30 October 2013

Shiver me tinnies

We’d love to send you something, do you have an address that would suit to send it to?

That's all the e-mail said, but I could see it came from the company which does PR for Heineken Ireland. I like surprises so I gave them my address without asking further questions. A couple of hours later a parcel arrived containing eight half-litre cans of Coors Light. My lucky day. Less than a month out of the brewery, too. It wasn't just a random gift, however: they were promoting a gewgaw which comes free with sufficient purchase of the beer. This affixes to the bottom of the can, keeping it extra-cold while it's being consumed. From, presumably, the can itself. Swish.

While all this is outside the regular programming at The Beer Nut, I don't actually have a review of Coors Light here. Not that I've never tasted it; indeed I stumbled into the official launch of the draught version back in the summer of 2000. It was in Dakota on South William Street. There was an ice sculpture. Anyway, here I am with four litres of a beer I've never reviewed so it would only be proper to do some experimentation.

First, to give it the treatment every beer gets. The first can was kept in my beer fridge at 10°C. As the picture shows, the can is "cold", but not "Rocky Mountain cold". It's a very pale yellow and there's masses of fizz. The head subsides most of the way but a thin white mousse remains, constantly topped up by the busy bubbles. The aroma offers an odd mix of tin and ripe apples. That sweet fruit thing is the opening flavour but it disappears quickly, replaced by... nothing. There's a huge void right where you'd expect the main part of the taste to be. It's not watery -- the texture is actually quite slick and heavy -- but no identifiable malt elements and certainly not even a whimper from the hops. There's maybe just a tiny metallic buzz on the side of the tongue. Boring beats awful every time, but I really didn't think it would be hard to find things to say about this beer. Quite an achievement of the brewer's art.

So if it's this bland at serving temperature, what's the point of having it cold? To find out, I stuck a can in the freezer to earn that extra blue stripe, and I froze a mug as well, for good measure. Served this way, it's cold. It burns. It feels almost flat, which I guess is an unintended consequence of the solubility of CO2 at low temperatures. The slickness is even more apparent, though is perhaps more of an icy slipperiness now. The appley fruit is almost gone but there's still a bit of a tang from the metal. The glass contents disappeared quite quickly and thoughtlessly: the beer equivalent of popcorn. Plain, unbuttered, unsalted popcorn. The cans left after this experiment will likely be put to use in this way, with the Saturday night curry.

So much for the drinker's preference. How does this beer stand up served the way the PR company intended? I reached for the gewgaw -- a "Chill Puck" to give it its proper name in scare quotes -- frozen per the instructions, and dutifully affixed it to the can. It's just as flat consumed this way, and tastes exactly the same. The most annoying thing about drinking straight from a frozen can is how cold it it is to touch -- a handled mug is definitely the way to go if very cold beer is what you're after. Whether the device does actually help keep the second blue stripe lit for longer is not something I can confirm or deny in this limited experiment which didn't involve drinking an unadorned can, but it seems likely that it performs some sort of service, the thing itself remaining completely cold to the touch throughout proceedings.

It's easy to scoff at beers like Coors Light. It's fun too.

28 October 2013

Upstate fake-out

My bottle of Sainsbury's Tap Room IPA was deposited by a houseguest (cheers Thomas!) and bears the mark of "Tap Room Brewing Company" of Rochester, New York which sounds immediately makey-uppey. Two seconds' research reveals that this does indeed come from Rochester's North American Breweries megaplant, birthplace of a zillion other American "craft" brands.

It's a big boy at 6.3% ABV and a clear dark orange colour. No qualms about the aroma: all lovely lemon sherbet and orange pith. The hops calm down a bit on tasting. Big sweet malt notes take over so the sharp citrus becomes altogether fluffier mango and mandarin smoothie, with just the merest tang of bitterness on the end. After the initial hit it gets more muted, however, and I was finding it a bit heavy and dull by the half way point.

