Football & beer is a balancing act

The new football leagues across are kicking off during the month of August (Sheffield Wednesday thankfully started with a win) and the new English Premier League season starts this weekend. This is not going to be a post about beers and their local teams but rather an emerging trend afflicting both beer and football, the lack of balance.

I had the opportunity to attend a tasting given by Doug Odell recently (more on that later this month) and his family-owned business produce wonderfully balanced beers out of Fort Collins, Colorado. This got me thinking about a number of beers, seasonal or otherwise, that are simply lacking in something. A fair few were using hop assertiveness as a sort of masking-agent in a similar manner to over seasoning a pasta sauce to cover up or more likely to compensate deficiencies. Now, this is where the comparison with football comes in.

Over recent seasons there’s been a rise in the number of goals scored in football matches (see below). In the Premier League for instance, the average has risen from approximately 2.5 goals per game to 2.8 since 2006. In the past three World Cups, it has been a rise from an average of 2.3 to just under 2.7 goals per game. More goals are being scored and worryingly less of premium is now placed on defence. The imbalance within teams can be seen. Take for instance Robin Van Persie and his £24 million transfer to Manchester United back in 2012. The club appears to have calculated in some sort of Moneyball-esque fashion that his 26 goals that title-winning season would more than offset the deficiencies in their back four.

EPL

Fifa

Beers can go one way or the other. They can be too sweet or eye-wateringly bitter but what makes a good beer is balance, a true skill and craft brewers often refine this through trial and error. We can see some of our favourite beers evolving over time but sadly the obverse is also true, how often can we read how some perennial favourites of old are no longer the same (Duvel anyone?). Balance in beer can be subjective of course. Hopheads for instance go looking for the bitterness, although they don’t want to search to hard; they’d rather be hit up front and have it continue right through to the end.

Balance in both beer and football depends on its constituent components. One doesn’t have to sacrifice itself for the sake of another however. A team that can score a shed load of goals and defend well can be a force to be reckoned with. The art of defending is not the same of playing defensively.  It can be the same with beer. Hops, malt, yeast and water can work together in harmony. Take a superb IPA like Magic Rock’s Cannonball, which has got the much desired hop aromas, flavour and bitterness in abundance but is importantly balanced by a sweet malt base. It brings out the sweet citrus flavours. Some of the newer European IPAs are swapping caramel and/or biscuit bases of their American cousins in favour of clean bodies that emphasise the freshness of the hops used. The same rings through with the use of other additions to beer (e.g. herbs, spices and fruit) and their respective impact on other ingredients. Too much coriander in a Belgian Wit for instance and that’s what dominates.

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So last week I finally cracked open a bottle of Vote Sepp from BrewDog, a single hopped wheat beer with hibiscus flower. It’s the latest in their line of beer satirism and Ryanair-like tendency for self-promotion. Their target this time is “tireless football führer, Mr Blatter”, particularly due to the farcical awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar (not just because they’re in the brewing game).

The beer is apparently “best served from brown paper envelopes to aid drinking with greased palms” but I only had a trusty tasting glass at hand. It poured like sparkling rosé, which raised some eyebrows from fellow customers. The head can be best described as a dollop or two of cream. The aroma consisted of floral notes. Thanks to the use of the Motueka hop, it drank dry and flowery. There were lemon and lime flavours too. However, it lacked the anticipated tartness and was more watery than flavoursome as one would hope from the addition of wheat. It was a beer that was lacking and thankfully trying this in Probus Wines, Paul suggested trying it with a squeeze of lemon juice to see how it would be with a higher level of tartness and it undoubtedly improved.

The beer is far from the promised “perfect balance of tartness, bitterness and body”. Was this the final satirical poke from the BrewDog boys?  Fifa, the Blatter-headed organisation, which manages the beautiful game is intensely disliked due to accusations of bribery, fraud and the like? Is it similar to watching the Premiership on Sky Sports that tells us the very game was a cracker even though we watched it with our very eyes and came to a different conclusion? If it is, then fair play to Fraserburgh’s finest for pulling it off, otherwise this beer is simply living off their hype. Some of these releases, while small batched, put me off their better balanced beers in terms of Punk IPA, the often under-appreciated 5am Saint and of course Hardcore IPA.

