Friday, 30 August 2013

#169: The North Cork North South Hop-Off

As Irish readers will have no doubt heard, 8 Degrees have brewed up two IPAs that they've then hopped with northern and southern hemisphere hops respectively. Cyclone is the southern version, while Hurricane is representing us northern hemispherians. Both pour a hazy shade either side of amber, with Cyclone more yellow in comparison to Hurricane's darker orange. 

On the nose, Cyclone exhibits plenty of tropical(ish) fruit, with mango, passion fruit and even hints of your average hardy strawberry coming through. In the background, there's plenty of candy or bubblegum sweetness to back this up. On the palate there's a more pronounced sweetness with just a tingling of the fruity bitterness from the aroma, although it does introduce pineapple and spice to proceedings adding another layer to the complexity. The afters are all of tropical fruit and biscuity grain, and I have to say that it's delicious. 

Hurricane has an aroma of citrus fruit pulp and peel, with Citra weighing in with it's pine needle notes and the rest made up of juicy blood orange and pungent grapefruit. As time goes on, the candied fruit sweetness of the malt becomes more prominent, as does a tropical fruit bouquet similar to Cyclone. Upon tasting, you are again met with a nice balance, with a more profound fruity and herbal bitterness to the fore and smoother, warmer caramel notes at the back. 

Both of these beers are very enjoyable, and I'd certainly have either again. My pick of the two is Hurricane, though, and it's not just because I'm rooting for the home team. Apart from being slightly more delicious than the Cyclone, I think it does a better job in exhibiting the hops of the hemisphere, whereas the Cyclone (while tasty) lacks a bit of punch.

Either way, great stuff, and well worth picking up the two for a side-by-side.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

#168: Brouwerij 't IJ & Amsterdam Miscellany

First and last stop of my trip was Amsterdam, it being the place I'm most familiar with. The first number of days there are mainly accompanied by bottles from the supermarkets - your local Albert Heijn has the Westmalle range, Duvel-Moortgat range and some Van Steenberg beers for less than €2 each, with bigger stores having a drastically wider selection. As such, as an Irish man used to Irish prices, supermarkets have been my first beer stops on my last three Amsterdam trips. The other point of this post is to get rid of some notes before I sift through the other stuff. More notes from Amsterdam, Brussels and Munich will posted up in between other material.

A must of any Amsterdam trip is my customary flower market pancake, accompanied by Wieckse Witte. This Heineken brand is one that first got me interested in beer, back on my first visit, so I thought it deserved a proper evaluation. It's been a few years since my last one, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's actually a pretty good wit. While it's overtly Belgian in style, I can't help but pull some suggestions of Bavaria from the taste. Citrus fruits, coriander, banana and clove, it's endlessly drinkable thanks to its very light body, but it still has plenty of flavour.

Finally, in between bottles of La Chouffe I found a nice surprise - Murphy's Irish Red. "A Taste of Ireland" it says, or something like that. This despite the fact that it appears to have lived every stage of it's life cycle in the Netherlands. Nonetheless, I had to try it. It pours red alright, with a very short lived head. To be fair, the aroma isn't half bad, if you like sugary caramalt. The taste is the same, with just a tiny bitter bite to fight back the wall of sweet and slightly roasty flavours that are the backbone of this beer. Still though, absolutely no off flavours.

I'll take that as a success.

I first heard about the Brouwerij 't IJ four years ago, but it's not until now that I've finally gone. My Amsterdam resident uncle tells me it's not licensed as a bar, but as a tasting room, and as such adheres to strange Wednesday to Sunday 2pm-8pm opening times. Bear that in mind before you plan a trip, lest you find yourself looking longingly at a non beer dispensing windmill on the outskirts of the city centre.

In the bottle shop, I went for one of their more descriptively named beers, 't IJ IPA. The aroma is punchy enough and has suggestions of the presence of Citra, with pine and grass laying a base for more earthy and dank notes. The taste doesn't spend too much time on the hops though, with a rather potent spicy warmth overwhelming any refreshing characteristics this beer should have had. I was looking for a strong (7%) IPA, what I got was a strange hybrid of Tripel and Pale Ale, with none of the best parts of either styles. 

We were (read: I was) only in it for a swift few, so first on the agenda at the actual brewery tasting room was their seasonal Zomerblond. Right away, we're onto a winner. Light but with loads of flavour, it tastes like a punchier, hoppier Irish pale ale á la Howling Gale. Plenty of refreshing bitterness, but balanced to perfection for endless drinkability.

