29 March 2012

Wotcha Coq

"Triple Filtered" isn't a good thing when it appears on spirits; I don't know why the makers of A. Le Coq Premium Extra thought it was something to boast about on their label. This 4.7% ABV Estonian lager pours a very pale gold, though gives a decently fluffy and lasting head. Appley sweetness predominates, almost to the point of becoming difficult to drink: think watered-down tramp juice. The carbonation is quite low, which I'd normally take as a good thing, but here it severely hinders the refreshment abilities of a beer that's not capable of making a more positive contribution to the drinker's experience. Even stranded in Tartu I'd have to think twice about ordering one of these.

I have greater hopes for Special 1807, despite the clear glass. Black and gold label, and "Jubilee Edition": it's not going to be any old crap is it? Actually, it's not bad. 5.2% ABV and very smooth in a helles kind of way, with no bum notes. Not a whole lot else, mind: going for dry, crisp and clean and pretty much hitting its target.

In the absence of anything better, I could drink this. That's approval of a sort, I suppose, though I can't help wondering why a brewery capable of something this neutral -- a technical achievement, if not one of flavour -- is turning out lager as flawed as the Premium Extra.

26 March 2012

Warming to the Americans

I mentioned recently that I'd put away my Belgian winter ale stash for the season, but I also have a couple of Americans that have been hanging around since the colder days and I'm nowhere near as confident about their ability to see the summer through and stay any way fresh, so I guess I'd better drink them.

Brooklyn's Winter Ale came my way via Stephen of The Beer Club. Much as I'm a huge fan of Brooklyn Lager, I've not been all that enamoured by anything (much) else they've produced. This one pours thickly, a chestnut red, topped by a reluctant head. Oddly, despite, the heavy texture, there's quite a lot of fizz. The taste is pleasant, however: predominantly sweet, I get lots of chewy toffee livened just slightly by top notes of milk chocolate, brown sugar and raisins. At 6.1% ABV I think it meets its specification as a warming winter ale quite well.

I'm immediately reminded of the discussion over on Boak & Bailey a while back about Burton Ale, and the thesis that this once-popular style of dark, strong sweet beer is not in fact extinct but merely travelling incognito, under names such as "winter warmer" and "strong ale". I think we may have a contender here, or at least an easy reference point for Statesiders looking for a Burton Ale example.

Flying Dog's K-9 Cruiser is a notch up the alcohol scale at 7.5% ABV. Colourwise it's in a similar vein, perhaps a little browner than the Brooklyn. The nose is sweeter, suggesting treacle or golden syrup, though there's much more of a hop presence. The first hit on tasting is a tangy bitterness followed quickly by a candy fruitiness of the sort found in lurid sweets whose ingredients are little more than sugar and a string of e-numbers. It's pleasant for all that, if a little uncomplicated. I think it lacks the malt richness of its northern counterpart and despite the bigger ABV its warming properties suffer as a result. But I enjoyed it overall and I think we can probably file it as another American cryptoBurton.

Funny what you notice when you start to look for something.

22 March 2012

Loaded at the docks

Finally, the event space down at George's Dock in Dublin's financial quarter has been given a use worthy of its potential. I've reported before on the so-so Oktoberfest that happens down here, and last weekend Irish beer got a look-in for the first time as the Carlow Brewing Company put together the first St Patrick's Craft Beer Festival.

Most of the independent Irish breweries were represented at the long festival bar, with a mix of regular and seasonal beers. I was along on Thursday, Friday and Sunday with my hit-list, as well as to represent Beoir and talk to punters about Irish brewing history whether they wanted to learn about it or not.

First and foremost we had the welcome return of Porterhouse Chocolate Truffle Stout after a two-year absence. And it's in superb form: bursting at the seams with smooth real chocolate sweetness, tempered by just the right level of dry stoutiness. I'll be having plenty more of this before it runs out, and earnestly hoping we won't have to wait as long for it again.

Knockmealdown Porter
This was also the first I'd seen of Eight Degrees Knockmealdown Porter on draught. With low-to-no nitrogenation it was every bit as good as the bottle. All of the liquorice bitterness, sticky burnt molasses and the tangy hop bite were present and correct, made all the better for coming in a grown-up serving size. (There's now a tap at the spanking new WJ Kavanagh's on Dorset Street: get down there).

Other familiar favourites included the all-too-rare cask editions of O'Hara's Leann Folláin and Curim Gold, plus the dark amber hop epic that is Messrs Maguire American Pale Ale. The latter was badged anonymously as "Seasonal Special", which hopefully kept the riff-raff away from it and ensured it was available all weekend.

