12 February 2018

Emerging complexity

It's hard to escape American beer in this game. It crops up all over the shop. Today's post is a collection of isolated odds and sods from US brewing, from the basics to the mad stuff.

Sweet Water's tenure in Ireland was short but the Atlanta brewery still feels familiar. Hop Hash "easy IPA" was new to me when I spotted it in The Hague just before Christmas. It's 4.2% ABV and a pale gold with a slight haze. There's a serious floral perfume, almost like walking past a branch of Lush. This continues in the flavour: slightly spicy and with little bitterness and almost no aftertaste. This is refreshing without being thin, and easy for sure. But boy it gets boring very quickly. Built for chugging, I guess, which is fair enough.

For a Georgian IPA with a bit more meat on its bones, here's Stay G-O-L-D from Creature Comforts (in collaboration with New York's Interboro), for which I have the fantastic Mr. Fox to thank. It's a 6% ABV job, pouring out a sickly pale yellow, looking like lemon curd in the glass. The aroma is cracking, however, offering pure peach and mango with just a slightly harder garlic burn lurking beneath. Meanwhile, its flavour is all about the fruit: juicy, fleshy, mouthwatering tropical goodness. A piney acidity finishes it off and somehow accentuates that juiciness further. The texture is light without being thin, enough to let the hops shine incandescently yet without risking lack of balance. A rising garlic note as it warms spoils it a little; it was a better beer at the beginning when that was muted. Nevertheless, I immediately wanted another. Textbook stuff.

American icon Founders held a tap takeover in Alfie Byrne's back in the autumn, concentrating on its barrel-aged offerings. For me, it was my first time trying DKML. The "malt liquor" style designation presumably means this is a lager, and definitely means it's pumped full of corn sugar. This, in conjunction with the bourbon barrel maturation, brings the ABV up to a frankly excessive 14.2%. Just a taster for me, please. It's nearly very good but doesn't quite escape its roots. The flavour mixes cream sherry, vanilla and toffee into some sort of weird winter liqueur your aunt drinks. It's certainly smooth, but gets quite cloying quite quickly. While it's certainly distinctive, I doubt that bourbon-aged lager is an idea whose time has come.

Finally, a beer I brought home from New York in 2016 and shared with Reuben and Brian when we did our New Zealand beer tasting last year. Kvasir is one of a series of ancient beer recreations produced by Dogfish Head, aided by renowned beer historian Patrick McGovern. The full background is here, involving chemical analysis of a 3,500‐year‐old Danish drinking vessel. The result is a hazy dark orange ale, 10% ABV, and flavoured with honey and berries. The fruit is a major component of the aroma, buoyed up on strong alcoholic vapours. It doesn't taste as soupy as it smells, thankfully, with intense raisin and redcurrant; clean and tart at first, then getting sweeter and more jam-like in the finish. I thought the malt would have more to say -- I guess the letters "kvas" make me think of beer made from rye bread -- but it's not in that genre at all. Overall a very interesting mélange of flavours: a novelty beer that's not so weird as to be unsettling.

The surprise bonus beer, just when I thought I had finished this post, is another Founder initialism: CBS (Canadian Breakfast Stout), an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels previously used for maple syrup. There's a Mountie on the label. The hype machine was already cranked up to 11 by the time it hit Ireland so I was expecting big things. It delivers relatively big things, starting with a pure Irish coffee aroma: cream first, then oily beans and brown sugar. The texture is one of pure silk, and I think that's to the flavour's detriment: it glides off the palate a little too quickly. As it slipped past I got more coffee first, and then the vanilla oak from the bourbon, complemented by the different woodiness of the maple. And that's sort-of it: sumptuous but simple, leaving only a boozy buzz in its wake, one which doesn't fully suggest the whopping 11.7% ABV. For something that could easily have been a nasty mix of sugar and heat, it's very pleasantly refined. I really enjoyed the six or seven minutes it took me to gulp it down.

Nevertheless, out of that lot, the winner is the IPA. America, ladies and gentlemen.

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