31 March 2017

The 'Belly can brief

YellowBelly does cans now. If you've been following Irish beer on the internet or the shelves of the better shops you've probably noticed. The first two out are the Citra Pale Ale and YellowBelly Lager.

I was absolutely stunned by how good the latter was the first time I had it, down at the brewpub in 2015. It didn't look so attractive poured from the can: murky and with a total failure of a head. Still tastes pretty bang-on though. You don't get much aroma, and it's not one of those lagers which tries to impress with any specific aspects of the good-lager rulebook. Sweetness is the primary feature, and were you so gauche as to put a style on it you'd probably call it a helles. But there's a green hop kick on the end, just squinting over the malt parapet, which is pure pilsner. A stylistic headache, perhaps, but still a quality beer.

The companion piece in this first run of cans is YellowBelly Citra Pale Ale, of which I had yet to make the acquaintance. This chap is 4.8% ABV and a nearly opaque shade of orange. Its most striking attribute is its softness: the body is gently pillowy and there's almost no bitterness in the flavour. Instead there's an even sherbety texture, overlaid with gentle lemon and succulent nectarines. Citra has a reputation for punchy sharpness but that doesn't come through here; the bitterness is very restrained, offering no more than a decorative flourish on the very tail end. Citra fans are left with just a mild piney resin quality which smacks the bitterness sensors but doesn't hang around. I suspect that this is not a beer intended for considered sipping: the smooth texture and gentle hoppiness suggest that you're meant to throw it back and reach for another, and I absolutely endorse that as an approach.

Looking for quality cans for the sesh? Here they are.

29 March 2017

No laughing matter

This bottle of Naparbier's Mad Clown pale ale followed me home from the Alltech festival last month where it won Best Pale Ale in the competition there. They've badged it as an "extra" pale ale, and it's 5.7% ABV so I dunno why they didn't just call it an IPA and be done with it. Probably to cheat at beer competitions.

Anyway, I noticed lots of yeasty goop sloshing around at the bottom of the 33cl bottle so I made damn sure to pour carefully. I did quite well too, getting an almost totally clear dark orange glassful. While keeping my hand steady I couldn't help but notice the beautiful aroma coming from the pouring liquid. A closer sniff turned up gorgeous peach and mandarin fruit, just what I like in this kind of beer. The flavour didn't disappoint either. That sweet juiciness is the main element, from the first moment it touches the tongue and spreads outwards, tickling the salivary glands as it goes. It's helped on its way by a lovely smoothness: effervescent carbonation and the perfect amount of malt weight to give the hops room to do their thing. As the fresh juice fades it's replaced by a sterner bitterness, assertively piney and resinous. This leads to a metallic finish which would probably seem harsh in another beer but provides superb balance in this one.

"Mad Clown" is a childishly silly name for a classically-constructed pale ale, and I marvelled at every drop of it. That it might cross unrefined palates solely on account of the buyer deeming the label "awesome" does not bear thinking about.

A new range from Naparbier has just arrived into Ireland from their importers Proaddition, though I don't think Mad Clown is among them. Somebody should fix that.

27 March 2017

One of these things is not like the others

Last year I promised myself that for the next Wetherspoon Real Ale Festival I'd go and explore the newer northern branches of the chain in Dublin. Sadly, time constraints last weekend meant that plan had to go on the long finger so, on a beautiful clear cool Saturday morning I set off, as usual, for Dún Laoghaire.

Word on the street was that Mild the Gap was the beer to look out for, brewed at Hook Norton by Italian brewery MC-77. Happily it was on the bar when I rocked up to The Forty Foot. It arrived looking unattractively half-headed, though pleasingly jet-black underneath. The ABV is on the high side for mild at 4.5%, but otherwise it's a very very good interpretation of the style. The texture is light, without being thin, with a delicate creaminess precision-engineered for premium drinkability. It took genuine effort to drink slowly enough to get an impression of the flavour. This is a gentle coffee character -- a light dry roast up front, fading to a faint back of the throat bitterness. There's a very slight forest-fruit tang to this as well, but it's not in any way sharp, with everything softened by that mellow cream. One pint screamed out for another but as a disciplined scooper I was deaf to its cries.

Moving to thirds, then, and a California-themed pale ale from Hilden. Pale Oat Ale is 4.8% ABV and employs a power combo of American hops: Chinook, Citra, Columbus and Mount Hood. It certainly looks west-coast: properly bright and golden. I was expecting citrus but the flavour is a strangely sweet coconut vibe instead. There's a leafy herbal bitterness behind this, and it's set on quite a heavy, almost syrupy, body. It's a strange one but actually highly enjoyable. Complex and off-kilter, yet a pint or two would be no hardship at all. Bet it goes great with curry too.

Next, the dad-dancey new one from Yorkshire's Black Sheep: Pathmaker. Some branding consultant told them that a lumbersexual with a hop beard on the clip would bring the kids in. Urgh. But... this is another rather good beer even if, again, it's very definitely British in its sensibilities. Though the hop is Chinook all the way through, there's a soft bubblegum flavour which is much more at home in summery English blonde than any US pale ale. Just a twang of herbal bitterness enters the picture on the end, incorporating Chinook's signature spice, while underneath the hop special effects is a solid biscuit malt base. The green hop oils linger long on the palate, probably reducing its value as a session beer, despite a modest ABV of just 4%. After only a third I was worried about being able to taste the next beer properly.

The next beer was another international collaboration: Brazilian Burton, brewed at Banks's in Wolvo. 5% ABV is a bit light for a Burton by my reckoning, though the rich dark copper colour is spot-on. The flavour seems to be an attempt at presenting an illusion of strength, showing marker-pen phenols up front and then rich caramel and cocoa behind. It doesn't really work for me: hot without being actually warming. The hop quotient definitely needs a boost.<