25 February 2010

Patron saint of hopless cases

I had vague recollections of hearing good things about Odell's St Lupulin when I saw it for sale. It's a 6.5% ABV summer ale, with a name that promises big things in the hop department. I'm never sure with strong American beers whether that's going to be a good thing or a bad thing. There's only one way to find out.

The beers pours a rather sickly and pale cloudy yellow -- my camera is being very flattering to it over on the right there. The aroma is bubblegum and lemon washing-up liquid: equal parts alluring and repellant. A grey yeasty deposit stayed over in the bottom of the bottle.

The first thing that struck me on sipping was the body. Disappointingly thin for such a strong beer with no mouth-coating effect leaving little by way of residual flavours. The first notes are a sharp bitterness, with a dull tang on the end suggesting some mild oxidation not quite covered by the citric west-coast hops. The flavour rises to a sugary Juicy Fruit crescendo, then crashes out into wateriness in quite an unsatisfactory sort of way.

In fairness the bottle didn't last long -- I sunk the whole lot in just a few minutes without dwelling on it too much, and maybe that's how it's supposed to be treated. It's just very odd to find a beer that has both sweetness and bitterness in spades yet offers very little by way of balance.

22 February 2010

Tribal imbibements

Friday saw me in Galway where one of the ICB lads had arranged a visit to Ireland's newest brewpub, Oslo in Salthill. Straight off the train my first stop was Sheridan's on the Docks -- a cosy watering hole where the beer list is conscientiously chosen and the macro taps are overshadowed by huge fonts for Budvar, Staropramen and Galway Hooker. It was a pint of the hoppy local that quenched my thirst before I moved on.

Destination two was a new pub for me. The Salt House is part of the chain which includes Oslo, and I was lured in by the promise of cask White Gypsy ale. Sadly, while the engine was in place, the tap was dry and I made do with a pint of Porterhouse Oyster. The pub is a narrow and compact boozer offering free wi-fi and a fantastic range of beers. The guest tap was pouring a deliciously spicy Messrs Maguire Weiss and I had that to accompany the burger I brought in from Mustard, a nearby restaurant under the same ownership. The Salt House is open from 3pm and is managed by James: a kiwi beer fanatic with a robust approach to customers seeking the bland usuals he doesn't stock. It's a definite must for drinking in Galway.

On then to Oslo, in the centre of Galway's seaside suburb of Salthill. This is on a much grander scale, stretching back from the front door along a long bar to a large saloon at the back. Windows here offer a peek at the stainless steel vessels of the Bay Brewery where John the brewmaster plies his trade. They don't have a kegging setup as yet so the beer is pumped directly from the bright tanks to the bar. Two beers are on offer at the moment: Bay Lager and Bay Ale. The former is probably going to come as a surprise to the unsuspecting yellow fizz drinker: it's orange and cloudy for one thing and tastes very dry and crisp. There's a touch of oxidised cardboard in it and I got a mild appley vibe as it warmed. Bay Lager is a work in progress, I'd say. The red Bay Ale is a far more rounded product. It's very much malt-driven and is full of sweet biscuity notes, though the hopping is generous too, adding a lovely fruity dimension to the finish -- definitely one of the better examples of the Irish red out there.

From the wide bottled selection I got a chance to try the 16-year Ola Dubh. It's not very different to the one aged in 12-year-old whisky barrels, but the phenols are more pronounced. It's tasty, but I think I prefer the milder incarnation. I wonder does the marker-pen taste get bigger and bigger with the ascending age of the barrels? If so, I dread to think what the forthcoming 40-year edition will be like.

The group adjourned to The Salt House afterwards for a few Hooker nightcaps and Galway was still partying when we turned in.

It was great fun and I'd like to thank Tom who arranged things and all the crew at Oslo and The Salt House for their generous hospitality. Oslo will be hosting the first Brewers on the Bay festival of Irish craft beer this May Bank Holiday weekend. It promises to be a fantastic couple of days.

18 February 2010

Suffolk 'n' tasty

Of the plain brown bitters commonly served in the pubs of London, Adnams is my favourite. There is, I think, a distinctive flavour to all Adnams beers. It's a crisp, dry, almost sulphurous mineral quality which I'm guessing comes from their water. And I love it. Late last year I noticed how it carries over into the winter session beer they make for Marks & Spencer. And then my local supermarket began carrying Adnams beers in bottles. I was all over that.

First up, Lighthouse, and props to whomever decided to put a 3.4% ABV beer on the market in Ireland -- a country where light lagers have to make it clear that they're at least 4.2% ABV or no-one will buy them, and where the only mainstream sub-4% ale goes to great lengths to hide its lack of intoxicating power (today's challenge: go to the swish new Smithwicks website and see if you can find out how strong it actually is). Lighthouse is indeed light, and the lack of body leaves it just a bit on the gassy side. The flavour is mild toffee and caramel, with that signature mineral character, perhaps just fading to soapiness at the end. All-in-all I found it very similar to the M&S one. On the far side of €3, however, it represents similarly poor value. Someone's having a laugh with the pricing gun here, I reckon.