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 an