30 September 2007

The great taste of brut

It's a beer I've been intensely curious about for years, staring at me from the end of the top shelf in Redmond's every time I go in. However, it took my recent visit to Brussels for me to finally buy a bottle of DeuS, attracted by the bargain basement price of €10.

The manual attached to the neck outlines the tortuous method of brewing and conditioning this "brut des Flandres". It's made and bottled in Belgium then shipped to France to mature.

Despite the champagne overtones in the presentation, this is quite a sweet and fruity honey-coloured ale. The strength is a prodigious 11.5% ABV, but it bears no resemblance to the likes of Bush or any other high-alcohol Belgian. Instead, it's a rather light, sippable affair with pronounced overtones of clove and ginger.

DeuS is, by all accounts an odd beer. I don't know if all the work that goes into it is really worthwhile, but it is certainly well-crafted and interesting.

28 September 2007

Bohemian travesty

I have very fond memories of the dark beers of the Czech Republic and was full of anticipation on dropping in to Dublin's Czech ex-pat bar this afternoon. There was a wide selection of taps, and lots of strangers among them. I opted for a Staropramen Granát. Mistake!

This light red-orange coloured beer is possessed of a sharp, acidic and frankly gastric bitterness which put me right off.

I will be back to the pub to try some more of what's on offer, but I won't be touching this again.

24 September 2007

Lacking the lactose

A couple of months ago I complained of undetectable cream in St Peter's Cream Stout. I'm beginning to suspect that brewers' definition of "cream" is very different from mine, since last night I had a Samuel Adams Cream Stout and must confess to being unable to detect any cream here either. It's a rather thin stout, with a sparkly mouthfeel and mild caramel flavours. In fact I'd place it closer to a Vienna lager or some class of dunkel in style, and very much not what I'm after in a stout, or a purportedly creamy beer.

Somebody please explain cream in beer to me. Perhaps too much nitrogenation has ruined my vocabulary.

23 September 2007


The worst bit about organising a crawl around every brewpub in London is ending up with Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" stuck in one's head, except with the word "brewpubs" instead of "werewolves". I think I've just about exorcised it now though. Anyway, you can read the full article on how I got on over at IrishCraftBrewer.com; I'm only here for the beer.

I started at The Cock & Hen and moved on to The Florence, both of which brew two beers. In the former I had a pint of Bonobo, a warm copper-coloured ale with the classic light foam of hand-pumped ale. Like many of the best English bitters, it's complex yet quite light and easy-drinking. Rather than a sharp bitterness, it has a long sour finish and just a touch of a metallic tang at the end. Quality stuff, and I criticise it only for being too much like the better known quality cask bitters. I'm not sure I'd be able to pick this one out in a line-up. I'd give it a go though...

No such criticism for Weasel, the other beer from this stable. It's a dark golden and faintly carbonated ale, but all parallels with the normal summer ales end there. This gives off a heady hops aroma and follows up with zesty citrus hops on the palate. It's a beer that really keeps your attention.

One thing that really surprised me about the London's brewpubs was how similar they are to normal pubs. Just about all of them have a raft of normal beers on tap and only the brewing equipment, where visible, indicates that anything else is going on. Zero Degrees is the only exception I found, with a full set of taps of house beer only. The industrial décor and hipster soundtrack meant it's not the cosiest pub I've ever been in, but I do have a lot of time for this sort of establishment. The seasonal was a pomegranate wheat beer, which was sweet and wheaty but lacked any real fruit power. Much better was the Black Lager: a super-dark, super-thick treacly number, loaded with molasses and burnt caramel. I took my time over it.

Find of the day was another amazing summer ale, this time at Brew Wharf in Borough Market. Orange-hued Wharf Trader is a mere 3.9% ABV but absolutely packed with explosive hops flavours. Almost painfully sharp and quite quite delicious. I also had a brief taste of their Wharf Best, a citric and appley bitter, quite light and pleasant but nowhere near as much fun as its brother.

A quick thanks to Alex and Iain, the brewmeisters of Brew Wharf for taking the time to show me around and chat. Like all the best brewers, these guys love what they do.

