Friday, 24 July 2015

#281: Out of Kentucky

I recently transcribed notes of KBS onto the Destrier, and in doing so remembered the underwhelming experience that was the drinking of it, and in turn remembered the underwhelming experience that was the drinking of the regular Breakfast Stout from Founders, all of which reminded me of the third indulgent stout from the Grand Rapids outfit that needed investigating; their Imperial Stout.

Founders Imperial Stout is black as death and looks the business with its dark brown head. It also smells the business; dark chocolate in all its bittersweet glory, round but strong espresso and a bit of booze. So far so intense. There's no messing with this formula in the flavour stakes, with more rich, strong dark chocolate and black coffee and caramelised grain and sweet malted biscuit all doing the rounds. It's as full and thick as you'd like, and it seems to play like an arguably more subtle Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, though a side-by-side test hasn't been performed.

Whatever the case, with their standard imperial stout Founders have proven to me that they can make a big black beer just as well as they can make a porter, a session IPA or a double IPA, proof that was much needed after the relative misses (by their standards) that were KBS and Breakfast Stout.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

#280: Pure Daycent

M&S is a shop I seem to constantly forget about, despite the presence of doughnuts that are clearly the work of occult forces and, crucially, a decent beer list.

Among the bottles on the shelf were two cans from Bermondsey-based Fourpure. The Session IPA was the first to be cracked open, and it delivers. Specifically, it delivers juicy orange and loads of zesty mandarin peel. It's inviting, and has lots of... yes, that's still orange I'm smelling. Unsurprisingly, semi-sweet mandarin opens the taste, with tangerine (or at least, Tanora), more peel, zest, pith, all that good stuff. All of this is achieved without any harsh bitterness and remains a refreshing quaffer, almost oily in its enthusiastic willingness to be swallowed. A hint of generic cara malt props up a solid hop delivery package, making this a pretty much spot on session IPA.

The Pils is the second can and it's pilsy; grass, straw, herbal and flowery in its hop outfit but not at all as clean as I'd expected. There's a coarse graininess that plays a supporting role to a lead that is in turns earthy, floral and lightly bitter and which lingers for geological ages. Any huskiness on the nose is absent from the palate, which is sufficiently clean and refreshing but with plenty to think about. The overall effect has you grappling with a fluffy, kind of bitter and leafy elderflower character on a mostly clean biscuit malt base.

Two bloody gooduns from Fourpure that will make for plenty of great summer drinking.

Monday, 20 July 2015

#279: The Full Kentuckian

Founders KBS is one of those incredibly hyped-up beers that people stateside go mad for; released every April, this landed on our shores in the first half of that very month, so kudos to Grand Cru.

Impenetrable black with a thick cream head, it looks a bit on the heavy side for a breakfast beer. Thankfully, this was more like a late lunch for me. The big hitters are, appropriately, the first to hit; coffee, boozy sweet chocolate (in an ordinary stout kind of way) and then boom, fuckloads of Bourbon, with all the alcohol, vanilla and more alcohol that brings. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to have the nuance of Bourbon County Vanilla, despite that being a ridiculously strong 15% with more malt character than it knows what to do with, though the KBS does have a flash of the BCS's savoury pleasantry. Full, creamy and slick is the mouthfeel, with Bourbon muscling into the flavour from the off. It does open to some proper 'mellow', woody, chocolatey caramel covered goodness with the slightest finish of coffee, but not a lot, and certainly not enough to repair the one-dimensional impression the beer makes.

In the end, I'm forced to conclude that it is objectively good but a bit of a let down, especially when considering the €8 price tag and even more especially when compared to Founders' ordinary imperial stout, with whom KBS shares shelf space. When the asking price is twice as much as that of a better beer in the same style, it's no wonder I haven't gone back for more.

If you've missed it, you haven't missed much.

Friday, 17 July 2015

#278: X Rated

De Struise's Pannepot is clearly very good, so a bourbon barrel aged tripel from the same producer must be worth something.
Well, it's worth exactly €6.99.

2013's XXX Reserva is a rye tripel, no less, and pours an almost opaque, hazy brown with a cap off off-white foam. Boozy Belgian stuff opens the aromatic proceedings, with spirit, chocolate toffee, and sweet candi sugar making up the bones of things. A vanilla undertone suggests the presence of a bourbon barrel in the process. The palate is largely the same, existing as a heady, strong candi-backed malt bomb. Complex dark fruits with a creamy texture, smooth and round but with a pique of astringency; there's a lot going on here. Raisins and dates, Christmas cake, honey and a comfortable caramel finish make this a beautiful drink. What starts as if to assault the senses with booze, thick malts and heavy sweetness quickly controls itself to become a careful, subtle and, at least to taste, absent of any of the Bourbon sickliness that tends to destroy tact in big beers like this.

Wonderful stuff.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

#277: Feeling Fruity

There's little more satisfying or mouth watering than a New World IPA with a citrus fruit-conjuring hop bill, and what better way to get around the tricky business of selecting the right hops for the profile than to just chuck in some of the fruit itself?

Beavertown's hoppy fare has yet to make the staggering impression on me that it seems to have done for others, but their latest entry in my notebook certainly bodes well. A reasonably fresh, canned IPA with blood orange? Count me in.

