29 September 2017

Well I never!

It started with a tweet from business journo John West: where is local Sapporo lager brewed? I know that Asahi is brewed at Shepherd Neame in Kent; I noted more recently that cans of Kirin Ichiban come from Weihenstephaner in Bavaria, of all places; but Sapporo was not on my radar. And indeed has never featured on this blog. Asking around finally yielded an answer from local distributor David of Noreast: Europe's Sapporo is brewed at the Guinness brewery in Dublin. Cor!

As it happened I had a bottle in the fridge, so took it out to toast my new-found knowledge. Sapporo is a handsome deep gold colour. It smells boringly sweet, like a million other mass-produced ersatz pilsners. But the flavour does have something going for it. There's a classic central-European grassy hop bite, which was a very pleasant surprise. It also has the full and soft texture of a decent helles making it a lot more satisfying to drink than stereotypical dry and gassy mainstream Japanese-style lager. A decent crunch of malt husk finishes it off.

While I'm on the subject of Asian lager, I lunched in Arisu Korean barbecue on Capel Street recently (highly recommended) and was bemused to see they stocked imported Hite lager. I explored the beer of Korea in Seoul a couple of years prior to starting this blog and Hite wasn't a particularly fond memory, though neither were Cass or OB for that matter. Still, here it was: man up and give it a go. Straight from the bottle, of course.

On this occasion it reminded me a lot of Tiger: it has that horribly thick and estery banana flavour I always get from Singapore's flagship beer. It's barely tolerable when ice cold, but any degree of warmth at all turns it sickly and difficult, in a way that this sort of chugging lager shouldn't be. If you can't create the complexity of Sapporo, at least make it dry.

All of these macro meanderings were enough to guilt me into getting some proper Asian craft beer. That involved another tasty lunch, this time at Yamamori's restaurant on Ormond Quay. It has been far too long since I last tried any Kiuchi beers, which the chain imports into Ireland. The Hitachino Nest Lager was entirely new to me and happily fitted the theme of this post.

I was expecting something exceedingly average, but this it an absolute beaut. It's a plain yellow colour topped by a fine white foam, and at 5.5% ABV is a little stronger than the norm, but that's very much in its favour when it comes to accompanying food -- once again the body is wonderfully full and satisfying. The first sip provided a juicy burst of melon rind, turning to bitterer orange pith on the end. I don't know how this was done, but I suspect it may be down to the judicious addition of Sorachi Ace hops: enough to give it a very distinctive taste but without drowning the consumer in coconut oil. Amazingly, this bright and zingy flavour was still present even as my bottle was coming up hard on the stated best-before date. It's a robust little owl.

Given some of the rubbish that gets sold in Asian restaurants around here, and Yamamori's exclusive hold on Kiuchi, it's a shame Sapporo isn't more prevalent. Its weight would make it a much better counterbalance to spicy food, for one thing. I can understand why they don't sell it at Arisu, however, and I still wouldn't swap the Hitachino Lager for it.

27 September 2017

Endangered kiwi

...flavours of citrus, pine & tropical fruit... says the label on Mac's Green Beret, an IPA from a New Zealand brewery that's been off my radar for a while. I picked up the bottle in The Wine Centre on my way home from Kilkenny during the summer.

It's 5.4% ABV and an attractive gold colour. The flavour wasn't doing it for me, which is the point I looked at the best-before and discovered it was over two months past the date.

Tropical fruit? Not so much. The signature Kiwi bitter grassy thing is still there, and there's a solid big malt base, all golden syrup and light toffee. Beyond that, however, this beer is sadly dead. The absence of hop has caused it to fall out of balance. Letting something like this rot on the shelves so far from home does nobody any favours.

I'd have poured one out for it but y'know, I'm writing here.

25 September 2017

UK hun?

British craft beer is unavoidable these days. Most of the handful of talked-about producers have a presence here, though I can't help noticing prices have stayed buoyant as sterling tanks. Anyway, here's a few that I've tried recently.

London is the hub of the British new wave and Bermondsey's FourPure is one of the most solidly reliable of the capital's brewers. Its Southern Latitude, which showed up on the taps at 57 The Headline, is in the daring style of New England session IPA. It's 4.4% ABV and a not terribly sessionable €6 for a 400ml glass. It doesn't look very New Englandy either: quite dark and almost completely clear. The flavours are clear too: juicy peach and then a double dryness from high carbonation and a slightly aspirin tang. It's refreshing, though, which does meet the session IPA requirement of the spec. Not FourPure's best work, however.

