Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Enigmatic one

Kölsch. Surely the must elegant of beers. The most refined. Hence the fancy stemware. Apparently an ale but taste a lot like lager. Kind of lagery on the nose with a bit of sulphur and yeast. Pale as you like, with all the dryness and some of the fruitiness of white wine.

There is a certain aura around it; stories about Irish craft breweries falling foul of geographical protection law, begging to get permission to brew seasonal kölsch in Dublin. The tiny glasses it is served in in Cologne, carried around in purpose made trugs by slightly strange waiters who take their responsibility very seriously indeed all add to the intrigue.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Every so often a beer comes along that makes you sit up and pay attention. The experience of a deep draught catches you by surprise and induces you to hold the glass before you at arm's length and stare in slight bemusement. Thornbridge's Kipling invoked just such a reaction in me. Never have I smelled such a potent and promising hop bouquet coming from a glass. The smell of fresh tropical fruit was so satisfying that I doubted the flavour could back it up. It did. In spades. The malt is on a par with the hops for freshness and body creating a beer that was designed to be guzzled.

The golden hue was threaded with haze, a sight in the past usually attributed to age or poor storage and generally foretelling an unpleasant experience before the glass got near your mouth. It now suggests the polar opposite. Haze in a great many commercial craft beers and all home brew nowadays is invariably chill haze and suggests a light touch filtration. This is almost always a good thing; it means that no flavour has been stripped from the beer. While beer can still taste exceptional after filtration, eliminating it altogether leaves the beer in its natural state. Cask ale lives like this all the time of course, but it is becoming more prominent in bottled beer and some keg. The most important aspect is perhaps the drinking public's acceptance of beer throwing a slight haze. Sure, those who slug pints of lager purely for the neurochemical effects will still baulk at a hazy pint but the steadily growing cohort of craft beer lovers are not at all put off. It is almost reassuring to see haze, and many brewers wear the unfiltered badge with pride.

This beer is what craft brewing is all about. It tastes as much like beer as Bud Lite doesn't. That makes for quite an experience.

Friday, May 27, 2011

To the Darkside

It's always nice to find a twist in the mundane. I long ago started overlooking Krombacher Pils when gazing into pub fridges or perusing shop shelves. Many other lagers do exactly what it does and some of them do it much better. It makes me an ingrate I know, because at one time it was a welcome beer and I was happy to have it as an alternative to the macro lagers that swamped the Irish beerscape. The sight of the Krombacher label in dark ink grabbed my attention with precisely the equal but opposite degree of interest the pilsner label generates in my simple mind. We're quite well served for dark lager in Ireland. Budvar's is available, as is Köstritzer if you're lucky, not to mention the various more obscure ones found in the Czech Inn. Nonetheless, another is always welcome and Krombacher's proved to be very interesting, offering a little more than merely roasted notes on the back of an otherwise clean lager. I found lovely dark bread crust from the foam but more vinous alcoholic note in the mouth. Like rich cake with a hefty dose of dark spirit in it. It was surprise to find such dark ale like notes in a lager - perhaps they shouldn't be there at all, but it has certainly brought brand Krombacher back to my attention.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Limp Kiwi

When I glanced at this beer on the shelf I initially dismissed it on the strength of the 'west coast' printed on the label. I thought it to be another American pale ale of the hop driven variety, that while more than likely a satisfying drop, could be overlooked in favour of something a little more eclectic. But then the '1868' in smaller print caused me to reconsider what with the craft beer scene in the US being unable to claim such a vintage. Turns out this beer is from New Zealand and so perfectly fitted my whimsy for something a little different.

I might have done better to leave it on the shelf. The label boasts of burnt sugars and blackberry - which are there without doubt, particularly the blackberry, but the whole thing is weak and insipid and even looked worn out, not managing to retain the slightest bit of the wispy foam that I coaxed from it. A bit of a disappointment but not entirely unexpected. Beer from the southern hemisphere isn't renowned for its challenging flavour but I held out hope after my experience of Brew Moon a few years ago. It's all part of the fun when hunting beer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One wants more flavour

