Monday, 30 December 2013

#203: The Good Stuff

Guinness is unavoidable in Ireland, and the draught version is inexplicably championed by even the most discriminating of palates. In a place devoid of good beer, a pub that 'does a good Guinness' will do. As if pouring it well will make it any less watery and flavourless.

However, the Diageo giant does make Guinness Foreign Extra which is a fine drink, with this Special Export being top of the range. It's made for the Belgian market as far as I know, and is the strongest variety at 8% ABV.
Like the Foreign Extra, Special Export pours black and tan and produces an equally pungent aroma of rubbery burnt toffee and dark mascerated fruit. Tobacco and brown sugar tie it down. The taste is a delicious blend of dark, sticky, malty sweetness, smoky highlights and that recognisable coffee bitterness.

For me, this is better than the FES, though not by much. In terms of value for money, the FES is definitely the way to go. Still, it's certainly worth a try.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

#202: Old School

Brewdog impressed me recently with their seasonal offering Hoppy Christmas, so much so that I opted to shell out for this special brew, and old-fashioned IPA.

They've called it Old World India Pale Ale and had the labels drawn beautifully by Johanna Basford, which combine with the larger bottle size to make this a very presentable beer indeed. It's also rather pretty in the glass, pouring a hazy orange with a creamy off-white head. Bright lemony pith hits the nose first, followed by waxy orange peel and pungent grapefruit. The presence of the caramel backbone is muted but there's a strangely potent bready, yeasty character to the nose. The fruit attack continues on tasting, with loads of citrus, pineapple and soft banana supported on a sugary caramel malt base. Again, there's a slightly farmyardy tanginess right at the finish, but that only makes the beer more refreshing.

Surprisingly drinkable for a 7.5% IPA, this is very refreshing stuff indeed. Cuts through the heat of a pepperoni pizza admirably.

Friday, 27 December 2013

#201: Great Divide Belgian Style Yeti

I bought this about a year and a half ago in the Abbot's and considering the BBE was up on October of last year, I'm guessing the bottle was a bit old at that stage already. Being an imperial stout of 9.5%, I wasn't too concerned with spoilage.

And I needn't have been. Great Divide's Belgian Style Yeti pours black as night with an off-white, almost brown head. The aroma is amazing. If I described it as smelling purple, would that make sense? Plums, forest fruits, berries and blackcurrants make for a surprisingly fresh and fleshy fruit aroma from the beginning, before it warms to jam and dark chocolate mousse and plum pudding. This is one of those rare beers that demands serious attention from the nose before you even consider taking a sip. The palate matches the beauty of the aroma, delivering rum-soaked fruit, coffee beans, vanilla and sugary chocolate malts all atop a thick and oily body. 

This is an exceptional imperial stout. Rich and indulgent, one that I hoped would never end. 
Unfortunately it did, but not before elbowing its way into my Golden Pints. If you see a bottle of this around and you're a fan of big imperial stouts, don't hesitate to pick it up.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

#200: Golden Pints 2013

Two hundred posts in and it's time to finally do a proper Golden Pints. I'd really hoped to do a few more posts before this, but rather than agonizing over writing about delicious beer over Christmas, I figured I would get this job out of the way and enjoy drinking delicious beer over Christmas. Now there's a plan.

Best Irish Draught Beer
Few Irish readers will be surprised that this goes to Galway Bay's Of Foam and Fury, coming right at the end of the year and delivering the experience everyone wants from a DIPA. Very honourable mentions go to Kinsale Pale Ale, O'Hara's DIPA and 8 Degrees' Amber Ella.

Best Irish Bottled Beer
Here Amber Ella stood out for me, despite some feeling it was secondary to the draught version. It was fresh and incredibly flavourful, and certainly one of my highlights of the beer year. Franciscan Well's wonderful IPA is a close second.

Best Overseas Draught
Thankfully I actually got some overseas beering in this year, and with some fine results. Ramses Oak-Aged Shire Stout was absolutely to die for in the Arendsnest, while runner-up Ayinger's Altbairisch Dunkel made for a wonderfully flavoursome yet drinkable half-litre measure. 

Best Overseas Can/Bottle
Much of the action in this category happened late for me, with stuff from Hardknott, Great Divide and Jopen all seriously impressing. I guess that's what happens when you save special beers for the winter. This is why I wanted to have a few posts done before the awards, as I've yet to write about Great Divide's Belgian-style Yeti. It is amazing; one of the richest, most complex and intense examples of a Russian Imperial Stout I've ever had. Post soon to come.

Best Overall Beer
An impossible choice really, as it could be any of the above. Any answer is likely to leave me feeling uncomfortable. However, when I look back over the year of beer, the liquid that stands out the most will have to be Of Foam and Fury. Whether it was travelling to a freezing Dublin to try it, its freshness in my memory or its genuine top-notchness, I can't ignore the prominence of this beer.

Best Pumpclip/Label
Another tough one, but Brewdog's recent 'Old World' series had gorgeous illustrations by the artist Johanna Basford. As a long-time producer of pen and ink illustration myself, her website makes for great scrolling.

Best Irish Brewery
An easy choice and a victory Eight Degrees. With a barrel-aged stout, a pair of North and South Hemisphere-hopped IPAs, a fantastic amber, and a winter trio of chilli stout, black IPA and imperial stout, they really have been churning out some great stuff this year. All on top of brilliant old reliables like Howling Gale Ale and Knockmealdown Porter.

Best Overseas Brewery
Hardknott are a only a tea-stain away on the world map, and as such are an excellent source of brilliant and fresh treats. I look forward to exploring their range further.

Bar of the Year
Easily the Bierhaus for me. Always a great selection on draught and tap, and the perfect place for an afternoon drink. If only it opened an hour or two earlier. I didn't get to the Abbot's much this year, something I hope to amend ASAP.

Beer Festival of the Year
Of the two I went to? But that seems silly... oh alright then...
Fran Well's Easterfest. The focus on Irish craft beer is much more enjoyable than their October Beer Fest, with the lineup this year yielding delicious Kindred Spirit, White Gypsy Mustang and cask Stonewell Cider.

