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.