30 March 2016

Trojan work

I found these three Raudonų Plytų beers in the shop at Vilnius airport on my way home from Lithuania last year. The name means "Red Brick" and it's a sub-brand of local giant Švyturys, itself a subsidiary of globe-spanning Carlsberg.

Ryklio Kavinukas ("Shark's Coffee Pot") is a coffee milk stout at 4.5% ABV. It looks typically stouty, though perhaps a little more brown than proper black. I think I was expecting something of a confection: sweet and highly coffee'd, but it's not. Instead, this is a very straightforward medium strength stout, not that different to any mainstream bottled Irish one. There's a light roast and a mild sweet-sour tang which I'm guessing is the lactose at work but neither comes on particularly strongly. A low carbonation level makes it nicely drinkable which means I made short work of the bottle. In a different mood I might feel gypped by its lack of bells and whistles, but I enjoyed its simplicity. Inoffensive doesn't have to mean bad.

A dubbel to follow, though a light one at just 6% ABV. Nežinomas Krantas ("Unknown Shore") is a chestnut maroon colour with a short-lived ivory head. It smells rich and estery with a touch of dark rum about it. It is light of texture and the finish is quick so falls short of the dubbel spec there, but it is tasty. A luxurious plum pudding and port booziness, rum and raisin ice cream, almost but not quite tipping over into marker pen and model glue, probably from an unnecessary addition of oak chips. It's perhaps not as refined as the typical Belgian dubbel, at least partly down to a lack of yeast in the bottle I reckon. But like the stout it's solidly enjoyable.

My last is Bocmano Ūsai ("Bosun's Moustache"), an American-style IPA at 6% ABV again. IPA is where the faking-it industrial brewers always mess up, right? Even when hop celebrities like Citra, Chinook and Centennial are name-checked on the label. It's a deep orange-amber colour and wasn't in much of a rush to form a head as it poured, the carbonation little more than a prickle. The aroma suggests citrus zest, but not very much of it, though this has been sitting at the back of my fridge for over five months so maybe that can be excused. But the flavour is quite understated as well: a generous dose of crystal malt provides a toffee base, and then there are sparks of grapefruit pith, a smoother jaffa and peach juiciness, and then a parting shot of wax bitterness. This is very similar in character to the stout in that it hits the stylistic flavour points in a clean and methodical way but doesn't really offer anything to excite, something I regard as less excusable in a US-style IPA than a session stout. While there's absolutely nothing wrong with this beer it does get quite boring quite quickly.

You can see Raudonų Plytų's sizeable range of beers on their swish website. It's good that Švyturys is making this kind of stuff instead of yet another variation on its so-so pale lager. The usual argument that it'll draw new punters into exploring the beer world further applies. They do seem to lack a certain soul, however. Both the branding and the taste are perhaps a little too clean.

28 March 2016

Summoned to the flag

Several years ago I was browsing through the trademarks directory of the Irish Patents Office and noticed that the Dingle Brewing Company, of Tom Crean's Lager fame, had trademarked "1916 Centenary Beer" back in 2010. "That's a good idea," I thought, "thinking ahead." Almost six years later, however, Dingle Brewing has yet to produce a second beer but three other breweries have leapt on the marketing opportunity so thoughtfully provided by the lads in the GPO almost a century ago.

Brehon Brewhouse's barrel-aged special has only just been released, but you can get an impression of it in this video from the brewery. The first to actually come my way was Children of the Revolution, an IPA by Wicklow Wolf. With appropriate reverence, they've assembled an elite hop line-up, gallant allies including Amarillo, Simcoe and Columbus, all packed into a dark gold beer of 5.7% ABV. The aroma suggests that maybe they've overdone the balance a little with this: there's a lot of biscuit coming through with the zesty citrus. The first sip brings a kind of oily grapefruit essence, easing itself over the palate, aided by quite a weighty texture. From this rise piney fumes and a little bit of sweeter citrus fruit flesh, before it lapses back to a long tangily bitter finish. It's a bit of a workout to drink but I found its assertiveness quite refreshing. You deal with this beer on its own terms, and I respect that.

Before starting in on the second beer I have to say thanks to Arthurstown Brewing Company: I was having trouble locating a bottle of their Proclamation Porter and they met my request for a list of stockists with a freebie bottle. Much appreciated. I'd been especially looking forward to it because their stout was the highlight of the range they previewed late last year. I was hoping this would have something in common with that unctuous beauty. It certainly seems dense when held up to the light: barely a trace of any colour other than black. The aroma is a blend of flowers and chocolate -- think Fry's Turkish Delight -- but on tasting all is changed, changed utterly. There's a raw, old fashioned hop bitterness right at the front, reminding me a little of another patriot-inspired dark beer, Wrassler's XXXX. You get a flash of milk chocolate in the middle, but then it's back to bitterness in the finish: both the hop kind and black roast kind as well. And the texture? Surprisingly light, actually. It's probably for the best as well, good that the acid bitterness scrubs the palate and leaves quickly instead of hanging around. In fact I'm a little surprised that the ABV is as high as 5%: what it does could probably be achieved lower down the scale. All in all, a nicely complex beer and one that does take its callback to early 20th century Irish brewing seriously.

Though quite different from each other, both do have a bold, possibly even rebellious, streak to them. Brewing the marketing gimmick into the liquid is an impressive feat.

25 March 2016

Cheap ticks

The Three Tun Tavern in Blackrock really pulled it out of the bag for the most recent JD Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival. Eleven beers, almost the full compliment o