O the serendipity. One of the lads on ICB (hi Kevin) spotted that Deveney's in Rathmines were offering a free tasting of American beers last Friday evening. It's not far out of my way and I'm always good for a free thimbleful of Goose Island IPA, so I went along.
But this wasn't an attempt to hock the tried and tested US beers we know and (mostly) love. Instead, we met Miles and Jonathan, two guys from over there who have just set up their own drinks import business, of which beer is a part. Their aim is to undercut the distributors who are using multiple middlemen and routing through importers in the UK, the Netherlands and the like. Instead, they're concentrating solely on Californian products and shipping direct, which knocks nearly a euro off the RRP of each bottle. Up against the conservative tastes of the Irish drinker, a biting recession and a government determined to make life as difficult as possible for the off-trade, it's a bold move.
The pilot offerings are seven Californian microbrews: four from Gordon Biersch of San Jose, and three by San Francisco's Speakeasy. After sampling them all we moved on to the ciders and meads, but you'll need to go to someone else's blog to find out about them, though I will note that the meads are, as far as I know, the first and only real meads to be available commerically in this country.
Gordon Biersch specialises in styles from Germany and environs. We started with their supposedly Czech-like Pilsner. It's a lovely golden hue with a good malty nose, smelling much stronger than the 5.3% ABV the website says it is (no strength is given on the label of most of these -- naughty). The first sip delivers a slight apple and butterscotch flavour, almost reminiscent of a dry cider. It settles down after that into a decent and workmanlike pale lager, though not really possessed of enough flavour to pass as Czech, in my opinion.
Raising the strength quotient we come to the 7% ABV Blonde Bock. I expected that if this is true to style then I wouldn't like it. It is and I didn't. Sugary nose, sugary taste, syrupy texture. Blech. Not for me, but if you like horrible German bocks then this is right up your straße.
I was similarly wary of the Märzen, having been previously bitten by the sickly monstrosities of Samuel Adams Octoberfest and Winter Lager. This dark gold fellow was rather better, though. Still sweet, but with a tasty and warming fresh bread character and a solid chewy body. Not mind-blowing, but decent, and pretty much the only märzen on the market.
Best of the lot, however, is the Hefeweizen. I haven't complained about the Yanks putting European-style beer into kiddie-sized bottles in ages, but this one deserves it. It doesn't really taste like any actual German weiss I know -- it's much sweeter, with the emphasis on the bubblegum-and-bananas end of the flavour scale, and rather thinner than I'd have liked, but it's still a tasty drop and enjoyably chuggable. But I just don't get that proper quaffing sensation without at least a half litre in front of me.
The other three beers are much more what one would expect from the western US. The marketing literature didn't say what variety of citrus American hops were being used, but they're being used all right. Staggeringly, Speakeasy's Big Daddy IPA, the last one I tried, isn't the massive IBU-fest I was expecting. It's a beautiful pale amber hue and gives off surprisingly subtle fragrant hoppy aromas. The foretaste is quite strong and sweet, from the Munich malt providing 6.5% ABV, but despite the dry hopping I get very little by way of bitter flavours at the end. Having felt the bitterness building in the other two beers, I was secretly relieved that this one let me off lightly. Though I can't help but wonder what the souped-up double version of it is like.
Slightly down the alcohol scale, at 6.1% ABV, Prohibition amber ale is well up the flavour scale in comparison to Big Daddy. The nose provides a lovely, oily, resinous overture, but surprisingly, once again, it's malt at the forefront. The slightly dark, toffee-and-marzipan notes are topped up with a quite gorgeous sharp orange-grapefruit bite, and the resulting exquisitely balanced flavour just runs and runs. I have a feeling this is going to be one of my regular beers for the next while.
Finishing on a lighter note, there's Untouchable: named, I assume, for the fact that it has a superb aroma of citrus hops but loses its way somewhat once it's past the lips. The distinct west-coast hops bitterness is there all right, as is the toffee malt base, but they are shadows of the same thing in Prohibition. In the unlikely event that Prohibition doesn't do it for you, then here's a lighter, friendlier blander alternative that's still well-made and tasty.
So that's it from this strange and exciting new shipment. I've nothing further to add except to wish the boys luck in their ballsy attempt to make money out of Ireland's beer drinkers by selling them quality product. I won't say it can't be done -- of course it can -- but it's not going to be easy. I've heard already that the management of one of Dublin's well-reputed beer off licences has tried the beers, liked them, but won't stock them. Up against that, what do you do?