30 May 2011

Hark the Herold lager thing

My recent review of Krombacher Dark was the second time I realised I've never put up a review of Herold Dark, despite having been drinking it in The Czech Inn and Pifko since before Christmas. Upon realising this, I found an idle moment to drop by The Czech Inn and take my time over a pint to figure out how it works. With a few lines of notes taken I went on my way. And then completely forgot about it again. So, before the amnesia kicks in once more: an account of Herold Dark, a black lager from Březnice, just south of Prague.

It certainly shouldn't be a forgettable beer. From a head the colour of old ivory comes a gorgeous lightly roasted aroma and on the first pull there's the sensation of a classic old-fashioned stout: impeccably smooth and tinged with a complex damson sourness. After a beat the sweetness kicks in, flooding the palate with condensed milk and brown sugar. Then at the end it turns dry again, clearing the way for the next sip.

More than anything I'm impressed with the balance of it all. The set of flavours it offers are ones that other beers get wrong far too often. Even in less complex efforts you get stickiness, you get metal, you get lactic tang, you get watery, you get gassy. Herold Dark deftly side-sidesteps all these pitfalls.

It's a lager I could drink all day and never get bored. Well worth darkening the doors of Dublin's Czech pubs for. And if The Czech Inn has pork neck on the specials board, get that into you too.

26 May 2011

The Shep effect

Shepherd Neame time again. I'd actually been holding off on boring you with yet another one of these, planning to build up a few more bottles and publish in one big batch. That would have been merciful. I'd had these two in sensory deprivation since March, but no new ones have arrived since, and then Thom wrote about how one of them was quite drinkable. That piqued my curiosity enough for me to fetch them into the light. So here they are:

Up and Under was produced for the Six Nations. It's a brown bitter, 4% ABV as all these Shep specials are. The aroma was slightly lightstruck, but not too bad. On the taste we're in very familiar territory: there's a sugary sweetness I've come to associate with this series, and a rising wateriness at the end. The milk chocolate malt aspect I've definitely met before, in a more terrifying aspect, in the woeful Tapping the Admiral. Here it's manageable. The slightly whiffy hops float about the aftertaste as well, creating a bit of a bum note, but not a jarring one. On balance, if there was nothing else in the pub, I think I could drink a couple of pints of this and not feel too hard done by, though I won't go so far as to say my €1.49 in Lidl was well spent.

On to the Double Stout, then. Drinking through the very impressive head I can see where Thom was getting the roast and vanilla notes from, I got quite a bit of caramel as well, with a long bitter finish in place of the dryness I was expecting. The roast is more in the rich and meaty category than burnt and grainy. It's nearly a very good beer and great value for money. Except... through it all I'm still getting that niggling wateriness and odd flashes of skunk. I'd be interested to find out if I could identify this as a Shepherd Neame stout in a blind tasting, but I feel I could. So while it may be dolled up as a stout -- trying a bit too hard with the paddywhackery label, may I add -- deep down this is just another one of those Shepherd Neame ales that Lidl sells.

With two months of quiet, could this be the end of the Brewmaster's Choice series at Lidl? A rest would be nice.

23 May 2011

Pep talk

With a label that looks like the nameplate on an upmarket nightclub, Pepe Nero is from Chicago's Goose Island, and purports to be a Belgian-style ale of 6% ABV. My bottle is very young, capped just ten weeks ago, and the makers state that it should be good for about 5 years. Perhaps the youngness is the reason it poured quite flat, with just a thin layer of short-lived foam on the murky dark brown body.

Definite Belgian dark fruit esters on the nose: the plums and figs of a light dubbel. The tasty is oddly vegetal, though. It has the dry metallic notes of asparagus and brussels sprout first which only afterwards lets any mellow fruitiness through. It needs a few minutes to warm up before it stops tasting thin, and at this point I got a little bit of chocolate and treacle with my vegetables.

An odd fish and I don't quite know what to make of it. It could well be that it's still a bit green and in need of a good cellaring. As is, it doesn't give you the satisfying fullness of a strong dark Belgian ale. Approach with caution.