Wednesday, 10 January 2018

#344: Golden Pints 2017

It's been a big year for the Destrier offline, especially these past two months, with a busy Christmas work schedule, Brewing and Distilling study outside of those hours and, of course, the small matter of my own wedding in November.

Plenty of beer littered this timeline, of course, and while much of it was noted there was precious little time for typing. As such, in this glorious gap between Christmas and the beginning of studies, I belatedly present my Golden Pints for 2017.

Best Irish Draught Beer: White Hag Little Fawn. It's been around a while, sure, but it's one of few beers from anywhere that I have to order when I see it on tap. It's slick and thirst-quenching and bright and fruity and basically the beer upon which I model almost any give pale ale I brew for myself. Special mentions for Galway Bay's Careen.

Best Irish Canned/Bottled Beer: Otterbank's Brett Brux Stout. This beer, like so many others, is languishing deep in the notebook and absent from this blog but is a superbly rich expression of deep red wine and imperial stout, with subtle bretty funk complexity. Honourable mentions for this year's Two Hundred Fathoms, continually in and around the pinnacle of modern American-style craft brewing in Ireland.

Best Overseas Draught: Virtually all candidates for this category were indeed consumed overseas and while the oily and rich BA Bible Belt from Prairie and Evil Twin sticks in the mind as a superlative beer of sorts, I've had a number of experiences like it and indeed there are more waiting in the beer cupboard. What I haven't had much of is anything like Moor's Hoppiness poured from cask earlier in that same session in Manchester. It was sublime and juicy but not in that sweaty onion way that we all pretend to like about new American IPAs, but in an actual clean, zesty, sweet and slightly bitter orange juice kind of way. Although a touch on the heavy side at 6%, this is the kind of style I'd like to see pouring from Irish casking breweries.

Best Overseas Canned/Bottled Beer: A wealth of choice here, as seemingly most of the beer I drink is packaged and imported. Yet, it's an easy one; Brasserie de la Senne Bruxellensis. Scandalously absent from this blog for now but you'll have to take my word for it; wonderful. Sure, it's one for Orval-leaning brett fans and perhaps many of that group would see it as an unworthy pretender to the throne. I find it more than worthy; drunk fresh it has more of characteristic bretty funk and earth than fresh Orval, while a few months helps it develop that superb dry and bitter harmony for refreshment, complexity and moreishness, as much as those things go together. Stay tuned for more of this. A whisker behind is Boon Black Label, a gueze par excellence that, along with Mariage Parfait and 3 Fonteinen's Oude Geuze, I coveted like a parched goblin. 

Best Overall Beer: I usually don't bother answering this category because it's silly to think you can compare all beers and all drinking experience to find an objective best, but without overthinking it I'd throw my hat in with Little Fawn. Brett Brux may have been a personal highlight but it's not one that I'd drink at any time on any day, even if its limited output hadn't already prohibited me from doing so. In contrast, Little Fawn is a beer for all seasons, and a galvanising inspiration for my own brewing, which wins it this award.

Best Irish Brewery: Another knockout edition of Two Hundred Fathoms, a highly accomplished wood-aged barleywine in Harmonic Convergence, deliciously pale'n'hoppy Althea, quenching Careen - it has been a good year for the brewers and drinkers of Galway Bay.

Best Overseas Brewery: Boon! My love for geuze, already strong, crystallised quite a bit in 2017 and that's largely because of Black Label and Mariage Parfait, the latter of which was my inaugural beer as a married man. In any case I will always champion the consistent, affordable, available and accomplished output of Brouwerij F. Boon.

Pub of the Year: Ever since that trip to Manchester back in March and my visit to Café Beermoth I've been besotted with the place. The decor is dark in tone but calming and airy, clean and geometric but with old bottles and bountiful hop bines offering a contrast around the high ceilings. It struck me at the time as pretty much the perfect place in which to drink beer; bright and big yet comfortable; comfortable yet unfussy; unfussy yet stocking a cleanly presented and clearly fussed-over selection of cask, keg and cellared bottles. I recommend to all readers.

