Over the last while, O Brother has been less a beer maker and more one of those machines for training tennis players, launching lager after IPA, after saison, after IPA, relentlessly. I've been struggling to keep up and missed today's first three when they were originally out on draught, picking them up after cans appeared a short while later.
First under the microscope is Elements, a sour job of 4% ABV, dry-hopped with Citra. This poured a hazy pale yellow with a fine white mousse on top. The fresh-squeezed lemon and lime of Citra is apparent from the aroma, with a slightly worrying edge of fried onion too. Happily it backs far away from that on tasting, turning full-on tropical peach party, all pineapple, mango and passionfruit. Not something I'd expect from Citra but by golly I'll take it. The sourness is a little on the back foot but what's there is good: spicy saltpetre, dry chalk dust, and a mild and friendly whiff of sulphur. Those hops, however, are singing the main melody, playing first violin and leading the dance. I think I finally understand the phrase "party in my mouth".
We keep the tropical vibes rolling with the Azacca/Calypso-hopped Hope and Love pale ale. The ABV leaps to 5.7% though the colour stays a wan opaque yellow. The aroma isn't especially strong, but is sweet and juicy. There's a hard bitterness at the front: waxy, acidic. The flavour is grapefruit pith and apricot skin, plus an intense alkaline dryness: plaster of Paris or even cement. It has a certain stonefruit softness, but it's well hidden behind the harsher features. This is technically flawless (though could stand to be cleaned up, blah blah blah -- yes John, we know) and I think it's just the hop profile that wasn't to my taste. Looking at the descriptors for Calypso ("earthy, tea-like"), it's perhaps not as joyful as it sounds. I expected better of Azacca though. Moving on... The family resemblance continues in the third sibling: Silicon Head double IPA is also pale yellow, though does look a little less anaemic than the others. At 8.1% ABV it would want to. We are promised Amarillo and Citra, but not the magic initials "DDH". Perhaps that's why the aroma isn't up to much. It tastes good, though. A little on the savoury side: those crispy deep-fried onions from the Citra rather than yeast grit, thankfully. A concentrated orange and lemon kick flows behind that; an easy-going juiciness aided by the light texture and total lack of alcohol heat. It doesn't spark with tropical freshness the way the best of this sort do, but instead it's calm and rounded; balanced, not busy. As a closer to the evening's drinking it worked very well.
A very decent effort overall. Three glasses of inarguable murk but barely a trace of yeast interference and lots of hop jollies. That's the way to do modern craft beer.
To the pub, then, and just yesterday two new ones landed, in UnderDog, of course.
The lighter effort is 6.4% ABV, an American-style IPA called War Money Freedom. It's a bright orange colour, though hazy and quickly headless. The texture is appropriately thick, and there's a definite warmth from the alcohol, even when the beer is poured very cold from the tap. The flavour is a blend of savoury and bitter, with the former in the ascendant. I don't know if it's the hops or a touch of yeast bite bringing the red onion here, but that's the first thing. A jaffa-like citrus burst comes next: old-school west-coast, and enjoyable for that, but it's not loud enough. This is refreshing despite the heat, and has a decent modicum of zing. I wanted more zing, though. Its hefty fraternal twin is Trajectories double IPA. It looks similar, though, and orange features in the flavour as well as the appearance. That's concentrated into a cordial effect but thankfully not sweet; dusted with enough bitter zest to balance it. The 8.2% ABV is apparent from the thick and slick texture. While there's no heat, it leaves you in no doubt it's a big beer. Subtlety does not feature, nor complexity particularly, but it's one of those hug-in-a-glass, late-night-finisher beers that have a definite role and purpose in the drinkers' life. Keep 'em coming, bruvs.
They don't sell themselves short, the Koreans. I got an immediate smile from the name of the Amazing Brewing Company of Seoul, via this can of Shocking Stout, kindly gifted by Padraig. Shocking in a good way, I hope.
It was a little explodey on opening, leaving a sticky and fruity-smelling residue on my fingers and furniture. Once in the glass that clarifies to a Black Forest gateau aroma of dark cherries and darker chocolate, the appearance a uniform obsidian black with a café crème head. Between that and the 8.5% ABV I was expecting thickness and density but it's actually quite light-bodied. The jammy forest fruit is still there in the flavour, as is the chocolate, but it's joined by an espresso roast and a whiskey-like heat, even though it hasn't been near a barrel, as far as I'm aware. It departs the palate quickly, though leaves a pleasing residue of cherry skins.
