30 January 2017

The Yanks in the pub

You've just missed the American beer festival at the Porterhouse. It ran for the last two weeks until yesterday, though there might be a few of the specials knocking around in some of the bars still. I went in specifically in search of Crooked Stave's HopSavant, knowing nothing about the beer or the brewery, only that I'd never heard of either and wanted to give it a go in case it disappeared forever.

The brewery is in Denver and the beer is an IPA using Centennial and Simcoe hops, then fermented out to 6.7% ABV with pure Brettanomyces yeast. It's a murky pale yellow colour and smells first of friendly mango and pineapple, then a more serious sour funk. In keeping with this, the flavour is simultaneously bright and clean but also cheekily dirty at the same time. This interplay reminded me a lot of how the hops work in fresh Orval, but also of the perfect clean sharpness you get in good gueuze. There's a brief peach flavour at the centre, before it finishes on a tangy mix of pine and compost. As an IPA it's more fruity than bitter, but it's really all about that big Bretty off-sour flavour. Despite everything going on, and the not inconsiderable strength, it's very drinkable indeed. I hope we see it again.

While I was there I thought I'd take a punt on Lagunitas's Brown Sugga'. This is a rich strong ale of 9.7% ABV, the colour of polished mahogany, and with that characteristic Lagunitas density. As the name makes clear, it's very sweet and unapologetically sticky. By way of balance it has has a very unsubtle metallic tang, and together the two elements produce the sensation of drinking alcoholic treacle. Yum yum. What saves it from being awful is a forest fruit flavour in the middle; a kind of blackcurrant jam note that adds just enough complexity to the taste to keep it on my good side. So I got through it, but it's another one of those Lagunitas beers that are just too heavy and sweet for me to go back to.

There was a bit of a Stateside-themed party at the first Beer Club evening at The Hill in Ranelagh the week previous. Barman Dave has been running these tutored tasting gigs since he worked at The Dark Horse in Blackrock, bringing them with him to Alfie's and now at his latest post in The Hill. It was my first one of these, the format being tasters of seven beers, with a bit of a spiel from Dave. All very cool relaxed fun.

The line-up included a handful of beers that were brand new to me, the first of which was Founders Azacca. I'm usually a fan of that particular hop variety but found this dark orange expression of it rather plain. It leans very heavily on the malt side of the equation, resulting in a smooth but dense 7%-er. There's a big bitter hit of hop resins, but very little of Azacca's usual tropical fruit notes, just a middle-of-the-road peach taste. A little bit like BrewDog's IPA Is Dead series of old, this piles on the booze and bitterness to a level where the hop's real character is somewhat lost.

My beer of the evening was Runoff by Odell. It's a red IPA which is another one of those styles I very rarely enjoy, but this one hits more of the flavour points I associate with American amber ale: that beautiful marzipan blend of nutty malt and perfumed hops. Though 6.5% ABV it's not too heavy or sweet and shows an assertive herbal bitterness in the back of the throat. A touch of mild tannin helps it finish quickly and cleanly, leaving no residue behind to cloy the palate. This beer shows perfect poise and balance and I enjoyed it a lot more than any of the beers on the darker side of Odell's portfolio.

Last of this lot is Go West!, a take on modern west-coast IPA by the godfather of west-coast brewing, Anchor of San Francisco. First brewed in 2015, it's pretty much on-trend, I think, being a pale yellow colour and having a piquant hop-forward aroma of lemon zest and sultanas. The bones of the flavour are an aniseed herbal bitterness coupled with a savoury caraway note. I'd have liked more citrus or general fruit flavours but it's far from the first IPA I've said that about lately. Give me a call when savoury is over.

Cheers to Dave and The Hill crew for a wonderful evening. Keep an eye on their social media for the next Beer Club evening.

And we wrap this tour up with what I'm assuming is a proxy American: Stone Coffee Milk Stout, which I'd guess came from the Berlin satellite brewery and which was on tap at 57 the Headline. It's a modest 5% ABV and has a gorgeously heady, oily coffee aroma: a real invigorating wake-up call. Sadly this doesn't translate to the flavour, which I found rather dry and limp. There's a certain Irish-coffee creaminess that I enjoyed, but that was more texture than taste: this coffee stout needs more coffee. Maybe a few extra points on the ABV scale would be no harm too.

Looking back, that's a solid mix of styles in there. I may have my complaints about some of the trends in beer these days, but the sheer variety available on tap isn't one of them.


27 January 2017

Koselig

Since we're all sick to the back teeth of hygge at this stage, I went looking for the Norwegian equivalent for the title of this post. Now you know. The subject is a couple of beers that were kindly gifted to me by Tom from Nøgne Ø, who visited Dublin last summer. I knew then that these were beers to be kept for colder days and the chilly afternoons of last weekend seemed the perfect time to tackle them.

SunturnBlend is definitely one for winter, based as it is on the smoked barley wine that Nøgne Ø produces annually at the December equinox. This version is a mixture of different Sunturnbrew vintages, subsequently given 16 months in an oak barrel and coming out at 11% ABV. It looks the part of a strong winter brew: ebony brown in colour, pouring viscously with no real effort at forming a head. There's a smack of woody booze in the aroma, all cream sherry, hot fudge sauce and a meatier Bovril twang. On tasting, however, the first impression is bitter herbal hops, adding eucalyptus and aniseed. After this there's a slightly acrid rubbery smokiness but thankfully it doesn't last long, leaving just a warming density in its wake, a syrupy sweetness that develops a fun salted caramel note as it warms. Not too heavy and nicely balanced, it definitely passes the koselig test.

Nøgne Ø Quadrupel reminds me of that simpler time when all of the brewery's beers were named bluntly for their style. For a quadrupel is what it is, 15.5% ABV, dark brown again and a little muddy with it. The aroma doesn't have Bovril this time but there's a bit of a soy sauce autolytic note in its place. I was expecting savoury but it's lovely and sweet from the first sip: a creamy crème brûlée mix of vanilla and brown sugar. The fruity Belgian esters characteristic of the style are largely missing from this, and while a bit of fig and plum would be nice, I also enjoyed the cleanness here. Blackcurrant jelly is about as fruity as it gets after it's warmed a little. There's a crispness to it which is unusual in such a strong and dark beer but which really helps offset the massive strength and makes it, if not exactly easy drinking, then at least pleasantly manageable.

Both beers are excellent after-dinner candidates, but I think that the iconoclastic quadrupel really has the edge over the barrel job. It may be old-school craft at this stage, with the supposed taint of macrobrewing firmly upon it, but Nøgne Ø is still turning out quality.