A bitter finish to summer with an India(napolis) Pale Ale

It’s August. Where has this summer gone? Never mind the weather, it’s hard to believe the new football season is already upon us and the Rugby World Cup will kick off next month. The summer season is when I like to catch up with other sports such as cricket. Having dropped the sports package on the TV, I came across a half-season pass t the baseball, which reminded me of an appropriate beer that I recently tried.

Half Cycle is an IPA out of Indianapolis by Flat 12 Bierwerks. It’s billed as a cross-between a regular ol’ IPA and a double IPA. It’s named after a baseball term when a batter hits a single and a double in the same game. At 6% abv and weighing in at a reported 104.1 IBUs, this beer is in keeping with the baseball theme of being a big hitter. I’d have thought Indiana would be more interested in football, basketball and motor-racing than America’s favourite pastime.

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The beer pours a yellowish-gold colour. It’s topped by big, frothy head, the kind you get in a coffeehouse when you need a good five minutes to find your coffee through all that foam. The aroma has melon, pineapple and other tropical fruits in abundance. Pithy grapefruit dominates the flavour. However, the body is extremely sticky and the sweetness gives it almost jelly-like characteristics. You may find yourself reaching for a spoon, purely by instinct.

It's like the Porterhouse's "Brewed by Men, not Machines" but it could become a negative for female drinkers
It’s like the Porterhouse’s “Brewed by Men, not Machines” but it could become a negative for female drinkers

There’s plenty of bitterness in the finish, which pairs nicely with this time of the year when you realise that the summer’s almost over (and the baseball too). It’s a decent beer and the tall, narrow cans would come in handy for sneaking them into sports venues over here.They should probably drop “this stuff is made by guys” from their cans at some point in the future, however. It may become too much of a distraction as the brewery grows. I will look to check out more of Flat 12’s beer range at some point in the future.

A revisionist approach to supermarket beer

It seems that the supermarket chains are getting in on this craft beer game. We’re familiar with Aldi stocking O’Shea’s stout, pale ale and red ale produced by Carlow Brewing Company.   A more recent entrant to the scene is Rye River, somewhat double jobbing with its Crafty Beer (Lidl) and Solas (Tesco) ranges.

Of course this is nothing new.  The tactic of ‘own’ or indeed ‘exclusive’ brands has been used for decades.  Think of cans or stubby bottles of cheap own-brand cheap lager that have littered many a student party or bbq over the years.  In fact it would appear that there are even more own-brand lagers appearing on supermarket shelves.  And it is a pattern replicated for cider as well.  So should we be worried when more and more ‘own-brand’ craft beers start appearing?

Why can't more supermarket offerings take after Carlow Brewing Co. O'Shea's range?
Why can’t more supermarket offerings take after Carlow Brewing Co. O’Shea’s range?

Well naturally it all comes down to quality.  And given how price conscious supermarkets are, we have to ask, can the two be combined?  The Carlow Brewing Company has demonstrated that it can with its O’Shea’s range.  The beers are great value and have introduced more people to the world of craft beer.  I know of one person, a die-hard Guinness drinker, often the hardest to convert, who when at home, drinks nothing but the O’Shea’s Irish Stout.   And he tells me that he’s tempted to explore different stouts as a result.  So if the supermarkets adopt a similar approach to the one they use when considering wines for beer, well it could be a win-win.  For example, how many times are we told that the ‘own-brand champagne is the one to seek out for value and quality?

Supermarket chains are more than likely to partner with larger craft brewers that have the necessary production capacity.  They are more likely to focus on session-type beers rather than extreme ones; although, BrewDog produces a “variant” of its 9.2% abv Hardcore IPA for Tesco.  For the brewers, it can be a valuable source of revenue; also regular and sizeable orders from large multiples can impress the banks when looking for loans to expand the business.  It is no surprise that lenders prefer big, dependable orders over smaller, though numerous accounts.

So why am I writing about this now?  Well recently I had the chance to try a number of supermarket-brand beers. It will come as no surprise that some were better than others, but what struck me was that some of those were considerably better than the rest.  I then recalled one of the first ‘own brand’ beers I had ever tried. Perhaps it was time to refresh my memory.

The four "Revisionist" beers most likely to be spotted in Tesco
The four “Revisionist” beers most likely to be spotted in Tesco

The ‘Revisionist’ range is produced by real ale behemoth, Marston’s and Tesco has an exclusive on the bottles.  It’s worth noting however, that beers like Craft Lager can be had on draft in the likes of Wetherspoons.  My local Tesco stocks the Red Ale, Rye Ale, Dark IPA and the Wheat Beer. The range also includes Steam Beer and Saison in bottles.  These beers are produced at the different breweries within the Marston’s stable (Bank’s, Jennings, Wychwood, Brakspear, Ringwood and Marston’s itself).

