28 October 2010

Écosse we want to

From the same chemistry lab that brought us Desperados, Heineken France present Adelscott. The tagline "Bière aromatisée au Malt à Whisky" might lead one to believe that this is an innocent affair, made using a whisky malt. Marston's produce something similar brewed with Golden Promise and it's quite harmless. Except there's more to the aromatisée here than just malt. The next ingredients listed are maize, sugar, flavouring, colouring and, lastly, hops. It's not looking good.

The colouring does its job well, giving it an attractive russet shade. The first hint of the sugar comes on the nose, and spreads on tasting. Maybe not as intensely sweet as Desperados, but not far off.

Then there's the "flavouring". It's a sickly sort of artificial wood thing, with a hint of smokiness. Perhaps close enough to remind the drinker of whisky, while not actually tasting of it.

Despite claiming both beer and whisky as its ancestry, we're very much in alcopop territory here. If you thought Desperados was an interesting way of presenting tequila as beer then you might be fooled by this as well. If you actually enjoy the taste of beer, however, steer clear.

25 October 2010


"Needs more Dog" seems to be DrinkStore's opinion of the Irish beer market, which is why they're now dealing directly with the European importer Bier & Co and have increased the range of Flying Dog beers available. (A side-effect of the new arrangement is the arrival of half a dozen De Molen beers, but sure you wouldn't be interested in that kind of thing at all.)

I realised I'd never tasted some of the core Flying Dog beers so took the opportunity of their sudden availability in Ireland to give them the once-over.

Tire Bite first: a 5.1% ABV golden ale which, frankly, is a bit too strong. It's quite lagery and I can understand why the American rating sites have classified it as a Kölsch, though it's maybe a little too sweet for that: there's a touch of golden syrup, the sort of thing I'd associate more with hefty Czech lagers or even British golden ale. That's about all the description I could muster, though. It was getting unpleasantly warm as I turned it over and this is a beer very much designed to be sunk cold. A percentage point or so lower on the alcohol and I'd be more inclined to do so. Strong and bland just doesn't float my boat.

I followed it with the basic porter, Road Dog. It's another simply designed beer but even more of a thumper at 6% ABV. An attractive dark ruby hue, it delivers the juicy fresh hops up front, following them with a crisp roasted dryness. The whole experience reminds me a lot of their powerhouse Gonzo Imperial Porter, only in miniature and with balance. Overall, I reckon this is just complex enough to pass as a strong beer for taking time over, though can't help thinking that as a low-strength sessioner it would have been a real winner.

So, it turns out that the bigger, heavier Flying Dogs are my preference over the everyday ones. I suppose that has a lot to do with these everyday beers being flogged for the guts of €3 a pop. At $10 for six I'd be a lot more forgiving.

21 October 2010

Cheap Shep set sesh

For as long as Lidl keep bringing out cheap Shepherd Neame specials, I'll keep buying them. Some day they'll produce something as good as Bishop's Finger or 1698. But that day is yet to come. There were three in the latest round, labelled as the "Master Brewer's Choice", all 4% ABV and on sale for the totally-worth-a-punt sum of €1.49 each.

The most promising of the three was called Tapping the Admiral but the anticipation was short-lived: when the cap came off there wafted out an unmerciful stench of lightstruck hops. Open a window and don't nobody smoke: something's crawled into this beer and died. Of dysentry. Ignoring the stink, the beer is an attractive gold colour, but that's it's best feature. Amazingly there's no trace of those pungent hops in the flavour. Instead there's a woeful sickly cheap-chocolate sweetness. This is apparently supposed to evoke brandy, but offers no heat, no wood and no fruit; just a box of Milk Tray from three Christmases ago you found at the back of a cupboard. Avoid.

Autumn Blaze was next. It looks the part, all auburn and russet and the other adjectives from that shelf in the hair dye section. There's no assault on the olfactory nerve, though up close it has a sort of maple syrup woody stickiness. Nothing really jumps out in the flavour: a little bit of roastiness but there's nothing more than fizzy water behind it. Put it on cask to bring out the malt more and this would perform adequately as a workhouse brown bitter. As-is it's perfectly drinkable, but so laid back flavourwise as to be comatose. Your granddad will like it.