Foolish notions of pouring the 'perfect pint' were beamed around the world this week thanks to the ever resourceful PR people at Diageo. It is unfortunate that such guff was attached to The Queen's visit but on the whole is was positive to see one of Ireland's traditional industries acknowledged, even if the brewing behind St James's Gate is carried out in a far from traditional way nowadays. The Queen seemed to look aghast at the pint as it was placed in front if her. No doubt the Diageo PR crew were willing with all their heart she might reach out, lift the pint and take a sip. But no. The reason for this may be many; it was a little early in the day, or perhaps she couldn't risk spilling any on her designer outfit. I know the real reason. She was disappointed that she was served a pint of very average ice cold nitrogenated stout when she in fact was hankering for a bottle of Foreign Extra off the shelf. Yes, that's the reason for her abstinence. There is no compare between the nitro pint in the pub and the full bodied, bitter roasted goodness of Guinness Foreign Extra. It seems that Guinness don't just do PR well, they can brew the odd decent beer too.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Hello old friend

In the past on my walk home from work I was fortunate to have the option of two off licences selling good beer in the days when good beer wasn't all that common in Dublin. Closest was Sweeney's, a small pleasant smelling shop with a vast amount of wine crammed in it and, for the time, an excellent selection of beer. I distinctly remember having my first conversation about craft beer - Sierra Nevada pale ale - with the bloke who worked there and was astounded that, firstly, he knew what SNPA was and secondly, he actually had an opinion about it. Sweeney's was a wonderful source of decent after work beer for a few years until the shop was closed and the business moved to a much larger, finer building a kilometre away, but sadly not on my work route. It was bitter sweet because while I was irked by the removal of a very handy supply of good beer, the new shop expanded its stock and really took craft beer to its heart, stocking a very impressive range of beer, and not all that far from where I lived.

This left me with my second home bound off licence - Sheils, about 400 metres up the street on the opposite side to Sweeney's. The selection was never as good as Sweeney's but it was solid and more importantly for today's missive, it introduced me to Jever Pilsner. Back then I found it on special offer in a six pack of 330ml bottles. I had never heard of it, but it was cheap, German and in a handy cardboard carrier. All positives to my mind. I took a pack home and never had reason to regret my decision. It was packed with flavour and hugely satisfying. I later found out that Jever has something of a cult following in parts of its homeland. I can see why because it does offer a great deal more than most of the mass produced German lagers. Sadly Sheils has also closed down, a victim of the recession rather than any hopes of expansion and thus I am left bereft of beer options on my walk home.

I chanced upon Jever once again a few weeks ago in Mc Hugh's, another fine Dublin off licence. This time it came in a more respectable 500ml bottle and while purchasing some for the bank holiday weekend I mused over whether this beer would still offer me what it did all those years ago. There are many more miles on my palate since then, including beers that are more than a match in the flavour stakes for Jever. Thankfully it stood the test of time, offering a crisp hop profile and uncompromising bitterness. I appreciated the malt aspect a bit more, not really recalling it at all last time, but the hops and bitterness were a novelty back then.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

St Petersberg. Leningrad. A stout by any other name....

Stout, but with more. Even the bottle means business. It is pointy and purposeful, swathed in foil and adorned with strange, dark Gothic symbols. In short, it's an attractive bottle fully worthy to house the imperial stout within. The beer itself doesn't disappoint, pouring as black and ominous as the creepy symbol on the bottle neck. Yet again I served this stout too cold but a little time spent enjoying the coffee and dark chocolate aroma while also admiring the tightly packed foam topped inky blackness in the glass passed the ten minutes or so required to get the most from the sumptuous mix of roasted malt this beer was engineered with. At 7.7% abv this is a proper stab at an imperial stout, if perhaps a little on the low side, but the alcohol doesn't really feature in the show at all. Sure, you're aware that this beer is not to be trifled with, but the effortless blend of bitterness and coffee wrapped in full body is the memory taken away.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Get your Freon on

I wouldn't want to hazard a guess at the the finishing gravity of this beer. It is a big, big beer tasting all of the 10% abv crammed into the equally imposing bottle. The good people at the Cigar City Brewery recommend that any Floridians drinking this beer crank the air conditioning way  down low to maximise the winter warmer effect. A winter warmer this beer is without doubt, but I find it hard to imagine any air conditioner could provide the temperature required.
It's a strange encounter. Rich, sweet malt and sugar mingled with a reasonable dash of hops manages to get through the whipped cream tan foam and grab the nose giving the expectation of the non negotiable bitterness associated with so many American barley wines, but it doesn't come. Instead there is an immense sweetness that lingers, and lingers until sensory habituation of the sweet receptors occurs and some bitterness creeps in where it is apt to do so. It makes for a boozy, heavy, toffee/liquorice affair with hops playing second fiddle - the way a winter warmer should be.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Nice stout. Pity about the label

