Thursday, 31 December 2015

#302: Golden Pints 2015

And so we come to the end of another calendar year on The Drunken Destrier. To my estimation 2015 has been the most successful year of beering on the blog if not for the volume consumed (which was considerable) than for the quality of the beers living in my notebooks and, eventually, here on the site.
With that, we get to the 2015 Golden Pints, an abridged version with only the 'main' categories considered.

Best Irish Draught Beer
An narrow victory for Kinnegar's Crossroads, a properly juicy, punchy, punget grapefruit and fresh citrus rind U.S. IPA that sparkled on draught and was almost as good in the bottle, though the take-home option suffered from ever-so-slightly wobbly grain twangs at the finish. Still, on tap it is a near-perfect example of a high impact, bittersweet U.S. IPA. Very close behind is Trouble Brewing's Fallen Idol, and close behind that is O Brother's Bonita, both incredibly good examples of bold, hoppy, black beers.

Best Irish Bottle/Can
We actually have a few cans on the island now so that part of the question is now valid, but the best still comes in glass. For me it's a dead heat between Eight Degrees' Polar Vortex and Galway Bay's Two Hundred Fathoms, both of which are stellar examples of their respective styles. For the record, the Eight Degrees entry is also fantastic on draught and, for what it's worth, KPA is the best Irish canned beer around.

Best Irish Cask Beer
Torc's 5 Malt Dark Ale made for a lovely, full but totally sessionable treat at the Franciscan Well's Winter and Cask Ales festival at the start of the year, but the big, juicy, surprisingly drinkable Hi Viz from Blacks was on the same bar on the day and seduced me into seconds, so that gets my vote. Another honorable mention here for Radikale's Radical Brew, a rye ale made with gin botanicals from Blackwater Distillery that shouldn't even be drinkable, let alone delicious.

Best Overseas Draught
As is likely to become a tradition here, my nominations for this category appear to all be ticks from my travels, and chief among those is Emelisse's Black and Tan Wild Turkey B.A. that came to me, of course, in Arendsnest in Amsterdam. Big, bold, and intense, yet never offensive, especially impressive when you're dealing with a potentially ruinous Bourbon cask.

Best Overseas Bottle/Can
This is easily the most congested category for me, and after a lot of deliberation I reluctantly pick a tie between Goose Island's Bourbon County Brand Vanilla Stout and two De Struise beers, Pannepot and XXX Reserva. I would have also put Pannepot Reserva and Grand Reserva in this category, but seeing as I've yet to elevate those notes to blog posts they can wait.

Pub of the Year
Galway Bay's new place The Beer Market is a wonderfully designed spot in Christchurch that offers the beer nerd a ridiculous amount of choice with their vast imported and local draught list. Sure, you can expect to pay for the privilege, but once you get the first couple in you'll start to feel like a swashbuckling beery adventurer to whom money is no object in the search for good beer.

I draw the curtains early here, and thank you folks for reading The Drunken Destrier this year.
You should all really do some actual work.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

#301: The Grateful Eight

I start this post with big thanks to the folks at Eight Degrees for the wonderful gift they sent me of six beers; their three seasonal specials (Signal, Mór, Snoweater) alongside Big River, Vic Secret and Polar Vortex. Little did they know, I had those exact six beers set aside at work for myself to buy that very weekend (as well as the last of the Millenium) so these suckers lost a sale. I still bought the Millennium though, and after a few months of existence it was an unpleasantly sweet shadow of its former self...

...which reminded me that it had yet to appear on the blog. Thankfully, I tried it fresh a few months ago, back when Eight Degrees were celebrating their 1000th batch of beer.

A 10%, Millennium was at that point the strongest beer in the arsenal as far as I know, and it pours a slightly hazy amber and gives the most intense pine I've had from an Eight Degrees beer in a while with a backing of sugary candied fruit rind. To taste it's a beautiful bittersweet composition of grapefruit, pineapple, a good dollop of caramel and some tingling bitterness. It's successfully punchy and it avoids any notions of soupiness despite its strength, though there is a flash of heat right at the very end to remind you of that.
A 10% IPA is a pretty bold statement to make and I was expecting some degree of failure, but this ticks all the boxes.
Or at least it did. If you encounter one in the wild now, be warned that it isn't ageing well.

Before launching the now traditional three seasonal beers for Winter, we were treated to Big River, a Tasmanian IPA boasting two Tasmanian hops in the form of Ella and Enigma on a plain Irish base malt. It's a clean and clear gold to look at and indeed to taste; pithy mandarin and flashes of grapefruit on a respectably dry malt base dotted here and there with fresh zesty lemon. With plenty of time in the glass it goes a bit dank and sweet on the nose but remains a very well put together and elegantly realised IPA. 

