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.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

#334: Agriable

I'm sure this particularly summery bottle had hoped to be opened about nine months ago, to live its brief life in the outdoors, soaking up a warm breeze and accompanying a soft Bavarian pretzel or somesuch. As it happened, it instead popped open in front of a fire early this year with nothing more ceremonious than a packet of supposedly fancy crisps. 
The beer is Piña Agria from Odell, and on opening I was worried. The cork doesn't look great; cracked and showing what looked like (and hopefully was nothing more suspect than) glue. From this same cork and indeed the neck of the bottle came a tang of, well, pee. No, really. Thankfully there's nothing of the sort once you get it into the glass; from here on out it's a wonderfully clean and fruity number that has more than a few shades of zesty pinot grigio or a particularly zingy sauvignon blanc, manifested as bountiful tropical pineapple, honeydew melon and a nice sherberty acidity. It's exceptionally easy to drink and incredibly moreish, tailored as it seems to be to hit that sour spot. Delicious.

I was desperately sad to see it go, especially considering the ~€20 price tag, but if you can convince a loved one to gift you a bottle for some special occasion, or if you just NEED FROOTY ACID, it's absolutely worth picking up.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

#333: After the Fall

This duo were part of a trio gifted to me by Lachie and Alison (thanks guys!) and comes from what was once their neck of the woods in Stirling.

The brewery is Fallen Brewing and there's a strong travel theme to the beers at hand, owing to their residence in a bona fide old railway station.

We start with New World Odyssey, which sounds nice. But then you read that it's a blonde, that broad and vague style moniker that brewers tend to apply to things that aren't exciting enough to call anything else and you wonder if your hopes for New World hop delivery are about to be dashed against the rocks. Thankfully they aren't, with fresh, zesty citrus getting up bright and early even if it is somewhat undercut by a considerable buttery diacetyl thing. This is swept up in the bitterness and thankfully doesn't last, with the malt half of the beer turning instead to more palatable bubblegum fruitiness. It's enjoyable, but it's far from the odyssey I was expecting.


Unlike Platform C, the IPA. These two seem to have switched bottles on the way across the Irish Sea because I'd expect an IPA to be fraught with the dangers of too-thick malt and diacetyl interference and I'd expect the blonde to be, well, more blonde, pale and clean. OK, it may not be paler, but Platform C is by far the cleaner of the two, with a perfect base of soft, subtle biscuity malt allowing a gorgeously expressive and juicy C-hop character drive the beer. Fresh and punchy with its grapefruit flesh for the first half of the bottle, candied orange sweetness for the warmer second half, but never losing the clean control. This is the kind of thing I wish all brewers would strive to achieve with their American pale ale and IPA releases, an execution the likes of which I've seen from Althea and Little Fawn among others here in Ireland.

Despite the respective names of these beers, it is the IPA that takes you on the New World odyssey while the blonde is still playing catch up.

Monday, 20 March 2017

#332: Quadruple Dutch

At least once a year I find myself unpacking a handful of bottles from a suitcase from Amsterdam and 2016 was no exception. The best thing to do with the styles I brought home this time was to horde them for the long dark winter and pick them off like a private Dutch beer festival.

The first decapitated is Wuldar, a barleywine from Walhalla, and as old world in style as the branding somewhat suggests. It's a fairly clear dark red and gives raisiny rich malt on the nose. This is largely the same to taste; thick and malty with maple syrup and dark autumnal fruit. Simple in its own way, Wuldar makes for wonderfully contemplative and cosy drinking by the fireside.

No such handful of bottles is complete without a De Molen or two and the first I opened is Wal and Schip Wild Turkey B.A. This one was bottled in December 2014, and may have been picked up the previous year, but who's counting? Blakc and brown it pours, oozing gorgeous biscuit alt and vanilla with a slight savoury side. Another exemplar of dark malt complexity, there's more figs and raisins to be found here. Rich, sweet and fruity on a woody vanilla backing with malted biscuit - I mean it seems obvious, but there you go. The bourbon barrel is thankfully well integrated and doesn't overpower everything with sickly vanilla syrup. In fact, it reminds me more than once of the best bourboned beer I've had, Bourbon County. Once again its a comforting drink that warms up to give marzipan and palate-smacking savoury malt goodness.

Another stout from another barrel is Emelisse's White Label Imperial Stout from a Bruichladdich barrel. This one's got more chocolate than the De Molen and the whisky influence shows itself as a bit of spirity heat, but it remains smooth and round. There's rich, round chocolatey stuff throughout, making it a particularly indulgent and dessert-like beer, showing a touch of sweetness.

Surprisingly less chocolatey is Ciel Bleu Imperial Stout from Brouwerij 't IJ, with collaborative input from the Michelin-starred Ciel Bleu restaurant and chocolate makers, er, the Chocolatemakers. Far from the liquid dessert I was expecting, this is disappointingly thin and mild, especially considering the 10.2% ABV. Still, it was easy drinking which is its own achievement, and I finsihed it happily enough before long. 

A mixed bag, perhaps, but as with all Nederland-born hauls, fun was had.