Hobgoblin Traditionally Crafted Ruby Red

Hobgoblin is an ale produced by the Wychewood brewery in Oxfordshire in the UK. Hobgoblin is the first ale that I really liked. If you’re starting into ales it’s a great way to start. Of all the ales I’ve tried its one of the few I keep coming back to again and again for a reliable shot of flavour and depth that is not extreme and so can be sipped away at all evening with the last drop of the last pint tasting as good as the first drop of the first. It’s very much an everyday beer and I mean that in the best possible sense.

The flavours are just to the malt side although it’s by no means strong. Hops come through on the aftertaste but without the tangy-flower taste that you can get when the hops are too strong, or at least too strong for my taste.

The Wychewood website describes it as toffee, dry, biscuit taste with a chocolate and toffee-citrus aroma. I don’t get those to be honest, there is a solid but light top note and the base note is refreshing and satisfying but not over powering. There is the faintest hint of toasted toffee perhaps if you go looking for it but it won’t be the first thing that hits you.

It’s not overly strong for an ale at 5.2% ABV but certainly you’ll know about it if you have 4+ of them. Happily though you’ll be able to sleep it off without waking up in the next morning feeling like Michael Flatley has sneaked into your ear before having some form of demented fit in your frontal lobe rendering you unable to think or function for the next 48 hours. Ya know, like what happens when you walk past a pint of Heineken.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the nice artwork on the bottle. It does present itself well on the shelf and stands out from the crowd. The current artwork as shown above is apparently a limited edition but it’s been on shelves for a year or more now.

Hobgoblin is widely available in Ireland but is best brought in Aldi for about €2.10 a bottle. I’ve seen it priced north of €3 (Tesco, I’m looking at you) which to be honest its worth, but why pay that when you can get it for closer to the €2 mark.

Ed Rating: 9/10

The puritans among you will scoff at this score for what is a middle of the road inoffensive beer. I like it though, its unassuming, it doesn’t pretend to make a bold statement about the duality of man or other such horse manure, it doesn’t even pretend to have a deep and meaningful back story. It’s just a really nice beer that won’t poison you and won’t break the bank.

Blacks of Kinsale – Worlds End Chocolate Vanilla Imperial Stout

Worlds End Chocolate Vanilla Imperial Stout is a sweet dark stout beer made by Blacks of Kinsale Brewery. Upon opening the bottle the smell of chocolate is immediate. It is quickly followed by a vanilla undertone. The taste of the beer is not complex but it is powerful. It’s a sweet dark chocolate flavour with almost no trace of malt and absolutely no trace of Hops. It is reminiscent of the Narwhal sampled a few weeks ago, but with the volume turned down to a more tolerable level. It’s very much a sipping beer to work your way through over a period of time and probably one is enough given the sweetness. One is probably enough anyway given the 8.5% ABV. It would do well to be paired with food, the sweetness is heavy work on its own after a while.

In the glass the beer is a dark black beer, there is only the merest hint of a red colour around the edges when held up to the light. There is no fizz to speak of and no head at all. The bottle is well enough presented, albeit the label is a little busy. The raven on the label is becoming more and more familiar site in off-licenses and supermarkets as they expand their range and find themselves in a wider and wider range of outlets. It currently retails at €4.50 in O’Brien’s off-license, making it at the upper end of the price range.

Blacks are a proper craft brewery, newly established in 2013, no doubt aided by the rise in popularity of non-mainstream beers. It’s a family run establishment that grew from a hobby into a livelihood and it’s great to see an Irish business like that doing well. Their avowed aim is to produce beers with passion and personality and they have certainly achieved that with this beer. Yours truly appreciates that they haven’t attempted to tart up the beer with a convoluted nonsense backstory like we see with many of the craft beers that are out there.

It’s not knocking my socks off if I’m completely honest. As with the Narwhal it’s something you’re either going to like or you’re not. I respect it for what it is, it’s a beer with a point, with a genuine attempt to make a statement with flavour. It’s afraid of what it is, it knows some people won’t like it and it’s unapologetic for it. It’s not my cup of tea, if someone handed it to me I’d drink it but I won’t be rushing out to buy another one.