Moving up a notch to Zatte, I found the nose to be a weird precursor to an even weirder taste. Syrupy pineapple, pear and banana on the nose, replicated on the palate but with the addition of an almost cloying sweetness. For me, this one's a miss.

Returning to something a little more drinkable seemd like the sensible option, and so I opted for their Plzeň. I was rewarded with a gorgeous lager with a decent bit of bitterness to offset it's biscuity backbone. Again, this could be had by the bucketload. 

Get the number 10 tram from Leidseplein out and back, it's well worth the trip.

Monday, 26 August 2013

#167: Feeling Hoptimistic

As Irish readers will know all too well by this stage, getting one's hands on something fresh and hoppy is not an easy (or cheap) feat. Irish brewers at the moment seem tentative with their hop additions, while the American imports suffer the effects of being imported all the way from America. 

So, when Sierra Nevada's Hoptimum reached our shores in the past few weeks, I was excited - not only to see that it was relatively fresh, but to see that we're getting some of the more 'special' beers from this brewer. I was unsure of spending my money on a single bottle though, before a great article from the Beermack convinced me. I actually tried this over two weeks ago, before my holiday, but planning got in the way of posting, so here are the notes.

Hoptimum smells very hoppy.

No, really. It smells bitter, pithy, zesty, piney and a bit oily, with dots of juicy citrus and spice notes here and there. Below the pungent stuff there's a cool, herbal quality, while the whole hop profile is nailed down by some sweet honey, caramel and candied pineapple notes. Give it time and it will start to smell like a Christmas tree. As expected, the taste allows more of the warmth of the beer to come through, creating a smooth and seamless transition from bitter fruit to nettle and mint to warm syrupy orange toffee.

Intense and satisfying, Hoptimum is a real treat. It's still listed on Drinkstore, and I know Bradley's were due a second delivery of it (though that may have passed while I was away), so I urge you to try it if you can. Well worth the fiver.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

#174: The Eagle has Landed

After some gloriously affordable bottles in Albert Heijn, some frantic beer searching-come-tourism in Brussels, some even more frantic walking in the dead heat of Paris (a beer-free period of this trip) and a mighty slog through some big, fizzy yellow and brown stuff in Munich, it was time to re-enter the loving embrace of Amsterdam. This time Albert Heijn wasn't the only star - Brouwerij 't IJ was visited (I cheated with the earlier post) as well as 't Arendsnest.

The list is extensive, and when your knowledge of Dutch beer is as limited as mine, you have to ask for help. Thankfully, help is at hand the Arendsnest, and they are very happy to give it. Watch and learn, Munich!

The barman suggested I start with Emelisse IPA, a beer of a mere 2.8% ABV, yet still packed with fruity and pine notes and a much bigger body than it has any right to have. Grapefruit and orange are the main players on the palate here. 

I then opted for a set of three, which I let my new friend select for me.

First up was Tempelbier, the house beer of both 't Arendsnest and the Beer Temple. It has some of the same buttery, syrupy quality as the IJ Zatte, with some pithy bitterness and a good dollop of sweetness throughout. The body's creamy, which is at odds with the otherwise lightness of flavour. Strange, but good.

Next up was an oak-aged version of Shire Stout from Ramses, at 9%. The aroma is very woody, and quite toned down despite it's high alcohol, with just suggestions of vanilla, soy and whiskey coming through, though I'm not sure if it has whiskey barrel in it's DNA at all. The taste is savoury and sweet at once, and totally smooth. Blackberry jam, liquorice, dark fruit and whiskey-tinted chocolate, malted biscuit and absolutely no heat. The texture is thick, slick and oily, and drinks so easy for it's ABV. A very well crafted beer, and bloody delicious to boot. Joins Ayingers Altbairisch Dunkel as a highlight of the trip. 

Finally, from SNAB we have Maelstrom, which I'm advised is one of the best Dutch barleywines around. It seems good right from the off, with butterscotch, toffee, marzipan and liquorice notes making up the aroma, while the taste is nutty with brown sugar, sweet toffee, maple syrup, chocolate caramel and a nice pithy bitterness. It tastes a bit like Bigfoot with a slightly more dominant malt profile, but a smoother, more mellowed one at that. Gorgeous stuff.

L to R: Tempelbier, Shire Stout, Maelstrom
And that was that.

