Monday, 31 December 2012

#110: St. Bernardus Christmas Ale

This is the penultimate winter seasonal beer in my collection (for now), and the very last Christmas beer. It's the one I had pictured in my mind when I first thought of trying a 'Christmas beer', and as such, the one I've been looking forward to most.

This is because it's brewed by Brouwerij St. Bernardus, one of my favourite brewers, responsible for the gorgeous Abt 12 and Prior 8 among others. I was hoping for (and kind of expecting) an Abt 12 with spice, and I wasn't very much disappointed.

St. Bernardus Christmas Ale pours as dark as the Quad of the range, with a big, long lasting, creamy off-white head. Dark fruit dominates the aroma, all the usual suspects of figs, plums, raisins and the like, with just a hint of green and red apple too. There's spice alright, but it's limited to clove as far as I can tell, with the rest of the beer's 'spicy' aroma more akin to Belgian yeast. The taste is perfect, as far as a Christmas beer goes. Clove is joined by vanilla, toffee and tiny hints of cinnamon as decorations to the already rich and powerful dark fruit tree. The 10% alcohol produces a lovely warming sensation, and I suspect is also responsible for the way in which the beer totally coats the inside of the mouth, allowing for a nice lingering aftertaste. It's a sweet beer, but sweet in strictly malt and fruit sense, as it totally avoids being a cloying sugarbomb like some other beers.

I enjoyed this much more than any of the other winter or Christmas beers so far, so I would certainly recommend it. I must also say, however, that I don't think I'd reach for this over an Abt 12. Which is important, seeing as the difference is quite minimal, despite being almost twice the price. Still though, worth a go if it's around in the New Year.

Speaking of which, being the last day of the year, you'll probably see a few Golden Pints doing the rounds on the beer blogosphere. When I started this blog in April, I was excited to compile a similar list, but like a football league table at Christmas, nothing is final, not yet. As such, I'll leave that sort of thing until I've actually been doing this for a year, in April. In the meantime, just Google the Golden Pint  and you'll find seemingly infinite results, or head on over to The Beer Nut to have a look at his.
No, not just because this blog gets name-dropped, but because 8 Degrees Ochtoberfest would also be my pick of the year.

Thanks for bearing with me through this often mind-numbingly repetitive process of 'reviewing' beers, and enjoy the New Year festivities, if that's what you're into.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

#109: A Winter's Ale

This is the one of the last Christmas/Winter seasonal beers I have in my possession, and the third from Ireland, after the Yule Ól and Sanity Claus. I would have posted about this around a week ago, but I was having too much fun doing very little for Christmas.
8 Degrees Brewing's A Winter's Ale pours a hazy amber, much lighter than I expected, with a bubbly white head. At first sniff, it's not much different from a pumpkin ale, although I find it thankfully has more in common with the Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin than the bland and artificial Pumpkinhead. Cool clove is ever-present, with spicy peel and zest notes taking the back seat. Clove is again present in the taste, although this time it's accompanied by a lovely dark fruit and sugary malt character. The finish has a low hop and spice flavour, reminding you of the beer's seasonality. 

It's very tasty, to be sure, but it never really takes off. This could be the lack of complexity or the lightness of the body, but I feel it doesn't really reach it's full, satisfying potential.

Again, the search goes on. 

Monday, 24 December 2012

#108: Ridgeway Christmas

The following three are all from Reidgeway Brewing in Oxfordshire, seeming made for export to the US market, yet somehow finding their way to our shores. The novelty factor is high in these parts. You have been warned.

First up is Santa's Butt. The label explains that the 'butt' in question is not the big fella's arse, but rather a volume of liquid, in this case beer. It's a porter and pours like one, being ruby red when held to the light. The nose has touches of coffee but is generally red berries and sugary sweetness all the way. This is emulated by the taste, with sweetness, fruitiness and malts dominating. It doesn't start to feel like a porter until the very end, when the coffee you thought you smelled finally comes back into play. Like Innis and Gunn's Winter Treacle Porter, it is driven by a sugary sweetness, but thankfully it never quite threatens to cloy like that particular beer. 

The name and label of this seasonal offering will prove a whole lot more memorable than the contents, while there's nothing really negative to say about the beer. It's tasty and drinkable, albeit instantly forgettable. And that's OK for a novelty beer.

Next we have Reindeer Droppings, an English amber ale, according to the label. It certainly pours amber, and supports just a tiny head, evidence of the light body that is only confirmed upon drinking. The aroma is mild to say the least, and is dominated by an unadventurous hoppiness. The taste delivers more of that bland hop quality, which is drowned out completely by the nutty finish. All of this happens on the back of a water-thin body, to create an experience infinitely less memorable than the already Santa's Butt.
Oh well.

Pickled Santa is the third of the lot, and the most appropriately Christmassy. This is mostly down to the use of spices (or spice flavourings) in the beer, adding to the novelty factor that I expect when I pay for such a beer. The aroma is not unlike the Shipyard Pumpkinhead I had a while back, with vaguely clove and cinnamon-like smells dominating from the off. The taste isn't much different, offering the same clove coolness alongside a sugary sweetness. It's not a very good beer, but to be fair, none of these are. To say it's the best of the bunch probably doesn't tell you much, but it's better than nothing.

