25 May 2007

1 blond, 1 hooker

I finished the Beerhall Challenge today while watching the election results come in. The last noteworthy beer was Vedett, a lager from the Duvel people which comes in a Duvel-shaped bottle but green rather than brown. It's a quite strong (5.2%) lager with a high malt character, reminiscent of Beck's. Dunno if I'd buy this one again. It's good, but lots of people make this kind of thing.

ICB put the word out yesterday that a single test keg of Galway Hooker had been tapped at the Bull & Castle. Having only recently heard about this one I had been dying to try it and was not disappointed. This is an amazing beer and all the more astounding for being made in Ireland. The makers claim "Irish Pale Ale" is a new genre, which I was a bit sceptical about but now I can see where they're coming from. This has a touch of the caramel of the classic Irish red, but also a whole lot of the green, vegetal hops of the textbook IPA. Galway Hooker is amazing stuff. The sooner this is in every bar in the country and exported worldwide as the real taste of Ireland, the better.

24 May 2007

Vote red

It's been a tradition of mine that after voting I go to the local (whose doors I rarely darken) for a pint. Today is the first election day since this blog began and I'm using it to report on my pint of choice in said local (and Peter's Pub, which is the only other Dublin pub I regularly find it): Beamish Red. Beamish Stout is dreadful muck, but their nitro-red is rather better than the competition from Caffrey's, Kilkenny or Murphy's. Like all of them it's smooth past the point of blandness, but if you're paying close attention there's a faint kick of ripe strawberries at the end which makes the whole thing worthwhile. That, and the fact that my local charges a mere €3.40 a pint (up 40c from last election day, mind).

Beamish Red: Drink early, drink often

23 May 2007

The irony of Asian lager

How come there's a Singapore beer called Tiger and a Thai beer called Singha? What's that about, eh?

Anyway, Singha is one I've seen on sale for years and years but today was the first time I'd tried it. Expecting a basic hot-country lager, I was surprised. In strength it resembles the Munich lagers, weighing in at 6%, and it has a similar well-honed smoothness. But instead of the Bavarian sweetness, this has a dry and slightly sharp malty bite. Isn't it great when a beer turns out to be more interesting than you expected?

22 May 2007

American Indian

Honorable mention was given a couple of days ago to Goose Island IPA, though I noted it wasn't what I would regard as your classic India Pale Ale. Today the Beerhall Challenge threw another American IPA at me: the one made by Sierra Nevada. This is much more on the money as far as my personal beer taxonomy goes. Above all it has full-on green and bitter hops tang. It's one of those great beers that still tastes big no matter how cold it arrives. Just a shame about the tiddly bottle: next time, mine's a pint.

20 May 2007

Delira, excira, etc

Another one from the I-can't-remember-what-it-tastes-like department is Delirium Tremens, famed for its pink elephant heraldry and speckled faux-stone bottle. What you get is a golden ale of subtle complexity, carrying spice and sherbet along with a grainy dryness. If you cross a heavy Trappist tripel with a prickly Brussels geuze you get something frivilous and fun like this.

18 May 2007

Goosey früht

For some reason kriek gets a bad rap from many serious beer fanatics. I am an unashamed kriek fan, however, and enjoy both the zesty fruity ones (Timmerman's, Liefmans) and the drier, more mature sort (Bellevue, Lou Pepe). Since the cherries are more of an add on (to make geuze more palatable), most kriek-makers also make a variety of other fruit-enhanced beers. Nobody, to my knowledge, does a range quite like Floris. The selection extends beyond fruit into honey, chocolate and cactus(!). Not surprisingly, these aren't all as delicately crafted as the beers of more specialised labels. Floris Kriek, for example, is a super-sweet syrupy kriek. The label boasts that 30% of it is macerated fruit. The underlying beer is rather rougher and fizzier than your typical Belgian lambic, giving the whole product a thrown-together feel. That's not to say it doesn't work as kriek, however: the cherry concentrate makes for a similar sensation to eating cherry pie. Just, if you are planning to reappraise your kriek opinion, don't start with this one.

