Yes, it's late, but who cares? There's a wee break before the semis and I did need time to try the beers, so what harm! Once again though, I promise that if I do this again I'll have prepared much better.
On to the draw then! As I've said, I literally drew the names from a hat to ensure an entirely random fixture list. It went as follows;
France v Netherlands
Ireland v Czech Republic
Poland v Germany
England v Spain
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QF 1 - France v Netherlands: This is a good one. The La Trappe Tripel is a great beer, and as the only Trappist beer in the competition I had thought it could be a finalist at least. However, I had not considered the possibility that I could be blown away by 3 Monts. Despite not knowing what the fuck to do with the cork, I was really very impressed with the beer. Far from the boozy, malty Belgian style ale I had assumed I'd be getting from Flanders, I got a very nourishing, refreshing, strong lager-tasting ale. First on the nose is champagne yeast and grassy hops, followed by fresh straw and zesty citrus fruits. Herbal, almost. The taste brings malty bread and caramel into the mix, with a grainy wheat and barley follow, finished off by a slight hit of syrupy alcohol and moderate dryness. Really, I didn't know what to make of the style, and that's something that always thrills me when tasting beer. As such, well done France.
QF 2 - Ireland v Czech Republic: Another quality match, with two quality beers, and probably the toughest choice I've had to make this round. On the one hand, you've got Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne's Carraig Dubh porter, one of about three beers of the stout/porter style that have really impressed me in flavour and aroma. Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil was the first, followed by this and Wrassler's XXXX from Porterhouse, and I have to say that on trying Wrassler's again recently, I don't think it's quite as good as the former two. Chocolate, toffee, coffee, liquorice and dark fruit all combine on the aroma, with the taste more or less matching it. I loved the complexity of it and the way it's all carried on a nice creamy full body. I hope I'm not letting my love for Dingle (and my bruised national pride) cloud the decision, but I'm honestly more drawn to a bottle or two of this than a Budvar. After all, no matter how well the Budvar caters to my lager needs, I don't even think it's my favourite of the style, broadly speaking. Sam Adams or Spaten may have a thing or two to say about that. Now, there's an idea - quest for my favourite lager, or indeed lager style. For now though, Carraig Dubh puts Ireland through.
QF 3 - Poland v Germany: Being cheap is not always a good thing. Sometimes a low price tag is the mark of a low quality beer, so it can be hard to decide whether it's good value or pisswater in a bottle, but it sure is exciting to find out. Zywiec, along with fellow Polish recession-friendly Tyskie, is somewhere in between. It's not particularly bad - I thoroughly enjoyed the cold pint of it, and I suspect I'd enjoy it even more with food - but it has to be said that it's not particularly good either. In this case, the price point is a good thing. Yes it's not great, but you won't exactly be throwing all your ducats away. Paulaner Hefe-Weissbier on the other hand, is about €1 more expensive, but offers a vastly improved drinking experience. The malty backbone balances the strong banana, citrus, spice and hoppiness that you get at first, before mellowing out into a nice bready yeast finish. It's ridiculously refreshing, and dangerously quaffable. I will concede, however, that I may be biased to this brand - my first love of a style that welcomed me into beer geekdom. Regardless, I believe it's a fantastic Bavarian Hefe-Weizen that gets bonus points for being more accessible and affordable than others. Perfectly balanced between true, traditional craft beer and international brand. Germany go through hands down.
QF 4 - England v Spain: British ale really puts to shame the variety of craft beers we have to choose from in Ireland. Fair enough, they had to deal with Heinekenisation (there's a brand new word for you) just as we did, but it seems to have seriously stuck with us. Nonetheless, our craft beer scene is growing and that's something to be proud of. Fuller's is an English brewing institution, and it is too something to be proud of. And you know what? They are proud of it. In London. Hence, London Pride (note: this is almost definitely not where the name comes from). It's their flagship beer, and with good reason too - it's bloody delicious. Perfectly balanced with a strong toffee malt character, fruity follow-up and a nice bitter finish. Drinkability is great - it's quaffable, thirst quenching and you'll probably want another. England are in the semis, and in this competition, there are no penalty shootouts.