Of course, that was just one visit, and almost all of my other pub visits were to The Bierhaus, so an important mention is called for there. If it annoys you that I keep giving The Bierhaus as an answer to this question every year then I'm not sorry; Cork is small and this place is still the best, and generally continues to improve with an absolutely unrivalled selection in the city, coupled with the all-important genuine interest and passion for the stuff from the bar staff.

Best Beer Blog/Website: Belgian Smaak. Already a fantastic beer and food blog, this past year's run of podcast interviews with the likes of Yvan De Baets, Jean Van Roy and Frank "The Boonbox" Boon has been nothing short of delightful; this is the kind of thing Patreon was made for - we will give you good money for more of this content Breanán. Fantastic stuff and professionally presented with atmospheric photographs and thirst-inducing pour sounds. 

And that's a wrap. Thanks for sticking around for the year and have a healthy and happy 2018.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

#343: Amsterdam

It's taken me six years of regular Amsterdam visits to finally get to Biercafe Gollem and when I landed there on a sunny and mild October afternoon I found the perfect beer to mark the occasion; another surprising absence from my book of ticks, regular old Boon Oude Geuze.

It's simple and workmanlike, the kind of farmhouse beer that one can actually imagine coming from and belonging in a Belgian farmhouse of old, quenching a labourer's thirst. It did mine, and all I did was get up at 4am to catch a flight to a bar across the sea. There's a decent amount of acidity, lower than the Mariage Parfait or Black Label, but strong enough to give the tongue a good scouring and the palate a welcome jolt. Behind it comes a rather watery wheaty body, lacking the fulsome satisfaction of its older siblings but doing a solid job throughout. 

Something more local next, and the season and setting surely dictates a bokbier. This is Château Akkerman Bokbier from Oedipus, and it's characteristically dark red-brown with a worryingly dull appearance. This whisper of homebrewish amateurism continues in the taste; it works like a disappointingly average beer I'd make at home - something I had high hopes for and, while it didn't mutate horribly into phenolic or acidic doom, just fails to taste alive. In other words, it's muddy yet thin and has unwelcome tannins even though the red berry and toffee characteristics try their level best to keep things cheerful. I left quite a bit of it at my table and went off. 

On a later visit, I stuck with what I know; the wonderful Oerbier.

Northern Farm Eagle
All of the rest of the drinking about town (bar one bottle-read on) happened in the Arendsnest. This time it was properly warmish in the sun so we settled in to our canalside seating and I settled in to De Natte Gijt's 7e Gijtje. This is a session rye saison of just 2.5% and I am pleased to say it is fabulous. It comes bright orange and gives wafts of properly grassy hops, fresh bread and very soft spice of the typical peppery sort. It is by far and way the best beer of this strength or similar that I've tried, the rye being refreshing and bright yet padding out the tiny body admirably. Impressive and delicious, though absolutely sinful to serve in such low quantities. 

Sparked up and in the mood I went for more saison, this a hoppy one named Northern Farm Eagle and, yes, it's a Nordt/Morebeer thing. There's yet more spice in this one in the form of a slightly Dupont-y nose. The body, though, is sweeter than the 7e Gijtje at 5.5%. Again it's got fresh and leafy hops in spades to go with a touch of caramel in its body. More lovely refreshing stuff.

De Prael RIS
By now I was almost too refreshed, so I went for De Prael's R.I.S. It's a good, robust stout of 8.7%, something a more old-fashioned brewer may have called an extra stout, at least in flavour. There is none of the concentration of malt flavour veined with alcohol that many imperial stouts might give you; just solid roast, coffee, tobacco leaf and light milk chocolate on a slick and light body. Decent and uncomplicated.

The next day I returned and commenced my own personal Bokbierfest (not affiliated with the actual PINT Bokbierfest that I always conspire to miss).

First, though, was Uiltje's Commissaris Rex, because its the first time I've seen anything pouring from cask on one of my visits. It's billed as a doppel sticke, so is an altbier of sorts, and arrives a foamy mohogany colour and suggests plenty of bock-like chewy toffee and raisin on the nose. There's a robust bitterness that does great work in balancing that slick, smooth dark malt core, as well as a slight suggestion of booze somewhere in the middle in spite of its inherent drinkability. This is gloriously hearty and satisfying and is truly flourishing on cask, though I'd be happy to find it again in any form possible.

