30 November 2011

Ummm... okay then

"We have no Herold Dark, only the Semi-Dark" said the lady behind the bar in Pifko. I was extremely flattered that she said it first in Czech (I don't think I look particularly slavic at all, more's the pity) and then I paused. The Budvar tap started doing a pick-me dance, but I was there for Herold so Herold Granat is what I got. An experience at once interesting and slightly disturbing too.

It presents itself as a foamy nitrogenated dark amber-red beer, looking for all the world like one of those god-awful creamy Oirish reds or smoothflow bitter. The aroma was along those lines too: sickly and unappetisingly cloying. I didn't look, but I'm sure the Budvar tap was making a told-you-so face at this point.

Punching through the head and taking a sip I found myself in a much happier place. The sweetness is far more piquant burnt caramel than gloopy syrup, and it finishes with a gorgeous grassy burst of Czech hops. It's still pretty heavy, but the flavours allow it to be refreshing even as it fills.

Obviously the dark stablemate is to be preferred, but this is a pretty good substitute now and again, no matter what the Budvar tap says.

28 November 2011

Worth a thousand

De La Senne makes me want to be a better photographer. I mean, look at that label (you might have to squint and use your imagination a bit). It's wonderful. It should be on a billboard instead of a 33cl bottle on top of my beer fridge. I usually have my cynicism turned up to 11 when it comes to beer branding and image, but De La Senne rarely fails to turn my marketing-bullshit-proof wall to mush.

Sigh. Anyway, you probably want to know something about Brussels Calling, the beer behind the label. It's a typical sessionable De La Senne job, at 5% ABV, orangey in both colour and flavour. Unfortunately the yeast character interferes with the fresh fruit that I reckon is what the beer is supposed to be based around. While the aroma still has an enticing citric zip, the taste is mostly just giving me gritty yeast. I should have poured more carefully.

It's not you, De La Senne, it's me.

24 November 2011

Fade to black

I'll spare you my dim and blurry pub photography for this one, shall I? A couple of weeks ago the Porterhouse launched their second Czech Beer Festival which featured a new one they'd produced in association with the brewer from Purkmistr in Plzeň. Bohemia is a black lager made using authentic yeast from Pilsner Urquell. How authentic the rest is, though, is up for debate.

Comparison with the real Czech dark lagers on sale in Dublin is inevitable and I think Bohemia stands up well, if somewhat off to the side. Yes it's black; yes it's sweet; but it's nowhere close to the treacle explosion of the Czechs. Instead it's more subtle; the sweetness is there to offer counterbalance to a lovely burnt grain flavour that sits at the heart of this beer. While still quite heavy, the dryness keeps it very much on the drinkable side and while I'd personally prefer a little more coffee or chocolate, the molasses and roast barley combo gives my palate plenty to keep it occupied.

Officially, the festival only ran for five days. I hope supplies of this will last rather longer.

21 November 2011

Jury duty

I confess to having done a little jumpy-up-and-down dance when Adrian, festival organiser for CAMRA Northern Ireland, asked me to judge the Champion Beer of Belfast at their festival this year. I'm usually at the festival on the Saturday and have often missed the most interesting beers. An excuse to go up on the Thursday was very welcome. To see a CAMRA awards process from the inside was a bonus.

I arrived in a dark and rainy Belfast with just enough time for a swift half in The Bridge House, just a few metres from the festival venue. This is a vast JD Wetherspoon I've never enjoyed visiting before, but CAMRA NI have seen fit to elect it their pub of the year for the last two years so I thought maybe a reappraisal was in order. For a Thursday lunchtime it was surprisingly quiet, mostly office lunchers and a fair few ta