28 February 2011

Monster of rock

It's all been a bit grim on the British beer front on this blog of late: crap from such luminaries as Sheps, I&G and some bunch in Yorkshire who don't understand lager. Perusing the shelves of the offy (yes, I'm back on that topic again), there's not much by way of exciting British beer. Nothing from Thornbridge, or Otley, or The Kernel. Not even anything interesting from the MolsonCoors family, and they're running an office over here. Cuh!

So I have to rely on my personal contacts and dig deep into the back of the stash. Hardknott Granite 2009, a gift from Dave ("brewer, doer, force majeure" for those who don't know him or his business cards), makes a big song and dance about how it should be aged. But sod that: I'm thirsty. Two seasons in my attic should be plenty.

The first thing that struck me about this 10.4% ABV barley wine is the colour. It's an opaque brown rather than the more normal dark ruby. The texture is heavy even by the viscous standards of the style and the air around it is quickly filled with heady vapours of burnt caramel studded with citric hops. On tasting, smoke rises to the front of the palate followed by toffee, oranges and wholemeal digestive biscuits, finishing a little bit metallic and leaving a kiss of treacle on the lips. A lot going on, but it's the big body rather than the myriad flavours that make this a beer to savour slowly. Dave's suggestion that it's one to go with strong cheeses is absolutely spot-on.

I'm in the unusual position of suggesting that maybe this would work better in smaller bottles. I don't think I've ever said that before. A nip of this would be lovely, and a stash full of nips even better. Or big sharey 75cls would be good too. But Hardknott is still a relatively new operation and it seems likely that this kind of add-on will have to wait (fledgling Irish breweries please take note: life doesn't end at 5% ABV). For now, however, I'm content with a half litre, though I'd be perfectly happy to share the next one. If I had a next one.

The sudden return to English beer in Irish offies is a harsh comedown.

24 February 2011

Not worth the trip

I don't really understand the rationale behind which beers get imported into this country, particularly from the US. Surely with hundreds of first rate brews to choose from only the very best would be deemed worthy of being packed up and shipped across the ocean. But there's an awful lot of very average stuff out there.

Take Brooklyn's Pennant '55, for example. It's not kidding with the sports branding: this is a beer to buy cheap and drink when you're concentrating on something else. Toffee is its chief flavour feature. It's fairly light at 5% ABV and tastes stickier than it actually is, which I quite like. For hopping there's a vague air of raisins and it winds up with a strange soap-powdery effervescent tang. There's really not much wrong with it, it's just completely unexciting.

The other side of the pointless imports is the beers that are exotic for their home market but rather mundane here. Admittedly, American breweries' idea of Oktoberfestbier is unique all to themselves, so the fact that we get lots of the real German variety perhaps shouldn't be viewed as overlap. I'd be more forgiving if I actually liked what the statesiders have done to the style.

Brooklyn Oktoberfest is the usual shade of dark amber. Thankfully it's not as sweet as most of these -- Samuel Adams Octoberfest I'm looking at you -- and it's quite easy drinking. There's a big grainy flavour at the front, finishing dry and even a bit smoky. There are no discernible hops and no aftertaste. Again, I'm not incensed by it, but I just don't really see the point.

Come on, beer specialists, let's put some more oomph into the imports and leave the everyday drinkables to the breweries closer to home.

21 February 2011

You call this doppel?

Just the other week I remarked, with regard to Schlenkerla Eiche, at its ease-of-drinking for a doppelbock, a type of beer I associate most with big sticky textures full of burnt caramel. At least, that's my memory of things like Salvator and Maximator, though it's a while since I've tasted any of them.

On a trawl through Redmond's recently, I picked up a bottle of Doppel-Hirsch for the missus, scarcely noticing, of course, that the swingtop bottle would make an ideal addition to my homebrew bottle collection once she had emptied it of beer. I was surprised to find that this is yet another light and easy-going doppelbock.

It came out the appropriate shade of mahogany, though quite flat. Caramel sweetness is of course the main flavour and aroma element, though the taste is balanced with just a bit of liquorice. But that's it, and to be honest there's not much of either.

Have I got doppelbock wrong? Are they all like this? I need to return to the classics soon.