In summary, it hits all of the places you expect this sort of American IPA to hit, but for me it lacks the finesse of the more established brands: your Sierra Nevadas and your Goose Islands. If it were as cheap and cheerful as the Sainsbury's own-branding suggests I might go for it again, but more likely I reckon I'd trade up to something with a bit more hop action.

24 October 2013


I did my best to look after my bottle of Bronze Age ale in the year or so between getting it and drinking it. There's a glass door in my beer fridge but I made sure the bottle was right at the back. Unfortunately the tell-tale skunkiness was apparent as soon as I drew the cork. Ugh.

It's badged as a "farmhouse ale", a style I wouldn't have thought of as especially hop-forward. This one in particular is from Belgian brewery Hof Ten Dormaal, brewed under the aegis of Stillwater Brewing of Maryland. The long maturation has stuck the yeasty lees firmly to the bottom of the bottle and not even the high carbonation can dislodge it, resulting in a clear golden glassful, stacked high with foam.

A proper sniff of the poured beer and the skunkiness has subsided somewhat. There's the hot sugary spiciness I associate with Duvel in particular, even though this is rather lighter at 6% ABV. The novelty ingredient is raw spelt but I've no idea what that's supposed to add to the flavour. It's a lovely beer, though: there's a big pepper piquancy at its heart, a gunpowder dryness of the sort you sometimes find in lambics. The sweetness comes in the form of a mild red apple flavour, but no real hop character that I can detect.

If it wasn't so damn fizzy it would be really first-rate, but all that carbonation interferes badly with its drinkability. It's a tasty curiosity to be enjoyed slowly on a swirl-and-sip basis.

21 October 2013

Hey JD

While we in the south wait for Mr Wetherspoon to hook up his beer engines and plug in the microwave in south county Dublin, it was festival time in the UK. So, at Steve's suggestion, I gandered up to Belfast on Saturday to see what was on offer.

Afternoon trade at The Bridge House was brisk and a steadfast effort had been put in to get a good selection of the special edition beers on, though not the full fifty, alas. Ten of these were produced in conjunction with US breweries, of which five were available on the day.

Top of my to-try list was Sgt Pepper, brewed at Everard's by the brewmaster of Cambridge Brewing in Massachusetts. I do like a bit of pepper in a beer, or even loads of pepper, and this 4.2% ABV golden ale delivered admirably. Everything that's great about brewing with peppercorns is here: the jolt of spicy heat to begin, the old fashioned dusty top-of-the-pepperpot white pepper piquancy, and then the earthier and oilier taste of freshly crushed black pepper. While the spicing is not overdone, the beer underneath doesn't have much to say, just a little hint of lagery golden syrup. Overall an interesting and sessionable offering.

Second on my hitlist was Supremely Self-Conscious Black Ale, created by Mitch Steele of Stone at Adnams. I had been led to believe by advance reviews that it wasn't all that, but it is all that, and a fair bit more. The aroma makes it clear from the outset that a lot of US hops have gone in here: big old grapefruit and pine resin welcome the drinker in. On first sip there's a massive, burning bitter hit which subsides mercifully quickly, fading down to grapefruit pith and then settling on friendlier mango and pineapple. There's just a bit of coffee representing the dark side of the profile -- the programme describes the roast character as "subdued" and I think it certainly has been. It's only 5% ABV but tastes and feels much stronger, being weighty like a big stout and depositing a lingering resin on the lips. Possibly not a great choice for second beer, but it had been on since the previous day and was due to run out soon, though in the event there was still one pint left for me to claim a few hours later before the train home -- the best £2.29 I've spend on beer this year.

Avatar Jasmine IPA brewed by Elysian had some good press and I thought it was quite decent. I found it hard to believe it was 6.3% ABV when it presents as a fairly standard, decent bitter. The jasmine imparts a light floral quality but doesn't dominate the more normal subtle English bitter qualities. 21st Amendment's offering, brewed at Wychwood and called American Bitter Red, was also good though understated. A vivid red colour, and very tannic, almost to the point of astringency. I liked it, however, finding it clean and refreshing. What I couldn't find was any parallel to its ancestor, 21st Amendment's own Bitter American pale ale.

