Three from Eight

First post of 2015 and it’s about three beers released in time for Christmas (there I said it and it’s after the 6th of January). Well the beers in question were brewed by Eight Degrees and make up its Very Imperial Winter 2014/15 collection. Craft beer and the seasonality is becoming bigger in Ireland. It’s as if we eagerly await the launch of spring/summer collections.

Eight Degrees followed up 2013’s Back to Black series with three different brews to “tempt and warm you over the cooler season”. There’s Double Irish, a double IPA (so not just a clever name at 9.0% abv, Belgian Dubbel at 7.2% abv and finally the survivor from the previous year, Russian Imperial Stout at 9% abv.

I had tried these beers after their release in the fourth week of November but things were so manic since then, I’m only getting time to post about them now. I had even used the dubbel in a tasting the day after they appeared in the shops for the first time to a group who’d been lucky enough to sample it in Mitchelstown before its release. A dubbel is a great food beer and it’s perfect for roast dinners so it was good to be able to use and Irish version for a tasting.

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The Belgian Dubbel pours with colour similarities to Rodenbach. It has a distinctly bright reddish-brown appearance and certainly more vibrant than more characteristic dubbels out there. It’s also extremely clear and given the right glass, it could pass for a brandy (the head dissipates quickly). There’s banana and dark fruits, mainly plums on the nose. On tasting, there’s some initial carbonation but quickly disappears. In terms of flavour profile, there’s a hit of plums and a dash of spice up front before being taken over by sweet notes that continue into the finish.

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Earlier this year, Eight Degrees released Full Irish, a single malt IPA at 6% abv. It was packed full of big citrus flavours with a malt bill that wasn’t going to get in the way. Double Irish is this beer’s big brother. It pours a rich bronze colour with a hazy amber hue. The aroma is a total immersion in tropical sweet fruits. There’s a tangy freshness of orange and pineapple. Sticky fruit on taste, with some caramel before yielding to a pure and chewy dry finish. At 9% abv, there’s a warming bitterness on the finish that’s similar to a strepsil in its warming sensation on the throat.

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The final beer is the Russian Imperial Stout. The previous year’s version featured as my choice for the desert beer for my 2013 Christmas Dinner Menu. It pours jet black, with a thick creamy caramel head (perhaps reminiscent of a coke float). It has plenty of vanilla and chocolate notes on the nose. On first taste, you can pick out sweet vanilla, bourbon and espresso characteristics. While it continually hints at its alcohol strength, the beer takes on a bitter, dark roasted espresso finish.

While these beers may not be standard-bearers for a given style in their own right, they achieve what Scott and Cam set out to do, namely to be winter sippers. What’s even more remarkable is that they all come in around the €3 euro mark. The brewery has had remarkable success over the past five years but they have consistently been able to maintain the prices at the lower end.

Big things can be expected to come from them in 2015 as they expand production. A second-hand kit, with funding secured via Linked Finance, is on its way from Mauritius. Hopefully we’ll see some of the seasonal and once-off beers released in 2014 becoming regularly available. The brewery even featured this week on the first broadcast of UTV Ireland’s Ireland Live at 10 programme.

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.