Supermarket of the Year
I suppose it would be unfair to award this to Albert Heijn, seeing as we don't have it, and its brilliance is less a result of its ingenuity and uniqueness, and more a side-effect of being in a country which doesn't punish the existence of alcoholic beverages with murderous tax rates and all that other stuff I don't understand but am plenty angry about. For us, Dunnes Stores did a good job, expanding their craft range and always having a group deal or two on the go.

Independent of the Year
This is where the real shopping got done, and Bradley's was my most frequented spot of the year. They too expanded on their range and acquired the beer nerd's catnip; books, glasses, mugs, pitchers, bar mats, metal signs, even a Schneider Weisse shirt or two. Was a great off-licence, now a beer haven in the city.

Best Beer Book/Mag
Cormac McCarthy doesn't write beer books, so I didn't get around to much beer reading. I did read through Dave Line's Big Book of Brewing though, and a great read it is too. Perfect preparation for your entry into homebrewing, and a nice step on the road to consuming all the beery knowledge you can get your hands on.

Best Beer Blog/Website
I've thoroughly enjoyed the Beermack. Reports on the delicious happenings in the capital take the newest and best Irish craft beer into consideration, as well as the latest foreign imports to reach our shores. Well written and honest opinions, what more do you want.

Best Beer Twitterer
I'm only new to that myself, so I really don't know. 

Best Online Brewery Presence
To be honest, with Facebook and Twitter all the Irish breweries are pulling their weight and interacting plenty with their desperately thirsty fans, so a winner is hard to spot. Eight Degrees seems particularly active on Twitter and have a nice website, so that seems as good a bet as any. 

Food and Beer Pairing
The weisswurst and Schneider Weisse in Munich was irresistible, and I'm looking forward to eating the delicious Carrigaline farmhouse cheese with a range of beers over Christmas, but I simply can't stop craving the humble soft pretzel to go with any wheat beer, lager or pale ale. 

In 2014 I'd most like to...
Go UK beering. I haven't done any proper UK travel in a very long time and now seems as good a time as any, with London in particular drawing my attention. That said, I've rather shockingly never even been to Scotland... In the meantime, the year should get off to a good start with a trip to Galway.

So there we have it. Thanks to all of you who take the time to read this beerlog and to those who have donated real life beer in the name of, er, science. Happy Christmas from the Destrier. 

Thursday, 19 December 2013

#199: Barrel-Aged Leann Folláin

Leann Folláin is one of the best stouts in the country, and one my favourites from anywhere. As such, it only makes sense that it should be the perfect base beer for barrel-ageing, following on from Franciscan Well's Jameson Stout and 8 Degrees' Kindred Spirit

Barrel-Aged Leann Folláin pours as black as the original version, and produces an equally tempting aroma. The mocha and dark fruit of the base beer is paired up wonderfully with woody vanilla from the ageing process. The palate matches this, and carries it all on a silky, milky body. Delicious and dangerously drinkable despite it's strength and full-flavoured-ness.

So the beer is good, and the bottle didn't last very long, but how much of that is down to the barrel-ageing process? It's goodness seems less determined by the whiskey barrel than, say, Kindred Spirit's, which had whiskey pawprints all over it. It does have more of a barrel character than the Fran Well offering though, so if you're in the market for a large bottle of barrel-aged stout, this is the one for you. A better base beer and better barrel-ageing results.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

#198: Back to Black

With college over for Christmas, it's time for me to finally transcribe notes on some of the beer I've been enjoying over the past week or two. This trio of 'Back to Black' beers was a generous donation from Eight Degrees, along with a second bottle of each for, you know, rigorous quality control. Thanks Eight Degrees!

On the first day I started with Zeus, the black IPA. The aroma is gorgeous to begin with, with a rather potent and pungent tropical fruit and lemon peel nose, suggesting a plenty hoppy flavour. However, the palate begins in a different manner; roasty coffee and a touch hot, it does let some bitter citrus fruit stuff through the gaps, but not much. It's nice, but not half as nice as it smells. Maybe it's a good iteration of the style, but I wouldn't really know. My opinion of the Black IPA as a style is indifferent at best, with no examples ever hitting the spot like a good IPA or a good porter, and Zeus isn't doing anything to change my mind.

On to the Russian Imperial Stout at 9% ABV. The most eminent aroma characteristic here is coffee, followed by caramel chocolate and some dark fruits, before taking a brown sugar turn after some time. Promising. The taste delivers sticky malts, toffee chocolate and bitter dark roasted coffee flavours on a thick and full body. While it may not quite reach the heights of, say Black Chocolate, it's a much smoother and more drinkable imperial stout. Kindred Spirit was supposed to be Irish stout reborn, but this has blown that out of the water.

The following day I was very excited to be popping open the Aztec Stout, a beer that's seen the intervention of cocoa nibs, vanilla pods and chipotle chillies. Despite the interesting additions, the aroma is more subdued than I'd expected, with milk chocolate and - you guessed it - coffee making up the bulk of it, with perhaps a hint of chilli somewhere in the background. The taste is roasty and chocolatey and this time there's no mistaking the spicy heat of chilli on the back of the throat after each swallow. Interesting to say the least, but I found the body wanting, especially compared (however unfairly) to the Imperial stout the night before.

A commendable effort that gives us two decent beers and one really good one. A good, Irish imperial stout is perfectly timed for Christmas too.

Monday, 9 December 2013

#197: Of Foam and Fury

As I mentioned last week, Galway Bay's new double IPA is the talk of the Irish beer geek town at the moment, and as it isn't being bottled until January I felt compelled to make a day trip to Dublin to taste it. True, Christmas shopping also played a factor, but the beer was always going to be the decider.

Before we got around to that, however, we made the traditional stop in Porterhouse Temple Bar, where mine was a Hersbrucker Oktoberfest, the special of the day. It was just about OK, being biscuity and grainy and disappearing quickly leaving a decent lingering bitterness behind, but carrying none of the off-sweet slightly dark malt flavours I prefer in a good Marzen. A total bust in a place that sells so much good beer.

Moving on, The Black Sheep was the most convenient Galway Bay outlet before the 7pm train, so it was there we went. My last visit produced the lovely Voyager NZ, but I remember being disappointed with the prices of the draught beers. This time I was more forgiving. The prices were the same (rarely if ever going below the €5/pint mark) but I appreciated the number and excellent variety of taps much more than before. That and the chunky chips, which were perfect for the cold. 

