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.

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