18 June 2018

Profiles in mediocrity

Ahead of the June Bank Holiday weekend, Lidl got the beers in: a selection from three different countries on the lower-right side of Europe. Normal procedure on this here blog would be to work through them on a national basis, but since some of the styles are in common between the breweries I thought I'd do it that way instead. I do try and keep things interesting for you.

A standalone lager before we get into that. Voreia Pilsner is from the Siris brewery in Serres in north-east Greece. It's a limpid dark gold colour, 5% ABV and generally thick and heavy. The flavour is malt-forward, flashing golden syrup first before it turns dry, then roasty, and finally almost smoky. There's a certain vegetal sharpness, but no proper hops, while the finish is husky, musty and stale. It's not completely awful but neither is it a decent pils by any measure, and certainly not happy summer drinking.

Two witbiers next, beginning with another Siris beer. Voreia Wit Beer looks typical enough: a sunny hazy yellow. The ABV is way off, however, at a frankly unreasonable 7%. This is obvious from the taste too: it's thick and hot, lacking the refreshing zip that the style is designed for. Banana esters more typical of a weissbier, or even a weizenbock, are present, and while the added orange is discernible, it doesn't provide any spritz, just unnecessary sweetness. The whole is a cloying mess, disappointing, even for €2.

Let's see if the Slovenians handle it any better. Tektonik is based in Ljubljana and its Hercule Witbier is a more reasonable, if still somewhat excessive, 5.9% ABV. It looks quite watery in the glass: a pale unhealthy yellow with an excessive amount of head. Coriander spicing is to the fore, with an almost gose-like briney dryness on the end. It's not as awful as the previous one but still isn't a good witbier. By the end of the glass all I could taste was a harsh and waxy bitterness, so still no zing here, and precious little refreshment. Time to switch styles.

Everything else is IPA. Sticking with Tektonik, perhaps inadvisably, and their IPA is called Dizzy and is 6.1% ABV. It's bright and pale, with a generous topping of tight white foam. The aroma is strangely savoury, almost smoky, though the flavour is predominately sweet. I got ripe red apples, apricot, lychee and white grape: quite the fruit salad. Everything fades very quickly, however, leaving just a sharp acidic residue. The flavours really need to be bigger, bolder and longer-lasting for this to be considered genuinely good. As-is, it's passable and inoffensive but left me wanting more.

Going back to our Greek friends for Voreia India Pale Ale we get a copper-coloured 7%-er. It's very dry, with a metallic aspirin-like twang. And... not much else. There's a touch of black tea tannins and a slightly spicy cedarwood note, but no citrus or other hop fruit. I don't usually object to old-fashioned big-bittered IPAs but this isn't a good one. It tastes musty and old: never a good look for an IPA.

Central-Italian brewer Target 2000, known previously for the Arcana range from last summer at Lidl, has brought us a beer starkly titled Italian IPA, with the follow-on description that it's a pale ale. This is 6.1% ABV and pours a lovely clear pale golden shade. It's as heavy as the ABV suggests, while the flavour offers a bathbomb of citrus and herbs. A gentle lemon opens it, followed by dried grass and then moist and chewy cookies. It's clean and simple; not wildly interesting but solid and classy. I could see it working very well as a food accompaniment.

Its companion, to bring us out, is an Italian Red IPA. It looks lovely in the glass: a limpid chestnut colour. The flavour is a bit dull, however, more red ale than any sort of IPA. There's a soda-water mineral thing, some caramel, but then a watery finish. The label says 5.2% ABV but it tastes much weaker. Nothing about it says IPA to me. This one really tasted like €2 worth of beer.

Conclusions! Well... I don't think there were any massively pleasant surprises in this lot, no Drinker 1, Lidl 0 situations. The Italians are probably the most reliable out of the lot.

15 June 2018

It's ya birthday

The redoubtable Francesca of London brewery Five Points organised a pub crawl through south Dublin to mark her employer's fifth anniversary in business. Arrangements were made for a commemorative collaborative beer to be on tap at each of the four stops. We met up early doors at Brickyard in Dundrum.