Over the weekend I had the chance to pop out for a few drinks, and with this being such a rare occurrence of late, I made an effort to try something new.

First stop was, as usual, the Abbot's. I had a Barbar to start with, but followed it with an Augustijn on tap. An 8% tripel, it was sweet and grainy, with sugary malts blending well with lighter citrus notes. The pub soon became uncharacteristically cramped and loud so we left for the newest craft beer bar in Cork, the Porterhouse. This branch of the well-known Dublin crowd opened last week on Sheares Street, and I've been looking forward to checking it out. Instead of going for one of their own beers, I opted for one I should have tried a long time ago - Metalman Pale Ale. This is the brewer's flagship beer, and it's bloody gorgeous. It's very hoppy and fruity, though not as tropical as the summer seasonal Windjammer, and packs tons of refreshing flavour into every sip. Definitely one to enjoy again.

The three Ridgeways were the last of my Christmas beers*, and I'm bloody glad of it. It's high time I had something strong, dark, and Belgian, because to be honest, I can't think of anything other than a Dubbel or Quad to reach for over the big day.

Happy Christmas from the The Drunken Destrier.

*Christmas presents pending

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

#107: Crazy Time of Year

While Dungarvan's Coffee and Oatmeal Stout is a limited Winter brew, it's not a novelty Christmas beer. I think it's fair to say that this most certainly is.

I've had completely contrasting experiences with Whitewater Brewing in the past. First I was very impressed by their Clotworthy Dobbin (though I've yet to write about it), before things went a bit tits up with Belfast Lager. I'm interested to see how this one goes...

Sanity Claus pours a clear, light ruby red. It could easily pass for an Irish Red, in fact. The aroma really only comes alive when the beer warms up, producing lovely chocolate malt and liquorice notes. Interesting, and not at all what I expected. The taste is good too, with buttery fudge, woody malts and a nutty finish calling most of the shots, with hops providing a little bitterness and not much flavour. It's good, if a little low-key. I certainly wouldn't turn to this as a winter beer, let alone as my beer of choice for the big day itself.

The search goes on.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

#106: Dungarvan Coffee & Oatmeal Stout

This being my first day of the Christmas holidays, it's only fitting that I present a Winter seasonal offering from Dungarvan, their Coffee and Oatmeal Stout, complete with snazzy new art deco labelling.

It pours a satisfying black with a tan head, although holding it to the light shows it's really dark brown. The aroma is deep and malty at first, with a sweet fruitiness and herbal notes emphasizing the disturbing lack of coffee. This absence is also noted in the taste, which is much more like the standard Black Rock stout than anything else. However, it's got a much lighter body than that particular beer, making it a bit less enjoyable.

Disappointing, but only because I expect a much higher standard from this brewer. Otherwise, it's an acceptable beer.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

#105: Rounding Up

These are my last two beers that aren't Christmas novelty or seasonal beers, at least for now. They were selected pretty much at random, just to make up the numbers in a 5 for €10 deal.
Thwaites IPA pours clear amber with a big soapy head. Slightly acidic hop notes are potent on the aroma, and there's a hint of bubblegum in there too. The taste isn't much like this. Rather, it's more like any number of forgettable English ales. Exceptionally boring balance of biscuit malt and hop highlights, it's rather flat in the flavour stakes. Still though, it's plenty drinkable, if unremarkable, and totally unlike any IPA I've ever had. 

And I mean that in a bad way.

The other beer is Mariestads Export, a lager from Sweden. It seems to be pretty popular up there too, if that tells you anything. It pours the dark gold of a standard lager, it has the sweet, slightly corny malt aroma of a standard lager, but it's big surprise is it's thick syrupy malt character that dominates the taste. Amazingly, it manages to do that while still remaining completely forgettable. That being said, I must admit I was pretty satisfied to have this with my pizza.

Not the best pair you'll ever have, but you could do a lot worse.

Monday, 10 December 2012

#104: Fuller's London Porter

I picked this up as part of the 5 for €10 deal in Tesco at the moment, and it's one I've been thinking about for a while, considering my good experiences in the past with Fuller's London Pride and Black Cab Stout. The label on this one promises a rich, dark and complex beer, so let's have it.

London Porter pours pretty much black with a tan head, although you do get to see the ruby red hues when held to the light. The aroma is gorgeous, right off the bat. Herbal notes hit first, and they unwrap to reveal the sweet brown sugar, smoked woody malts and toffee notes. Coffee is in there too, and just the right amount. The taste is virtually the same as the aroma, but offers more dark fruits to compliment the dark roasted malt backbone of the beer. Hops can be found if you're looking for them, but rather like Trouble's Dark Arts, this is something of a malt bomb, and I'm all for that.

Fantastic beer and a new favourite, strongly recommended.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

#103: You'll Ól

Let's not fool ourselves, Christmas is taking over the world at this time of year, and that bleeds into the craft beer world too. Novelty beers are aplenty these days, and this particular one is my first of the year, and comes courtesy of the excellent and growing selection at Bradleys. Also a reminder that you can now buy online so there are even fewer excuses for not trying the goods.

