Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Dublin beer adventure

Last weekend was my surprise weekend from the lovely Helen and it was only shortly before boarding the flight that I found out I was going to Dublin. Although not a primary target for my beer geeking adventures, I have always wanted to check it out as of having only very few previous encounters with Irish micro brews, I have also heard of blossoming brewing movements from Ireland, from literature and fellow bloggers such as The Beer Nut.

The first stop was the Guinness storehouse to checkout some old brewing memorabilia and a free pint of the stuff at the gravity bar. Following this a good number of bars and pubs were visited, some more exiting than others. It should be noted firstly that Dublins bars, at many points seemed to vary as much as a pack of jellybabies. Most showed almost identical broad ranges of keg beers, Paulaner Hefeweazen and Guinness seemed everywhere, most have a busy atmosphere and the themes vary alittle. Virtually no cask beers were in sight anywhere but the broad range of keg beers offers some compensation.

None the less it was time to hunt out some key target locations. First up a place I have been wishing to visit for sometime now called The Porterhouse. This famous brewpub has two locations in Dublin, and one in London. Like all good brewpubs the theme of the place seemed centered around the beer and a vast selection of bottle and kegged world beers were on offer, alongside some pretty good food. It was noted that all of the house beers available, with exception to TSB (a cask conditioned interpretation of an English bitter) were served in keg form and of excellent standard. Porterhouse Red was truly superb with earthy goldings hops at the core and the lagers of worthy standard, even the easy quaffing, more minimalistic ‘Chiller’ lager had its qualities.

Bull & castle beer range
The next highlight of the trip was in the form of the Bull & Castle, with its upstairs beer hall, restaurant and world beers including a broad range of Irish microbrews. Although not a brewpub, this placed housed a range of beers so spectacular that our visit to Dublin could have been justified by the session embraced in it. Our final hunted location however was not so appealing, the brew pub Mssrs Maguire seemed to more of a general trendy bar with a brew pub theme on the side than truly beer devoted porterhouse. The 5 house beers were tucked together at the corner of the bar of decent character but the rest of the beer range was uninspiring. The Irish red style ale Rusty was a decent take on the style, but only a shadow of Porterhouse Red. The plain porter, again had nothing on Porterhouses stouts but was half decent and the Bock was strong, sweet and… quite two dimensional.
All in all a rather enjoyable weekend, I couldn’t help noticing that my beer hunting in Dublin was dominated by the discovery of more often than not stout and porter style beers. Here were some key findings:
Battle of the black ones. Stouts and Porters encountered.

Guinness: Everyone knows it, and from the gravity bar is just that bit fresher, with hops and roast malts that tad more pronounced. As a good beer to fall back on in those tricky social situations where you find yourself at a substandard bar your you cant really fault it too much, compared to many other national brands it stands out head and shoulders.

Beamish: Exceeded expectation considering it’s a mass market brand. Lots of full rounded malty flavor brings a distinct bitter grain like note to the finish that’s reminiscent to the aftertaste of chewing on chocolate malt. Sadly the aroma was alittle masked by the think blanket of foam derived from the Nitrokeg serving method.

O Hara’s Stout: Mouthfilling and smooth with subtly balanced roast grain. Nothing too forward, but very well crafted.

Porterhouse Plain: Probably the beer of the holiday. Clean and velvety in texture with pronounced dry coffee and chocolate cascading throughout. Veers more towards London porter than anything else, but as porters go this ones up there with the greats.

Porterhouse Wrasslers 4X Stout: Described by Michael Jackson (our lord) beer hunter as the best stout in Ireland. Firm yet wholesome with masses of roast grain coming at ya left right and centre, this one takes no prisoners and satisfies throughout.

Porterhouse Oyster stout: The smoothest most meaty of the porterhouse stouts. Very mouthfeel driven with less pronounced roast malts or bitterness.
To finish things off....

I have often been intrigued by cheese boards, this one was served with honey and relish with no blue cheese or apple, a fine companion for my St. Bernardus 10, to polish off the holiday.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Themed beer night No3: Belgian beer night

Last weekend was the advent of Belgium’s national day, the 18th of July. To celebrate I decided to conduct a Belgian beer night at one of the fine Belgo restaurants in London (the primary intention of the journey being to watch the cricket). The session was shorter than originally desired due to the extortionate price of beer, but a good number of quality Belgians were consumed including an undiscovered by myself Delirium Nocternum. Following this many great pubs were visited each housing excellent beer ranges and proving once again that London has an excellent range of quality pubs. Although I don’t get to visit much, this year I will be lucky enough to be attending the GBBF for the first time ever, something I have been meaning to do for some time now.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Beer Judging during ashes tension.

What does one drink during the tensions of Ashes test cricket you may ask? I do have bottle of of single malt single cask whisky in my cabernet that exceeds 50% abv! But this was not touched as last weekend I was to act as an official judge for the World beer awards, where beers from around the world are categorized and compared to be awarded prestigious awards.

