31 August 2018

Warm welcome, cool fermentation

The ninth Beoir AGM took place in the shiny surrounds of Kildare Brewing Company in Sallins last month -- right in amongst the tanks so we could see what we were fighting for. Our hosts were generous with beer (not to mention food and time) and there were a few new ones to try since my last visit.

Beer of the moment was Summer Light, a pale lager of just 3% ABV. Nothing wan or watery about this one, however: it's amber coloured and very decently full-bodied. Crispness is the watchword here: there's a crunch which has nothing to do with the husky graininess so often found in brewpub lager, but rather a balanced mineral quality to the texture. On top of this there's a lightly refreshing lemon tang leading to a sharper citric finish. This is beautifully constructed and offers next-level sessionability.

That was followed by a small-batch Schwarzbier which managed to hit the style points quite deftly. While there's a distinctly stout-like liquorice bitterness, the base is clean and allows the roasted grains to shine through. It reminded me of how starved of good black lager we are in this country. I wish I could get something like this more regularly.

From that 4.2% ABV we rocket up to the dizzy heights of 4.8% for Kildare IPA. Brendan has been doing limited-release tweaked versions of this with different countries' hops and we had just missed the Australian one. This was just the basic recipe. It's a middling orange colour and a little murky. The foretaste offers juicy mandarins and spicy sherbet, though not for long, with a sudden spike of bitterness finishing it off quickly. While decently punchy it does lack a sense of hop depth that I think this sort of pale ale or IPA ought to have, especially when consumed at the source. Much as other brewpubs create efforty lagers for unadventurous punters, this feels a little like it's there to fill a gap.

The day finished with the 4% ABV Traditional Stout, another one that punched way above its strength category. This has a rich, succulent texture with an almost meaty roasted character enhanced by gunpowder spices and an earthy tang of hops. It does become quite heavy as it goes along, and one pint was plenty, even at that modest strength. It was very easy to imagine it's quite a bit stronger than billed.

Then it was back to Dublin on the train. Huge thanks to all the gang at Lock 13 for the hospitality and some truly excellent beers. It's definitely a place you go for the lagers and stouts rather than the IPAs however. Sure you can get IPA everywhere these days.

29 August 2018

Black Leeds

Dredging through my notes on beers long since consumed, I picked up a thread of stouts from Leeds. We'll start with something easy-going on cask before hitting the silly stuff. Kirkstall's Dexter does have a certain silliness of its own, being a milk stout with coconut. It looked well in the glass at UnderDog: proper black with a rocky creamy head on top. The flavour definitely shows the coconut, but it's not domineering, presenting just a side-show to what's a very decent 4.5% ABV stout. Despite the lactose, it's dry rather than sweet with a roasted finish and almost a wisp of smoke there too. This all makes it very easy to quaff. There's an object lesson here in how to put exotic ingredients in stout. Let's see how the neighbours get on...

The next two cans were sampled back in May, arriving courtesy of Steve. Both are pastrified versions of Northern Monk's Strannik Imperial Stout, a beer of which I have never had the pleasure so I can't tell you how much these have ruined altered it. Both are a percentage point higher than the base beer at 10% ABV.

First up is Pecan Pie Strannik which has a very estery aroma, all banana and toffee: quite off-putting for an imperial stout. The flavour is a little more orthodox, going big on chocolate, set on a thick and warming base. While sweet, it's not gimmicky: I was expecting some dreadful syrupy essence, but if they've added any of that it got lost in this can. While not at all bad, this one did leave me hankering for a properly bitter and roasty imperial stout.

I wasn't going to get that from Campfire Strannik, however. Smoked malt and marshmallows, perhaps obviously, is what they've added here. The end result tastes primarily like cheap diet cola, so that didn't really take. It's off-the-charts sweet with a nasty air of non-specific artificiality. At the very end it got a little more specific, and I could detect the sticky pink marshmallow under the greasy chocolate syrup and ill-advised liqueur, but none of this is in its favour. Yes, it's still an imperial stout, but barely.

It's possible to up the ABV without doing anything silly, even at Northern Monk. Here's Death, an imperial stout of 12% ABV, and oooh look at the fancy can, one which set me back a substantial €6. It pours as black as its name, topped by a tan head that vanishes quickly. Cold from the fridge it didn't taste of much so I left it aside for a few minutes at room temperature. Coming back to it I found it still surprisingly light-bodied, having the texture of strong coffee. It doesn't taste of coffee, however. Oddly, the first taste I got was caraway seed, a dry herbal quality. There's an alcohol burn behind this, but that's about it: no chocolate, fruit or any of the other enrichments that make imperial stout worthwhile. I don't get this at all, but I think we can live without Key Lime Pie Death or whatever being introduced to the market.

Cask milk stout wins the format war here.