James Brown Brews – Chocolate Orange Stout – 5% ABV

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I am a consumer. From time to time I buy things, but more often than not, I am sold them. I can be overtly, covertly or even accidentally sold just about anything. I heard about this beer back when it was announced that it had won the Beoir Champion Beer of Ireland 2015 award, and it instantly appealed to me.

My brain started to put it on a pedestal, and everything I read about it exalted it further.

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To say that my expectations were raised would be an understatement. I rarely buy more than one of any beer at a time, and I went as far as to DOUBLE that number with this beer. How could it possibly go wrong? Chocolate. Orange. Stout. The trifecta. A triple threat. The Holy Trinity.

First Impressions:

When I opened the first bottle, I wrote a lot of cruel notes. The last time I remember being quite so disappointed, I was about 6 years old. My mother had bought a food processor and my brother had a great idea. He mixed cooking chocolate and mandarins. Orange Chocolate was misrepresenting what he offered me, and over 20 years later, I went through the same heartache. Fool me once…

Aside from my dismay, it looked great – black with a thick tan head.

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Second Impressions:

The second bottle sat in the back of my fridge for weeks, serving as a warning that over investment can sometimes leave you with toxic assets. About a month after the initial anti-climax, I went for the second bottle. I felt like a scorned lover going back for more.

As you can imagine, with lowered expectations, I started to realise how melodramatic I had been up to this point. I still couldn’t taste any orange in the beer but there are some chocolate notes. It is well carbonated, but has a bit of a strange mouthfeel. If it was put in front of you with no preamble, I think you would enjoy it.

It certainly doesn’t evoke Chocolate Orange for me in the way that Galway Bay Buried At Sea Milk Chocolate Stout evokes Milk Chocolate.

Final Impressions:

I am clearly an outlier on the opinion market with this beer. It is an award winner, and it is a huge achievement for James Brown, who will certainly play a huge part in shaping the future of the Irish Craft Beer scene.

I think if I had been sold this beer as something like “Pilot Stout” or “Papa’s Got A Brand New Stout”, I would have been pleasantly surprised by it. I still don’t think I would be saying that it reminds me of chocolate orange, or even oranges, but we can never know!

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Irish Craft Beer Festival 2015

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The Irish Craft Beer Festival 2015 happened this weekend, and it was a great exhibition of Irish beers and ciders.

There were a few non-Irish contributors, and a handful of spirits were on show too. A full list of participants is available here!

This was a great chance for Brewers to show their fans the specialties that they are able to pull off, and also show their core range to anyone who may not have had the chance to test their wares before.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

I only had the time to visit the festival on the Friday evening, and as I approached I was afraid that I might spend half the night queuing! Luckily it was very well organised. There was a man holding what looked like a few months wages directing people to the appropriate queue, the other for tickets and his for cash.

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After 5 or 6 minutes of queuing, I am inside, and am instantly offered a map and a choice. You can have a shaker style glass for free or a tulip style glass for EUR 2, both branded with the festival logo. I am a terrible multi-tasker, and invest too much time and consideration into the choice. I successful make a choice I regret and forget the map. This failure led to a nice 15 minute stroll of the venue trying to find the money changers so that I could fill my glass!

I gave up, and asked a friendly looking man with a beer (he couldn’t have that beer if he didn’t know the solution). He pointed me in the right direction and said that he had had the exact same struggle.

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I walked right by the token sellers about 4 times previously, in spite of the fact that they were just inside the door. The horde of people marked by the line FIG A are the token queue. Many of them were holding beers and chatting, so I can’t be a complete fool for not figuring this one out. This was however the longest line of people inside the venue so I should have known that there was something good at the end of it.

FIG B is where there wasn’t a sign saying “TOKENS”, and FIG C is the sign which gave a little information on tokens.

SECOND IMPRESSIONS

Armed with “Beer Bucks”, I ventured through the festival. The choice was really astounding, and the atmosphere was electric. The music was perfect, not so loud that it was detracting from the general buzz.

In fairness to the festival organisers, the token system worked great. There is no minimum purchase, and every time I went to get a drink, it cost only one token, which was really perfect. There was no real transactions. A couple of times that I got high ABV beers, I expected to need to pay 2 tokens, but the glasses had a 1/3 pint mark, and were a half pint filled to the brim, so the dispenser could give you the appropriate amount.

