30 May 2012

Ooh René!

Lindemans may claim a history going back to 1811, but these days it's one of the big national brands in Belgium, with all that entails. So I wasn't really expecting a whole lot from Kriek Cuvée René, despite the numbered champagne bottle proclaiming the 2010 vintage, bottled in October 2011 and good for six years past that: anyone can fake that sort of thing. The blood-red beer which poured forth did little to assuage my cynicism. Proper aged kriek is nowhere near as gaudy, everyone knows that.

But Cuvée René is actually pretty stunning. It's merely intensely dry rather than full-on sour, but there's not a trace of the cloying sugar you so often get with mass-market lurid krieks. The nitre brick cellar flavour I always enjoy in this style is mostly absent, but there is still  a gentle mouldy damp funk, melding seamlessly into sweet-sour cherry. I think the term I'm looking for is balance: not normally a feature of artisan kriek, but something it seems the corporate suits are able to bring to the party without ruining everyone's enjoyment.

This is a possible gateway between the alcopoppy candy lambics and the more serious stuff, but far more importantly it's just a really enjoyable beer.

28 May 2012

Dodgy bottomry

I caught a bit of stick for dissing Shipyard's Pumpkinhead beer last month. The apologists thought it unfair of me to be casting aspersions on a beer that had been a whole 7 months in the bottle and therefore past its best. Though I noted several comments suggesting that its best is far from good anyway.

Two more from Shipyard of Maine today, and both of these were well within date, bearing best-befores of March next year. What follows cannot reasonably be blamed on the ravages of Old Father Time.

First up is Shipyard Export. The Americans are normally straight up-front with style designations, cringe-makingly so sometimes, but I'm fairly sure this isn't lager in the Dortmund style. It's more like a pale ale and is 5.1% ABV, and nothing wrong with that per se.

The first alarm bell is in the aroma: it's an off appley smell, bringing the apple notes I found in the pumpkin beer right back to me. The flavour is heavy and cheap-tasting brown sugar and could really use some livening up with a decent malt profile, or some hops, or even pumpkin spices. Overall it's a dull beer: too sweet with almost no redeeming features.

Shipyard IPA to the rescue! Hopefully...

This is a much more attractive dark amber colour, with a gorgeous thick ice-cream-float head. The signature hop is apparently Fuggles, which wouldn't be my immediate choice for an American IPA, but let's see what they did with it.

Not much, it seems. The beer had almost no hop character to speak of. No aroma at all, and just a vaguely green tang in the foretaste, but it's more melted plastic than fresh hops. The main flavour is stale and oxidised and there's yet more of that brown sugar.

I really have to wonder what the reasoning behind these recipes is, or who they're brewed for. Corner cutting, poor brewing skills, or just different tastes? I don't know.

I do know that it was very tough getting to the bottom of both these glasses and I'm not minded to go chasing more from Shipyard.

24 May 2012

Never pass a beer with your name on it

That's my reason for picking up this bottle of Harrington's Big John. The label makes a suspicious comment about it being "brewed with a hint of Bourbon" which doesn't sound too appetising to me, but leaving it on the shelf wasn't an option.

It poured quite thickly but with lots of fizz too, the head settling an uneven ivory over a dark brown body, looking for all the world like an Irish coffee. There's not much going on in the aroma, which I find slightly strange for something so heavy and fizzy and with all of 6.5% ABV: maybe just a dry woody hint of fino.

The flavour is a bit on the understated side too. Dark chocolate is at the centre, surrounded by vinous notes that remind me more of a blousy Spanish red than any of Kentucky's finest. The finish is suddenly dry leaving lingering overtones of fusty wood; the mild funk of charity shop furniture.

Where Big John really shines, however, is in the texture. It's pillowy soft and provides a creamy comforting warmth. Flavouring a beer with whiskey, or anything else, can be a very easy way of making it undrinkable. Here, however, Harrington's have started with a beer solid enough to survive what has been thrown at it.

Good man, John.