with the occasional rant about tin openers...

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tasting beer and tastes in beer

Never let it be said that I do anything in halves. There are a lot of things I don’t bother to do at all, but anything I do do gets done good and proper.

So, not really knowing all that much about beer, except that I like it, I’ve started trying a number of different bottled ales that can be found in our supermarkets and bars. We’re not flush up here, but fortunately you can get a bottle of ale for less than £2, which alongside some olives for the missus, and cat food for the cat, I see a bottle of beer in the weekly as a reasonable luxury (yeah, I know, "whatever gets you through the day"). I’ve recently tried Timothy Tailor’s Bitter (Engerland), Whitewater’s Red Ale (Belfast), a Downpatrick Bitter, Goose Island IPA (Chicago), two pints of Bass, and, from Eniskillen, a secret bottle of wheat beer, a gift from a friend with the surprising instruction “add blackcurrant”. After all that, what I don’t know about a malt profile ain’t worth knowing.

So there I am, trying beer, wondering what exactly goes into these that make them so darned tasty, if it isn’t a lock of MSG? Why exactly is it that our everyday, mass-produced beer tastes so bland in comparison?

I’ve begun to realise the importance of yeast in the whole thing. Not only does it affect the overall sweetness, as you’d imagine, but all the fruity stuff comes from it if it’s too warm, and so on. So how much of an effect can yeast have?

Two questions, and no answers, so far. The yeast thing… well, I’ve started some ginger beer with champagne yeast, and so far the yeast is all I can taste. Since, I’ve made Smithish with both toasted and roasted barley, and I’m getting the feel for different hops, as well as quantities and styles of beer. It’s all part of the brewing learning curve, but it’s nice to improve recipes when you know what goes into them in the first place!

But I digress. It’s not my beer on the shelves. It’s the likes of Goose Island IPA, which wasn’t selling in the bar*, and I don’t think it’s for want of knowing about it, as in the bar they stock a wide variety of beers from around the world, which are advertised in a little ‘menu’. And, no, before you ask, it’s NOT a Wetherspoons. Similarly, the beer from Downpatrick doesn’t seem to fly off the shelves in a bar full of ‘locals’. Granted, not local to DP, but local Irishmen nonetheless. I mean, Carlsberg! Seriously? Won't they even try Harp?

I was chatting to a fellow bandmate at that bar recently, during the ‘refreshment’ break of a recent gig. I noticed, quite by chance, a leaflet for a bottled bitter from a local brewery. I ordered one. The guitarist apparently loves ale, and drinks nothing else when he’s over in Engerland (drinks bottled Heineken here), and he ordered one. That was three bottles sold that night, because I happened to go leafing through the leaflets. Elsewhere I’ve noticed Bass on tap, and I’ve allowed myself the usual look around to see if anyone else was drinking it, which they weren’t, and ordered one anyway. I’m very funny about the first pint out of a tap…

I know places like “Rhymes with Al Fresco” and “sounds like Painsburys” probably stock ‘local’ beer nationwide, so I can’t really include them when discussing local, but there are places trying to stock local booze, when it’s available, and it’s a pity it’s not flying off the shelves. I’m keen to try local booze when I see it, but it’s also hard to find. Hilden brewers had a tent at a recent festival I went to, and I was fine with paying £3.50 a pint once, but after that, I was happy enough with warm can of… I forget… something cheaper anyway. You can’t always afford to be discerning!

So there’s definitely an ale profile over here in Ireland, but it’s not mainstream yet.

* When they knocked the price down by half, I felt sorry for them, which is why, between the three of us, we drank the lot. Not in an evening, of course; over two.


  1. The Strangford Lough beers aren't really from Downpatrick: they brew a concentrated wort there but ship it abroad like an industrial-sized kit beer to be diluted and fermented elsewhere.

    If it's any good to you, there's a directory of all the pubs, bars and restaurants (that we know of) that sell Irish craft beer on Beoir here.

  2. Beoir.org is brilliant. Loads of ideas, tips, advice, and hopefully I'll be inspired and choose beer-based destinations for our round Ireland trip!