Here they were pouring Birthday IPA, produced in association with Northern Monk. It's a dark orange colour and smelled beautifully juicy and tropical, in a way that's very much the fashion these days but which surprisingly few fashion-chasing beers actually manage to achieve. The taste is admittedly less juicy but it is sweet, mixing up ripe oranges with chocolate. It took me a moment to realise what it reminded me of: Jaffa Cakes. At 6.7% ABV it has plenty of cakey heft, and of course almost no bitterness. It's silly, maybe a little weird, but made for fun al fresco drinking.

It was all downhill from there; an easy freewheel to Ranelagh and stop two at the TapHouse. Wild beer was the collaborating brewery this time, assisting with Hybrid DIPA, a big lad at 8.7% ABV. Research into the "hybrid" aspect reveals that S. kudriavzevii is the yeast strain used, one isolated relatively recently and associated more with mouldy vegetation than hoppy beer. It doesn't really pull any special tricks here, resulting in a decent but unremarkable double IPA. It's another thick one, its flavour beginning on savoury fried onion before turning to citric marmalade, finishing on an invigorating note of lime rind. I'd like to try something with the same odd yeast but where it gets to make a proper contribution instead of being shouted down by the hops.

A prior engagement meant I had to leave the tour here. That meant I missed the Jupa IPA at The Beer Market -- though it wasn't an official birthday beer, so maybe it'll be back some time. Then the tour finished up at UnderDog and I was able to drop in there the following day to catch up with the Baltic Porter that our very own YellowBelly helped out with. This poured black with a white top and is unusually sweet for the style. The typical bitter liquorice is present but understated, hidden by a milk chocolate foretaste and herbal cola at the end. Thankfully it finishes properly lager-clean, while also being a decadent 8.4% ABV, so it more than meets the fundamental requirements of Baltic porter. Once I got over the initial surprise, I enjoyed this gentler and more accessible take on Poland's national beer style.

Cheers to Francesca and Five Points for arranging, and the pubs for hosting. It's nice to get a bit of mileage in between the beers of a Saturday afternoon.

13 June 2018

Brewing at the crossroads

Trieste is high on my list of places to visit, largely for its James Joyce associations, though I'm attracted to it for similar reasons as he was. While now in eastern Italy, the city spent several centuries as part of the Austrian empire and also draws on its Balkan heritage, having had a sizeable Slovenian population. It's the sort of place you'd expect eating and drinking to be interesting.

I encountered a couple of beers from the Theresianer brewery some years back, in Belfast. It claims association with 18th century Trieste, and its parent company is a 19th century Triestine coffee merchant, though the modern brewery was founded as recently in 2000 and is a few cities over, close to Treviso. Three of the range were on the shelves at Dublin's posh grocer Dollard and I took them home for a looksee.

Lager is the stock-in-trade so I expected Theresianer Premium Pils to be decent. I'll throw in a disclaimer that it was my first beer of the day and I was thirsty, but this was absolutely spot on. There's the lovely full and soft texture of well-made Czech lager; a candyfloss sweetness sharply contrasted with the freshly mown grass of unmistakable Saaz. My one niggle is the very slight plasticky finish, doubtless a side-effect of the hopping, but that's easily ignored. Down the hatch it went in very short order.

I was a little more apprehensive of the next ones, where they try their hands at warm-fermented hoppy styles. I should have guessed that there'd be something off about Theresianer Pale Ale from the fact that it's 6.5% ABV. Imaginings of a zesty, spritzy US-style refresher were quashed before the cap came off. This dark gold affair has the syrupy tinned fruit flavour of super-strength lager, which it also resembles in colour and mouthfeel. It's hot and difficult, laden with toffee, caramel and other sticky malt flavours that cloy on the palate and curdle in the stomach. Where are the hops?!

What had I let myself in for when we come to Theresianer IPA? Well, for one thing the ABV takes a step back, to 5.8%, which is promising. It's also the only one of the three with a label stating it's unfiltered. It's not cloudy though, pouring a clear and bright orange colour. I could tell from the first sip that English IPA is the style they've pitched for. This beer is, above all, tannic: the dry, moisture-sucking tang of super-strong black tea is its primary modus operandi. There's a strong acidity too; an uncompromising almost vomit-like taste that reminds me of my first forays into English bitter in the 1990s. Beyond these, the malt-hop flavour elements are quite muted: a little golden syrup, a wisp of candy chew sweets. I found it enjoyably old fashioned; authentically English-tasting, but an England I've not had a pint in for a number of years.

