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...