A couple of weekends ago, in the company of some of my fellow Dublin-based beer geeks, I made the trip out to Westmeath to visit Tale of Ale HQ. Reuben and Hilary had laid on some Mexican fare and there was a stash of American beers to be got through. I rolled up my sleeves, adjusted my stetson and got stuck in.
Quite a few of the set were from Tommyknocker, a mining-themed brewpub in Colorado. I was well impressed by their Glacier amber lager. It's a bit overzealous on the fizz but the fresh and fleshy soft fruit flavours are fantastic: nectarines, a bit of plum, and a sterner pithy grapefruit on the nose. A promising introduction to the brewery. Their Pick Axe pale ale was pretty good too: a big-bodied number full of oily jaffa oranges, reminding me a little of Young's Bitter. Maple Nut Brown Ale is where the honeymoon starts to get a bit tense. It's properly sticky-sweet though leans a little towards saccharine. A little bit of hop finishes it but there's a sudden watery stop where a lasting maple syrup woody sweetness would go well. Jack Whacker is a fairly typical bland American wheat ale, plain, watery again, redeemed only by some fairly generous hopping. The mineshaft starts to cave altogether with Butt Head, a bock that offers a little bit of burnt caramel but also a sizable dose of vinegar, and this gets worse with Ornery amber ale: barely anything is discernible under the acid bite. A brewery with some good recipes, but which could do with keeping a closer watch on quality control, is my verdict on Tommyknocker.
Travelling east to Wisconsin now, and a couple from Stevens Point, one of the oldest breweries in the USA (it says on their website). The Cascade Pale Ale was disappointing, lacking any real aroma or hop flavour, offering a candy sugar sweetness as a poor substitute. Better value was had from 2012 Black Ale. Sugary again, but this time of the viscous and treacly sort, overlaid with lighter caramel notes and some lovely dryness for balance.
Richard had dug deep into his personal stash for a can of Dale's Pale Ale by Oskar Blues: the originator of American craft beer in a can, he wants you all to know. Even coming at the end of a long session, this lost none of its impact: strikingly bitter with a raw and pithy punch, reminding me a lot of that more recent adept of the aluminium, BrewDog Punk. O'Fallon 5 Day IPA, from Missouri of all places, offered a more relaxed take on the general style. Here the hops add fresh and fruity mandarins, set on light toasty malt and underlaid with a gentle mineral crispness. An understated and classy southern gentleman of a beer.
There was much anticipation around the table for Vrienden, a collaboration between Allagash and New Belgium, two experts in Low-Countries-style brewing. Hibiscus and endive are the headline ingredients, though what they bring to the finished product I couldn't say. I did like the bubblegum nose, but I couldn't get my head around what came after -- vinegar and more candy sweets. That sounds worse than it is: it's perfectly drinkable but just a little disconcerting for me at least.
Our evening finished with Sierra Nevada Grand Cru, a blend of three Sierra Nevada beers bottled to commemorate the brewery's 30th birthday. It's a lot less solemn than the branding might suggest: it's mild and very drinkable with strawberries and booze being the main things I picked up from it. I wouldn't be at all sure that this is a beer for laying down, but I could well be way off the mark on that. No harm in drinking it now, is all I'm saying.
But I've run ahead of myself here. Eight more beers from three more breweries we covered on the evening will follow later this week.