I was impressed. It's well-made, nicely complex, satisfying to drink, and well beyond the run-of-the-mill for imperial stouts. When they go for something in Korea they don't bother with half measures, I've found, and this beer is a neat illustration of that too.
A trilogy from the core range of Colorado's Ska Brewing today. First up is Rue B. Soho, a lager with added grapefruit. Quite a lot of added grapefruit, it seems, because that's what jumps out from the first sip. There's an almost smoky tang in with the sweet candied rind, plus a gentle buzz of bitter aspirin. The crisp biscuit base serves to accentuate the fruit, and the whole thing is rather well presented. It manages to be flavoursome and interesting while also refreshing and clean. It's certainly streets ahead of any number of syrupy fruited beers, bringing all the flavour without any residual sugar.
Residual sugar, lactose specifically, I thought I'd find in abundance in Steel Toe, Ska's milk stout. But no, this is actually quite dry for the style. The foretaste is a lovely dry burnt-toast roast with even a lacing of smoke about it. A tangy bitter bite follows it, and only on the fade out do we get milk chocolate; even with the emphasis more on the chocolate than the milk. Strangely again it finishes cleanly with no milkshake residue left behind. While not at all the beer I expected, it's highly enjoyable.
The finisher is Decadent, by name and nature, it being a 10% ABV imperial IPA. It looks quite innocent -- a bright and cheery shade of orange -- but the boozy citrus punch is apparent right from the aroma. It smells intensely bitter, like aspirin, while also quite syrupy; sickly even. That sharp lime-peel bitterness dominates the flavour, the fruit intensifying to the point of tasting waxy. There's a complexity behind it, however: a more subtle romantic mix of flowers and chocolate. The syrup I detected early on does come out in the finish, along with a tramp-lager heat, but neither dictates the overall shape of it. This is hops first, lots and lots of old-fashioned, tongue-stripping, acidic hops. Needless to say no vanilla or garlic notes feature. I wouldn't drink a lot of this, but I find it heartening that double IPAs of this stripe are still out there.
Ska Brewing (founded 1995) may be part of the furniture as regards American craft brewing now, though that's no reason to ignore their work if you've not tried it recently.
Cherries, raspberries: the canon of acceptable fruits for lambics is well established. Apricots, grapes: it keeps getting wider though. Today it's two from Timmermans with two new fruit additions for me. Both come in cans, to further underline their non-traditional nature.
Strawberry Lambicus is bright red and just 4% ABV, suggesting the puree proportion is substantial. The ingredients listing tells us there's elderberries as well for some reason. The flavour? Strawberries. Loads and loads of big, juicy, ripe (possibly tinned) strawberries. Unfortunately this leaves almost no room for beer. There's a tiny tart twang on the very end, but it's disappointingly sugary overall. In a time when the syrup-blending lambic breweries are offering more classy vintage stuff, this is quite disappointing. Better crack on with the next one, so.
With Sloe Lambicus the ABV drops to 3.5% ABV, though the price stays steady at €3.75. The elderberries remain. I liked the colour of it: a deep and luxurious purple. I don't think I've ever eaten an actual sloe but this does taste of sloe gin: a sticky sweet berry character, not far from blueberry. There's even less beer character in it this time, and absolutely nothing sour. I preferred it to the strawberry one, however.
I had been holding out a hope that these would be in some way classy but they're very definitely not. They're a slightly unusual take on syrupy fruit beer, but syrupy fruit beer is all you get, and not cheaply either. The sloe one is the best of them, and I'd be very interested in a properly aged sloe lambic.
Another heaping helping of Irish beers today, gathered from the locality in recent weeks.
I'm starting with DOT Brew, and a pair which came my way at the annual beer-cheese-whiskey sipathon in Teeling's Distillery -- thanks to the Teeling PR folk for the invite. Drinking After Midnight is a foreign extra stout aged nine months in 80-year-old bourbon casks. Unsurprisingly, brown sugar and vanilla are right up front in the flavour, but perhaps not as much as in other bourbon barrel beers. The texture is quite sticky and there's a molasses bitterness to help balance the sugar. The barrels' previous use for Irish whiskey shows up in the honeyish aroma. The finish is quick, making it overall less effort to drink than most 8.2% ABV beasts of this nature, while not lacking complexity at all.
