19 February 2014

What the continentals brought to the party

One of the highlights of the Alltech festival is always (ie twice so far) the beers from abroad that we don't normally see here. Ticker heaven. Lots of unfamiliar European breweries had either sent beer along or showed up in person.

Most enthusiastic was the Valencia-based Italian-themed restaurant-brewery Birra & Blues whose Jon Lovitz lookalike owner was pouring beers and shaking every hand offered. Endearing. Amongst the line-up was La Negra, a murky brown pumpkin ale of 5.8% ABV. As per, there's not a whole lot of pumpkin going on but the spices are nice and the dark malt adds a pleasant sweetness. The brewery's Tostada is a warming Belgiany affair with the expected yeasty esters as well as a sharper tang on the end. It felt a little unfinished and homebrewish overall. John Lee Blues is a more polished version of the same thing, still with the Belgian heat but there are some actual fruit flavours discernible: plum and even a little bit of juicy peach. Lots of my fellow attendees had good things to say about the Spaghetti & Blues 25° Aniversario. I thought it was awful. Strong, and beefed up with time in Scotch whisky barrels, it's hot and heavy while also grainy like an unpleasant wheat beer. Not for me.

Next door was the Catalan brewery Espiga. They had just the one beer pouring: Bruna. It's red-gold and tastes powerfully of dusty grain sack. A layer of candy store hops and just a tiny touch of weedy dank rescues it, but doesn't bring it any higher up my approval scale than "acceptable".

One that immediately caught my eye when I spotted it in the press room fridge was from BrauKunstKeller. One does not pass up beer from the German new wave when it appears in Dublin, though I admit I had completely forgotten I hated the only other beer of theirs I've tried. Amarsi is 7.1% ABV though tastes stronger, hopped with a combination of Amarillo and Simcoe for some lovely tangerine and nectarine, but the booziness kind of interferes with the fresh fruitiness. A lighter touch is needed, I think.

While we're on hot and Teutonic, a sample of Salm's Burning Hell was secured by Reuben after one of the formal tastings. It's a chilli-infused pale lager, pouring hazy yellow and reeking of vinegary sourness. The chilli element is sharp and long, dominating the flavour all the way to a dry chilli-skin finish. It's pretty disgusting, but I reckon that's more to do with the quality of the base lager than what's been done to it.

To the Netherlands next and Stoute Liefde, an imperial stout. A fairly simple offering, dry with some treacle and liquorice. Evil Twin's Even More Jesus (kindly supplied by Simon) took it to school, exhibiting a sumptuous silkiness underlying warming satisfying cocoa. A real comfy armchair of a beer.

I couldn't help wondering if anyone pointed out to Danish contract brewers Coisbo that their name translates as "FootCow" in Irish. They have some very stylish minimalist branding, alluring beer names, and ended up taking the top prize in the professionally judged competition for their Four imperial stout. I was surprised when I heard. I mean, it's nice, but my notes say it was rather light and plain for a 10% ABV beer, never mind for an international award winner.

I had high hopes for their Urban Haze, a 5.3% ABV golden ale with elderflower. I do like a bit of elderflower in a beer. This didn't have much of that, or much else really. What should have been bursting with summery fun was all a bit wet bank holiday Monday. Harlem Break brown ale was also rather two-dimensional: some nice milky coffee but that's about it. I'd expect more at 5.3% ABV. About the best of them was the pale ale Manhattan Dawn: orange barley sweets up front and a solid background bitterness. Just what you'd want from a 6.5% ABV semi-session ale.

A handful of Americans to finish us off, in the next post.


  1. Even More Jesus wasn't in the competition. I'd brought a bottle along with me for somebody else who couldn't make it in the end.

    1. Ahhh. I owe you (and them) a thank you.

    2. My pleasure, hopefully we'll be seeing a lot more from them here soon.