But with the new season upon us, one can only hope the quality of the football and the beer will improve through achieving better balance…

Things even peachier for US craft beer

Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.

At the beginning of July I posted a piece on the US craft beer industry and the healthy state it was in. I based this on data available from the Brewers Association (BA). Since then, however, new data was released by Internal Revenue Service covering breweries operating at the end of June 2014 in the US and was published by the BA. There are now 3,040 breweries across the US. This is represents a 7.7% increase in breweries since 2013 and the number of breweries operating is at the highest level since the 1870s.The BA estimates that 99% of breweries are craft and that the majority of Americans are no more than 10 miles away from a brewery. The figures aren’t fully analysed and I’m looking forward to reading them when they’re released.

In the same piece, I mentioned that the Kentucky Peach Barrel Wheat from Alltech’s Lexington Brewing and Distilling Co. was going to be available in limited quantities in Ireland. I had the opportunity to taste it this past weekend. You’re immediately hit by an aroma of sweet peach and vanilla oak. There’s also a nose tingling effect resulting from the bourbon warmth. With the head clinging to the side of the glass, it pours extremely pale, a light gold and is filtered clear.

You get the peach up front but the bourbon takes over, matches with the sweetness though. However, you’re hit by the aroma on each sip; similar to a tropical shampoo taking over your senses when washing your hair. It’s drinkable, dangerously so when compared with the snifter sipper that is the bourbon barrel ale. This beer has also spent six weeks in used casks.

I’m not one for cocktails (I prefer the Bellini with just the champagne) but I can see that at 8% ABV this beer is aimed at those who do. On the other hand, when you take into account the popularity of fruit wheat beers out there and in particular Sweetwater Blue (with blueberries and at 4.9%) out of Atlanta, this beer could perhaps be lower in alcohol and still achieve the same impact. Doing something like that could prove to be a big seller (even on a seasonal basis) if they wanted to re-release it on a more regular basis.

Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.
Had to get the right glass to try this beer from, a mason jar of course.

It would be good to see some more lower alcohol bourbon-inspired ales on the market. Take for instance BrewDog’s Bourbon Baby at 5.8% ABV. It’s a scotch ale aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. There’s rich, sweet fruits on huge nose. The beer pours dark and topped by a frothy head. There’s the expected vanilla woody notes on huge taste and sweetness continues into the finish complete with a warming sensation. According to Fraserburgh’s finest: “This is light. This is dark. This is Bourbon Baby”.

There's certainly room in the market for lower (albeit not too much) bourbon barrel aged beers
There’s certainly room in the market for lower (albeit not too much) bourbon barrel aged beers

For the rest of July the outlook is bitter

The Porterhouse is back with its latest festival. This time it’s the IPA Festival, which runs over ten days in July starting on Thursday. With predictions of a heat wave on the way, what could be beer than a festival celebrating pale ales and IPAs.

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The festival will see many familiar beers putting in an appearance on their rolling bank of guest taps such as the erstwhile citra-packed Torpedo from Sierra Nevada, its archetypal Pale Ale and Ruthless Rye. Founders’ All day IPA, Centennial IPA and its Pale Ale will be there, along with Flying Dog’s Pale Ale and Snakedog IPA. England will be represented by Camden Town Brewery and Thornbridge. Camden, like Founders has been making inroads into the Irish drinking-scene in recent months and its Pale Ale will be served. Derbyshire’s Thornbridge will be represented by its black IPA Wild Raven, the stunning Jaipur, the Nelson Sauvin infused Kipling and Chiron, which is wonderful when fresh. Festival goers can also expect to taste Twin Peals, its collaboration brew with Sierra Nevada. Rumours are circulating that Hippocrates’ Purge, a summer ale with elderflower and Spanish orange blossom honey will be available on cask. Italy will be represented by much-acclaimed Birra del Borgo (My Antonia anyone?) and ReAle will be putting in an appearance. Irish variants will consist of Eight Degrees’ Full Irish (in the running for Beoir beer of the year) and Galway Hooker.

