29 May 2015

Varietal performance

Single-hopped beers are what we're about today, and two recent Irish releases which utilise American breeds.

Radik Ale is a brand new gypsy brewing company run by Alain, a displaced Belgian in Cork. The first beer out is called Hopster, brewed at Black's of Kinsale. Alain kindly dropped me a couple of sample bottles to try.

It's single-hopped with Chinook, a hop which perhaps unfairly is more associated with bittering than flavour. 5.2% ABV and with a sizeable quantity of crystal malt it pours a dark amber shade with a loose-bubbled head and an aroma rich in biscuit sweetness but with a spicy citrus edge too. And it's the spiciness of Chinook that's the centrepiece of the flavour, given an extra warmth by the roasted malt. It fades to quite a sharp metallic tang which I guess is why this tends not to get used as a late hop, but it doesn't spoil the party here. The light carbonation ensures that the beer stays drinkable, and while it's not especially complex it is substantial enough to hold the drinker's attention all the way to the end. Or if you want to just throw it back, that works too.

Trouble Brewing also has a single-hop beer out: Equinox SMASH, a sequel to the Centennial one they released during the spring and this time using Maris Otter malt. I found it on keg amidst the Victorian charm of The Swan on Aungier Street earlier in the week.

The hazy pale blonde colour makes it look almost like a witbier and it's light of body too, as might be expected at 4.8% ABV. The flavour opens with a huge pine and grapefruit pith sharpness, fading only gradually to reveal more delicate peach and pineapple underneath. The Maris Otter isn't saying much: this beer is all hop and I think unashamedly so. It was served very cold which, while boosting its refreshment power, meant that there was almost no aroma to begin with. But I persisted and eventually found subtle wet honeydew and tart lime notes coming off it. One could perhaps criticise it for being one-dimensional, but if you're on board for a session-strength hoppy sledgehammer then it gets the job done, much like its stablemate Graffiti.

I guess it's tough to build flavour complexity into a single-hop recipe but both of these show that this need not be seen as a barrier to brewing something enjoyable. You don't have to be a forensic brewing nerd to get value out of them.

27 May 2015

The sweet wheat beat

Two slightly off-kilter German wheat beers today, further indication not so much of an explosion of diversity, but that you don't have to stick to the dominant styles when picking a German beer.

Maisel is one of the well-established Bavarian weissbier breweries and has recently, for whatever reason, begun producing large-format bottles in more craft-ish styles, with English language labels. I've never been a big fan of the brewery, finding their beer far too sweet, but I figured this was an opportunity to give them another chance. According to the blurb, Jeff's Bavarian Ale isn't really a non-German style -- its use of the A-word is the only real nod to foreign brewing. Behind the label it's a 7.1% ABV weizenbock, but hey: weizenbocks aren't exactly thick on the ground, even in Germany. Unfortunately this isn't a great one, and yes it's the sweetness again. I guess when you're used to strong beers from Belgium, where the cunning devils cheat by adding sugar, the all-malt German equivalent can be heavy going to drink. A hop-derived orange candy flavour adds a nice bit of complexity to it and overall it's not a bad beer, but it's quite one-dimensional and not as special as the presentation would like us to think.

Up the other end of the country now, and the Störtebeker brewery from the Baltic coast. They've thrown some rye in to the mix to make Störtebeker Roggen-Weizen, another amber coloured beer, this time a more approachable 5.4% ABV. There's an understated and enticing whiff of bubblegum in the aroma and I spared myself the lees at the bottom of the bottle so the flavour I got is clean: mostly quite sweet and cakey but with a drier roasted edge, from either the dark grain or the rye. The carbonation is typically high for the style, but there's plenty of soft full body to carry that. I was amused by the label making a point of stating that the beer is Reinheitsgebot-compliant and it took me a minute or two to figure out how, forgetting that the rules mostly don't apply to warm-fermented beers like this. But I don't know that Störtebeker is really getting much value from its rye, other than the novelty. At its heart this is a plain ordinary medium-dark weissbier, no more and no less.

So, no new wheat beer classics to report this time. At ease, Herr Schneider.

25 May 2015

To travel in hope

The novelty of having a JD Wetherspoon 45 minutes away still hasn't worn off, though it's a benefit I only really feel during their biannual beer festivals. So, at the start of the most recent one, back in late March, I trooped out to Blackrock early on a Sunday afternoon to see what was on.

With lunch, to begin, Fort English-style IPA which was brewed by Shepherd Neame and poured an attractive bright copper colour. Its historically-accurate 5.8% ABV can really be felt from the first pull: rich and warming, like being hugged by freshly-baked cookies. The hops add an old-fashioned green veg bitterness, tangy at first, then leaving a long brassy finish. You can almost taste the flat cap here, but it's not twiggy or flabby. A charming old geezer of a bitter.

Because I'm a good and dutiful husband I offered up the California Breakfast Ale to the missus, against my JDW fest