The bar at Teeling's is one of only three places it's possible to buy DOT Light Ale, the others being Beef & Lobster on Parliament Street and Galliot et Gray on Clanbrassil Street. It's very much designed as a beer for food, says Shane, Mr DOT. Funny, I'd have though you'd want something heavier for that but it's only 3.8% ABV and a very pale gold. The recipe is based around pilsner malt and there's an attendant crispness all the way through. The aroma is pinchingly citric, while the flavour is aromatic: perfumed jasmine and apricot notes, hanging around for a long floral finish. I found it very pintable despite the small bottle. Something this light yet interesting deserves a wider audience.
A few weeks later I caught up with DOT's Saison Barrel Aged Blend IV, which is a saison, possibly barrel aged and may have involved blending at some point, I'm not sure. It looks innocent but is a whopping 7.4% ABV. For all the convoluted production it remains a saison: dry and crisp from the get-go, maybe just a little thicker than the standard sort. There's a refreshing peppery spice, a chalky alkalinity and a purely Belgian kick of medium-ripe banana. A similar fruit and spice mix comes from the aroma too. I'd never have guessed it was barrel aged. Looking for it, yes there's perhaps a layer of vanilla in there, but I think it gets mixed in with the esters. Of anything specifically rum, bourbon or Irish whiskey there is no sign. I liked it a lot. It manages to take all the great things about saison and accentuate them without making a mess. Refreshing yet warming is a flavour profile I'd like to see more of.
To Urban Brewing next, the venue for the 2019 National Homebrew Club finals judging. When the morning's work was done it was time to hit the commercial stuff. Urban Brewing Belgian Wit was served with lunch. It's an excellent example of a style that can be very hit and miss. The fruit level is low, with just a spritz of lemon, but there's a plenty of peppery spice, headlining the flavour without upstaging the other acts. A clean finish gives it the all-important power of refreshment, again not overdone so it isn't watery. It's not a clone of the classic wits; it's is own thing and excellent for it.
A Dry-Hop Pilsner came next: 5.3% ABV with Mandarina Bavaria being the last hop in. This handsome fellow certainly looks like a pilsner: pleasingly clear for a beer dispensed directly from the secondary fermentation tanks. The texture is quite heavy but it does retain sufficient clean crispness to stick to the style guidelines (nothing like a homebrew judging session to bring that to mind) and there's lots of Saaz-like grass. Only at the end does it turn anyway unorthodox, with a pinch of grapefruit and an odd tannic buzz. Another good twist on a classic style here, then. "Creative" brewing doesn't have to involve lactose and maple syrup.
The odd whiskey barrel doesn't go amiss, though. The second (I think) beer in Urban's wood-aged series is the Whiskey Barrel Red. This was only on the bar downstairs and not on the blackboard menu in the main bar, so you may need to ask for it. And ask you should. There's a delicious Flanders red sour vibe here, with a sprinkling of juicy autumnal blackberries. The colour brings its own pleasure: a deep black-cherry red. At 6.1% ABV it's quite reasonably strong. I noticed on the day that the still-excellent golden sour ale they made last year is beginning to taste a little tired. The same fate may befall this one too, in time, but you have a few months yet to try it at its best, stocks permitting.
I can't remember ever enjoying this many Urban Brewing beers in a row. The streak had to end, though, and it did so with the Simcoe IPA. It wasn't offensive or flawed in away way, just profoundly dull after all the fun stuff that preceded it. It's a middle-of-the-road 5.5% ABV and hazy gold in colour. I expected the fresh and herbal resins of Simcoe but instead got just a heavy cloying bitterness and no more than a token scattering of citric pith. I was in the mood for some hop aggression but this didn't deliver.
I didn't get it at JW Sweetman either, where the after party kicked off soon after. The Burgh Quay brewpub was serving the sole barrel of a different homebrew competition's winner. This 6% ABV Lemon Saison was created by John Reilly and won the pub's own competition last year. It's one of those boozy and thick saisons, but justifies the heft with plenty of flavour. The lemon is intense and concentrated, more like lime, and there's a an almost oaky spice, bringing notes of fortified wine. The pint took me a while to get through, but I enjoyed the cocktail vibe as I was drinking it.