And so we step into Christmas with Mór, a big barleywine that comes clear red with a thick yellow head that, alas, disappears pretty quickly. Also performing a vanishing act is the aroma, which is malty in a faintly sticky kind of way and shows absolutely nothing at all of its 10.2% ABV. Worryingly, there's more of this to taste, with a vaguely toffeeish, caramel and raisiny malt concoction with a light berry sweetness. It simply doesn't pack the punch that a beer of this size might be expected to, with its smooth texture and lack of boozy heat being its best features, because it is smooth, thick and velvety. Mór edges close to proper big beer success in this way but lacking flavour at 10.2% is a bit of shame.
Much more fun was to be had over with Snoweater, safely back in Eight Degrees' IPA comfort zone. Specifically, it's a red IPA, and smells intensely sharp pine and bright, coppery citrus peel. Much the same can be said about the palate, with sugary pine resin to taste but properly bitter in effect. This is my kind of IPA; pine over peel with fistfuls of lime, pineapple and tutti frutti, and is clean enough while keeping some malt counterweight in the picture. Top stuff.

The last of the bunch is Signal, billed on the label as both a Belgian stout and an export stout. I can't say I uncover either on first tasting, and the end result isn't a million billion miles away from Knockmealdown, though the extra percentage point does seem to introduce a dark fruit complexity to the milk chocolate, light smoke and instant coffee of the smooth, drinkable stout. With time I start to find weird elements of allspice that suggest some Belgian yeast contribution after all.
Not quite the Russian Imperial Stout of the previous two years but a good beer nonetheless.

Thanks again to Eight Degrees for sending me the package. A man could get used to this sort of treatment.

Friday, 11 December 2015

#300: Is West Best?

For the 300th post on The Drunken Destrier I've decided to put up a beer I enjoyed a few weeks ago on a whim, standing as I was in front the old cupboard sunken into the wall in front of my desk in my home studio, just above the cluster of fermenters because, obviously, this room is also the brewery.

The beer is Westvleteren 12, and it is the penultimate bottle from the famed 6-pack brick released a few years ago to much a hubbub. The BBE reads 16/11/14, so this bottle is almost a whole year out of date, and surely horrible muck. A Google tells me that this means the beer was bottled on the same date in 2011, which makes sense considering the bricks arrived in Ireland in early 2012. As such, this is a 4 year old version of the beer previously assessed here.

This grown up pours a clear enough red-brown with care but sports a wicked chunky and creamy head that lasts forever. Pungent, tart raisin and apple, coated in toffee and soaked in booze, wafts from the glass immediately; this isn't the toned down subtlety I'd expected, being just as intense as the fresh version. The texture is rich, deep and chewy beyond belief, and oozes dark fruit and brown sugar. It's not all dark sweetness though; though it takes on a tawny port-like aspect there's a spike of almost tannic acid that only serves to shine a light on those beautiful depths. This is the sort of beer I love, though I confess I can't be certain the age has immeasurably improved things, the only difference I can immediately think of being the lack of any harsh alcoholic heat, though there wasn't very much of that to begin with.
Incidentally, I don't think this is the best beer in the world (as it was once considered) or possibly even the best in the style; such a notion seems silly in any case.

Still, it certainly hasn't depreciated in quality over time, and it remains a gorgeous, complex and thoroughly enjoyable glass of beer.

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

#299: Seasonal Deviance

Something about the change of the seasons makes brewers lose the run of themselves and get excited about throwing extra ingredients into their beers. Such is the theme of today's post, but even I have deviated from my own theme; the original idea of seasonal Autumn/Winter beers with odd ingredients has been corrupted to include any old weird-ingredient beer or even the odd notable seasonal, deviant or not. When trying to decide how best to compile the beers into suitable, separate posts I realised it would be just as good, and way easier, to lump the whole lot together.

The first and most deviant (in more than one way) beer of proceedings is the unforgivably terribly named Curly Hole from Jack Cody's. The jokey way I'm guessing we are supposed to take the beer's name isn't even prompted on the label; there's no mention of what led them to those two words whatsoever. The label does describe a brown ale with sour cherry and apricot additions, however, and I'm intrigued.
Even lightly chilled this one gives next to nothing on the nose, except perhaps for a faint malty sweetness that's matched on the palate. Here, there's nothing of the sour cherry or apricot, the whole thing playing like a rather mild brown ale. After some time a fruit character does develop, but I chalk this down to some ordinary beery fruit expression over any additives. Not bad, just bland, which is pretty close to bad.

Wicklow Wolf bring another brown ale to the party, A Beer Called Rwanda, brewed with Rwandan coffee from Java Republic. It wasn't until the glass was empty that I remembered this was in fact a brown ale and not a stout, such is the look and feel of the thing. It pours black and tan and immediately gives a dollop of milky caramel latté on the nose. This weird, sweet heaviness is fun at first but I soon start to worry that it's going to be cloying mess. Thankfully this is dispelled pretty quickly on tasting; it is a caramel, mocha, sweet-over-bitter mix but it doesn't go anywhere near cloying. In fact, it stays safely within the aforementioned weird dairy cream caramel fudge zone. Good.
Certainly unlike any coffee beer I've come across.

Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne are at it too, this time a beer of unspecified style with a helping of blackberries. Riasc Black pours black and headless despite a vigorous pour. Unlike the Jack Cody's above there is some aromatic evidence of the fruit additions here; some blackberry jam or even yoghurt suggests some brewhouse deviance. To taste it's a dark, roasty, light dry stout effect in the beginning, before moving on to a lightly sweet fruit and nut chocolate and finally falling into a long bitter finish. It's not called a stout or porter, but could very well pass as a good, light, robustly falvoured, dry enough example of either.
Hat tip to West Kerry for this one.

There's no deviant ingredient in Dungarvan's Autumn seasonal Gallows Hill, but as a bottle conditioned 8.5% barleywine it has a sort of deviance of it own. In the pantheon of barleywines it plays very much like an English version of such; typical, murky, Dungarvan yeast character is the main player on the aroma initially, but it does round out to some red berries and crisp red apple, surprisingly clean and without much malt heft. There's more of this to taste, all very Dungarvany with added moreishness and warmth but it never quite scratches my demanding barleywine itch. Still, I'm sure this old style barleywine will have its fans, it just hasn't found one in me.

Sligo's White Hag has a strong U.S. influence in its workforce and sees this influence play out in its beer, whether its the punchy, American-style IPA Bran and Sceolan or hefty, malty, amber Oktoberfest lager Samhain, both featured here. So, it's strange to see something like Meabh Rua, billed as an Irish bog ale and featuring as its main flavour component some turf smoked malt. It's dark brown and instantly smoky, but in less of a Schlenkerla or Scotch way and more of a soft earthy kind of way. On the palate this is played out like bloomy, savoury mushroomy stuff on a thick malty body that, despite a valiant attempt and with 8.2% ABV behind it, can't overcome the plumes. This too will have its fans - things as unique and left-field as Meabh Rua always do - and while I enjoy the novelty at first, I do well to finish the bottle. 

It's no work at all to get through the White Sow, though, especially this Coffee Infused White Sow that showed up in work a couple of months ago. The chocolate and oatmeal that help form the base stout are completely overrun (and delightfully so) by strong, bitter espresso and bittersweet dark chocolate on the aroma. This is matched to taste, with strong cold coffee and, again, dark or even milk chocolate lending some sweetness, giving the impression that it's going to be big and heavy but it actually comes off pretty light, silky and very drinkable. Good stuff.

If those weren't quite seasonal, this Festive IBA from Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne certainly is. Yes, that's IBA, as in Imperial Black Ale. There are no more stylistic clues beyond this and at 6% it's no more imperial than the Carraig Dubh. Also like the Carriag Dubh, and like a lot of dark beers from West Kerry, it appears to be essentially a porter, and a beautiful one at that. On the nose it's light roasted malt, chocolate and dark fruits galore, and, with time, some sweet brown sugar and bubblegum. There's a lot more blackberry in this than in the Riasc Black and it's supported by bitter black malt that warms to soft sugary forest fruit sweetness over time. It's all very West Kerry, and that's all good. 

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

#298: Omnipollo

Omnipollo is the latest ultra-cool Scandinavian gypsy brewer to reach our shores, and the three on show here are all predictably brewed at Belgium contractors extraordinaire De Proef. 

All are variants of pale hoppy beers and the first, Zodiak, is an American IPA. Very pale yellow it pours and it oozes tropical fruit juiciness in a weird, pungent and not very pleasant way; it takes a turn for the damp and mouldy after the initial burst. It scratches a hop itch on the palate alright, with spiky and soft fruit effects at once, giving the effect of some bitter grapefruit past its best on some generic biscuit malt. An odd complaint I would possibly have is that it could use some more malt heft to help round it out, though with the wobbliness of the fruity hop expression on top, this might throw the whole thing even further out of my comfort zone.
A simple and serviceable IPA but one that, as well as being in need of a bit of cleaning up, gets nowhere near good value for its 6.5% ABV.

A step up is Leon, billed as a Belgian pale ale. A fairly broad and vague style this proves to be, and Leon dips his toes into the saison, tripel, and Belgian blond pools of influence. It looks like all of the above, being clear gold and sporting a big white head that smells of spicy, yeasty, funky goodness. To taste it's cleaner, candied apricot and peach with a spicy wheaty grist and faint minty highlights. Coriander dominates the finish and the whole thing plays like a delicious and refreshing hoppy beer for people who are partial to the classic Belgian styles mentioned above.

Finally, we get to Nebuchandnezzar, an imperial IPA that came highly recommended to me and that immediately announced its intentions once in the glass. A veritable Babylonian hanging garden of ripe, juicy tropical fruit with pineapple and mango playing up front to a sharp amd zesty citrus mix at the back. It's got properly punchy bitter grapefruit skin and bittersweet tutti frutti to taste, which really rounds out with time to show off just how much mouth watering sweetness a double IPA can have without spoiling the hop attack. 
Good stuff indeed, though it would want to be at the inflated Scandi-gypsy-cool price of €5 a bottle.