I had about three quarters of an hour fantasising about living in Hampstead and having The Horseshoe as my local, while enjoying Hampstead Summer, made by the McLaughlin brewery based in the pub. It's a refreshing golden ale, not totally off the wall, but with definitely more character than any of the bigger brewers' summer ales.

Mash, reputedly a monstrous den of Nathan Barley types in the West End, was intended to be my last stop of the evening, but when I got there the brewpub was bare. And the doors were locked. So my last drinks were earlier in Bünker in Covent Garden, the only one of the lot I'd been to before. It was packed and loud and pretty horrible, but I was quite impressed by the beer. I had a Soho Red, which was rich malty and full-bodied, as well as a taste of the seasonal called Coppa (I think: submit a comment if you know better), a light and fruity ale, passable but a little bland.

An enjoyable, if somewhat exhausting, day out. Most of these establishments are newcomers to the London pub scene, so here's hoping we'll be seeing more on-site brewing in the near future.

But London: where have all the beer mats gone? Are sticky tables some sort of fashion statement? Next time I'm bringing my own.

22 September 2007

Keep your kriek

I made two fruit beer finds in Brussels last week. The first is Mandarin Mortal which struck me first with its incredibly amateur label. Presumably the brewers at Mortal, caring not for image quality, have their minds on more important things. From the mandarins I was expecting something sweet and Fanta-like, but instead got a marvellously bitter and peppery beer with the orange flavours playing second fiddle to the beer complexity. Great stuff and, icing on the cake, served in a stoneware ostrich eggcup. There really aren't enough beers served in stoneware, in my opinion.

The second hit was Bon Secours Myrtille. If your kitchen French isn't up to it (mine isn't) then the blueberries on the label are there to indicate what this is made with. It's dark red and heavily sedimented, giving off a strong blueberry aroma. On tasting, the wheat beer base lends texture, but stands aside to let the delicious sour fruit flavour come to the fore.

Brussels may be best known for making fruit beers from lambic, but so much more is available.

21 September 2007

Yes, Your Majesty

I've a bunch of half-written posts sitting about from my recent travels, but my last fit of buying random German beer also left me with two bottles of König Ludwig which have been telling me they're not getting any fresher every time I open the fridge. For the sake of a quiet life I put them to work this evening.

König Ludwig Dunkel is a dark red-brown colour with a fruit-and-nut aroma. The full body and light fizz make for a superb mouthfeel, but tastewise it's a little disappointing. It makes you work hard to pick out the flavours: nuts again, caramel, a whiff of smoke, and a long dry finish. While it's clearly well put together, I prefer my dunkel to do more of the work for me. I'm just lazy.

Which is why König Ludwig Weissbier is my sort of weiss. There's no beating about with subtlety here, just big phenolic fruit notes and a rich texture that makes it both refreshing and filling. This is a powerful beer and definitely a cut above the usual offerings.

There. That should keep the mad kraut quiet for a bit...

20 September 2007

Stahhht, innit

Work had me back in London today. I went over yesterday to arse about and try a few new beers, of which more later. This post is just a taster of two stouts I had. One was Samuel Smith's Extra Stout, quite a dry and bitter affair, though tasty nonetheless. Full-bodied, with a smidgen of chocolate sweetness at the front.

Tastier yet is kegged Meantime London Porter, a sumptuously rich black beer from the Greenwich craft brewery. There's little by way of dryness or bitterness here, just lashings of sweet chocolate flavours. I hazard that despite not containing any actual chocolate, this is chocolatier than Meantime's Chocolate ale. Meantime London Porter is the perfect dessert beer.

18 September 2007


Of course, any trip to Belgium will involve a fair bit of sticking a pin in the beer menu, especially the three-inch-thick menu of Delirium Café, holder of the official world record for most beers in stock (2004 in total). So, I've a couple of themed posts to do, based partially on beers I brought home, but here's everything else.

First up is Cuvée des Trolls. This is an easy-going but rather bland affair carrying herbal hints but not much else. Also from western Belgium comes Forestinne, a red gold ale which offers much stronger herbal flavours with pronounced pine and juniper notes. Sweet, vaguely medicinal, and very tasty.