I shall note that my achievement of becoming an official beer judge was ascertained at Beer Of the World Live, mentioned on a previous post. Here I entered a competition whereby anyone could write tasting notes on a beer of choice that is available on the day on designated tasting cards. These were put in ballot, and the taster giving the most accurate notes was awarded the chance to be an official taster for the World Beer Awards. After spending half the day filling out numerous tasting cards, and waiting for weeks afterwards with anticipation, I was finally given the news that I had blazed gloriously to triumph and won the competition.

A few days later a box of different beers arrived in the post and the reviewing could begin. The standard was pretty high featuring a good variety of different beer styles including legendary Meantime London Porter, Dark Star Espresso beer, some impressive lagers, and a couple of quality ales from the mighty Rogue brewery. Unlike the ashes first test, the victors were mostly English beers, however the result was a little unfair as nearly half of the samples reviewed were English.

Comparisons between the beers themselves also affected my judgment of score. But this could only really be done between beers of slightly similar characters, examples such as Rogue Smoke ale were completely individual. Which brings me to another idea I had some time ago. In the context of beer judging competitions, I thought, wouldn’t it be great to do (in a sense) a beer battle between breweries. In this the beers from two or more brewers could be reviewed by a panel of judges and whichever brewer gets the highest overall scores wins. Sadly I do not have a panel of judges, and even getting mates and bottles together would be awkward even if it was a bi-monthly thing (especially considering some beers could not be done justice unless/are only available on cask). But alternatively using the opinion and experience of you, the reader, I could gain more votes and opinions. These battles could become even more interesting between rival brewers, or those with something in common, for example Black Sheep vs Theakstons. Who do you think would win (even though its just subjective)? And what other interesting beer battles could you think of?

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Themed beer night No2: American beer night.

OK I knew from the start the difficulties in composing this session. How can I do justice to American beer when the majority of the greatest US beers are not available in the UK? The answer was to work with what I could find, which were mostly the classics. To start things off I reached for the Anchor Steam Beer: A traditional west coast ale/lager hybrid style revived by the legend that is Fritz Maytag in San Francisco. Many of you may know of Fritz as one of the great founders of the modern American craft brewing movement, which kicked off in the 70’s/80’s era. Another classic beer to come from the west coast beer movement was my second beer of choice:

Sierra Navada Pale ale; another well published American classic, clean and zesty showcasing plenty of American hops. This was followed by:

Sierra Navada Stout; Dry, roasty and clean textured Irish style stout, probably one of my favorite examples of the style.

After this came the more exotic:

Goose Island Matilda: The Chicago based breweries interesting take on an Orval style Belgian ale. Nicely rounded with a smooth orange fruit like character with an obvious lack of the lively carbonation the style requires. In this very rare case, I actually find the American interpretation to be less assertive than the original Orval. In comparison Matildas hop flavor has a bigger role in this beer and the carbonation is lower, making it cross into non Belgian ale alittle. Orval is far more distinctive, but despite this Matilda is nothing less than a great beer.

Flying Dog Brewery Snake Dog IPA: From Denver. This beer I recall drinking a few years back as a less experienced taster and found it to be the most explosive hop bomb I had ever encountered. After visiting California myself, coupled with more beer drinking experience I can conclude this is not as extreme as I first thought, but still has that fairly explosive hoppiness making it probably the most aggressive American IPAs available in the UK.

Anchor Old Foghorn Barleywine style ale: Saved this one for some blue cheese at the end of the night. Brilliantly bold with rounded malt, warming alcohols and a well balanced hop character. In a strange way it reminds me alittle of my home made Vintage 2008 ale, but with completely different hop profile.

Still to this day I come across people who think American beer is all about fizzy, bland, pale, mass market pap. Around 30 years ago they would have been right, but today the US contributes massively in brewing innovation, beer style evolution and the production of bigger, bolder more extreme beers.

The Americans were inspired by the great brewing nations of Europe, which is why today most beer styles found in the states are ether derived from or are European styles (Steam beer being an exception). In the present day Americas brewing innovations have rubbed off on brewers worldwide. This has led to brewers in places like Australia, Scandinavia and Japan all thinking, ‘hey, we don’t need a brewing heritage to live the dream, lets set up shop and kick out some crazy styles’. I have also been to America myself (only California, on a beer hunting holiday) and the range of craft beer available, as well as the respect for craft brewing is superb. One of the most refreshing things is getting away widely regarded UK beer concept that the beer market is roughly divided into two groups, those who drink keg beer, and those who drink ‘real ale’, but this is slowly changing.

That’s Independence day over with. The beer was drunk and copious amounts of burgers fries and doughnuts were eaten as a further part of the tribute. Next time readers I shall be attempting to conduct a Belgian beer night in one of the Belgo restaurants of London on Belgians national day. July 18th.