaging technology at university. They end up making impulse purchases of stuff in shiny cans and expect you to help them drink it. But at least they have the decency to be ashamed of it, don't they Thom?

So it happened that in a gigantic sports bar in the centre of Cork last Saturday I found myself sharing a bottle of Bud served from the new "aluminium bottle" which Diageo are currently foisting on the Irish market with an all-pervading advertising campaign. The unique selling point is that it's served at -5°C from a special fridge, though if it actually was when the lid comes off I suspect that this 4.3% ethanol solution would freeze solid.

Either way, however, it pours out bloody cold. And rather unpleasantly thick too -- gloopy, the way vodka goes in the freezer. The big up-front taste (yes, there is one) is apples. It's a long time since I last tasted Bud, but I don't remember the apples. It quickly vanishes though and you just get water and gas, until the finishing surprise. We were drinking from glasses, which I don't think is the intended method of dispense, yet there was a major metallic tang left behind after swallowing. I'm guessing that straight from the bottle it would be even worse.

So there you have it: Bud isn't very good. I'm actually rather surprised at the flaws, given what I've been told about the impeccable quality control procedures at the brewery in Kilkenny where they apparently take every imaginable step to remove all flavour from the beer -- I was expecting fizzy water and nothing more. Turns out it really is bad beer. Who knew?