My suspicion of honey beers took a knock with Barbar Blond, a quite mild but surprisingly strong (8%) golden ale. The honey flavour isn't very strong, but instead there's a rich malty taste and a heavy filling texture. On a lighter note, there's St Idesbald Blond, clear and refreshing with just a hint of bitterness to it.

Similarly light, golden and refreshing is Rulles Estivale which has just a final bitter hops kick to give it personality. Rulles also make a Tripel which is loaded with tasty bitter fruit and which lingers long on the palate. The same can't be said for Lamoral Tripel, unfortunately, it being rather light, thin and generally disappointing.

Some of the most interesting discoveries were on the darker side of the spectrum. I'm a big fan of Flemish red ales so was expecting much from Bourgogne des Flandres. It pours red-brown and is dry with notes of raisins and fruit-infused tea. There's a lingering sourness which makes it a beer to savour, unlike reds such as Rodenbach which tend to have a short lifespan in my vicinity. Curiously, Bourgogne des Flandres is made using maize but doesn't seem to suffer from this. Good Belgian yeast and blending techniques cover a multitude of sins, I guess.

On this bitterly cold Dublin morning it's hard to believe it was only Wednesday last that I was sitting in the balmy garden of Hopduvel in Ghent, basking in the last of the evening sun. While there, on another menu pin-stick, I tried Grottenbier, a spiced bruin from St Bernardus. As the speleological name suggests, this beer has an earthy characteristic, warm and bitter. It's a little like the aforementioned Flemish reds, just a little heavier.

Finally, my find of the trip and another inductee for The Beer Nut Weird-Stuff-In-Beer Hall Of Fame: Captain Cooker. This is Belgian-made, but on a New Zealand theme, with manuka (tea tree) leaves. I reviewed the sterner New Zealand version, Spruce Beer, last year. This is a much more approachable product, however. It has a sweet perfume aroma and a mild flavour with notes of Parma Violets and eucalyptus. All very refreshing and a marvellous fusion of two brewing traditions.

That's not the end of the posts based on the trip, the others will be trickling through over the coming weeks. Bet you can't wait...

Captain Cooker

17 September 2007

Leffe behind

Yes, yes. I know. In a country so rich in brewing tradition, creating such top quality artisan beers, I shouldn't stoop to the McBelgian mediocrity of InBev-owned Leffe. But occasionally one has no choice. And very occasionally there's something one hasn't tried before. And so, to get it out of the way before I move on, here's my Leffe round-up.

I skipped the sweet sticky Blonde on this trip, so I start with Leffe Brune. This is a deep brown ale, tasting vaguely of chocolate, but ultimately lacking any real distinctive flavour. Slightly more flavoursome is Leffe Radieuse: a malty red; alcoholic and bitter, but still a bit bland at the end of it. My new find was Leffe 9°, a 9% ABV dark ale bearing a royal blue stripe on the label. It tastes heavily alcoholic with a rather chewy texture, and is perhaps the only member of the family that stands up for itself.

Ultimately, the Leffe beers really are pale imitations of the better Belgian ales, and the Trappists in particular. Still, I was impressed by Leffe 9° so I'm not going to write them off completely. When stranded in lagerland they can be a lifesaver.

16 September 2007


Not to be confused with the excellent restaurant of the same name in Ghent, ' t Pakhuis in Antwerp is the city's only brewpub, and I paid a visit on Friday. The décor is in the northern European faux-industrial style of brewery-pub-restaurant, all mezzanines and glass and steel. There are three beers in the repertoire. Antwerps Blond is a cloudy wheatbeer, similar to a German weiss. It's fruity with a hint of dry spice, though a little watery overall. The same problem affects Antwerps Bruin which offers a curious mix of sour Flemish red flavours and caramel notes on top. The latter comes out more as it warms and improves it considerably. Finally, there's Nen Bangelijke, a deceptively powerful clear golden ale. While the strength, colour and glass all resemble the typical Belgian golden ales, the flavour in no way does. This is warm and bitter rather than fruity, and carries overtones of almonds in the aftertaste. Very tasty indeed.

Like any brewpub, 't Pakhuis is one of those places that it's nice to have, just for something different. I wouldn't recommend beating a path to it on arrival in Antwerp, however. Go look at some Rubenses instead.

