A project to catch drinkers on the hop

Guinness is at it again. Following up on last September’s kickoff, hitting Irish outlets in October, a new beer has been released as part of the Brewers Project. The new beer’s a departure from the porter and stout category. They’ve even leaped outside completely.

Hop House 13 is a lager. I have heard plenty of chatter on how the brewer doesn’t like such beers but persevered for the sake of making a decent but different take on the style. At 4.1%, the folk in St. James’ Gate are attempting to compete in the lager category against old and new offerings by other macro breweries and even those they brew under licence. It’s certainly priced that way. If it eats into craft beer sales (if being sold in the same pub), I’m sure they’ll take that too.

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To cover all bases, not only is this aimed at the lager drinker it also is trying to cash in on the “cool” drinker. The one who may want to appear fashionable because he or she has heard of something called “hop”. To make it even easier and perhaps a more attractive proposition Guinness has gone and put it smack bang into the name of the beer. This is the “Fr Trendy” of beers.

Hop House 13 pours a clear golden colour. So a big tick for that. Little perceptible hop aroma. There’s citrus and apricot in tasting so I’m told. I got the subtle citrus flavours but it had more of a red berry than apricot taste for me. However, I tried this after judging a beer competition and my palate was fairly shot.

I have tried this beer on two separate occasions. It could prove popular as the weather gets better. Already countless “sure there’s a grand stretch in the evening” comments can be heard. It could pass muster for fans of summer ale as there’s a teaspoon of bitterness in the beer. It’s a little thin and watery but overall not a bad attempt.

The “crafty” Brewers Project appears to be picking up momentum. Hop House 13 will be featuring in bars across the island but not in all of them. It’ll be a similar rollout to Dublin Porter. The Brewers Project is clearly becoming a brand, label (or call it what you will) in its own right.

I’m just waiting for the day when I might overhear a drinker remark that “13” refers to the types of hops in the beer. For the record, there’s only three: mosaic, topaz and galaxy.

You could have worse beers than this but you could certainly have better. This is where it fits in. Could be better, could be worse.

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.

Super Bowl Sunday picking a winner

This is one of those in the sporting calendar which has a lot of traditions attached to it. The FA Cup Final used to have some of it, when we’d hear about how many kettles were boiling and toilets flushing at halftime. I have never experienced “Super Bowl Sunday” first hand in the US. Most of what I associate with it comes from various TV shows which have a Super Bowl themed episode. My experience tends to come from trying to stay awake and wondering if It’s worth the trade-off in terms of having to go to work the next morning, usually tiredness wins out regardless.

One of the most intriguing aspects besides the whole concept of the “halftime show”, is the excitement generated for the big budget ads shown during the countless interruptions to the game (again something we don’t get during our coverage of the game). It was an ad break during Super Bowl XXIX that the infamous Budweiser frogs first appeared and let’s not even go near “wassup” (an ad during Monday Night Football). Needless to say YouTube will have each one available shortly after broadcast and we can see for ourselves what the creative agencies pushing the macros have come up with this year.

Today’s match up sees the Denver Broncos with the best offence facing off against the best defence in the form of the Seattle Seahawks. I toyed with the idea of doing a sort of beer Super Bowl but it was hard to get some of the great beers from Colorado that were around last summer and autumn particularly those from Odell (who could forget deconstruction), Oskar Blues and Left Hand. I could have perhaps turned to Flying Dog, which has its spiritual home in the Rockies before escaping to Maryland. Rather unfortunately we also have a distinct lack of great beers on this side of the Atlantic from Washington State. I would have had to turn to Redhook, which would have courted some controversy from beer aficionados for its “Budhook” connotations. Perhaps we could’ve hand a Redhook v Blue Moon (if we took some of the seasonal collection) shoot-out.

So with time running out, I decided to opt for one beer only and one that reflects the game for me. This year’s game has an added twist because of the weather factor. It’s being played out doors for the first time in 42 years and the venue being New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the successor to Giants Stadium which of course was home to one of the greatest days in Irish sport. So much talk during the two weeks leading up to the game was about the cold snap (polar vortex anyone?) and the potential for snow. The most interviewed person was not Peyton Manning but the NFL’s official Super Bowl weatherman. Taking all this and the fact that I’m picking Denver for no other reason but having seen more of them this season, I have opted for Accumulation from Colorado’s New Belgium Brewery.

I really like this brewery and am a fan of their iconic Fat Tire (amber ale) and their black lager 1554. They can really brew and perhaps like Sierra Nevada they’ve become a little bit of a victim of their own success in that people see them as too familiar. Just wait until they try their Rodenbach-inspired La Folie and other Belgian interpretations. They haven’t called themselves New Belgium just to be clever. I hope that they will soon follow their neighbours and also family-owned brewery from Fort Collins (i.e. Odell) to this part of the world. This may be sooner that we think, they’re expanding like Sierra Nevada with a new East Coast brewery in North Carolina.

Accumulation was the brewery’s winter seasonal and it’s a white IPA. Sure why not? Apart from the classic and black IPAs, Uncle Sam would be proud we now have the red and the white and all we need now is a blue IPA (A step too far? I once worked at the International Food Expo, which had a tribute to “blue” food). Now back to Accumulation, it pours a hazy light straw colour that was topped with a vibrant creamy white head that gave way for a thick band around the rim. There’s fresh citrus and pine on the nose. Amarillo and Mosaic are the workhorses here. It is initially bitter but allows some sweetness to come through. A mild and pleasant bitterness remains in the aftertaste of this 6.2% brew.

The brewery chose Accumulation for their winter seasonal to demonstrate that not all winter beers need to be dark. It might not be too your taste or you might prefer other styles, but in many ways it reflects our approach to American Football. Regardless both are increasingly popular at this time of year.

Post-game follow-up: Well that was a surprising result, no one expected the Seahawks to completely dominate the game and for the Broncos to capitulate like they did. Another surprise was the weather apparently was a balmy 7ºC at kick-off. The ads involved at one time Arnold Schwarzenegger playing table tennis, Anna Kendrick plugging Newcastle Brown Ale (still so popular Stateside), a puppy and a clydesdale (guess who?), as well as Don Cheedle and a llama because why the hell not?

I may have gotten it wrong about the result of the game but I watch it more out of curiosity than anything else but I still think Accumulation was worth the punt.