30 July 2009

Het Steir et Château

More Belgian beer today, I'm afraid. In fact, our glass has been runnething over with draught Belgian loveliness in Dublin recently. Last weekend, on the tail of the Porterhouse's 11-day Belge-a-thon, the Bull & Castle got in on the action with not only a bunch of draught Belgian beers, but a food menu to go with them. The mussels in lambic sauce was wonderful -- full of the hot wheaty smell of brew day at Cantillon. Framboise duck was another winner.

The beery highlight for me was draught Kwak -- deliciously sticky with major banana fruitiness, akin to drinking a banoffee pie. It sat in pleasant contrast to the hoppy sharpness of Poperings Hommel Ale.

The new ones on me were both Wittekerke witbiers. The basic one pours a bright, opaque yellow and is predominantly bitter and spicy, with only a hint of green apples holding up the fruit side of the bargain. The dry, almost sour, kick had me wondering if it's some sort of throwback to the days when this type of beer was fermented spontaneously. To take this edge off, they also make a version with raspberry syrup in: Wittekerke Rosé. It takes the edge off, all right, and everything else with it. You end up with an incredibly sweet syrupy pink beer of the sort any sane and self-respecting beer drinker would hate. I drained my half litre in about three minutes, but I wasn't up for another.

Dessert was one not from the weekend specials, but a regular that's been knocking around a while now: Steenbrugge Dubbel Bruin, the abbey beer from Belgian giants Palm with its ever-so-complex neck label arrangement. It's so-so: a touch of fruity bananas but not much else going for it. A real shadow of a strong dark ale when put next to Kwak, and I find it hard to believe this is the same beer I enjoyed on draught last time I was in Amsterdam. Maybe it isn't.

It's nice to have these little diversions from the regular line-ups in Dublin's decent beer pubs, though the rotating cask at the Bull and Castle is also doing its bit to keep my life adequately spiced at the moment. Long may that continue.

27 July 2009

Is that it?

I'm a bit conflicted when it comes to Sin É on Dublin's north quays. Like many of Dublin's trendier hang-outs it has a dark, shabby kind of air, which is probably not so noticeable when in its natural state of being packed to the rafters with sweaty youngsters under the nonchalant gaze of the DJ. I'm guessing here, though, as I've never been in after dark. During the day, it's a lovely little shelter from the bustle of the city and sitting at the bar reading a book or the paper is an experience which I'd always found greatly enhanced by the presence of Galway Hooker among the beer taps.

Alas, the Hooker is no more, so something else has to be selected from the small-but-eclectic range of draughts. The management have recently taken it upon themselves to begin importing kegs from the Van Steenberge brewery in Belgium under their own Big Hand Brewery label. I mentioned the lager, Sparta Pils, back here, and in a suspicious parallel to A-B InBev's core Belgian range, there's also a wit and an abbey blonde.

Pierre Celis was midwife to the rebirth of Hoegaarden. Celis White, we're told, is what he got up to in Texas after the big mean conglomerate muscled him out, recreated now in Belgium by Van Steenberge. The aroma is superb: full of spicy coriander. After that initial herbal kick it settles into a long dryness, refreshing and with just enough sparkle to set the gums tingling. Is it better than evil factory-brewed Hoegaarden? Probably not, actually, but it's an interesting step sideways.

The abbey beer is called Augustijn and weighs in at 6.5% ABV. It has a very similar honeyish nose to the Leffe Blonde it's clearly running after. Like Celis White, however, it quickly becomes dry and that doesn't work so well in this kind of beer. Fortunately, the textbook malty sweetness stays in place all the way through so that even though the hops leave it a little bit harsh on the end it's still a pleasantly civilised sipper.

Neither beer is especially earth-shattering, but variety in Dublin pub taps is always worth cheering on. Given the careful targetting of the styles, I doubt we'll see any great expansion in the range from Big Hand, bit I'd certainly welcome it if we did.

23 July 2009

Had your oats?

Finally, the refugees from my over-heated attic have all been liberated, with Broughton Scottish Oatmeal Stout the las