18 September 2014

Knockabout fun

There's a story being told on the labels of these beers from Scheldebrouwerij but I'm damned if I know what it is. The leaf-clad cavemen look to be up to some sort of crazy scheme, in proper Belgian comicbook style. The brewery is situated in Hoogstraten in the far north of Belgium, hard by the Dutch border.

I started with the lightest of the set: Dulle Griet at a not insubstantial 6.5% ABV. A thick layer of sediment had settled in the bottom of the bottle and was shaken up with the release of pressure, giving me a glassful of reddish-brown lava lamp. The busy bubbles push out a heady aroma of cough mixture, hot chocolate and diesel, suggesting something much, much stronger. It proved to be easier drinking than I expected: light bodied and pleasantly sparkling rather than full-on fizzy. The flavour is every bit as mixed up as the aroma suggested, with black forest gateau and cinnamon tempered by a bitterer liquorice being the main act, while the ghosts of various sticky bottles at the back of the drinks cabinet float on and off stage. A wheaty cereal crispness adds a more restrained note, meanwhile. There's a certain alcohol heat, but it's not overdone. Surprisingly enjoyable, then.

Zeezuiper ("Sea Drunk"?) is a tripel and again there are worrying dark gobbets of dead yeast pouring into the glass along with the golden beer. 8% ABV and with an uncharacteristic dose of coriander it smells of honey and spice and tastes of bath salts. There's not a trace of all that alcohol, and the flavour is very cartoony: bright Jolly Rancher sweetness and floral perfume, shading towards old-lady lavender. The bath salts effect is completed by the gentle effervescence. It slips down very easy and while not delivering the honey-spice-heat effect of grown-up tripel, it's a very enjoyable beer.

Last of the set is 'n Toeback, 9.5% ABV and stylistically described, in both French and Flemish, as a "Quattro". Style trollin'. Colourwise it's not far off the foregoing, though a little more orange than gold, with the by-now customary yeast bits, of course. It's heavily textured, like trying to drink an orange barley travel sweet. There's lots of belly-filling warmth, the flavour all bitter pith, white sugar and... you know that tray of seeds of some Indian restaurants give you with the bill? That.

It's rare to find a Belgian beer that's as much fun to drink as the illustrations on the label, but I think Scheldebrouwerij may be one of those.

15 September 2014

El ratolí que va rugir

#dammisdead squeals the label on the back of my dinky bottle of Revolution IPA, a product of Molta Birra in Girona, on the doorstep of the Catalan brewing giant. It's a 6.5% ABV pale amber beer, one I poured very carefully having noticed the thick gobs of yeast at the bottom of the bottle, all the while worrying about the slightly sour aroma it was giving off. Nothing severe, just... worrying. The yeast hasn't been too busy as it's rather flat. 70 IBUs are claimed, but they must be theoretical, to the point of aspirational. It's quite watery and there's very little sign of the Apollo and Simcoe hops billed on the label. Mildly spicy resins and a light acidic bitterness are your lot, hopwise. Not that it's a sticky malt bomb either, with just a minimal amount of caramel. The wateriness means the finish is quick, and the 200ml serving means I didn't spent much time contemplating its faults. On to the next.

MoltaBirrAS black IPA slips the ABV up a notch to 7.5% and the IBUs to 80. It's also in a more orthodox 330ml bottle, with more enthusiastic carbonation, fizzing up with ivory foam before falling back to a thin blanket of retained head. The aroma is all about the dark grain: burnt toast and coffee with maybe a suggestion of vegetal greenness behind it. The hop combination is a strange one: Vanguard, Amarillo, Citra and Fuggles, and it's the middle two I'd be looking for the action from, but I think the lower alpha varieties are doing the heavy lifting. Tangy rather than bitter, with some cheery soft peach flavours, but none of the big citrus one might expect from the specs. And those hops are very much masked by the malt again: the first sip reveals this to be a smooth and creamy stout, a milky coffee smoothness being its most prominent feature. It's a perfectly decent beer though I wonder if it's what the brewer intended. I imagine it has disappointed a hophead or two in its time.

Both of these bottles were relatively fresh, I should add, consumed less than two months after I bought them at the Alltech festival in February. While I was at the stand I tried Molta Birra's other exhibit L'Arrosa, another beer that promises big (Ahtanum, Simcoe, Citra) and there's also rice, discernible from the turbid milky appearance. I don't know what the rice contributes other than opacity, but the hops are present, giving it a nice light zesty quality. It's an unfussy, fun beer but, like the others, not one to keep the Damm execs from sleeping soundly under their FC Barca duvets.

