30 May 2005

Dubbel Scots

Those Scots and their Belgian-style dubbels. Who'd've thought they'd be so damn good at it? I've long been a huge fan of the Heather Ale Company's Alba, which is made from Scots pine trees and is fantastically sweet and smooth. I used to get it from the Celtic Whiskey Shop in Dublin, but they've tragically cut back on their beer selection, probably because I was the only one buying the stuff.

They have kept a few things beyond the cans of Guinness for the tourists, however, and on a recent visit I picked up a bottle of Skullsplitter from the Orkney Brewery. I guess I was expecting some class of extra-strength stout (the label was big on history, short on description). It turned out to be a rich brown barley wine and a great excuse to use my Westmalle glass which doesn't get as much use as I'd like. Skullsplitter has a woody-smoky kind of taste, though not in the least overpowering. Damn good stuff, though I think I'd marginally prefer an Alba, given the choice.

And long live Scottish craft brewing.

24 May 2005

Maguire's Weiss update

The Weiss recipe has changed again at Maguire's. The new version is an improvement on the last, the overwhelming flavour this time being oranges.

23 May 2005

Sedimental journey

I hadn't intended for my weekend's drinking to have a theme, it just turned out that way.

On the roster were three beers I'd been meaning to try for ages but hadn't got round to, and all with their gritty little secrets.

First up was Hen's Tooth. I'm a big fan of Old Speckled Hen, so I thought it only just to give the reserve beer a go. I wasn't disappointed: it's incredibly smooth and delicately flavoured, very similar to the best pints of draught cask ale I've had in Britain. And it has a hefty 6.5% strength, so much more satisfying than the 3-4.5% that ales tend to hover around. And surprisingly, the sediment didn't get in the way. I did my best to keep it out of the glass, but some of it ended up suspended in my pint. Didn't affect the flavour though, or at least not unpleasantly.

Continuing on the enhanced editions theme, I tried a bottle of Aventinus Eisbock. Schneider Weisse is my favourite German beer, and their Aventinus is great too, so I figured the concentrated Aventinus was definitely worth a go, despite the €5.50 price tag. No strength on the label was the first black mark. I read, however, that it's around 12%. This is the same as Bush, Belgium's strongest beer, and the taste was similar too: ultra-heavy and very cloying. After a few sips I managed to get into it, but it's hard, chewy work. A 330ml bottle and a considerable quantity of sediment meant that at least the experience was curtailed slightly. This stuff is an acquired taste for sure, and given the price I'm not sure it's wholly worth the effort.

Last up was a beer I've seen many times but hadn't considered buying because it looks so unassuming: Cooper's Sparkling Ale. Australian beer for me is limited to Toohey's Extra Dry and Carlton Cold, and even then only when I'm actually in Australia and have limited choice (though I do recall a great Carlton Cold drinks promtion in an Irish bar in Hong Kong some years back). Recently while trawling the Internet for beer suggestions I happened across a review of Cooper's Sparkling that made enormous claims for it -- a true connoisseur's beer, a proper ale from a country where beer terminology is badly abused. However, while it does stand above its compatriots, this stuff just can't cut it in a European context. The taste just isn't bold enough, leaving it watery and having an annoying fine sediment. I can completely understand why one would turn to this if VB or Toohey's New was your only other option, but otherwise I don't get it. One for the ex-pats only, methinks.

18 May 2005

Beck's XL

While getting my Bateman's fix in Aldi, I discovered Breda Royal Lager among the varied weird-and-cheap beer selection. It's Dutch, it does a very good impression of Beck's, and it comes in a wonderfully swiggable 660ml bottle for just €1.99. For those parties when you just can't be arsed fighting your way back to the kitchen.

17 May 2005

The trouble with Bateman's

The trouble with Bateman's XXXB is one of temperature. "Serve cool but not chilled" it says on the label. Having conducted extensive experiments in this I know why: too cold and you lose the flavour, room-temperature and the bitterness (which is its major positive characteristic) becomes overpowering. Having rejected the chill-then-let-stand method as insufficiently precise, I have discovered that ten-minutes-in-the-freezer is the best approach.

The great thing about Bateman's is that Aldi flog it for €1.99, though I suspect that it's not really a pile-em-high product here in Dublin. Since Redmond's of Ranelagh sell it for €3.75 a pop, however, I know where I'm going to be stocking up for as long as I can.

16 May 2005

Enjoying my Brazilian

On a trip to a distant and exotic off licence in West Dublin I chanced upon Bravara lager from Brazil. Quite enjoyable, especially on a hot day after some vigorous DIY. Unfortunately there are a million beers that fit this remit too, Corona for instance, and most of them are cheaper. Still: Brazilian beer. Another pin in the map.

13 May 2005

Messrs Maguire: an appraisal

Even though I rank it below the Porterhouse in the microbrewery stakes (see side column), I spend more time in Maguire's than I do in the Porterhouse. This is mainly because of its better location and bigger size (thus likelihood of a seat).

So why isn't it one of my favourites? Well, there's my own personal snobbery to start with: as well as their own brews, Maguire's serves the popular mass-produced beers sold in every other city centre bar. Of course, they have to do this to afford to maintain such a big premises in such a prime location. I should be taking the microbrewery as an added bonus rather than whining, but I'll stick to my guns on this one because I think the drinking tastes of Ireland and her visitors should be changed, and I derive great personal amusement from seeing people in the Porterhouse being told they can't have Guinness.