The wooden spoon for the collaborations goes to Ninkasi Cream Ale, produced at Caledonian in Edinburgh. I wasn't expecting much, it being a cream ale and all, but I got even less: the water from a can of sweetcorn, bolstering my opinion that cream ale is not a style that needs to be resurrected in craft form, not even ironically.

Of the non-collaborations, the most striking was Bateman's Hazelnut Brownie. This was 6.3% ABV and really did taste like drinking a slice of chocolate cake, complete with bready sponge and dense chocolate cream filling. The thing is, nobody does want to drink a slice of chocolate cake: it's sickly, cloying and overpoweringly flavoured. I had this early on in the session and it ended up being more of a palate hog than the super-hopped Stone beer. Along similar lines but nowhere near as extreme was Titanic Cappuccino, two words rarely seen in proximity. This appears to be Titanic Brewery's standard stout with coffee added. It's simple and light, the coffee is little more than a lacing, accentuating the dry stout qualities. I liked it.

Two bitters to finish on: Cora by JW Lees was so-so: a red-gold colour with some nice biscuit sweetness and a thirst-encouraging dryness but somewhat watery at its core. St Peter's Extra was better: 4.4% ABV and again quite straightforward but with a lightly nutty flavour and just a little bit more of a hop kick than usual.

Suddenly it was 4pm so Steve and I set off to visit a couple of other pubs. Top of my list was The Hudson where the groundfloor bar was surprisingly busy for a Saturday afternoon. Nothing new to try here, but a swift half of Dead Pony Club went down very nicely.

We did no more than stick our heads in to The Crown, but it was also very busy and there was nothing of interest on draught. Steve's real target was Bittles where there was rumoured to be a cask from Ards Brewery but we'd just missed it. Plenty of Ards bottles, though. I went for the house beer -- Bittles -- labelled as a "Citra Autumn Ale". It's 5.1% ABV and bottle conditioned, pouring a cloudy orange. It shows off the herbal, slightly medicinal side of Citra, with lots of grass and eucalyptus. Steve opted for the dark Rockin' Goose, 4.4% ABV and a murky shade of garnet. Stylewise I'd be calling it a brown ale: there's lots of lovely caramel and chocolate and just a dusting of citrus hops: simple, fun and very drinkable. The inevitable pale ale is called Pig Island and is a pale orange, and cloudy again. There's an odd mix of new and old world hop flavours here, with tangy mandarins at the front, turning to more waxy English hop notes in the finish. It would benefit from being a bit cleaner: a well stillaged cask of this would be great, I reckon. From the bottle it's like a decent quality homebrew: enjoyable, but with room for improvement.

After that it was back to The Bridge House for a final few, and the train home. A big thanks to Steve for putting the whole thing together. It was great meeting Barry who runs The Bridge House, Owen from Hilden, Paul and the gang from NI CAMRA and especially Alex, soon to be Belfast's newest, and possibly first, microbrewer.

And with a bit of luck I won't have to travel as far to try the beers at next year's festival.

17 October 2013


Trouble Brewing's new one, Fuzzy Logic, was commissioned by the Bull & Castle for their "Irishtoberfest" (sigh) which runs all this month. It's a 4.7% ABV weizen and arrives an opaque and murky pale orange-yellow with little by way of head. Its aroma is probably its most striking element: sulphurous, with more than a suggestion of cabbagey flatulence about it.

Past that there's a very dry weizen: all crunchy grain and completely lacking in banana fruitiness. There's a hint of clove oil and the official tasting notes suggest vanilla which I think I can detect too. Hops are an afterthought, showing up waxy and bitter at the very end. The carbonation is light for the style, and coupled with the dryness it makes it crisp and refreshing.

It's not the world's greatest wheat beer, but if you prefer the cleaner, more austere Flensburger style weizens to the banana bombs then this does the job admirably.

