31 March 2014

Taking down the clown

Another jolly, and slightly weird, Belgian cartoon on the label of Paljas Blond, from Brouwerij Henricus in Zeebrugge. It's bright and only slightly hazy for a small bottle-conditioned job. The first surprise is its aroma: crisp and slightly sour, with overtones of gueuze about it.

 Not so much in the flavour, however. There's a big bitterness from a generous early addition of Magnum, followed by the orange cordial effect of Styrian Goldings. This fades from a thick intense syrupiness to a fresher, lighter juice flavour, enhanced by a certain savoury -- but perfectly clean -- character from the Belgian yeast. The real beauty of the recipe is that the sour aroma never goes away, and the contrast between how it tastes and how it smells is quite special. Not too sweet, not too dry, an interesting take on the style.

Far from boring Leffe clones for people who don't really like beer, the Belgian blonde genre always seems to have something new up its golden sleeve.

27 March 2014

Expand and contract

Brú has become the latest Irish brewery to begin making an own-brand beer for a large contractor. They've enlisted veteran distributor Cremin & Radley to sell their beers, a deal which gave them instant access to the nationwide chain of SuperValu supermarkets. It was there I found these two, brewed at Brú for C&R.

Hopes were uncharacteristically high for Kenmare Irish Red Ale, given the excellence of Brú's own Rua. This is 4.3% ABV and pours a handsome dark garnet colour, fizzing louchely to form a loose-bubbled off-white head. The aroma is as sweet as one might expect, but lightly spicy too and the texture reflects that low carbonation: wonderfully smooth and sinkable in a way that not enough beers of this strength are. Milk chocolate is the main element of the flavour: not unpleasant but far from typical of the style. There's quite a large discordant metallic tang as well, the occasional downside to using English hops. An almost sour sharp dry roast finishes off proceedings. Much as I love the mouthfeel of this beer, the flavours just don't come together properly. While it's not a run-of-the-mill Irish red and shows real substance and character, it doesn't quite go off in good and interesting directions the way that, for example, Brú Rua and O'Hara's Red do.

To the Kenmare Irish Pale Ale next. The same casky foam piles high above a medium amber body, before gradually collapsing away. Some light orange juiciness presents in the aroma, though I detect a worrying bleachiness as well. The texture is much thinner than the red, but that's not a criticism: the first pull offers instant quenching refreshment and invites a second. The orange theme continues, though it gets sweeter, turning more towards satsuma, or even Capri-Sun artificiality. The malt contributes an unnecessary layer of toffee. And that's your lot: no real bitterness and once the satsuma middle fades there's no real finish. I downed the rest of glass quite quickly, looking for something else going on, but this is very very plain fare. The best I can say is that it's accessible, drinkable and sinkable, though I was surprised to turn the label around and discover it's as strong as 5% ABV.

Several more Kenmare beers are promised. Hopefully they'll build on the good points of these two while fine tuning the flavours a little better.

24 March 2014

Tony Supremo

So this is My Antonia, the legendary collaboration with Dogfish Head brewed at Birra Del Borgo. You need credentials like that to get me to buy something badged as an imperial pilsner, because they're generally awful awful beers.

My Antonia presents as an attractive rich gold colour with just a few skeins of sediment drifting aurora-like through it. The aroma is sharply zesty: a blaring tocsin of lemon rind and grapefruit pith. The texture is heavy and a little syrupy, almost a barley wine consistency which is perhaps not surprising at 7.9% ABV. For all that, it's subtly flavoured: a bucolic perfume of jasmine and honeysuckle underpinned by sharper citrus and pine. Every sip unveils a different combination of fruit and flowers, but always exquisitely balanced, utilising the big strength to push the hop envelope.

My faith in the collaboration was justified and at the same time I have a new standard of how good something badged as an imperial pilsner needs to be.