Yule Ól is brewed by White Gypsy in Tipperary, I brewer I've got masses of respect for. While their Belgian Dubbel was dubious, the Russian Imperial Stout was good drinking and I look forward to trying their APA and Doppelbock. Interesting to see how this fares. 

It pours like a glass of Coke, with a similarly short-lived fizzy head. The aroma gives sharp sweetness, hints of bubblegum, quiet woody malts and a touch of red berries. I can't quite describe it, but it feels lacking in richness or something. The taste opens better, with juicy red berries the order of the day. Darker malts betray the light presence of the toffee and coffee malts described on the label, before again tapering off into a slightly dry, very light-bodied finish. Really, I can't say this a bad beer, but I feel let down. It just doesn't have the richness or fullness of flavour that I'd like in this style. It feels very much like a beer without confidence, much like the Belgian Dubbel. 

Certainly worth a go, I can see this being quite popular. However, my favourite White Gypsy beer remains my first, the Bruinette. I'm eager to investigate the other two bottled beers, as well as explore the core range of draught beers that earned them their reputation in the first place.

Friday, 7 December 2012

#102: The Session - Don't Believe the Hype

This month's Session, and my first participation, is hosted by Good Morning, and questions the role of hype in the life of a beer.

Now, I'm well aware that almost everyone and their mother is going to be writing about Westvleteren 12, particularly with the release of the six-pack 'bricks' earlier this year, but I can't possibly avoid the subject. I did a little write-up on this beer in the past where I briefly discussed it's reputation, but I'd like to expand on that.

So, you may have heard that this is the best beer in the world. It's highly rated on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. It's generally highly rated in the blogosphere. Those YouTube reviewers tend to go nuts just talking about it. It has to be amazing, right?

Specially branded bottle & glass
Then, you hear the news. Super-special limited collector's gift packs are going to be released for export, far beyond the the boundaries of the brewery's own cryptic, clandestine sales operation.* Finally, now's your chance, beer nerd! Buy the world's best beer, it will only cost you €50! You can't afford to miss this!

And so I bought it. I poured the first glass of Westvleteren 12 and had one of those beer-drinking experiences that I adore, where I'm perfectly happy to spend the first minute or two enjoying the aroma of the beer. As nice as that is, it's an experience I'd had a few times before and I've had it many times since, for a lot less than €50. Your money buys you an undeniably nice Quadrupel, a style that can be so temperamental that it can be difficult to find your own favourite, let alone the best in the world. To me, it is neither of those, although it must be given credit for being the nice beer that it is.

So where does hype come into all this? For me, it was a small catalyst in influencing the purchase, with the greater factor being the seemingly limited output. I knew I'd never, ever go to the trouble of buying a case in Belgium, so it was a chance to get my hands on a relatively rare beer. I reckon some beer 'enthusiasts' approached it with preinstalled disappointment, before they had even so much as opened the bottle, in a bid to show that they could withstand the hype. To give a true evaluation of a beer we must be objective and without bias, whether for or against the beer. 

On that note, I'd say hype can unfairly add weight to either side of a beer's reputation, influencing customers and drinkers. As such, I'd say it's a bad thing.

* If you think that's good, take a look at this madness.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

#101: Czech 1, 2, 3 and 4

A while back I spoke about Budvar being one of my go-to session lagers, and I've only now realized that I've yet to dedicate a full article to it. To beef this one up, I decided to try some of the other popular Czech lagers that are so readily available in the supermarkets here, in the form of Staropramen, 1795 and Pilsner Urquell. Of course, all of these beers are pilseners. 

First up is the Budějovický Budvar, also known as Budweiser Budvar and Czechvar, depending on where you happen to be in the world. It pours a crystal clear golden colour with a conservative white head. The aroma offers some sweet, light malts with slight vegetal notes and a touch of metal foil in the hops. Standard stuff. The taste improves on things, with the corn-like vegetal note being ousted and replaced by a lovely biscuit malt character that turns into a syrupy sweet finish. Tasty and just a bit creamy, this is a very satisfying lager. 

Next up is Staropramen, which pours a surprisingly dark shade of amber and supports a nice big head. As expected it's all sweetness and grain on the nose, with hints of fruity, zesty hops thrown in, particularly of the citrus peel variety. Not much changes on the palate, with the light malty sweetness and syrupy finish complimenting the quiet hop profile, almost smothering the tiny hint of bitterness. After a while, you start to notice more prominent caramel and maple syrup notes on the aroma, something you don't get in the Budvar. Once again it's undeniably tasty and very refreshing. Another satisfying lager.

1795 is brewed by the Budějovický Měšťanský Pivovar, as far as I can tell. Paler than the Staropramen but darker than the Budvar, it too supports a small head. The aroma isn't much different from the previous two, with a return to the metallic bite and corn-like malt sweetness as in the Budvar. However, the taste is vastly different from that particular beer. Chewy, sugary sweetness is the order of the day, and the effect is not a million miles away from the dark marzipan sweetness of a doppelbock, although it is much less welcome here. It remains drinkable and all that, but I reckon one bottle is enough. Not half as refreshing as the other two, mind.