Of Foam and Fury pours a hazy amber and produces some wonderful tropical fruit hop aromatics. Pineapple, grapefruit, mango and orange pith are all there from the start, with some nice toffee and bubblegum sweetness coming into play as the beer warms up. On the palate, the malt backbone is sturdy enough but drenched in hop flavours, with the punchy orange skins, grapefruit and pine needle teaming up with the tropical fruit from before, all carried wonderfully on a full body. 

Properly hop-forward and bitter in the nicest way, but retaining enough balance to remain smooth and drinkable beyond it's 8.5%.
Hats off to Galway Bay, and keep an eye out for the bottles in the new year.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

#196: Narwhal

Hot (well, lukewarm) on the heels of the appearance of Sierra Nevada Hoptimum this summer is the Chico brewery's imperial stout, Narwhal.

It costs the same as Hoptimum so it's by no means cheap, but if it performs as well in the flavour department it should be worth it.

It starts well enough, pouring black and tan and showing lovely dark chocolate and malted biscuit on the nose, while also allowing some brighter hop notes to shine through. The aroma is really all about the darker malts though, with brown sugar, coffee and dark fruit in the mix. On tasting, there's some chocolate, roasty stuff and a bit of bitterness too, but ultimately it's not as bold or complex as something like Black Chocolate Stout or Victory Storm King, a sin when it's 10.2% ABV. The star of the show is the texture, which is smooth, creamy and rich while remaining plenty drinkable.

Lovely drink, but you can definitely do better with your fiver.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

#195: Far Out

The tenuous connection linking these next two beers together is their origin in far-flung places, yonks away from me in Cork, coming from Iceland and Sri Lanka respectively.

To Iceland first, and Einstök's Toasted Porter. I've been seeing Einstök around for a while now, paying attention to their attractive labels while assuming very little about the liquid inside the bottle. If I was to chance one, I decided I'd better go for the porter.
My relatively low expectations were turned on their head early on, as I found this surprisingly good. It's fairly robust and carries flavours of chocolate, roasty coffee and, after some time, a dark sweetness. It's certainly not very sophisticated, but remains very tasty indeed. Looks like I'll have to give the rest of the range the benefit of the doubt.

From the other side of the world comes Lion Stout, a beer I expected to be along the lines of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. Studying the label is an experience in itself, where you get to enjoy some shameless milking of the late Michael Jackson's endorsement of the beer, as well as the curious but appreciated presence of caramel colouring on the ingredients list. 
As for the beer itself, it pours thick and oily black, with a gorgeous malted honeycomb biscuit on the nose, accompanied by thick, sticky molasses notes. This segues nicely into rum-soaked dark fruits with vanilla and oak pitching in too. As you can imagine, this translates into a delicious palate of raisins, thick syrupy toffee, caramelised biscuit and even some light smokiness. 

Definitely the better of the two.

Monday, 2 December 2013

#194: What's in a Name?

It was pure accident that these two ended up together, with the only real links being their American-ness and their... *giggles*... rude names.

Still, if that's good enough in the politically and culturally undefined virtual nation-state occupied by the Destrier, then it's good enough for me.

First up is Founders Dirty Bastard, which I actually had back when Founders made their first appearance in the country and they were very much the talk of the town. The Irish beer nerd spotlight (if such a thing exists) has since shifted to Galway Bay and their Of Foam and Fury DIPA, with excited and digitised whispers of its glory reaching far and wide. Stay tuned for that...

Back to Founders, and this is only my second Scotch ale, the first of which being... *snigger* Scotch Silly. Dirty Bastard, Scotch Silly, they really get a hard time don't they. Like the Scotch Silly, this one pours a beautiful mahogany colour with a lovely off-white head. The powerful aroma of thick chewy toffee, dark fruits and dark chocolate begs you to tuck in. On the palate there's more delicious toffee, maple syrup, raisins and slightly smoky malts. It really is just a wonderful exhibition of dark ale flavour characteristics with chocolate and fruity rolling tobacco becoming prominent over time. Great stuff, and a perfect winter warmer.

As I write this, I find myself wondering why I haven't bought a couple of bottles for Christmas. I highly recommend it.

A few weeks later I was back in the territory of big Americans, this time via Belgium with Flying Dog's Raging Bitch. Flying Dog have a number of very good offerings on our shelves at the moment, so the purchase of this Belgian-style IPA didn't carry much of a risk with it. It pours a hazy amber and produces an aroma of pithy, sugary, raisiny red berry skins. What? There's plenty of bright fruity hoppiness with peach and apricot taking care of things on that end, with butterscotch and candied pineapple covering the sweeter side. The palate emphasises the bittersweet nature of the beer with pithy orange and grapefruit up front and banana and toffee at the back. Along the way there's some spritely spiciness, with the overall effect being a complex but drinkable (and delicious) beer. Another recommendation, despite this not being the freshest of bottles.

I seem to be always catching up with my notebook, but I reckon I'll be up to date after the next two or three posts. From there, it's straight into the 'special' stash. I can't bloody wait.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

#193: Hop To It

Today is St. Andrew's Day in Scotland, as well as the last day before December rears its white bearded and red-capped head in this part of the world. To tie both occasions to a single beer I've gone for a Scottish Christmas beer, from none other than the Ellon boys themselves.

Hoppy Christmas is just a pale ale, and for that I'm grateful. Halloween is only just gone and I still have the memory of questionably spiced 'pumpkin' ales on my taste buds, so at this early juncture I'm glad not to be venturing into those murky waters again. Not that it will stop me from buying spiced Christmas ales in the weeks to come, but I'll at least be more ruthless in my selection process this time around.

The nose of Hoppy Christmas is flippin' gorgeous. Bucket loads of tropical mango, grapefruit and pineapple with a hint of pine and honey in the background. Like many potent pale ales and IPAs, there is a good biscuity malt backbone, but it doesn't add any thick toffee or caramel into the mix, allowing the hops to stand largely on their own. The taste has the same hop-forwardness with juicy, oily tropical fruit and bitter, pithy, piney herbal notes making up most of the profile, with the sweet malt turning buttery early on. It's an absolutely delicious beer, one that I'd love to see more of over the Christmas break. Get it at Bradleys, and gaze longingly at their beer, beer books, beer glasses, beer signs, even beer shirts. And then buy me some.

