31 October 2012

Steamed spuds

It should be taken as a measure of what kind of beer geek you are: when coming home via Berlin Schönefeld and browsing the sizeable but uninspiring range of beers available in the airside shop, do you pass by Fritzens Kartoffelbier, perhaps with a slight sneer or glance of disgust? Or do you exclaim "WOW! GERMAN POTATO LAGER! GIMME!" ? I am, of course, a member of the latter set. Though I was saved the bother of scaring my fellow passengers by friend Richard who had a bottle to share a few months ago. The tasting notes should present no surprises: starchy, especially in the finish. Beyond that it's a slightly sharp golden lager, largely down to its high fizz levels, and somewhat musty with it. Still, at least it doesn't try to hide its potato nature: I hate when beers do that.

From the same session there was also Zwiesel Dampfbier, charmingly packaged in a repurposed Hacker-Pschorr swingtop: we've all been there, man. Dampfbier is a bit of an odd category, originally a farmhouse homebrew made from whatever fermentables and yeast the horny-handed landwirt could hobble together, and produced strictly for domestic consumption. The idea of a commercial one is a little odd. And, in this case, I think the good folk at Zwiesel are trying to pass off wonky brewing as rusticity.

This 5% ABV dark amber beer gives off lots of boozy banana esters in its aroma, and yet more banana in the flavour profile, yet without any of the softness you get in a weissbier to cushion the alcoholic heat. Worst of all, there's a clanging great bite of stale cardboard sitting right in the middle. Too much time spent gathering bottles and not enough worrying about the bottling process itself, I fear.

This round goes to the potato beer.

29 October 2012

Not a keeper

My Belgian beer hoard is getting out of control. The problem is they're mostly not casual drinkers: most are beers I want to spend a bit of time with, preferably with a blogging window open in front of me, and that's something I can only be bothered doing on rare occasions. Mostly I just want a beer. So the Belgians build up and I feel guilty about not drinking them. I will, eventually.

Occasionally, however, a beer comes along which cannot simply be put to the back of the queue, a beer that needs to be left in plain sight lest it disappear into the amorphous stash. A beer that would make me feel really bad if I died before drinking it. Such a beer was Girardin 1882 black label. I left it sitting on the kitchen counter for a month before making an advance appointment to drink it.

It's a 100% oude lambic from one of the handful of reputable lambic breweries in greater Brussels. I had been expecting the age to have maybe smoothed it out a little, but not a bit of it: the aroma from the hazy yellowish-orange liquid was eye-wateringly tart, with a mix of old oak and vinegar to get the salivary gland running. On first taste it's massively sour: the acetic throws the first punch while an intense waxy bitterness hold its coat. But the barney is over as soon as it begins and what follows is altogether calmer. There's a comparative smoothness from the oak and even a certain amount of bittersweet nectarine or plum.

You'd want to be fairly content that sour lambic is your kind of thing before tackling this. It's neither mellow nor rounded and retains all the spikiness it doubtless showed in its younger years. But if you're prepared to do things its way there's a fantastic full-on multilayered taste experience to be had.

25 October 2012

A measure of excellence

I spotted a neat little addition to the offer at Against the Grain the other week. The pub's place as the premier source for exotic draught beers in Dublin remains unequalled in my view. Of course the downside of this is the prices that tend to get attached to such strange and rare creatures. The £10 pint of Odells IPA I nearly-but-didn't buy in London early this year remains a high point, but Dublin can sometimes be not far off the mark when it comes to these things. And there, on the row of taps in AtG were Flying Dog's Raging Bitch (a favourite) and Wildeman (never tasted). Thankfully the pub is always up front about its pricing (other establishments take note!) and a glace at the blackboard was all I needed to find out whether this tick was going to be worth my while. And there I saw something which surprised and delighted me: rather than try and force these into pint (too dear) or half (too small) measures, they're selling it as standard in a 375ml glass for €4.50. One of each, barkeep, please. At nearly €7 for a pint I probably wouldn't have bothered.

I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the glass, we had just dropped in on the way home from dinner and I was without appropriate image capture apparatus, but they're lovely little stemmed thistle things which show off the beer really well. So... Wildeman then. It's described as a "Farmhouse IPA" and named after the legendary Amsterdam pub. There's definitely a big Belgian influence here, with the 7.5% ABV making itself felt in a boozy fruity kind of way. Like in Raging Bitch, this melds quite beautifully with the juicy peachiness from the American hops. The big difference comes with the triple whammy of dryness: the grassy rye gives it a fairly arid base to start off with, then the saison yeast has done its best to clear out any residual sugars. Finally there's a big carbonic bite from the incredibly busy fizz, putting yet more of an edge on it.

I imagine (though am probably totally wrong) that Duvel Tripel Hop tastes something along these lines: that mix of tartness and fizz coupled with fresh hop zest. It's definitely one to take slowly. Comparisons with Raging Bitch were interesting: while that's all smooth and rounded, Wildeman offers a raw, high-impact pith buzz. I wouldn't have wanted a pint of either, but they were perfect as postprandial sharpeners.

I'm looking forward to more odd specialities like this at Against the Grain.

And while we're in the pub, don't forget that today sees the start of the second Bord Bia Farmhouse Cheese and Craft Beer Weekend, running through to Bank Holiday Monday. The full listing of cheesy-beery  goings-on around the country can be found here.