28 June 2012

Sacrilicious

A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to get hold of some Russian River Supplication: a pinot-noir-barrel-aged cherry ale. This post is about about another in that series: Consecration, a cabernet-sauvignon-barrel-aged blackcurrant ale.

It's a red-brown colour and while fizzy fails to maintain a head. Like its predecessor, the wild yeast and bacteria are firmly in charge of the flavour while both fruit and wood get a bit lost amongst the sourness. The nose is like classy balsamic vinegar with lots of date, fig and tamarind notes.

There's a robust but measured tartness to the flavour and I got more of a cherry hit than I did from Supplication, despite the absence of cherries in the recipe. I suspect that what keeps the sourness under control is the substantial ABV of 10%: it makes the beer mellow and warming in a way that the comparable Rodenbach Grand Cru just isn't.

Consecration is a beer to savour slowly, and it was only at the end I finally got where the barrel and grape favours had gone: oxidised to a kind of fino sherry taste that lingers pleasantly after swallowing.

Unique yet familiar, I'd recommend it for cold-weather drinking. Thanks to Adam for the opportunity to taste it.

25 June 2012

Something strange in your neighbourhood

Beoir stalwart, beer collector and homebrew obsessive extraordinaire Adam is leaving Dublin to return to the US. Before the packers came to estimate the shipping costs of all his wordly goods there was some stash clearance to be done and he was kind enough to invite me over to help out.

Among the Belgians were these two intriguing concoctions, both from Brasserie Fantôme. Fantôme is pretty much part of the scenery whenever I'm in Belgium. They've always just been there, yet I've no memory or notes of trying any of their beers. So here goes.

We opened Blanche de Fantôme first, a 4% ABV wheat-based summer quencher. It's a moderately hazy bright yellow, but the first thing striking about it isn't the colour, it's the smell. This stuff reeks of a sharp, very nearly vomit-like, pungency. And it seems inescapable on tasting too, with only a trace of tropical fruit behind it. Yet it's amazing how quickly the human palate adjusts. After just a few mouthfuls the lemon citrus flavours come out -- refreshing in a Hoegaarden kind of way. It leaves me wondering if this is actually closer to the way Belgian witbier used to taste, when Hoegaarden was a wild, spontaneously fermented rustic beer style.

I surprised myself by concluding that this is a marvellously neckable warm day quaffer. It's probably best if you hold your nose starting out, though.

And from the odd to the downright weird: presenting Magic Ghost, a saison flavoured and coloured with woodruff: a herbal flavouring better known in the beer world for taking the edge off a different sour style: Berliner Weisse. So it's green, OK, we'll move along from that. It's hazy too, as saisons normally are. Unfortunately there's not much else going on. It's slightly sour, a little spicy and there's something of an artificial candy-sweet tang. Perfectly drinkable but not very distinctive in itself.

Two beers that are anything but run-of-the-mill. Fantôme are back on my shopping list.

21 June 2012

Cheap wheats

I don't know what Tesco's game was a few weeks ago: a sudden avalanche of quality beers across the chain in Ireland, both local and imported. I went in to my local branch more out of idle curiosity than anything else, not expecting to find much new or interesting. But in amongst the British and Irish ales there were these two Bavarian weissbiers I'd never seen before. In for a penny in for 5-for-a-tenner, I thought.

Arcobräu Weissbier Hell poured a pale and hazy shade of gold. Though all of 5.3% ABV it's quite light-bodied, almost to the point of being watery. What would you expect for two euro a go? But give it a minute and the flavour kicks into action. There's a rising clove flavour that builds on the palate as it goes down. Combine with the easy-going texture and you have a wonderfully tasty refreshing and sessionable pale weiss. Bailey once described the Grolsch weizen as a cartoon version of the real thing: this one is similarly entertaining in a simplified way.

High expectations, then, for Arcobräu Weissbier Dunkel. It's not all that dark as these things go: a chestnut shade only a grade or two dimmer than Schneider-Weisse, say. (Also, all those people who get upset about the oxymoronic nature of "Black India Pale Ale": why aren't they up in arms about "dunkelweisse" too?) Anyway, it's just as simply constructed as the pale one but lacks the lovely clove character. The flavour is rather more banana-based but there's not much else: no caramel, no roast, just vague bananas finishing slightly dry, but that could be the fizz as much as the dark malt. Meh.

I've had poorer experiences after dropping €4 in a Dublin beer shop, but when there's O'Hara's IPA and Clotworthy Dobbin in the same offer you're best keeping it local at Tesco.