The Five Lamps Brewery wraps up this post with two beers and an enigma. The company has been wholly subsumed into C&C but I don't know what that means for its beer range or its Dublin facility. The colourful range of warm-fermented beers with the fun local names isn't around as much any more, while this generically-badged couple have cropped up like weeds next to the Tipperary-brewed flagship lager. I've no idea if they too come from the industrial brewery in Clonmel, but I suspect they might.
Five Lamps Light is the awe-inspiring name of one of them. It's 3.8% ABV and a very sad, pale, cidery yellow. I found it jaggedly -- almost painfully -- fizzy. I'd guess they were aiming for a bland flavour but have missed that with the prominent hit of banana and toffee. It's really not very good, and if it is made at their big lager plant they'd want to get their processes looked at. Sensory issues aside, I have to wonder who the market for this is. The ABV isn't low enough to grab the drinkers who don't want to drink so I don't see who wouldn't trade up to the full-size lager that's always going to be next to it. Is there someone daft enough to believe it's some kind of diet drink? It won't be missed.
A more orthodox choice next: Five Lamps Red. Mind you, this is C&C's third recent attempt to make an impact with a draught nitro red ale. Roundstone clings on where they have a sizeable tap presence already; Caledonia Smooth was chased out of town years ago. Now what? This is also 3.8% ABV, dark garnet in colour, and has a very heavy texture. The flavour is powerfully sweet, even for something of this style: I got a not-unpleasant buzz of tinned strawberry, followed by what I took for milk chocolate. Someone later pointed out to me that the beer is lousy with diacetyl and I went back to check. Sure enough, with that in my head, it is full of butterscotch. I think it works in this style, as long as you don't mind the slick sweetness. Overall I give this a pass. If it's taking aim at Kilkenny then more power to its buttery elbow.
That's it for now. More Irish beers soon, of course, including what was pouring at the Franciscan Well Easter Festival this coming weekend.
Here we go with April's random round-up of Irish beer. It's been a busy few weeks so I'll have to split this with Wednesday's post.
From the Porterhouse comes SMASH pale ale, which is what it says, combining Hunter malt with Hallertau Blanc hops for an ABV of 4.2%. It poured a pale lemon-yellow with a dusting of haze. That gentle, breezy, grapes and flowers character of the hops comes through in the aroma and forms the main feature of the flavour too. The foretaste gives way quickly to a mineral dryness in the finish; a little too quickly, perhaps. While I'm being negative, there's a very slight soapy twang as well. As is fairly common with Single Malt And Single Hop beers, there's a lack of complexity here. I don't know what Hunter is supposed to taste like, but it does showcase the features of Hallertau Blanc well, just not very loudly. This one is to be approached as an easy-going pinter rather than the bold and interesting special edition the branding implies.
At the end of March I paid my first visit to The Beer Keeper in Dún Laoghaire, a village that's had trouble keeping a decent offer in the past. Hopefully it works out this time. Well over a dozen beers are on tap, almost entirely Irish with a range of specials from BrewDog as well. The house beer is called Ken, a lager brewed for them by Third Barrel. It's a very straightforward, if sweet, pilsner, soft of texture with notes of lemon and grass. Again, a light dusting of soap is the only off-note, but it's barely noticeable. It does a good job of channelling the ever popular Corkonian Dutch lager, stripping out any of the metallic nastiness of the original. Your rugby jock mates will never know the difference.
While I was there I noticed Chasing Shadows was on. This is the latest from one of Third Barrel's constituent parts, Third Circle. It's a porter of 5.6% ABV and it offers an odd mix of characteristics. They've described it as "Belgian" but I didn't get any of the fruity esters that implies. Instead it's smooth and creamy, stemming from the nitro pour, but while beers of this sort tend to be sweet and chocolatey if they taste of anything, this is very dry and roasty, sparking with flinty burnt grains. The initial sharpness tails off into a more rounded dark cocoa note. While a little severe, it is very enjoyable, narrowly avoiding turning acrid or full-on harsh. There's an old-fashioned porter vibe here, the sort of thing that doesn't get brewed in Dublin very often these days but is occasionally welcome.
