Friday, 12 August 2016

#324: Sleepy Sunday

A quick check in mine own searchbox tells me that I haven't featured a single release from Wild Beer Co. on the Destrier so it's a good thing I took notes a few (quite a few) sundays ago when I tucked into Sleeping Lemons Export.

This gose-a-like is beefed up to 6% and garnished, as they usually are, with preserved lemons. Unsurprisingly, then, it immediately gives an impression of beautifully sharp and zesty lemons wafting from the glass, filling the open space of the garden. To taste, though, it is wonderfully controlled; squeaky clean with a cool and calm sourness that again speaks more of summery lemon juice than it does of puckering acid. So yes, there's plenty of lemon curd and the like, but what about the beer behind the fruit? The malt is light and wheaty and doesn't even seem to be carrying all of its 6% weight and the salt is nowhere to be found, leading me to conclude that the lemony end of this beer is far more important than the gose means it uses to get there.

And I'm OK with that. 
Fantastic refreshment that I'd love to see again.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

#323: Ypres Creepers

The Abbot's Ale House remains a reliable supplier of De Struise wares and a while back I decided to consolidate my new-found love for Flemish red'brown ales with the help of Ypres Reserva 2011 (bottled 2014).

Ypres Reserva pours a brown-tinged black with an off-white head and oozes aromatics of leather, sour red fruit, balsamic vinegar and old wood. Straight away the drinker is being told that this beer is not messing around; it aims to misbehave and you better be prepared for some sour goings-on. With time this initial sour, acidic whack on the nose is softened to earthy forest floor and eventually even cocoa and almond - dense and complex to put it simply. To put it less simply it evolves by the second, now firing off shots of woodsmoke, maple syrup, and toffee, all veined with this bloody sour sting and we haven't even tasted it yet.

When we do we learn that yes, it is very very sour. The acid attack is strongest at the very front almost to induce an initial shock but it quickly fades from the second sip onwards. There's none of the thick, chewy chocolatey stuff I thought I sniffed suggestions of earlier on - this is all lithe and limber macerated red fruit, soured and tarted up, with strips of tannic, drying wood mopping it up some at the finish. Thankfully it still leaves plenty of that sour, mildly sweet and rich quad-like fruit lingering for ages - think of sour cherries and grapes and raisiny fruitcake all playing their part to make it refreshing, invigorating and warming all at once.

This is a superb beer. The aroma is complex and while the taste is perhaps less so, every time you dive into the glass it feels new, fresh and exciting and constantly mouth-watering.
Truly wonderful stuff.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

#322: Beaver Dam

A couple of months ago a few specials from Beavertown were trickled into the wild over a few weeks in matching black cans. The smart design format for these cans lit a fire under the already obsessive collector's streak in this beer drinker, so I was determined to have all five releases in hand before popping anything open.

Cooler and darker these evenings were than the ones we are having now, so I was well in the mood to open Imperial Lord Smog Almighty first. This 9.5%-er seems a souped-up, spoilered and dual exhaust pipe boy racer version of the Smog Rocket and emanating from that gratuitous pipework are plumes of smoke. Or at least that's what I was expecting.  Instead there's a rather sharp sting of bonfire smoke that flashes before your nose right at the beginning before allowing a more predominant fruitcake aroma to take over. Sweet, tart berries and pungent stewed apple shine brightest here, while the taste is all dry, light and roasty porter with licks of coffee, chocolate and smoke punctuated throughout. It's sensible and balanced and shows nothing of its high ABV, but neither does it give me the fullness, richness and complexity that I prefer in big dark beers.

Just as big and just as dark is Spresso, an imperial stout brewed with, you guessed it, espresso. This is a style I can 100% on board with conceptually but, in practice, I have come to damn nearly detest coffee stouts. Still, the desire to try new things as they cross my path is unaffected.

I'm glad I stayed on board for Spresso because this is easily the best coffee stout I've had. I was mildly alarmed when, predictably, there's quite a bit of espresso greeting you right from the can; I'm not in the mood for cold coffee right now, thanks guys. My fear proved unfounded though because unlike almost every other beer of this kind that I've tried, Spresso gives you a good imperial stout alongside the obvious coffee novelty. To this end it's a richly textured, creamy dark chocolate mocha effect propping up the more pronounced and bitter espresso notes. There's bittersweet balance and plenty of round warmth, making it surprisingly and mercifully cosy drink.

