Friday, 27 February 2015

The Belgian Beer Box

Last month, I was sent a box of Belgian beer to try. It's from the Belgian Beer Discovery people which appears to be a similar idea to Beer52 (still working my way through that box). Belgian Beer Discovery are trying make a bigger impact in the UK so they have a website dedicated to the UK market. This website includes the cost of shipping in the price. You can have your monthly delivery from £26.90 or to Ireland (Republic) for €19.90 plus €17 shipping. This works out at pretty much the same as the UK price once converted.

Here's what the inside of the box looks like. Each bottle is individually wrapped in bubble wrap and separated by cardboard. The bottom and top of the box are also lined in bubble wrap making the whole box very secure. You are unlikely to suffer any breakages.

Taking everything out of the box, I was presented with a glass, bottle opener, a magazine and a beer menu that described all of the beers. Typically, you only get 8 x 330ml bottles* and a menu. There is an option to add a glass from the brewery and some other goodies if you wish. I'm not actually sure how much the optional extras cost offhand.  

The beer in the box is typically from a single brewery. It's always going to be a small or medium sized brewery so don't expect bottles of Leffe or Duvel. In my beer box, I got 4 beers from Brasserie Grain d’Orge in Hombourg. There were two of each so I could share them with my wife and get her thoughts.

This review is about the box and not the beer that happened to be in the box that I received. I enjoyed the beer that I got and it's exactly what was promised. 8 bottles of beer from a small craft brewery in Belgium. I thought that Brice and especially Joup were pretty good beers. Both were 7.5% and tasty. The other two were Aubel Triple and Grelotte, both 9% I liked the Aubel but to be honest, Grelotte left a lot to be desired. It seemed overly sweet and sugary without anything interesting to balance it out. It was also a big of a gusher, both bottles were actually.

The idea is sound. You get beer from small batch producers in Belgium. Beer that is likely not available in Ireland or the UK. If you are an armchair beer ticker then it's ideal.
You are clearly paying a premium for the service because of the shipping charges. If my maths are correct, the average price for a bottle of 330ml beer is about €4.61 each with this service. Not cheap but then, you would likely have to travel to Belgium to find most of this beer and even then, it might not be an easy task.

The real benefit here is as a gift. Something for that person who has everything. Someone like me actually.

*  Beers are in 33 cl or 25 cl bottles. Occasionally they might replace these bottles with 4 x 750ml bottles or 6 x 500ml bottles.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Support My Local? - #ShowUsYourLocal

The Show Us Your Local campaign is being driven by Jamie Olivers' Drinks Tube channel. The video above is from said channel and features the lovely Sarah Warman from Brewdog.

What's a local though? Is it the pub that's physically located the closest to you? In my case no, not even close. There are two pubs in the little Westmeath village I call home and neither are places I choose to drink. Neither of them serve the type of beer I want to drink so I need to look further afield. Mullingar and Tullamore are my two closest big towns and while they do have pubs serving good Irish beer from independent Irish breweries, transport is problematic. It's either a 3 times a day bus, last one being about 6 pm or else a €22 taxi ride each way. That gets expensive. It's just cheaper for me to get the bus to Dublin or spend the night at my mother's house if it's a weeknight.

So I consider Dublin my local. It's my local area to go drinking. It's where I'm from, where I work and where most of my friends live.

So where in Dublin do I consider my local? For me, the whole city is my playground. When I have to travel 80 km to have a few pints, a little extra walking time isn't going to kill me.

Here are some of my favourite places to drink in Dublin, in no particular order.

Any of the Galway Bay bars are often top of my list. Brewock and Alfie Byrne's are my two personal favourites because they are so different. Alfie's is much bigger and gets a different crowd to Brewdock. The others are quite similar, Against The Grain and Black Sheep. You often go to a different one for different things. Black Sheep for cask, Brew Dock for American beer and Against The Grain for an all around good mix up. A little further out there's the lovely Dark Horse in Blackrock and the 108 in Rathgar, though I haven't made it to that one yet.