It's all go at Third Barrel, of course, and a double IPA comes next: Same, Same... But Different. It's 7.5% ABV, despite a typo on the label indicating it might also be 8%. It looks like juice, appearing an opaque orange, and there's a certain amount of juice in the flavour: apricot and mango in particular. But more than that there's a strong savoury component; quite a harsh waxy bitterness and even some menthol warmth. I found this quite tough going to drink, the sharp yeast bite and the alcohol heat combining to increase the difficulty level, and while the aroma is invitingly fruity, each mouthful brought too much nasty dregginess for it to be enjoyable. I've said it before and I'll say it again: clean up your DIPAs.
Third Barrel is also brewing for newcomer Pleasuredome. The first two beers arrived on cask at UnderDog last weekend. I missed the pale ale but did get to try the oyster stout, revelling in the name The World Is My Oyster. It's a whopper at 6.5% ABV. There's no sign of the titular ingredient in the flavour though I am assured that plenty of molluscs went in. The aroma is very roast-forward but the flavour switches the emphasis onto chocolate sweetness. There's almost a milk stout feel to it: that level of wholesome richness, accentuated by a velvet-smooth texture. A light floral complexity is a bonus amongst all the milk chocolate. A great first effort overall and I'm looking forward to seeing what Pleasuredome does next.
On a Sunday cycle odyssey around the western suburbs I landed in to the Rascals taproom thirsty and sweaty. A taster of a brand new Kölsch-a-like was proffered without even asking. That'll do. It's called Das Beaute and is 4.2% ABV. I don't know that the Cologne style is the best designation for this, however. It is crisp, with a clean mineral finish, so that bit checks out. But I detect new world hops: a hint of mandarin and mango, lasting long into the finish. It doesn't throw the beer off kilter or make it unpleasant -- I would consider it an enhancement; fans of the style might see it otherwise. As a thirst quencher, it provided exactly what I needed.
I had unfinished business at Rascals too. Last time I was here I had one of their Toast contract beers but the second wasn't on yet. And here it was: Born and Bread, an American-style pale ale at 5% ABV. It's a total '90s throwback: dark amber with a resinous aroma and a flavour which mixes sweet toffee with bitter grapefruit. While characterful, it's not extreme: the different sides of its personality held in excellent balance. For something this bitter it's lots of fun; sweet without being cloying, bitter without being acrid. A pint was no trouble at all.
A new Endangered Species landed from Wicklow Wolf, celebrating the arrival of a new brewer. Here's Johnny is an American-style IPA of 7.4% ABV, dry hopped with Nelson and Citra. Before pouring, the aroma delivered the scent of fresh C-hops from the can opening. It turned out quite murky in the glass, which isn't very west-coast of it. There's an odd savoury tang at the front: red onion, turning to burnt rubber. I was all geared up for bright and clean and bitter, but it's actually quite dirty. Nelson is doing that diesel fumes thing it sometimes insists on. The finish is brut-level dry with a strong acidity coming from, I guess, the Citra. This did not live up to its promise. The least-attractive aspects of both headline hops feature prominently and it's tragically light on redeeming features. Maybe a bit more fridge time would help settle it.
A few weeks ago, at the Alltech festival, I tried an unusual American-Belgian hybrid from Dundalk Bay. They had another strange one up their sleeves and kindly sent me a bottle of it. The name is Hogs Head and it's a "cask aged weiss". As if that wasn't odd enough, the label adds that there's orange oil and ground coriander, making this more a wit than a weiss. Intriguingly weird, and I hadn't even got the bottle open yet. Oh yes, it's also 7% ABV. What? I shouldn't have been surprised to find it looked nothing like a weissbier either: clear, red-brown, and with virtually no head. The flavour is a strong mix of nuts and fruits and alcohol, somewhere between cream sherry and a vodka and Coke. It's not jarring, though: the bourbon has given it a smoothness and while it's very obviously strong, it's not heavy or sticky. I could see this working as either an aperitif or digestif -- a negroni or an old fashioned. Not for pairing with weisswurst, anyway.
