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.

OR IS IT?

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 or 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 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.

Monday, 24 July 2017

#337: Roden's Back

When I finally opened Rodenbach's Caractère Rouge, an iteration of the brewery's classic aged Flemish red resplendent with cherries and raspberries, for some reason I was expecting something not unlike the Rodenbach Vintage.
However, there are no such thick chocolatey malts and no leathery, woody evidence of age. In fact, this is a bright and pretty beer packed with clean, fruity raspberry jam. There's the lovely sweet and tart to-ing and fro-ing I particularly enjoy in regular Rodenbach, with perhaps more sour berries playing off sweet cereals than in that youth-heavy blend. In any case it represents a fairly good return for the investment of money and fruit.

Refreshing and eminently drinkable, I would love more of this.

...which is good, because Alexander from the same producer gives you something quite like it. As far as I can tell the main selling point here is that cherries are are the sole added novelty, and they are evident from the beginning; a fresh, sweet and Double Dip-like sherberty thing. After this start it simply reverts to good ol' Rodenbach loveliness; more fruit and cereal-sweet tartness with added leather and a touch of balsamic reminiscent of the Vintage but remaining bright and fun throughout.

Good stuff, but, even more so than the Caractère Rouge, I don't know if the price gets you anything much better than the Grand Cru or even cheap tinny extraordinaire Rodenbach. I guess that's the problem with having a good lineup.

Friday, 26 May 2017

#336: Manchester

Christian Bale Ale
Once again, Sober Destrier's PhD work brought her abroad and once again I tagged along. The destination this time was Manchester for a single night, though thankfully early outbound and late inbound flights at Cork mean you can get the best part of two full days for your money. I was half aware that Machester had a wealth of top beer options and thanks to some advice from beery Twitter, I had a lengthy list to cherry pick from.

The first cherry is The Font. This is a studenty bar no more than a stone's throw from Manchester Metropolitan University dealing in craft beer and the burger-nachos type of menu that seems to fuel the local student population. There weren't many of those in when we stopped by early in the afternoon and sunk into a well-worn leather couch. The décor here is thrifty and bohemian and the beer looks good.

I started with Hawkshead's NZ Pale, a 6%-er with a bit more sweat and diacetyl than I'd like harshing my NZ buzz. A big bitterness with a smattering of sweet tutti-frutti forms the main chunk of the beer and there are tropical leanings that get me interested but it's all overshadowed by that spiky, sweaty body. Close, but no cigar.

Upstairs at 47 Thomas Street
Danish outfit Dry and Bitter's Christian Bale Ale followed this. It's a single hopped Mosaic pale ale of 4.4% and was a surprisingly good cleanser, offering clear, pretty and lightly juicy stuff without any of Mosaic's famed oniony hangups. Far easier to drink but a nitpicker might say not as characterful as the NZ Pale. This was all we had time for at Font, but I regretted leaving the place - service here was good and friendly, a theme in Manchester, and there was still plenty of exploration to do at the bar. Still, on we go.

Marble Pint

Much later in the day we find ourselves at 47 Thomas Street, a Marble outlet. Unfortunately we never made it to Marble Arch so this would serve as a surrogate. 
Just the one on the first visit, and it was flagship Pint. I don't know the style, but it's a lovely beer with a gorgeously puffy texture, showing its blond grist and grassy highlights in equal measure. Balanced and silky, it doesn't last long. As lovely as it is, I lament not having the chance to try its clearly native cask version - this one seems made for the ease and smoothness of cask, but the keg is bloody good. This was enjoyed in a totally empty upstairs bar that is bright, clean and attractive, and would have been a bit awkward if not for the once again lovely service.

Lagonda
What I did grab on cask the following evening is Lagonda IPA, and I even managed to enjoy it in the busy downstairs area, even though the poor bar staff had to walk the pint all the way downstairs to serve me. I'm glad she did though; it's bright and well suited to the pump - no bittersweet soup here. Lemon and lime and soft orange, it's all very respectable and balanced, again making for an eminently drinkable and silky pint.
Portent of Usher

I finished up at 47 Thomas Street with Portent of Usher, an imperial stout of 9% with plenty of bitter coffee and chocolate malt forming the first impression. There's a lick of smoke from the roast malt and a finish fo balanced chocolate, caramel and dark fruit elements.
That balance seems to be the theme here; all three of the beers have been very accomplished, polished and flavourful. Sadly, these were the only Marbles I had on the trip but it is safe to say I will return.

