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.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

#297: Sour Hour

The broad and undefined beer category of 'sour' is the style du jour and it's great to see it being embraced by Irish brewers and drinkers alike. As such, here are three very different Irish sour beers that happened to cross my path in recent weeks.

The first was White Hag's Beann Gulban, billed on the label as an Irish Heather Sour Ale. Using my more-or-less Belgian-specific sour beer frame of reference, I'd be forced to compare it to the likes of a Flanders red; it's a mostly clear, dark red, near headless apparition the bursts of sour fruit initially, before calming down with some time. Behind that initial palate slap there's an earthy, leathery backbone with even a tang of meaty smoke. There's a creamy turn in the texture right at the finish which softens the sour blow, meaning you get your palate scouring nice and drinkable and easier than the 7% ABV might have suggested. It's good, but I can't help but wish for a lighter, gristier sour...
...not unlike Kinnegar's Guezberry, a gooseberry kettle sour brewed in collaboration with Brian Short of the Brown Paper Bag Project (this nugget lifted directly from the label). It pours a hazy yellow and sports a pure white cap, looking approachable and innocent enough. Immediately it gives plenty of wheat and biscuit malt on the nose, with a calm, wet hay sort of farmyard character suggesting some funk to come later. Elswhere it has hidden textures of lemon and raw honey pulling you in. Things become more gueuzey right about now; sour wheat and citric acid on an underlying honeyish base, doing its best Pinot Grigio or New World Sauvignon Blanc impression, a freshness that's almost completely at odds with the much more earthy, funky nose. Still, it supplies the sour hit you crave and if nothing else is an eminently drinkable refresher that I would like to have met back in early Summer as opposed to mid Autumn. In retrospect, I note that the titular gooseberry doesn't seem to have a dramatic starring role in the piece.

Finally, the newest special release from Galway Bay, The Eternalist, billed rather vaguely on the label as a 'mixed fermentation beer with raspberries'. It sees some oak too, in the form of Cabernet Sauvignon barrels no less, so this is some really serious stuff.
In the glass, though, it is seriously butt-ugly. Murky isn't the half of it; the sort of disappointing, sickly, brownish, unusable hue a painter finds on the palette when he or she hasn't been paying too much attention while mixing is what we're presented with here. This is in total contrast to the aromatic property initially offered up, which is pure, fresh, clean raspberries. It's quite seductive and suggestive of something as refreshing and drinkable as the Belgian framboise that, despite absent from the label, is surely the style on which this beer is modelled. In this sense, I was actually kind of impressed by how 'authentic' it comes across; it's more farmyardy than I expected, with the raspberry fading fast in the effervescence to give the coarse, grainy, intensely dry malt bill free reign. The biggest effect though is the insanely high carbonation, scrubbing the palate like the lives of the Galway Bay folks depended on it. As time went on, I feel like I enjoyed it more, possibly owing to the growing expression of fruit on show and it made me wonder if I should have another to put away for a year or two. However, I can't help but think that if your first attempt at a clearly lambic/gueuze/framboise-inspired sour is priced the exact same as examples from Drie Fonteinen and Hanssens on those selfsame shelves, it would want to be a bit more assertive and definitively good than this, or just completely different.

Whatever the case, the three beers are more-than-welcome additions to the Irish beer scene, and represent the sort of ambition we should be lucky to see more of from our brewers. 
Fingers crossed that this is the death knell of the Stout, Red, Pale Ale portfolio of Irish brewers that, to be fair, already seems preposterously boring in 2015.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

#296: Octoberbust

The October bank holiday weekend beer festival in the Franciscan Well is arguably the least enticing of the three held there every year; the focus here is on imported beer over Irish stuff which, while offering plenty of good drinking, goes without the nerdy delight of meeting the brewers and the feeling that you're trying the latest and greatest that your scene has to offer. Instead, you're treated to esteemed guests from Belgium primarily (classics from Chimay and Westmalle were in attendance this year) alongside a host of internationals on one of the busiest weekends in Cork City.
Taras Boulba