Stout in a clear glass bottle is curious thing. It is never seen. In much the
Oirsh. To be sure.
same way paler ales are alluring in flint - and no doubt this is why brewers do it - the black bottles on the shelf of my local Lidl grabbed my attention. That was the first thing to attract me, followed very shortly afterwards by the appalling label. I understand that this label is likely to be an affront only to those who are fully integrated into Irish society, and no doubt not an eyelid was batted in other countries at those shamrocks. Indeed shamrocks are doing quite well at the moment with approximately two billion people spying them on the collar of the newly married Duke of Cambridge as he stood resplendent on the alter of Westminster Abbey in the dress uniform of the Irish Guards last week. To put it in context, overdoing the blarney on Irish beer labels is like the offensive Dolmio adverts featuring those bushy eyebrowed Calambrian puppets. No doubt a lazy stereotype that would never be aired in Italy.

Anyway, the beer. It looks like stout, smells like stout and pours like stout complete with appetising tan foam. My first few mouthfuls suffered a little because the beer was too cold and I casually dismissed it as a Diageo clone, my attitude tainted a little by certain of English brewers to be in thrall of the almighty G, but then things started to get better as the stout warmed up; hops appeared, roasted notes surfaced and the lovely vanilla like hint found in the best of stouts emerged. A nice pint and in keeping with many stouts, best served off the shelf.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A big, busty, boozy babe

I haven't had much luck with strong Italian beer. Most of the time it is merely a stronger version of a bland thirst slaker that curiously manages to taste of just as little.

I picked up this 'Birra Artiganale' in a fabulous Roman shop richly stocked with a truly mind boggling selection of wine, olive oil, pasta, meat, cheese and chocolate. Predictably the beer selection was limited, but it gave an inkling of the small yet tenacious craft brewing industry that is taking shape in Italy.

The marketing is crass (this is but one of the beers I bought. The others included a busty red head and curvaceous brunette) but it is not entirely surprising coming from the land of Silvio Berlusconi. I can't imagine that the matronly woman on the label would be invited to one of Berlusconi's infamous 'bunga bunga' parties. He likes his women younger and slimmer if the tabloids are to be believed.

La Tabachera is a big hitting beer - the 10% abv is evident on the nose and on the tongue, but is surprisingly light for such a big beer. It is warming with whipped cream foam that faded all to quickly. The colour is an attractive copper, something not very often seen in Italian beer and more surprisingly it throws a chill haze demonstrating the brewer's commitment to unflitered ale. There's plenty of sweet honey malt to keep up the interest without any cloying, no hops to speak of but a slight chemical note bordering on industrial makes it hard to fully enjoy things.

This beer certainly stands out from all other Italian beer, even the handful of craft ales available. You can't help but think that the future of Italian craft beer rests on the ample shoulders of this woman and her equally well endowed friends.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Three in a row

Lidl often have a few Shepheard Neame bottles about the place but I tend to shy from them because of the clear glass and homogeneity of hue. This time I decided to grab all three on offer and taste them all at once.

They share a lot in common; all are 4% abv, all require a degree of scrutiny to distinguish a difference in colour and all are faintly light struck. How do they differ? By quite a bit thankfully. When tasted sequentially they prove to be an interesting waltz through the world of Kentish ale. Autumn Blaze is perhaps most quintessentially English giving toffee, a full body, lovely Goldings hops up front and some cold tea tannins. Tapping the Admiral is a lighter affair - sweetish with a marshmallow like sensation on the tongue, little on the nose and worst afflicted by light strike. Can't say I tasted too much of the brandy mentioned on the label,  but the sweetness got to me after a while. Thumping in last of all came Rudolph's Revenge, a seasonal offering packed full of earthy hops and a lingering bitterness resting on reassuring malt. There was something festive in there that I couldn't quite place, but it added a little something to an already solid ale and made it the best of them for my money.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Dog Beer

I've been a away a while. Partly taking a break from the world of the internet and also because I was busy working on other things. This is not the best beer to give my blog the kick start it badly needs, but it'll do. Gimmicky doesn't begin to cover this stuff but I was unashamedly drawn right in. I bought it for the hound dog that patrols the land around my in-laws farm in Mayo. He loved the stuff, as well he might because there is a healthy does of beef extract in it. Along with the beef there is lactic acid and malt extract. I can't give you any tasting notes because I was reluctant to drink it. Also the ingredients don't inspire confidence, even for our canine friends; 'crude protein, crude fat, crude fibre and crude ash' are the main constituents, so I'm thinking snouts, trotters and tripe as the source. The glaring exception in the make up of the 'beer' is of course hops. None to be had, which is probably just as well because I more than likely would have tasted it if there had been. Wouldn't you?