On to bock then with Slot Oostende's Schorrebock. Things take a turn for the sweeter here, showing red berries and marzipan before the finish does its best to dry up, leaving behind forest fruits and caramel. After the fun I had with Rex, it's an unmistakable step down, but serviceable all the same.

SNAB Ezelenbok
Staff here are always thar barr and my server on the day nursed me through my bokbierfest FOMO by offering me samples of the other bocks on offer, her favourite being Kees! Indian Summer Doppelbock. It should be heavy for 8.5% but plays quite light, except there's a light string of hammy smoke running through the pale caramel chewy body. Smoke is something I rarely crave in a beer, and when I do, I find it difficult to see past Schlenkerla. Call me a philistine, I don't care. I passed. 

I didn't pass on SNAB's Ezelenbok 2016, another red-brown number with a big doppelbock-like nose of toffee and orange peel. Beyond that it's rather simple, sweet stuff. 

Also quite simple but in a less enjoyable manner is Leckere's Rode Toren, which is redder and meatier than the Ezelenbok. There's some coarse cereal stuff too, on a powdery milk chocolate base. 

There weren't as many sneaky bottles in accommodation this time around, but I couldn't pass on an Oude Mûre à l'Ancienne from Tilquin. It's murky and flat and an unappealing pink-brown colour. Acid is to the fore here , with the fruit relegated to the latter stages. There's almost no fizz to carry this, making it harder work than I'd like from a Tilquin, but the eye-watering price tag you soldier on.

Much easier going was Datisandere Koekoek from Amsterdammers Bird Brewery, though this was brewed at Jopen. It's a saison and it's actuaslly quite delightful, with white pepper playing off lemongrass effervescence to make for a simple, easy drinker that packs in all the essential saison bits rather neatly. 

There was no rest for the liver thereafter as the following weekend had the Franciscan Well's oft-maligned (by me) October beer festival, but that's for another time.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

#342: Edublirghin

It was the start of June and the day was sweaty and dry and I had a few hours to kill in the Christchurch area so it only made sense that I would hobble thirstily into the Beer Market just after opening.

The Sober Destrier was down the road getting tattooed for a couple of hours so the extensive beer list was my liquid oyster yet, despite an embarrassment of mostly imported guest taps, I had to go for a house beer.

Careen is a lager that I believe was billed as German-style without much of an indication as to what that is, but it was bright gold and ever-so-slightly hazy so I'm happy.

I'm happy with the taste too; a softly sweet barley syrup lays the foundation for a fairly robust bitterness. It wavers back and forth between stalky German pils and melanoidin-y malty Helles but either way makes for incredibly refreshing and enjoyable quaffing.
I had a second, with a hape of big chunky chips.

I followed that with Godspeed. This one arrives as a solid, turbid orange scoop. A tart front of mango and pineapple leads the way for sweet creamy sorbet in the finish, staying tropical throughout. There's a flash of soapiness that a cynic might cling to, but for me it was just a passing wave and a common enough risk when a beer goes into Lilt territory. In any case it's tasty and drinkable and a properly fruity palate cleansing sour.

The eve-cap was Banished Sun, an imperial porter of 8%. It comes black and almost headless in the glass. Bittersweet dark chocolate is the main effect of the beer, and it's laid on pretty thick and creamy. There's a time and place for this kind of thing, and this probably wasn't it. In any case it's a bit simple for the strength, lacking anything that would call me back for seconds in future.

And that was Dublin. Not long after that, in the beginning of July, more college work brought the Sober Destrier to Edinburgh, and, though the trip was short and not beer-orientated, it was thrilling to finally set foot in Scotland after many years of delay.
The place 2 b for fancy beers is the Hanging Bat and my first in the door was a Kernel of all things. Their Table Beer it was, a 3.1% that comes pale, slightly hazy and a fun start of new world hop stuff, more tropical than citrus. However, all turns to onion pretty fast which is especially disappointing in such a light and tweensy beer. Such savoury bang makes it way too hard to drink to be anything like a functional table beer so I'm miffed.

