30 November 2009

White geese

The beers of Goose Island are usually fairly recognisable, with their distinct logo and the name of the brewery in big letters. I'm not sure whether the white label Belgian-style ales are simply reflective of creativity, or if they're trying to pass these off as something other than your friendly neighbourhood goose.

The tripel (er, or not: see comments) in the set is called Matilda and pours a pale amber colour with very little by way of head, after the initial surprise of pouring this sort of beer from a screwtop bottle. That it's made with a Belgian yeast strain is immediately abundantly clear from the spicy aroma coming straight off the top. Expecting complexity, I was surprised at what happened next. The taste isn't much like a tripel at all. It's a touch thin and the dominant flavour is tannic. More than anything else it reminds me of sweet, slightly lemony, tea. It's quite a simple beer when it comes down to it, and I liked it for that.

The matching dubbel in the range is called Pere Jacques. It's appropriately dark, though like Matilda there's worryingly little sediment in it. They haven't bothered with the soft carbonation and thick foam of a Belgian dubbel, opting instead for decapitation and prickly fizz. Caramel and sherry dominate the aroma, and flavourwise we're talking nutmeg, molasses, plums -- all the usual stuff you would expect in a real Belgian dark ale, just without the weighty treacle body. Which, frankly, is a shame.

I paid over the odds for this pair (so did Reuben, for at least one). They're good, but they're not better than the Abt 12s, Tripel Karmeliets and Westmalles of this world, despite carrying a much heftier price tag.

26 November 2009

The old boys

Back here I mentioned that I'd set aside a box of beers for a year or so, just to see what happened to them with a bit of aging. In fact, the box has spent two years in my oubliette, though hasn't survived completely intact. The strong Belgian ale that Barry and Kieron brewed didn't survive last winter (and was delicious); likewise the 2007 Sierra Nevada Bigfoot, so I've started that process again by cellaring the 2008 and 2009 editions.

But the Old Engine Oil which prompted the experiment remains, and last week I nipped in to DrinkStore to grab a fresh bottle for comparison. The young one had the same rather subtle dark fruit flavours as I recall from two years ago: quality drinking, but with nothing really jumping out of it. And the older one was along very similar lines, but there was a noticeable difference. The fruity sourness had rounded out and become somewhat more pungent -- reminiscent of that almost solvent-like flavour you get with super-strength barrel-aged imperial strength stouts, only with half the impact and allowing all the gentle chocolate and coffee shine through as well. This extra complexity means that aging is definitely the way to treat this beer. It won't turn into the world's greatest strong dark ale, but it definitely adds to the enjoyment.

The last Rip Van Winklebrouw is a Thomas Hardy's Ale, purchased from Redmond's in 2007, though dating from the 2003 vintage. The nip bottle does its best to justify a €5 price tag with a unique number, gold foil and some neck bling. It'll have to do better than that, I thought, taking the cap off. The aroma asserted itself immediately -- that rich sweet pudding scent which I got from the fabulous Samuel Adams Triple Bock. With a slightly murky dark ruby colour, the texture is thick and heavy, but there's definitely a light sparkle there, and no syrup or unpleasant stickiness. The flavour has the sweet, yet bitter, yet dry character of crumbly high-cocoa dark chocolate. It's also nicely spirituous, which all adds up to a wonderful cherry liqueur chocolate effect. End-to-end quality and not a single bum note anywhere.

Apart from the question I ask all beers -- "I wonder what that stuff's like" -- the only other question I had for Thomas Hardy's was "Should I buy some more?", especially now that O'Hanlon's have stopped brewing it so there's only a limited supply floating about in Dublin. That'll be a yes.

23 November 2009

Down under, sub par

I seem to have an awful lot of dark beers knocking round the house at the moment. 'Tis the season, I suppose. But you always want what you can't have so I'm finding myself struggling to get through them, craving something paler and hoppier. Just as well my last homemade beer of the year is a big-assed US-style IPA then. But until that's ready for drinking, I'm clearing attic space.

Most recently, it was Coopers Dark Ale for the chop. What we have is an intensely fizzy dark brown ale, with an endless convection of yeasty floaters lava-lamping around in the translucent body. The texture is very watery, with little by way of maltiness other than a faint echo of caramel, detectable if it's allowed warm well up. The hopping isn't up to much, but a few seconds after taking a sip I got a slow-rising horrible pencil-sharpener metallic tang, which mercifully doesn't last long.

One for drinking quickly and never touching again, I think.

19 November 2009

A third of a century later

I wasn't at all impressed by BrewDog's misnomered Hop Rocker lager so haven't been inclined to run out and try their other lighter offerings. But enough positive comments about 77 Lager have filtered through to me to make me go out and buy a bottle of this one.