Bloody 'Ell is the name, and being fruity is its game. If the development and appearance of a punchy, fruity hop aroma was a race, this beer would have launched its aromatics directly into your face about half an hour before anyone thought of raising a starter pistol. Peel and pith of lemon is dominant over orange, despite what the name says, with a little bit of Full Irish about it. The palate is hmm, delivering nice bittersweet orange with a decent zestiness but a short, quick finish takes it all away before I've had the chance to get too excited. The explosion of sharp, zingy fruit that one might have expected just doesn't come. Though I'd be happy to have it again, I don't think the beer justifies its price or gets good value for its 7.2% ABV.
The problem with Beavertown is that it's somebody else's Eight Degrees or Galway Bay Brewery; by the time it gets to us, the freshness has been at least slightly dampened and, perhaps more importantly, the price has been inflated. When we feel like the kind of beer Beavertown makes, we have Eight Degrees or Galway Bay.

Going even further away and becoming even less fresh, we get to Odell. To be fair, three months isn't the worst turnaround for a US beer in Ireland, and Odell's IPA is a sure fire winner even after the journey across the Atlantic, so I wasn't about to write Tree Shaker off.

Tree Shaker is an 'imperial peach IPA' (god, not another one of those) of 8%, and it gloops an alarming amount of floating stuff into the glass. A quick Google tells me that a lot of other people have had the same experience from the bottle, with one commenter anecdotally stating they'd confirmed with the brewer that the sediment is peach and is common in the bottled form. Hmm.
It certainly doesn't smell infected; on the contrary, it's a pretty clean concoction of sweet caramel, orange and some vague grapefruit background noise. It is fruity, but if I say I'm smelling peach I may just be succumbing to the label's suggestion. The beer's entry on the official website only claims a measly 48 IBUs, so it's not surprising that there isn't much in the way of bitterness. Instead you get a fairly thick and heavy beer with lemon curd, lemon cheesecake and sweet caramel biscuit. Again I'm tempted to say there's peach, but my hesitation to nail it down should tell you that there isn't really enough to write it on the label. 
Its warmth and heft is oddly satisfying, but like the Beavertown it fails to justify the price. 

When I'm next after a fruity hop fix I think I'll be sticking to brewers closer to home, added fruit or no.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

#276: By the Eight

In the Eight Degrees timescale, it feels like aeons since I've last spoken about a new beer from that beautiful, bland industrial estate in Mitchelstown. That last new beer was Enigma, enjoyed way back in April, and since then the guys have added two new beers to the ever-changing line-up of seasonals and specials.

The first of these two is Oxymoron, a Kiwi wit (cue laughing track at the friendly ANZAC jabs). As you may guess, it is a wit beer with New Zealand hops, another of those trendy Old/New World crossovers that craft brewers love but that produce mixed results at best. Still, Eight Degrees have a decent record with that sort of thing; their Nelson Sauvin saison (recently reappearing, I'm delighted to see) was superb, even if their previous hoppy wit Olé Olé didn't do much but sit there and be quenching. Oxymoron lands somewhere between the two in terms of its success.

It looks the part of a wit, but sniffing the beer doesn't tell you much apart from the faint whiff of wit spice. Bitter is the first impressing on the palate, coming from both the juicy, citrusy hoppy angle and the crunchy herb and spice angle. Lemon, clove and coriander abound, with pineapple peeking through the gaps. This is so easy to drink, far beyond the limits of its ABV.
It certainly doesn't have the sort of fresh lupuline impact as the other Eight Degree 'new world' beer, but that has worked towards finding a satisfying balance.

Grand Stretch is the new new Eight Degrees beer, launched at ABV fest in Belfast a couple of weeks ago. It is an IPA (of course), of a sessionable 4.2%. A full-on, concentrated, jammy orange and grapefruit kick is the bones of this beer. For the ABV, it has a ridiculously good hop bang for its buck, as well as a pretty robust, medium to full body to go along with. Grapefruit skins and zest and an intense bitterness see the beer out, the overall thing being quite dry. Fantastic stuff for such a modest strength, though, one imagines the lupuline investment on the part of the brewer was anything but modest.

Two more Mitchelstown successes.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

#275: Achel Island

Achel Island; a monastic retreat off the west coast of Ireland where Tappist monks make beer to subsidise their way of life.
If only.

In truth, it's a flash of luck to come across Achel in the wild, even if it's one that I've already had the pleasure of meeting, albeit warm from a plastic cup in a Brussels hotel.

Achel 8° Blond is the apt name, and it is certainly blond. Pale gold, verging on yellow, with an exceptional clarity and big, enthusiastic pillow of foam. The nose is pretty enthusiastic too; there's no stopping the ever-so-slightly skunky corn, biscuit grain and sweet barley sugar in the aromatic department, while the spritz of grass is the only evidence of a hop profile. It's better to taste; all grainy, biscuity, syrupy stuff that does well to stay pretty dry, even Orval-ian in its old-world, farmhouse gristiness. As it warms from the fridge it rounds out and becomes more and more satisfying, sort of like a beefed-up, fighting fit Duvel. Certainly, it shows its 8% ABV in a more mature and perhaps demanding way, adding as it does a touch of slickness and booze to proceedings.

If you see it, buy it. To my reckoning, it's quite unlike any Trappist beer I've had.