The Revisionist American Hop Rye Pale Ale – to give it its full name – was as I say, the first beer from the range which I tasted.  And if I’m honest, it is also the only one on which I have notes as I tried some of the others while judging a beer competition.

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Firstly the branding is certainly interesting and certainly catches the eye, while scanning the shelves.  The beer pours an unsurprisingly amber colour with good clarity.  There are sweet tropical fruits and a hint of spice on the nose.  The beer was dry hopped with citra® and amarillo so that explains the fruitiness and the rye gives the spicy notes.  Initially, there is fresh citrus on tasting but a dry, almost Bombay mix-inspired spiciness takes over.  It is however, let down a little by the fluctuating carbonation levels. The dryness of the rye also leaves it tasting a little flat at times. It finishes quite dry.

It’s safe to say that the ‘Revisionist’ range encapsulates a problem for both the real ale brewers and for the retailers across the water.  Are they edgy enough in today’s fickle craft beer world?  Five years ago Tesco used to be the go-to place in this country if you were looking for English ales.  But now that range is dwindling, and not only in Tesco.  Yes, it’s a good thing that some of the space is being occupied by local Irish offerings, but part of me is sad to see that English brewers are being sought merely to imitate rather than innovate in terms of the beers to be stocked.   And yes these beers are fine, they do the job.  But I would argue that unfortunately they come in at too high a price point in Ireland to be deemed as good value.

Travelling to Belfast with the taste of the Falls

Two weeks ago I headed to Belfast for the final of the Guinness Pro12. I hitched a lift with the Munster Rugby Supporters Club, who ran 3 coaches from Dublin. The day before, we were warned of Section 40 of Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. It states that “a person who knowingly causes or permits intoxicating liquor to be carried on a vehicle to which this section applies is guilty of an offence”. Apparently the fine if caught is £600. It was to be a largely dry outing – ironically through the pouring rain – and given the eventual result the Munster fans were in dire need of a pint.  Inside the Kingspan Stadium (or Ravenhill to those that can remember as far back as 2013) Guinness and Harp were the two beers available.  However rubbing some salt in the wounds, there was no cash machine near or indeed inside the stadium.

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There may be good reasons for prohibiting alcohol on coaches in the North. I can only imagine the spirited hijinks that some supporters, let’s take Glasgow as a completely random example, may cause. That is the government’s prerogative. However, I personally have a problem with banning alcohol on coaches originating in a different jurisdiction. Surely it’s inhibiting our freedom of movement?  Germany recently had to relent in its attempt to apply its minimum wage to truckers passing through from elsewhere. I understand that alcohol is a controlled substance and enjoys certain general exemptions but nevertheless its being effectively prohibited took away from many fans’ enjoyment of the day out.

As a Leinster fan, I couldn’t bring myself to wear red but I would’ve been more than happy for Munster to win. Having said that Glasgow have been unlucky not to enjoy more success over the past two seasons. They were though, deserved winners on the day. And how did I demonstrate my support for Munster? How else but to enjoy a pint of Mahon Falls by Dungarvan Brewing Company?

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It couldn’t be more fitting. The bus was departing from Westmoreland Street, just around the corner from the Palace Bar. Yes, it has an iconic whiskey selection but it also has one cask pump, alongside some draught craft offerings. The Waterford brewery puts in a regular appearance thanks to Cormac O’Dwyer’s love of cask ale.

Mahon Falls is a rye, pale ale that has developed over the years. I first tried this at the 2012 Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival when it was billed simply as a Rye PA.  But simple it wasn’t.  I’ve sampled it (cos i’m a massive alkie) several times over the past few years, mostly in bottles and it has since become more refined. The first bottles released in spring 2013 finished extremely dry. They certainly had plenty of oomph to stand up to a curry.

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So what does the 2015 cask version taste like? It still has aromatic spicy notes on the nose, this beer’s all about spice and that can be seen throughout the flavour which pleasantly cuts through the creaminess of a cask pulled pint. Of course, the rye’s influence is not lost in any way. It’s more expertly in line with an unctuous rye bread rather than merely being used to dry out the palate.

It was a beer that sent me happily on my way to Belfast. The spicy notes remain long, long after the beer’s disappeared. And I should know, as many an hour passed before I got to have another beer.

World Press Freedom Day in Brooklyn and elsewhere

Today is World Press Freedom Day, a United Nations backed initiative to mark freedom of press and calls on all governments to respect free speech and expressionism. Sadly in 2015, attacks are still taking place on members of the fourth, and increasingly on the fifth, estate. These rights must be continued to be protected today as much as people fought for them in years past.

