29 October 2009

Show us your dimples

Murray's is what you might call a boutique superpub. It's right at the, ehm, unfashionable end of O'Connell Street and has had a succession of names over the years. The current incarnation is perhaps a little bit more pleasant than some earlier versions, and on my visit the food seemed decent and some of the punters actually looked like they were gainfully employed.

What had me in there in the first place was news that they had a house beer now on tap. Not expecting much, I have to say I was extremely impressed by Murray's Lager. First thing that struck me was the serving temperature: see the frost on the glass in that picture? Exactly. I'd say it comes out somewhere closer to a cask ale: refreshingly cool, yet warm enough so you can actually taste it. And what a taste: Saaz, Saaz and more Saaz. The spicy bitter Czech hop is balanced by a candyfloss malt character, and the whole thing is tasty, extremely drinkable, and at a mere €3.30 is one of the best value pints in central Dublin. The cute dimpled pint mug, something I've never been served beer in before, was the icing on the cake.

All other things being equal, I'd assume this was a Czech import. It tastes a lot like Pilsner Urquell. The barmaid in Murray's even told me it was a Czech import. Except, the postering and font badge are promoting it as "Home Grown Beer" with merely "Imported Czech Hops". So, like Pifko Premium, Solas Lite and the TramCo range we have another mystery beer. It's great the way the beer choice keeps expanding, but why does the provenance have to be such a big secret?

Late late edit: apparently it's a rebadge of one from the Chotěboř brewery in the Czech Republic. Thanks Cliodhna!

26 October 2009

Eastenders

I was really quite disappointed with Meantime's India Pale Ale when I tried it last year. Still, I've been roaring through their amazing London Pale Ale ever since, and they're a brewery of considerable repute, so there was no hesitation when a bottle of Meantime London Porter crossed my path recently.

Like the IPA it's an historical recreation, conditioned in a corked 75cl bottle, and weighing in at a respectably hefty 6.5% ABV. The colour is a gorgeous dark ruby which just catches the light, and is topped with a long-lasting creamy head. There's a touch of roastiness on the nose, but it's not until the first taste that the action starts. My first reaction is digestive biscuits: slightly sweet yet slightly salty baked graininess. But the flavour continues, hitting milk chocolate notes as well as mellow dryer roastedness. It's really quite a wonderful experience, with nothing metallic, phenolic, or otherwise off at all. The smoothness of the carbonation carries it all along beautifully. This beer is a definite hands-down world classic.

I'm heading back to London in early December, for the annual round of work things that happily coincide with Pig's Ear in Hackney. I'm determined to get some other beery stuff done too this time, and was thinking of heading eastwards to Greenwich. Anyone know if Meantime opens for visits?

22 October 2009

Chico and beyond

The internationalism of beer is one of the things I love about it. Local styles are all well and good, but my respect goes to breweries who break the mould a bit, rather than produce another 3.8% ABV bitter / dry session stout / pale fizzy lager / [insert national beer stereotype here]. It was great to see Californian mega-micro Sierra Nevada looking to Germany for a revamping of their previous lacklustre wheat beer. What they've given us instead is Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, and a promise of authenticity you can take to the bank.

Open fermentation tanks and Bavarian yeast were enough to convince Al of its credentials, pronouncing it "pretty spot on". I'd agree with that, in general: it's appropriately cloudy and appropriately orange. There's a nice bit of weissbier banana, but not too much. However, I'm finding it a little lacking at the finish, with no sign of the cloves or hops dusting I'd be after. The body is a bit thin, and it's light on alcohol at just 4.8% ABV. So, yes it would pass muster as a Bavarian wheat beer, but it's just not on the money when put next to my favourite real ones. And where it really fails the quality/authenticity test is the serving size. I had a crisis trying to find a suitable glass for it. Sessionable weissbier is just not enjoyable in this sort of portion.

Funnily enough, I have the same observation I made when I tried the old Sierra Nevada Wheat last year: "Who in their right minds would go for a small bottle of American wheat beer when there's half a litre of Schneider-Weisse on the shelf next to it, probably for less money". It's come to this: quoting myself. Sorry.

The reach of Sierra Nevada goes even beyond Germany, however. Not content with harvest ales made with hops from their own estate and the next state over, they managed to lash another one out in the Spring made with fresh hops from New Zealand. Sierra Nevada Southern Hemisphere Harvest Fresh Hop Ale, appropriately for such a mouthful, comes in a very respectable 700+ml bottle, so no qualms about serving size here.

It pours a perfect shade of amber and gives off that lovely spiced herbal toffee aroma I associate with the best American-style IPAs. Tastewise, yes, it's very fresh and hoppy, but I got a bit of an unpleasant harsh resinous dryness at the end, around where I'd like to have been basking in peaches and similar soft succulent fruits. The bitterness also covers up what's quite a hefty malty body, delivering 6.7% ABV. Yet of caramel or toffee there's barely a trace, lacking the balance of the brewery's supposed hop extravaganza, Torpedo. Or at least that's what I thought: both Mrs Beer Nut and Thom had a much more balanced experience than me.

It sounds like I'm a bit down on the Chico guys, but I'm not. These two beers really are quality stuff, and the criticisms are purely ones of fussy personal taste. The conscientious attention to detail is to be applauded, not just because it gives a human touch to the beer, but also because of the incontrovertibly interesting drinking experiences it produces.