Universally described as very much a hops-forward lager, I was expecting something along the lines of Brooklyn's, but it's a much more intense experience. There's little to no restraining malt -- just super-resinous earthy hops. I kept having to remind myself that it's a pilsner rather than a full-on English IPA. The thin texture and light fizz adds to the cask effect.

I'm not at all sure I like it. It's just too unbalanced, and has that metallic flavour I often find from English hops in large quantities, though the earthiness meant it went rather well with some mature and gritty Bellingham Blue cheese. Nevertheless, I think I'll be sticking with good old Brooklyn as my hoppy lager of choice.

16 November 2009

Frankly Brunehaut

More organic Belgian beer in squat bottles today. The Brunehaut range are from the Wallonese town of the same name and won't win any prizes for originality of styles, being a witbier, a blonde and an amber ale.

Brunehaut Wit is intensely dry, with an almost powdery mineral character. When coupled with a strong lemon flavour the overall sensation is like drinking Lemsip, straight from the sachet. The Blonde is a bit better with pleasant peachy notes and a full body, though one which is in danger of tipping over into syrupiness.

Best of the lot, though, is Brunehaut Amber. It tastes hotter than a mere 6.5% ABV and complicates the booziness with some really interesting pear-like ketone flavours. Yet despite this, there's a lightness of touch which renders the whole very drinkable.

I don't think I've had many self-styled Belgian amber ales, but I'll be looking for more for comparison.

13 November 2009

Bitter pils

Above in Dundrum, Deveney's have a four-for-a-tenner deal on Flensburger at the moment. The 50cl brown swingtop is highly prized by the home brewer, so I picked up a few packs of Flensburger Pilsener, reckoning it'd do as the house curry lager for a while. But as always: before the vindaloo, the review.

It's bitter stuff, and not in a nice way. Seriously astringent with a sort of damp and musty flavour when cold. As it warms I get herbal waxy honey notes which render it a bit more drinkable, though not quite enough to make it enjoyable.

Still, never fear, the chillis are here, and their heat will make the nasty pils go away. Oh! Except they don't. What traces of clean lager malt were here get swept away by the curry leaving just the off flavours. Not even a Konkan vindaloo can kill this bad boy.

Sitting hard on the Baltic coast not far from the North Sea, I'll bet Flensburg is a pretty harsh place to live. If I'm right, their dour pils certainly captures the essence of the town.

With steadfast effort and lots of hot curry, I managed to get through all of my stash of pils, and next time I was in Deveney's I figured I may as well try the Weizen. This was much better. There's none of your fancy-free soft and buxom alpine wheatbeer flavours here, however. While the banana fruitiness is definitely present, its high spirits are tempered by a scowling dry, almost sulphurous, character that makes for a balanced and incredibly drinkable beer. The notion of a crisp weissbier sounds all wrong but it really works, in an uncomplicated spartan sort of way. I think this might be a much better match for my curry this weekend.

11 November 2009

The good, the bad and the Blondie

Rounding up last weekend's trip to Liverpool with some of the better beers encountered, plus a couple of stinkers.

Obviously, a trip to the Baltic Fleet brewpub had to be done -- an odd little ramshackle pub, squeezed between a busy main road and a vast building site near the docks. It looks like it hasn't seen a lick of paint in some time, and there was no sign of the Wapping Brewery, which lurks somewhere in the building. Wapping Stout was the order of the day, and a damn fine pint it was too -- strong, heavy, and brimming with big earthy hops. Just what you want on a chilly November afternoon with the wind whipping in off the Irish Sea (and through the doors into the pub as the greengrocer made his deliveries).

Initially I'd passed over the offer of Blondie at the bar, fearing another dull golden ale, but my interest was piqued when I read it's a wheat beer. I've had some very positive experiences of cask wheat beer (Barney's Brew; Curim), and this turned out to be another. It's quite sharp and citric, tempered by a calming dryness. It was being served a tad warm, but when cool on a summer's day I'd say it's a winner.

The previous evening, as I mentioned, we were in the award-winning Ship & Mitre. The layout is a little irritating in that the handpumps are spread out in groups around the central bar making it difficult to find out what's available when the pub is packed. Two milds were on: Wentworth Maple Mild sounds promising but is actually rather boring, being pale brown with just a hint of unpleasant phenols to break the monotony. Devon Mild was much better: sweeter and with more chocolate than I had expected, but with all the roasted coffee any mild fanatic could ask for.

Séan, meanwhile, veered away from cask ale orthodoxy when the possibility of some Little Creatures Pale Ale opened up. I've heard lots about this Aussie but had never seen it in real life. It's good stuff -- a rock-solid American-style pale ale with a very nice balance between green C-hop bitterness and toffee malts.