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Some of the most eagerly awaited beers will be from Yorkshire’s Magic Rock Brewing brewer of the excellent Cannonball (think pine, tropical fruits and some sweetness), their flagship IPA but also look out for their double IPA (Human Cannonball) and triple IPA Un-human Cannonball, which is released annually. During the Porterhouse festival, customers can experience the following beers from Magic Rock Brewery on cask: Ringmaster (3.9% original pale ale); Carnival (4.3%, golden summer ale); and Great Alphonso (5.6% Mango pale ale).

It wouldn’t be a Porterhouse festival without them launching a special brew. However, Dublin Pale Ale is not just a festival special but a new regular offering for their five Irish bars and their London and New York outlets.  It’s styled as an “Irish-style pale ale” (one of those descriptors that provokes debate amongst beer geeks). So what’s it like?

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Dublin Pale Ale pours clean and clear copper, an appearance that is very much at home in The Porterhouse Temple Bar. It’s earthy with light citrus notes on the nose. The carbonation is typical of kegged pale ales. It’s in the taste and the finish that this beer gets started. Notes of orange and lemon meld into a dry biscuit and an assertive bitter finish. At 4.2% this would be a good session full-bodied beer for hopheads looking for an Irish bitter equivalent of an All Day IPA (minus the pine). This beer is the sibling of Hophead, which is described as a beer “beyond the pale” and hopped with Cascade and Centennial. Dublin Pale Ale, however, is billed as a beer “within the pale” (even though it’s going to be available across the group) and it’s hopped with European varieties, namely Styrian Goldings and the high-alpha acid beast that is Admiral. Hopefully they’ll go on to produce a cask version of this beer.

No doubt this festival will prove popular. Let’s face it hoppy beers sell. I have no doubt the new beers on offer will be in high demand but also the festival will give us the opportunity to be reacquainted with old-favourites as fresh as possible.

 

The Red Devils: bitter in victory or defeat thanks to the USA

Ahead of tonight’s match between the USA and Belgium in the second round of the World Cup in Brazil, I thought what better way to mark this game then by doing a piece on the transatlantic knowledge exchange of hops. This is the first of two pieces I’m doing on hoppy Belgian beers. This piece focusses on the Tripel style with the anti certainly upped in terms of hop usage. A lot has happened since Urtherl Hop-It first burst onto the scene back in 2005.

A popular standard bearer has to be the excellent La Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel The beer pours a hazy golden colour with lemon and herbs on the nose. It’s a case of initial sweetness meets dry bitterness, thanks to the addition of Tommahwak (houblon being the French word for hops).  There’s a good bitter bite in the huge finish. Good on draught but better in the bottle. Beer lore has it that this beer from the Ardennes took the mantle of the bitterest Belgian beer title away from Orval. Following on from Brasserie d’Achouffe founded back in 1981the beer itself being sold for the first time in 2006, new and old breweries have been pushing the boundaries for beers much as new breweries around the world have been doing for brewing traditions in their countries.

Sometimes it's good to be bitter
Sometimes it’s good to be bitter

Achouffe is part of the Duvel Moorgat collection of breweries, which owns the likes of Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York. It also owns Vedett, a beer known more for the different photos on back of the bottle (making the drinker the star) rather than for a memorable drink. The beer became fashionable in Brussels about a decade ago and so it is surprising that it too has come out with an IPA. Billed as a 6% abv “extra ordinary” IPA, it pours a clear golden colour. It is topped by a fair amount of Belgian lace. There are plenty of tropical fruit notes on the nose. It drinks bitter and fairly sweet with the prerequisite bitter finish. However, it is slightly lacking in the body and makes this beer nothing extraordinary.