The Bull and Castle, Dublin's original independent craft beer specialist pub. It's still a great place for Irish craft beer and even better if you want to eat a mouthwatering steak or succulent IPA marinated rack of ribs. The Bull and Castle showed us what good beer was in 2007 and Dublin hasn't looked back since.

A short walk from there to Leonard's Corner and the fantastic 57 The Headline. With about 20 taps of purely Irish craft beer, it is probably one of the, of not the best line-up of Irish beer on tap in Dublin and possibly the country. Add to that the knowledgeable staff and great food and you will wonder why you put up with the crowded and overly loud Temple Bar pubs. It can still get crowded though, it's a popular place at the weekend but you can always have a chat without the distraction of loud music and non stop TV chatter.

Any of the Porterhouse bars with Temple Bar being my favourite, just because I prefer the layout. Great beer, especially Wrasslers, Hop Head and TSB. They do their own tied beer or  a range of Irish and international craft beer on tap and an impressive and reasonably priced bottle selection.

The Norseman, formally Farrington's, formally the Norseman. It has come full circle in name but no matter which, the beer list is astounding. It boasts one of the best tap lineups in the city and for a bar in the middle of Temple Bar, that's impressive. My favourite thing about the Norseman is you can either be in the thick of things downstairs or go upstairs for some relative quiet and comfy leather couches to have a chat. The beer options are less impressive upstairs but it's only a short hop downstairs to get what you want.

O'Neill's on Suffolk Street, nooks and crannies everywhere and a great tap line-up. This is a tourist destination pub as well as a local Dublin destination pub.

L. Mulligan Grocer. When it comes to game changing pubs, this is second only to Bull and Castle. Not only did they bring Irish craft beer to Stoneybatter, not an area known for that sort of thing, they also opened after taking out the Guinness tap. A ballsy move that started a trend among other craft beer pubs. They were encouraged by the number of people that didn't walk out when they were told they didn't serve Guinness. This little gem has been written about in the New York times and many other worldwide publications. It's not just a beer heaven, it's a foodie heaven. Booking a table for dinner is always advisable, even on a week night. The bar area can also get very busy but you can usually enjoy a comfortable pint.

J.W. Sweetman's, formally Messrs Maguire. Currently it's Dublin's only brewpub, though that will be changing in the near future. This is a multi level superpub, possibly the largest pub in Dublin in terms of floor space with perhaps The Church(another good venue) its closest rival in size. Sweetman's brews their own beer on site and it's really good too. The porter is among the best porters available in Ireland, just let it warm up a little as it's served too cold usually. Order the porter and a pale ale and by the time you are finished with the pale ale, your porter might be ready to drink.

That's all I can think of at the moment. If I didn't put you on the list, it doesn't mean I don't like you. There are simply too many good pubs in Dublin. The best advice I can give is to use the BeoirFinder app to find a good one wherever you are on the island of Ireland.

At the end of the day, your local is not only where your heart is, it's wherever you find yourself when you are in the mood for a pint.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Hop House 13

It's not every day that Guinness release a new beer and when they do, they tend to be a stout of some description. There was the Guinness black lager which is a headache I'm sure they would sooner forget in the Irish market, though I believe it does better abroad. There are other beers available in other markets such as Guinness Blonde in the USA but I believe this is a different beer.

Recent new launches from Guinness were Dublin porter and West Indies Porter at 3.8% and 6% respectively. I like them both, especially the West Indies porter but I much prefer Foreign Extra, their 7.5% monster. The only reason for me to buy West Indies instead is that it comes in a 500ml bottle and is a little easier to drink due to the lower ABV.

So where does Hop House 13 come in to all this? Well, it's a pale lager. There's Harp and now there's this. I imagine people will shorten the name to Hop House at the bar and I suspect that's intentional. The only problem is, the beer isn't a hop house by any stretch of the imagination. It's actually named after a random hop storage building from the 1900's.

I didn't make the launch at the brewery but they sent me a bottle to try. I should note that this is draught only at the moment so don't go looking for bottles just yet. There's a very real feel that this is marketed at the craft beer drinker. We are proudly informed they use hops from Australia (Galaxy, Topaz) and the USA in the form of Mosaic. That means nothing to your average beer drinker but a craft beer drinker knows that these are the hops used in some of the juiciest IPAs in the world. And that right there is the problem. You might drink this beer with a certain expectation. An IPA/Lager hybrid. Massively hopped as per the name and of course complex due to the types of hops used. Unfortunately that's not the case. It's not all boo urns though.