Final Score: 6/10

I really wanted to like this beer more, it ticks a lot of boxes for me, Irish made, family business, really bold flavours, but the chocolate-sweet thing really isn’t my bag.

 

 

 

CUTE HOOR IRISH PALE ALE

Cute Hoor Irish Pale Ale is an ale brewed and distributed by Heineken Ireland. Here we have another “craft” beer on the market that is in fact a beer made by a massive international drinks consortium trying to cash in on the ever growing craft beer market. The eponymous lager produced by Heineken is to fine craft beer as a Big Mac is to fine dining.

However, that’s not the fault of the beer that it’s made by Heineken, so I won’t ramble on any more about the evils of globalisation and the crushing rigidity and conformity of the marketing machine that drives everything toward the safest, banal, middle ground in an effort to maximise shareholder value by pedalling as much mass appeal product as possible.

The beer itself is a pleasant enough drink. It’s well balanced between hops and malt, with the hops slightly coming out on top. You can definitely taste a roast flavour off it, it would work well with a Sunday lunch. Its light enough that you could work your way through a few pints without that bloated feeling you get sometimes from heavy beer.

The colour is a dark golden colour with a pale head which doesn’t disappear.

The bottle is reasonably well presented. A “cute hoor” is an expression used in Ireland to describe a sneaky person who is out for personal gain while maintaining an innocent face to the public. Many politicians fall into this category. The sort of chap who says for example they are going to get strong on guns but at the same time are the head of a party that receives massive donations from the National Rifle Association. Sorry, I’ve come over all political in this blog post.

Anyway, back to the beer. As I mentioned above it is pleasant enough, but it’s not anything to write home about. It’s the sort of thing that you would be happy enough to drink if someone handed you a bottle of it for free, the sort of thing you might be glad to find at the back of the fridge when you discover you’re out of beer you actually like.

Ed Rating: 5/10

A beer that is trying to appeal to craft beer enthusiasts but fails because it doesn’t offer up any particularly strong or appealing flavours. This is not an adventurous beer, it’s built to appeal to Heineken drinkers who might be craft curious. If you’re a fan of bold flavours you’ll be disappointed. It’s not unpleasant but it is very middle of the road.

Taaffe’s Red – Carlingford Brewing Co.

Taaffe’s Red is a red ale made by the Carlingford Brewing Company, brewed and bottled in Co. Louth. Another Irish Ale in keeping with the ever expanding market for such beers it offers us a back story of being inspired by Taaffe’s castle in the centre of Carlingford. Named for the Earl of Carlingford it who died fighting for King James at the battle of the Boyne in 1690.

Anyone familiar with the area will be aware that the events of the Boyne and the history which followed remain much closer to the surface in this border area than they do further south in the country. It is an incredibly beautiful area, the fishing is good on the lough, there are a few nice pubs and restaurants in Carlingford and the scenery in surrounding mountains is amazing, as is the cycling. Since peace broke out, crossing the border for shopping in Newry or sightseeing in Belfast is much easier and more pleasant. Newgrange, Kells, Tara and the historic towns of Dundalk and Drogheda are in easy reach. But this is not a review of the tourist value of Carlingford, I’m here to talk about the eponymous beer.

If the history of the local area is divisive, the beer is not. This is a really pleasant red ale with a hoppy finish. The flavour is mellow and subtle. Some hop forward ales are inclined to punch you in the mouth with an overpowering hop taste. Not so with this one. There is a slightly roasted taste at the front end and the hops finish off the flavour. The description on the label tells us that it has caramel and toffee flavours and while there is a slight sweetness, toffee and caramel are probably pushing it a bit far.

The colour is a beautiful medium red colour. The aroma is pleasing and light, certainly not overpowering. It is almost completely flat in texture and that’s a good thing with this beer. Too much fix might make the subtle mellow flavours harder to discern.

It is widely available around the country. The Carlingford Brewing Company website has a handy list of places you can get it. I purchased it in O’Brien’s off-license and it retailed at €3.50 for a 500ml bottle. Certainly feels worth the asking price.

