29 September 2010

Please think of the tourists

Series beers are all well and good, generally speaking. It's pleasant to sit down with a range of beers which have been brewed to have something in common, and which are presented in co-ordinated outfits (though to actually do so may occasionally be inadvisable). Maybe it's the collector gene firing, but having completed a whole series of beers is much more satisfying than having just ticked one.

The unfortunate side effect is when the drinker doesn't get the chance to complete the series. I spotted Dark Horse's five matching stouts, in their oh-so-arty bottles, on the shelves of Ølbutikken with my hands already full of other goodies. The third one in the series struck me as especially interesting, but it felt wrong to take it while leaving the other -- doubtless excellent, but not as weird -- beers behind. Yet I didn't have a choice. Damn you, Dark Horse: if you hadn't decided to number them I'd wouldn't now be feeling I've missed something.

But enough ethics and angst; the beer I came away with is called Tres and is something I've never seen nor even heard tell of before: a blueberry stout. From the dark brown head on a treacle-thick body I took it to be a strong one, an opinion backed up by the heady chocolate liqueur aroma and foretaste of smoke, vanilla, cocoa and marzipan. It tastes very much from the imperial school of stout-making. No ABV appears on the label and I was very surprised on looking it up to discover that it's a mere 4.5% ABV. Session strength imperial stout? Yeah, I could go for that.

And where are the blueberries in all this, I hear you cry. Well, they're there, hanging on at the tail end for dear life. I couldn't be at all sure if real fruit was used as it's a slightly syrupy, sweet flavour. It could pass unnoticed very easily, I think, were the drinker not informed in advance of its presence. I question whether it really adds anything much to a beer which was already a powerhouse of taste.

A positive assessment for this one overall, and it's good enough that the absence of major blueberries isn't upsetting or annoying. It's enjoyable for what it is, distinct from any individual ingredient and from any of its sibling stouts. Which I'll probably spend the rest of my days seeking.

27 September 2010

Liberation, Celebration, Inebriation

A promising clear copper body, a tight off-white head and an alluring sweet biscuity nose are the introductions to Thwaites Liberation. It's a good start. At 4.9% ABV it's designed to be a beer of substance, albeit modest and dare I say sessionable? In fact it's the fizz more than the strength that would put me off drinking lots of it: though the texture is pleasantly weighty, the carbonation is just too high. One burp per mouthful is uncalled for.

I had been expecting lots of big toffee-ish crystal malt flavours from it, the sort of thing I normally get from copper-coloured English ales, but that's not the modus operandi here. It's fruity. Not in a yeasty, Belgiany, warm-fermentation way, though: I assume it's the hops that are giving it an upfront summer berry flavour, made extra sweet by the definitely-not-toffeelike malt base. I like it. It needs a bit of breathing to let the worst of the gas off, but turns into a decently drinkable red ale after that.

Even better, though, is Thwaites Double Century. I'm not at all sure I've ever seen a beer like this: relatively strong at 5.2% ABV but a deep gold colour rather than the reds or ambers one normally gets from this style. The head is loose but lasting and the carbonation gentle, but the flavour is delightfully odd. Where I was once again expecting malty weight, I got a light and slightly zingy fresh fruit character. There are peaches and mangoes and passionfruit. All very unLancashire, but damn tasty. On the down side, it's perhaps a little thin, and tends towards sickliness if allowed get too warm. But don't let that put you off. If you like Adnams Innovation (and you should) this is somewhere in the same territory.

After the disappointment of Nutty Black, Thwaite's are back in my good books.

23 September 2010

Blind tiger

The hardest rocking man in suburban Dublin, Mr Joe Elliott of Stepaside (erstwhile frontman of popular Sheffield beat combo Def Leppard) has teamed up with The Porterhouse to produce a beer promoting his latest musical project Down 'n' Outz.

It's a lager, suitably labelled in the new band's livery and presented in the Porterhouse's infuriatingly titchy 33cl bottles. The labelling itself presents a bit of a marketing issue, since the band seem to have based their logo on Heineken's brand. To then apply this to an actual beer is a bit odd, making the craft lager resemble Heineken from the outside. Maybe it's subversive. I dunno.

Anyway, I nipped up to Porterhouse North one afternoon last week to give it a go in the surrounds of the newly-refurbished beer garden. The pub wasn't open yet, as it turned out, but fortunately the management were around and Dave very kindly sent me home with some bottles of the newbie to try out.

It is, I suspect, a very close relation of Porterhouse Hersbrucker: a beer I cannot stand on draught but isn't half bad from the bottle. Cara Malt gives it a dark gold colour and a caramel sweetness, while the brewery's signature Galena bittering hop, finished with Nugget and Hersbrucker balance the malt with a fairly intense and complex waxy, grassy bitterness.