Buy me some.

Monday, 25 November 2013

#192: Chimay Dorée

I'm a fan of pretty much everything Chimay have put into my mouth (stop giggling) so when this pseudo-curiosity showed up in the Abbot's it was an easy call.

Chimay Dorée is normally reserved for the monastery or café but somehow seems to have found its way to Cork. I shan't complain. I shan't ask questions.

My first impression on the nose is of a saison without any of the farmyardy sourness, if that makes sense. It flirts with being sharp but it remains lightly grainy, coarse, and sweet with biscuit malt. There's a tentative spiciness there too, playing off some light lemongrass notes, but this enjoyable experience doesn't last too long. It loses its punch toward the finish, becoming rather tame and almost bland, but perhaps it's suffering from unfair comparisons with its three stablemates. After all, this is supposed to be easy drinking and largely inoffensive at only 4.8%, and in that regard it delivers a perfectly refreshing and tasty beer. 

Beyond that, I have to wonder why anyone would pick this up over the Tripel.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

#191: Jacked

Brewdog is a producer I don't often buy from, but they have been winning me over of late. Among their more-interesting-looking-but-overpriced offerings you do find a beer that seems to offer a decent return for your precious knuts, sickles and galleons. 

One such beer is Jackhammer, a 7.2% west coast IPA. Take me. 

As the name and description suggests, this light orange liquid delivers a potent bitter whack on the nose, with grapefruit skins and candied fruit making headway from the off. As time goes on the sticky sweetness on the aroma becomes more apparent and pairs rather well with the resinous hop character already there, with the effect being perfumey, but not in a bad way. The taste follows a similar path, with a sharp hop attack of pine and grapefruit opening up for a syrupy full body of caramel and biscuit malt. This, at 7.2%, remains surprisingly drinkable.

Pine, grapefruit, caramel. It doesn't sound totally unconventional, and that's because it's not. And there's nothing wrong with that. Brewdog have done a pretty good interpretation of a west coast IPA that has plenty of cojones without stepping into Imperial- or Double-IPA territory.
Good stuff Brewdog.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

#190: Camp Sierra Nevada

All of Ireland's beer nerds get the same new stuff at the same time, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does make it more of a challenge to find different things to write about. This post isn't one of those different things, rather it's a brief assessment of a trio of beers on the tips of people's tongues of late.
As well as the backs of their gobs.

It's the Beer Camp series from Sierra Nevada, a sort of experimentalish range, I guess, with an IPA, an Imperial Red and a Belgian Style Black IPA - yeah, another one of those.

The Imperial Red (#95) was first from the fridge, and despite chucking half of it on the floor with my clumsy fumbling, I did manage to get a decent glass. And thank god, because it's gorgeous. Dark red with a beautiful coppery, grapefruity and tropical hop aroma, with burnt caramel and brown sugar lending more conventional 'red ale' character to proceedings. The punchy fruit that opens the palate gives in to hot toffee with hints of coffee lingering long after the finish. This is very tasty stuff, definitely one to try with it's relative freshness at the moment.

Next up is the IPA (#93), which again has a lovely punchy aroma of citrus fruit rind and lemon and orange juice, with that nice fruit expression turning up again on the palate. There's a decent round of oily bitterness and a bit of warm malt, but the alcohol of 6.9% feels like it should be delivering more. Not bad, but not totally remarkable either.

Finally we reach the Black IPA (#94), Belgian-style no less. It pours black and tan and yet again we're greeted by a hop-forward aroma, albeit with more herbal in mint overtones than before. Silky milk chocolate, coffee and vanilla make brief contributions to the otherwise green hoppiness on the palate, and I have to say that while it's not incredibly complicated, it's very enjoyable. Another one worth trying.

So there you have it. To be honest, you can't go too far wrong when buying Sierra Nevada beer, so picking up the three would make for a lovely evening's drinking. Otherwise, the Imperial Red seems to be the cream of the crop.

Monday, 18 November 2013

#189: Feeling the Blues

Craft beer in a can is always more exciting than it should be, but despite this realisation, when Oskar Blues Dale's Pale Ale appeared in Bradley's it was a must-buy. I never thought I'd be shelling out for a can of beer with 'Rocky Mountains' written on it, but there you go.

It warned of voluminous hopping, but I still wasn't ready for the C-hop punch on the nose. A bubblegum sweetness is lost under the folds and folds of pungent tropical fruit and piney potency. As expected, it's nicely bitter on the palate with grapefruit, peach, pith and nettle, with a strange but welcome butteriness to it. Tasty, mouth watering and puckering, I could get used to this.

That is, if it weren't for cheaper, admittedly less hoppy but equally delicious home-grown stuff.
Now does this mean we'll be seeing some Ten Fidy soon? Hopefully.

Monday, 11 November 2013

#188: OhDell

Continuing the hop hunt, it's hard to ignore the Americans for very long. I've had one of these quite some time ago, but neglected to take notes. 

That was Odell's IPA, and I remember it being nice, if nothing special. How wrong I was.
The aroma is sharp and zesty, with fiercely potent hops showing off classic pine and peel notes, with grapefruit thrown in for good measure. Peach, mango and orange marmalade make up the balance, the whole olfactory experience being punchy and fresh at only 3 months old. As above so below, with loads of pineapple and grapefruit taking centre stage on the palate, again showing plenty of the bitter brightness of its age, with no lack of anchoring malts either. This is amazing stuff.

Eager to make a step up, I go for a Myrcenary, the double IPA. Unfortunately, this is about almost a year old, though it still has a good bit of stingy, bitter pine resin and fruit on the nose. Sugary marmalade, orange, peach, lemon zest and sweet toffee can also be found. There's far more warmth on the palate, though. Sugary malts and smooth, lemony honey open up for a pithy orange bitterness that does feel diminished in its age, though still bloomin' delicious.