However, the main reason I feel let down by Maguire's is its unreliability. In fairness, when they do seasonals they do cracking ones, but such availability occurs between long periods of minimal choice. Today, for instance, only three of the seven supposed house beers were on tap (I had a Rusty, which is a very close contender in the Irish red ale stakes). Not only does the range fluctuate, the flavours do too. Last year they changed the recipe of their excellent Weiss and made it even better, making it darker and spicier. And then they changed it again into something yellow that tastes like soap. I firmly believe in the master-brewer's right to muck about with his recipes, but do us a favour and warn us first, or sell the new stuff under a different name.

I'm whining too much about Maguire's. I dearly love the fact that we have a microbrewery right in the heart of Dublin, and my negative experiences there are outweighed by many many positives. Just a bit more attention to the needs of the beer nuts would be much appreciated.

07 May 2005

Porter Lune

On the experiment roster for tonight was Dark Side Stout from New Zealand's (excruciatingly named) Brew Moon brewery.

It's bloody nice. It's really really dark and thick and chocoloately. Reminds me a little of Guinness's Foreign Extra Stout, though with less treacle and more chocolate. It's pretty robust at 5.6%, though has an odd fizz to it. What is it about the Pacific and fizz?

And, joy-of-joys, Redmond's are disposing of it for 50c a bottle. A refill sooner rather than later, methinks.

If you like interesting stout, you should give this one a go. Though if you like interesting stout you probably don't need me to tell you. As you were.

Going west

Popped into top offy Redmond's of Ranelagh on my way home this evening for a browse. As well as some regular supplies (mostly Maeve's) I picked up a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, for a try.

I was quite impressed. I have had some bad run-ins with American beer in the past (proper beer - not industrial run-off), but this was among the better ones. The fizz was a bit unexpected in something claiming to be bottle conditioned, but it quite suited the crisp sharpness of the beer overall. However it still suffered from a lack of depth: I've yet to find an American beer that has the satisfying roundness of a European ale (though the guys at Allagash come close). Still, pale and crisp was presumably what they were going for and they can't be faulted for achieving it.

A plus for putting the strength on the label, though a minus for the absence of a formal ingredients list. How do you Americans do it? How do you buy beer without even knowing how loaded it's going to get you?

All in all, a positive experience, but given the hefty price tag I think mine'll be a Duvel next time, I'm afraid.

06 May 2005

Shocked, stunned and not remotely amazed

Went to The Stag's Head after work and ordered a pint of Beckett's. I can't have one, I'm told. "The Dublin Brewing Company are no longer with us". I didn't push it, since getting a straight answer out of a publican on such matters is like trying to nail jelly to a raindrop, suffice it to say I'm disappointed. Over my pint of Guinness (in fairness, the Stag's does a good Guinness) I lamented the passing of decent beer from a decent hostelry and a step backwards in the fight against the oligopoly of corporate giants in the Irish drinks industry.

I will get to the bottom of what happened here.

03 May 2005

Not that I'm bitter

I spent the long weekend in England's West Midlands. While trying to squeeze as much quality ale into very little time I am sorry to report that I didn't get a chance to sample Banks's: the local brew and therefore the yardstick by which all else should be measured.

My top find was Hobson's Mild, a very light and tasty ale with a gorgeous deep red hue. That was in Pennyblack's in Birmingham's Mailbox. I was drawn in by Casque Mark displayed in the window and wasn't disappointed. While there I succumbed to the power of marketing and ordered a pint of What The Fox Hat, though it wasn't the perplexing experience the name suggests, just a fairly normal pale bitter with that slightly sharp edge.

Out at Ironbridge on Sunday I sat in the sun outside The White Hart and enjoyed a couple of pints of Abbot's: slightly sharp, but still way better than most of what passes for draught ale over here in Ireland.

Two other dalliances with cask ale were in The Hill and the Briar Rose: Broadside and Castle Eden Ale respectively. Neither worthy of special comment within their surroundings, but again the sort of stuff England should be proud of.

The Briar Rose is a Wetherspoons, a chain I have a huge amount of respect for. Their corporate responsibility and general policy of common sense regarding their customers and their products is to be admired. I suspect it's one of those things the British take for granted or complain about, like the NHS and the rail network. I was disappointed I didn't get my Theakston's fix, though. Wetherspoon's can normally be relied on for Theakston's, even in Northern Ireland where it is a very strange and exotic substance indeed. But alas, in Birmingham, it was not to be.

On to the dregs, then. Went to Santa Fé in the Mailbox too. It had a fairly impressive beer list, beyond the obvious (San Miguel and Corona). I tried their own-brand organic lager which managed to taste of just about nothing. Water with yellow colouring counts as organic, right?

The first watering stop of the weekend was in a cavernous super-theme-pub. Having given up any chance of there being a cask ale on offer I examined the taps and saw that Tetley's was about the nearest thing available. Deciding not to be so gauche as to order it by name I asked for "a pint of bitter", for when in England one must do as the English do. The Australian barkid looked confused and leaned over to shout into a back room "Is Tetley's bitter?" That was bookended with a swift Worthington's at the airport last night and the reflection that the English, in terms of beer variety and quality, have things so much better than us.