I like it. It would have been nice to have in time for summer as the flavour withstands chilling excellently making it a tasty refresher. It's certainly a clear cut above the standard macro lagers, so I don't see how it all went so wrong for Joe here:

(or link)

20 September 2010

Revenge is sweet, and slightly hoppy

I first encountered Payback Porter earlier this summer at Taste of Dublin, when the heavens opened and anyone with an ounce of sense left, while anyone with slightly more than that huddled in to the L. Mulligan. Grocer stand where all the good beer was. I only had a tiny taste but really liked it, so went out and bought a bottle to myself. Which I then forgot about until last week.

It's a bit of a beast, at 7.5% ABV in a 650ml bottle. It's probably better shared between two, in delicate stemmed glassware, but I wasn't in that sort of mood. Cue dirty great pint mug.

Nevertheless, it's very much a sipper: a silky creamy texture with big, hot, boozy flavours at the foundation, carrying with them mild notes of sherry and Irish coffee. On top there's a lovely portery roastiness, and the icing on the cake is a subtle, lingering lusciousness from tangy US hops.

A symphony in beer, and one of the best strong dark ones around here at the moment. As we sail into winter this is well worth having on standby in the cellar.

16 September 2010

Little Flavour, more like

Glutton for punishment or optimist? I don't know. I do know that I didn't really like Little Valley's Ginger Pale Ale a while back, and I also know that somehow the rest of the brewery's range ended up in my beer fridge, leaving me no choice but to drink them.

Cragg Vale was first up: a dark brown bitter which my good wife described as having an oily-hops-and-caramel flavour, proving once again that she has a far superior palate to mine. I just thought it was dull, verging on total tastelessness. Drinkable, but leaving me wanting something with real flavour immediately after.

It took a few days and a bit of sunshine to pluck up the courage to attempt Hebden's Wheat. This fizzy and worryingly clear yellow beer claims to have lemon peel and coriander in the mix, but the lemons only arrived when I threw the lees, which had settled to the bottom of the bottle, into the glass. There's not much else. I suspect that they haven't used a proper wheat beer yeast on this so there's none of the character you might expect from the Belgian or German alternatives.

Tod's Blonde was a bit of an improvement. Full body, good head and a great aroma -- grassy, like a top-notch pale lager. The flavour starts with bubblegum, then a fast-rising hard bitterness coming straight after. Balanced, after a fashion, but I don't think I could drink a whole lot of it. At the same time it's not really interesting enough to sit long over one considered bottle. Between two stools, this one.

Best of the range, and the only one I'd actively seek out again, was Withens IPA. I didn't pour this carefully as recommended on the label and ended up with big gobbets of yeast drifting lazily to the bottom of my glass. The hop aroma is full and funky, but doesn't follow through to the taste. It's a bit watery -- perhaps to be expected at 3.9% ABV -- a little bit soapy too. Redemption comes in the long-lasting bitter finish, making it quite a decent hoppy quencher all told.

Lastly, there's a stout in the range, rejoicing in the name of Stoodley. The carbonation is promisingly low and the head a lovely shade of dark tan. Lots of dry roast on the nose and an incredibly dry flavour, rather metallic too, just coming back to sweetness at the finish. Oddly there's no roast barley or black malt in here, so maybe it's the oats bringing dryness. They've bunged in some orange peel as well, but I've no idea what that's supposed to be doing. As a session stout, it's so-so.

And that's them all done. Yay! Can I have a nice beer now?

13 September 2010

Honorable alternative

Asahi Black seems to be one of those beers that's generally regarded in the UK as a paragon of mainstream quality. Over here we only get the pale one, contract brewed by Shepherd Neame in Kent, so when I noticed this in Brighton's Waitrose back in June, I snapped it up.

I'm glad I did too: it's lovely. A 5% ABV black lager it feels quite a bit stronger, having the big and slightly sticky body of quality export-strength stout. There are some very interesting smoke and burnt caramel notes as well, both in the aroma and on tasting. It finishes sweet and a little bit herbal with a touch of chocolatey grittiness.

I'd love to have a regular supply of this, and to see it in an oriental restaurant or two. And for anyone who thinks that using maize and/or rice in beer automatically makes it of poor quality -- get some of this into you.

09 September 2010

Joy through strength

A couple of big American IPAs for you today. First up, Black Diamond Jagged Edge. It's quite innocently pale without a whole lot going on in the aroma department. All the action is in the flavour, with a big marmalade kick delivered up front and given extra momentum by a heavy 7.3% ABV body. It doesn't do much else though, and I might have got bored had I not been drinking it next to some spicy Singapore noodles, to which it stood up rather well. Still, I reckoned it didn't have enough to it to justify a standalone blog post, so I went looking for something else to fill out another paragraph.