I started in Belgium with Taras Boulba, a highly considered pale ale from Brasserie de la Senne, proponents (at least in part) of the delicious Manneken Penn. This, however, was not delicious. An aggressively grainy beer, it is harsh, husky coarseness and bitter in a twiggy, stalky kind of way. It is actually hard to drink, and I'm forced to abandon my half far too early. This is a bloody poor show from a brewer I expected more from, and not for the last time on the day I started to think about the kegs/lines instead of the beers themselves.

There was no such funniness with Tuatara's Aotearoa. This was disappointing in its own, very beery way. There are far more toffee shenanigans than I'd like but it doesn't offend or insult the palate. In fact, there's some lovely jaffa sweetness that acts as the sole highlight to the beer and while it's softer, rounder, sweeter and easier to drink than the previous one, it leaves the mouth a bit too sticky to be properly good. Still, I did manage to finish the half, so that's not too bad.

I was getting hungry by now, and with the ridiculously good Pompeii Pizza in the corner of the garden it was time to pick the most sinkable drink on the menu to accompany it. That drink was meant to Havik, a 'Euro pale lager' from De Struise. Things took a terrible turn right about here, and what follows is a direct transcript of the notes I made right then:

- jesus, how is it so bad?
- shocking
- pissy - I mean actually how I imagine urine to taste
            - slightly pungent and acrid, but ultimately hollow and sterile
- cidery?
            - sulphur and cider
- the worst €4 I've ever spent on beer
- poxy. I'm angry now, fuck this shit beer or shit cellarmanship.
- it smells like a dirty beach.

I left it there. It's harsh, I know, but the beer was truly terrible. The staff were great and changed my beer without hesitation, but without being able to figure out what was wrong, the beer stayed on. Just as well, too; another punter came and ordered a pint of the stuff shortly after my experience and, the bar staff on the ball, they made sure he tasted it before confirming the order. He tasted it, liked it, and bought it. The whole €8 pint of it. I feel it's only fair I make this known as I'm being so critical of this awful, horrible mess of a beer - perhaps it really was just me.
One of the more attractive beers on the list was the other De Struise guest, the XXX rye tripel which, arriving as I did on the Sunday afternoon, I missed. Thankfully, I'd had that (or the reserva version?) from the bottle here.
Lupulus Hibernatus

The beer I received to compensate for this was ample compensation indeed; Lupulus Hibernatus is a strong dark affair from Les 3 Fourquets, another Belgian guest, and pours a headless brown with plenty of brown sugar and molasses on the nose. To taste it's a hefty, chocolatey dessert beer that bears more than a passing resemblance to the glorious Aventinus. At 9% it's a sipper, but the sips come too quick and too easy, especially for a shameless sugarfiend like myself.

Rodenbach Grand Cru
I was finally on a high, and to keep it going I had to go for one of the VIPs on the menu, Rodenbach Grand Cru. I hated this the first time I had it, back when it was the very first sour beer I'd experienced. In hindsight, such a beer is probably the worst initiation for a devoted vinegarphobe (all vinegar must die, now and forever) - at the time, it felt at the time like I was drinking a glass of balsamic. Nowadays, I have a sour itch that needs scratching, and this does it. Again it's headless and almost devoid of aromatic punch at the cold draught serving temperature, but it delivers a ridiculously good, palate re-adjusting sour hit that screams of cherries and raspberries and, weirdly for a measly 6%, a perfume headiness. Still, it's a full-bodied, bang-for-buck beer with enough finesse to stand up to scrutiny while remaining quite easy to drink. I'll be buying more.