MM APA's moment in the sun is fading, I believe, and they also had its replacement lined up: the new version of Messrs Maguire Porter is a decent and quite dry effort, but not terribly exciting. It probably warrants some closer analysis when it eventually shows up in its home pub.

The hosts made much fuss about their new ale, billed as a "dark IPA" and named, following a public competition, "Perfect Storm". This is an experimental blend of Leann Folláin and O'Hara's IPA (how very Mikkeller!) and it's a battle that the stout is winning: a big sweet chocolate hit dominates the taste with only a mild fruitiness backing it up. For the next iteration I'd suggest seriously ramping up the IPA levels in the blend, and then dry-hopping in the cask (but I would say that).

It was great to see Hilden's Twisted Hop making one of its first appearances south of the border -- it was also on at The Black Sheep where I snapped its picture on Friday night. This pale ale started out as a special but has become a regular, the way good specials often do. It's a golden-coloured pale 'n' 'oppy affair, offering a light white pepper piquancy rather than a full-on alpha-acid burn, as well as some gentle peachiness in both the aroma and flavour. Very sessionable, all-in-all, and I hope we'll be seeing more of it.

Warning: may start spraffing
about Manders Brewery
Irish accents seemed a bit thin on the ground when I was at the festival, and I met a fair few serious beer geeks from the US, the UK, Italy and Sweden. Having an event like this to show the diversity of Irish beer to the visitors who have come to Dublin for our National Day is not just nice: it's important. I really hope this becomes a permanent feature despite the seemingly endless red tape the authorities appear to have put in its way.

And the festival calendar rolls on, with little over a fortnight to the Easter festival at the Franciscan Well. If you're planning a visit to Ireland this spring, it'll be worth your while to fit that one in. No-one will even try to talk brewing history to you.

19 March 2012

Grim Rhondda

In a well-meaning gesture of Celtic solidarity, the Bull & Castle bought in some Brains Black for visiting rugby fans attending the rout of the Irish team in Lansdowne Road last month. Two weeks later it was still on tap when I asked the barkeep to blow the dust off the handle and pour me a pint.

Oh dear god send it back to the hell it crawled out of. Brains Black looks the part and that's really all it has going for it: upfront there was a powerful whack of disinfectant and I am positive this was not down to any lack of line hygiene on the Bull & Castle's part. The stale oxidised flavours and an abject wateriness all hit me before any of what the brewer intended, namely a mild chocolate flavour.

It's a vapid apology for a stout, poorly executed and delivered. The Welsh rugby fans have a lot to be proud of this year, but Brains Black isn't part of it.

15 March 2012

Winter's last farewell

... for a while, anyway. I'm returning to my stash of Belgian winter ales and digging out just two more before I put them away.

First up, Wintersnood by De Verhuisbrowerij. Fact fans will be pleased by the three columns of dense text on the label giving not merely prosaic stuff like hop varieties and IBUs, but also batch size and fermentation temperatures. Beer fans will be less pleased by the humongous amount of foam it produces on even the gentlest of pours.

Eventually I got the rest of the beer out. And quite a lot of yeast sediment: thick turbid gobs of it, floating on the surface and cascading down the inside of the glass, with the garnet beer forming a backdrop. The nose is vinous and bready, suggesting a warming power much greater than 6.4% ABV might suggest.

Flavourwise it's a bit of a mess. There's a smooth and roasty chocolatey warmer in there somewhere, but it's beset by jarring sourness and yeasty funk. It's like there are three really good beers here, blended inappropriately in the same glass and all jockeying for the drinker's attention. A waste. What's next?

This guy looks altogether more suave: dark KlevereTien is the James Bond of Belgian winter ales (you can put that on the label, Hobbybrouwerij Het Nest, but I want credit). "Black and Strong" it says: the latter can't be argued with at 10% ABV, though it's more a red-brown than properly black. The head subsides quickly leaving just a ring of foam around the edge of a dark mirror surface which sparkles faintly.

Nothing really jumps out to begin with, little more aroma than a vodka martini (no I'm not letting that analogy go) but on tasting it's very much in the strong dark Belgian ale tradition, with figs, plums and similar dark fruit: think Abt 12 or Rochefort 10. It distinguishes itself with a dry roast coffee finish which adds a crisp cleanness you don't normally get in this sort of Belgian ale. They've done well here.

And with the glass empty, spring is unequivocably upon us, bringing the first of the season's Irish beer festivals. Chances are you'll find me down at George's Dock where the St. Patrick's Craft Beer Festival runs until Monday. If you fancy doing your bit to reclaim our national day from a certain foreign multinational corporation, join me there.