Hops are nice, and I like them, but I hope that in this post and the last I'm not suggesting that hoppy imbalance is the path to success. It isn't, and these two beers, as well as the three from Hardknott, are beautifully balanced while exhibiting plenty of hop power. Seek any of the five out, and you won't be let down. 

The only bum note of the evening is a rather big one; the cracking of my 8 Degrees glass above. Rest in peace my loyal friend. 

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

#186: Get Over It

Halloween already seems like so long ago, so I realise the first part of this post may not seem relevant.

However, I've been trying and failing to get my hands on Trouble Brewing's Pumpkin Brew for the past three years, so I'm not prepared tothroughoutoutis go.

It appeared on tap in the Bierhaus, so off I went. Woody and grainy is the order of the day, with a biscuit malt backbone propping up a light spice character of cinnamon and even a hint of milk chocolate. It's drinkable and surpisingly refreshing, but runs into the same problem you come across in all pumpkin beers; it is, by definition, a pumpkin beer. I know, it's Halloween and all that, but do we need this style of beer to stick around? I mean, pumpkin barely even has a flavour, all we get are poor to decent ales with pumpkin pie allspice chucked in. I think I'm over pumpkin beers, however 'good' some of them are compared to others.

I was eyeing up another tap on the bar, one from Sierra Nevada. Everything they brew is hopped enthusiastically, so the chance to try their take on a Märzen was appealing. Oktoberfest pours mahogany in colour and has plenty of dark malt aroma to match. Sticky syrupy toffee malts appear here and again on the palate, with a light milk chocolate and slightly raisiny detail going on. There's even some of that Tootsie Roll sweetness in there, and absolutely no sign of hops. It's nice enough, but I think I would prefer my Märzen to be more drinkable; the chewiness and weight of this is greater than it should be, and the malts too dark and burnt.  Nevertheless, worth a try.

Another American Märzen comes from Sam Adams, their Octoberfest pouring a good few shades lighter than the Sierra Nevada. This is a toffee malt bomb - no - a toffee malt pop, seeing as it lacks the intensity of an explosive doppelbock. Still, it's toffee with grainy biscuit and an uncomplicated sweetness throughout. Definitely more drinkable than the Chico offering, but not half as interesting. And that's saying something.

Finally, to Anchor. The label and name alone is enough to pull me into Big Leaf Maple, not to mention my love for maple syrup. As expected, this amber beer has sweet caramel and toffee malt strong on the nose, but a pleasant surprise is its herbal, floral hoppiness keeping things alive. The taste is the same, with the added syrup making itself known in the sugary toffee backbone, but a very light pithy hop note tries ever so hard to be heard over the sweet noise. It's a drinkable beer, and a nice experience on the whole, but as with the other three, it lacks any real memorable character. 

Thanks, October, it's been fun. But now we move swiftly on.

#187: Hardknott Life

Sometimes I crave different things from beer, which makes perfect sense when you consider the wide variety of flavours that we know beer can carry. What doesn't make sense is that I sometimes crave a beer from a different place. Hops were on my agenda over the past few weeks, but instead of looking to the U.S. (which I eventually did anyway) I just felt I needed to look across the channel. Moor whave been on my mind ever since they came and went in Bradley's a few months back, but in their absence I decided to try a different, equally unfamiliar brewery from England; Hardknott.

Azimuth is the IPA of the range and seemed as good a place as any to start, and it very much turned out that way. My notes on the aroma read 'wow', following a blast of tropical fruit with a grapefruit and pineapple oily hop character, with the palate getting more or less the same treatment. It's pithy orange makes it properly bitter, but with some brown sugar sweetness lending plenty of balancing weight and sticky mouthfeel to proceedings. It feels bigger than its 5.8% ABV, which represents very good value for the amount and the potency of flavour delivered.

Next up is Infrared, which is indeed red. The nose is again impressively hopped; oily pine here, citrus and red berry juicyness here, with yet more tropical fruit in the mix. The balance comes from sweet bubblegum stuff this time, and the nose on the whole is punchier than on the Azimuth. A sharp whack of bitter grapefruit skins opens the palate to some coppery hops, with the light caramel malt very much taking the back seat. This is incredibly delicious stuff.

Queboid was the last I had of the range, and pours a darker shade of amber. Candied fruit reaches me first on the nose, with lemon playing a particularly important role in heralding a fresh, herbal, peely hoppiness. Clearly this beer is no exception to the trend of deliciousness exhibited so far by Harknott, as brisk grapfruit hops and sugary toffee malts respond to a buttery opening, with plenty of fruit and a herbal bitterness throughout. The finish lasts for ages, with spice flavours lingering long past the last swallow. At 8% the body's full and syrupy, and deals perfectly with the complexity of the flavours.

In the space of three beers, I realise that I love Hardknott. All three are winners, but my pick of the bunch has to be Infrared. More of this please.

#185: Happy Halloween!

I bloody love Halloween. I also love beer. Halloween beer should be perfect, yes?

No. Not really.

These two American pumpkin beers seem to everywhere at the minute, and my belly is no exception, nor is this blog.

And so to Red Hook, and their Pumpkin Porter. At first it smells of a decent, if light, straight-up porter, with the same to taste. After a while though, the sweet cinnamon, nutmeg spiciness takes over, and even though it's a pleasant novelty for a few sips, it starts to get sticky and overpowering in the end. All the while that roastiness of the decent base porter struggles to get tasted, but not with great success. Try it with pumpkin pie for total American Halloween immersion. It's not a totally bad experience, but money could be better spent elsewhere.

Post Road Pumpkin Ale is the other pumpkin beer new to our shops, this one from Brooklyn Brewery. It's a better beer all round, with more clove-y spiciness and less cheap allspice, while the palate gets a decent tickle of bitterness to go with it. The backbone is a nice biscuity caramel malt that props up the cinnamon and clove admirably, while the beer as a whole is very drinkable. Even more so with a cinnamon-heavy apple pie courtesy of my better half. Oh yes.

Pumpkin beers are worth a go, if only for the short-lived novelty factor, but I think when I try my next, I'll look closer to home...

Monday, 28 October 2013

#184: Swift

The October Bank Holiday Weekend means only one thing to me, and that's the Franciscan Well October Beer Fest. You can keep your 'jazz'.