Palest of the lot is 4-4-2, with its daft claim to use ten different hop varieties. Using up leftovers, were we? This made its first appearance during the World Cup and my first impressions on tasting it is that they've gone straight for the lager-swilling demographic. Rather than the cascade (see what I did there?) of multitudinous hop flavours it has a vaguely grassy Germanic feel to it. Beneath that there's slight toasty malt and lots of fizz. If the aim was to produce a clone of Beck's or Carlsberg then they've done a bang-up job. But as a tasty pale ale it's a poor show.

And there you have it: two beers that are so-so in their own way and one absolute (literal) stinker. In all honestly I can't say if there's better beer going for €1.50 a half litre in Dublin. Maybe the Franziskaner next to it in Lidl. I'm actually slightly intrigued as to what the Shep-Lidl Alliance is going to throw at us next. I dub this game "Kentish Roulette".

18 October 2010

Märzen invasion

It's Oktoberfest time at The Porterhouse once again. To kick things off Head Honcho Oliver and Head Brewer Peter held a free tasting gig at the Nassau Street branch last Thursday and I went along. They usually turn out few interesting beers on tap each year, and it was no exception this time: the subtle smoky charm of Schlenkerla Helles is right on the money for me.

Generally Peter brews something appropriately Teutonic for the occasion: it was a Kölsch for a few years, then a rather crisp and tasty Alt, but this year it's a new one. Well, new-ish. He's taken the standard Hersbrucker Pilsner and Oktoberfestified it by rolling back on the bittering hops and upping the malt levels to hit 6.4% ABV. The result -- Hersbrucker Oktoberfestbier -- is still a lot more bitter than you'd expect an Oktoberfestbier to be, but it's much less bitter than standard Hersbrucker, a beer I usually find hard to take. You get all the filling biscuity sweetness of Märzen topped with the palate-pounding grassy hoppiness of a heavyweight pilsner. Surprisingly, they manage to balance each other out. I don't know if I'd recommend a whole Maßkrug of it, but a pint really wakes up the palate.

Oktoberfest continues across the Porterhouse estate until Sunday.

14 October 2010

Hopheads' ball

It's back to the old whipping boy that is American wheat beers today. Other than a handful of notable exceptions they're a characterless bunch, and when there's lots of top-quality pale ales and lagers brewed to the same specifications, I don't quite see the point of them. So I was very interested to find out what the highly-regarded Three Floyds brewery did with the style.

Seems to me they walked around it a few times, gave it a good look over and decided that the only possible way of salvaging it was to add shedloads of hops. The end result, Gumballhead, is a thin and rather harsh beer with 4.8% ABV. It's shockingly citric on the first sip with little by way of follow-up -- just a bit of sugary sweetness, a touch of soap and an irritating wateriness which becomes the dominant characteristic once your palate has adjusted to the hops. Had I not been told it was a wheat beer in advance I doubt I'd have spotted it: there's no wheaty flavours and hardly any haze.

On the plus side, the aroma is gorgeous and runs alongside the whole drinking experience reminding me of how good a beer this could have been with a bit more malt depth to it. If ever a beer disproved the adage "if in doubt, add more hops", this is it.

11 October 2010

Where've you been?

I've whined lengthily in the past about Marks & Spencer not bringing their good beers over to Ireland, but they've really raised their game over the last year or so, since they launched their re-branded line. Sure, they never have everything all at once, but the good ales are turned over frequently and it's great to see. I always look forward to checking what they've got for us any time I go in. On previous mentions on this blog, commentators have drawn my attention to their Cornish IPA, brewed by St Austell and alleged to be a straight re-badge of their excellent Proper Job. At long last it showed up in Dublin and off I went with a bottle.

Glad I did too. We don't get Proper Job over here, so to have it in M&S clothes is extremely welcome. I'd only ever tried it on cask before and was a bit worried about how the bottled version would work as too much fizz would destroy its charms. But my fears were groundless: it's beautifully smooth with a level of carbonation that's firm enough to push the hops out while not interfering with the more delicate flavours.