So miffed that I dive straight into the deep end with Dry & Bitter/Pyrata's Black Flag collaboration, a thick and oily 13% stout. It has all the expected hallmarks of such a beer minus excessive heat. Funnily enough there's a mild savoury edge to this one too but in a completely different form; here it's a touch of slightly salty soy sauce, a turn I usually associate with a strong black beer that's been aged, barrelled or both, though I don't believe either of those things apply to Black Flag. This is just an aside from the main event, which is a celebration of sweet vanilla and coconut against coffee and dark bitter chocolate.  Lovely stuff, even if it did mean I had to go away and have a nice lie down.

The rest of the beering happened in the naff student accommodation we'd booked in the form of bottles bought at The Salt Horse, a rather smart bottle shop with on-site drinking next door, I think. 

As the last two were forn I went native with Six Degrees North, though this is a native brewery with very Belgian designs for life. This first bottle is a collaboration with D.O.M. brewing, ATC 1.4. It's billed as a Belgian brown fermented in whisky barrels from Speyside, Lowland and Islay blended together. For all that remarkable information it's hardly surprising when the thing comes out weird. It's brown in a Yorkshire relish kind of way, approaching tartness before this is curbed by wood and whisky. At 7.8% there are flares of booze here and there and a finish of apple skin tannins. The afters offer more unusual flair, with blooms of smoke that speak of Islay in a kind of chemically/painty way. Bloody quare fare, and not exactly the kind of thing I'm going to be runing back to, but there you have it.

I was even less impressed by 6°N's collab with Twelve Triangles, ATC 2.2, enticingly featuring sourdough and intriguingly featuring only 2.4% alcohol. A sourdough starter is the thing here, and it hasn't done much. The resulting beer is murky, orange and flat, while a very generous taster will note mild acidity, mild bread and nothing else. Even this is a stretch, with the glass seeming to last for way too long.

A step in the right direction is Brevet Saison from the same brewer, starting out pretty well with soft pepper and floral notes. Unfortunately this turns to syrupy lemon that cloys and destroys. This is #NotMySaison.

The helpful staff in The Salt Horse recommended the wares of Little Earth Project of Suffolk so I went away with Hedgerow Sour - Blackberry and Nettle. As I was warned this one pours dead flat too and cola brown. Excitement comes in the form of a blast of balsamic, wood, sour fruit and acid. Dark fruity malts lay a fairly robust backbone for just 4.7%, but there's none of the cocoa powder softness you might find in other sour brown powerhouses like Rodenbach Grand Cru. For all it's serious puckering sourness it's actually fairly easy and refreshing going down, with a touch of jammy sweetness doing its utmost in the interest of balance. There's plenty of evidence of fruit additions, through not so much of the nettle. This isn't important, as ultimately the experience is a good one.

Similarly uncarbonated is Little Earth's South Island Sour. As the name suggests it does recall flashes of sauvignon blanc, channelling its light acidity and rounder fruit. There's no tropical fruit, though, just a slick presence of lemon and lime with waxy bitterness to offset that light sourness. Decent and enjoyable stuff.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

#341: Green Beer

Something that hasn't happened in quite some time on this blog - new Irish IPA.

First up was Whiplash's Saturate, a single hop Mosaic double IPA. Looking slick as the divil in new white 440ml cans it pours pale yellow and slightly hazy. It's pleasantly sharp on the nose with lemon zest and pineapple. There's a delicious drop of sugary resin at its core but it never strays into the dank and sweaty territory I'd fear from Mosaic, nor is there any of the onion thing it's infamous for. I'm glad of all this; Saturate is a clean and round DIPA that has plenty of malt ballast without ever appearing too sweet or heavy. Very tasty, and probably better than the Surrender to the Void that this brewer introduced itself with.

Drone Logic seems to be essentially the same beer; a double IPA of 8% with oats and wheat in the bill, though this time single-hopped with Simcoe. And it's Simcoe alright, with plenty of tropical fruit in the main but a slightly wonky afters - cardboard at best, ammonia at worst. Thankfully, this is only a shadow and the beer remain comfortably within the realm of fruitiness. There's even a touch of acidity, presumably from intense hopping, alongside the robust and quite pleasant bitterness. The afters are a nice, sweet mix of all colours of Starburst.