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We should fully appreciate the risk journalists take in covering stories. Veronica Guerin will long live in the Irish consciousness and there’s a wonderful tribute to her in the Newseum in Washington, DC. Journalists are daily taking risks to draw our attention to issues that are occurring long from our doorsteps.

Brooklyn Brewery, a member of the Class of ’88 craft beer start-ups, is a company that actively recognises this. It’s hardly surprising given that co-founder Steve Hindy was one-time Middle East correspondent for Associated Press in the early 1980s. It was during this time that he picked up the home-brewing bug. It was a popular pastime amongst diplomats based in dry countries. I’ve come across Irish engineers based in Saudi Arabia who are keen Brewers because what else would they drink. Apparently they’ve become quite adept at in their words “converting” non-alcoholic beers into sometime supposedly passable.

Back in the US, home-brewing eventually led to Hindy to giving up the journalism game and start the brewery with Brooklyn neighbour Tom Potter. The brewery’s growth is an interesting story, including being criticised for contract brewing, Milton Glaser, launching Sierra Nevada in New York and giving Garrett Oliver a vehicle to unleash his talent on a global scale. These are covered in two books by Hindy, Beer School (with Tom Potter) and The Craft Beer Revolution. The latter is also Hindy’s take on the craft beer revolution and includes a number of interesting insights into the personalities, events and controversies that marked the last 40 years of the US craft brewing era.

He may no longer be a journalist but Hindy still tries to do his bit. He’s been known to give talks on the role of foreign correspondents and participate in charity and other fund-raising initiatives. For example, he hosts War Correspondents at the Brooklyn Brewery. It’s an annual series of talks to raise money for RISC (Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues), which provides free advanced first aid training to independent conflict reporters, photographers and filmmakers.

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So for this World Press Freedom Day, I’ll raise a glass to journalists everywhere (even if I don’t always agree with what some of you write) with an appropriate beer for the occasion. What else could it be but Brooklyn Lager, a beer that people may overlook today but it helped win over a lot of people to craft beer. I even remember trying it a good few years back in a dingy bar inside New York’s Penn Station.

The beer pours polished copper. It has light floral and lemon notes on the nose. The flavour is earthy and herbal. Grassy notes are kept to a minimum. There’s healthy dose of bitterness both on tasting and in the finish. The malt backbone keeps the bitterness from getting away from itself. It’s a beer that’s crying out to have with a good club sandwich and chips.

Look weird with a beard and stick to the beer instead

Have we reached the point when beards or at the very least not shaving for a week or so is no longer confined to the hipsters. Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point in the way that beards used to be associated more with trade unionists than trendiness. As someone who’s averse to fashion, this was a welcome development when I found myself not shaving for a week or so. It was certainly more convenient but eventually I got fed up with it.

Having a beard is not for me. I can certainly see why a fair few brewers have them, due to the early morning starts. Or in the case of Rogue’s John Maier it can be useful to cultivate a yeast strain. Instead, I’m happy sticking with a beer or two from Weird Beard.

The brewery is yet another one of those from London that is producing interesting beers. I’ve had a few of these over the past year or so and was impressed with Fade to Black (black IPA) and Black Perle (milk coffee stout). A recent beer I had from theirs is in keeping with my brief separation from my razor, Five O’Clock Shadow.

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It’s a big IPA in terms of strength. At 7% abv it tips it at the higher end of the style. It pours a hazy, copper and orange. There’s grapefruit, pineapple, mango and a hint of passion fruit on the nose. However, the tropical aromas are perhaps more reminiscent of a sweet tropical fruit syrup. On tasting, you’re hit with the carbonation first with the topical fruits notes growing in the flavour. It’s as if this beer is determined to clean the palate before appreciating every sip. A chewy, sweetness develops as you drink before leading to a bitter and warming finish. It’s a subtle reminder of the beer’s strength.

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Hit the Lights is a 5.9% abv is billed as a “mixed up IPA”. It presents a golden orange colour in appearance. There’s rich orange and citrus on the nose thanks to the hop bill of Target and Aurora (bittering, flavour and dry hopping). It was slightly watery at first before a fresh fruit bitterness taking hold. The malt backbone lends a certain amount of sweetness to the flavour. There’s a sticky, bitterness to the finish that is reminiscent of a rich marmalade.

Ah, a pint of Hit the Lights
Ah, a pint of Hit the Lights

Weird Beard is a brewery that I will continue to look out for and hopefully more of their beers will find their way over here. Actually as I write this, I am reminded that a trip to London is long over-due.