30 March 2011

Bipolar

We are between the seasons at the moment: a bit cold, a bit sunny, you could be tricked into having a beer outdoors only to have to scurry in blue-handed after two sips. So I'm thumbing my nose to seasonal drinking for this post and having a winter beer and a summer beer in one sitting. I think there's a definite touch of SAD in the way the Odell brewery has named them.

There's not a whole lot of winter comfort in the moniker Isolation, for instance. And, frankly, there's not a whole lot in the beer either. It looks the part: a rich chestnut amber, and 6.1% ABV is plenty for any amount of cockle-warming, but bizarrely it's all hop. There's a little bit of caramel in there I'll grant you, and some lovely gunpowder spice, but the dominant flavour is soft and succulent fruit. Overall you get a pleasant, easy-drinking and tasty ale that's hard to criticise for anything other than a lack of the oomph suggested by its winter stylings. Definitely a cheerier beer than the label implies.

If Isolation is the moody one, there's a slightly psychotic touch of the giggles about Levity. I'm sure the character depicted on the label is supposed to be leaping upward, but the illustration suggests a gentle swaying motion to me. Anyway... the visuals are a bit poor here: a murky and uneven haze with little more than a skim of froth passing as head. It's billed as an "amber ale" yet lacks the reddish tones normally found in these. On tasting, a blast of rough bitterness kicks things off, skewed by a touch of stale oxidation. After a second the malt arrives on the scene to calm things down and the end result is a smooth and full-bodied beer with a long aftertaste. Once again, and I'm beginning to think of this as an Odell signature now, the hop flavours are peaches and nectarines, sweet and juicy with barely a hint of tartness.

All that written and I've just looked back on my review of Odell St Lupulin from last year. A lot of the observations I had there I'm finding again here: nicely sweet and fruity but ultimately a bit boring for beers of this strength. I'll persist with the range and hopefully there's something to match the excellent IPA in there.

28 March 2011

New tack

It's Porterhouse Independent Irish Beer and Whiskey Festival time once again. And, also once again, they've re-jigged the way they're doing it. Instead of splitting the line-up across several bars, they've asked each one of Ireland's micros to supply just one beer and all of the 14 submissions are available across the estate including (apparently) London and New York. I called in to the Temple Bar branch on Wednesday last for the results of their annual, blind-tasted, competition of the festival exhibits. Just one overall gong this year, plus two runners up. And all worthy recipients too: first prize to Mel Camire for the fabulous Messrs Maguire Brown Ale, second to Franciscan Well's excellent Purgatory, and bronze medal for the newest arrival Metalman -- one hell of an achievement given the seasoned competitors they were up against. Metalman Pale Ale is now officially superior to O'Hara's Stout, Galway Hooker and Wrasslers XXXX. Tremble in your wellies, established brewers.

The Porterhouse's ever-generous hospitality gave us Beoir members the chance to do some comparisons of our own from among the festival listings. There was just the one new beer to me: White Island Wheaten Ale from yet another newcomer to Irish brewing: Fermanagh's Inishmacsaint. I already tried their lager (here) and was impressed, though perhaps more by the technical prowess than the taste of the beer. I reckoned the wheat beer would be more interesting. And it is, no doubt, just perhaps not in the way I'd anticipated.

As it happened I was surrounded by brewers when I brought the bottle back from the bar and offered it round. Every one of them recoiled in horror at the smell and screwed up their faces at the taste. I'm pretty sure this is wheat beer as no-one but the Good Lord intended it. It pours clear and starts with some fairly serious vinegar on the nose. The texture is highly attenuated, thinned out and barely discernible as a wheat beer at all while the taste is both sharp and sour with a major lactic sour-milk tang on the finish. I'm no Quincy, but I would guess that something in the lactobacillus line got in here and had its wicked way with the fermentables.

And yet, perhaps because I'm not a proper brewer, I thought it still had something going for it. Other non-brewers in the company thought so too. The thinness and sharpness is at least clean, with an interesting bite. Could it be that what we have here is a new lambic appellation? No, probably not. I would guess that if Gordon gets the right sort of feedback he'll have this cleaned up and tasting properly Bavarian in no time.

More's the pity, perhaps. It wasn't that long ago that brown or hoppy ales wouldn't have stood a chance in an Irish beer competition. Why not give the sour side a fair crack of the whip?

The Porterhouse Independent Irish Beer and Whiskey Festival runs until Sunday 3rd April.

24 March 2011

Classy little black number

And so we come to the final beer from the mixed (in more ways than one) stash Dave and Laura brought me back from France last summer. BAS Noire is from