12 March 2012

'Course I can

I discovered Pietra in Switzerland back in December. The most remarkable thing about it, from the outside, is it's from Corsica. I've never had a beer from Corsica. Advertised as ambrée on the label it's certainly that on pouring: a limpid red-gold. Little by way of aroma, and the taste isn't up to much either.

It's dry, for the most part, complicated only by a slightly kippery smokiness which works to reduce its refreshment quotient quite considerably. The body is thin and I'd never have twigged it was 6% ABV, but at least you get some bang for your buck.

I won't be hunting down six-packs of this next time I'm in Corsica.

08 March 2012

Red leader

It's a while since my last American amber ale. A crying shame because it's a style I really enjoy when it's done well. I must take a crack at brewing one some time. Today's specimen is St Rogue from the eponymous Oregon brewery and the label gives us a datablast of vital statistics, ingredients and methods, plus a sizeable screed on cattle husbandry just for completeness. No ABV, however. I had to resort to the Internet to find out it's a manageable 5.2%. I'll keep the 66cl bottle to myself, then. Good.

I don't think I was expecting bottle conditioning and my haphazard pouring left me with an unsettlingly murky dark red beer with lumps in the bottom and floaty bits. However, the heady sherbet hop aroma indicated that this isn't the sort of delicate ale that suffers from a bit of yeast infusion. Also good.

The first thing I noticed on tasting was the fizz. When that subsides there's quite a big-bodied beer underneath, but it gives the impression of busy biting burp-water at first. Perhaps a more controlled approach to carbonation would benefit it. When the flavour kicks in, it's all chocolate biscuit to begin, adding a zingy orange element after a second. Childhood memories of Viscounts and United bars are stirred. The sherbet we met in the aroma lingers long on the palate at the finish, aided by that full body. I imagine that brewery-fresh it would be amazing.

It does get a little bit overly heavy and even sickly as it warms -- which serves me right for being greedy. But keep it cool, drink it young, and this is one of the best American ambers I've tasted.

05 March 2012

Get thee unto the beerhall

A chestnut-red body under a head the colour of old ivory: Weltenburger Kloster Barock Dunkel certainly looks the part as it pours. At a trifling 4.7% ABV it seems designed for some hearty beerhall chugging, perhaps in the company of something hacked off a dead animal and swimming in gravy. I can only think about Germany for a couple of sentences before meat enters the picture.

The pitfall to avoid with beers like this is a saccharine tang which the poorer ones often exhibit, and I get a hint of that in the aroma: so sweet as to be bordering on sour. Thankfully it's entirely absent from the taste. The main feature is a crisp graininess infused with grass-bitter noble hops. Not all that different from a hoppy helles or pale bock, in fact. But just as these settle down, the dark malts swing in providing a pleasant dusting of cocoa, caramel and nuts. A drinkable Snickers bar? Yeah, sort of.

Best of all, the texture is smooth and full-bodied and the carbonation light, meaning it is indeed ideal for keller-based quaffing or as a food accompaniment. Here piggy piggy...

02 March 2012

Familiar territory

Session logoHaven't we done this topic before? Matt from Hoosier Beer Geek is hosting March's Session and the topic is "What makes local beer better?" Quite an assumption, there, Matt. Plus, I'm reminded of the June 2007 Session when we were asked to go and get a beer from the nearest brewery to where we live.

I avoided my local brewery for that one, but second time round I think I'll give them a chance. So here it is, to help determine the truth or otherwise of Matt's topic title, a beer hitherto unreviewed by this blog and which, as far as I know is produced a little over 3 kilometres from my front door.

It's called Carlsberg and is one of several different beers brewed in Diageo's St. James's Gate facility. They do move production of many of their beers around between breweries in Dublin, Dundalk and Kilkenny, though that will be coming to an end in the next couple of years as all operations are consolidated in Dublin. If this particular can wasn't born over in Dublin 8 -- almost within visual range of my bedroom window -- millions exactly like it were.

The pour gives us a beer of purest gold topped by a head which is shaving-foam stiff at first, subsiding quite quickly into adolescent patches of white. An intense sugary aroma greets the nose and there's an element of white sugar on taking the first pull. There's not much else to the flavour, mind: I think I'm getting a tiny hop bite right at the very finish, but it's not much. The centre ground of the beer is dull and more than a little watery. It has me wondering what the legend "Exclusive aromatic hops" on the can is supposed to mean. What were the people at that meeting actually drinking?

Still, at least it's not super-fizzy and there are no off-flavours: bland consistency is how my local brewery measures its success.

Is their beer better, though? Well, they employ more people than any other brewery in town and their economies of scale mean that their beer is probably much more environmentally friendly compared to the vast majority of other, less local, breweries. Most things considered, this local beer probably is better, as Matt says. It's just a shame it's so lacking in taste.