There was plenty of different styles to try – IPAs, Stouts, Imperial Stouts, beers with randles, coffee injections, casked beers, sour beers, lagers. Still a man-sans-map, I was occasionally dependent on fellow festival goers for directions, and the directions nearly always came with a beer suggestion.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS

A festival on this scale is very difficult to put in place, and it is a testament to the brewers, the patrons and the organisers that it was such a success. The sheer volume of people in attendance over the three days just goes to show how vital a part of modern Irish culture the craft beer industry has become.

The passion was evident from everyone involved, and I am already excited for 2016!

 

Token Article

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Tokens have many benefits when it comes to a beer festival. Brewers don’t have to delve into the dirty world of cash handling, there are no complicated change arrangements, and all transactions are simplified.

My understanding of the relationship between money and beer becomes very unusual when tokening becomes involved, for three main reasons:

  1. I’ve already spent the money by the time I exchange tokens for beer, so the beer feels free.
  2. The ratio of real money to festival tokens is always fractionalised, which gives me an almost holiday-esque feeling. “Oh, one token is 5/4 euros? And you are giving me 11 imperial ounces at the half pint rate of 3 tokens? So how many apples does Mary have?” The day after the festival when you are working out your proxy-money spending against your real life spending, it feels a lot like coming back from a trip to London and realising that you just don’t get exchange rates.
  3. If there is a minimum purchase on tokens, it is like getting stuck in rounds with your parallel self. If there is no minimum spend, your unwillingness to queue frequently may cause you to buy more than you need. Tokens are easy to carry, and easier to spend.

The main advantage of the token is its drawback. It is very easily separated from real money, but it is more like a foreign currency. People have seen advantages to closed, private currency based transactions for a long time, requiring special money for special occasions. There is good money in changing money! Jesus was said to be so disgusted by the practice that he turned over tables – and he was known to be fairly laid back about most things.

St. Mel’s Brewing Company – Neomexicanus – 5% ABV.

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When I heard about Neomexicanus and the rarity attached to it, I was desperate to get it.

I missed a couple of festivals it was attending, and none of the places that I asked for it were stocking it and I feared my chance was slipping away from me. My fiance could barely contain her excitement when she found out that Number 1, a pub local to us here in Mullingar had it in stock. They have been solid in stocking the St. Mel’s seasonals – it was where we first tried both the Raisin & Oatmeal Stout and Spring Bock, and its craft beer selection on a visit to Mullingar gave us confidence to move here.

Neomexicanus marks the one year anniversary of the triumphant return of brewing to Longford in the expert hands of St. Mel’s Brewing Company. It also launches their black label series. This goes beyond their white label seasonal series, and promises to be a series of one-shot brews.

A good core range, which St. Mel’s are well known for, is important for restaurants or the “toe in the water” style craft beer establishments, but what really makes the business thrive and keeps customers coming back for more is variety, and St. Mel’s have not lost sight of this.

First Impressions:

Neomexicanus is named for the wild hop used to produce it. All St. Mel’s Beers use the peripheries of their bottle to tell a story – the left tells you about the beer and the brand, the right tells you about the brewer and a little about the process. The middle is usually reserved for branding, but in this case, the story of the procurement of the hops, pivotal as it is, takes the entire middle. Written in a Spagetti-Western style font, it almost looks like a wanted poster, and it certainly is in demand.

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It pours a dark amber, with a thin head, and it smells quite sweet.

Second Impressions:

It goes down extremely smoothly, and has a really great balance between the dark malt foundation hop flavour built on this.

I feared this beer to be almost over-poweringly hoppy. It is a showcase beer after all, for the Benedictine Monk’s harvest, and so “hops hops hops” would not be an unimaginable production strategy. However, whether is was good sense on the brewers behalf, or a limited supply of the hops in question, the beer is well rounded.

It has a sweet fruity flavour, with very mild citrusness, and a clean bitterness. It is well carbonated, and could compete with ease with any core range red or amber ale on the Irish Market, serving as a reminder that a red is not a part of St. Mel’s portfolio.

Final Impressions:

“What is seldom is wonderful” is a great Irish proverb, and it is well reflected in St. Mel’s seasonal range, and now more so in their black label range.

You could drink this beer every week, but what it all the more appealing is that you can’t.

We can be confident however, that when the stocks run dry, something else will come into its place which is just as easy to enjoy.

Dungarvan Brewing Co & Nøgne Ø – Seaweed Saison – 6.5% ABV

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There is a crossed-wire somewhere in my brain. The words “limit” and “target” have for a long time been equated. I was ordering some beer a while back, and this beer flashed up with a tag reading “1 per customer”. I can only read this as a mandatory purchase of one unit.