I was given a taste of Unknown Shore at this point, a Lithuanian oaked dubbel from Brick by Brick which, a quick Google will tell you, is in fact Švyturys. In any case, it's pretty tasty; oak intensified malt a seriously chewy, woody, raisiny thing unlike any dubbel I've had before. It probably won't stand in the pantheon of classics of the style, but it makes for interesting drinking indeed.

It was back to Belgium thereafter and to Vicaris Tripel-Gueuze from Dilewyns. It's, well, kind of like it sounds: coppery, citrusy bitterness, honey sweetness and a measure of sourness. It's weird and, I suppose, objectively interesting, but ultimately not as much fun as the name suggests. 

To finish the festival and complete the geographical set I went for Karpat's Eagle, an 8% IPA from Ukraine. It's a sweet tropical fruit and bubblegum concoction that doesn't play too nicely as a proper IPA but doesn't do much harm either. 

On that note, I left perhaps the most dramatic and emotional beer festival experience I've had and tried to move on with my life.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

#295: Canned Slaughter

It is not humanly possible to leave Amsterdam without bringing with you something that you bought in De Bierkoning but, considering the city was just my first of a handful of ports of call I limited my buying to a couple of American cans for the road.

The first of those made it as far as Vienna; Caldera's Ashland Amber pours like a clear red beer making a valiant effort to appear amber and immediately smells of toffee with an underlying orange spritz. This is pretty faithfully carried through to the palate with chocolate orange toffee and bittersweet lemon zest making the lead impression. Thereafter, a sweeter juicy ripe orange and chewy malt thing develops, the whole effect being rather simple but quite enjoyable; one has to assume the workhorse here is, as usual with this kind of beer from this kind of place, the Crystal malt that props the whole beer up and provides a nice contrasting background for some fun, fruity and restrained citrus hop goodness. If this beer was around I'd have it in the fridge.
The other can made it all the way back to Cork before it was unceremoniously dumped into a shaker - alas, no amount of dumping, chucking or sloshing could inspire a proper head. The beer is a gose, or, more specifically, The Kimmie, the Yink and the Holy Gose from Anderson Valley, and it doesn't have much of an aroma to speak of either. What it does have is a refreshing salty tang on a rather plain and simple canvas, but this is oddly and uncomfortably skewed by a strange, soft and creamy apparition at the end and follow-through of the taste. On top of this, the tang that was so promising earlier on pairs with the bizarre creamy texture to come across as syrupy and rude later on. I finished it, but not without plenty of brow-furrowing and quiet 'hmm'-ing.

There was one other Bierkoning stowaway - you simply can't ignore a dedicated free-standing bookcase of De Molen - but that won't see a glass until the days are darker, colder and shorter.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

#294: Vienna

The Vienna portion of the trip lasted a measly two days, one of them a Sunday, so there was hardly enough time for tourists to scratch the surface of what the city has to offer in general sightseeing, let alone explore the beery underbelly.
That said, the first order of business in a new city is dinner, and on holidays, dinner is always accompanied by a beer. In this case it was the house tap Stiegl Goldbräu; a gold lager that lands somewhere between a Helles and a German Pils, being closer to the former with its sweet biscuit grain and golden syrup backbone. It's nothing special but it makes for good quaffing with a heap of pasta. 
Hausmarke 4

The following afternoon we stumbled upon a market of food and drink stalls in the small open space in front of Vienna's formidable Rathaus. A hearty veggie burger and fries here made the Ottakringer Helles seem better than it was, though for its malty heft you pay the price of unjustifiable booziness. At 5.2%, this seems like a poor return.

Speaking of Ottakringer, elsewhere in the square the Viennese brewer had a large bar of its own, pouring various Ottakringer varieties as well as a handful of 'craft' styles under their Brauwerk moniker. This is Hausmarke 4, a Flanders Red. Hazy rust is how it looks, and with no real aromatic punch to speak of, its taste is pretty mild too; more akin to a slightly soured dunkel or dunkelweiss than a purposefully sour beer of any description. Red berries and light toffee is as interesting as it gets, with the only true positive being that, so far is it from an authentic Flanders Red that there's absolutely no threat of balsamic vinegar. Alas, the threat of tasting like anything else is also mostly empty.