Vedette "Extra Ordinary" IPA
Vedett “Extra Ordinary” IPA

Last but not least is a beer for tonight’s match between the US and de Rode Duivels, les Diables Rouges, die Roten Teufel (one mustn’t forget about the small German-speaking area) or to us, simply the Red Devils. Duvel is one of the more instantly recognisable Belgian beers out there and perhaps this has affected the level of respect shown to it. It remains a good benchmark for Belgian strong golden ales. However, to regain some of the interest in Devil beer (Duvel being Flemish for devil), they produced an extremely limited edition triple hop version back in 200. Amarillo was added to the usual hop mix of Czech Saaz and Styrian Goldings. Due to the campaigning of a Belgian beer club, the Lambikstoempers (they collected 17,000 signatures through a Facebook campaign), the beer was brewed once more in 2010. Thankfully by 2012, it was decided to make Tripel Hop an annual limited release but changing the third hop variety used in each edition. Besides Amarillo, versions with Citra© and Sorachi Ace have also been sold.

Sensory overload with Duvel Tripel Hop in a "ballon"
Sensory overload with Duvel Tripel Hop in a “ballon”

Duvel Tripel Hop 2014 features the powerhouse addition of Mosaic. This is a hop that packs in as much of the hop aromas prized in new world hops. There are lashings of citrus, tropical fruits, herbs and pine. However, it’s grapefruit that emerges successfully from the fight with the pear and pepper aroma from the beer’s yeast. The Duvel glass, the “ballon” makes drinking the classic Duvel a real pleasure but this glass comes into its own with Tripel Hop. The collective aroma from the beer becomes pleasurably intoxicating, all the more with the artistry in the glass due to the pour of Duvel. A light golden colour topped with a spectacular head. It initially drinks dry and slightly bitter. Duvel is known for being sublimely effervescent but this version takes it to another level and becomes sherbert-like in the finish. Intriguing for a beer that comes in at 9.5% abv.

Regardless of who wins the match tonight, it’s interesting to know that both countries’ supporters are thankful for the brewing traditions of the other.

Blogging DNA

Attending the European Beer Bloggers Conference has clearly shown me that I am not at all good at blogging. There’s a hell of a lot of good stuff being done out there and some of he talks has shown me that it’s not just about content. Recently I have committed one of the cardinal sins of the blogging world, you don’t have to blog offer but you have to do it regularly and over the past 6 weeks are so I neglected the site due to other commitments. Blogging is 100% about commitment so bare with me and I’ll get there…. eventually.

One thing that has brought this close to home is the recent attention in social media circles around the sale in Ireland for the first time of the Charles Wells and Dogfish Head collaboration brew, DNA Brave New World. I had tried this last March in London and even had taken the obligatory photo and complied my tasting notes but had failed to blog about this. In fact if one was to look through the photos on my phone, they’d think I had a serious problem as they’re all about beer. So this post is an attempt to get back on track.

DNA Brave New World tasted on cask (16 March 2014)
DNA Brave New World tasted on cask (16 March 2014)

DNA Brave New World poured a vibrant amber colour from the cask. Whilst it was envisaged of having a nutty aroma, I picked up woody notes and even a hint of pine. There was an extremely pleasant bitterness on tasting, washed through with peach and other tropical fruits. Relatively smooth on the finish with just the right balance of bitterness throughout.

The beer will attract a lot of attention due to the involvement of Sam Caligione and the Dogfish Head family. At 4.5% ABV it was a pleasant pint and anything from Dogfish Head is rare in Europe (and in a large chunk of the US) so the transatlantic collaboration is welcome. No doubt some people will come away disappointed because it’s no 60 minute IPA (and certainly not the others in the range). However, it does have some parallels with 60 minute, a special reduction of it was used in the production of the new beer, hence the DNA name.

Available in Ireland both on cask in bottles, it will be interesting to see the reaction out there. Interestingly it’s one of the ales selected by the first of the J.D. Wetherspoon’s Irish pubs to open. The Three Tun Tavern will open in Blackrock on 8 July 2014.