Wednesday, 29 March 2017

#335: Brotherly Love

This one's been waiting at least a year for his turn.

His name is Brother Thelonious, and as the name suggests, he is an American with fond memories and aspirations of Belgium, as well as an unflinchingly cool jazz spirit.

Belgian-syle abbey ale is the specific aspiration and Fort Bragg, California's North Coast do a good job conjuring memories of that type of thing with the crystal clear ruby-brown appearance of Brother Thelonious. Also reminiscent of Belgium is the lovely brown sugar sweetness present not only on the nose but particularly in the middle of the palate too. Thankfully there's no Lagunitas-style sugar bomb, as this one dries up after itself at the finish. Here you find dried figs and raisins, without any heavy booze or thick malt getting in the way, as well as a smattering of ground almonds. In fact, the whole thing plays rather elegantly and surprisingly light and drinkable for 9.4%. The only missing piece of the puzzle is the typical Belgian yeast-derived ester profile, but that's a minor detail when considering the wider enjoyable experience of the beer.

This passes the Belgian monks' digestibility test like no other American beer that I've encountered, and all while supporting jazz education in honour of the other relevant Monk. True, only one of those things really matters to me, but it's a pleasant footnote on an likewise very pleasant beer.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

#334: Agriable

I'm sure this particularly summery bottle had hoped to be opened about nine months ago, to live its brief life in the outdoors, soaking up a warm breeze and accompanying a soft Bavarian pretzel or somesuch. As it happened, it instead popped open in front of a fire early this year with nothing more ceremonious than a packet of supposedly fancy crisps. 
The beer is Piña Agria from Odell, and on opening I was worried. The cork doesn't look great; cracked and showing what looked like (and hopefully was nothing more suspect than) glue. From this same cork and indeed the neck of the bottle came a tang of, well, pee. No, really. Thankfully there's nothing of the sort once you get it into the glass; from here on out it's a wonderfully clean and fruity number that has more than a few shades of zesty pinot grigio or a particularly zingy sauvignon blanc, manifested as bountiful tropical pineapple, honeydew melon and a nice sherberty acidity. It's exceptionally easy to drink and incredibly moreish, tailored as it seems to be to hit that sour spot. Delicious.

I was desperately sad to see it go, especially considering the ~€20 price tag, but if you can convince a loved one to gift you a bottle for some special occasion, or if you just NEED FROOTY ACID, it's absolutely worth picking up.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

#333: After the Fall

This duo were part of a trio gifted to me by Lachie and Alison (thanks guys!) and comes from what was once their neck of the woods in Stirling.

The brewery is Fallen Brewing and there's a strong travel theme to the beers at hand, owing to their residence in a bona fide old railway station.

We start with New World Odyssey, which sounds nice. But then you read that it's a blonde, that broad and vague style moniker that brewers tend to apply to things that aren't exciting enough to call anything else and you wonder if your hopes for New World hop delivery are about to be dashed against the rocks. Thankfully they aren't, with fresh, zesty citrus getting up bright and early even if it is somewhat undercut by a considerable buttery diacetyl thing. This is swept up in the bitterness and thankfully doesn't last, with the malt half of the beer turning instead to more palatable bubblegum fruitiness. It's enjoyable, but it's far from the odyssey I was expecting.

Unlike Platform C, the IPA. These two seem to have switched bottles on the way across the Irish Sea because I'd expect an IPA to be fraught with the dangers of too-thick malt and diacetyl interference and I'd expect the blonde to be, well, more blonde, pale and clean. OK, it may not be paler, but Platform C is by far the cleaner of the two, with a perfect base of soft, subtle biscuity malt allowing a gorgeously expressive and juicy C-hop character drive the beer. Fresh and punchy with its grapefruit flesh for the first half of the bottle, candied orange sweetness for the warmer second half, but never losing the clean control. This is the kind of thing I wish all brewers would strive to achieve with their American pale ale and IPA releases, an execution the likes of which I've seen from Althea and Little Fawn among others here in Ireland.

Despite the respective names of these beers, it is the IPA that takes you on the New World odyssey while the blonde is still playing catch up.

Monday, 20 March 2017

#332: Quadruple Dutch

At least once a year I find myself unpacking a handful of bottles from a suitcase from Amsterdam and 2016 was no exception. The best thing to do with the styles I brought home this time was to horde them for the long dark winter and pick them off like a private Dutch beer festival.

The first decapitated is Wuldar, a barleywine from Walhalla, and as old world in style as the branding somewhat suggests. It's a fairly clear dark red and gives raisiny rich malt on the nose. This is largely the same to taste; thick and malty with maple syrup and dark autumnal fruit. Simple in its own way, Wuldar makes for wonderfully contemplative and cosy drinking by the fireside.