Hop Devil
Wandering around the city we stray close to 1516, and it would awfully rude not to drop by. It's a decent cosy setup by the bar until everything smells like the cigarette smoke you're stewing in. Still, they do offer some non-smoking seating upstairs, so be prepared to do some walking if you want a few drinks. As an aside, how people are still OK with eating, drinking and above all working in a cloud of someone else's smoke is beyond me. To each their own, I guess. 
I start with Hop Devil, a beer that sounds familiar because it's named for and based on the Hop Devil from Victory. It comes a slightly murky orange with a thick white slice and downstairs it smells like the sting of cigarette smoke. Carrying it upstairs, it reveals some nice lemon sherbert that cheers me up no end. Sweet and juicy orange, lemon and a decent burst of bitter tangerine astringency makes it a pretty delicious pint.
I also had my Kimber upstairs, and this amber ale is also a murky apparition that smells of nothing and tastes of little too; caramel, a bland ghost of toffee, light Vienna malt and some soft, pillowy sweetness. It wouldn't even make in interesting red ale, which says quite a lot.

It was time to move on, and with just a late evening left in Vienna we could only manage a few minutes in 7 Stern, another Viennese brewpub. The Märzen was a toffee malt backboned bland jug that really wasn't anything to speak of, so, I won't. On that sorry note and with my palate falling asleep, it was time to call it a day.

Munich was even shorter than Vienna, essentially only included in the trip for its flight to Cork. As such, I put away the beer book and started drinking beers I'd had already and enjoyed in the past.

It's been a bit of a slog, and if you've read these posts you're a real trooper. Normal service resumes with the next post.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

#293: Prague

Berlin to Prague is another semi-epic train journey, but an incredibly beautiful one at that. It's all well and good already until you pass through Dresden; thereafter, the track aligns with the winding Elbe as you follow wooded valleys across the border into the Czech Republic. The six-seater glass-doored compartment of the train only emphasises the old world Romance of the trip.

This is pretty much carried on throughout Prague itself; the old town is a preserved medieval streetscape with an abundance of churches, bridges and beer. Only the constant herd of high-season foot traffic threatens to spoil the authentic oldness of the place.

Old Town Square is where you flock when you're a tourist, and the restaurants that circle the square itself are each represented by a big Czech brewer, the name of which is on the awning. It was by accident that we found ourselves sitting in a Krušovice joint looking directly at the face of Old Town Hall, albeit through a swarm of Segways.

Being a sucker for dark lager I went straight for Krušovice Černe. It's dark alright, but it lacks the bodily heft that it needs to be called chewy, an essential component of my perfect dark lager, be it Czech, Bavarian or otherwise. The fact that it's light and comes with low carbonation makes it eminently drinkable while placing it pretty low on the scale for memorability. This is in spite of the fact that I obviously drank plenty of it over the few days. What I will remember it for is how much I enjoyed the delicious pumpkin soup I had with it on one of the chillier afternoons.

The Černovar Černé next door was marginally better, although this may have been by virtue of being served in one of those hand-grenade mini-dimpled beer mugs. It felt a little less bland with some actual toffee chocolate creeping into the otherwise still quite coppery, thin and wan dark lager.

Back in the Krušovice restaurant I decided I'd take a break from the Tmavý and try the wheat beer, helpfully called Krušovice Wheat. Like it's darker brother it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of being a properly great beer, but it does at least show off slightly more flavour to begin with; there's plenty of sweet banana to taste but only an optimist can find clove on the nose. OK, so not more flavour, but more of one flavour - it begin to cloy near the finish.