Finally, we have the original pilsener. Pilsner Urquell pours dark again like the Staropramen and also sports a big white head. The sweetness on the aroma is similar to the 1795, although it has much more of grainy malt character to it, along with a touch of citrus. The taste is even better, with nicely balanced malt and hop profiles dipping on one end into the toffee malt regions and on the other end into bright citrus peel hoppy regions. The experience throughout, however, remains generally light and very refreshing. Again, a satisfying beer all round.

And now, to pick a favourite. 

Budvar was already a staple of mine, and I was expecting a good showing form Pilsner Urquell, but I was not at all prepared for how much I enjoyed Staropramen. It's a genuinely good beer. All four are worth a try if you've never had them, with 1795 being the only one I'd be happy to leave behind for good.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

#100: Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale

I first heard of this beer when I read the menu for the recent All-Ireland Craft Beer Festival at the RDS in Dublin, and since then, I've been seeing it everywhere. I hadn't heard very much about it, except that it was very bourbon-y, so I finally decided to try it out.

Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale pours a clear, dark amber with a small head and on the nose, I have to say I agree with the above description. Whiskey is all I can really take from the aroma, and it's dominant to the point of being one-dimensional. There are suggestions of perhaps some herbal qualities, but even these are just byproducts of the bourbon mess. The taste is more or less the same, with the whiskey opening turning into a slightly fruity but really just sugary middle, before reverting to whiskey for the finish. Once again, I tried to pull some spice or perhaps ginger from the flavour, but I reckon I was being a bit ambitious. 

In other reviews, I've heard vanilla was in there somewhere. Not at all the case on my tasting, though I do have to admit this one was probably doomed from the start. I don't drink whiskey, I don't like whiskey, and I don't know whiskey. I imagine this would be a much more approachable beer to the bourbon drinker. 

That being said, I've had bourbon barrel-aged stuff before and it was never so one-dimensional. As such, I still don't think I could bring myself to recommend this to the beer explorer, even as a curiosity. 

The Destrier does not approve.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

#99: Oh Aye

I recieved a nice little package of Scottish beers courtesy of my Scottish friend, Lachie. Cheers for these bud!
One of the bottles was Crabbie's Ginger Beer, which has featured on the blog already. If my opinion on that has changed, I'll post an update. The other three were as follows.

First up is Deuchars IPA, from Caledonian, AKA the Edinburgh Brewery, a beer that I don't believe I've ever seen around Cork but I reckon it's available elsewhere in the country. This English-style IPA has a nose of cool herbal and floral hops atop a creamy malt biscuit base, with great balance but not a whole lot else. The taste is much better, with bitter citrus fruit rind leading into warmer toffee-hinted malts, while the elderflower note from the hops stays around throughout. 

Low key, easy-going and very refreshing, it's definitely one worth exploring.

Harviestoun are more widely available in this country, with Dunnes Stores stocking their Bitter & Twisted, Old Engine Oil and this, Schiehallion, a lager. It looks and smells like any good pale lager, with grainy light malt propping up the lovely - and very prominent - hop profile. Once again, good balance and not much else.  Also, once again, things get much better on the palate, with gorgeous citric hop notes interspersed with notes of bubblegum. 

Another very refreshing beer, and a totally satisfying lager.

Finally, we come to Orkney's Dark Island. I've heard great things about this, and it was definitely the beer I was most excited for of the bunch. True to it's name, it is indeed dark, almost black in fact. Darkness is on the nose too, in the shape of the wonderful dark fruit that I just adore in a beer. This is balanced by some bitter coffee, liquorice and, after some warming up, chocolate notes. The taste is similarly delicious, with a rather porter-like opening of coffee and smoke turning quickly into sticky fruit and chocolate notes, with hints of spice and fruit zest, and just a suggestion of Christmas pudding in the finish. Very enjoyable and very impressive richness and complexity, when you consider it's a beer of merely 4.6% ABV.

Certainly the most enjoyable of the three, go try it if you can.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

#98: And now for something completely different

I've not been drinking much lately, and when I have, it's been a pretty mixed bunch. Here are the results of the latest two.

I've had Weisenohe's Altfränkisches Klosterbier in the cupboard for a while, and it needed to get the hell out. I'm still a little sketchy about the style of this beer but I used my best judgement to put it in the dimple mug. It looks like a Märzen or other dark lager, with a very slight haze. The aroma again reminds me of an odd Märzen, with darker malts playing off the light hop profile. The taste is much more exciting, with sweet grainy lagery stuff opening up, followed by a chewy toffee malt middle and a finish that emphasizes the herbal, fruity bitterness from the hops. Tasty and nicely balanced, if a little forgettable. 

In the mood for a strong dark Belgian, I picked up an affordable bottle of Gouden Carolus Classic, my first from this brewer, and what I guessed to be a Dubbel of sorts.