Which brings me to la pièce de la résistance of the the Beerhall Challenge: Goose Island IPA. Well, it's not an IPA as I understand it, in the English vernacular. It's quite green tasting: hops comes right to the fore of the taste. It arrives via an explosion of fizz and flavour, and lasts right into the aftertaste. English beer has conditioned me to look for a complexity that this Yank doesn't have, but it's a damn good ale, and one you could drink quite a few of without feeling overstretched.

The other new beer from the challenge sheet is Früh, a German kölsch. My only experience of kölsch hitherto is that made by the Porterhouse, which I found just that bit too dry. Früh is better, though. It's dry but more subtly so, allowing more of the malt to come forward. Like the Goose Island, it's not terribly demanding and engineered to make you order another.

The Challenge continues...

17 May 2007

Kwak goes the Bishop

When I was a nipper my parents would buy The Sunday Times every week. I remember being fascinated by the ads for exotic beers only available in Britain. One of these was something called Bishop's Finger. I'm fairly sure that I bought some the first time I saw it on sale in Ireland, but that was long ago. The Bull & Castle Beerhall Challenge brought it my way again and I confess to having no memory of what it's like. What it's like is bitter -- loads and loads of hops, backed-up by a caramel sugar sweetness. It's not bittersweet; it's bitter and sweet completely separately. Whether the double taste sensation is your kind of thing is up to yourself. It was a bit too much for me. I was much more impressed by another Shepherd Neame brew: the blue-label 1698. This is a much mellower affair, sweet and fruity and artfully constructed. I'd take this one over anything else made by Shepherd Neame. I've already mentioned their lacklustre Spitfire, and of course they make an organic ale, called Whitstable Bay. Once again, it's a disappointing organic: slight, verging on bland, with only a hint of the caramel and hops of the Big Finger. Its green credentials are also compromised by the fact that the hops are flown all the way to Kent from New Zealand. Who buys this stuff?

Another turn-up for the challenge sheet was Kwak. Everybody whose familarity with Belgian beer goes beyond Stella must be aware of the one served in the silly flask in the wooden frame. I had a memory of it being just that bit too heavy to enjoy, but I think my tastes have changed since I last had it. Kwak is one of the lightest beers in the "liquid bread" category: dark, sweet, chewy and quite delicious. I won't be so dismissive next time I see it.

I must say I'm really enjoying being forced to drink beer I'd never normally order. Coming up is one Goose Island IPA,which has been described by ICB members and the Bull & Castle management in the sort of terms that felines might describe catnip. To say I'm intrigued is an understatement...

16 May 2007

All Boon and no Bull

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I recently went off on one about Dublin off-licences. The same rant pretty much applies to Dublin pubs as well: that despite their international reputation the vast majority are peddling industrially-manufactured blandness to meet customer demand for same.

Dublin's two brewpubs are exceptions, as is the Bull & Castle, a new gastropub operated by the FXB restaurant chain which opened last year on the site of the Castle Inn. On my first visit I noticed that they were taking their beer seriously and had a fairly extensive and interesting list. My review of Árainn Mhór Rua was based on a bottle from their stocks. I thought little more about the place until the lads over at Irish Craft Brewer mentioned that the Bull & Castle had opened a beerhall and begun "The Beerhall Challenge" -- challengees are given a shortlist of 30 beers to drink (responsibly, without a time limit) and on completion are awarded an engraved glass kept on the premises for their personal use. Last night I signed up. There are very few beers on the list that I haven't already tried and I've already made mention here of a number of them, but any that are new to me or otherwise worthy I will be blogging about.

