29 August 2013

Tales from the press room

Last month, Dublin played host to the Alltech Gathering, a three-day conference / tradeshow / festival organised by the Kentucky-based multi-faceted Alltech corporation, which has brewing as just one of its interests. The main floor of the Convention Centre had a couple of bars set up, a music stage and tutored tasting area while the conference sessions happened upstairs. One of the many sideshows of the weekend was the Dublin Craft Beer Cup, an international competition to find the best beer from among several dozen entries. The eventual winner was Hilden for their Twisted Hop pale ale. I was fortunate enough to be invited up to the press room during the conference to have a taste of the entrants, along with other brewers, bloggers, retailers and similar human detritus that you tend to find hanging round these things in search of a freebie.

To say that the entrants were sourced from far and wide is an understatement: six continents were represented in the fridge, with only the lamentable state of Antarctican craft brewing letting the side down. Between the chatting and the sipping it was all a bit speed-datey, but here's some of what I managed to get my paws on over the two days.

Among the Europeans there was an unfamiliar one from Jopen in the Netherlands, a witbier called Adriaan. I liked it a lot, it being very clean and fresh tasting, with none of the stale grain or overdone sweet lemon you sometimes find in second-rate witbier. This is zesty and sessionable, as wit should be. As a regular visitor to Arendsnest I was surprised to encounter a Dutch brand I'd never heard of: Rodenburg and their Bronckhorster Royal RHA IPA. This is one of the darker heavier types of IPA, hazy orange, with funky weedy flavours lightened just enough by citrus piquancy. I'll be looking out for more from them. We go south for the third European, to Birra & Blues in Valencia and their Doble Malta. 6.2% ABV and I've no idea what style it's supposed to be but it tastes very pilsy to me, in a good way. Lots of herbal nettle things going on.

Representing North America we have Mill St. Wit from Toronto. Not quite in the same league as the Jopen, but unchallenging and sessionable, which are entirely acceptable things for witbier to be. From the other end of the continent came Bayernbräu Dunkel: authentically German in both its styling and flavour, though brewed in Puebla, east of Mexico City. All the appropriate smoothness and light milk chocolate with just a tang of saccharine sweetness. Indistinguishable from the real Bavarian deal.

If we keep going south, a long way south, we come to Curitaba in Brazil, where the Morada beers are brewed. Double Vienna is a rather hot darkish lager which I could take or leave. I'm sure there's plenty better in Brazil.

South America ticked off we cross the South Atlantic to Africa and Jack Black's in Cape Town. Lumberjack Amber Ale was the contribution to the session and I found it a little watery. It's one of those beers where the brewer claims to have used "mountains of hops" and you wonder if they've ever climbed anything higher than a gentle incline.

To Asia, and the sole representative is, bizarrely, not Japanese, or Singaporean. Instead it's Tintin Toit from the Toit brewpub in Bangalore. Another continent and another witbier, and once again this is spot-on. It's rather drier than normal but that just adds to the refreshment power, lending it an almost saisonesque quality.

And that leaves just Earth's south-eastern quarter and only New Zealand had anything to say for itself here. In fact, just Auckland, and we all know that things from [insert big city] are in no way typical of things from [insert country name].  My first beer of the session was Schipper's Chinook -- a lovely hop-forward combo of oily funk and sweet tangy marmalade. More impressive certainly than Deep Creek's 7.3% ABV "Scotch ale" Dweller on the Threshold which was a dark brown glass of nothing very much. Some mild woodiness from the barrel ageing, a bit of saccharine sweetness, but little else.

That just leaves the Ben Middlemiss brewery. They supplied Nota Bene, a strong dark abbey ale of 8.7% ABV. It's an opaque brown after the gritty lees have followed the beer into a glass and hits all the usual figgy, earthy, caramelly notes you might expect. But there's a subtle hint of hoppy citrus lurking cheekily in the background if you take the time to find it. Middlemiss also had an IPA called Hodgson, unable to believe their luck that nobody else was claiming the name, I guess. A stonking 8.8% ABV and gorgeous with it: full on front-of-palate spiciness. I was very surprised to learn that they achieved this using solely kiwi hops: Motueka and Kohatu, neither of which I'd class myself as a fan of, but Hodgson has that sumptuous quality that reminds the drinker of IPA's heritage as a beer for the wealthy.

Massive thanks to Sarah and Will of Alltech for running the press room and looking after the liggers so excellently (there were sandwiches and everything), and there's more to come from the Convention notes in due course.

26 August 2013

Five point plan

These five beers by Stevens Point Brewery in Wisconsin came as a freebie from The Beer Club (thanks Stephen!) who are importing the range. The initial set looks to have crossed the Atlantic a little slowly judging from the tight best-before dates, so hardened hop fans may prefer to wait for a later batch.

Nothing stale about Point Belgian White however. Though a biggish 5.4% ABV it's nicely light of touch, showing zingy spices at the front and finishing on sweet orange and banana. The middle is a little watery but the beer as a whole doesn't suffer because of it. Not too sweet and not too dry, it's pretty much on the money for a summery wit.

Next up Point Amber Lager: a tough style to impress with now that the 1990s are behind us. They've laid on the caramel quite heavily here, shading towards a kind of smokiness. Not much else going on, however. Simple and tasty, and not a thing wrong with it, but not especially interesting. Finishing up quickly, I expected bigger things from the back three.

Point Black Ale is 5.2% ABV and a very dark red. Liquorice and molasses form the centrepiece of the aroma. In the mouth it shows itself as another thin one but that liquorice flavour really punches through. A hint of plum and fig appears just on the end. The rest of the flavour is quite simple, clean you might say, putting this somewhere on the schwarzbier to porter spectrum -- a much gentler proposition than the US and US-style black IPAs currently doing the rounds.

To Point Pale Ale next, a bright and cheery red-gold. I strongly suspected the fresh hops had departed here, from the mere hint of boiled sweet in the aroma, but it turns out I've had this before a couple of years ago -- badged as "Cascade Pale Ale" for the local market -- and there wasn't much by way of hopping in evidence then. I enjoyed it more this time round, finding a pleasant sweet tangerine tang, though that's pretty much your lot flavourwise. It's along similar lines to the witbier, being simple, approachable and well put together but a bit more complexity would be welcome, since we're north of 5% ABV.

Last in the series is Point IPA, quite a dark amber though at 5.6% ABV only a smidge stronger than the foregoing Pale Ale. There's a bitterness in the finish, but no aroma to speak of and very little happening in the flavour either. Some sherbet, and a vague metallic background, but none of the oomph you're looking for in an American IPA.

I reckon the Pale Ale is the star of the show here. It has a balance and drinkability I appreciate and I'd love to try it with a little less age on it. The rest are welcome additions to the American beer scene in Ireland, though they don't offer much that isn't already available.