After being bustled by the throngs at last year's festival, I made a point to get in early this time around. How else can a man take notes? I was quiet enough around 4 o'clock when I got in, and as with my previous festival experiences, I was a bit spoilt for choice. Painfully ignoring the St. Bernardus Christmas Ale is something that will live with me for months. Still though, I was on a hop hunt, so much of the dark strong Belgians were out of my sight. 

I opted instead to start in the U.S, and my first Anderson Valley beer, their Hop Ottin' IPA of 7% ABV. Turns out this is a solid choice, with loads of tropical fruit, grapefruit and orange pith and sugary malts on the nose. It's zesty bitterness is pinned down by a creamy body that speaks plenty of it's candy, caramel biscuit malt backbone. Nicely balanced but delivering a nice slap of fresh-tasting hop notes, I'll be coming back to Anderson Valley in the bottle. 

I couldn't avoid Belgium forever, so Gouden Carolus Hopsinjoor was a must, ticking the hop box at least in theory. In practice, it's not far off; lemon sherbert and a herbal, almost medicinal leafiness makes a fine aroma, while the taste allows more of the overripe banana and bubblegum sweetness through. The star of the show, however, is the mildly spicy coriander, complimating the lighter citrus flavours of the beer. Full-bodied and buttery, it might not be for everyone, but I enjoyed my half. 

Flying Dog's Wildeman wasn't going to be one for a while, I was told, and Thornbridge's Wild Raven was getting it's line cleaned upstairs, so in the meantime I took a break from the hops to try out the Franciscan Well's own Dunkel Weisse. Despite completing the banana, citrus, bubblegum and clove checklist expected of a good Dunkel, it's falls a bit flat on it's light body and carbonation, feeling a bit thin at times. A pint of this with a sausage in a bun would have been a treat, but a half pint after two thick and ballsy beers left me wanting. 

And so with Thornbridge Wild Raven back on, it was to the upstairs bar I went. The aroma is odd, with charcoal, black pepper and a hint of lime zest, with the taste bringing things to a whole new level of weird. Burnt rubber and seaweed were surprising, but definitely present, while a herbal, spicy, citrus fruit hoppiness and and a woody, sweet biscuit malt backbone tied things to reality. A strange experience, no doubt with thanks to the line-cleaning. I think I'll have to try this in the bottle.

On that sort-of bum not, I realised the place was getting incredibly busy, and decided to call it a day. A poor choice, as it turned out, because a keg of Black's Black IPA was tapped before I even made it to the bus stop. Oh well...
Great line-up and organisation from the Franciscan Well yet again, though I have to say I'm looking forward to the early spring festival even more.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

#183: On the Hop

I've finally gotten around to drinking some Kinnegar, after realising the amount of Irish beer I've left  hitherto untouched. 

It started with Rustbucket, a rye pale ale. True to it's name it pours a rusty orange, and the aroma gives fistfuls of lovely juicy citrus and pine hops, with a coppery sharpness and a bubblegum sweetness underneath. Good stuff. This promised a decent bitter bite which was duly delivered, along with some slightly peppery notes. A touch of pineyness lingers on the  caramel malt backbone, and you know you're drinking one of the nicest pale ales in the country. 

I followed this with Limeburner, which takes the form of a more cautious Irish pale ale. It's as drinkable as you'd like with a biscuit malt backbone propping up some light grapefruit hops, with not much assertiveness on either side of the palate. A good half-litre, but lacking the punch and impression of the Rustbucket.

The Devil's Backbone amber ale was last up, making the shopping basket thanks to the success of a more recent, more local amber. Unlike the 8 Degrees offering, however, there's not a whole lot on the aroma. Yes, it's berries and malt here and there, but things really don't take off until the palate. It does take off though. Sugary toffee, toasted bread, sweet biscuit malts, even a slightly smoky note, all punctuated by a very light and very much back-seated hop character. 

Three worth trying from Kinnegar, with Rustbucket my pick of the bunch.
I'll be having more of these, please.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

#182: T'isn't the Saison

I had one of those odd occasions recently where I opted to buy a Brewdog beer on a whim - this almost never happens, but it seemed like a good idea to pair it with a beer already in the cupboard.

That beer was De Molen's Zus & Zo, a saison. I know, maybe a rainy Irish Autumn afternoon isn't the ideal time for such a thirst-quenching style, but who cares. It pours a pale, hazy gold and the aroma is instantly farmy. Wet grain, slightly sour and a touch citrusy, it smells pretty enticing. The palate says ditto. Thick and coarsely wheaty throughout, with a spike of sourness at the beginning that fades to the end. There's a very light bitterness and an underlying layer of sweeter caramel base malt. Even without a massive thirst on, this is very refreshing and tasty stuff.
For comparison I picked up Brewdog's Electric India, a hopped-up saison. Apart from pouring a shade or two darker, the experience is pretty similar to the De Molen at first, even lacking a great hop punch as expecteed from something that calls itself 'hoppy'. Still though, it's delicious. A sweet and sugary backbone forms the base, with a tang of sourness akin to the Zus & Zo, but the real life comes from the coriander and waxy orange peel. It's lively and flavoursome but still incredibly drinkable.

Two lovely beers showcasing different aspects of the same style. Who wins?

Me. That's who.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

#181: The Great Catch-Up Part 3: British Beer

This article is the one I've been least excited about. True, it has two nice beers from Shepherd Neame, but the thought of trying to drag the other two beers into something readworthy was tiresome. I tried a few weeks ago and grew bored just thinking about them. Sigh..

The first of 'those' beers is Flying Scotsman, from Caledonian Brewery in Edinburgh. I had a nice time with Deuchars IPA last year, so I was happy enough to give this one ago.

It's not terrible. It's red, it's nutty, it's strangely corny, and has just a touch of fruit on the nose. The taste picks up a small bit, but ultimately the hints of raisins, toffee, biscuit and grain are all too weak to be considered full-blown flavours.Grand but bland, as the notes say.

The Caledonian 80/- is next, and brings the range from forgettable to plain bad. Sure, it has the same rusty red hue, but the metallic notes on the nose overpower everything else. The taste has some tangy red beery stuff with a very light bitterness, but ultimately it's incredibly weak, and actively works against my tastebuds. I wouldn't try either of these again.