Derbyshire's Buxton is a rare sighting in this part of the country and we owe the presence of Myrcia IPA to The Headline's management relentlessly pursuing it. This is another session IPA, 4% and claiming to be hop bursted. What's not to like? The aroma starts it off well, bright and lemony, but the flavour is very muted and consists predominantly of yeast. It ends up tasting as mucky and dreggy as it looks. Searching desperately for a lighter point I found a slight lemon buzz but no freshness and no real hop character. I guess the lesson is that you need a clean beer to get the benefit of loading all the hops into the end phase of brewing. As is, this was a huge disappointment.

Scotland is inevitably represented here by BrewDog. Their latest "India Pale Weizen" Nine To Five Wizard warranted a special daytime launch event in UnderDog. That was all quite jolly, and proof that BrewDog can still draw a crowd in this town. The beer itself wasn't all that impressive, offering little more than you'd get from a standard weissbier -- banana, cloves -- just given a little extra poke at 7.5% ABV. The lovely smooth texture is perhaps its best feature, coming with a very mild burn, hops or alcohol, at the end. I'm chalking it up as a definite positive that the extra hopping has not been allowed to interfere with the classic flavours as so often happens in poorly conceived hybrid styles like these.

Seemingly the only Welsh brewery that counts in craft circles these days (where did Otley disappear to?) is Newport's Tiny Rebel. Two of theirs came my way lately. One was a can I drank in Brewery Corner in Kilkenny: Clwb Tropicana. This is a fruited IPA, or "tropical" IPA, as the branding insists. It's pale yellow and smells of Lilt. The texture is sticky; the flavour is sickly, and there's no real beer character going on. I have now witnessed a pub customer working along the fruit IPA selections on a particular bar, so it seems beers like this are answering a market demand. This specific one, however, demonstrates clearly to me what's wrong with the whole segment.

Meanwhile, on draught, over at The Headline was Cali American Pale Ale. It's quite a severe beer: a chalky asparagus bitterness being the main feature, and all at the front. I waited for the middle to happen but it didn't really. It feels like there should be a sudden inrush of tangerine or something, but nope. I couldn't stay cross with it for long, however. That one punchy mineral feature is something I enjoyed coming back to sip after sip. This is a no-nonsense beer, take it or leave it, and I'd happily have another.

Dessert, then, and the dark side begins at Wild Beer's Millionaire stout. "Salted caramel" is your Brucie bonus in this one. And yes, it's a little bit sticky, though not overly so. Really it's just a typical, ungimmicky, sweet-ish stout, tarry of texture but with light easy-going flavours of vanilla and honey, as well as a proper hop bitterness. I was genuinely convinced it was a strong one so was very pleasantly surprised to discover it's only 4.7% ABV. I could have handled a pint of this no problem, though maybe just the one.

My nightcap is Eldon, an oak-aged imperial stout from Thornbridge. A modest one, though, at just 8% ABV. It smells enticingly of rich and thick churro sauce and lays on the cocoa heavily in the flavour too. The oak (chips, I assume) has been used previously for Bourbon but I wouldn't have guessed it: no sickly vanilla or heavy booze, a honeycomb sweetness being the only possible nod to the liquor. There is, however, a dry sawdust taste that doesn't add anything positive. With every sip I get the impression of a very well-made strong stout which would be a better beer with less done to it. It's still pretty good, though, getting rounder and smoother as it warms. Definitely a good one to finish on.

I'll have been in and out of London on a flying visit by the time this gets posted, so expect a report on further British craft experiences in the near future.

22 September 2017

Taking the Mikkel

I have to admit, I'm surprised that Mikkeller still generates a buzz. The Danish gypsy brewer is a veteran at this stage, and in the highly fickle world of "craft" beer few brands generate enthusiasm for so long. Mikkellermania may have peaked some years ago, but when UnderDog dedicated a swathe of their taps to the beer, excitement ensued.