It certainly looks like a Dubbel, with the very dark red body holding up a small but smooth off-white cap. I must say I was instantly impressed by the nose, with banana and dark fruit dominating initially, with sweet brown sugary notes underneath, grounded safely by mellower malt notes. In this way, you don't get the kind-of-satisfying-at-first yet ultimately sweetness overkill of a beer like the Floreffe Melior. The taste brings you even further from danger, with a gorgeous dark berries, figs and banana blending into a subtle toffee or chocolate character, with smooth malts throughout. It's delicious, but not as complex as I'd expected, nor as full-bodied. The 8.5% alcohol does show up at the end of the taste, but it doesn't do much harm. Well worth a go, but when I can get a Prior 8 for less, it probably won't feature much in the future.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

#97: Full Circle

It's taken me long enough, but I'm finally getting around to trying the last two regular 8 Degrees beers. I also get to give my nifty new 8 Degrees glass its first outing. Hurrah!

First is the Barefoot Bohemian, a pilsner that was originally a summer seasonal, before becoming a regular fixture. It pours a clear gold with a small bubbly head, pretty much as you'd expect. The aroma is subdued, but is hoppy on a light malt body. The taste is gorgeous, with more than a touch of grapefruit opening proceedings, announcing a very fruity hop profile, just above the surface of the biscuity, grainy malt backbone. Great tasting pils, a good six-pack investment.

The next is supposedly an Irish Red, a style that doesn't get me very excited. Sunburnt Irish Red doesn't really look like an Irish Red, being a rather pale shade of amber, and what's more, it doesn't smell like one either. In terms of smell it's not a million miles from the Howling Gale Ale, with waxy hops being prominent, producing a very 'American'-like aroma. The taste is once again at odds with the plainness I'd expect from an Irish Red, producing a very fruity character at first, before revealing notes of nuts and a toffee finish. To me, this has more in line with an Amber Ale, like 5AM Saint, rather than an Irish Red. That being said, it's much better than that particular beer. 

Two more great beers from what is now one of my favourite breweries. Bring on the Winter Ale.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

#96: White Gypsy Russian Imperial Stout

I've already written about White Gypsy's Belgian Dubbel, but I have to say I was much more excited for this one. 

White Gypsy's Russian Imperial Stout pours a perfectly opaque black with big tan head, just what I look for from a beer of this style. The aroma gives tonnes of smoky, roasted sweetness, with hints of bitter dark chocolate, herbal hop notes and a lovely malt backbone. For an Imperial Stout, it's low-key, but still smells great. The taste is absolutely delicious, with a gorgeous smokey, woody malt opening turning quickly into caramel, with a fruity middle that reminds me of a much brighter beer. There's a sticky, syrupy finish that I suspect is given by the 7% ABV, and the mouth is very satisfying.

As an example of the style, it's not outstanding. As The Beer Nut writes, it won't surprise or stun the stout drinker, but it remains a delicious beer well worth trying. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

#95: Last Oktober

I promise this will be the last Oktoberfest I'll review this year.

A while back I tasted four of the six 'official' Oktoberfest beers in their bottled form, with Augustiner and Spaten being absent from the list. I've yet to see Augustiner knocking around, but I got my hands on a bottle of the Spaten Oktoberfestbier in O'Briens in Douglas. I'm a big fan of the original Spaten, so was looking forward to giving this one a go.

Spaten Oktoberfestier is pale, yellow and fizzy. Nothing untoward there. The nose finds oily hops and sugary grain sweetness, and not a whole lot else. The taste isn't much different, but it's very satisfying to find some mild bitterness in the folds of the mildly vegetal malty sweetness.

Nothing special, but nice and refreshing all the same. 

Aside from this, I afforded myself the chance to retry the St. Bernardus Prior 8. I had this a while back, and while I'm sure I enjoyed it, I think it's evaluation suffered on the basis of unfair comparisons with it's big sister, the Abt 12. 

The Prior 8 pours a dark red hue with a long-lasting creamy head. The aroma is bloody gorgeous. The first thign I notice is loads of juicy dark fruits and red berries, particularly raisins, as well as a hint of green apple. This is followed by a great earthy yeastiness, and the whole thing is propped up on a smooth and mild malt platform. The taste is equally beautiful, with chocolate malt opening proceedings, with the transition to the dark fruits punctuated with a touch of spice. The presence of the 8% ABV is mostly unnoticed, except for when it matters, as it produces a lovely sticky mouthfeel and syrupy finish. 

For the seasoned beer explorer, Prior 8 won't throw up any real surprises or anything, but it's deliciously rich, very affordable, and an undeniably great beer. 

Saturday, 3 November 2012

#94: White Gypsy Belgian Dubbel

White Gypsy in Tipperary have recently started to bottle their wares, which is great news in my book. My only previous experience with the brewery came in the form of a pint of Bruinette a while back, and I'm dying to get into these new styles.

That's the big thing for me, the styles White Gypsy are brewing. First of all we've a Belgian Dubbel, and there's a Russian Imperial Stout in the cupboard. A German Doppelbock and American Pale Ale complete the selection, so articles on the remaining three should be forthcoming.

White Gypsy Belgian Dubbel pours a hazy orange with a fizzy off-white head, much lighter than I'd expected. The bottle nearly gushed upon opening, and when I eventually did get the cap off, there was a strong bubblegum smell straight away. In the glass, this was crowded out by citrus zestiness, hints of banana, a strong yeast character and a touch of Belgian Blonde spiciness. To be honest, though, there's a bit more Hefeweizen to the aroma than I'd like. The taste is more or less as above, but with a more pronounced sugary malt character in the middle. This is aided by the touch of syrupy alcohol that the 8% ABV is bound to lend. It finishes grainy, and the body is nice and wheaty. 