11 September 2014

Journey's end

From far off Michigan, from Oregon and the eastern plains of Colorado, American draught beer comes to Dublin. It's a bit silly when you think about it: there was beer here already. But it would be churlish not to afford proper hospitality to these bona fide travellers. By drinking them.

First up is Rogue Yellow Snow, encountered among the keg fonts in The Black Sheep. I've no intention of looking up precisely how its name was chosen, suffice it to say that it's not very yellow and doesn't taste of piss. More of an orange-amber as far as the first goes, and, well it's definitely very malt-forward for a 6.5% ABV west-coast IPA. It wouldn't be at all surprising that some hop quality was lost on the epic journey from Oregon's far western edge. What's left is a kind of Ready Brek oaty/wheaty thing, with just a few traces of sharp and acrid hopping in the background. Quite dull, overall, and I find it hard to believe it left the brewery like this.

No hop worries when it comes to Founders Rübæus, as consumed at L. Mulligan Grocer. This is the Michigan brewery's raspberry beer, and raspberries it has, in a very big way. It's quite a striking pink, for one thing, and while not a complete candy bomb it is very sweet indeed. The raspberry flavour dominates everything, but at least it does taste like real ripe fruit, not some artificial ice cream sauce. The texture is a lovely soft effervescence. Reuben was in the pub with me and called it exactly: it's a raspberry version of Früli. I don't regard that as an insult, but your mileage may vary.

And finally, back in August, Doug Odell was over on a visit to this side of the Atlantic. From watching various pubs in the UK and Ireland on Twitter it appeared he was being dragged around like an animal in a cage, put on show For a Limited Time Only at each venue. It must have been exhausting. Accompanying him there was a range of draught Odell beers, including one brewed in collaboration with neighbouring New Belgium. In subsequent researches, the only named beer I can find that fits the bill is FOCOllaboration , a 6.75% ABV pale ale. What was on tap at Against the Grain was billed as 9% ABV, so I'm confused. My notes do say that it hides the alcohol very well, so it seems likely to be a simple labelling error. Either way this is a lovely example of the signature Odell style, wafting out peach aromas with more soft stone fruit and mandarin in the flavour, plus a beautiful fresh dankness. The bitterness is present but mild and there are a handful of Belgian-style fruit esters. Superb stuff, overall, and what we've come to expect from Odell, even at this distance.

08 September 2014

A summer's lease

This bottle of Edinburgh brewery Top Out's Staple pale ale arrived via Steve and I opened it at the tail end of a long hot Sunday of back-breaking physical labour.

It's a sober name for a straightforward golden 4%er, pouring clear with a loose white head. Light but not watery, softly carbonated, it smells of golden syrup plus a slightly worrying harsh plastic or rubbery waft. No sign of that in the taste, thankfully. Instead you get lots and lots of hoppy perfume: intense meadowy floral notes, some lighter peach and just enough grassy bitterness to make it refreshing.

A perfect beer garden quencher.

06 September 2014

Ryed off into the sunset

It's Saturday, the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival is on at the RDS, everyone is either anticipating going or trying desperately to forget they were there. The point is this: nobody is reading beer blogs. But I felt I should round off the series of Irish Craft Beer Week posts with a couple of late additions. Both, as it happens, are brewed with grain du jour, rye.

Kinnegar are past masters of putting hops with rye and their Rustbucket IPA is one of the best of its kind. It has been extensively tweaked and starkly re-coloured to make Black Bucket, Ireland's first black rye IPA. This is 6.5% ABV, a strength that's very apparent in the heavy, almost sticky, texture. It shows the same huge grassy flavours as Rustbucket but in a different way. I'm not sure if the dark malts make much of a contribution -- it can be hard to tell because the visual clues are so powerful -- but perhaps there's a light dusting of milk chocolate. Or perhaps there isn't. There's definitely an extra floral intensity, a kind of hop perfume effect which is quite fun. Overall a very drinkable beer at the strength and one which I think meets my gimmicky requirement that black IPAs should taste indistinguishable from their pale equivalents.

Galway Bay Brewery have coupled the grain of the moment with the style of the moment to produce Holocene, a rye saison. A red rye saison, in fact, and a beautiful dark red-amber colour at that. The darker malt most definitely makes its presence felt here with a slightly sickly aroma and lots of smooth candy sweetness up front in the flavour. Fortunately this is quickly countered by the fruity saison tartness for an effect I can best describe as "toffee apple". A smack of dry grass enters the picture in what I thought was the finish of the flavour, but the tartness won't quit and that mouthwatering sharpness is the beer's valediction. No complaints about complexity here: this beer has a lot going on in it, and there's even a touch of that pepperiness so often missing from modern Irish saison. But at the heel of the hunt it left me wanting something simpler and cleaner. The toffee redness just gets in the way a bit, I think.