The beer itself is rather nice. It's completely and utterly inoffensive to anyone that is likely to drink it. As a lager, it's unlike anything in your average Irish pub. You couldn't mistake Hop House 13 for any other pale lager. While the new world hops don't assault you with fun aromas and flavours, they do tease you with subtlety. The most striking thing about the beer is the carbonation. Most pale lagers are super fizzy and can leave you quite bloated if you are that way inclined. What we have here is a softer carbonation. The body is a little different too. It's less watery and more of a medium bodied lager, sort of Vienna style in some ways. There's quite a subtle fruity nose with a little citrus orange and blackcurrant with some tropical mango or passion fruit. It doesn't taste of much, you really have to search for it but what's there is very pleasant. There's almost no bitterness at all, something inconceivable to a craft brewer or even homebrewer using the same hops. I should point out that I had this at cellar temperature in a bottle but when served in a pub, it will likely be served as cold as any lager so the lovely fruitiness might be lost entirely.

All in all, it's a pleasantly fruity, inoffensive lager. I actually think that many women will prefer this to other lagers as it tastes of a lot more than most and is less gassy. Women are typically better at tasting than men. Craft Beer drinkers of any sex will not be so impressed but then, Nick Curtis-Davis (Head of Innovation) said: "We believe Hop House 13 will appeal to mainstream lager drinkers who are looking for beer with more taste and more character but without compromising on the refreshing taste that lager offers".

There's a very clear target audience here and I applaud Guinness for trying to break the foothold that foreign* lagers have in Irish pubs.You could almost call it craft beer for people who don't like craft beer. Either way, it's great to see some real innovation from Guinness as this is very far outside of their comfort zone of pale malt, roast barley and boring hops.

* I use that term even while considering that there's very little difference between Hop House 13 brewed in Dublin and Heineken brewed in Cork.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

A Pre-Flight Tasting

A few weeks ago, I went to Iceland. I was flying from Belfast so I drove up north and stayed at Steve's house to kill a few birds with one stone. First, he lives about 45 minutes from the airport. I also had beer to deliver and collect. As we tend to do in such situations, we tasted some beer that night.

Rooie Dop 24/7 Session Ale is a session IPA though at 4.9%, it's a little on the high side. I provided this one from the beer52 box sent due to their sponsorship of the Beer Bloggers Conference in Dublin. A floral, perfume like aroma along with lemon sherbet. It tastes pretty much as it smells with the addition of a little sour note. It's a little saison like. Not sure what's going on or what they are aiming for here but it works. 

Rule of Thirds is a collaboration between Siren, Magic Rock & Beavertown. It's a 6.4% blend of each breweries' flagship IPA. There's too much going on in the aroma. It seems every citrus fruit imaginable along with some dank weed from an Amsterdam coffeeshop. On tasting, there's an explosion of citrus and a little malt sweetness with a deep and lingering bitterness. If there's one problem with this beer it's that there's just so much going on. Best just put the notepad or phone down and enjoy the experience.

Mission IPA is a 6.8% IPA that came in a massive can just under a litre can, also referred to as a crowler. It was a little spicy on the nose and put me in mind of rye, even though there's none in it that I know of. What was obvious was a little citrus from the classic C hops, cascade and centennial. It tasted a little soapy though, not usually something I enjoy. A little caramel body and slight spiciness. We actually didn't finish the can. It wasn't bad as such, we just had a lot more beer to get through and we weren't enjoying it enough to finish.

Steve was sent three beers from the Lacons brewery in Norfolk. the first one was Audit Ale, the type of beer that sets an accountants heart racing. It's 8%, another figure to soothe everyone's inner accountant. Unfortunately, the beer is a mess. Probably a bad bottle. I found it very metallic. There was a little caramel but still totally undrinkable. Lots of solvent and plastic. This one went unfinished and a new glass was called for. I suspect this was a fluke and another bottle would be much more pleasing to drink.