Overall, this beer is a very worthy experiment on the part of both the drinker and the brewer. It's refreshing to see the styles White Gypsy are brewing, and they deserve plenty of credit for that. I must confess, however, that at around €8 a pop I won't be going back for seconds on this one. Roll on the Russian.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

#93: Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale

For the day that was in it, I decided to give another pumpkin beer a go yesterday. My first of the style was a Shipyard a few weeks back, and it was very poor. This one was more promising.

Sam Adams Harvest Pumpkin Ale pours a nice dark orange with a very short-lived head. The nose is at first a strong sense of dark ale, before a considerable amount of spice takes over. Cinnamon, clove and peel are the main suspects, and they overpower any real smell of pumpkin. That being said, pumpkin doesn't necessarily have a strong smell, does it? The taste is better, with those wheaty, spicy clove characteristics balanced out nicely with fruity sweetness, and the whole thing is rather fully flavoured. The finish has hints of herbal, vegetal coolness, and the overall experience is miles ahead of the Shipyard.

Definitely worth a go.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

#92: Franciscan Well October Beer Festival

Cork played host to the annual Guinness Jazz Festival this past weekend, so the city was packed to the proverbial rafters for the duration of the Fran Well's beer festival. I knew the event was popular, but I was completely unprepared for the fighting for standing space activity of the place. Perhaps I'm getting old, but I was very put off by the whole thing. It's difficult to enjoy a night out when you're so terribly antisocial. Anyway, below are the details of my own very short stay at the festival.

I&G Winter Treacle Porter
My first of the night was Innis & Gunn's Winter Treacle Porter, their seasonal for this time of year. I've had mixed experiences with this brewer in the past, but the name of this beer alone is what pulled me in. It poured black as you'd expect with a sugary sweet nose reminiscent of the Floreffe Melior I had a while back. Candy, cloying sweetness was the order of the day but unlike that particular beer, there was a touch of bitterness at the end to spice things up. Alcohol heat was just about noticeable too, but all in all it's a beer for the half-pint glass at most. I like sweet, but when I can't actually taste the malts, things aren't going great.

Poperings Hommel Bier
For the next one I went to the brilliantly selected Belgian bar, and opted for a Poperings Hommel Bier. Grainy, floral hops opens the taste on this one, before a nice sweet malt fullness unexpectedly takes control before returning to the lighter, fruitier characteristics of the beer to finish. Bitterness is lower than I'd expected, and there's an element of the wheaty farmhouse ale to this beer. In fact, I'd place this somewhere between a spicy Belgian blonde and a lovely wheaty Wit.

As I scanned the rest of the taps I spotted Piraat, and I couldn't resist another go. Notes on that beer are aplenty on this blog. Suffice to say it was as gorgeous as ever.
Upstairs, my better half went to try the bottled ginger beer they'd gotten in. Chalky's Bark is an accompaniment to their fennel beer Bite, and true to the suggestion, it was certainly bark rather than bite. There's plenty of nice herbal and spice qualities to the beer, as well as a hint of fruitiness, but there's none of the hot ginger notes you need in a good ginger beer. I was glad of the Piraat in my hand at this stage.

Lindeman's Framboise
By now, the bustle was getting to me, and I decided to throw in the towel. On the way out, though, I bought and sampled one more beer - Lindeman's Framboise. I was very excited about this beer, what with it being my introduction to the style. The first thing I noted was how much I loved the appearance of the thick pink head on top. The taste opens beautifully and not unlike a foamier, thicker version of the blackcurrant cassis popular in the Netherlands. It's very fruity, very sweet and surprisingly refreshing, before quite literally turning sour at the finish. It's not at all a bad taste, in any way, but for the uninitiated it's just weird.

I must stress that the only reason I didn't enjoy this visit as much as I should have is that I'm generally opposed to loudness, merriment and large social gatherings. The organization, promotion and range of beers was incredible, and for that the Franciscan Well deserves some serious praise. I'll definitely be coming to their next festival, and I strongly recommend you do too.

For me, it'll be a quiet afternoon trip next time.

Friday, 26 October 2012

#91: Lagerland

Two Irish lagers to report today, from Dublin and Dingle respectively. 

First off, it's the newly-bottled Crean's Irish Lager from the Dingle Brewing Company. I picked this up about an hour after it arrived in Bradley's, seeing as it's something I've never tried before. Until now, it's been available on draught in pubs around Dingle and I imagine dotted around the country in places. It pours a nice clear and fizzy gold, perhaps a shade darker than a pilsener style lager, with a little foam on top. I have to say there's very little on the aroma, with wet grain and mild sweetness being the only things I can get out of the glass. Unfortunately, the same has to be said for the taste. There's very little flavour and quite a lot of carbonation - one of those kinds of beers. I was desperately hoping to enjoy this lager from a place I'm so very fond of, but I fear Crean's has a bit too much in common with the South Pole itself; it's cold, harsh and empty, even if it is a nice idea.

