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.