I stuck my head in on a Friday afternoon to see what was what. Tap 1, and beer of the moment, was SpontanDoubleBlueberry. This is an attempt to recreate the lambic brewing process, with mixed results in this drinker's opinion. It looks dark and tarry in the glass, the deepest of purple with a shock of violet foam on top. The first flavour to come through isn't sourness, nor fruit, but bitterness: the tannic bite of berry skins. A harsh Bretty funk follows, rough and uncouth. I was expecting some fruit flavour but that didn't really emerge until the beer had warmed up a ways, and was heavy and jammy, perhaps reflecting the weighty 7.7% ABV. And sourness? It's buried in there but it's not a central feature. There was the saltpetre spark of proper geuze, doing little other than reminding me I'd rather be drinking a proper geuze. There's certainly a lot going on in this one, but I definitely preferred the lighter and cleaner beers I've had from the Spontan series.

Hallo Ich Bin Berliner Weisse Mango has been around in cans for a while. I just had a quick taster as a contrast with the Spontan. It's a bright pale yellow, thin and clean, and with a sharp, slightly metallic, sour bite. I could barely taste the mango at all: there's certainly no fruit-pulp thickness. It's simple and refreshing fare and for the price usually demanded it ought to be offering more.

It's hops from here on in. I had not realised that the Mikkeller Single Hop Series, which I started drinking in 2008 and last encountered back in 2010, is still running. The beers are all 6.9% ABV and they seem to have acquired double IPA siblings now.

There were two varieties available: Citra and Mosaic in both single and double versions. As a fully-certified Mosaic hound I asked for a taster of the Mikkeller Mosaic IPA first. I was not expecting the aroma of toffee. The hop flavour struggles to come through the heavy malt sweetness, and manages to bring only the savoury side of Mosaic when it does, and none of the fun fruit. I decided not to struggle through a full glass of that.

So instead I surprised myself by opting for Mikkeller Citra IPA instead. Unsurprisingly it's sweet again, though the aroma does include plenty of fresh grapefruit to help cover the caramel. The texture is thick and this helps the hops do their thing: a lovely oily lemon and lime flavour, coating the palate at first, while building to a bitter crescendo. A juicy counter-melody of mandarin adds a tasty extra dimension, though I also detected a burr of yeast bite spoiling things ever so slightly. But overall an excellent performance.

How would that stack up in a double IPA? Remarkably well. Again just a taster, but Mikkeller Citra Double IPA really emphasises the tropicality, piling in mango (more than in the Berliner weisse) and cantaloupe. It doesn't have the whole toffee thing, leaving more room for hop fun, and there's no trace of alcohol heat; an amazing achievement at 8.9% ABV.

With thoughts that I should have given the Mosaic Double IPA a chance too, I headed off. I suppose it should be of comfort that Mikkeller is still doing the Spontans and the single hop IPAs after all these years, and that people are still enjoying them. Perhaps even craft beer radicals settle down at some point.

20 September 2017

In for a Treaty

The Beoir AGM happened in Limerick last month. It's the first year that my attendance was not compulsory, but I had never been to the city, nor experienced its beer scene, so there was no way I was going to miss it. The meeting was kindly hosted by The Wickham Tap, Galway Bay Brewery's new pub and their first outside Galway or Dublin (Kilkenny will follow next month). We also dropped by the handsome Smyth's, the cosy Nancy Blake's and the very handsome Mother Mac's.

The latter three were all pouring The Market Quarter, a new pale lager that was being launched that weekend. In total a group of twelve pubs in that area are carrying it on draught, having commissioned it from local brewery Treaty City to be, according to the Leader, "for traditional drinkers and craft beer enthusiasts alike". I like to think I can speak for both of those demographics and I reckon they've nailed it. It's a light 4.2% ABV and an approachable medium-gold. The flavour bursts with fresh tropical flavours, mango and pineapple in particular, before finishing clean. There's a palate-scrubbing fizz to please the mainstream lager drinkers, but it's not thin or overcarbonated, just great session drinking. I would worry about how well the fruit will hold up if it has to spend more than a short time sitting in the keg, but hopefully that won't be an issue. Well done to all concerned.

Our guide for the day, the redoubtable Cyril, had arranged for us to visit Treaty City Brewing itself, where we got a guided tour by the enthusiastic proprietor Stephen Cuneen. Local, local, local is the mantra. I always feel better about not being able to get my hands on a beer when I learn it's deliberate. I hadn't tasted any of the core beers so happily there was a table of sample bottles. Yes, I brought my bottle opener.

Harris Pale Ale is the one that's been around longest, named after Limerick's most legendary drinker. This is quite a dark amber colour and dry tasting, mixing up metallic aspirin bite with a touch of roasted grain. It's reminiscent of decent dark English bitter and is similarly moreish, despite a sizeable ABV of 5%.