27 February 2013

Hope springs Italian

Spring? But I haven't finished my winter beers yet! Oh well, back in the stash they go.

First of the new season is New Morning from Birrificio del Ducato near Parma. It's 5.8% ABV and the label lists a cocktail of grains including wheat, rye and oats, plus some unspecified "spices". Bottle conditioned but well settled, it's a lightly hazy pale amber. The aroma offers a pleasant blend of clovey weissbier and hop bitters, but the latter almost vanishes on tasting.

What's left is mostly sweet cinnamon biscuits, dusted with apricots. It's the sort of combination that could get a little difficult to drink, except the high carbonation helps dry it out and the gravity is modest enough that it isn't in any way thick or cloying.

I don't see what makes it particularly springy, though. Surely cinnamon (or the cinnamon effect - research indicates that it's ginger and chamomile at work) is more a winter thing. Decent as it goes but probably not worth the €4.50 DrinkStore took off me for it. I certainly won't be rushing to spend the €14 they're asking for Ducato's barley wine and imperial stout, even though I know the latter, Verdi, to be lovely.

25 February 2013

What's in a name?

Festival season kicked off a couple of weeks ago with the first of 2013: the Franciscan Well's Cask and Winter Ale Festival in Cork. The emphasis was very much on the first part of the offer, with a little over 20 cask beers available in the covered beer garden, though not much that was particularly wintery.

Among the highlights was a return of Franciscan Well's wonderfully spicy Alpha Dawg IPA and a superb dry-hopped edition of Trouble Brewing's Ór golden ale. Just two on the list were completely new to me, and curiously enough they had something in common.

One was White Gypsy's Amber, a 5% ABV pale ale which I'd narrowly missed at the big festival in Dublin last September. It's a pale amber shade and quite sweet: packed with all manner of fruit flavours. The tasting committee around the table picked out peach, lychee, banana and vanilla. I got more than a hint of chewy Refresher sweets too. Not suitable for hopheads but I really enjoyed it. It's not the first beer from White Gypsy to be called Amber: a couple of years ago Amber was an excellent Munich-style lager. Hopefully nobody was expecting the lager when they ordered this, and hopefully also we'll see the old award-winning Amber back at some point, under the same badge or another.

The second new one was Chameleon Bräu, a "lager-style" blonde by Metalman. It's quite a simple beer but does what it does exceedingly well, blending dry grain notes with clean lemon zest. There's perhaps a hint of diacetyl butterscotch on the finish, but nowhere near enough to spoil it. So I was perfectly happy about the taste, but the name makes me grumpy.

Originally, Chameleon was a single beer which was altered in various ways before serving, so there was a chilli version and a variety of dry-hopped editions: a neat idea and fun to explore. But then late last year there came Chamelon Garnet: a completely new beer with a recipe unrelated to the earlier Chameleons. Now Chameleon Bräu is something different again. The official line from the brewery is that the Chameleon range is a series of small batches and experiments, just like the first ones were. That's fair enough, but surely the customer should be allowed to expect that a beer with the same name has something in common with previous ones. I could understand "Bräu: part of the Chameleon series", but "Chameleon Bräu" raises a customer expectation that isn't met. In this customer, at least. Galway Bay Brewery used to practise this unfriendly naming method with their Strange Brew series, but thankfully that has been knocked on the head now: every beer gets an individual name and this makes them much easier to talk about.

Still, it's nice to be whinging about beer nomenclature rather than beer quality. No complaints about the latter at this festival.

While in Cork I also took the opportunity to call in at the new branch of the Porterhouse in the Mardyke Centre, not far from Franciscan Well. They've done a lovely job here, creating a comfortable spacious pub with an atmospheric vaulted ceiling, the usual great range of Porterhouse beers and best of all, a full-length shuffleboard table:

Every pub should have one.

21 February 2013

Bring the hops

I had one of my occasional impromptu tastings with Richard recently, which tend to consist of random stuff we've accumulated. There was a bit of an abiding theme with the last one, though: hops. Lots of them, in varying doses.

We started on Cumbrian Five Hop by Hawkshead, a 6% ABV pale ale with, you've guessed it, five different hop varieties. It was a strange beer. I expected something fairly bitter with lots of citrus fruit but first impressions were of heavy violet perfume in the aroma and a dense funky flavour. It lacks the zing I'd expect from conscientious hopping and there's even a vegetal tang at the end. Among the varieties used are Citra and Amarillo and I think I was able to detect a bit of a burn from the former and some juicy orange from the latter. But I couldn't match any flavour to the Bramling Cross or East Kent Goldings, though I'll put the nasty sprout tang down to the Fuggles 'cos I'm a bit of a racist that way. This beer just didn't quite cohere for me.