Also pulling unusual moves with citrus essence is Miruvor, the latest in YellowBelly's Beer Club limited series. This calls itself a "New Zealand inspired gose" and is 6% ABV, hopped with Huell Melon, El Dorado and Nelson and including lime purée and salt, but no coriander. It is powerfully sour, and I think that's the lime's doing more than whatever souring culture was used. There's a concentrated hit of Rose's lime cordial and a spiciness that made me think there was ginger in here too, but there isn't. While this is fun in a loud and extreme sort of way, it's not easy drinking, every sip inducing a wince. There's a stickiness too, which reduces the refreshment power, and also none of the luscious hop fruit I had been hoping for. I'm sure it was a worthwhile experiment but I wouldn't be in favour of something like this going into regular production, and I'm not averse to a bit of lime.
It's not often we get something new from YellowBelly's cuckoo-in-residence Otterbank but recently, and unexpectedly, there was Snapback Saison. This is on the strong side at 6.1% ABV, and appears a dark and murky orange. A dense texture comes with that but it's smooth rather than heavy. Fresh mandarin and satsuma opens the flavour in a cheery way, leading to a more serious rye crispbread middle: juicy and dry is an unusual flavour combination but it manages to pull it off well. There's none of the fun spiciness of good saison, alas, so it's not the most complex of examples. It's good, though: easy-going and surprisingly refreshing.
A week ago we took a trip across to the Dead Centre brewery taproom in Athlone. It's a beautiful space down by the Shannon, bright and modern, with a superb line-up of guest beers alongside Dead Centre's own. I took the opportunity to further explore a couple from Belfast's Boundary (I promised you I would), beginning with the double IPA It's Like The Circle Of Life Only Better, a hazy double IPA of 8.5% ABV. It's dense and hazy with a delicious tropical aroma. The texture is slick and slightly gritty, but not unpleasantly so. There's a bit of grit in the flavour too, but again it's not a problem -- thanks hops! There's lots of lovely peach-and-pineapple juicy tropicals, plus a more intense garlic burn. None of it is excessive, though: it's not hot, it's not savoury, it's not sickly. Balanced double IPA is something I'll happily wave a fleg for. A clean finish takes it out and meant it was perfectly possible to taste the next beer after it.
That was Imbongo, one Boundary have been offering for a while but was new to me. It looks the same: a dense juice-orange, the ABV being a more modest 5.5%. The aroma is brighter, friendlier, mixing apricot and coconut in a fun way. The flavour is spicy more than juicy, throwing out pink peppercorn and nutmeg with just a twist of orange peel. A juicebox it is not, but it's accessible, tasty and clean. Can't say fairer than that.
My last one before the train hone was Ballykilcavan's Gingerbread Beer. This is 5% ABV, a dark red colour and smells... well, like gingerbread. The flavour and texture continue that theme: unctuous, with a herbal spice and lots of cake sweetness. It is, in effect, an excellent recreation of gingerbread in beer form. Beery? No, not really. It's an enjoyable novelty, however.
That's it for today but the notebook isn't clear yet. I'll be back with more later in the week, with an emphasis on what Dublin's breweries have been up to.
Innis & Gunn does not feature frequently on these pages: it's over four years since the last mention, and a further two for the one before that. And that's with good reason: I don't particularly like the beers. Indeed, I'm more likely to invoke the name in a review of something I didn't enjoy than actually pick one off a shelf and drink it. But all opinion, however non-prejudical, must be tested from time to time, and when a raft of new and inexpensive I&G beers arrived into the local supermarket, I thought it only fair to give them a shake and see what fell out.
I have no idea where they're brewed these days. You can probably look it up. The packaging, as always, gave no indication.
Innis & Gunn Session IPA was first, a 4.6%-er in a smart little blue can. The bold claim is that this has all the flavours of an American west coast IPA without the heat or bitterness. The only nod towards America in the appearance was the watery Bud-yellow colour with poor head retention to match. The aroma is quite fun and fruity, hinting at zesty citrus chew sweets. The foretaste that followed was properly charming: a clean and tangy mix of mango and lemon, balancing sweet tropicality with bitter zest. And all hop too: no interfering crystal malt. It falls down on the finish, however, fading much too quickly to a galvanic metallic bitterness and then tailing off into wateriness. This shows a lot in common with other industrial breweries' attempts at doing down-with-the-kids hoppy stuff. It's fine, and at least it's not a big buttery mess.