No such handful of bottles is complete without a De Molen or two and the first I opened is Wal and Schip Wild Turkey B.A. This one was bottled in December 2014, and may have been picked up the previous year, but who's counting? Blakc and brown it pours, oozing gorgeous biscuit alt and vanilla with a slight savoury side. Another exemplar of dark malt complexity, there's more figs and raisins to be found here. Rich, sweet and fruity on a woody vanilla backing with malted biscuit - I mean it seems obvious, but there you go. The bourbon barrel is thankfully well integrated and doesn't overpower everything with sickly vanilla syrup. In fact, it reminds me more than once of the best bourboned beer I've had, Bourbon County. Once again its a comforting drink that warms up to give marzipan and palate-smacking savoury malt goodness.

Another stout from another barrel is Emelisse's White Label Imperial Stout from a Bruichladdich barrel. This one's got more chocolate than the De Molen and the whisky influence shows itself as a bit of spirity heat, but it remains smooth and round. There's rich, round chocolatey stuff throughout, making it a particularly indulgent and dessert-like beer, showing a touch of sweetness.

Surprisingly less chocolatey is Ciel Bleu Imperial Stout from Brouwerij 't IJ, with collaborative input from the Michelin-starred Ciel Bleu restaurant and chocolate makers, er, the Chocolatemakers. Far from the liquid dessert I was expecting, this is disappointingly thin and mild, especially considering the 10.2% ABV. Still, it was easy drinking which is its own achievement, and I finsihed it happily enough before long. 

A mixed bag, perhaps, but as with all Nederland-born hauls, fun was had.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

#331: Wild Things

Oddity seems to be Wild Beer Co's thing and if there's anything I could take away from the label and description of Shnoodlepip it's that it is odd. One couldn't possibly come away with anything like a meaningful set of expectations of a beer that contains spelt, pink peppercorns, hibiscus and spends four months in French red wine barrels and is fermented with a combination of saison and Brettanomyces yeasts. 

Whatever the case it's at first clearly dry but with a nice prickly, tangy sourness to the fore. The nose gets herbal, floral and spicy stuff but I'm of a mind to assume that's as much a saison yeast contribution as it is a flower contribution but hey, it works so who cares. It's also cooling, minty and quite green on the palate with is wholly unusual but nothing like the ghastly concoction found in Fantome. After some time it opens up to some almost juicy fruitiness - again, tart - before the flash of pepper does make itself known at the finish. 

There's no reason a beer that's seen so much extra-curricular fiddling should work to reach a beautifully balanced, drinkable and refreshing conclusion but Schnoodlepip does. 

I had less luck with the Brett Brett Double IPA (no prizes for guessing what this is), even though it first presents a gorgeous aroma - cool, fruity and sherbety, all lemon skins and acid that gets the hopes up. To taste it's very slightly tart, but the headline of this beer is a big bitter effect that, while dry and approachable to begin with, gets tough going as time goes on, as it becomes more and more bitter, tangy, syrupy and coarse at once. One to pass over.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

#330: Tradecraft

This is a companion can to the Aftermath I had in Amsterdam from Californians Black Market Brewing, and the first blackberry sour ale I've had to date - interesting not only as a point of difference from the usual cherry/raspberry stuff but also considering the ease with which wild blackberries can be foraged in Ireland.

The beer is called Tradecraft and I believe it's one of a few versions of the same base beer, each fruited differently. 

At 3.8% it opens wonderfully tasty and very drinkable; a pinky-peach-tinged amber, it shows off blackberry jam sweetness and a typical sour wheaty grist on the nose; this is most likely some descendant of a Berliner weisse. There's a fullness to the body I wouldn't have expected for the strength, almost feeling rich and confected with the jam thing still doing it's work. This is all scrubbed up neatly by a wave of tartness and bubbly carbonation leaving only that light, friendly, pinkish sweetness behind. 

Lots of delicious fun.

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

#329: Tildonkers

In the second half of 2016 something changed in my beer drinking. The over-saturation of new Irish beers (which is not in itself a problem to me - more choice and the good ones will stay on while that bad ones will drop off) finally overwhelmed me in what I considered the original purpose of this blog; to chart a course through the hypertrophic growth of the Irish craft beer scene, buying and trying virtually everything new that Irish brewers were making as well as assessing new and exciting imports. In itself, this would be a full time job, requiring another full time job or two to fund it.