In between these two visits to Thomas Street was a stop in the wonderful bottle shop Beermoth for a couple of hotel beers, the first of which was Moor's apparently Star Wars-themed Imperial Entanglement.
Imperial red is the style billed and it gives mild coffee, red berries and bitter husky grain. There's much humming and hawing on my part before I have to conclude that, while interesting, it's just not interesting enough.

Café Beermoth
Much more interesting is Partizan's Royal Ale, brewed with riesling juice, no less. It's pale and yellow-gold and does a super slick dance of pear drops, syrup, light tropical fruits and soft peach. There's even a strand of straight riesling right at the finish, as well as a slightly tart edge.
Rather unusual stuff, but highly enjoyable.

The beery highlight of the trip was a visit to Café Beermoth, a simply stunning place to drink beer.

Hoppiness
It's all dark wood and straight edges and right angles and hop bines and old bottles, without any nod towards the flayed-to-death raw industrial chic found in basically every craft beer bar in the world, I guess. There are no neon lights, no backlit taplists; this is a calm and almost serene place to indulge yourself and admire your surroundings comfortably, at leaston the quiet weekday afternoon we called in.

I started on the cask engine with Moor's Hoppiness, which gives happiness. Our booth is immediately filled with the aroma of sweet juicy citrus fruit. At 6% it is far easier to put back than you'd think - slick and smooth and spinning a rolodex of sweet mango, orange and lime without a drop of heat. It's only lightly bitter, just ebnough to balance, but doesn't quite leave the palate tingling afterwards. The only evidence of that 6% is the tiny sticky spot right at the finish, but overall the beer is a delightfully juicy and easy drinking IPA that need to be a mainstay everywhere fresh casks can be sourced.

More Tea Vicar?
We had arrived in from a drizzly Market Street around the corner but by now there was a torrential downpour outside. Admiring this form the cosy, quiet simplicity of the Café, I was called to the bar for some More Tea Vicar?, from Ilkley.

This is 6.2% IPA with, yes, tea, that appears pale and clearish and smells of grist and, yes, tea. There's definiely a strain of refreshing black tea that relegates the hop brightness to a later appearance. When they do show up, they offer a wonderful lemony counterpoint to the tea, making it a gorgeously clean, fruit and refreshing beer that tastes very English indeed. The perfect antidote to a drenched Manchester springtime afternoon.

BA Bible Belt
Feeling the need the steel myself before leaving the place I just had to stick my face in  Barrel-Aged Bible Belt, a 13% imperial stout from Praerie and Evil Twin with cacao, vanilla, chilli and coffee and aged in Heaven Hill barrels.
As you might expect with this sort of meddling and ABV it pours pitch black and headless and pleasantly oozes its dark aromatics. Thankfully, and indeed surprisingly, the beer is incredibly smooth and well integrated, to the point that it actually just tastes like a great big black beer, which is nice. It's rich in chocolate and even richer in vanilla. The coffee is sweeter with next to no bitterness or roast, while the whole thing is sweet without even approaching any sugary feel or cloying. The chilli was absent for me, but I didn't miss it.

Gorgeous stuff, and a fitting closer to my Manchester beering.

***

Manchester is a wonderfully beautiful, friendly, welcoming, happy, laid-back, diverse, and eminently liveable city. This was the case in April, when I visited, and I know when I return in the future - a return I can't wait for -  it will still be a beautiful, friendly, welcoming, happy, laid-back, diverse and eminently liveable city, regardless of the horrific, cowardly, barbaric and ultimately futile events of  the 22nd of May.

***

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

#335: Brotherly Love


This one's been waiting at least a year for his turn.

His name is Brother Thelonious, and as the name suggests, he is an American with fond memories and aspirations of Belgium, as well as an unflinchingly cool jazz spirit.

Belgian-syle abbey ale is the specific aspiration and Fort Bragg, California's North Coast do a good job conjuring memories of that type of thing with the crystal clear ruby-brown appearance of Brother Thelonious. Also reminiscent of Belgium is the lovely brown sugar sweetness present not only on the nose but particularly in the middle of the palate too. Thankfully there's no Lagunitas-style sugar bomb, as this one dries up after itself at the finish. Here you find dried figs and raisins, without any heavy booze or thick malt getting in the way, as well as a smattering of ground almonds. In fact, the whole thing plays rather elegantly and surprisingly light and drinkable for 9.4%. The only missing piece of the puzzle is the typical Belgian yeast-derived ester profile, but that's a minor detail when considering the wider enjoyable experience of the beer.

This passes the Belgian monks' digestibility test like no other American beer that I've encountered, and all while supporting jazz education in honour of the other relevant Monk. True, only one of those things really matters to me, but it's a pleasant footnote on an likewise very pleasant beer.