It'll be a while before I have a chance to compile my notes from this year's festival. But suffice it to say for this week anyway, Irish beer is all go.

05 September 2014

Smaak in the head

I was a little apprehensive when I first saw Breandán's choice of topic show up on Jay's list of once and future Sessions. "My First Belgian". What was my first Belgian? There has to have been one, and it's not like it would have been all that long ago. I first drank beer in Belgium in 2002. Belgian beer was new and exciting to me when Dublin's branch of Belgo opened in 2000. A big bucket of Hoegaarden was my drink of choice in Aberdeen's The College in 1999. But I'm sure I'd had it or a Duvel or a Chimay at some point before that. It's annoying to have no memory of drinking any of these for the first time. (I do recall my girlfriend daring me to drink lambic in Belgo and me being instantly hooked, much to her chagrin. She's much better disposed to the sour stuff these days, but marriage will do that, eh, eh?)

Anyway, Breandán has mercifully offered a much wider scope for this round than the title suggests, and since I'm more a forward-looking sort of drinker I thought I'd bring in a Belgian beer I'd never had before. There's a strong chance that something from Chimay -- Rouge more than likely -- was the first Belgian ale I encountered so it seemed like a good idea to return to Scourmont for a more recent offering.

Chimay Dorée is the monks' table beer, only relatively recently released to the public outside of the monastery. It's an opaque cloudy orange and busily fizzy, smelling vaguely spicy, like a watered-down tripel. There's a lovely full and cakey texture: nutritious, which I guess is part of the point of the style. The flavour profile is very much that of your typical Belgian blonde, with earthy spices -- chicory in particular; a bit of poppyseed too -- and some lighter honey complexity. I'm reminded a lot of the aforementioned Duvel, but at a fraction over half the ABV this does a fantastic job of showing similar complexity without even a trace of wateriness.

Pure solid quality, which is no big surprise from Chimay -- a brewery which has done so much for the international reputation of Belgian beer.

The great thing about Belgium is that it's still exciting. The consistent quality of many long-established brewers sits next to the amazing living fossil guezeries and a host of new-wave upstarts, influenced by foreign styles and doing their own thing as well. We still use "Belgian" as a specific descriptor for beer. We should probably stop.

04 September 2014

Taking justice on the chin

Two more brand new bottled brands to finish off this week's epic crawl of Irish beers.

Another new brewery has opened in the Dublin hinterland in the form of Kelly's Mountain in Clane, Co. Kildare and they've called their first beer Justice. Though described on the label as a pale ale, the potential drinker is also helpfully informed that it's a mere 20 IBUs suggesting in advance that it's not going to be a palate-burner. And so it proves. Pouring a flawless rose-gold and topped by a generous pillow of off-white foam it smells quite husky: porridge and brown sugar with just a hint of sweetshop fruitiness in the background. The malt is unashamedly at the reins on tasting, the flavour profile much closer to an Irish red than most any Irish pale ale with lots of bourbon biscuit, some dry tannins and just a mild metallic tang from the hops. English-style bitter might be a better way to think of it, and I'm reminded of London Pride in particular. The texture is beautifully smooth, creamy even, and the strength a sessionable 4.5% ABV so it's by no means a chore to get through.

Jack Cody's is based in Drogheda and their first release is an amber ale called Smiggy. I love the artwork on this. The beer itself pours a murky brown with low carbonation resulting in a loose-bubbled caskish head. It smells spicy: enticing prickly barbs of raw hop, promising a workout to come. It's quite balanced however, perhaps disappointingly so. The bitterness is the first thing to jump out, fading quickly to allow warming toffee and milk chocolate malts into the picture too. These are complemented by zesty orange and mango juiciness in the finish and the end result is that bitter-sweet fruit-chocolate combination that amber ale does so perfectly. On the one hand, I think a bit more hop welly would do it no harm, but on the other we have here an amazingly complex beer at an extremely modest 4.8% ABV. There's also a Jack Cody's pilsner which I've not tasted yet but it has its work cut out to match this one.

The Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival, opening in the RDS at 5pm today, promises to be the biggest gathering of Irish beers ever seen under one roof. The last four days of posts on this blog are just a taster of the sort of thing to come this weekend.