To Kent then, and Shepherd Neame with two fancy-pants bottles, a welcome change from their almost guaranteed-to-be-rank clear bottled regulars. First up is the India Pale Ale. It pours copper in colour and has a very surprisingly pungent nose. Fruity and vegetal hops with citrus rind and marmalade poking through, you go Shepherd Neame! The taste is very English indeed, with the hop flavours present but in the back row, allowing a syrupy toffee and biscuit backbone to take control. Tasty, if not quite on the money. 

Finally, the Double Stout. Opaque black is the look of it, gorgeous milk chocolate is the smell of it. Some mocha, some sweet, syrupy malts, even some dark fruits, it's a very nice aroma. Things only get better on the palate, with a hit of cocoa powder and smokey, bitter coffee the order of the day. Some of that sticky toffee can be found in the background, but it's a fairly balanced beer overall - the hops lend a nice fist of herbal bitterness to proceedings. Great beer, and by far and away the best Shepherd Neame beer I've had to date.
And that concludes the tedious task of my catching up with notes.
Thank god.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

#180: The Great Catch-Up Part 3: Irish (and British) Beer

I believe I warned you about the lack of coherence to this feature, and as such I don't feel bad about throwing my notes at your face in this way. These ones are from the Bierhaus and I reckon it's best to take care of them now, that they might be relevant to the drinker in the days and weeks to come. 

My only smoked beer experience of the past comes from Schlenkerla, and that seems to be the universal standard. As such, when Metalman's Smokescreen popped up on the bar, comparisons were going to be made. First of all, it looks pretty similar, being very dark red, almost brown, and sporting a small short-lived head. The big difference is on the nose, however. Gone is the powerful yet somehow attractive smoky bacon smell of Schlenkerla's Marzen, and in its place there's a nice roast character, with some burnt toast hinting at the presence of smoked malts. Roasty fullness is the palate too, with a tickle of woody smoke in the background. It's bloody delicious, goes down incredibly easy, and impresses me about as much as any beer I've had from Metalman. Which is to say, a lot.

Next up is Dark Arts, although this time Trouble's already fantastic porter was pouring through a Randall filled with Connemara whiskey-soaked hickory, coffee beans and vanilla. Did someone say delicious? Yes, I did. Right after I tasted the insane woodiness, light coffee bitterness and is-it-even-there-ness of the vanilla. It's like a savoury-ish dessert in a glass, if that makes any sense. Either way, it was very good indeed.

I had myself a wee taste of Ormeau Dark, also from Trouble Brewing, and began to realise that the brewers in Kildare seem to know how to make a fantastic dark beer. This oatmeal stout is hearty, to say the least. The oats work wonders in filling the beer out, buffing up the already robust coffee, milk chocolate and malted biscuit flavours. It went pretty fast in the Bierhaus, so I hope I get to enjoy a full pint of it soon.

Finally, we leap off the island and land in Leeds. I've been to the city a few times (thanks to that great Irish tradition of supporting an English football team with which you have no connection), but I've only ever gone for a drink in the Brewdog bar. As such, the seemingly rich brewing tradition of Yorkshire has been hitherto unexplored by the Destrier, so when a cask from Kirkstall found its way to Popes Quay, I made it my business to be there. More than once. That's how delicious Kirkstall Pale Ale is. Rather than being a brash and bold hop assault (which I certainly wouldn't expect from a 4% Briton anyway), it was a paradise of tropical fruit that only grew riper and sweeter as time went one, like real life fruit. A light candied citrus fruit and caramel biscuit sweetness could be found underneath, but nothing strong enough to take away from the mildly bitter, juicy hops. Delicious and dangerously drinkable, I absolutely loved it. I'd be curious enough to taste this from the keg, but to be honest, it just seems so perfectly suited to cask. 

Seek out any or all of these beers, you won't be disappointed with the discovery.


#179: The Great Catch-Up Part 2: Founders Beer

Founders Beers have landed on our shores of late courtesy of GrandCru Beers. Hurrah! And with Bradleys doing a sweet 4 for €10 deal, this post was inevitable, wasn't it?

First up is the sessionable all day IPA, All Day IPA. For the approachable but cautious 4.7% ABV, there's a bloody good nose on this. It's sharp and zesty with notes of lemongrass, pine and even copper in a nice way. This very much follows suit on the palate with those bitter hop characteristics delivered efficiently via citrus peel and pine needle, with just a hint of caramel underneath. It finishes clean too, with none of the sticky toffee flavours of a higher alcohol IPA. There's proper bang for your buck in this, a beer that punches well above its weight in the hop stakes, even if it isn't the most complex or layered experience.

Founders Pale Ale is the next step up in the range, favouring a soft and seriously juicy grapefruit aroma over the sharp bitterness of the previous one. Not to say that it hasn't got it's own hoppiness, but in a rounder, oilier sort of way, and with more sweetness seeping through. This balance works wonders for drinkability; fruity, herbal and oily hops folded around a biscuit malt backbone making it every bit as quaffable as the previous beer. Bags of delicious flavour and very drinkable, but not better than what we get closer to home anyway.

A good jump up the scale brings us to the Centennial IPA of 7.2% and the pinnacle of the pales on offer. From its dark amber complexion it's easy to see that we're dealing with a bigger beer here, and the punch of hops to the nose only confirms this. This time around there are plenty of nice honey and brown sugar malts underpinning the marmalade, pine resin and orange pith notes that are to the fore. Syrupy toffee is pretty forceful on the taste, but not enough to eradicate the tickly bitterness of the hops trailing behind. Beautiful, pungent and bittersweet, this almost approaches a barleywine in its boldness. Four more of these might just be had.

Finally a change of pace is had with Founders Porter. Dark, Rich and Sexy is what we're promised, and by god is that what we get. Smoky, roasty goodness on the nose? Check. Sweet chocolate and light coffee bitterness on the palate? Check. "What's so special?", you ask? This beer is incredibly creamy. Thanks to the insane body those sweet chocolate notes become thick and luxurious chocolate mousse, while the smoky, coffee roastiness keeps things very drinkable indeed. When I try to visualise my perfect porter or stout, it may not taste quite like this, but it would need to have this exact texture. Full, wholesome and ridiculously tasty, this is really brilliant stuff.