So, from last night's tastings came Oude Gueze Boon : one of the super-dry, golden lambics made in Brussels, spontaneously fermented by naturally-occurring yeast that lives wild in the area. The supreme champion of this style is Cantillon, made at a craft brewery which doubles as the Gueze Museum. The version Boon make isn't half bad. The nose is very similar to Cantillon -- the dry earthiness of brick-vaulted cellars. On the palate it just tips over into being sour, which I'm sure is intended, but which makes it that little bit harder to drink. You wouldn't necessarily be adding fruit syrup to it, but you can see why some people might.

I strongly urge anyone in Dublin and interested in decent beer to get up to the Bull & Castle. It has certainly opened my eyes regarding what an Irish pub can be. This the The Beer Nut's 100th post and I feel like I'm just getting started...

12 May 2007

I quit

A couple of weeks ago I noticed a new posh offy had opened in Harold's Cross. D Six is attached to Peggy Kelly's pub, and yesterday I called in on my way home. Despite the trendy dark wood and bottles in baskets, the beer selection was the normal poor Dublin standard, dominated by the industrial brewers and alcopops, with three quarters of the "World Beers" section being Polish lager. I realised a few weeks earlier that I had tried almost everything on sale in Carville's on Camden Street and was afraid that I was running out of new beers to try. I'd even trekked all the way to award-winning Gibney's of Malahide where I found a couple of new brews, but nothing inspiring. I was quite despondent about the whole thing.

Until this afternoon when I made a long overdue trip to Redmond's of Ranelagh. Redmond's used to be a slight detour on my way home from work but is now well out of my way. However, in contrast with just about every other beer retailer in the city, they seem to be expanding the range of beers on sale. So, I hereby recant my faith in any off licence in Dublins 2, 6, 6W and 12 to supply new and interesting beers, with the sole exception of the aforementioned Redmond's. Where do I nominate them for a humanitarian award?

All that said, my beers for this post are fairly common ones. I've had both of them before but so long ago that I couldn't remember what they're like. They're both from Yorkshire's Black Sheep Brewery (founded by a dissenting member of the Theakston family and named accordingly). Black Sheep Ale is an exercise in bi-polarity. It starts off with a big, upfront bitter hops kick but follows this very quickly with slabs of caramel sugar. Holy GrAil is an altogether smoother, blander affair, warm and easy-going.

Rant over. Review over. Normal service will resume shortly.

11 May 2007

Dos cervezas

On a random shelf sweep in the basement of El Corte Ingles in Barcelona last week I picked up a bottle of the store's own-brand Cerveza Especial. The specialness was made quite apparent by the black label and gold writing. Mmmm, classy. This strong (7%), corn-based lager pours to a fairly tight head leaving extensive lacing on the glass. The taste is mostly dry, with slightly syrupy notes. The corn gives it a marked aftertaste as well: like Wotsits without the cheese dust. It's an odd one. Sorry, special.

I also took home a bottle of Bohemia, from Mexico. It's a very pale blond colour and I was expecting it to be yet another ordinary hot country lager. It's not though. I wouldn't be too sure of my formal nomenclature here, but I'd class this as a golden ale in the Flemish style typified by Duvel. It's lighter, bitterer and gassier than most of these, however. Out of context I've no idea if this is a poor imitation of golden ale, or a standard Mexican beer, or even a pilsener gone wrong (which is how Duvel was created). Suffice it to say it's slightly interesting, but not something you'd pick above just about any European competitor. However, there's nowhere near enough North American beer on this blog, so now there's one more.

06 May 2007

Wot no cream? Wot no oysters?

Having thoroughly enjoyed their Old-Style Porter recently, I expected big things of St. Peter's Cream Stout when I eventually tracked it down. I confess to being a little disappointed. Don't get me wrong: it's really really good stout, but I was anticipating something, well, creamy. This one is a very heavy dense stout, deep black in colour and with barely any gas. It is very sweet, with a caramel aroma and an overriding burnt toffee flavour. Yet, right at the end, there's that back-of-the-throat dryness of the sort you only get from quality stout. Next time I'm in the market for a half-litre of black beer which requires a mortgage, however, I think I'll stick with the Old-Style.