14 October 2013

The ethics of cloning

I confess my first thought on encountering a Dortmunder Export brewed in Cleveland was "why?" It's never been the most inspiring of styles, halfway down from a pale bock but lacking the casual drinkability of helles, and I'm not really surprised it's under threat in its natural habitat. An American brewery knocking one out smacks of little more than a technical exercise, and yet Great Lakes Brewing seem to be on to something with their Dortmunder Gold.

It looks fantastic, for a start: an almost red gold topped by a healthy layer of off-white foam. There's a gentle hint of silage and golden syrup in the aroma which continues on a similar vein when tasted. The hops provide cut grass and beeswax; the malt is wholegrain biscuit and madeira cake with just a little extra warmth from the 5.8% ABV, but the highlight is the texture: full, süffig, filling and satisfying. Beautifully balanced and very moreish.

I expected something a little more brash from Flying Dog's Under Dog "Atlantic Lager". It looks very innocent, dull even: a watery pale yellow. The taste is very strange. It's very akin to an American pale ale, with major sticky toffee and a little bit of a grassy hop tang. A gentle mineral bite leaves it crisp enough to just about pass as a lager if you squint a bit, but I have to wonder what the brewer was aiming for: not quenching enough to be a lawnmower lager, not complex enough to have the beatings of a pale ale in the flavour stakes.

A tendency to colour outside the lines is what has made American craft a major influencer on world microbrewing, but these two present a clear example of how following the instructions can yield better results. Sometimes.

11 October 2013

The comedown

The day after the Borefts beer festival was another cold and sunny one. We got a late morning train to Amsterdam and started with an early lunch. The restaurant's beer of the month was Goudkoppe, a blonde ale by Texels (do they have a dark one called Badkoppe? They should). 6% ABV and a very nicely put together version of this common style. Lots of fresh mandarin comes out first, followed up with the earthy Belgian yeast tang. Spritzy and refreshing, and just the thing to whet my appetite for more beer tasting.

In past years Beer Temple has been the first port of call on post-Borefts Sunday, but as I reported earlier in the year, the wonderful Gollem is now back in business and most wonderful of all opens its doors at noon on Sundays. Not too many drinkers it must be said: lost tourists, some other Borefts stragglers (hi Chris!) and one lonely determined alcoholic. The first beer on the modest taplist that caught my interest was Foxy Lady, seemingly a follow-up to the lacklustre Tasty Lady brewed at Breugems which I encountered last year. This one is rather better, with a complex mix of fruit and spices incorporating incense, concentrated tangerine plus sharp grapefruit zest on the end. The malt element provides just enough biscuit sweetness for balance.

After that, there was nothing new to me on tap and I wasn't in the mood for taking a gamble on an unfamiliar bottle so I settled for a draught glass of Troubadour's Magma and was very glad I did. I had a bottle of this a while back and reckoned it was a bit past its best. It was a whole different experience this time, the hops beautifully fresh and flavourful, giving the perfect bitter and citric counterbalance to the heavy malts.

From there to our traditional final destination of Arendnest, the pub which offers an exclusively Dutch selection of beers. Lo and behold, there was a third in the lady series: Smoky Lady. I couldn't resist. This is a clear blonde, sweet and massively smoky, blending heady perfume with Laphroaig whisky, the phenols turning a little towards TCP in the aftertaste. I rather liked it but wouldn't expect anyone else to.

The hops from the Magma were still at the front of my mind, however, so I decided to check out what they had by way of pale ales while the missus got stuck into the barley wines. Oedipus Brewing is a new one to me and their pale ale is called Mama (of course). It's a full 6% ABV though doesn't do much with that. It's a simple beer, verging perhaps on dull. There are some pleasant peach and orange sherbet flavours but no burst of zing and no bitter staying power. You'd have a decent pale 'n' hoppy session beer if it wasn't so strong.

I expected bigger things from a beer called High Hops by Maximus, based in Utrecht and another unfamiliar one. High Hops is the same strength as Mama and darker in colour: more orange than yellow, and this is accompanied by a slightly sickly toffee-candy aroma. Uh-oh. But it's not a crystal malt sugar bomb: the toffee is present in the flavour, but restrained. Unfortunately the hops are too, offering little more than a vague orangeade sweetness. Disappointing and not as advertised.

