31 July 2017

Downward dog

Dublin's most eagerly-awaited new pub finally clicked open the doors at the beginning of the month. UnderDog is situated in the basement of Brogan's pub on Dame Street and boasts 18 constantly rotating keg lines plus a cask beer engine. Its other (tragically) unique selling point is that it's the only beer pub in Dublin where you can find out what's available before going in and looking. I've high hopes they'll shame everyone else into doing this, because it should be basic stuff.

Though they're by no means shy about local beers, opening night saw taps 1 through 6 dedicated to Lervig in Norway. That's why my first UnderDog beer was a glass of Supersonic, and I'd say that's true for a lot of people, the beer very much living up to its name for the few hours it lasted. It's a double IPA built on a classic American chassis, heavy with syrupy malt and tasting all of its 9% ABV. Offsetting this is the hops, not with a balancing bitterness but with a huge juicy tropical flavour, exactly like those lurid orange mixed-fruit breakfast juices. Like a lot of hyped-up specials that circulate these days it's not very complex, but it's quite enjoyable for the single glass that I guess the brewery is expecting people to drink.

A proper novelty beer to follow: Passion Tang. It's fun and a little bit silly, even if the ABV is a fairly serious 7%. There's a spicy perfume quality to the added passionfruit, which gives it an extra level of depth that other passionfruit-infused sour beers rarely match (sorry Castaway!). While far from sweet it's not really sour either, plotting its own course between them. I liked it, though again it's a one-go beer before moving on.

Last of the set here was 3 Bean Stout, a 13% ABV beast of a thing, employing cocoa, vanilla and tonka beans. It's hellishly thick, almost like drinking treacle. The flavour offers a blend of old-world spices -- cinnamon and ginger -- which, coupled with the sweetness and density, give a Christmas cake or mince pie effect. Not exactly suited to a warm summer's evening, but no matter. Once more, though, I found myself expecting more from the flavour than it delivered. If they dialled back on the novel ingredients and let the stout speak for itself I think they'd have a better and more interesting beer.

There's plenty more from UnderDog's taps on the way, but while I'm on a Lervig kick, a couple more from them which I had at home.

Props to the brewery for putting its hype magnet IPA Tasty Juice in a 500ml can instead of the 440s more common to brewers wanting their beer to look less common. Claims of dankness and tropicality plastered over the can -- plain silver with an abstract decorated label -- leave the buyer in no doubt about what to expect. Yes, it's murky: a solid pale orange with a desultory off-white head. The aroma isn't too powerful but it's definitely dank. Citra is the billed dry hop and the smell certainly backs that up. The texture is pretty smooth though it doesn't have the full-on fluffiness that true-to-style New England IPAs flaunt. And to my mind that's a good thing because, here it is kids: juice isn't fluffy. Those big-bodied New England style hop bursters that purport to be juicy are not, because of that candyfloss texture. This one has dialled that back a little and extra juiciness is the reward for it. I get passionfruit in particular, mango around the edges and finishing bitterer with guava or even (whisper it) grapefruit. The bittering doesn't disturb the softness and merely serves to make the beer extra mouth-watering. This is a barnstormer of a beer: big-flavoured, showing enough of the merits of the New England affectation we're currently living through while also a classic Citra-driven IPA to its core.

Appearing in shops around the same time was Perler for Svin, this one badged as a "juicy IPA" in the description though it comes in a 33cl bottle -- how retro! It looks pretty unpleasant in there, murky globules slopping around behind the brown glass. Pouring it wasn't any improvement, with huge visible lumps hanging in the headless orangey liquid. The aroma is fairly pleasant, however: not banging out hops but certainly presenting a combination of tropicality and garlic-to-caraway savouriness. The flavour leans to the savoury side too, after an initial flash of pineapple and guava. And I'm not at all sure that the hops are the dominant partner here. Yes there's a spring onion green acidity but I also get a strong grittiness which I'd be reasonably certain is down to yeast: it's a taste I associate with badly-poured bottle-conditioned English ales, or the tail end of casks.

I just wasn't as impressed by this as I was by the Tasty Juice, and it could well be that freshness is the issue. "Drink Soon" implored the Perler label, though there was still a full six months left on the best-before. I dread to think what would happen to the aroma and flavour before it officially expired.

They're an extreme bunch, this set from Lervig. The flavours are big and bold, but I detect a seam of cartoonish two-dimensionality running through it all. Can a brewery really build a reputation on artfully presented one-sip-wonders like these?

28 July 2017

Your summer at Lidl

Back at the beginning of June, Lidl's PR folk sent me a selection of beers from their summer range, as well as a press release with details of the whole lot in it. The one in the document that caught my eye was Skrimshander IPA, though only because Twitter buddy Pete Brissenden used to work there. And the brewery is called Hopdaemon, which is terribly awesome and epic. As far as I'm aware this is the first time their beer has made it from Kent to Ireland. There was no Skrimshander in my package of freebies so I went out and bought one.

Pouring it I was worried I wasn't going to get a head. It foamed up eventually, but briefly, fading away to leave a clear coppery millpond. Unsurprisingly, the carbonation is exceedingly low. There's still a decent aroma, however, on the happy side of brown bitter: dry tannins and fruit chew-sweets. I thought I was in for a quality Adnams-a-like. But the flavour really isn't good. For one thing there's not very much of it: one has to sit through a long watery intro before anything happens. When it does it's rough and metallic, and then a worrying phenolic TCP note, though that may just be a continuation of the hops rather than an actual infection. Either way, it's not a good thing. I noticed the best-before date was some 16 months in the future and I really don't think this one will improve with age.

The second beer, also English, is called Montezuma's Chocolate Lager, and with a name like that, the first taste is of apprehension. Of course I was expecting it to be brown but it's actually a clear lagery gold. The aroma is properly chocolate, however: rich and sweet, like a hot fudge sauce. That seems out of place given that it's a pale lager, but it's nice enough overall to get the benefit of the doubt. The flavour doesn't gel together quite so well. There's a flowery Turkish delight thing at the front, and a dry lager finish. But in between it's a strange confection of discount raspberry sponge, stale cocoa and soft-serve ice cream. So after a promising start it falls into the daft novelty category; good marks for appearance and aroma but few for flavour, if you want to be all BJCP about it. That said, if it came from one of the handful of super-hyped UK breweries and had an arty abstract label, it would probably be lauded as a masterpiece of modern innovation.

Another one that (disclosure!) I went out and bought myself: doesn't it look classy? Arcana Golden Ale, from Rimini. A nice medium gold shade, perfectly clear, with only a slight reddish cast. The aroma is grainy with just a hint of syrup, intimating its 5.8% ABV. All of that gets amplified on tasting: there's an almost choking dusty, musty, burlap dryness. A little bit of fruit slips into the middle of the picture, giving it proper malt weight. But hops? No more than a dusting of bitter peach skin, which isn't muc