Of the two, I feel I like the Saturate more, surprising as, on paper, Simcoe should be closer to the Citrus and Pine(TM) type of profile I usually champion in an IPA. That these two are thick and oaty and seemingly devoid of crystal - the bane of so many of those IPAs - is probably no coincidence. This is IPA now.


New England IPA really is the style du jour and, about a year and half after people started banging about them I'm trying my first.

White Hag's Atlantean is the beer and, while hazy, isn't the horrible chicken-soup opacity plaguing Instagram on any given beer-related hashtag. It's also a terribly fun and fruity number. There's not a hint of sweaty armpits, just light, dry, refreshing soft drink tropical and citrus fruit delivered on soft drink effervescence. It's incredibly drinkable and goes away fast without you trying or knowing, which is probably as good an indicator of a beer's worth. Try it.

It's perhaps not surprising that the first new IPAs I've enjoyed in some time come from undoubtedly two of the country's better brewers. 

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

#340: Fruit Shoots

Long before a perfectly sculpted beard juiced a grapefruit into a bog standard IPA, fruited beer was a thing. One of the places in which it was most definitely a thing is the Payottenland in Belgium.

Raspberries and cherries are the most traditional lambic additions and the crowning bottle in the cupboard for some time has been Drie Fonteinen's Intense Red. This is a particularly young lambic with cherries and boy does it shine.

It pours clear as crystal with a vibrant pink/purple head that dies near instantly. Thereafter it's a beautiful expression of kriek; pure, fresh fruit with the perfect balance of acidity and soft sweetness. There's a cherry cola thing that opens for the ripe tartness that acts as an enhancement of the usual cherry sherbert stuff. It's gorgeous and vinous without any wood character or maturity, pushing the fruit to the fore above all else.
Wonderful stuff.
A different, more conventional kind of kriek comes in the form of Oud Beersel's Oude Kriek Vieille. It's clear and dark red and produces a burst of sour cherry right from the beginning. There are shades of almondy depth in behind, giving a weirdly filling impression of tart cherry marzipan. This particular bottle was a good deal older than one I had at Christmas last and that satisfying depth and weight is something the younger bottle lacked. Apple skin tannins mop up the finish, adding points for drinkability that may have been lost amid the complexity. 
Contrary to what I would expect with a fruited beer, this one seemed better for having lay about for five years, where the fresh bottle (not on the blog) was an admittedly fruitier but ultimately more pedestrian affair.

Things get wyrd again with Hannssens Experimental Raspberry Lambic, though truth be told I'm not exactly sure what's supposed to be experimental about it. Perhaps it is simply the decision not to call it a framboise.

In any case, it is still as death and super sour, its tawnied-pink appearance looking - and perhaps smelling - more like a raspberry vinaigrette than anything else. Thankfully the fruit on the palate is actually quite clean and fresh-tasting, almost fun, before an acid bath spoilsport takes away any of the refreshing joy I usually find in good lambic. It's worth dabbling in, if only for the one, but the sheer sour power makes it a bit too much like hard work for my liking.
No fruit goes into Blossomgueuze, second in a series of weird lambics made by Lindemans. The producers have presumably saved the elderberries for jam and instead used elderflower to flavour this geuze. It pours surprisingly clear in the burnished gold tones of filtered Czech lager. Add to that a hint of a skunky nose and you have a wobble start indeed. However, all of this is forgotten with an intense sour attack of mouth-filling, citric acid-laden wheat. There are flowery elements, but not in any overtly elderflowery sort of way; if I hadn't been told there was elderflower in it, I would certainly not have guessed. This is almost a relief, as I had worried about dodgy over-flavourings before I opened the bottle. Most surprising of all is a note of juicy, tart mango that comes from nowhere into the finish and aftertaste, combining wonderfully with the lemon acidity of the beer and leaving you with the impression of having just had some fresh tropical and citrus fruit. 

Fresh, bright, delicious; this is refreshing, drinkable and eminently fun lambic, and even if the elderflower didn't assert itself as elderflower, in the end Lindemans have just made a fantastic geuze.

