30 July 2014

Summer in the mountains

From the official brewery of the American outdoors comes Mama's Little Yella Pils, a 5.3% ABV pilsner lager. Yella is right: a brilliant glaring gold, shot through with just a slight haze and topped by a stiff white foam.

I'm sure a brewery of integrity like Oskar Blues brews this from an all-malt recipe, but there's a certain corny quality to the taste; a sweetness I normally associate with the cheaper 'n' nastier sort of lagers. The aroma is dry, grainy and not entirely pleasant. So where's all the Saaz at? There's a tiny bitter bite -- no more than  a nibble -- in the finish, but none of the lovely grass notes you get in good pilsner. At this point I looked at the bottom of the can and noticed that this was packaged nearly seven months before I opened it. Perhaps that explains some of the problem, though I'm positive that the likes of Pilsner Urquell is more robust than this, distance travelled notwithstanding.

A bit of a disappointment then. It's even a little too fizzy to be properly refreshing. If I were hiking up the Rockies (don't laugh; it could happen) I'd be packing Dale's Pale Ale instead of this.

And staying in Colorado but flipping to the other end of the calendar, I recently acquired this unseasonal can of Euphoria, the winter pale ale from Ska Brewing. It pours the brown-amber of a twiggy English bitter, and it's fairly malt-forward, a warming 6.2% ABV with smooth chocolate flavours infused with oily mandarin and a classy touch of rosewater. While it's far from fresh at this time of year, there's still a lovely sharp citrus aroma, though that's where the big hop action starts and ends. Still, good in any weather, and very much preferable to the elderly pils above.

28 July 2014

Tinkering sans frontières

The newest pair of beers from Dublin-based Brown Paper Bag Project arrived a couple of weeks ago, heralded by a barbecue and garden party out the back of L. Mulligan Grocer where projecteers Colin and Brian introduced the débutantes.

Look at that lovely head
Vlad the Baker is a lager, lagered the proper way in Vyškov, in central Moravia. American hops have been used extensively, leading its creators to badge it as an "India Pale Lager", immediately drawing a comparison with Williams Brothers Caesar Augustus. Vlad is the better of the two: the hops don't just provide a whiff of citrus on a clean lager base, they're the main act, as you would expect in an IPA. There's an almost sticky orange pith quality, aided by a generously heavy US-IPA-style toffee malt base. The aroma melds the West Coast grapefruit sharpness with a classic Czech fresh-cut-grass character: there's Columbus, Simcoe, and Summit in here, but not so much that they bury the Saaz. I'm amazed that such a weighty beer is a mere 4.8% ABV, and the bonus good news is that it comes in half litre bottles, the first Brown Paper Bag beer to do so.

The companion piece is a similar strength but couldn't be more different. Shmoake is a grätzer created at regular Brown Paper Bag haunt Hofbrouwerijke. I'd say that this smoky wheat beer is a difficult style to get right: the iodine intensity of the one Jopen brewed a few years back, which I'm sure was totally authentic, was just a bit too much for me, and it's probably very easy to go the other way and lose the whole point of the style: a refreshing summer quencher given an extra dimension by the assertive smoke. This one is lightly textured for easy drinking, and pleasantly dry, with the smoke flavours right at the centre where they should be, striking the palate immediately and lingering all the way through. But... there's something else. Something I've never encountered in my admittedly limited grätzer experience. It's a sweet fruit juiciness, like honeydew melon, utterly out of place but absolutely beautiful. Sadly, it almost disappears when the beer's lees are added to the glass, but on a clean first pour it adds a wonderful refreshing new dimension to the flavour.

An American twist on real světlý ležák and a hop-driven grätzer: that sounds like what the 'Project would be up to all right.

24 July 2014

Lotta bottle

Some recent bottled additions to the Irish craft beer scene today, starting with two from Mayo brewery Mescan. I'd had their blonde previously but so far missed its companion beer until now. It's a red tripel. In fact, it's probably the Red Tripel as I don't think I've seen the style designation before, in Belgium or beyond. It's a bit of a misnomer, though, pouring more of a garnet-amber than the bright red I was half-expecting. Lots of very typical Belgian fruity esters in the nose, plummy like a dubbel rather than spicy like a tripel. All of the 8% ABV can be tasted: it's hot and fruity, in a sherryish kind of way. The darker malt really does bend its flavour profile more towards the darker Belgian monastic styles and there's none of the spice or honey of tripel to redress the balance. I like it; it's warming and very flavourful, but I'm not sure I'd put the T-word on the label.

The previous two Mescan beers are unmistakably Belgian-influenced in their taste and style. So I was highly curious when it came to Westporter Stout: a more Irish than Belgian 5% ABV. There's a slight yeast whiff, and lots of foam, which add to its Belgian credentials, but underneath it's all Irish. The texture is light and very sessionable and the flavour is dry, with the little sparks of gunpowder spice you sometimes get from roasted barley or black malt. Some lovely coffee and caramel finishes it off, and I'm reminded of both Dungarvan's Black Rock and Carlow's Leann Folláin, which is to say a thumbs-up from me. Those Belgian beehive bottles are very pretty and all, but I'd appreciate a pint of this.

Dungarvan's summer