28 August 2014

House of Orange

I'm a complete sucker for new-wave German hops, mainly because we pretty much never see them here. But I did genuinely enjoy the handful of beers I've had using them, and Mandarina Bavaria particularly sticks out as a good variety. So obviously I leapt at Nøgne Ø Mandarina IPA when it appeared in DrinkStore, in a way that I don't normally leap at spendy Nøgne Ø beers.

This is 7.5% ABV and is dark orange with an almost reddish cast to it, topped by an off-white head. The aroma is a unique mix of Christmas spices, biscuits, gunpowder, jaffa, chocolate and herbs: one hell of a noseful. The flavour is calmer, smoother, based on the malt backbone coming through as light caramel and milk chocolate. Joyously, the carbonation is gentle and doesn't interfere with any of the flavours -- that wasn't always the case at Nøgne Ø.

But what of the hops? They're actually rather restrained. I think I was expecting more of a New World bitter bang but instead that herbal spiciness dominates, reminiscent of several Kiwi varieties and a reminder that many of them, too, have their origins in German breeds. There's a mildly oily resinousness as well, and then just enough of a citric punch on the end to make it worth the hophead's while. But overall it's smooth, complex, tasty and very very drinkable.

I should have been careful what I wished for with regard to a New World bitter bang as shortly afterwards there was the arrival of Nøgne Ø's Two Captains double IPA to the taps at Farrington's (now The Norseman, obvs -- this post has been in draft for a long time). I wandered along for a looksee. And y'know, I wasn't that impressed.

It's a clear innocent pale orange and starts with a hard jarring bitterness. This softens slightly after a moment, into more innocent sherbet lemons and light toffee; mandarin and a touch of dank resin, but overall just a bit too waxy and harsh for my liking. It reminded me a bit of Of Foam and Fury, and specifically of why that beer really is up there with the best.

Nøgne Ø's strength has always been its dark beers, I reckon, and these two, while perfectly palatable according to their own style, show little reason to change that opinion. And on that subject, a late coda of the dark beer variety:

I recently assisted Brian with a couple of his video podcasts and he brought along some beers to drink as we talked. The one that has the Norwegian segment in it went with a Nøgne Ø beer I'd never tasted before, an Imperial Rye Porter, brewed in collaboration with Terrapin Beer of Athens, Georgia. A huge 9% ABV, it's as heavy and sticky as you might expect, smelling powerfully of liquorice and tasting of unctuous coffee dregs. But there's also a gorgeous hop effect, delivering fresh raw cabbage in the aroma and a spicy, grassy vegetal flavour. And, like the Mandarina IPA, the carbonation is absolutely spot-on, leaving it rich, smooth and with almost a sherbet effervescence. Only the strength and the hugely complex flavour keep it from being an easy quaffer. Cheers Brian!

25 August 2014

The A game

Back in June, Molson Coors Ireland held another one of their beer events for the trade and meeja at House on Leeson Street. This time, the focus was on Blue Moon and they had brought over Blue Moon's "founder" Keith Villa to introduce himself and a few of his beers. As usual, the House kitchen had done a great job of putting together food combinations to go with the beer. We started on Blue Moon's Summer Honey Wheat which I'd had at the last event and was highly unimpressed by. It was paired with a chicken dish here and that worked surprisingly well in drawing the flavour out of the beer.  Mr Villa described it as a "food friendly" beer. I'd go so far as to say food dependent.

The main act consisted of three beers from the Blue Moon Graffiti Collection: their super-premium, ultra-craft, small-batch beers made to daring recipes and not normally available on this side of the Atlantic. First of the set was Ginger Smack, a powerful 9% ABV honey and ginger wheat ale. It looks heavy and honeyish though is definitely lacking in the flavour department. The ginger is present, but there's no invigorating spiciness, rather it comes through like the ginger in ginger biscuits. All the heat is from the high alcohol quotient. It's a simple, sippable beer, but doesn't compare at all well to beers where the ginger kick is more up-front. The official notes say that there should be clover honey in both the flavour and aroma, but whoever wrote those has either a very acute palate or an overactive imagination.

Ginger Smack was followed by Pine in the Neck, a 7.5% ABV, 70 IBU double IPA made with Citra, Simcoe, Cascade and Taurus hops. And then for some reason they've added juniper berries as well. It's a dark garnet colour and smells wonderfully of fresh American hops and enticing rich toffee. The texture is full, providing an ideal platform for the hops, which start with an acidic smack and then get smoother, oilier and danker later on. The toffee sweetness provides a modest degree of balance while still letting the hops sing, and doesn't cloy or get sticky as often happens in this type of beer. I could swear I get a herbal, gin-like flavour at the very end, from the juniper berries, but this time it's entirely possible that my imagination is the one doing unnecessary overtime. Overall an absolutely cracking beer, up there with some of the best stuff produced by the like of Odell and Sierra Nevada. I'm not sure my journalist table-mates enjoyed it as much as I did, so all the more for me then.

Dessert came with Chimp, an imperial wheat ale of 9% ABV with added cherries. It's the same sort of colour as the IPA, with maybe just a little more of a reddish cast to it. This has a hot and heavy barley wine quality, reminding me a great deal of the Three Floyds/Mikkeller "wheat wine" Hvedegoop. There's lots of crisp husky cereal in the flavour underneath all the alcohol and the cherry comes through as quite a sickly sweet syrupyness that it really could have done without. The whole is a bit of a mess and quite tough to drink, I thought.

It's clear from the IPA that the Blue Moon R&D team in Golden, Colorado do have plenty of brewing ability to go with their vast resources. The other two do seem more like committee efforts, designed to look daring rather than taste good. All are worth trying -- and big thanks to Molson Coors Ireland and their PR agency for providing the opportunity -- but I think the world's independent and innovative breweries have little cause to worry about the Graffiti Collection. If anything, it will bring a broader audience to oddly-constructed beers. It's all good.