On the subject of English stout, I also recently acquired a bottle of Marston's Oyster Stout. The Oyster made by the Porterhouse in Dublin (from oysters) is one of my favourite stouts, so I felt it necessary to check out the competition. First of all, there is no indication on the bottle whether it is actually made with oysters or not. There is no list of ingredients, just warnings about the barley and malt. I had to go to the web site to find that it is, in fact, mollusc-free.

And that's not the only thing missing. Some of this could be down to an unfair comparison with the super-premium St. Peter's, but I found the Marston's almost devoid of any flavour. It's slightly dry; it's slightly bitter; but it's really not much of anything. "Marston's Don't Compromise", apparently. Compromising on this already watery number would indeed be a tough proposition.

05 May 2007


Just back from the Catalan capital, where the beer roost is ruled by Damm, who have a large brewing facility near the airport. Estrella Damm is their plain red-label lager which has the malty weight typical of the region, and which I most associate with San Miguel, also made in Barcelona. Confusingly there's also Estrella Galicia which is made by Hijos De Rivera in La Coruña and tastes exactly the same. San Miguel themselves now make a German-style pilsner called 1516 which is lighter than ordinary San Miguel, being 4.2%. It's a bright golden colour, instead of the brown-gold hue of their basic lager and is sweeter and generally more German tasting. Lastly for the big guys, Moritz is another lager native to Barcelona. This is my favourite of the common lagers available -- a full 5.4% but very light, soft and fluffy. There's a slight bitter aftertaste, though not much else by way of flavour, but the texture makes up for that. If it's hot and you're sinking cold ones, go for the Moritz.

I was last in Barcelona a bit over four years ago and while there I visited La Cervesera Artesana, a pleasant little brewpub up in the Eixample. It was Saturday night but the place was deserted. I remember thinking "Bless them, it's a nice idea, but it looks like it's just not going to last in this town." I fully expected the place to close soon after. So I was very surprised when I did my research for this trip to find not only was it still there, but it now has a web site. I went along yesterday afternoon to sample the wares, finding it drinkerless once again. The most surprising thing is that, while everything is brewed in-house in full sight of the punters, all the brews are nitro kegged. There can't be many microbreweries who do this (for obvious reasons) and it's very strange to get a pint of local brew with three inches of tight foam at the top -- though it did prove useful when some of the local six-legged wildlife took an interest in my beer.

I had time for two "pints", each containing about 400ml of actual liquid. The Iberian Pale Ale bears some passing resemblance to real IPA, but is served totally cold and, coupled with the nitro head, is more reminiscent of Kilkenny or Caffrey's or one of that sort. It's pretty refreshing though, if you're after that cold lager experience with just a smidge more hops to it. Their Iberian Stout is an altogether better proposition, though again nitro-headed and served at arctic temperatures. I reckon they borrowed the Small Brewers' Guide to Good Stout from the local library (in Catalan, of course) because this has a smooth sweetness up front and a dry finish: almost everything a good basic stout should be.

La Cervesera Artesana is the reason my second-rate brewpub index is headed "Top Marks For Effort": it's not terribly impressive as a pub, their beer isn't brilliant, but by God they're trying and they're fiercely proud of what they do. That sort of dedication deserves credit.

Down near where Barcelona meets the Mediterranean is Cerveceria El Vaso De Oro -- a tiny neighboorhood café consisting of a long bar, some stools and very little else: the sort of joint for which the term "watering hole" was coined. It was jam-packed with locals being served platefuls of amazing food from an open kitchen and tall glasses of Rubia, the house märzen. Once again it's typically malty, though sweet and fairly flat. The result is something smooth, easy-drinking but chock full of flavour. Some more choice would be nice, but it's really not that sort of place and I respect that. Thanks, finally, to European Beer Guide without which I'd never have found the place.

Barcelona's beer may indeed be quite mediocre, but I had a great time finding that out.