Pint of the trip was a beer I've had before, but never on cask. The Fly In The Loaf was pouring Fuller's London Porter from the cask and it is simply stunning. No. Wait. It's complicatedly stunning. There are all manner of things going on here: hot cross buns, licquorice, dates -- the works -- and all on a silky full body that caresses the throat. Gorgeous gorgeous beer. Next to it at the bar there was a Fuller's beer I didn't know: Red Fox. Very poor, this -- super-sweet and cloying, like crappy keg bitter.

One pint left, and it's where we came in, with local regional Cains. This time we were at their flagship boozer, Doctor Duncan's, as recommended by Melissa. It was just gone 4 on Saturday. The pub was busy with a variety of punters, from post-shopping families to watchers of football. We needed some food and I went to the bar to order. "We stop serving food at 3.30". As Séan put it, that's just like saying "No thank you, we don't want to make any more money". So despite the lovely shiny array of Cains pumpclips and some interesting looking guests, we just stayed for the one. It goes without saying that it was the Cains specialty Raisin Beer. This seems to have started life as an ordinary brown bitter without much happening in it, but the raisins definitely make themselves felt. They taste exactly like raisins -- not raisin extract or concentrate -- real, fresh (for a dried fruit, obviously) raisins. The flavour lasts for ages, and when combined with the malt produces a sensation similar to drinking a glass of Bran Flakes. I loved it, though it would have been nicer with a pie. Everything is.

(A more succinct run-down of the Scouse pub scene is also available, courtesy of Mr R. Scooper.)

10 November 2009

Drinking Europe

The European Beer Consumers' Union has, among its objectives, the support and promotion of the traditional beer styles of its member nations (an easy one for Ireland, that, since we don't have any of our own). So when we were very kindly invited to a tasting and rating event in Liverpool's Lady of Man on Friday night I was expecting some fairly orthodox beers from the Dutch, Danish, Swiss, Swedish etc attendees. Turns out I was wrong.

Well, mostly. The locals had given us bitter because, as I mentioned in my last post, you can't have too much of a good thing. First out of the polypin was King John which promised lots with its strong roasty aromatics, but proved a bit of a let-down by not following through on taste and being too thin of body. Skeleton was next, a simple yellow bitter with not much going on in it. George Wright's Pipe Dream almost follows it into the dullness trap, but had just enough hop aroma and bite to make it worthwhile.

The newest brewery in town, Liverpool Organic, sent along two bottled ales: William Roscoe is a strangely milky/lactic pale brown ale which I rather enjoyed, not least for its full and smooth body. My only IPA of the trip was called Shipwreck, and though Séan didn't approve, its orangey hop character made for a moreish beer which really struck a chord with me.

Beer always looks more interesting in someone else's table, and I gazed enviously at the bottles from Cantillon and De Molen being circulated elsewhere in the room. With my bitter-rating duties complete, I went on a raid to see what dregs could be gleaned. Laurent was very keen to show off his Swiss-made Irish red Rivale -- a vaguely caramelly, totally unhoppy ale which is characterless enough to blend in with the real thing, though not a bad palate-cleanser between the more involved brews.

It should probably go without saying that the Nordics really pulled out the stops for this, bunch of show-offs that they are. From Finland's Malmgård brewery we had a marvellously chocolatey strong dark and funky ale called Ceci N'est Pas Une Belge, a name which had this Magritte fan chuckling. Denmark's Hornbeer was represented by Caribbean Rumstout, a not-so-subtle concoction of serious chocolate and coffee notes in a hefty 11% ABV body, yet balanced enough to not let the phenols drown out everything else. Yummy stuff, but possibly one to finish the evening on.

Not that we did...

09 November 2009

A lorra lorra bitter

I went over to Liverpool on Friday with Séan, to represent Irish beer drinkers (what do you mean you didn't elect us?) at the meeting of the European Beer Consumers' Union -- a great bunch of people, and very sympathetic to what we're trying to do over at Irish Craft Brewer. I hope it won't be the last time we're in touch.

It was a highly enjoyable trip -- meeting up with my sister whom I don't get to see nearly enough of, as well as regular commenter Laurent and fellow blogger Melissa Cole, lovely people one and all. We visited some absolutely cracking pubs and I ate more pies than is probably healthy, but this sort of exotic food just has to eaten when in foreign parts, right? But there was one bit I didn't really enjoy, now that I think about it. I am sick to my eye-teeth of bitter. If I never see another pint of mildly hoppy, softly carbonated, yellow-to-brown ale, it will be too soon.

Things sta