27 June 2013

Manifest density

It could just be laziness on my part but it seems that there's a bit of a drought of new American beers in Dublin at the moment. Plenty of good stuff in the established selection, of course, and the occasional blink-and-miss one-off draught specials, but no sign of the Next Big Thing to hit us from US brewing that I can see (Sly Fox? Mebbe).

But although their beers might not be streaming this way, at least some of their brewing talent seems to be. I detect, for example, the fingerprints of a displaced yank in the Porterhouse's new beer: an 11% ABV US-style barley wine, delicately titled Louder. This thick and heavy red-brown ale wasn't done any favours by being served on cask, which intensified its hot and soupy characteristics while burying what was most likely a very generous helping of C-hops. A little colder and with some more fizz to lift it, this could be Ireland's answer to De Molen's Bommen & Granaten, but not yet.

I felt in need of a palate cleanser after that and the helpful staffer (a relatively new phenomenon in Porterhouse Temple Bar, but credit where it's due) suggested VG Noster Golden, a pale 4.8%-er from the Basque country. Bucketloads of gas here, so my tongue got well scrubbed, though it did start getting difficult to drink after a few mouthfuls. Fortunately there was plenty to keep me distracted, starting with an aroma of parma violets and what laundry detergent marketers think summer meadows smell like. This intensifies on tasting into floral honey and peach blossom. All a bit girly sounding perhaps, but it never veered near the sickly alcopop territory and I'd just about swear that the flavour combinations were all derived from malt, hops and yeast.

So there's not much new from Stateside, but still plenty of interesting new beers from closer to home.

24 June 2013

A venerable glassful

It's been a while since my last Belgian oud bruin, that slightly sweet, slightly sour, medium-strong dark copper ale. So here's Paulus from Van Eecke in Watou: 6% ABV with a no-nonsense label that might be retro but looks more like an authentic throwback to me.

As honest and simple as its graphic design, the flavour starts with the savoury-sweetness of tamarind or prune, adding a dusting of red summer berries before rounding off on a balsamic sourness. The strength isn't apparent at all and only the building tanginess which eventually occupies the palate uncomfortably, stops it from being a quaffer.

Meatier than Rodenbach but a lot gentler than Rodenbach Grand Cru, Paulus is the happy medium of Flemish brown ale.

20 June 2013

Duck à l'ananas

Dropping in to L. Mulligan Grocer one sunny Friday recently I noticed that they had a damn near perfect selection of summer's evening cask beers. On the handpumps were O'Hara's IPA and Dungarvan Helvick Gold, the latter being the perfect accompaniment to beer garden relaxation. It's very rare that I pass it up, but down the bar squatted the new gravity cask which was serving Gold by Dancing Duck, a Derbyshire brewery which regularly features at LMG's sister pub W.J. Kavanagh's. I decided I'd chance a pint.

It arrived rather darker than expected, more orange-amber than proper gold. There was a mere speckle of white on the surface in lieu of a head, but it definitely wasn't flat, providing more of an insistent prickle of fizz than is normal for cask, so no complaints here. The aroma is that of an old fashioned sweetshop, with alluring but indistinct sticky candy delights. On tasting, this becomes a massive hit of pineapple: fresh, wet, sweet and juicy. Other flavours don't get a look-in until the finish when it turns nicely tart, with a bit of rhubarb acidity lending it a pleasant mouth-watering send-off.

Oddly, nobody I was with thought it was any good, and even proprietrix Seaneen wasn't sure if it was fit to be served. I wouldn't say I'm the fussiest drinker in the world, but I fail to see how anything could have been wrong with this just the way it was. Gustibus non disputandum and all that. Me, I was looking out for it again on the next sunny day to roll round.

When it did, I found myself in W.J. Kavanagh's, inspecting the handpumps. No Gold, but there was Dancing Duck Ay Up instead, and it was no hardship. 3.9% ABV, a very pure pale golden colour and with the mild waxy bitterness softened by ripe jaffa orange that are the hallmark flavours of English hops doing what they do best. Summer sessionability defined.

Seems like it's weather for ducks whenever the sun shines.

17 June 2013

Cherchez la fée

The final beer out of my French haul from last summer, Dauphine Dorée à l'Absinthe, was chosen solely for the novelty value, made as it is with wormwood. So I confess I was a little disappointed when it didn't come out green. Instead it's a blonde, 6.5% ABV and brewed by Brasserie Artisanale du Val d'Ainan, "sur une idée de hors-norm" adds the label, in case you think such things are normal down their neck of les bois.

So what's in the package then? I was a bit worried by the fizz as it poured but it settles quickly and is smooth and rather heavy, heavier than the ABV might suggest. Dominating the aroma, and the flavour as well, is an unfortunate malt-sack mustiness. It took me a while to get past this, and thankfully the effect lessened as the beer warmed. Deeper in the profile there's a herbal element but I need the power of suggestion to get any aniseed from it; it could just as easily be eucalyptus, turmeric or peppermint.