Ed Rating: 7/10

This is a very pleasant beer which I would quite happily sip away on all night. The flavour is mellow and enjoyable. It is not a beer with a wow factor so it’s not something that you would go to a particular pub or off license to get. This is not a pretentious beer with has notions above its station. It doesn’t have big flavours but what it does have is a mellow relaxed taste that makes it very easy to drink and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Narwhal Imperial Stout

Narwhal Imperial Stout is a stout beer by the Sierra Nevada brewer in Chicago Illinois. The Sierra Nevada range is widely available in O’Brien’s Off Licence in Ireland. This particular beer is at the pricey end of the spectrum, even for a craft beer retailing at five euros for a 330ml bottle.

The back of the bottle tells us that the beer is inspired by the Narwhal, a “mysterious creature that dwells in the deepest Artic Seas”. Another marketing attempt to put a story behind a beer to make it stand out from the crowd. Narwhals are a single horned whale which does indeed live in the artic. In the middle ages it was hunted and its horns sold to wealthy clients in Europe who didn’t know any better as Unicorn Horns. Insert gag of your choice about Unicorns and Bitcoins and how we’ve learned nothing in 500 years.

Joking aside the bottle is not terribly well presented. It looks like the art work has been a bit rushed and the naming of the beer really doesn’t have much about it other than the vague notion that the animal is dark and mysterious, ergo the contents of the bottle are likewise.

On pouring the beer has a dark black appearance. A brownish head quickly dissipates. The texture is almost flat, virtually no fizz whatsoever. The aroma is not very strong. It is neither unpleasant nor pleasant, fairly neutral and dull.

When tasted, the instant reaction is to be revolted by the sweetness of the beer. It’s hard to express how sweet this stuff is, it tastes like a combination of cough bottle and toffee. The label tells us there is cocoa and dark roasted coffee. A mild hint of coffee is detectable, but it’s only the faintest and it really is overpowered by the sweetness of the beer. There is a malty aftertaste but you have to work hard to find it and allow the sweetness to pass.

The beer does pack a punch at over 10% ABV so it’s not one you’re going to drink more than one or two of. Perhaps that’s the reason for it being in a 330ml bottle rather than the standard 500ml offering.

Ed Rating: 2/10

The sweet flavour completely dominates anything else the beer has to offer. It is not a pleasant sweetness either. Perhaps a stronger presence of hops could counteract it but there just isn’t the level of depth of flavour for that to happen. Unless you’re a fan of very sweet beer, alter wine level sweetness, don’t bother with this. Very disappointing even before we get into the elevated price tag. The only thing it could have done worse would have been to make me sick, which it didn’t before I poured most of it down the sink.

 

 

Guinness West Indies Porter

West Indies Porter is a beer produced by Guinness in what is a fairly shameless attempt to cash in, or maybe take control, of the expanding craft beer market. The bottle informs us that it is a re-interpretation of a recipe from 1801. Only the Guinness marketing team and their brewing team know how close to the recipe it truly is, or how much of it is a marketing strategy to build the brand and give the beer a story, which it appears all craft beers need to have if they are going to be successful.

Guinness have been top of the class for marketing for a century or more so they know how to put a message out to shift beer. That’s not a criticism, it’s the reality, and if anyone has any doubts that they are as much about marketing as they are about brewing, cast your mind back to Arthurs day which was an attempt to create a national holiday based around drinking Guinness, in addition to the one we already have on the 17th of March. But I digress.

This is an excellent beer. It is packed with flavour, chocolate and toffee can be detected behind the malt which is full-square in the driver seat. Hops can be detected but are not overpowering. This is a robust beer, strong with a real sense of identity. It knows what it is and what it is about. If it played rugby it would be a twenty stone hooker.

A moment of fizz upon pouring is replaced by a fairly flat beer, not as flat as the Guinness stout most people are familiar with, but not much fizzier. A dark head quickly dissolves and leaves a very dark red, almost black beer. The aroma is very pleasing, a dark sweet slightly burned charcoal smell.

Having tried it at room temperature and from the fridge, I am of the view that it is best served chilled, but please don’t overly chill it. If you drop it down close to freezing point you will lose some of the subtle flavours that are there to be enjoyed and revelled in.

I don’t believe this is a session beer, although certainly three or four pints are very enjoyable, it’s not the kind of beer you’re going to drink eight of straight in a row. Besides at 6% ABV it packs a punch so three or four is probably as many as could be considered sensible.

