30 April 2007

Umberto's Ekò

There are a couple of vaguely interesting looking Italian beers in the shops which I must get round to at some point, but yesterday I spotted one I'd never seen before: an organic lager from Balvano called Ekò ("The Biologic Beer" says the label in comedy English).

On opening the 33cl bottle there's a wonderful and promising malt aroma. It's a pure malt beer and makes no secret of it. Pouring produces a fairly tight head and a body which is not so much cloudy as filled with discernible floating bits. The label reassures us that this is merely an effect of the organic production method. So far so good with the lumpy beer.

The malt is right up front in the taste, and the hops isn't too far behind, but it falls down in the aftertaste which has that musty quality I associate most with Red Stripe. Additionally the bitterness of the hops tends towards sourness. The bottle was fresh so I'm fairly sure this is part of the flavour, but it's not to my taste. One more slightly disappointing organic beer.

28 April 2007

The facts about the legend

Well, I promised I would get some Hobgoblin for blogging purposes, and here we are.

I'm impressed, first of all, by the tight creamy head straight out of the bottle. The beer is a deep ruby-amber colour and, despite the creaminess, is exquisitely bitter. There's no trace of the caramel sweetness you sometimes get with this sort, but that's OK: it's not over-hopped and possesses the warm heart of all the best English ales.

It's the sort of beer you can settle in for a few of, though that's probably more economical somewhere where it doesn't cost €3.49 a bottle, i.e. not Dublin.

So here ends the Beer Nut's second year. I've a sad feeling that the third won't feature quite as much travel as the previous two, but I will keep reporting on the interesting and mundane from these shores until normal service is resumed.

Did I mention I'm going to Barcelona on Wednesday?

15 April 2007

Character with a capital K

Hertog Jan is one of the bigger Dutch beer brands, owned by InBev and producing a variety of beers. I didn't get a chance to try any of them on my recent visit, but I did bring home a bottle of their Karakter speciaalbier. This is a strong red-amber ale with powerful forest fruit flavours: a little like a souped-up version of the Rodenbach beers. The 7.5% alcohol comes through in the flavour, and it could pass for more given its heady aroma and chewy texture. There is a smoothness at the end, though, suggesting that it isn't meant to be taken completely seriously. A character indeed.

14 April 2007


The list of decent English quaffing ales is endless and I'm no more trying to put together an extensive archive of them than I am of Belgian beers. My most recent discovery is Fuller's ESB, a light tannic bitter with a slight tea-like flavour, reminiscent of Theakston's, though with a stronger dose of hops.

Bury St Edmunds (the BSE of the title, in case you thought I was suggesting bitter as a cure for brain disease) brewing giant Greene King make an ale which is definitely not for quaffing: their Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale. This is an almost flat, deep red beer which gave me three distinct flavour notes: caramel, smoke and toffee. It's not complex, as such, but it's definitely interesting and worth savouring.

13 April 2007

Nun better

Other than the two league divisions, my brewpub listings to the left there aren't ranked in order of preference, but if I had to pick one favourite it would probably be 't IJ in Amsterdam. I didn't get a chance to pay a visit last week, but I did discover another brewpub in the Dutch capital. De Beekerde Suster is on the site of a former convent at the edge of the red light district and the name ("The Reformed Sister") commemorates a local woman who moved from one of the available lifestyles to the other.

History aside, they had three beers from the on-site brewery on tap: Blonde Ros is a Belgian style blonde beer, trying to be like Leffe but suffering from a fatal touch of blandness. It's slightly cloudy with a vague corny-grainy taste, but nothing to write home about. Their witbier, Witte Ros, is a much better proposition, being light and lemony with a hint of spice as a northern European witbier should have, but also carrying the frothy softness of German weissbier. A well-constructed beer. The last of the three was Proefbier, which I think is a seasonal. It's a strong golden ale, similar to a tripel, but sweeter, with a honey-like aftertaste. An interesting change from the usual Trappist offerings.

They also had a beer of the month on draught: Liefman's Jan van Gent: an amber-brown fruity ale, pleasant in its own way, though points off for permitting outside beers into the brewpub.

This place is worth a look if you are looking for something different from the standard Amsterdam brown café, but really a trip out to 't IJ can't be recommended highly enough.

09 April 2007

Hymn to the Brown Café

I'm just back from a few days in the Netherlands, reacquainting myself with their fantastic brown café bars and the endless variety of Low Countries beer on offer.

This post is partly to introduce some new beers, but also to put in a proper entry on ones I haven't mentioned. Corsendonk Pater, for instance, is a fairly common abbey beer, deep brown with a slightly odd bittersweet flavour. St. Feuillien Brune is lighter, drier and fizzier, almost geuze-like, despite a full 7.5% alcohol and the characteristic caramel sweetness of this kind of ale. Affligem Dubbel, in my opinion, is a step down: a promising spicy foretaste is followed up with nothing much, just a dryness lacking any fruit flavour or the warmth of a well-rounded ale. Most disappointing of the abbey beers, however, was Maredsous 6: an amber ale which, by Belgian standards, is almost tasteless.

Last summer I visited De Halve Maan in Bruges and was surprised that they weren't selling Straffe Hendrik. I found it in Delft, however, featuring the half moon on the label but no mention of the brewery: the beer is made elsewhere by Liefman's. Straffe Hendrik is a fizzy, orange-coloured ale, fairly dry, but with fruity aromatic overtones. La Chouffe is actually made in a small brewery and is another golden ale. It's tasty but unchallenging at first, gradually building a peppery aftertaste as it warms.

St. Louis Kriek was a new one on me and quite a pleasant find. It's one of the lighter krieks, akin to Timmerman's, with a sweet kirsch-like aroma. Conversely, I knew Hoegaarden's winter beer Verboten Vrucht from old, but hadn't tasted it in years. I was a little disappointed, finding the taste of dried fruit a touch off-putting, especially since it lacked the roundness one would expect with a matured beer like this. Instead, it finishes up rather sharp.

On the subject of Belgian giants, I bought a Palm just to try it for the first time in ages. It's extremely ubiquitous in Belgium and the Netherlands and is really quite good. It's a frothy amber light ale (though at 5.2% not exactly light by most ale standards) and carries a fairly pleasant sugary aftertaste. It's not a beer that requires concentration, but it's well put together all the same. Palm also make a stronger version called Royale - the same colour but a richer sweeter, smoother taste. Perhaps a little too refined, in fact.

One of the big local breweries in the south Netherlands is Gulpener. They make a strong but easy-drinking superlager called Gladiator which has the same syrupy taste as most of this sort. Korenwolf (the name means "hamster", apparently) is their wheat beer, and rather better. It has a good nose and good spice, but finishes rather dry - not as dry as the French like it, but a fair bit drier than the Belgian witbier norm.

One thing I was really looking forward to on the trip was some oud bruin. I don't know what the target market is for this quintessential Dutch beer-style: oud bruins are very low in alcohol, deep brown in colour and candy-caramel-sweet. Brand Oud Bruin is rather poor, tasting of saccharine in spades, but slightly redeemed by a subtle smoke flavour. Heineken Oud Bruin is streets ahead: incredibly smooth and easy-drinking. I just wish it came in bottles bigger than 30cl.