15 September 2007

Bankers' draught

I was only in Luxembourg for a couple of hours, so what follows, I'm sure, is not representative of Luxemburgish beer, any more than Jupiler, Maes and Stella are representative of Belgium's.

Bofferding is the dominant lager brand, its green and white livery appearing on countless pub signs around the city. The product itself is a smooth and malty golden lager with, I presume, German roots. Bofferding also make Hausbier, a sweet and malty amber lager with a bit of a sour bite.

For something drier, try Battin Gambrinus, a rather bitter pale yellow lager. Good as an aperitif. Turning up the malt quotient, there's Diekirche lager, only 4.8% but packed with taste. And finally there's Mousel: dry, easy-drinking and pretty much as nondescript as it's possible for a lager to be.

Luxembourg is not one of Europe's great beer destinations.

14 September 2007

Coals to Newcastle

Here I am in Brussels, beer capital of the world and my first post is about... Irish stout.

Funny story. On my way to the airport on Tuesday I stopped off at the Bull & Castle for a Galway Hooker. Geoff, the manager, was behind the bar and ushered me upstairs to the glass-fronted cold room for a surprise. It was a surprise all right: it turns out that a craft brewer in Tipperary has been quietly making an Irish stout for export, to Russia mostly, according to a recipe from Dwan's, one of the many independent breweries in Ireland killed off by the multinationals. The result is Black Pearl, in full pint bottles, bearing the original Dwan labels and cap.

So it happened that I began my trip by exporting Irish craft beer to Belgium. Later, ensconced in a Ghent hotel room I opened the bottle. Black Pearl fizzes out, forming a short-lived dark tan head. The mouthfeel is far from fizzy, but marvellously silky. Like the classic Irish stout it is, the taste is dry, offering roasted grains and a pronounced hoppy finish. But there's more: a rich chocolate flavour which, coupled with the silky texture, all adds up to a sublime stout experience.

Brewers tell me that stout is one of the easiest styles to make. So why don't they all taste like this?

Commercial Irish stouts are an occasional topic of conversation on the Irish Craft Brewer forum. The consensus seems to be that bottled Guinness, at room temperature, is the best commercial macrobrewed [see comments] session stout in Ireland. Bottled Guinness is something of a rarity in Dublin pubs, but I was fortunate enough to be able to find one on Tuesday before heading to the airport. Believe the hype: bottled Guinness is lovely. Dry, of course. The taste is fairly mild, but the roasted barley is present in a way you don't find with Guinness draught. It's filling as well: you know you've had a pint at the end of this. But the best bit is the texture, to feel the carbonated prickle of real beer instead of the soulless blandness of nitrogenation.

And so to the airport. Dublin airport has the only bar I know whose supply is entirely controlled by Ireland's third biggest brewer: Scottish & Newcastle-owned Beamish & Crawford. So instead of Guinness/Murphy's and Bud/Heineken, it offers Beamish stout and Kronenbourg 1664 lager. Ack.

I've long had an aversion to Beamish, but I'm not the sort to hold a grudge. So, since it had also been spoken of favourably on the ICB forum, I felt it was time to check again. Beamish is certainly more flavoursome than draught Guinness. It is much much sweeter, but to me it tastes watery. On balance, I think I'd rather have a pint of Guinness draught done well, bland and all that it is.

I can't leave the topic with introducing at least one token Belgian element, so here it is: Leroy Stout. This is a thick black stout with an overwhelming saccharine sweetness. It is quite smooth, but it lacks any roasted or burnt flavours, nor is there chocolate, nor even much by way of hops. A miss, then.

Right, that's the Irish stuff out of the way for a bit. Next up, following a side-trip yesterday, it's The Lagers of Luxembourg.

10 September 2007

Just a taster

I'm going to Belgium tomorrow.
Oh, that felt good. I think I'll write it again.
I'm going to Belgium. Tomorrow.