Not the fun novelty I was expecting, then, but not the artificially flavoured mess I feared either. It's a mildly interesting warming ale, the sort you wouldn't send a postcard home from Belgium about, but warrants a pat on the back for France.

13 June 2013

Pacifically unspecific

Some summery beer from the Craft Brewers Alliance today, this time from their pseudo-Hawaiian Kona range.

To start, after one afternoon's hard gardening graft I kicked back with a Longboard lager. A pretty label but a cavalier approach to Irish consumer law on the part of the importer as there's no ABV given. It's a very pale yellow and perfectly clear, and on tasting comes through as very slightly dry with a hint of grain. Soft of texture and with a whisper of some vegetal hops on the nose, it did the job, but really this could be any one of a thousand hot country lagers which all do the same job. Not suited to considered analysis, but as a lawnmower beer it's as good as any other. It didn't last long.

Second up is Big Wave golden ale. Again, no idea of the strength, so I optimistically shoved it into a Duvel glass. As I did so there was a wonderful waft of peach and melon. It settled quite a dark gold, almost heading towards amber. There's little by way of head and the carbonation, like the lager, is pleasantly low. That peach and melon thing continues in the flavour and really it doesn't do much else. The peach notes begin quite concentrated on first sip, almost dank, and then they level off into a very pleasant sweet juicy sensation. The finish is a kind of mineral tang which the less charitable might say is watery but I like it. It's a simple summer beer, light and sessionable but far from characterless.

Third in the set is the pale ale, Fire Rock, and a very dark shade of pale it is too. The all-important freshness check shows the bottle is only a smidge over two months out of the brewery, which is within the acceptable zone. Worryingly, the aroma was less apparent than with the golden ale: I got a bit of golden syrup, but not not very much of it. The flavour is rather muted as well: it finishes quite bitter but there's no run up, just a very slight spicy perfume flavour but no fruit or herbs or, well, hops. The slight caramel from the malt is OK as it goes, but what we have here is something much more like an English brown bitter than an American pale ale. Disappointing.

Lastly it's Koko Brown, a brown ale brewed with toasted coconut and "natural flavor added" -- yum. It's a clear chestnut brown colour with a definite bang of Bounty bars off it, dark chocolate ones, specifically. Thankfully it's not a sugar bomb, but the coconut is inescapable and there's not much coming through from the beer underneath. Maybe some of the sweetness is malt-derived, and there's a dryness which could be dark toasted grain as easily as toasted coconut, but really this has been put together to make people say "Wow: it's a beer that tastes of coconut!" That's what it is and that's what it does; don't look for anything else.

Simplicity seems to be what the Kona range are about if these are anything to go by. Big Wave was the only one that impressed me, and even it didn't really operate on more than one level. If you're looking for dependable American beers that mostly do what they say, these are for you.

10 June 2013

Sais who?

I had quite inadvertantly amassed a bit of a collection of saisons in the beer fridge. Never one to pass up the opportunity for a blind taste test I put them all out side-by-side one evening. I knew nothing much about any of these and therefore had no preconceived ideas of what ones might be better than others. It was just a question of diving in, then.

Unusually for a horizontal tasting like this, none of the beers leaped out as being different -- usually there's at least one outlier. Perhaps I should have chosen a saison from a non-Belgian brewery, but that would have involved planning. All were appropriately golden coloured and generally dry, with the differences being in how they mixed up the secondary fruit, spice and herb characteristics.

My least favourite was Saison de Dottignies which I found harshly dry, accentuated by the full-on carbonation. The only flavour complication is a kind of barky wood effect which I didn't enjoy much.

The most unusual of them was Urthel's Saisonnière which blends in a distinctly meaty aroma with surprisingly sweet herbal flavours. Notes of bubblegum even creep in during proceedings. Probably a long way from the saison purist's ideal, but I quite liked it for what it was.

Palest of the lot was Struise's Catso and I didn't think this was going to work to begin with as there's an unpleasant soapiness to the nose. Thankfully that more-or-less fades on tasting and instead there's an alluring blend of spicy perfume: jasmine and caraway both feature in my notes. I'm a big fan of Scandinavian aquavit and this has a lot of that sort of thing going on.

Top of the line for me, however, was Saison Voisin from Brasserie des Gèants in north-west Wallonia. It's the deep orange colour of a pale ale and has a fantastic spiky spicy aroma. The flavour is a lenticular delight, flipping effortlessly between thirst-quenching crispness and juicy fresh mandarin flesh. Interesting, refreshing and extremely easy to drink.

A couple of months ago I was a bit sniffy about non-Belgian saisons. If this random sample is any way representative I think such sniffiness may be at least a little justified.

