28 January 2010

The Chicago way

Apologies for getting back on my boring old hobby horse about American wheat beers, but Goose Island 312 Urban Wheat Ale happened to be at the front of my fridge and needed drinking. Another one of those boringly thin and vapid witless witbiers? Well, no, actually. But nearly. At the base of 312 there's certainly a watery and dull bright yellow ale, lightly carbonated and easy to quaff, which is where a lot of brewers would stop. But the Goose Island magic wand has been waved over the fermentor, adding a layer of their trademark hop complexity, here coming out as a lemon sherbet sort of flavour. The aroma and foretaste are wonderfully fresh and zesty, but the finish is too sudden and tails off into nothing all too quickly. Yes, it's doubtless supposed to be a summer quaffer -- a high-class lawnmower beer -- and I feel a bit bad about criticising it for not being bolder than intended. But still: a more interesting yeast and/or some spices and this could be so much better.

Those beautiful sherbety hop flavours are put to much better use in Goose Island Harvest Ale. Here, the arresting zing of mangoes and melons are sat sparkling atop a rich deep layer of roasted malt complexity, spicing up the smooth nutty caramel notes and leaving a finish of sweet almonds. Criticism for the sake of it: the whole taste sensation stops a bit abruptly and it would be nicer if there were more of a mouth-coating weight to the beer. At 5.9% ABV it's not exactly a session beer and I don't think it's wrong to expect a little more bang for my units. Yet, one more mouthful and any misgivings are vanquished.

, it would seem, is the Chicago way.

25 January 2010


It was a miserable wet afternoon in Düsseldorf and for some bizarre reason we went for a long walk along the grey banks of the Rhine, towards the big TV tower. We decided we'd had enough when we reached the wobbly Frank Gehry buildings and discovered that one of them had a bar. Meerbar is a blingtastic lounge-restaurant, big on chandeliers, soft furnishings and beautiful people smoking languidly.

About the only minimalist feature was the beer list, and I spied a beer I'd not tasted in a very long time: Maisel's Weisse. I couldn't believe how intensely sweet it is -- no cloves or yeast or spices or warmth, just a big soft candy floss texture. You want to know what it's like to drink a pint of Sugar Puffs? Grab a Maisel's. After one of these, I was ready to brave the rain again, and try to walk off some of the calories.

At the opposite end of the salubriousness scale there's Bier Museum, a dark poky, scuzzy pub in Cologne which feels like it should be a den of denim-clad bemulleted German rockers, rather than the beer specialist it is. However it's possibly the oddest specialty beer bar I've ever been in. For a start, the twenty-odd taps have no badges on them, and the battered beer list doesn't tell you what several of them are. I'm guessing that the "rauchbier" is Schlenkerla, but which one I don't know and I wasn't going to ask the surly grunting landlord. And in a peculiar fit of city pride, a sign on the bar indicates a choice of 17 different kölsches. That's a lot of yellow fizz.

Our first visit was on a Saturday night when the place was buzzing and we got chatting to a young American soldier who was up from Bonn and finding life in Germany hard, with no access to Sierra Nevada. Aren't the army supposed to supply these basic essentials? We went back a few days later at opening time on a Monday afternoon and had the place to ourselves. I was reacquainted with some lovely Hövels, and then progressed to a warming mug of Kulmbacher Doppelbock. I loved this beer: full and sweet and smoky; pipe tobacco meets smooth milk chocolate. There's no cloying heaviness to it, and the light carbonation makes it immensely satisfying to sit and draw upon. I would definitely look for it again if it wasn't for one thing: as far as I can tell there's no such beer as "Kulmbacher Doppelbock". Either it's something else from the same brewery (which also owns the Mönchshof and Eku marques), or it's a substitute doppelbock from somewhere else entirely.

I highly recommend Bier Museum, but they really know how to wind up the tickers.

21 January 2010

Full of sound and fury

One of the many binomial beers from first-rate Dutch micro De Molen, I knew absolutely nothing about Donder & Bliksem before I opened it. The name, however, had me expecting a high dose of drama. What I got was an orange coloured pale ale which smelled of little and tasted of even less. That can't be right, I thought.

So I left it a while to warm up to see if anything interesting was going to happen. The flavour which developed was very much that of an English pale ale, with those earthy orange-pith flavoured hops. Bottle conditioning has left a mild aroma which smells primarily of yeast. Light-bodied and very drinkable, it'd be a great quaffer if it wasn't so strong, at 5.9% ABV. A solid pale ale and hard to fault; it's just that the presence of thunder god Thor on the label is pure false advertising.