I couldn't go to Prague and not try some Pilsner Urquell; it's not quite home turf, but it's close enough. Surprisingly it's not nearly as ubiquitous as I'd expected it to be, but there are official Pilsner Urquell-endorsed bars and restaurants dotted around the place. The one we stopped in here was on a neat little cobbled roundabout in the staggeringly beautiful Jewish Quarter. Pilsner Urquell comes unpasteurised here (tank beer, they call it) and it's delicious. The bready graininess is ridiculously intense and there's a decent, robust straw or grassy bitterness that lingers for ages, while the whole thing remains undeniably quaffable. Good stuff.

On the other side of town is U Fleků, where the beer is good, the environment is breathtaking and the service is downright spooky.

They will watch you come in.

They will watch you sit down.

One of them will appear at your table and listen to your order.

He will not make eye contact with you.
He will carry an expression that tells you that if it wasn't for his pesky 'job' he'd be choking you to death where you sit.
He will not acknowledge that he heard the words you vomited from your abhorrent tourist mouth. He will simply walk away.

Another one will appear at your table. This one wears a smile.
This one offers you an unnamed, unlabelled shot from the tray he carries.
He won't believe you if you say 'no thank you'. He needs more convincing than this,

It's not certain whether, whence or where one would awake after accepting the mystery shot.

The first one returns. Good, at least he heard you.
The beer is clear, so you can verify that, no, he didn't shit in the glass. That's good too.
Did he spit in it? Who knows.

What I do know is that U Fleků Flekovský Tmavý Ležák 13° is without a doubt the blackest lager I've seen and this one does have some chewy toffee and roast malt goodness, a cold, clean raisiny finish and... oh, a disappointing and surprisingly anaemic overall impact. It's good but it still doesn't scratch the itch and it certainly isn't worth walking to the lest welcoming place in Prague to try. Remember, it is the only beer they serve, and while I find that Romantic and admirable, if you don't like it or the place itself you've wasted your time.

The final day in Prague had probably the most enjoyable beer stop, at U Tří Růží, back in the cosy embrace of Old Town. The downstairs bar is the only part I explored but it's a pleasant people-watching space with some supposedly functional copper-finished brewing equipment on show. Being the devotee that I am, I had to begin with the U Tří Růží Tmavý Ležák, and it proved the Tmaviest Tmavý of the trip. The nose lacked a certain anything but there's no doubting the simple but satisfying concoction of raisiny toffee and barm brack maltiness on the palate. There's a decent heft to the texture too, being rather full but not too filling.

There was only time for one more so I knew I had to make it count; no pils for me, thanks. Instead I opted for the Klášterní Speciál Sv. Jiljí (No. 4, I think), a 7.2% 'monastic special beer' we're told. I'll take that. 

It comes a handsome clear gold and smells immediately of sweet, candied pineapple and caramelised sugar. There's a sort of tingling clove thing hiding in the back somewhere, and, rather surprisingly, a suggestion of a good dose of fresh New World hops - juicy and tropical but ultimately of the sweeter persuasion. I'm not sure what style this is trying to be or indeed what style it would even fit into but I'm not too worried. It's a nice change of pace and, with the possible exception of the crisp Pilsner Urquell above, might by the most hops I've seen since Amsterdam.

With that, the Prague leg of the trip comes to a close. Next up was supposed to be Budapest, but as it would have felt terribly inappropriate to walk through a refugee-packed Keleti dragging a tourist suitcase and looking for beer, we opted to head directly to Vienna. 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

#292: Berlin

The 6 hour train journey from Amsterdam to Berlin spent most of our day's energy, despite landing us in Germany's formidable capital early enough in the afternoon. As is now a constant on our German visits, it was hot as hell and unforgiving of the walking, suitcase-dragging tourist. As such, after a long rest back at the hotel, the only thing we had the time or energy to do was get the bus to Potsdamer Platz and have a nose around.

