Boxing and poker are the themes for today's beers, though we're in Northern Ireland rather than Las Vegas. You can fit your own joke about fear and loathing in here.
Ghrian is a 4.5% ABV dark golden ale from Pokertree, bottle conditioned yet miraculously clear, doubtless due to the deal with the devil that gave the brewery its name. And it's a damn fine version of the style, with clean and crisp oatmeal biscuit and golden syrup, overlaid with a leafy vegetal complexity: bok choi and spinach plus a garnish of peppery rocket and finishing on a slightly metallic bitterness. The body is properly aley and full but the residual sugar isn't allowed dominate and it stays perfectly refreshing throughout. This is a deftly put together beer, positioned well for both the cautious newcomer and those looking for an extra dimension or two of flavour.
It turns out that a fondness for big floppy jumpers isn't the only thing I have in common with the late Kurt Cobain. We both have our roots in Pokertree's home town of Carrickmore, Co. Tyrone, and Dark Nirvana is the brewery's tribute to him. I'm sure the one to me will follow in due course. Badged as a "cascadian ale" this is 6.5% ABV and smells enticingly of fresh coffee, cherries and incense. That fragrant, oily perfumed bittersweet incense spice is a big part of the flavour, with a breezier turkish delight and milk chocolate sweetness humming along merrily behind it. It's a very strange beast, and won't be for everyone, but I loved it, even if I probably won't need another bottle any time soon.
Up the other end of the M1 there's Belfast, now boasting a second microbrewery with more on the way. These samples from Knockout Brewing arrived courtesy of Steve.
Take a swing and feel the hops connect as a haymaker of a punch hits your mouth says the label of Knockout Irish Red Ale. Um, OK. It's not 100% hyperbole, either: this is a strongly flavoured beer, but not really in a way I enjoyed. The toffee is laid on very thick, and while I guess an attempt has been made to balance it, it ends up being a harsh and acidic bitterness. There's definitely no subtlety or nuance here, but then the name doesn't exactly imply there should be. More than Irish red, it reminds me of some of the more intense German bocks, beers which have legions of fans but just don't suit my palate at all. It looks nice, however, beaming rosy red and topped by a comfortable layer of foam, and I can't say I was able to pick out a single technical flaw anywhere. I just didn't like the bugger.
At 4.5% ABV, Knockout's Middleweight IPA is the same strength as the red and features the same strained boxing metaphors on the label. It's another massively weighty and quite sugary one, and once again the hops are simply trying to out-shout the malt. This time they're a bit more coherent, but there's not much of the fruit flavour associated with the advertised New Zealand and American varieties. Instead I got intense coconut, sticky pine sap and marmalade rind. Like the red, the recipe doesn't quite gel together and it's all very harsh and tough going to drink. I feel I've gone more than a couple of rounds with these two.
Still, I was singularly unimpressed with Pokertree first time out so I'm definitely not counting out Knockout yet.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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