I'm slightly surprised there wasn't more of a fuss made about the arrival of Firestone Walker beer in Ireland a couple of months ago. By all accounts it was quite a coup by Grand Cru beers to get them over this way. But the first ones just quietly started showing up in specialist beer bars and off licences without anyone making too much noise, in my earshot anyway. I probably shouldn't complain. And with the company now part of a large multinational I expect they may start becoming more commonplace in Europe.
Anyway, three from the mid-Californian brewery today, though only two purchased on the white market, and only the one off the shelf of an Irish offy.
This can of Pivo, the brewery's pils, was acquired for me by Chris The Beer Geek, who took pains to ensure I got a fresh one, so the beer was a smidge over three weeks in the tin before I tipped it into a glass. The first surprise was the colour: a very nondescript pale yellow. At 5.3% ABV I thought it would at least look like a quality lager. Any fears over lack of substance are banished by the texture: the malt gives it a beautiful rounded and filling feel, plus that classic Dortmunder breadiness, shading towards the sweeter end of the spectrum with a hint of candyfloss. The promised hops are present but aren't at all overdone. There's the classic waxy, almost plasticky, noble hop bitterness then a mouthwatering cut-grass and pine effect, finishing quickly and cleanly, the way good lager should. I was expecting American hop perfume but that's not what it does at all: this is pure old-world elegance, reminding me a lot of the better, fresher, hoppier pale lagers I've caned in Bavaria. I'd happily see the whole "India Pale Lager" genre replaced with this sort of thing.
The Easy Jack IPA I obtained in DrinkStore so it wasn't quite so fresh, but still less than three months out of the brewery. It's another pale one: a crystalline golden hue. The aroma is rather candystore, all lurid chewsweet and sherbet fruit, plus the promise of plentiful sugar, which is surprising as it's only 4.7% ABV. The first pull reveals it to be pure Lilt, with a huge hit of juicy mango and pineapple. The sugar arrives after it and it's similar to the candyfloss in Pivo, much more than just a malt base. You need to wait around for any kind of bitterness but when it eventually arrives, right on the finish, even it is bringing fruit in tow: limes in particular, and maybe a slight spritz of grapefruit zest. At first I was really impressed by all that juiciness, but the sugary aspect makes each mouthful a little harder than the last. It's unusual to be saying a Californian IPA is unbalanced away from the bitterness side, but I think this is.
Finally, Wookey Jack, an 8.3% ABV rye black IPA I found on tap in BrewDog's Newcastle outlet recently. It's a dense beast, pure opaque black in colour and smelling worryingly of marker pens. The first thing to hit me on tasting was the texture: it's as viscous as it looks, thick and tarry with a slick, palate-coating bitterness but not much by way of hop flavour. Instead it's all roast, the only real hop presence being a certain dankness in the aroma. A disappointing experience, all told. Not what I'm after in a black IPA and completely lacking that dry grassy bite that hops and rye do so well together.
Double Jack has also been sighted on keg around Dublin. I wasn't a fan of this super-sticky double IPA when I first met it a couple of years ago, and recent revisits confirmed it's just not for me. I think perhaps they have too loose a hand at Firestone Walker when it comes to tipping the maltsack.
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