Here was the first beer destination of Berlin, Lindenbräu. The replica indoor-but-outdoor beer garden was weird, especially seen for the first time at night when the Sony Centre is a glowing, shapeshifting mass of light. 
One each please, a Märkischer Landmann Dunkel for me, a Zwickl for herself. Mine was a lovely chocolatey, raisiny thing that was tipped off kilter first by a twang of copper at the finish, and then again when it was pointed out to me that it smells just like barbecue beef' Hula Hoops. Hmm. Still, it remained a serviceable dunkel, and  I was glad of it.
Sober Destrier's Zwickl was softer, all lemon and light biscuity malt, but even that was somewhat tainted by an assertive huskiness that damaged its clean quaffer cred.

A couple of days later, back in a now sunny Sony Centre, I decided I'd go for the local curiosity, a Berliner Weisse. Ever the tourist, I went for the classic woodruff version of Berliner Kindl, and boy did I regret it. It comes a cartoon nuclear waste green with an alarming green-tinted white foam. A sad straw marks the disaster area for the eventual arrival of the UN cleanup team. Eugh. I was looking for sour refreshment, but this has way more soft marzipan sweetness than anything that could legitimately be considered sour. I like marzipan, so I took those first couple of sips with a bemused but entertained smile on my face, before I started to wonder when my life had taken such a dark turn. Every sweet swallow was made bitter by observing the rest of the clientèle sink their jugs of delicious pils. Unfortunately, this bitterness was only metaphorical. Of course, this is all my own fault, opting as I did for the syruped version, but nevertheless I found I couldn't quite stomach the whole sugary glass. What you see pictured here is what I left behind. 

If there's any justice in the world, it will still be sitting there on a table in Potsdamer Platz, lonely and choked with the corpses of the summer's wasps and flies, a beacon of warning against all who think syrupy Berliner Weisse is worth a go.

In between those visits to Lindenbräu our non-beery tourism took us close enough to Lemke's place in Hackescher Markt to justify a call in. This is a much more visually appealing place, nestled under a railway with a leafy, cosy beer garden out back. 
A quencher was on order, as ever, so it was Lemke's Hopfenweisse first. This is a low carbonation affair with all the usual banana and soft overripe fruit. There's an whiff of Cascade hopping too but the biggest thing I take from the beer is the surprising and uncharacteristic slick oiliness of the texture. At 7% ABV it's a little bit too strong to be a proper refresher, though it is billed on the menu as a Weizenbock-IPA so perhaps I was looking in the wrong place for something I could sink into.

The house beer is a Vienna lager and, hey! I like Vienna lager! So that was next on my list. Lemke Original is an abhorrent apparition of muddy, murky brown. Thankfully it's not murky to taste, being reasonably clean, standard lager fare that isn't all that good or all that bad. Wet Hobnob-like biscuity grain is about the size of it.

Much prettier is the Imperial IPA, which despite its lack of any head has a lovely, clear orange glow in a teku glass. The aroma is a ridiculously juicy, Tutti Frutti sweets mix of mango, citrus, pineapple and tropical fruit juice. To taste it's a sweet, honeyed tropical fruit dessert that is sweeter than I'd like from a double IPA, no doubt helped by the 10% alcohol, but remaining interesting and tasty enough to be sipped slowly and enjoyably for the remainder of the stay.

On that slow sipper we end this beer log of Berlin. Next up, Prague.

Saturday, 3 October 2015

#291: Amsterdam

I finished summer with the now routine visit to Amsterdam, this time following on to Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Munich. With the refugee crisis reaching boiling point first at the border of Hungary and then at Keleti station in Budapest, we thought it prudent to cancel the Budapest leg of the trip in favour of an extended Prague stay. Beer was not the focus of the trip, but needless to say, it featured heavily nonetheless.

As usual, beery things began in De Bierkoning and unfolded in the gorgeous and surprising back garden of my uncle's house near Hoofddorpplein. 