This was quite a surprising set of beers. All had their unique and specific characteristics, with no sign of an overarching house style. I do think that lager remains the brewery's strong point, however. Tread cautiously with the rest.

11 June 2018

Source load

Everything recent(ish) from Dublin's brewpubs today. Stop me if this is getting perfunctory.

Urban Brewing has been throwing all sorts of stuff into the fermenter, but I'll start with something a bit more sedentary: Wild Atlantic Wave pale ale. This is a mild 4.6% ABV and rather custardy looking. There's a slightly savoury quality to the aroma which had me expecting yeast bite but the flavour is surprisingly, and pleasingly, clean. I got lots of fresh tropical produce: lime and guava putting it at the bitter end of the spectrum, but balanced with some sweeter mango. The carbonation was low, giving it a lovely cask-like smoothness, enhancing its sinkability. While I only had a half, this would work excellently by the pint, and multiples thereof.

Playing a bit faster and looser with beer styles, we have a Dry-Hopped Kölsch, the hop in question being the popular Mandarina Bavaria. It's extremely herbal tasting, with a funk which brings it past warm grass cuttings and into urinal cakes. I suspect the dry hops may have been left in the tank a little too long. Bookending this are an enticing peachy aroma and a stimulating citric bitterness and the whole thing remains as smoothly refreshing as Kölsch ought to be. A minor tweak on the dry-hopping front and it would be superb.

I drank that next to a Clementine & Tangerine Pale Ale. Despite the added fruit, this was an altogether plainer affair, dry and crisp, like a water biscuit. Where I expected fruit I got herbs, strangely, though it at least looks like a tangerine, with its bright orange hue. Deeming it fine but not very interesting I downed it and moved along.

Time to pick another style and another fruit out of the recipe hat. That gave us Watermelon, Basil & Seasalt Gose, only 3.6% ABV though expensive at €4 for a half pint. This arrived a watery-looking hazy pale yellow. The flavour is very odd, right from the get-go. A green, almost detergent-like, artificial phenolic flavour is dominant, somewhere between Jolly Ranchers and Fairy Liquid. I don't think it's an infection or anything gone wrong; I suspect this is just what happens when you use watermelon in quantity on an otherwise neutral base. The smooth texture is pleasant, and there's a nice tang of brine on the finish, but overall I think it's just too weird to work.

Another at the same strength to finish off, consumed on the terrace on the first warm day of spring. Eschewing a formal style, this is just Cucumber, Lime & Seasalt. I missed the lime, but only because the cucumber flavour is massive. You can almost feel the pulp, like in a smoothie. The first thing that shot to mind was Pims: a cool jug of it, loaded with cucumber slices. Coupled with its mild salty tang, this was so enjoyable and refreshing I didn't stop to wonder where the lime went. I'm assured it's under there somewhere.

In with the cucumbers and out with the watermelons, is my gourd-related takeway from Urban this time.

Meanwhile, upriver at Open Gate Brewery, they were keeping the recipes tamer but just as varied. On the grounds that one should never pass a beer with one's name on it, I began my latest visit with Nutty Red. It's 5% ABV and an appropriate dark copper colour. It does a good job of beefing up the typical features of an Irish red, with a full yet soft body, a stimulating metallic bitter tang, and finishing on a crisp roasted note. This has everything you'd want from the style without resorting to pilfering features from other ones.

Also hitting the style points more-or-less perfectly was Open Gate Vienna Lager. Now maybe it was a little lacking on the hop front, deriving the bulk of its bitterness from the dark roasted grain, but it was perfectly crisp and clean, quenching and quaffable.

And when you've had enough of well-formed classics, there's Open Gate New England DIPA, a beast of thing at 8.2% ABV. The appearance is merely hazy instead of full-on murk and the texture is properly thick. Light and pale stonefruit is as juicy as it goes: peach nectar and white plum, tempered with some oily and herbal coconut. More than the hops, a chalky mineral quality is the most distinctive flavour, apparent all the way through. I know it's not meant to be bitter but most beers like this manage some sort of bite. This doesn't, and neither does it offer a tropical zing as an alternative. While it's passable, if a bit cloying as it warms, I don't think they've quite nailed the style. I suspect it needs more hops.

