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 much good to any hophead. Basically it's a mediocre north German-style bock. Not for me, but I can't pick out anything specifically wrong with it.

And the reason I bought that one was because it's half of a pair, with Arcana Red Ale, ramping up the ABV to 6.7% but still looking like an innocent and daycent pint of Irish red ale. We're back in bock territory, however. It's heavy, sticky even, though the malt gets rather more balance this time. From a caramel and treacle opening there's a slightly sharp leek-and-spinach green acidity that offsets the sweet rather well. It's not really different from lots of other rosso beers from Italy, but has the advantage of coming in a half litre bottle. There isn't much like it on the market in Ireland, something that in and of itself makes it worth picking one up while perusing the aisles in Lidl. There's a genuine taste of Italian beer on offer here.

A Belgian beer to finish: Bush Blonde. Original Bush was one of the legendary beers of Belgium when I was just starting to get into beer, claiming to be the country's strongest at 12% ABV. This brand extension is a scaled-back 10.5% ABV, for the nights when you're not really drinking. It's blonde all right, but shot through with a cloud of quite large floaty bits, convectioning around the glass. Despite them, the flavour is pretty clean and very Belgian, with peary acetone lightened by tropical pineapple. It's warming in the belly without being hot on the palate, which is some impressive sleight-of-hand. I genuinely expected this to