Stepping into the light with Skull King gets you a hazy orange IPA with an aroma of sheer oof. This is juicy tropical fruit aromatics par excellence with mango, pineapple and sweet mandarin and tangerine peel doing a metaphorical conga across your face. There's a bit more Tanora-like sweetness on tasting but this is still a backdrop to some expressive fruity hop juiciness, again channelling just about every member of the extended orange family. However, the beer doesn't shine as bright as I'd hoped thanks to a surprising and disappointing touch of syrupy booze right at the end. For a respectable 8.7% this knocks an iota or drinkability off the beer, but such a gripe seems as significant as pocket fluff in the midst of that juicy, bittersweet orange and mango party.

Yuzilla Phantom presents a very different kind of fruity effect as a fruited gose, the additions in question being dried lime and yuzu (an East Asian citrus fruit). From these there's a definite sweet, citric sourness propped up on a fluffy, prickly herbal backing. This backing pulls the beer away from the more modern, squeaky-clean-fun-time sour beers and into slightly more serious territory but I have no real problem with that; it's refreshing and interesting stuff, even if it isn't as sinkable as I'd anticipated at first.

The last of the lot to be devoured is Applelation, a saison with Bramley apple and a whopping 8.7% ABV, a couple of ticks above the kind of strength at which I like to see my saisons. Still, it's welcoming and drinkable form the start; it's clean to the point of being lagery with a dash of syrupy sweetness right at the finish, but the main effect is closer to a vaguely Belgian tripel without any of the prickly spice or yeasty artistry. That is to say there's a honeyish, apple syrup fullness to it without so much of a whiff of gristy farmyard stuff. It goes by reasonably quietly and pleasantly, but stays well clear of my preferred saison characteristics.

And so Beavertown prove their sure handling of a wide range of styles to varying degrees of success, though all are interesting and well worth trying out should they cross your path.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

#321: Odell Fernet Aged Porter

Sometimes you just have to go for it. Those bottles you've been hoarding will be forgotten about or, worse, opened and emptied by somebody else should you drop dead of an afternoon, and it is this dark but opportunistic thought that occasionally drives me to pop the cap or cork on a beer I had hitherto been saving.

On this occasion, the beer is Odell's Fernet Aged Porter, a 9.4%-er aged in barrels from the Leopold Bros. run of fernet, and surely a prime example of the sort of beer you should be committing to 750mls of on one of those dark, damp early Irish summer days. Expect weirdness, I thought to myself, and weirdness is more or less what I got.

A surprisingly dry and mildly roasty porter is the bones of the beer, unsurprisingly backed with a tingle of mint and a lick of liqorice. It's all very pleasant going on first impressions. There's plenty of herbal leafy greens throughout too, and I'm left reflecting that Odell were probably wise to only include 50% barrelified porter in this bottle, with the other 50% made up of the unadulterated base porter. This is not only because of the intensity of the herbs and spices - which, it must be said, is quite well restrained and enjoyable - but because of the sharp, tart blackberry turn the thing makes right at the finish. At first this is jolting; an unpleasant and rude interruption to the cool calmness of the rest of the beer. But, once it sinks in - and you sink into the bottle - this becomes more complimentary to the taste and indeed refreshes the palate after every sip. On later tastings the bitter, tangy and lightly sweet dark chocolate analogies just write themselves, as do the references to black pepper, stalky raw mint leaf and dry, old pinot noir. For all the weirdness, it's a wonderfully interesting and drinkable beer, and keeps Odell's name very much in my good books.

A good idea would be to replace it in the cupboard to see how the tart, tannic barrel effect develops in time for a rainy day a few years down the road...

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

#320: Original Sip

De Dolle Brouwers. I knew the name - I even knew the name of one their beers, Stille Nacht, but I'd come across neither before Oerbier showed up in the shop a couple of months ago.

Oerbier seems in fact to be something of a flagship brand for De Dolle, if the cheerful sliding Oerbier-man gif and NAT EN STRAF (wet and strong) tagline that introduces you to the brewers' website is anything to be believed. 

Oerbier simply means 'original beer', representing as it does the first and signature brew of the house. It pours a red-tinted dark brown with a big beige head that produces a wonderful and enticing aroma; amidst the brown sugar, sweet cherry and blackberry there's a dappling of tart fruit, like a Rodebach Grand Cru but with the scales tipped dramatically back in favour of the rich malt and leaving only minimal traces of that sour wood. The first sip sticks much more closely to that richer, sweeter side of things with raisins, toffee, Christmas cake fruit and spiciness and sugary blackcurrant jam all playing it nice and quad-like, before just at the finish there is a ghost of this tart cherry lingering in the background. Lactobacillus is used to achieve this, according to the website which also proclaims the wonderful ageing opportunity this beer presents.
It's already beautiful now, but I'm inclined to agree. 