Longtime readers may have noticed that "gunpowder" is one of my favourite descriptors. I associate it with the spicy saltpetre flavour of geuze in particular. I wasn't expecting that profile from I&G's Gunnpowder IPA but was intrigued nonetheless. The ABV jumps to 5.6% and it's a much more substantial-looking deep and hazy orange. Orange is a theme, doubtless due to the Mandarina Bavaria hops: an orangeade aroma, leading to a sherbet-dip flavour. What it's missing is bitterness, and the fruit candy gets quite cloying quite quickly. When the sugar fades there's more of that tinny thing. Again it's not actively unpleasant but just misses the mark on depth and quality.
We'll pop out for a moment, to Wetherspoon, where they have Mangoes on the Run, allegedly a limited edition. It's 5.6% ABV and claiming to have been brewed as a fruity IPA, then having extra tropical fruit added in. A clear amber colour, there's not much aroma from it, just a vague aspirin metallic thing. Metal is the new butterscotch, it seems. There's a lot of alcopop about the flavour; a sticky syrup sweetness. The base beer is largely absent. I guess some of that stickiness is malt-derived, but it's really hard to tell. Nothing about it suggested hops to me. Another sigh, and we move on.
By now I'm missing the buttery old I&G. A rum barrel red ale ought to deliver the goods: codename Blood Red Sky. It's red all right, the tawny shade of dried blood, so there's a certain accuracy there. There's a strong splintery wood element to the flavour at first, and oaky vanilla in particular, of course. I also get a diesel sharpness of the sort found in dark rum, giving it quite a pleasant spirituous edge. There's a kind of nutty cola effect providing a base sweetness, finishing dry and fizzy, and again indecently fast. While fun to begin with, it gets a bit boring after a while. It avoids being sickly and sugary, but is perhaps a little thin and dry for a barrel-aged beer at 6.8% ABV. Like the I&G of old, there's no subtlety; no integration of spirit, barrel and beer in the way you get from breweries who are good at this.
It's a positive move that Innis & Gunn has diversified away from the barrel stuff, and the fresh hop-forward beers are much better than the usual stock in trade. All of it is second-tier quality, though.
A few weeks ago I was at Aldi's summer drinks press event. Wine mostly, of course, but they had one new (to me) beer in the line-up, an Italian lager which was obviously aiming to be an own-brand answer to Peroni Nastro Azzurro. Rossini matches Peroni's 5.1% ABV and I'm told is brewed by Swinkels, though I didn't know they had an Italian footprint.
On tasting it I was quite impressed. I have an active dislike for Peroni, considering it a cheaply-made lager that has gathered for itself an entirely inappropriate premium status. Rossini, on the other hand, tasted solid and decent, if unexciting. I decided it would be fun to try them blind side-by-side to test my prejudices. Is Rossini actually better?
Two days later I bought a bottle of Rossini in Aldi and a Peroni in Tesco. Unexpectedly, the latter was actually the cheaper of the pair, the 66cl bottle part of a 4-for-€10 while a half-litre of Rossini was €1.99. I had intended to run the tasting as a triangle test but there wasn't much point in the end: one beer was pale yellow with a stack of tight white foam while the other was a darker gold and lost its head quickly. I immediately had a suspicion of which was which.
Pale 'n' frothy was the more aromatic one, showing Saaz-y grass and petrol while the other smelled of nothing much. The paler one was bitterer to taste, but that's not in its favour. There's a sharp and quite harsh plasticky bite on the end, leading on to an unpleasant acrid aftertaste. I'll put my cards on the table now and say this is a nastiness I associate strongly with Peroni.
Supposed Rossini, then, is blander but definitely smoother and more full-bodied. There's a bread or biscuit malt character that makes me think of Bavarian helles more than Italian or Dutch pils. The finish is clean and the whole thing very satisfying to drink. Dull helles beats crappy pils any day of the week.
The reveal proved me correct. What have we learned? Well, Peroni is still objectively awful and should never be consumed by anyone anywhere. Peroni purists, however, are unlikely to be swayed by Rossini's superficial similarities: the flavour profile is dramatically different. Asahi shareholders have nothing to fear from it while the drinking public can rejoice that Nastro Azzurro is safely uncloneable.
A raft of new beers from the ever so industrious Sierra Nevada today.