And all of this before we get to drain pours. Yes, among Irish beers and a few imports I found myself not enjoying more and more new beers and where once I would stick it out for the sake of getting my money's worth I've now taken to gleefully dumping them. 

The result of this is that I've become more enamoured with the beers and styles of beers and breweries that I know or at least am pretty sure I'll like. So for a time you'll be seeing fewer new Irish 'Indian pale ales' [sic] and more imports and for that I make only a half-hearted apology.

Still, it hasn't dampened my enthusiasm for new beer and breweries so when goods from Hof ten Dormaal made a brief appearance at the Bierhaus I took a pair of bottles home.

I'd heard plenty of cooing over Frambuesa i Chocolate from proprietor Dave who'd encountered it in Brussels and I wasn't disappointed when I found it in my own glass. It's described on the label simply as a 'dark beer with raspberries' but pours very much like a stout. There's a sour, lactic tang to the nose that immediately introduces tart raspberry and, yup, it's fresh, sweet and tart juicy raspberries on the tongue too. Any worries about the chocolate side of this beer being a powdery, sickly sweet mess are unfounded; this is by far and a away a dominantly sour beer with real puckering power going on and just a smooth slickness of dark malt to help round things out. It's desperately easy to drink and one wishes it was easier to find.

The Zure van Tildonk 2014 is, like the above beer, another limited edition and another sour beer, this time a familiar hazy blonde. So familiar in fact that it plays like a fairly convincing tribute to the beers of Lembeek at first, with a sharp acidic sourness on a beautifully full body. Behind that, though, there's a strap of sweetness throughout, not unlike the kind of thing you find in the older Rodenbachs but without the deep, chewy malts of those beers. I often think of lemon sherbert when I come across a pale sour beer with echoes of sweetness but I think this is by far the most appropriate recipient of that descriptor; it finally actually tastes like lemon sherbert and it is delicious, even if it does turn a tad syrupy towards the finish.

Two wonderful beers, and more than enough to build up a considerable bank of credibility for the brewer in my book.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

#328: Blackeyed

I am more than prepared to eat, or indeed drink, my words. When I - and many other beer folk loitering on Twitter in Ireland - found out that Brewdog's canned imperial stout was hitting the shelves with a price tag of €11.95 I scoffed and virtually shook my head and said "well really". Sure enough, a combination of The Beer Nut and Matthew Curtis (follow both) pointed out that 1) it would be roughly the same price here as it is direct from the brewer, a rarity in Ireland's alcohol tax landscape and 2) that the bourbon barrels, vanilla and particularly the Vietnamese coffee beans used are pretty expensive stuff. Still, it's a €12 can of beer 12.7% ABV or not.

Obviously, the beer in question is Black Eyed King Imp - Vietnamese Coffee Edition. Obviously I only went and bought one. Obviously it turned out to be rather good.

Obviously it's pitch black with a brown head but this doesn't stay long. The first vapour wave to cascade from the glass is a smooth sweet vanilla thing - thankfully not a whack of bourbon - though it does come with a slice of wood. All the characteristics you'd expect from the additions are there; dark chocolate, vanilla, espresso - it's quite difficult to separate the beer from the additions, in fact. From this, I guess you have to accept it as a well integrated beer the likes of KBS but with all the character and intensity that I never got from bottled KBS. It's not dramatically complex but it is incredibly rich, delivering plenty of dessert-like characteristics and balancing black bitterness. I was hoping for the sort of savoury turn that Bourbon County Vanilla had, but I suppose more patience is required for that sort of thing to develop; here, the cask influence is much more of a syrupy, full-on bourbon player.
All in all, it works bloody well and is the closest I've come to reliving the wonders of the aforementioned Bourbon County Vanilla Brand stout from a couple of years ago.

So for all my initial naysaying I inevitably recommend this, and I even recommend tucking one away for a while.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

#327: Thursday Morning Comeback

I lengthy application process for a post grad diploma in Brewing and Distilling (it worked, wahoo!), a number of artistic projects, a busy work schedule and, perhaps most devastating of all, a long post-in-progress that I never saved and lost to the ether all conspired to keep me off this blog for quite some time. Indeed, I was glad to forget about it and consign it to the scrapheap for a while, such was my preoccupation.
But, there is a gap in that mess this morning and I am nothing if not persistent so here is the only collection of beer notes I am bothered to salvage from the many logged last year; after this, it's winter 16/17 onwards and no looking back.

We will look quite a ways back for now though, all the way to August of last year and a quick roundup of beers that were had out and about in Amsterdam.