It's therefore a bit daft of me to have cracked open a bottle of Belgian beer since I'll be drinking little else for the rest of the week, but here we are. The beer in question is a Tripel Karmeliet, from Brussels. It's quite a bit clearer than any of the Trappist tripels, with barely any discernible sediment. The colour is rather more orange than I was expecting. Tastewise, however, it's pretty much bang-on. There's the rich orange-peel fruitiness characteristic of the style, enhanced by the weight of alcohol. In fact, it's only 8%: virtually a session tripel. I'd criticise it only on a lack of spice. There's none of the coriander prickle found in the better-known brands. Still, it'll do to be getting on with, oh yes.

09 September 2007

Darkest Germany

Having seen a variety of it on the shelves in recent times, I decided to conduct some further explorations into dark German beers, expecting to find the results heavy and sweet. That's not how it turned out, though, especially with my first find, Frankenheim Alt. "Old" is almost synonymous with "sweet" in my beer experience, so I was surprised to find this dark German bitingly bitter, sour even, with a rough smoky taste. A quality beer, but not a fun beer.

A much better proposition in this blogger's opinion is Köstritzer Schwarzbier. With the light behind it, this beer will just about admit to being deep red, but is mostly very black indeed. It has quite a gentle taste, with smoke and a hint of caramel. It's still pretty dry though, but in a good way.

Bringing us out into the sweetness and light is Distelhaus Landbier. This is a light tan "dunkle", with a chewy consistency and a sweet toffee flavour that's altogether more fun than the foregoing. Who says Germans can't be frivolous?

08 September 2007

London (not) for beginners

It's 3.30 yesterday afternoon. I've just come out of a meeting in Camden, north London and have arranged with a colleague to meet at Paddington Station at 5 for the train back to Heathrow. At Camden Town tube station I discover that the Northern line is severely disrupted and all service on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines has been suspended. The question: have I time for a quick pint of St. Peter's excellent cask ale at the Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell?
'Course I have.

Had I not been navigating on the hoof I'd have hopped out at Euston, walked to Euston Square, and taken the Metropolitan line to Farringdon. I didn't spot this easy option, however, and opted instead to leg it from Euston, across Bloomsbury, past Gray's Inn field and into Clerkenwell.

I arrived at the Jerusalem in Britton Street at 4.15. It's a strange, simple little pub, furnished in rickety wood and giving the appearance of being held together by paint and varnish. The taps on the bar serve Bitburger and Aspall's cider. Behind it, however, a row of spigots promise beers from the pub's parent brewery: St. Peter's in Suffolk. Though tempted to order something I know, and compare its cask and bottled incarnations, I went instead for a pint of mild, a beer style which is nigh-on impossible to find here at home. St. Peter's Mild is very dark, with a thick creamy head. The taste is indeed mild, offering subtle coffee and roasted grain notes.

As I sunk my mild, I consulted my map and figured that I'd be able to take a much shorter route back to Paddington: from Farringdon, changing at Baker Street. And that meant I had time for another pint. This time I went for St. Peter's Grapefruit beer, having read good things about it, and to find out how the wizards of Bungay do fruit beer. More than anything, it reminded me of Früli. It doesn't look like it, taste like it, smell like it or feel like it, but it has a similar beer-fruit relationship, with the fruit definitely wearing the trousers. It's clear, almost headless, a deep red-gold colour and tastes overwhelmingly of real grapefruit. Marvellously refreshing and innovative.

At this point I took my leave and was back at Paddington at the appointed hour. We arrived at Heathrow with time to spare. Anyone who flies at all regularly between Ireland and Heathrow will be very familiar with the complex of metal tubes housing gates 80 to 90 of Terminal 1, affectionately known as "The Paddyshack". Time was, the Paddyshack Wetherspoons had Theakstons on draught and the last couple of pints at the airport was something I always looked forward to. Alas those days are gone, and it's necessary to drink landside in order to get anything better than Heineken these days. Armed with this knowledge I led us to the main landside Wetherspoons, where the handpumps were pouring Schiehallion, Marston's Pedigree, Bombardier and Deuchars IPA. The last of these was the only stranger to me, so that's where I started. I was disappointed from the first sip. This is a rather bland affair, lacking the hoppy citrusy warmth one expects from British IPA. Instead, it's creamy and smooth with only the fainest hop character at the very back.