It was still winter, just about, when I opened the Winter Warmer lager. This is a potentially warming 6.7% ABV and a very dark red-brown colour. Not much head formed on pouring, and that dissolved to nothing in a couple of minutes, leaving it millpond flat. The flavour is typical of mid-European dark lager, big on liquorice and caramel, with lots of burntness too. There's a surprising lighter fruit side as well, bringing a squeeze of sweet cherry and blueberry. What it lacks is warmth. Though it has the same sticky dark malt of any dunkels or tmavý, the alcohol doesn't really push through. It's fine but unexciting.
"Spring seasonal" it says on the label of Sierra Nevada Brut IPA. Also that it was packaged on 17th December. Go figure. From the bottle it's a pure and clear pale gold. The aroma is quite sickly: a gastric acidity that made me slightly apprehensive. Thankfully there's none of that on tasting, just a lemon sherbet flavour, and not much else, really. It's surprisingly sweet for something that's apparently had all the sugar fermented out of it, a definite hard-candy effect. There's a certain tongue-shrivelling dry smack, but nothing dramatic. It feels a bit efforty, overall: an attempt to get down with what the kids are drinking that doesn't bring the Sierra Nevada finesse in the same way Hazy Little Thing did.
Back to lager again for the next one. Sierraveza is Mexican-style, tapping into that craft market for macro clones. It looks more like a Corona than a Negra Modelo: a pale limpid yellow with poor head retention. It also somehow tasted skunked, and given the brewery's attention to detail I can't help thinking that might be deliberate. There's a touch of Germanic heritage next -- some slightly harsh ryegrass noble hops and soft, sticky, candyfloss malt. It doesn't taste like a quality beer, and yes I know that's probably the point, but I also don't know why Sierra Nevada is elbowing in on Corona's territory. Their brand is cheapened by it and the drinker gets nothing worthwhile out of the arrangement. Beer four is for charidee: Resilience, an open source IPA produced by multiple American breweries to aid relief from the 2018 Butte County wildfires. It's a dark orange job, the aroma redolent with toffee and caramel. The texture is smooth and the flavour dry at first, with a strong-tea astringency. Behind that are the fresh and fruity hops, bringing mouthwatering orange peel and spiky, earthy resins. It's another of those '90s style IPAs that I keep calling out when I see them but there's a new one every week or so. It won't be for everyone, tastewise, but I liked the complete eschewing of fashion in aid of a good cause.
Overall, not the brewery's best work, this lot. At least we can be assured there'll be something else from them along soon.
I make no apology for the one-and-done approach this blog takes. There are too many beers, and too many variables affecting how it's perceived, to try and be any way objective. Beer is no more immutable than my palate. So I write about what's in front of me when it's in front of me and then move on. Usually.
I was recently approached by a brewer who wasn't happy with my account of his beer. I reviewed White Gypsy's Vintage in this post last summer. It was on the train home after an afternoon at Hagstravaganza, and he thinks the circumstances were detrimental to my opinion of the beer. Much as I dislike revisiting beers, I'm always up for an experiment, so the next time I saw a bottle of Vintage I bought it: €9.95 for 375ml in Baggot Street wines; almost €2 more than at the festival.
And here we are. I am well rested. I have a clean glass and a clean palate. The beer is still 6% ABV and a pure obsidian black. A tall layer of tan foam builds rapidly as it pours but fades quickly. By the time I had settled in to take a drink it was little more than one bubble thick on the surface. Before a sip, a sniff. A spicy sourness arrives first; a sandalwood or cedar effect. That's complemented by -- but definitely separate from -- a rich stout bitterness, heavy on herbal liquorice. OK, there's no soy sauce this time. The flavour is that spritzy bitterness, mixing bitter marjoram and yarrow with dark chocolate. There's no more than a seasoning of the aromatic wood, plus a tiny nibble of sourness. Why such a light touch on the complexity? It's thin, is why; big on fizz while the bitterness fades last, leaving almost no aftertaste. I'm sure this is part of the spec, but at a tenner a throw it really ought to be more than nice. It may be an obvious statement to make, but Guinness Foreign Extra Stout will give you something along the same lines -- if much less subtle -- at a fraction of the price.
Yes, this was a different experience to the one I had last summer, but my conclusion remains the same: it's not spectacular, but it's priced like it is.