I'm already behind with what Urban have released since this lot. I won't leave the next catch-up so long.

08 June 2018


An assortment from Magic Rock in today's post. The latter ones are specials, or at least new, but the first is a core beer — around since 2013 — which had never crossed my path before.

Until, that is, it showed up on tap in L. Mulligan Grocer. From where I was sitting I couldn't see the details on the Dancing Bear badge, so had no idea what style it was. I did know that I didn't really like it, finding it tasted quite stale and musty. I guessed it was a pale ale: there was a touch of the slightly harsh bitter jaffa flavour often found in brown English bitters, with dry burlap and lightly spicy jasmine. So I was taken aback to learn it's a pilsner. That said, it makes sense that the mustiness was down to the combination of noble hops, a flavour profile that I know of old doesn't suit me. I'm disappointed in myself that I didn't spot what was going on here. Anyway: nope, this is not the beer for me.

To follow the Bear, a tall can of IPA. Exaltation was brewed in collaboration with Thornbridge and uses a headline mix of American hops, namely Cascade, Amarillo, Simcoe and Centennial. It doesn't look great: a very murky orange, with lots of foam, all of which faded away very quickly. The aroma is fantastic, providing an unexpected gunpowder spice. It is a little flat though, showing only the faintest sparkle. There's a rawness about the flavour, that gritty acidic greenness of fresh pellets, as well as a earthy yeast bite. Oddly there's no citrus, just a grassy vibe, and a mild burn of garlic at the back of the palate. For all its rough unfinished qualities I liked this, and I'm not sure why. It's only 5.5% ABV and manages to de-emphasise its flaws while pushing the good side forward. There's a skill in that. It's not an exaltation, but maybe a quiet respectful nod.

I picked that up along with Dairyfreak, described as a "milk ice porter" and created in collaboration with a local ice cream maker. It's almost completely black, just showing red-brown around the edges, again without much head. The aroma promises rich and smooth chocolate and that's exactly what the flavour delivers. Its ice cream heritage is worn big: a creamy texture and flavours mixing cappuccino and quality milk chocolate. A touch of dry roast at the end balances it, stopping the sweetness from becoming cloying. This is another medium-strength one, only 5.2% ABV, and it might benefit from being bigger and even fuller. As is, it's jolly and tasty and very well made. Milk stout as it should be, and the only style where ice cream flavours really belong.

Another dark beer to mix things up even further. Erwin at Brickyard was kind enough to share around a can of Cherry Cola Vice when I enquired about it and its distinctive artwork one afternoon. As modern craft interpretations of the Berliner weisse go, it's on the extreme end. For one thing it's brown, looking exactly like the cola it references in the name. The aroma is intensely sugary, like off-brand supermarket cola, while the flavour is cola first and then peppery spices. A look at the ingredients reveals a long list of fruit concentrates and spices, with both cola nut and Indonesian long pepper in there, so those elements shouldn't be surprising. There's a tart finish as a token nod to sourness but really the whole thing is very unbeerlike. As tends to be the case when the additions are piled in like this (see also DOT Brew's Real Friends) you get something that's fascinating to explore, offering a new sensation with every sip, but which is absolutely useless when you just want to sit down and have a beer. I'm not sure I approve.

A couple of strong tall cans to finish us off, starting with Hedonic Escalation, going with the hostage-to-fortune designation of "tropical IPA". Let's see. It's 6.7% ABV and a mildly hazy orange colour. The aroma passes the juice test: it orangey and a little sticky-smelling. The flavour is also sweet, though more chewy candy than real fruit. I got sherbet, lemon curd and golden syrup. There's a savoury tang for balance but no real bitterness, which I think is to its detriment. The whole thing weighs heavily on the palate and doesn't really go anywhere. There's no spark and nothing to justify the high price tag. I'll grant it a pass mark on tropicality but with a low mark for freshness and zing. Hedonic? Not so much.