Having polished that off I should really have opted for a Schiehallion, knowing that I really like it. Instead, I decided to give a dull beer a second chance. Having been disappointed with bottled Marston's Pedigree, I tried a draught pint and found it to be exactly the same forgettable sensation. Marston's should be proud that their bottling process manages to reproduce the cask experience perfectly. If only it were an experience worth having...

07 September 2007

Unendangered species

I feel I'm letting the national side down on this month's Session. A couple of weeks earlier and I'd be adding a Headless Dog to the Brew Zoo. My quest for unusual animal-themed beer took me to off licences right across Dublin, but there were no really weird creatures to be found. So instead, I present three beers that are new to me, but which are probably common-or-garden varieties to the rest of you.

First up is Badger Ales' Tanglefoot, which proclaims on the label to be "light", "crisp" and "smooth", which immediately set my alarm bells ringing. It's not all that bad, though. Sure, it's not a classic by the standards of English ale, but there's a lightness of touch about the mellow fruit flavour and gently bitter aftertaste that's rather pleasurable. The fact that it's 5% ABV is astounding and I guess it would sneak up on you quite quickly after a few. But then, everyone knows how vicious badgers can be.

From an English ale to an American take on an English ale: Goose Island Honker's. To my mind, this migratory bird is much more at home among its own kind to the west of the Atlantic. The characteristically American hops bitterness is here tempered by a certain candy sweetness, but frankly there's not enough of either to make this truly enjoyable. Like the Tanglefoot, however, it is well made, and would make a great quaffing ale if it only were sold in quaffable quantities.

What makes the Brew Zoo better than the other sort is its cryptozoological section, where they keep the Hobgoblins, les Chouffes, the Kelpies, and my last candidate: Bigfoot. This is Sierra Nevada's 9.6% ABV barleywine, and for once you won't hear me kvetch about the bottle size. Bigfoot is a huge beer. Somewhere there's a rich caramel flavour and a citrus hoppiness trying to get out, but they're utterly crushed under the harsh alcoholic bitterness. This guy needs a cage to himself.

Thanks to Rick of Lyke2Drink for hosting: I really had to do my homework on this one, but it was definitely the most fun Session yet.

02 September 2007

Black and white contrast

I feel it is beholden on me to report on anything new coming from Ireland's brewers, no matter how awful I know the beer is going to be in advance. Sometimes I might be wrong, though usually not, but the important thing is to know. So it was that I found myself yesterday in the back room of classic Dublin pub Doheny & Nesbitt contemplating a pint of Guinness Mid-Strength, currently being tried out on the Dublin market. Guess what: it's awful. The idea is to have something that looks and tastes like Guinness stout, but with one-third less alcohol. The lab has got the texture right: this is your normal creamy pint of Guinness, but what little beer flavour Guinness has has been removed, making it almost completely tasteless. I say "almost" because I detected a slight chemical sourness, which may just have been from a bad pint, though I'm not sure. It's almost like the brewers achieved their objective by adding two parts Guinness to one part (dodgy) water. I hope at the end of the trial Guinness Mid-Strength is found guilty and put away forever.

Not so much to get the taste out of my mouth as to get some in, I went across to Messrs Maguire for a pint of their Plain. This is such a total contrast, being awash with delicious stout flavours. The first sip dumps about half a kilo of malt on your palate, with an inherent sweetness and a touch of chocolate. Just as you get used to that there's a rising, astringent bitterness that takes a few seconds to gain control. Repeat to the end of the pint. It doesn't have the heavy creamy stout texture that most Irish craft brewers go for, trying to ape the big boys: Messrs Maguire save that for their Extra stout. Instead, this is a teensy bit thin, but more than makes up in flavour what it lacks in mouthfeel. An extreme Irish stout and anything but plain.

01 September 2007

Light drizzle, more like

Brewed with "lemongrass and coriander" to be "excellent with spicy and oriental food", says the label of Hopback's Taiphoon. The lemongrass meant I decided to put it to the test with a Malaysian curry rather than my preferred vindaloo. It's a very pale yellow ale with a slight sediment. The aroma is promising: lemon and spice, but it's not backed up with flavour. What's there is subtle and tasty, but totally crushed under the weight of chillies. Well-made, but not what I need in a currybeer.

Back to the Cobra for me.