29 May 2014

Thanks, Hank

My goat is one of the easily-got breeds. The beer world and how it's described seems to have an inexhaustable supply of terms and trends to wind me up. Until recently, one of them was the style designation "Belgian Quadrupel", or worse: "Belgian Quad". While Westmalle brought us dubbel and tripel in the 1930s, quadrupel is a Dutch invention: there were no Belgian "Belgian quads". Until, as I say, recently.

De Halve Maan in Bruges were the first ones I noticed to spoil my indignation, with Straffe Hendrik Brugs Quadrupel. It's 11% ABV and the same dark brown-red as any quadrupel, with a thin layer of ivory foam on top. The aroma is an almost salty waft of dried figs and engine grease. Lots of sweetness on tasting: chocolate syrup, juicy prunes and a pleasant burn, like with fortified wine. And yet it's not overly hot or sticky: the flavours present themselves in a mannerly order and leave just when you're done with them.

A highly enjoyable dessert beer, this. Belgian Quadrupel: you are forgiven.

More prosaically, there's a tripel too: Straffe Hendrik Brugs Tripel. A style-compliant 9% ABV and a fairly normal orange-gold colour, with generous quantities of yeasty gobbets in suspension. I get weissbier-ish clove and orange peel from the aroma and bang-on spice, fizz 'n' booze from the flavour. The most amazing thing is that this has been sitting in my fridge for at least two years and still tastes daisy-fresh. Westmalle Tripel does not do that, I can assure you.

I visited Halve Maan back in 2006 and took away a memory of a visitors' centre that brewed two forgettable beers and outsourced their flagship to someone else. Looks like that may have changed.

26 May 2014

Pull the other one

Kirkstall Three Swords
A couple of English beauties from the beer engines of Dublin today. First up, Lord Marples: according to this book, one of the original beers from the ever-evolving Thornbridge brewery. This is their answer to your standard English brown bitter: a perfectly clear red-gold when it arrived from the handpump in Against the Grain, and a modest 4% ABV. The brewery hasn't abandoned the style spec altogether: there are no crazy hop acrobatics being pulled here. Instead there's just the right amount of dry tannic bitterness and a subtle layer of white grape and lychee fruitiness. This is very much a beer for drinking more than one of.

Staying in parts northern, The Porterhouse held its annual spring festival last month and while the emphasis was on Irish beers, Kirkstall's Three Swords somehow managed to inveigle its way in. I wasn't complaining, though. This is proper Yorkshire pale 'n' hoppy: a lurid washing-up-liquid yellow with a beautiful soft soda texture and a lemon drop flavour that's all childlike charm until the finish arrives with a very grown-up bitter bite. At 4.5% ABV it's that little bit stronger than Lord Marples but is every bit as moreish, albeit in a completely different way.

22 May 2014

... and South

More west than south, really. All of today's beers are from Connacht microbreweries. The province's most prolific operation is, of course, Galway Bay. Their latest pilot batch was a Peanut Butter Stout, a hotly anticipated release, at least among those who didn't immediately go "ewww". It was a little bit of a let-down in the end. The name conjures rich, oily savoury peanut flavours but instead what we got was a fairly decent unexciting dry stout at 5.5% ABV. There is some lovely chocolate in the aroma, while the flavour blends dry crunchy roast, sweet caramel and just the faintest hint of savoury peanut. The latter is a little more apparent in the keg version, I thought, though there's not a huge difference between the two dispense methods.

Staying in Galway, and the paradoxically named Dublin Brewer Blonde, produced by Independent Brewing in Carraroe exclusively for The Larder on the capital's Parliament Street. I was bowled over by the Pale Ale from the same range so hopes were high for this. Unfortunately it doesn't come through. It's obviously intended to be inoffensive: beer for those diners who don't really like beer. But instead of crisp and dull, it's a bit bleachy, while the malt and hops provide elements of golden syrup, bubblegum, digestive biscuit and an acrid bitterness right at the end. I don't think I've ever criticised a beer for being too full-flavoured before, and that's not the problem here, but the elements don't sit well together and that swimming pool foretaste just spoils the party for me. Stick to the Pale Ale, folks.

And finally to Leitrim and the companion beer to the Pipers Pale Ale I reviewed a couple of weeks ago: Brazen Amber Ale. It's available on draught but I've yet to cross paths with it at a convenient time so this review is based on the bottled version which is 4.2% ABV. It pours a beautiful clear dark amber, though rather headless after the first fizz subsides and it smells grainy, something which follows through in the flavour. There's almost a porterish dark grain quality coupled with a Lucozade-like artificial fruit. The dry grain is firmly ascendant over the hops, putting it somewhere below the bar for amber ale, though in the happy place for Irish red. It's a perfectly decent drinkable beer, but if American amber ale is in your head when you pop the cap it's time to recalibrate.

Not the greatest of ambassadors for the Irish brewing scene, these, but the wonderful thing about beer is you never have to wait long for the next one.

Footnote from Munster: The new version of Hurricane IPA from Eight Degrees is an ab