Well there you have it. I love Founders now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

#178: The Great Catch-Up Part 1: Dutch Beer

It's been over a week, I've almost forgotten how to blog. I absolutely hate these times, when I have plenty of notes (ie. beers to talk about) but no time or will to set them down in the virtual stone that is this blog. And so, throwing caution and coherence to the wind, I christen this post The Great Catch-Up. 
Feck it, I'll make it an annual event.

This particular post brings me back to the haul of beer I brought back from De Bierkoning, which started with De Molen's Single Hop Citra, and which also seems like a billion years ago. Ever since falling in love with Sierra Nevada's Torpedo (and being reminded of this by the Fran Well's IPA) I've allowed Citra to be crowned 'my favourite hop', that most ephemeral of reigns, so an expression of such by De Molen seemed an obvious choice for a measly ~€1.30. 

It pours blood orange and, ah, yes, is an olfactory celebration of Citra right from the off. Citrus peel and pith hit first, followed by grapefruit, pineapple and a pine resin stickiness that suggest more honey sweetness underneath. A belter for 4.8%. The palate is just as enthusiastic about Citra, though not nearly as ballsy. None of the syrupy sweetness remains, just a surprisingly clean grainy backbone. Still though, there's plenty of citrus fruit to enjoy, juice, pulp and peel. Despite finishing too quickly, the experience is a worthy one, and I regret not collecting the others in the Single Hop series - after all, comparing them is kind of the point.

Next is a beer from Ramses, a brewery I will love forever for making that barrel-aged Shire Stout, with Moby Dick, which is... well.. I actually don't know. I pale ale seems most likely, so that's how I will judge it. It's yellowy orange in the glass and has bananas and clove on the nose. Some tropical(ish) fruit and waxy bitterness follows up, with a very light malty sweetness forming the base. Rather like the De Molen beer, Moby Dick isn't as complex as the aroma suggests, as I'm treated to a very fruity, lightly bitter and touch spicy beer the quality of which could be described as 'good', and no more. Don't worry Ramses. I'll always remember the Shire Stout.

Finally we have Pandora from Maximus Brouwerij. It's orange and pungent, with stingy lemon juice and pine needle hops at the steering wheel, while a hint of juicy grapefruit takes the back seat. On the palate there's a lively bitterness with the same juicy fruit flavours accompanied by some nice leafy green notes, while a light caramelised sugar sweetness lurks in the background. Much deeper than I expected, this one, and much nicer too. Delicious stuff.

If nothing else, typing this post has been a mournful ode to the wonders of De Bierkoning. Fear not though, there's more from the lowlands to come in the next few months; I'll be damned if I'm not going to buy winter beers on my summer holidays.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

#178: Bierhaus Miscellany #2

Sometimes I sneak to the Bierhaus for an afternoon beer, but I hadn't been in ages. What's more, they've installed a Randall since the last visit, so a trip was certainly long overdue.

Mountain Man's Green Bullet was pouring through the Randall, which was filled to the brim with Chinook. The immediate smack is not of piney bitterness as expected, but of a woody, green, leafy freshness. Herbal and floral notes come through on the palate, though nothing too strong to overpower the lightly sweet, sawdust-thick, biscuity grain base. Dry and incredibly drinkable as ever, I reckon I could get used to this machine. Sure, it didn't add a layer of hop brilliance, but as an exploring of 'things to do with beer' it's pretty spot on.

Next up was some bittersweet Mocha from Batemans, which suggested nutty chocolate, butter fudge and coffee on the aroma.  It tastes at first like sticky burnt chocolate, before turning to warmer caramel and finally onto a lingering whack of coffee at the death. All throughout, an unpleasantly sharp black marker character makes the beer feel coarse and overpowering on the palate, stripping from it the subtlety that would have made it otherwise an enjoyable drink. As it is, it's just not for me.

In between the two I was offered a taste of the already lovely Amber Ella, this time from draught. Of course, it was delicious. There was a bit more of a bubblegum nose to it, with plenty of sweetness on the palate while remaining very hoppy indeed, delivering some beautiful tropical fruit bitterness through the folds of the malt background. Perhaps even better than the bottled version.

Until next time.

Friday, 27 September 2013

#177: Hair of the Goat

After releasing the satisfyingly drinkable Green Bullet earlier this year, Mountain Man look to step things up a notch with Hairy Goat, their IPA. Like the Amber Ella from 8 Degrees, this was launched at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival in the RDS this month.

It pours copper, certainly a shade or so darker than the Green Bullet, and has a gorgeous aroma of grapefruit, mango, citrus and pine, with herbal undertones coming through in parts. This is all set against a classic biscuit malt backbone that lets the hops shine and the mouth water.
It tastes good too, but the hop profile isn't nearly as assertive as it appeared to be on the nose. Tasty notes of citrus pith and a coppery prickliness form the main bitter bite of the beer. Thankfully, there's no big sweetness (it is only 4.5%) to overpower the hops that are there, just an almost coarse, dry graininess. It's incredibly drinkable and, like the Green Bullet, cries out for a pint.

Definitely the nicer of the two. Keep it coming Mountain Man.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

#176: Amber Alert

The newest 8 Degrees beer was unveiled at the Irish Craft Beer and Cider festival in the RDS earlier this month, but unfortunately I couldn't make the trip to Dublin. Thankfully, bottles from my favourite (I think) Irish brewery are quick and easy to come by in Bradley's. And so, here stands Amber Ella.

The aroma is incredible. There is some serious hop punch in this, with bright and bitter mandarin and peach notes balanced by a caramelised biscuit malt backbone. Some perfumy herbal stuff starts to develop over time, as well as a bubblegum-like sweetness. The taste is similarly gorgeous, packing some proper pine needle bitterness in amongst the already brisk, cooling smack of orange peel and pith. This is tied down - though not completely - by a sugary honeycomb character that adds plenty of warmth and smoothness to proceedings.

This is a great beer, and a serious contender for my pick of the year. I'll be getting more, and I recommend you do too.