The idea behind this beer is great – Dungarvan Brewing Company and Nøgne Ø are both coastal breweries, so their collaboration uses dillisk, an edible seaweed.

First Impressions:

The head produced by this beer is outstanding, exactly what you expect from a Saison. This beer has been standing upright in my fridge for weeks, so I expected it to pour clear, with the bottle conditioning yeast firmly settled on the bottom.

This is not the case – this beer is supposed to be a cloudy orange, and its strong carbonation forces the yeast to mix, regardless of how gently you might try to pour it.

Second Impressions:

The complexity of this beer is evident from the first mouthful. A small mouthful quickly fills every corner of your mouth, so you can instantly appreciate many elements. There is a clove and pepper twang to this beer which is very Saison-like.

The seaweed definitely plays a part in this, but where it really comes into play, and what makes this beer so unusual, is the saltiness of this drink.

Final Impressions:

The adventurousness by the breweries is very rewarding for the consumers. An intense and distinct flavour, from a very unusual ingredient.

Dungarvan & Nøgne Ø share credit for the creation of this masterpiece. The best way to carry this spirit on, is to share the experience of drinking it.

It is human nature to horde scarce resources, but I can’t think of a more universally shareable beer. Whether you have had a hundred different craft beers this year, or you can’t tell a lager from an ale, this beer is instantly distinguishable from all others.

8 Degrees Brewing Company – Oxymoron – Kiwi Wit – 6.2% ABV

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Oxymoron is a concept beer with a very interesting intent. Belgian Wheat beers traditionally flavour themselves with directness. To add lavender flavour, add lavender. Need an orange twang? Add oranges. 8 Degrees have opted to find hops which emulate the the traits they are looking for in this Belgian Wit.

It’s a great idea, and the flavours they are trying to mimic through hopping are lemon and pepper.

First Impressions:

Oxymoron really pours the part of a Wit. It is a straw yellow, with a huge head. The aromas it offers up are mild, but they fit the bill.

Second Impressions:

The head dissipates much more quickly than you would expect from a wit beer, but Oxymoron is still backed by the carbonation which presented the head to us when it was poured.

To drink, it certainly has the peppery and lemony notes which were promised by the beer, and the classic wheat beer maltiness.

The main defining factor of the beer, however ,which distracts from its subtleties, is its bitterness. Obviously, this beer has a reasonable amount of hops, in order to achieve its flavour profile, and this has led to quite a bitter beer.

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This along side the poor head retention keep it from attaining “fool the hardened Wit drinkers” status, but it is still a refreshing beer.

Final Impressions:

I don’t think that this style of beer is going to take over the world – but I don’t think that is the point either.

This beer shows that 8 Degrees like to think about beer as much as they like to drink it, which is why they can consistently put out solid beers.

Oxymoron is not exactly pushing the envelope, but it is definitely delivering on intrigue and curiosity.

Kinnegar Brewing – Swingletree – Farmhouse Saison – 7% ABV

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Kinnegar Brewing started out its life as a brewery on a nano-scale and has bumped up to what is still an indisputably “micro” brewery, with a 10Hl brewhouse. They have a large core range for such a small company, and still find the time and capacity to regularly release seasonal and one-shot beers.

Their Saison, Swingletree is just one of their specials.

First Impressions:

This beer is too tall to comfortable stand on any of the shelves in my fridge, so I was tempted to put it on its side. For a yeasty beer like a Saison, this can lead to the yeast settling along the side of the bottle. Kinnegar have anticipated this, and they have a sediment warning.

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Swingletree pours a perfect gold, leaving about a half an inch of beer in the bottle. Its head is pure white, and extremely intense. It has some spicy notes on the nose.

Second Impressions:

This beer is very easy to drink. It has a very light body. I would not have guessed it was a 7% beer if I didn’t know. It has some spices & fruits, but the main player is the distinct earthy signature of a Saison.

The finish is very clean and dry, with very mild bitterness, but no residual sweetness to disguise the bitterness which is present.

Final Impressions:

Kinnegar Brewing are a very reliable producer, and their name is synonymous for me with quality and consistency.

I am constantly interested to see what new beers I can find from them, and their core range keeps me interested, and coming back.

As a Saison, it is very difficult to find a flaw with Swingletree. The level of carbonation from a bottle conditioned beer along with the clean crisp flavour from a beer which is not filtered or pastuerised are impressive. These traits show that the farmhouse techniques can produce beer of a standard which puts the multinationals to shame.