30 April 2010

Dividing the geeks from the norms

It's not just its mountainous heritage that makes Blue Moon a watershed beer: it marks the separation point between people who like to drink beer and people who live to drink beer. In my experience, the norms universally love it while there are few beers that inspire such invective from the geeks. I'd never had it before so bought a bottle to give it an honest assessment. And I found that really difficult. On the plus side it's gently spicy, lightly carbonated and very easy drinking for a 5.4% ABV wheat beer. On the negatives, it's very watery and has an off-putting syrupy-sweet orange concentrate tang to it. I'd be tempted to let it past as a no-nonsense barbecue quaffer but I don't think I can forgive the combination of thinness and busy flavours.

What really honks the geeks off, however, is the presentation. Blue Moon was one of, if not the, first industrial macrobrews to try and leech some credibility from the craft beer movement by passing itself off as part of it. And it's still leeching. "North American Craft Beer" it says on the front (where it used to say "Belgian White" until the breweries of actual Belgium took them to court), but it's not craft at all: it's factory-brewed by Coors and is another part of their muscle-flexing in Ireland. The worst bit for me is the claim, straight from a cynical marketeer's focus group playbook, that it's "just a bunch of friends having fun making great beer". Grim.

Anyway, that's Blue Moon: take it or leave it. How about something else light and summery from Stateside with a bit more cred?

Brooklyn Summer Ale is a bright and clear amber ale, lighter than Blue Moon at 5% ABV but much fuller of body. There's a soft-water mineral quality to it, almost bordering on soapy, and there's a subtle mandarin-sherbet fruitiness at the back. It's tasty, sinkable and satisfying without being bland or any way cerebral. It's great to see an American summer ale that isn't a knock-off of kölsch or wheat beer.

Worth keeping in stock for any glimpses of the sun.

28 April 2010

Black Irish

Today is my blog's fifth birthday and I'm celebrating with stout. Two kinds, in fact: The Porterhouse's new Celebration Stout (far right) hit the shelves last week. This is a scaled down revamp of the 2006 10th anniversary edition, a mere 7% ABV, in 33cl bottles. It still packs a punch, though: very bitter, mellowed only slightly by notes of coffee and very dark chocolate. More than anything it reminds me of Wrasslers XXXX in a way that the new bottled version of Wrasslers doesn't. So far so good, but how does it stack up against version 1?

It doesn't. While the new one is great by Irish standards, Celebration Stout from 2006 is world class. There's not really any bitterness left after three and a half years, instead it's exceptionally smooth and mellow with a boozy cherry liqueur complexity that, if I didn't know better, would have me swearing blind that it's barrel aged. Mrs Beer Nut said it reminds her of the milder sort of imperial stout produced by De Molen and I can see where she's coming from. A celebration indeed.

It's possible that the bitterness in the new bottles is because it's still a bit green, having only just come off the bottling line. My hazy memory from 2006 is that the original had this sort of aggressive hopping back in the day too. I'll be interested to see how it pans out: time to lay in the bottles.

And while I'm on the subject of new local beers, I picked up a four-pack of Guinness Black Lager in Belfast last Friday, where it's currently being test-marketed. On Saturday I was doing a bit of brewing, as is my wont, and needed something easy-going to to quench my thirst. Ice-cold, straight from the bottle is the recommended serving style so that's what I did. Then I waited for some flavour. Vainly. Trying to ignore the wateriness I found a hint of the mild sourness which passes for character in bottled Guinness Extra Stout, but nothing that makes black lagers worthwhile: no fresh roasted coffee or dry crispness. Any kind of decent yellow fizz would render this pointless.

Best of luck with it, Diageo. Here's hoping it's the thin end of a schwarzbier revolution leading to better things.

26 April 2010

Under Napoleon's Nose

It was the draw of the Wetherspoon Beer Festival that led me, against wise council (cheers Ed!), to set foot in The Bridge House on my few free hours in Belfast last Friday. It was not yet 4pm so of course the place was buzzing. I felt a bit out of place among the other customers, what with my ability to walk upright and use tools. Had I shown them that I understood the gift of fire I don't know what would have happened. Perhaps I would have been made god of their loud and sticky hell. Anyway, there was nothing from the top flight of the festival listings available, and I settled for 3 Bees Oatmeal Stout. It's a solid, workmanlike performance, very dry for the most part, with a pleasant chocolate complication and a tiny bitter hop bite, shading towards metallic, at the finish, There's a certain charm to it, and it's inoffensive. Quite the contrast to Belfast's JD Wetherspoon and its clientele, in fact. I moved on.

Top of my Belfast hitlist was The John Hewitt, across town. Reputed as one of the city's best beer venues it's run as a non-profit co-operative apparently. The beer selection was not as good as I was led to believe: beer of the week was Cruzcampo, unfortunately. Two cask offerings from Hilden and Belfast Black on keg were the sum total of craft beer. I settled for a pint of Köstritzer and one of Hilden Ale before hitting the streets again, a little disappointed.