See you in a few years, Oerbier.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

#319: Standing to Attention

A few from the Kernel were a nice surprise to stock, terribly briefly as can be imagined, at work, and among the six we had were these three pale ales and an IPA.

First is the Pale Ale Chinook Amarillo. I'm not surprised to see that this is hazy, almost murky even, but there's not a hint of untidiness to be sniffed or tasted; what you get is juicy bittersweet orange and mandarin that's clean but surprisingly short-lived. The bitterness, however, lingers for a long time, and the lasting impact is of a bright, fresh experience.

Even better is the Chinook Zeus Citra; this one is even juicier and brighter, even fresher, even if it's still murky as hell.
There's dark, sharp orange zest that plays sweet and tingly with the bitterness - it's fun, expressive, stuff that is ridiculously easy to drink.

Cascade Chinook is next up, and, despite being the same age as the other two, seems blander and nowhere near as fun. Still, it's hard to resist the waves of bittersweet citrus and slick, refreshing malt body. 

The last hoppy pale of the range is the IPA Amarillo Mosaic. It's stinky - aromatic, one might say - and, once again, gives plenty of citrus. It's not as clean as the others; there's a woody, wet hay thing that interrupts the juicy hop nose and the slicker, thicker, higher ABV feel of it makes it more of a sipper than the rest.

Those four make up most of the range that passed through the shop and their nature made drinking fresh an imperative. The other two, an Export Stout and a Porter, are yet to come.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

#318: Galway BayFest

OK, not a true festival, obviously, but a recent Galway Bay tap takeover at the Bierhaus felt pretty festive to me, even if I was mean and stuck to the limited editions, ignoring the core range yet again.

Not that I'm having any doubts about whether or not that was a good idea, because it absolutely was.
It begins with Heathen, a(nother) black Berliner weisse. Handed to me in black and tan, it is an exceptionally light body to begin with, except for a brief flash of something fuller and creamier in the grist. There's sharp acidic sandpaper on the tongue with plenty of that grist but no blackness to speak of - this is all relatively bright on the flavour spectrum, even if it does lack a hoppy seasoning to go along with it. There's lots of fizz, a blink, and it's gone. It's not often that I'd compare beer to water in a good way but this is a stupidly refreshing, incredibly drinkable and rather plain beer that puts itself away pretty fast. That might not be enough for those who demand more flavour, but at 3.5%, I could find enough wheat-supported citric acid to let this beer flow fast and fun.

303 is step up in the flavour department, billed as a tart pale ale. There's plenty more citrus to the fore of this one, though more bitter and less sour than the Heathen, as you'd expect. Sherbety lemon curd, lime zest and pithy bitterness do a good job of cushioning and balancing what acidic sourness there is, before the thing turns surprisingly herbal in the middle. In fact, I don't know what sort of profile the Azacca hops were supposed to bring to the table but for me there's a crunchy green coarseness throughout that doesn't allow much of the pungent fruit I was expecting to shine through. It's tasty, but it's less drinkable than the Heathen (again, a for a beer with more flavour and more alcohol that's not surprising) and doesn't quite hit the hoppy sour heights of either Trolltunga or Sky Mountain for me.

An even bigger step up in every department was required to reach the Two Hundred Fathoms pouring from keg. This year's edition it was, and oof is this a different beast on tap or what?
My first note is a scrawled 'ridiculous' that I remember being my only contribution for the first few minutes. This is pure, melted dark and milk chocolate mousse territory, pulling you through the rich, creamy, boozy stuff and all the way out the other side to fatty. This year's bottled version had plenty of oaky vanilla and whiskey hiding the background, but here, the vanilla has a fuller, sweeter Madagascan vanilla ice cream effect. With time the initial, intense, dark chocolate hit sinks into the rest of the beer to become real life, unashamed milk chocolate that I just can't get over. What I also can't get over is the very finish where it tastes, briefly, like barley malt extract, reminding you that, as dessert-like as it is, this is still a beer and it still tastes like one. 

Just a big, full, filling one that you wish you could have year round.