Its companion — lower price, higher strength — is Botany of Desire, an 8.7% ABV double IPA with added honey. Haze comes as standard, the presentation like a mixed fruit juice: opaque orange with a desultory head. The aroma is sharp, acidic, even a bit vomity: an indication that this experiment may not have been advisable. It tastes OK though, if not very exciting. There's the standard thick hot ripe fruit of bog standard double IPA, full of alcohol with a background citrus bitterness not quite managing to balance it, but the honey is there too. It just squats on the beer, adding a real honey sweetness, which I guess is impressive given how honey often just ferments out, but why? Why would you want to stir a spoonful of honey into your double IPA? The base beer isn't ruined by it; merely confused.

So there's the state of modern English craft brewing based on the output of just one brewery. I think we're better served by their darker offerings.

06 June 2018


A visit to Sainsbury's when last up North yielded a couple from Mourne Mountains Brewery, a Co. Down operation I've tried a few beers from, but never properly tasted the core range.

Mourne Mist is a pilsner, and despite the name is a deep and clear gold colour. The aroma is quite malt-forward, showing sweet golden syrup predominantly, with hints of cut grass. It's much hoppier to taste, however, with a very dry bitterness. The grassy flavour is a bit lacking but I enjoyed the balance between big fluffy malt and sharper hops. There's almost a burn from the latter in the aftertaste. This is a very proper pils, and tastes convincingly like a real Czech one to me.

East Coast IPA has been around longer than that has been a beer style, and indeed specifically states on the label that it's an attempt mimicking beer from America's west coast. It's a pale amber colour, and quite hazy. There's a distinct hit of grapefruit in the aroma, and some candy malt as well. The flavour is rather astringent. I get that leafy-earthy effect that Cascade tends to bring, but in a slightly stewed way, like it has been dry-hopped for too long. The body is very full and that spreads the hop napalm out across the palate, adding a layer of toffee more appropriate to an amber ale. This one is not subtle. I still kinda liked it: there's a certain nostalgia factor in such punchy Cascade-and-Crystal IPAs, the sort that turned the style into the world-beater it is today. I was glad it was just a 33cl bottle all the same.

I'm stupidly far behind on where the Northern Irish beer scene is at the moment. It was good to put at least these two small dents in the backlog.

04 June 2018

A very movable feast

The late winter snowstorms damaged the beer garden roof of the Franciscan Well brewpub in Cork. It meant that Ireland's longest-running beer festival got shunted from its normal Easter slot to late in April. As it happened I was down in Cork anyway that weekend, for Reuben's wedding, so was able to drop by for a couple of hours on the Friday night. I'm usually in early and out early at this gig so it was a novel experience to roll up late and be kicked out last.

As with last year there were two long bars facing each other across the beer garden. It was still packed to capacity when I arrived so I took refuge in the pub. There was a new Franciscan Well beer on the bar there: Archway, a 4% ABV yellow lager. The brewery's connection to the owners of Coors Light is pretty obvious here. This one is bland. It's almost literally tasteless, in fact, with just a wisp of soda water minerality. It's not thin or watery, nor overly fizzy, nor could I detect a single off-flavour. I just couldn't really detect any flavour at all. If I hadn't come to it on a clean palate I'd have been doubting myself.

Off out to the festival bars for something more interesting, then. Black Donkey had a new pale ale, with the jolly name of Happy Out. It's a suitably sunny yellow colour and uses Mosaic and Wai-iti hops. The twist is the use of a saison yeast. The result is massively bright and fruity, a Carmen Miranda hat of pineapple, banana, white grape and more. Though only 4.5% ABV it's quite heavily textured; perhaps a little too much so to be refreshing. The counterbalance is the delicious complexity, a late-arriving peppery spice preventing all that fruit from turning it difficult.

Speaking of fruit, JJ's had brought along a Blueberry Pale Ale which was receiving some comments around the yard, very little of it positive. I thought it was OK, though; fun, even. It was 5% ABV and an amber colour. The opening gambit is shockingly bitter, like overcooked green veg. This calms down quickly and the later flavour is gently infused with real blueberries, tasting sweet and slightly concentrated, like a compote. The contrast works well: it is both a hop-forward pale ale and a fruit beer; gimmicky but not too gimmicky. Experiments like these make festival drinking that bit more engaging.

