28 May 2009

Won't you come to your senses?

I can't think of any beer that attracts the revulsion which seems permanently attached to Desperados. Admittedly, the concept of a beer laced with tequila isn't likely to sound attractive to anyone with a mental age over 14, but just because it sounds hideous doesn't mean it's necessarily going to taste awful, does it? I detected a bit of adjunct snobbery going on here and, eventually, I took the time out to buy a bottle and drink it.

I'm not sure what I was expecting, but I was pleasantly surprised. Desperados is not utterly disgusting. I'm not sure I'd even go as far as to say it's unpleasant. What it is, is very very sweet. The flavour is dominated by a sugary lemon cordial flavour which is indistinguishable from the sort of artificial fruit character found in luridly-coloured spirit-based alcopops. Mrs Beer Nut claims there was a hint of something medicinal, eucalyptus or suchlike, but it was completely lost on me.

Searching hard, there is a beer hidden under all the syrup: a very thin watery one, for the sake of appearances only. My feeling is that this is a "beer" for people who don't like the taste of beer, or tequila, or alcohol in general. It's a girly alcopop targeted at boys by giving it a macho name and a recipe which only just qualifies it as beer. It certainly disappears far too easily for something with a whopping 5.9% ABV.

So now I have officially joined the ranks of those who scorn Desperados, but not for the reason I thought.

25 May 2009

De La Senne and sensibility

We're still in hop country today, we've just moved a few thousand miles east. It's a big country, OK? The beer is my second from the relatively new Brussels beer company De La Senne, and describes itself as an "Extra Hoppy Ale". Given the iconoclastic nature of their excellent low-strength stout, I was expecting Taras Boulba to be similarly unBelgian. With the sediment settled, it poured the way crappy lagers in TV ads do: beautifully clear and golden and frothy. But the end result was a hazy pale yellow beer, infused with the reawakened yeast.

And that yeast anchors the beer firmly in its home country. Yes, there's a bit of juicy melon in there, and there's a finish full of dry, back-of-the-throat, tobacco-like bitterness, but that sharp tang could only be the result of Belgian ale yeast in all its gritty glory.

Far from a daring, bold new Belgian style, Taras Boulba offers us all the fun of Belgian bottle-conditioned golden ales in a highly sensible 4.5% ABV package. Bigger bottles please.

21 May 2009

Hop much?

The hopheads are taking over. Dublin's quality beer off licences are bursting with isohumulones these days, between the new-style hopped-up Belgians, some bitter delights from across the Irish Sea, and of course those crazy Americans and their IBU fixation.

Amid much rí rá agus ruaile buaile, Sierra Nevada Torpedo hit Dublin recently, and I secured one to bring home and dispose of safely. Everyone who'd already tried it warned me that it wasn't some hop-monster as the name might suggest; that this 7.2% ABV IPA is actually quite balanced. I'm not sure I'd agree with them. What's very true, however, is that it's gorgeous.

The aroma is zesty and clean -- none of your big boozy vapours here -- while the flavour is binary: it rocks between sweet marmalade and very slightly harsh, resinous piney hops, which just pitch over into lemon washing-up liquid right at the end. There's a solid, and actually quite sticky malt base to it. So why, in the name of sanity, is this hyperactive flavour orgy so damned easy to drink? It took herculean restraint to hold myself back from draining the glass before I could string any kind of verbal impression together. It's that tasty.

I'm not a hophead as such, nor am I attuned to the very finer points of hop appreciation, and that's why I will quite blithely announce that Torpedo is every bit as enjoyable as Pliny the Elder.

Next, I raised my hoppy game further by following up with Victory Hop Wallop, stronger at 8.5% ABV and paler -- just at the point where yellow becomes orange. And yet despite the higher strength it lacks the malt profile of Torpedo and is actually quite thin. But bitter? Oh my yes. Bitter as the day is long. Fell out of the bitter tree and hit every branch on the way down. Not harsh, or any way difficult, just very very charmlessly bitter. Of fruit, you get a chaste peck from a sugary mandarin orange at the start of each taste, before Dame Bitter comes round to claim her due. It's not that it's unpleasant, it's just not very enjoyable, in complete contrast to its tamer stablemate HopDevil.

Proceed with caution, is the message to those wielding the hopsack, I guess.