It's a virtual stop in the capital then for a taste of the Porterhouse's Hersbrucker Pilsner, the only standard-release bottled beer of theirs I've yet to try. It pours like Crean's - a darker shade of gold - but supports a nicer head for longer. The aroma gives plenty of nice soft hoppy notes, with light roasted malts providing a nice grainy, barley backbone. It's tastes good too, with a fresh, slightly floral character from the hops once again providing a light bitterness over the malt sweetness you'd expect from a pils. It's refreshing, easy-going and quite tasty. Good stuff.

 Of the two, I was going to say that Hersbrucker was the most likely to appear on the blog again (or at least in my belly). However, I reckon I'll gives Crean's one more chance in it's native draught form.

Monday, 22 October 2012

#90: Oktober in a Bottle

When I set out to buy myself as many 'official' Oktoberfest beers as possible, I realised that pickings were relatively slim. Hacker-Pschorr, Paulaner, Löwenbräu and the Hofbräuhaus are all represented, but there were no signs of Spaten or Augustiner in my locals. The Fran Well have advertised the forthcoming presence of "imported festival beer" at their October Beer Festival, so I may have to return to the yellowy lager depths there. For now, I'm glad to have gotten through this lot - I enjoy the style, but after having four in a row I can't help but think writing about these could be as tedious for me as reading it will be for you.

Hacker-Pschorr Oktoberfest-Märzen was the first out. It pours a bit darker than the rest - more amber than piss - with a soapy off-white head. There are some tiny metallic hop notes on the aroma at first, with the usual malt and grain taking over in the end. The taste is much better, with a light and grainy opening turning into a deeper chewy toffee malt before the end. Tasty, but nothing spectacular.

Löwenbräu Oktoberfestbier pours more like a Helles, with a very big white head. Sweet lager malts dominate a similarly nondescript aroma, but then I can't really say here's anything wrong with that. It's medium bodied, it's nutty, grainy, sweet and very satisfying, and there's just a touch of bitterness hidden in the folds of light to medium malts.

Paulaner Oktoberfestbier looks like the  Löwenbräu, but the aroma gives off a much more, well, lagery essence. It's sweet and vegetal, with light metallic notes, but that doesn't necessarily describe the taste. It's warm malts like the others, but there's just a detection of grassy or floral hops along the way. Passable.

Finally, Hofbräu Oktoberfestbier pours a pale gold, probably in between a Hacker-Pschorr and a Paulaner. Those very mild tin foil notes are present in the aroma again, but that never really hinders the beer. Other than that it's wet grain, slightly vegetal like the Paulaner, and fairly light malts. The taste is lovely, opening like a good Munich Helles before leading into a darker sticky sweet finish. There's a very slight kick from the alcohol at the death, but that really just adds to the deeper malt notes at the end. Good stuff.

Of these four, I reckon It's between Hofbräu and Hacker-Pschorr, with Löwenbräu and Paulaner both passable. In the end though, I'd still opt for the much more affordable Spaten Munich Helles over any of these, while Eight Degrees Ochtoberfest remains my favourite Marzen. Perhaps these beers are better on tap, but I'm not particularly inspired to find out.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

#89: Playing Catch-up

I got my wisdom teeth out recently, so I'm off the drink (and most other things) for a while. Luckily, I've plenty of notes to catch up on. Of those, there's a group of bottled Oktoberfest beers on the way, and after that I'll be reporting on the Franciscan Well's October Beer Festival. Exciting stuff, but for now I'm afraid it's just some beery revision.

London Black Cab Stout is my first of the style from Fuller's, and one I've been looking to try for ages. It pours pitch black with a nice off-white creamy head, with very little light showing through. The aroma gives off plenty of smoke at first, before the heaps of dark roasted malt, subtle milk chocolate and pinch of salt (I know). The taste is pretty standard, with roasted malt, lingering smoke and a moderate bitterness dominating at first. in the latter stages of the taste, milk chocolate leads into a nice malty finish, a trait which becomes more noticeable as the beer warms up. Nothing incredibly special here, but a nice, easy-going stout. For the price, however, I reckon you'd do better with a Black Rock Stout.

The second beer in my catch-up is my second from Whitewater Brewing, and it's Belfast Lager. Initially, not one that had me very excited but I was pleasantly surprised. It pours a pale shade of gold with a small white head, and looks pretty much like any standard lager. Sweet lagery grainy stuff is on the aroma, as expected, although it is accompanied by a noticeable hop profile that ventures into slightly metallic territory. This isn't the case on the taste however, as the fruity hoppy bitter smack is backed up by the sweet, clean and refreshing lager characteristic. It's kind of difficult to describe this one, because for me it's just so middle of the road. Well balanced, but not at all captivating, an acceptable beer. 

I'm not sure when I'll be able to drink beer again, but it shouldn't be too long. Until then, you'll have to take my word that when I'm back I'll be busier than ever.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

#88: Pumpkins, Hops, Malts and Moons

My first post of October comes late, and it's a general catch-up of my notes. I promised myself I'd be doing mini-features on two styles of beer around this time; Oktoberfest and Pumpkin beers. For the former, there are still plenty of bottled samples around the place, while I've yet to see much pumpkin beers pop up. I'm not even sure if there will be any, although I am sure that I'll trying a pint of Trouble Brewing's Pumpkin Ór in the Bierhaus soon.