Neerlands Wild
We start, as ever, in 't Arendsnest, with Emelisse's Oak Aged Imperial Stout, the Ardbeg version. As a 9%er it's robust, dry and bitter but lacking any sign of that booze. Alas, it also lacks any sign of Islay. It is smoky, but in a rather more Irish, roasted barley kind of way. It's in no way bad, but you don't get a great return for the ABV or the cask.

My sweet tooth pulled me then towards Jopen's rye wine, Don't tRye This At Home. And yes, it sweet. It's murky, sugary but not cloying, offering a satisfying dessert beer thing along the lines of Schneider's Aventinus, minus some spice. Chewy toffee syrup-smothered malts form the main effect and the whole thing nicely scratched an itch.

Next up is Neerlands Wild from Klein Duimpje. It's dark and sour to start with, all pulped red berries. There are some really big woody tannins that elbow into the middle and dominate proceedings. What's worse is that this soon reveals itself to be some bourbon-barrel hamfistedness the likes of which Alltech have been perfecting over the years; shades of the good stuff - balsamic vinegar, juicy red fruit - are completely lost amidst coarse, bitter wood shavings. Tough going.

The only other bar I visited in Amsterdam itself was Craft and Draft on Overtoom. As it's part of the same empire as the Arendsnest and Bier Temple, there were a couple of overlaps on the tap list, but Craft and Draft had beer from absolutely everywhere. Still, I stayed Dutch with Noordtwaarts Saison, brewed for Morebeer at Noordt. It's dry if not bone dry, but has a decent peppery scrubbing effect, leaving it tasty, light and incredibly easy to drink. I'm not sure whether they were indicative of an actual spice addition or not but there's also some coriander and lemon in the otherwise caramel-toned finish. Pleasant stuff, if not quite Dupont territory. 

When I ordered De Prael's Scotch Ale I thought I was getting something along the lines of Dirty Bastard or Scotch Silly - you know, a chewy, toffee malt number. Instead I'm presented with a pale, orangey, honey-nosed thing; there are sweet floral bouquets and an odd streak of meaty rauchbier smoke that I guess was a misguided approximation of Islay peat. It's a bit bloomy, mushroomy even, with flashes of what might be heather. Or maybe those are the quiet bagpipes looping in the back of my mind as I sip. Either way it's interesting and quite nice.

Bald Eagle
Still, I had been looking for a less sophisticated sugar-bomb and I came closer to the mark with The Big Fat 5, an 8% IPA that is also a Morebeer release, this time brewed by 't Uiltje. It oozes pungent, ripe fruit of the banana, mango and pineapple sort, with a sweetness reminiscent of similarly flavoured baby food. Ditto says the palate, a sweet tutti frutti mix that won't stand as classic DIPA stuff in my book, but is a fun and fruity change of pace all the same. The body remains surprisingly light, which helps with drinkability at first, but by the of even the wee glass I had, I'd seen enough of the beer.

Kompaan's Bloedbroeder is where I finished up and it's a particularly meaty, bloody and sharply smokey stout. At 9% it doesn't carry the usual trappings a big stout; no booze, no chew, no real body or depth. It plays like a porter of half its size and while it may be objectively interesting, it didn't quite do it for me.

Unsurprisingly, later in the week I found myself back by the canal - this time a much sunnier one - outside the Arendsnest. Inevitably, I had another Morebeer DIPA in my hand, this time Bald Eagle brewed at Kees. It's beautifully fresh and tropical fruit nose lasts about two minutes in the direct sunlight before it develops a streak of cardboardy skunk but, thankfully, this only affects the nose. It's smooth and full bodied and drinks way too easy for its 8%, but that juice has to go somewhere.

Oedipus were back on the menu with Frazzled, a farmhouse stout with blueberries. It's mainly dry and definitely blueberried, with a murky and muddy purple-capped appearance to show for its weird fermentation and fiddling processes. Light and slightly tart as it is, it's surprisingly easy to drink, with a small blackcurrant cordial sweetness hiding in the middle.

The penultimate beer to report is Archimedes Q, a porter (geddit?) from Amsterdam's own Butcher's Tears. Porter my arse, this is sour red stuff right out the gap, with a finish of those Caffé Noir biscuits that they should really stop making. A helping of woody tannins gives you a clue as to what's been going on, but this is beautiful stuff. The mixture of sour, juicy Flanders red and respectably roasty elements is a new one on me, but Butcher's Tears have made it work wonderfully.

Finally, and rather underwhelmingly, is All Black, a foreign stout from Stanislaus Brewskovitch. It's dry and beefed-up and all well and good, but ultimately nothing more than an average, roasty stout.