07 June 2013

On the right tracks

Session logo Compulsion! That's the topic for this month's Session, hosted by Glen of Beer Is Your Friend. Hoarding is one of the aspects up for discussion and, while I'm certainly guilty of that, I've elected to discuss another beery compulsion of mine: sequences.

I can't resist matching pairs, numerical series, colour-coded sets: anything that sets up a relationship between one beer and another, and another, sparks my ticking circuits in a big way. The more closely related the beers are the more I'm inclined to buy them all and try them in a single sitting.

A recent case in point arose a couple of weeks ago when I was heading up north and brought some beers to keep me company on the train. I don't know what the story is with the Sanda pair from Fyne Ales: two matching IPAs in 33cl bottles rather than the usual half litre, yet a mere 5.5% ABV each. Maybe they knew I was going to chug them together. Whatever. Two hours and two sibling beers: time to get stuck in.

Just out of Connolly, I opened the Sanda Blonde first. Well, it's blonde all right, resembling nothing so much as a pale lager: clear gold with a generous frothy head. I didn't get much of an aroma from my plastic receptacle, just a vague and slightly worrying acid sharpness. The beer really opened out on tasting, however: a massive jolt of Nelson Sauvin, reminding me of why I used to love this hop. It's dominated by a dry, flinty sauvignon character with just a trickle of soft-fruit juiciness at the finish. The bitterness burns in a way that suggests a much higher strength. Best of all: no trace of any cat wee. It's quite a while since I enjoyed a strongly-Nelsoned beer as much as this one.

My new-found love of Nelson Sauvin was timely since we weren't yet at Dundalk when it was time to open the Sanda Black. Totally black, this one, and once again there's lots of foam. This smells rather stouty, with roasted notes and a bit of caramel. Perhaps my palate was still recovering from the previous assault, but this isn't nearly as full-on as the Blonde. Yes, there's still a similar flinty sharpness but buried, no, muted, by the darker malts. Their own contribution is subtle: a barely discernible sweet dark chocolate finishing on a meaty ferric tang. It's only after this that the hops come out to play and while they're unmistakably present, they're just not as loud as in the Blonde. Still, it's a damn decent fist of a black IPA and I'd happily drink much more than a small bottle of it.

Despite the matching branding and matching hops, these are quite different beers. I like the conceit of black IPA tasting exactly the same as a pale one, but very few commercial breweries aim to achieve this and Fyne evidently isn't one of them. Nevertheless, their ability to take hops and do fun things with them just can't be argued with.

That wasn't someone smoking weed on the platform at Portadown, by the way; that was my burps.

05 June 2013

Dogwhistle beer

I don't think I'd ever seen a local buzz quite like it. All of a sudden, out of nowhere, Ireland's hop-chasers were all talking about Dangerously Close To Stupid by To Øl. The advantage this double IPA has over its new world contemporaries is that it's more, well, contemporary, having travelled a mere sidestep from Proef in Belgium, birthplace of so many great "Danish" beers. Having tired of reading about how amazingly fresh it was I wandered over to DrinkStore a couple of weeks ago and shelled out the €5.50 they were asking for a 33cl bottle.

Well, you know what comes next. I just didn't get the hype. I mean, it's quite nice, the highlight being a massive fresh mandarin aroma, and there's no doubting its hop credentials, laying on a thick and heavy dankness from the Citra and Centennial. But it suffers a little from the boozy heat of all that alcohol, though this is cleaned up somewhat by a sharply bitter aftertaste.

To be brutally honest this doesn't seem all that superior a beer compared to, say, BrewDog Hardcore, which is a little over half the price. Perhaps I just don't get the nuances in this most unsubtle of beer styles and would be better off leaving it to those who appreciate it more.

03 June 2013

As the crow hops

I just had time for a swift half of Blindfold the last time I was in The Brew Dock. It was one of three Sierra Nevada beers on and is a black IPA of 7.3% ABV. As is usual with this style, I started by checking its credentials and figuring out which sub-category it fits into.

It's certainly black, just showing brown at the edges. The first pull revealed a beautifully smooth beer with lots of dark sweet molasses flavours. Ah, so we're in hoppy stout territory rather than sleight-of-hand looks-dark/tastes-pale. It takes a few seconds for the hops to kick in, but kick in they do, delivering some lovely powerful grass and earth flavours. Not what I'd expect from a Californian, but it turns out that German Magnum hops played a big part in the recipe so perhaps that has something to do with it. The inevitable citrus grapefruit (there's Cascade and Chinook too) offers a little bit of light relief, unusually. The flavours fade leaving a tangy and lasting bitterness on the palate.

Even though it lacked the fresh soft fruit I enjoy most in black IPAs, this is a seriously good beer with something for everyone in its profile.