The result was Odell IPA, one I'd heard good things about from bloggers and Twitterers near and far. It's similarly strong at 7% ABV and feels much lighter and better balanced. I'd be interested to compare it directly with Goose Island IPA as they both have the same sweet mandarin-and-biscuit aroma and foretaste, finishing gently but firmly bitter. I'd say this has a little more bite to it, the mandarins turning to jaffas just on the end, but it's still beautifully balanced.

I'd been a bit sceptical about the whole Odell thingy, having been unimpressed by St Lupulin. The rest of the range are now on my to-buy list.

06 September 2010

All right, you got me

There's obviously something to this whole online viral marketing thingy. I'm more-or-less past the stage where I buy every new beer that becomes available in Dublin off licences. It's all the fault of the importers and retailers who are much better at their jobs than this blog requires them to be. Especially the guys at DrinkStore who take great pride in cramming tiny amounts of everything onto their shelves and into the "Tardis" stockroom. I'm in there fairly regularly, but I'm quite circumspect. If the price is over a tenner, I may not even buy the beer. Ordinarily, though, I'll take a bottle and give it the literal once over.

And then along came I Hardcore You, following a trail of panegyrical reviews from people who aren't generally known for their fawning fanboy antics. People like Zak Avery for instance, who was one of many to point out that one I Hardcore You is never enough. Look for a voice of dissent in the comments and you won't find it. Since a mere two cases of the beer had been delivered to DrinkStore, I took the unprecedented step of buying two bottles. Just in case I liked it and there was none left later.

Before the beer, the facts: it's a blend of BrewDog Hardcore IPA and Mikkeller's I Beat yoU. It's 9.5% ABV and dry-hopped several times. It should be a monster.

But, as everyone keeps saying, it's not. Slightly hazy, and a dark shade of amber, there's actually very little sign of all those dry hops in the aroma -- just a little wisp of grapefruit curling out of the glass. The head is short lived and it's quite full-bodied, yet sparkles enough to clean the palate as it goes.

Yes there's a hop burn, a jolt of acid on the first taste, but it's more than a one-dimensional hop-bomb. I got eucalyptus, vanilla and elderflower alongside the more normal pine and citrus. As to the much-vaunted drinkability, I'm not really seeing that. This is a sipper, and I enjoyed taking my time over it, watching the sun sink over west Dublin. I did not feel the immediate need to open the second bottle. In fact, I think I'll leave that one a while and see how the sharpness rounds out.

Not a monster, but still totally hardcore.

03 September 2010

Looks aren't anything

Session logoThe way Americans talk about breweries -- the physical beer-making bit -- can be quite jealousy-inducing. It seems to be generally taken for granted that breweries are visitable attractions, rather than merely functional workplaces. So, for this month's Session, Maine-based The Beer Babe has asked us to go along to one of our newest local breweries. Now, we're not short of new breweries in Ireland this year, I'm delighted to say. But you don't just roll up to an Irish craft brewery and expect the door to be open and the tasting bar set up. And you certainly don't expect it to be pretty.

Irish breweries look like this:

(White Gypsy)

or this:

(Galway Hooker)

or this:

(The Porterhouse)

You get the idea. None, as far as I'm aware, has ever won an architectural award. And it's only on special occasions or by prior arrangement that anyone other than the staff see the inside.

Fortunately for the timing of this Session, both of the newest breweries had such open days over the summer. Trouble hosted a delegation in July, and just a couple of weeks ago the Dungarvan Brewing Company (right) rolled up the shutters, fired up the barbecue, and invited some visitors in. They even threw in an historical walking tour of the town.

Production is running at full tilt at the moment, which is very encouraging. With the three main beers -- Helvick Gold, Copper Coast and Black Rock -- becoming increasingly well-established, especially locally, attention is turning towards specials and seasonals.

The first of these made a brief appearance at the open day. The brewery has been working with a restaurant in the next town over to produce a special beer and curry menu. From what I've heard, the first few have been huge successes and are about to become a regular occasion at O'Brien Chop House in Lismore. While I'd be very surprised if there were any complaints about the fitness of Helvick Gold to match spicy food, Cormac has put together a Lime and Coriander Wit. It had only just gone into the bottle, so was perhaps a little green still, but it packed a big sharp citric punch -- tangy yet with a definite fruity softness, reminding me of lemon meringue pie. I doubt it will have any difficulty cutting through even the hottest curry on offer. I hope to find out first-hand some time.

I'm also really looking forward to more seasonals and specials from both of the new kids, and even more to the next brewery bringing craft beer to the Irish market. Inishmacsaint Brewing Company is due to have beers at the Belfast Beer & Cider Festival in November. Can't wait.