28 July 2011

Cornish freedom

The nice people who do PR for the St Austell brewery sent me a box of the new one: Trelawny, a 3.8% ABV bitter, named in honour of a local hero who fought valiantly against religious tolerance in 17th century England.

Australian Galaxy hops are, we're told, at the centre of this dark amber beer. It's no hop-bomb, however, preferring subtlety and understatement throughout. The hops impart a fresh and succulent fruitiness: some nectarine, perhaps shading towards more tart plum and even rhubarb notes. The malt base is light and quite dry and tannic, something I always enjoy in English bitter. Putting them together you get a refreshing quencher designed very much for session drinking.

My only real criticism is that it's a little thin and gassy. While I'm sure the cask version cleans that up, I'm not sure if the lovely fruity hops would come out of that arrangement well. I'd have to try it on draught to know, of course, which I'd be very happy to do should I ever see it in a pub.

25 July 2011

Does this taste irony to you?

There's something just a little bit poignant about Goose Island Demolition in the weeks after the Chicago micro was acquired by Earth's largest beer company. The beer was brewed as a tribute to those who kept the Goose Island spirit alive as their Chicago neighbourhood was ripped down around them. Whether A-B InBev end up doing a different sort of demolition job on the brand remains to be seen, of course.

My bottle pre-dates the takeover by several months. In fact, it's over a year since it left the windy city and the label specifies it's best before six months. I was worried that the flavours may have done their own self-destruct job as well, but if they did, they've built a damn fine edifice in their place.

The vital statistics are a 7.2% ABV Belgian-style golden ale. I was expecting something Duvellish: quite bitter with lots of fizz. The carbonation is low, however, though enough to leave a layer of foam on top. The beer itself is rather dense, gold coloured with nonchalant floating sediment through it. The real action starts on the aroma.

First out is a sticky honey scent, quickly followed by light and succulent melon fruit. The middle eastern theme continues on tasting as the honey is accompanied by chopped nuts and buttery pastry, finished off with the mouth-watering juicy fruit. There's nearly mead-like quality to it, though it also reminds me of sauternes or similar botrytised dessert wine.

And it is insanely easy to drink. The light and subtle fruit flavours do a great job of distracting the drinker from the weight of malt behind it, and a dry tannic finish sets up the next mouthful straight away. The 650ml bottle is probably meant for sharing, but nuts to that.

Close the door and stage a demolition of your own.

21 July 2011

More Belgian tinkering

Witbier, blonde, amber: the standard trinity of styles put out by lots of middling Belgian breweries, where back-of-an-envelope market analysis trumps imagination and individuality every time. The Ghent City Brewery have also gone for the same three, but opted to make one significant change to the well-worn recipes: the removal of hops.

Presenting the Gruut range from Gentse Stadsbrouwerij: three plain looking Belgian beers with a slight twist. Gruut Witbier is a very pale and watery-looking yellow, the whitest wit I've seen. The aroma is normal enough: light spices like coriander, nothing unusual for this sort of beer. There's definitely something different going on on the palate, though. I get ginger up front, and lots of elderflower plus some light liquorice. The body is quite full, and leaves a sweet sticky sensation after swallowing. Despite this, it's an ideal summer refresher. And skunk-proof too.

On to Gruut Blond next. Lots of foam from this as it pours, the thick head atop a barely translucent yellow-amber body. A mildly chemical, chlorinated nose, but altogether more natural tasting. I get honey and jasmine plus a finishing bitter tang from the yeast. Though a mere 5.5% ABV, this feels lushly unctuous and is best enjoyed as a sipper. Too fast and it could turn sickly, I fear. Granted, if you're not a fan of sweet and thick Belgian blonde ales this probably won't float your boat either, but I think there's enough interesting and different things going on in here to make it worth a try. That's always the joy of unhopped beer.

After the haziness of the previous two, Gruut Amber's clarity was a surprise. It's rather more one-dimensional than the others: all caramel with only a tiny herbal piquancy stopping it from becoming an undrinkable sugar bomb. As a winter warmer it might fly: there's quite a bit of booze to the flavour and it's 6.6% ABV. On the patio of a sunny afternoon, however, it doesn't hit the spot.

These three are an interesting aside to mainstream Belgian beer styles and worth a look if you fancy something different, but not too different. In the absence of an efficient bittering agent, however, be prepared for a rather sweet experience.