One pumpkin beer that can be found easily is Shipyard's Pumpkinhead. The brewer and their beers aren't very highly considered, but I tried to put that out of my head to give this a fair whack. Also, it was my first pumpkin beer, and I wanted to know what I'd be looking for if I get the chance to try some of the other pumpkins later in the month. 

Pumpkinhead pours a clear sparkling orange with a negligible eggshell head. On the nose, I actually got a bit excited - not much pumpkin, but plenty of clove and pepper, and a suspicious amount of cinnamon. The taste opens to more of the same, with cinnamon and clove dominating. Somewhere in the middle there's a kind of fruity sweet taste, which may be the pumpkin I'm expecting. It doesn't so much taste bad, it just doesn't taste very good. The artificial character, watery mouthfeel and overall quality of the beer puts me in mind of the horrid Blue Moon, even though I'd rate it higher than that mess. One thing they certainly have in common is that after half a glass, it gets very tough to finish.

On the nicer, happier place with J.W. Lees Moonraker. Unfortunately there's no photograph for this one, so you'll just have to take my word when I say it poured a very dark yet clear blood red, with a small off-white layer of foam. The nose gives off a touch of metallic hops, but it's not overpowering. There's a lovely deep malt backbone to the aroma, with biscuit notes that remind me of the biscuit in a Malteser. Toffee and chocolate are there too, as well as a Quad-like dark fruit. The taste is more or less the same, with deep and dark chocolate, toffee, biscuit malt and fizzy dark fruit leading into a warm caramel finish. It's complex yet quaffable, and a lovely one to have at this time of year. Certainly recommended.

Staying in England, we move to Cornwall and St Austell, for a taste of their Proper Job. Powerfully hopped, says the bottle. We'll see about that.

It pours a shade or two darker than gold with a foamy white head. It smells lovely, with citrus and resinous hops and a definite biscuit malt character underneath. It's certainly hop driven, but not exactly a hop powerhouse. Either way it's gorgeous. The taste opens with delicious juicy citrus, floral, and zesty hops, followed by smooth, warmer malt in the second half. In the same way, all the beer's bitterness stays to the front, although the lovely refreshing fruit character is retained to the end. A great beer, and another recommendation.

Finally, off to Germany. I'll be returning to this part of the shop soon when I try some of the bottled Oktoberfest beers, but for now I'm going to stick to another favourite style of mine, particularly for this time of year - the doppelbock.

Weisenohe Bonator pours a clear dark red with absolutely no head. It doesn't look totally unlike a glass of cola, but the smells gives the game away. It's very much like the Paulaner Salvator, offering huge malts, dark toffee, marzipan and a slight touch of marker pen/alcohol heat to finish. Some may say it's offensive, but it's just what I wanted. The taste isn't much like the Salvator at all, however. It's much less harsh, with the sugary texture and sweetness staying away til the very end. Until then, it's all toffee, dark chocolate malt and lovely dark fruit. Absolutely perfect for the style. What's less than perfect is the unusual lack of carbonation, as hinted by the failure to produce a head. As such, I'd like to give this another go; first to see if I get more fizz, and second to enjoy those wonderfully warming flavours again. A great beer for autumn and winter, and a third and final recommendation. 

Sunday, 30 September 2012

#87: Black Rock and Others

Following up form my brief 'Arthur's Day' post, I've decided to finally put up my notes of Dungarvan's Black Rock Stout. Also appearing here are some more notes from Abbot's.

Dungarvan's Black Rock Stout pours pitch black with cola-like highlights. The head is big and dark, just what I like in a stout. There's a surprising amount of smoke in the aroma, with herbal and vegetal hops getting in on the act too. Roasted malt is obviously hanging around the nose too, with small bits of chocolate and biscuit malt dotted here and there, and a noticeable bread malt note after the yeast is added in. The taste opens with nice sweet malts, with bits of smoke and a robust coffee bitterness. The sweetness is not unlike the Porterhouse Oyster Stout, and while it's not extremely complex, it packs plenty of delicious flavour. The body is full and smooth, yet tapering out into a light finish, making it quite drinkable. Good stuff, and a solid regular stout to have in the cupboard.

The next two are both from the taps in Abbot's Ale House a while back. 

First up is Floreffe Prima Melior. It pours fairly black, with a finger of off-white head. The smell is actually lovely, with bubblegum, candy-like fruit sweetness lording it over rather subdued warm malts. The taste is as above, and you really taste the sugar in this. It's incredibly sweet with that nice - yet potentially overpowering - candy sweetness. Toward the end of the half pint I was looking forward to moving on to an Abt 12, but I have to say I genuinely enjoyed it. 
Not big or clever, but certainly a bit of a laugh.

Finally, a beer I had to try, despite being warned it wasn't very special. Yellow Beard is the house lager in Abbot's, and it's quite cheap. I opted for the half-pint. It pours a very clear straw-gold with a very small head. There's not a whole lot going on in the aroma, but it does give off that lager-malt sweetness. There's slightly more to the taste, with light citrusy fruit opening up, and just a hint of a nutty finish. Other than that, it's fizzy, yellow, light and refreshing. Does the job.