Monday, 21 August 2017

#339: Geuzzards

Mothership Boon is upon us and the obvious place to start for me is with one of my favourite beers ever, Black Label.

Black Label is an annual release that is intended to be the driest geuze from the Boon stable, which sounds right about my style.

An explosive opening leads the way for a crystal clear appearance with big soapy bubbles. The nose gets mouth-watering sour candy and the palate gets a thorough scouring with plenty of sourness and effervescence. It is beautifully dry, but not distinctively more than good geuze from the likes of Drei Fonteinen or Cantillon. 

It's quenching and refreshing and despite the strength (7% this iteration), relatively light of body.

More full-bodied is Geuze Mariage Parfait. I already spoke about the kriek in this range and it's a surprise even to me that the geuze hasn't featured on the blog, considering it's a regular feature in the fridge. Like the Black Label it has a high ABV, though a notch higher at 8%, and also like the Black Label it drinks far easier than it should, though it does have a bigger body. There's plenty of wheaty fullness and citrus fruits with another bone dry finish. 

These two are my favourite Boon beers and two of my favourite lambics full stop. As wonderfully simple and well-executed as good lambic can be.

Up next, fruit.

Friday, 4 August 2017

#338: Geuze of the World

This post heralds the beginning of a relentless jettisoning of tasting notes concerning that most appropriate of summer beer styles - and a personal favourite style of mine - geuze. At least, mostly geuze, as I will of course deviate from time to time to include anything in the lambic bracket. The notebook is positively heaving with the fruits of my ongoing obsession with Payottenland produce, so lets just get through this.

Top of the queue is De Troch's Cuvée Chapeau Lambic Oude Geuze, if that's really what they're calling it. The lack of that pleasing 'pop' of the cork suggested a low level of carbonation that was confirmed by my strenuous efforts to conjure any foam into existence.
Sure enough it's flat in the mouth with a much softer acidity than I'd expect. In fact, it's quite round, as these things go; plenty of straw and wheat pad out the body before a full, pungent and earthy finish.
This relative lack of meaningful fizz gives the beer a sense of weight that makes it less refreshing than other geuze. Despite this, there's a lot to like about Cuvée Chapeau; it's a particularly musty lambic, suggesting age and recalling to mind memories of summer in an old family haunt in Lispole, all old furniture and country air.
Pangs of nostalgia aside, the big takeaway from the beer itself is of that aforementioned pungency and lovely bloomy, mushroomy finish.
Curious stuff and well worth investigation, even if I do likes em fizzier.

Much more my speed is Moriau Oude Geuze, a brand I'd never heard of before that, a quick Google tells me, is made by geuze wizards (geuzzards?) Boon.
This is more my kind of geuze; a good deal more effervescent, slightly cloudy and with a patently gritty, wheaty nose. It's gorgeously balanced with citrusy acidity and a pillowy wheaty fullness that makes it easy to drink but substantial and satisfying. Almost a quaffer, in total defiance of its 7% wattage. Slight shades of Boon's own Mariage Parfait on show here.

Dekoninck Oude Gueuze a l'Ancienne, also from Boon, is the simplest of the lot, being a total quaffer with the fizz and buzz and acid all doing a good job adding up to an easy-drinking lambic, if a touch on the lighter side. It tastes younger than all of the above, though my perception could of course be way off. In any case, it's just not got the same satisfying heft as the Moriau above, or indeed other good geuzes.

Another unknown brand came my way in the form of St Louis Geuze Fond Tradition, though at the time of drinking I wasn't aware of its credentials and thought I'd paid good money for FAKE GEUZE.

Thankfully, the nose suggests it's authentic stuff; sour citrus and wheat, and those hallmarks in the flavour too. There's also something bigger and deeper at work here - a sort of burn or rubbery thickness that top shelf geuze does without.
The finish brings it back on track, with a bizarrely candy-fake fruitiness keeping things on the cheerful side, and the whole thing never loses its characteristic geuzey grist.
It's grand, but not Grand.

To step closer to the light from which most of these came, the next post (in this series) will feature some mothership Boon brands.