The Extra Stout was a very different story. You don't get many 4.5% stouts in a 750ml bottle, those tend to be imperial versions. On the nose was a hint of liquorice and vanilla. Both were present on tasting along with a little dark fruit and a long lingering bitterness. There were hint of citrus too which meant it wasn't too far off a low ABV black IPA. Very low carbonation, almost cask feel to it. Neither of us wanted this beer to end but it eventually did and we had to move on.

Falconers Ale is 4.2% ABV On the nose was a slight metallic twang alongside some toffee. Very little hop aroma was evident. Might be an old bottle that lost its hop aroma? It tasted pretty much the same. No hop flavours, a little toffee malt but there was a lingering bitterness so clearly there used to be a fair bit of hops in there. I thought it was okay but the metallic notes spoiled it somewhat. I suspect a fresher bottle might be a lot better and I think cask might change it immensely.

The Pale Ale was your typical 3.9% strength number except it didn't really taste like your traditional English pale ale. It was packed full of citrus, mostly lemon and toffee malt. I found it delightfully spicy along with a nice biscuity character. It was a brilliant session beer that seemed to marry English malt with new world hops.

And one more can in the form of Terrace Hill DIPA from Central Coast. This was a 9.5% beer that tasted closer to 6%. Notes of caramel, citrus fruits and some Mystery Machine's finest potpourri. It tastes a lot like Big Daddy IPA, which happens to be 6%. Where's that 9.5% hiding? The body was biscuits and caramel. It's a very nice beer indeed and I wouldn't mind having some more of this.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination? #TheSession 96

In this months session, Joan from the blog: Birraire asks us - Festivals: Geek Gathering or Beer Dissemination?

That's interesting as a question but it's missing something fundamental which I will get to in due course. When I go to a beer festival, I go as a beer geek and I do ponder and fuss over the beer a little.  I do what Budweiser doesn't want me to do. I say a little because I tend not to do very much of that sort of thing at beer festivals. The reason is simple. In order to fully taste a beer, you need a full measure. Sometimes more than one. That's something you can't have at a beer festival because if you do, you will not get to taste very many beers before falling on your face.

I tend to congregate around fellow beer geeks to talk about the beer, see what they've had that I should look out for and generally have a good time with beery friends. I also enjoy talking to the brewers themselves at beer festivals in which they serve the beer themselves. These are my favourite types of events. Are beer geeks the biggest audience for a beer festival? In my experience, no they/we are not.

That brings me to the missing part of the question. Simply drinking! A better word for a beer festival is a drinking festival. What I mean by that is you do of course drink but when people go drinking, they usually do so socially. So a beer festival is a social gathering of people consuming the best social lubricant of them all: Beer!

That's how I treat a beer festival. It's a lot of fun, I meet lots of people, I make new friends, possibly even some enemies(could happen I suppose) and I try lots of beers but above all, I don't take it very seriously.

If you are at a beer festival to be serious with note paper and pen, you would be better off at a quiet pub or at home with bottles you have purchased where you can give the beer you full and sober attention. Personally, I don't enjoy trying to take tasting notes at a beer festival and prefer to simply enjoy my time. You could say that going to a beer festival is a bit like a vacation. I down tools and simply enjoy myself and that's what a beer festival should be about. Enjoying yourself and good company along with good beer.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Brittany Beers

It has been a few years since I wrote about beer from a specific region of France. The last time was Normandy in 2010. In my first real visit to Brittany, I discovered something interesting. Brittany has its own language. I always took from the name that "Brittany" must have something to do with "Britain" just by how it sounds so it was interesting to look in to that a little. The Britons were Celtic tribes living on the island of Great Britain. They are distinct from the Picts of what is now north and east Scotland and the Gaelic tribes of Ireland, west Scotland and the Manx (Isle of Man).

This just goes to show I was completely ignorant about the region because as it turns out, Brittany shares a lot in common with Ireland. Both of us are among the 6 celtic nations of Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man. Who says you don't learn anything while drinking beer?
I was fascinated to see stickers on cars all over Brittany with an image of a girl in a top hat with the words "A l'aise Breizh". There's a clothing brand of that name but this sticker seems something more. There's a hint of nationalism about it I think. It seems that some of the Breton people might not like being part of France? Anyway, I've digressed enough, back to the beer.