Amsterdam's own Oedipus comes first with Mama, brewed at Brouwerij Anders in Belgium. As a 5% IPA, this should have been very straightforward. Hazy yellow and screaming of lemon is all well and good, with spicy, zesty and yeasty qualities in equal measure inviting you in, but it lies. It lies, because it's just not as fun as it suggested it was going to be. There's a lick of spice, some wet grain and a herbal coriander twist but ultimately way too much wit/tripel cross-breeding for this to be enjoyed as anything like a drinkable IPA. In this way it reminds me of the lesser 't IJ beers, obsessed as they are with that pseudo-Belgian hereditary yeast character. This will probably have its fans, but it hasn't found one in me.

De Prael's IPA is exactly like the Mama, only with added misery in the form of some diacetyl on the nose. Apart from this it is again dominated by yeast and spice and the hopeful hint of grapefruit is less in the US sort of way and more in an old wonky Bock way. As it warms it begs you to find some lemon and orange on the nose but that utterly fails to shout down the butterscotch element that only grows more and more offensive. Ouch.

Much more luck was had with Brouwerij 't IJ's Amber Ale. It is indeed dark amber and immediately announces itself as beautiful. Bittersweet orange and mandarin skins and serious amounts of zesty  pithy grapefruit; this is New World hopping done simply and done well. Clean and dry and certainly the most astringently bitter and juicy of the trio, it scratches an itch that I would find hard to scratch for the rest of the trip.

Playing it safe was Gueuze Girardin 1882. Surprisingly dark brown it pours, unsurprisingly woody, cidery and vinous it smells. Waxy bitterness and a not-too-sharp but not-too-round sourness characterises the drink, with some tangy apple cider and almost whiskey-like malt warmth opening up with time. I'm not sure if I'd file this under C for Classic, but I'd give it a lifetime pass to G for Grand. Certainly at around €2 for a tiny 275ml bottle.
A couple of Bierkoning pickups made it out of Amsterdam, but more on those later.

The Arendsnest is still my must-visit bar in the city and on a sunny afternoon it is simply unbeatable. I started with Texels Tripel, a low carbonation, white-capped 9%er. All I could pull from the nose was a bit of generic biscuity grain, but I'll charitably put this down to the serving temperature. Thankfully, there's a lot more going on on the palate; the wheaty heft of the beer is more like a strong blonde at first before the honeyed tripel spiciness kicks in at the finish. It's bitter in a weird, soft kind of way, all coriander and orange skins. For 9% it is a very easygoing sunny day tripel, even if it isn't a world beater.
Vrouwe van Gramsbergh

Keeping things strong is Mommeriete's Vrouwe van Gramsbergh, a 9.5% quadrupel. There's more of a nose to this one, thick as it is with nutty toffee chocolate, brown sugar and cola. To taste it's a rich and semi-sweet dark fruit bomb, dominated by delicious raisiny malt and chewy tobacco and fig. There's even more chocolate here to sign off, and the whole thing plays like a highly enjoyable if predictable quad. And there's nothing wrong with that.

Black and Tan
The last beer of this short, sweet session was Emelisse's Black and Tan, this version aged in Wild Turkey barrels. It looks, well, black and tan, while the aroma has a holy shit amount of coffee. There may be some typical barrel-ageing fare like woody vanilla, but mostly it is chocolate covered liquorice bliss. The palate gets dollops of sticky black fruit jam and bitter dark chocolate, washed down with strong, cold black coffee and a flash of boozy heat. And all in the space of a 10.2% tasting glass. Hats off Emelisse.

The San Marino of the gathering presented itself during the Sober Destrier's mandatory trip to the excellent Apenheul primate park in Apeldoorn, where the restaurant was serving Gulpener Ur-Pilsner. It's actually a decent pils, if a little short on pilsy hopping, offering instead just plenty of clean, straw-like malt refreshment. Serviceable, but here appearing, quite literally, as an afterthought.

Next stop, Lagerland Berlin.