On the plainer side, JJ's also had GarryOwen pale ale, a little lighter in strength at 4.8% ABV, and lighter in colour too: a clear gold. There was a worrying savoury smoke in the aroma which thankfully didn't come through to the flavour. That was quite sweet, beginning on caramelised winter squash, and increasing to apricot. Apart from this mild fruitiness there isn't much else going on. It's decent, thirst-quenching fare, well suited to being a core beer if that's the brewery's intention for it, but exciting it is not. And let's just leave to one side the brewery's claim that it's based on an 18th century recipe.

Next to them, Baltimore brewer West Cork was pouring their latest, Cape Crusader. This is a 3.9% ABV pale ale. It was kegged but had a cask-like feel: a rounded foamy texture, not too cold, and with soft floral flavours: rosewater and lemon sherbet. A very slight dank bitterness creeps in at the end, ensuring it's not completely anodyne. This one would definitely work well as a session beer, much like good British golden bitters do.

We cross to the other side of the yard next, where neighbouring brewery Rising Sons had two new brews available. Ostara is a sour wheat ale of 4.1% ABV, so I guess like a kind of unsmoked grodziskie? There isn't too much sourness, or wheatiness for that matter. There's a gentle lemon flavour, though not enough to propel it into the sour-and-hoppy category that I generally enjoy. A bit like the previous two beers it's refreshing, simple and balanced, if not exactly thrilling.

There was a bit more going on with the next one, Foux du Fafa, badged as a French saison. Lots of spicy white pepper forms the foretaste, backed up by heavier peach esters which become increasingly apparent as it warms. There's a satisfying chewy density, and yet it's only 5.2% ABV and stays drinkable throughout. This was a much-needed reminder that beer can be easy-going and interesting at the same time.

Cork's other other brewpub, Cotton Ball, was pouring The People's Republic of Cork Lágar. This has been available in the city's pubs for a while now, though never anywhere I've been. It's a very pale yellow colour and shows a lot of the traits of poorly-made lager: a harsh acrid metal bitterness, heavy syrup, rough grain husk and headachey esters. While it's just about drinkable, I think I'd want something cleaner and more enjoyable if my home city's name was going on the badge.

For a nightcap there was O Brother Untitled, an imperial stout from their pilot kit which was uncharacteristically without a name of its own. This was brewed with coffee, finishing at 9% ABV. As one might expect it's thick and gloopy, with a certain amount of chocolate sauce sweetness but thoroughly counterbalanced by multiple types of bitterness, including dark-roast espresso and tobacco. This is an absolutely solid example of the style and I hope it makes it into regular production at some stage.

With the staff sweeping up around me, it was time to leave. I'm glad I made it down this year, and happy that not even climate disaster can damage this hardy perennial festival.

01 June 2018

Good night, Vienna

Carlow Brewing Company has really begun to flex its international muscles this year. I covered the arrival of beers from London's Gipsy Hill a few months ago. Then Vienna-based brewery Muttermilch landed in to Urban Brewing for a night in April. They brought two from their core range and a collaboration they'd done with Carlow.

You won't find me passing up the opportunity to try a Mitteleuropa pilsner so I started with Bitta Von Tresen, a pale yellow 5.1%-er. It's as big-bodied as the ABV suggests, with a creamy butteriness not at all dissimilar to Pilsner Urquell. And like Urquell this is balanced against crisply bitter fresh-cut grass. The tap was playing up so servings were slow and foamy, but I could have quaffed a lot more of this, given the opportunity.

But I had to move on, to the inevitable Vienna lager, Wiener Bubbi. The copper colour was proper, though the aroma strangely sour. That was present in the flavour too, though toned down by more orthodox bourbon biscuit. The bitterness level was higher than I like in the style, and failed to bring with it any pleasant hop taste. The end result was a jangly disjointed beer, lacking smoothness and impossible to relax into. A taster was plenty.

The evening's novelty was Coffelia O'Hara, a stout which was a joint effort between the breweries. Its aroma is quite severe -- sharply metallic -- and the texture rather thin, even for just 4.7% ABV. The flavour rescues it somewhat, being sweet with a luxurious coffee-cream chocolate truffle effect. Subtlety and complexity are not included with the deal, and you really need to like coffee to enjoy this. I don't mind the occasional coffee sledgehammer of an evening, however.

Cheers to the Carlow Brewing team for the event. There was Hungarian cider too, which was enjoyable, but not my beat. And there's more to come from the O'Hara's import trolley in a future post.