31 January 2011

Mild at heart

It's back! The first new beer out of the revived Messrs Maguire brewkit arrived just over a week ago. It's currently sporting branding proclaiming it to be "Bonza Brew", but I imagine that after Australia Day festivities cease it will go back to being plain old Messrs Maguire Brown Ale.

I confess to being a bit skeptical when I first heard about it: an American, brewing a brown ale, for an Irish pub? This is going to be really sweet isn't it? But when I first tried it all doubts were cast aside: what we have here is proper actual mild, and lovely to boot. Under a loose-bubbled ivory head broods a murky dark brown beer with hints of red around the edges showing very obviously that this stuff has never been near a filter in its life. And that stands to it when it comes to tasting: there's a major fresh-ground coffee foretaste, roasted and a little bit gritty. This is followed by a light plum sourness and a little hint of banana as well. Mostly, though, it's about those lovely roasted brown malt flavours. If you like beer which has had the bare minimum of dicking about done to it, this is one to go for. Sinkable and all as it is, a note of caution must be sounded at the ABV: 5.5% will sneak up on you. I'd have loved to see two or so percentage points knocked off that, but you can't have everything.

It'll be interesting to try the cask version. I find it hard to imagine there'll be much difference but will be finding out for certain in a couple of weeks at Ireland's first Cask & Winter Ales Festival hosted by the Franciscan Well in Cork from 11-13 February.

But back to MM. For the launch of the new beer, Mel kindly invited a bunch of us from Beoir down to the basement bar for a tasting. We got a tour as well and, as someone who's been a regular in the pub for a dozen years, it was interesting to finally get a look behind the scenes. It's surprisingly big, for one thing, the fermentation vessels occupying space below the pavement of Burgh Quay, edging on to the foundations of O'Connell Bridge. A tour bonus was Haus lager fresh from the conditioning tanks: cloudy and alive with flavour the way German kellerbier is supposed to be but rarely is, in my experience.

A big thanks to Mel and the MM crew for inviting us in, and here's looking forward to the next round of interesting brews from the MM kit.

27 January 2011

Rum customers

I completely understand those who take a "just say no" approach to spirit-flavoured beers. There are some truly dire examples out there: bad base beer, loaded with sugar and artificial flavourings, and covered in alcopop-style kiddie branding. Not what anyone who actually likes beer wants from a beer. Today I'm looking at a couple of British ales that take more of a mature stance to spirit additions, both employing that important commodity of the Empire: rum.

Marks & Spencer Wiltshire Rum Beer is a dark shade of amber, pouring fizzily with just a subtle aroma. I was relieved not to have my senses assaulted by jarring sweeteners and flavourings; instead it smells gently floral with perfume and a hint of sticky toffee pudding. On tasting the first flavour that jumps out is honey: that herbs-and-lavender on sugar of the dark unctuous variety. Past that there's actual beer -- you get the toast and green veg of a solid, dependable English strong ale. Yes, it is sweet, but nothing sickly, cloying or any way reminiscent of the pseudo-alcopop genre. In fact, there doesn't appear to have been any additional sugar or flavourings according to the ingredients listing, just rum and the base beer Wadworth 6X. My only criticism is it's too gassy, to the point where the abrasive bubbles get in the way of the mellow flavours. Oh, and the price too, of course, but that's to be expected from M&S.

I can't remember what I paid for it, or where, but there's definitely no criticism on the carbonation front for Innis & Gunn Rum Cask. You get a lovely tight layer of foam and a fairly gentle fizz to carry the flavours. Unfortunately the flavours being carried aren't great. From the outset it smells both sticky (the same cloying buttery vanilla yuck that is the brand's hallmark) and vinegary. Now, my bottle was a few weeks past the best-before, but it's not like it's bottle conditioned or anything. I think the sharp sourness may be a feature rather than a bug.

It's certainly present on the flavour. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that it helps clean the beer up, putting a bit of an edge on the overpowering oak taste. There's a bit of cardboard at the back, and that I can perhaps put down to the bottle's age. What I don't get at all, though, is rum. Looking at the box I see that the contracters have given it thirty days in fresh American oak and then another thirty in a rum cask. No surprise, then, that the fresh oak won, trampling over any molasses or caramel or spices or any other traces that there was once rum here. If Innis & Gunn is your kind of thing then you may enjoy this barely-changed brand extension, but it's definitely not for me.

I've surprised myself by picking the beer directly flavoured with rum over the barrel-aged one. What it perhaps shows is that the quality of the base beer counts far more than the post-fermentation processes, quality that Wadworth 6X possesses but Innis & Gunn doesn't.

24 January 2011

Give and take at Aldi

Since it first appeared, plaudits have been rolling in for Aldi's Specially Selected Traditional Irish Ale, brewed by Carlow Brewing. It adds an extra interesting layer to boring old red ale with its rich and roasted flavours. Heavy, warming and very satisfying to drink, though only in 33cl at a time. It was a welcome addition to Ireland's supermarket beer. Only now it looks like it's gone again. There are reports of occasional four-packs in Aldis around the country, but in general it seems it's on its way out.

At the same time, Aldi have two new Irish brews on the shelves. It doesn't say where they're from, other than "Ireland" and the branding is "O'Shea's".