The only thing left to do after the Arendsnest was to go to the Bierkoning and see about filling up the spare suitcase. Bliss.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

#166: Getting with the Times

With summer already drawing to a close (I know, boohoo), I thought I better get some seasonals to try before their gone. And so, on a quick call into Bradley's, I picked up these two, from Ireland and the U.S. respectively.

I missed Comeragh Challenger last year, so I was glad to get my hands on some of Dungarvan's summer seasonal this time around. Pouring a hazy orange with no head, it has that strangely appealing lack of cosmetics, but there's not much wrong with the aroma. Wheaty malts, plenty of fruitness and even a touch of banana and spice is plenty appealing, but there is a lack of assertiveness on the hop front. As such, the bitterness in the first half is overwhelmed by the grainy, biscuity and slightly citrusy finish in the second. Still though, an unbelievably refreshing summer brew, and way more satisfying than it's 3.8% ABV suggests.

Jumping across the Atlantic - yet staying very much in the same vein - we find Brooklyn Brewery's Summer Ale. In a can. Hurrah!

It looks like a lager, but the aroma has plenty of nice, oily fruit notes, and a backing of grass or lemongrass from the hops. This is more or less the same on tasting, but with more lemon and grapefruit coming, though not in a punchy IPA way, more of a weird yeasty Maibock way. It's leafy and herbal, even a bit waxy, which is again strange because it lacks a real hop punch I'd expect to accompany the flavours. The beer hits a bum not when the finish leaves a bit of an astringent flavour in the mouth, while the whole thing is a bit watery. I won't be bothered again, even if it is nice to see the can on our shelves.

I write this in Cork, but I'll be posting it from Amsterdam. As such, you can expect a two week blog silence while I gather material in Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and Munich. Cheers!

Monday, 5 August 2013

#165: New Brews On The Block

Two new Irish beers now, from Limerick(?) and Donegal respectively, and both in bottles that suggest a helping hand from Mitchelstown, closer to home.

First up is Baile Brew. I had seen their first website, branding, beer labels, and even a description of their beer before seeing any actual product, but perhaps I wasn't looking hard enough, because there it was in the fridge in Bradley's. Pouring from the bottle, I am again reminded of Mitchelstown, as I was with Green Bullet. It smells like a toned down Howling Gale Ale, and it's wheaty body and lightly bitter fruitiness balanced with a firm malt backbone makes for a wholly familiar experience. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the brew, especially considering the lads have admitted to brewing the most cautious and accessible beer to start with, but it doesn't do much to excite a palate that's already been saturated with Irish pale ales. 

On their website, Baile Brew promises more adventure -  bring it on.

From further afield is Miner's Red, a red ale from Muckish Mountain Brewery in Donegal. Now, I'm sure I don't need to remind readers of my enthusiasm (or rather, lack thereof) when it comes to an Irish red ale. Usually, it's a whack of caramel with a metallic bitterness akin to the more forgettable British ales out there. Miner's Red starts off as expected, with both nose and palate finding caramel malt in equal measures, but there is a lovely hit of fruit in the middle of the taste, followed by a nice (albeit muted) soft bitterness. No tin foil at all! Hurrah!

Blow your mind it won't, but quench and satisfy a thirst it will. 

Best of luck to the two new breweries, and I recommend that readers in Ireland give both of these beers a go. I look forward to seeing what they have for us next.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

#164: Danger Dog

I uncharacteristically decided to shell out some cash for Flying Dog's Snake Dog IPA last time around, and while it wasn't exactly amazing, it did pique my interest. Aside from the eye-catching labels, it has to be said that Flying Dog is one of the more exciting U.S. breweries I can get my hands on regularly.

And so it was with this optimism that I purchased a bottle of Kujo Imperial Coffee Stout. From the bottle it pours a very thick black and builds a short-lived dark brown head. The aroma is strong and intense, with boozy, sweet coffee and chocolate to the fore, followed up by vanilla, liquorice and even a lovely, nutty, Battenberg cake marzipan. On the palate, the thick oily texture of the beer helps to spread the big roasty coffee notes around, and after a soft and sweet malt biscuit middle, there's a long-lasting impression of toffee syrup and fresh, ground coffee lingering well after the swallow. 

Kujo is incredibly tasty and the luxurious mouthfeel forces you to take your time to savour it. At over €4 a bottle, you can't say it's cheap, but when it takes you the best part of a very satisfying hour to finish, you could argue that it still represents good value for money.

Quality over quantity, isn't that the idea?