So it's back to De Molen to finish off. Cease & Desist is yet another imperial stout. 11.5% ABV this time but smelling and tasting much much stronger. It's extremely hot, and intensely flavoured, full of the distilled essence of coffee and treacle. I felt it lacked the usual finesse of a De Molen imperial stout. From the bottle menu I had to give Angst & Beven a go: my first imperial gose, at 12.2% ABV. Well, "gose-ish" says the label. There's no salt listed in the ingredients. It pours a dark honey amber and has a barley wine's sweetness at its core, flavoured with blood orange and mango notes from the hops. This is balanced by a wonderful barrel-aged woody sourness which keeps the whole thing dry and refreshing for the most part, though it does lean a little towards cough mixture at the end. A very interesting experiment and a beer well worth trying.

And that concludes Borefts weekend for 2013. It's back to my sadly neglected beer fridge from Monday.

10 October 2013

Passing for normal

I don't know whether it's the nature of the festival or my odd taste for odd beers, but I came back from Borefts 2013 able to squeeze most of the "normal" beers -- the pale ales, barley wines and the like -- into a single post.

On the IPA front, Naparbier's 5 Titius was my standout: 7.3% ABV, dark and heavy with sandalwood spices plus big zesty orange and grapefruit. What I loved most about it is that the weight doesn't come with a sticky sugariness and there's not an ounce of toffee in the flavour. Rooie Dop didn't quite manage to avoid the sugar in their 24/7 session IPA (4.9% ABV): there's a sweet middle, but also a solid bitter kick and plenty of fresh mandarin and lemon, even turning a little dank towards the end. The thin texture lets it down somewhat but it's still very enjoyable. Their full-strength IPA is 7.1% ABV and called Chica Americana. There's not all that much going on in it, just some herbs and lavender, making it smell like posh soap. Fyne Ales made a better fist of things at the same strength with Superior IPA. Still understated but quite complex, showing oily hop resins, with some jaffa and a bit of medicinal herbs. A light sherbet zing helps lift it and adds to the drinkability. Their more modest pale ale offering was Fladda Rock at 5.5% ABV: biscuits and citrus, and a little waxy, say my notes. I think I liked it but wasn't moved to write more.

Double IPAs: Toccalmatto's Surfing Hop is 8.5% ABV and a dark brown-amber shade. Lots of toffee in here, though cut nicely by tangerine and orange pith. Not too sweet, then: mellow and pleasantly sippable. Staying in Italy, Brewfist's 2Late approaches a double-figure ABV and triple-figure IBUs. It's very heavy: oily and even a little vinous with lots of alcohol heat wafting off it. The hop flavours are amazingly fresh, however, with beautiful peach and mandarin notes leaping out and making it much more approachable than its vital statistics might suggest.

Brewfist gave us a black IPA too -- Green Petrol. It's very green indeed: thick molasses stickiness meets raw cabbage bitterness. I quite liked it for all that. And we have white IPA as well, in the form of Rooie Dop's What A Wonderful White. This is 7.2% ABV and the full orange colour of a weissbier, which is what it really is. The flavour opens with a powerful punch of nectarine and orange, leaving a slightly acrid hop burn in its wake. There's more than a hint of weissbier spicing in the mix too, further fuelling my scepticism about "white IPA" as useful designation.

I only paid one quick visit to French brewery Mont Salève, for their Barley Wine aged in a pinot barrel. It's a lovely mellow blend of orangey hop oils and woody spices, plus a hint of acetic tartness. The same went for To Øl: just one beer and it a barley wine, this one called I've Seen Bigger Than Yours. It's a dark orange colour with an ivory head, making it look very dense; hardly surprising at 14% ABV. The aroma is a vague whiff of ripe summer fruits, and on tasting its raspberries that come to the fore, or more specifically the thick sweetness of raspberry ice cream sauce. Heavy going, but deftly offset by a bright and spritzy citrus sharpness which prevents the whole thing turning to cough mixture.