It starts with a chalky mineral base, on top of which is set a crisp hard-toffee sweetness overlaid in turn by lightly bitter stonefruit hops. Where some beers would finish at that, all sweetness and smiles, Cornish IPA sends you on your way with a rogueish yet good-natured smack of marmalade bitterness. The word "balance" was coined for beers like this.

The only downside is the price. €3.19 is just a bit high for a half-litre bottle of English beer, when the independent off licences are carrying plenty of British beer of similar calibre for 40-50 cents less. But if you're tempted by M&S's 6-for-5 offer, a sixer of this would be well worth considering.

07 October 2010

Bad karma

"Original and fun" is probably what the design brief for the Lucky bottle said. "Scary sex toy" was more than likely not in there, but it's what they got.

The beer is Chinese but owned by an Australian company and hit the headlines last year for threatening hot lawyer action on an innocent Seattle brewery (now trading as Trade Route). When it's the first thing you know about a beer, it's not terribly conducive to liking what pours forth, but it's actually OK.

The ingredients are listed and the only adjunct is rice, as befits the Asian light lager style they're hitting for. There's a slight skunky whiff, evidencing the presence of a surprisingly decent quantity of hops -- they're Saaz, apparently. Next to that there's quite a sweet flavour from actual real malt.

It's not overly exciting, but it could easily pass muster in any number of eastern European countries as the unfussy state lager. And if offered it in an Asian restaurant, short of better options, I'd be happy to drink it.

So sue me.

(Thanks once again to Laura and Dave for the gift.)

04 October 2010

Left peachless

I had been so looking forward to my bottle of Cantillon Fou' Foune. The apricot lambic is something of a rarity and I'd been saving it up for a few months. The first sign that something was not as it should be was when I took the cap off to find a small amount of beer between it and the cork.

On being drawn out, the cork told me my bottle was filled in 2005, longer ago than I'd realised. Still, it's a lambic, right? It's robust enough to survive things like this intact, isn't it?

Actually, I still don't know the answer to that. The beer was powerfully sour, to the point of throat-burning. It's not vinegar, though; it's the proper bricky saltpetre sourness of good lambic, just turned up to an extreme level. By squinting a bit and concentrating, I could just about detect the ghost apricots lingering at the back of the flavour, but they were very insubstantial and quite possibly imaginary.

So, unless you're prepared for sourness beyond normal human endurance, my advice is to drink your Fou' Foune young.

01 October 2010

"Mont Blanc, in awful majesty"

Session logoI had a number of candidates for this month's Session. It's hosted by Ashley of Drink With The Wench and the theme is Frankenstein Beers: those beers and brewers who defy conventional wisdom and employ way-out methods to produce strange and unsettling results. Presumably we get extra points if we identify any that are ultimately responsible for the downfall of their creator.

Wednesday's blueberry stout was one I considered, and there are a few other odds and sods in the fridge with unusual adjuncts that would have done too, but nothing really stood out. And then on Saturday Dave and Laura dropped me over a box of assorted beers they'd picked up on holiday in France. One of them was from Brasserie du Mont Blanc, in the ill-starred doctor's back yard, and was a lurid shade of bright green. Were Victor Frankenstein a brewer, this is definitely what he'd be turning out.

According to the blurb, the active ingredient in La Verte is genepy, a cousin of wormwood and the principal flavouring in Chartreuse liqueur. According to this drinker's palate, however, the active ingredient is sugar. It's not as sweet as some French concoctions I've tasted in the past (and another I'll be reviewing in the near future) but it's still leaning towards the alcopop side of the scale. There is however, a bit of hop character, mostly on the nose: you can trust the clear glass packaging to bring that out pungently. And the genepy is there too, subtly. Mrs Beer Nut described it as a slightly warming effect, like ginger. I wouldn't go that far, but it's definitely along those lines: a herbal piquancy that struggles to make itself heard over the shouty sugar. The colour, with tragic inevitability, is artificial.

If it wasn't so sweet and so strong (5.9% ABV) I'd nearly be willing to admit this as a sunny day refresher. It's light enough with enough zing to carry it. But as-is, it's drinkable but not one you'd go running back to. Not a monster; merely a misbegotten and unfortunate creation.