Lancelot is a Brittany brewery that had a 7 beer variety pack for sale so I nabbed it. The blonde is a nice 6% ABV Belgian style blonde. Nothing out of the ordinary and I enjoyed it a lot. 
I'll just list the other beers with a few quick notes below.
Morgane: 5.5% Sorty of flowery blonde. Not bad but not as good as the first blonde.

Cervoise lancelot is a 6% Belgian amber type beer. Nice enough. Lingering sweet and bitter with a little honey and flowery aroma.

Bonnets Rouges is a 5.5% fruit beer of some kind. This one came in a clear bottle for some reason and was very skunked as a result. 

Duchesse Anne is a 7.5% trippel. It's a rather nice beer that reminded me of Duvel.

Still on Lancelot, Telenn Du is a 4.5% dark ale. I found it watery with some coffee and a little oxidation.

I think there was also a witbier in the pack but I don't recall it and didn't write any quick notes.

To Brasserie Britt now, Dremmwell Rouse Bio is a rather nice red ale. I found it had a slightly smoked aroma. It tasted quite winey with a fair bit of alcoholic warmth. I actually had this on tap and I found it a bit better on tap. It didn't have the smoke but it just worked a little better than the bottle. probably the extra carbonation or perhaps because it was filtered versus bottle conditioned.

From Brasserie Kerav'Ale, I got another mixed pack. 
Eost Du is a 4.5% sort of sour dark wheat beer. It's not bad, just a little odd. 

Gwenning is a 5% sour witbier with refreshing lemon. Very tasty I thought.

Bloscon Best Bitter is a 6% supposedly English style best bitter, though bigger than most and not so much English as a French or Belgian take on one. Caramel is expected but lots of candi sugar in there too. It's a little bitter with slight sour finish.

Rosko Ambrée is a 4.5% beer quite similar to best bitter but much lighter and less sweet. It also had a slight sourness. 

All of the Kerav'Ale beers had a slight sour thing going on. That means either every beer was somewhat infected, or they just like to produce sour beers. There were a few more that I didn't jot down any notes for but but from memory, all had a slight sour twang which worked nicely for all of the beers.

I have a little more French beer to get through at a later date.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Spanish Beer - Part 2

This large lager from Bronher(contract brew) is a 5.1% lager. I'm not sure why it's large other than the slightly higher than normal ABV for a pale lager. An aroma of pilsner malt and lemon, not a whole lot really. It tastes a little better with lots of bitterness and lemon and a fair bit of hop oil. There's a big malt body to back it up. A spicy and bitter finish. The only flaw is a slight metallic note that's a little unpleasant but otherwise, it's a good beer.

Zulogaarden Torxa is another contract brewed beer. It's a 7.5% ABV American style IPA. Notes of orange marmalade and a slight stinky cheese on the nose. It tastes of strong orange and pine resin. A slight metallic twang doesn't ruin the beer. A rather bitter finish. It's rather good this, but only good. One note, ratebeer seems to think this is a smoked IPA but I didn't notice it, unless the metallic twang was the best they could do. According to the website/blog, it uses rauch malt: 
Malt: Maris Otter, Pilsner Malt, Vienna malt, Rauch Malt
Hops: Chinook, Simcoe, Amarillo, Nelson Sauvin

Castellana Tostada is a 5.8% ABV American amber. Aroma of brown malt, a little chocolate. No hops aroma that I could detect. The beer has a big malt body with a slight bitterness. Some caramel and lots of biscuit. It's actually a very tasty beer.

From the same brewery is Bonita, an American pale ale. A larger 6.1% ABV on this one. It's a little less impressive in that it lacks a little body and is just too fizzy but a decent attempt at an APA. 

Apologies to anyone waiting for part 2. I had meant to publish it before I went to Iceland and seem to have forgotten. I think I have a few more Spanish beers to get through but my next article will be on some of the French beer I brought home. You can also look forward to an article on some of the beer I had in Iceland at some point.