It could realistically be paired with a wide range of foods, although it has the flavour to stand on its own for sure. A good solid pasta dish, carbonara or something along those lines would be excellent, or better again a nice Irish Beef Stew of a cold winters evening would be perfect.

It retails just north of the €3 mark although it is frequently to be found in Tesco priced at 4 for €10. It is widely available in supermarkets and off licenses. No doubt the discounting is something Guinness can bring to the table to push their craft beer rivals hard, the benefits of having an existing massive infrastructure allowing them to reap the efficiencies of mass production.

I have not personally encountered it in a pub, but equally I haven’t gone looking so ask your friendly barman and you might be able to get a bottle to start your night out.

Ed Rating: 8/10

In spite of my misgivings about the marketing, there is no getting away from the fact that this is a great beer, and the value is good if you can pick up 4 for €10.

I would recommend this beer to anyone who is craft-curious but hasn’t yet made the leap away from the staples of Heineken/Bud/Bulmers/Guinness. If you are a Guinness stout drinker this is a nice safe start to move into beers with real flavour, without having to feel like you are going too mad. If you’re into the big three lagers, well I can only say that you’re about to discover what it’s like to have a drink that actually tastes like something.

 

Treaty City – Thomond Red Ale

Thomond Red Ale is a craft beer brewed by the Treaty City Brewery in Limerick. It is widely available around Limerick in pubs, restaurants and hotels either in draft or bottled form. It is also available nationwide in O’Brien’s off-licenses.

Treaty City themselves are a local company headed up by the Cunneen family (a great old Limerick name) who have now firmly established themselves in matrix of beer offering on Shannonside. Kudos is deserved for Treaty City who have been very clever in their marketing approach. Being aware that those on Shannonside are fiercely and rightly proud of their city and willing to back one of their own to the ends of the earth, choosing Treaty City as their name twists them into the history of the city. In naming their beers along a Limerick theme, Harris Pale Ale, Thomond Red Ale, Shannon River IPA, they invite and encourage locals to go off-piste and give them a try.

Craft brewing has exploded in Ireland in recent years, according to Bord-Bía the number of micro-breweries more than quadrupled between 2012 and 2016. It should not be overblown though, just because we have lots of craft breweries, it does not follow that the Irish population have awoken to the fact that there are other drinks in the world besides the black stuff. Irish micro-breweries only account for 2.5% of sales in the domestic Irish market. There is a long way to go before the stranglehold of Diageo and Anheuser-Busch is broken. That being said, the days where you walked into a pub and your choices were Guinness, Budweiser, Heineken, Bulmers or the top-shelf appear to be in the rear view mirror and that’s certainly good news.

So on to the beer itself. I have sampled all of the beers mentioned above but the focus of this review is the Thomond Red Ale. I like my beers to be on the malt end of the spectrum which is why this appeals to me the most out of the three mentioned but certainly all three have something to offer.

As I type I have one open beside me, the aroma is honey sweet but not over powering. Roasted malt flavour abounds, there is no real hint of hops but thats not a negative for me. It is a sweet flavour but not immensely so. As Ales go this is moderately fizzy. It is a beautiful dark ruby red colour appearing almost black until held up to the light, certianly darker in my kitchen light than in the photo above. It is a rich and full bodied ale, but not so heavy that you couldn’t sip away on it quite happily all night. Personally, as with all ales, I believe it is best served at room temperature but there are those out there who dis-agree and good luck to them.

The beer is presented very well. The bottle and label are simple but attractive for it. There is a very handy taste guide on the side indicating what flavours the drinker can expect, which is something other craft brewers would do well to emulate.

The value is good. This is a quality product, it is not and never will be available in deals of 6 for 5 euro, nor shoult it be. Frankly it just has more class than that so don’t discount it on the shelf because it is more expensive than the gut-rot that is sold at those kind of prices. It sits right in the pack of craft ales at around €3.50 for a 500ml bottle in an off license which is right where it belongs.

In terms of food accompaniment I recommend anything barbequed or meat-centric such as steak or a quality hand-made burger. It would be best not to insult the beer by pairing it with sub-standard food offerings, it deserves better. This is not a beer that you want to throw down your neck with a Findus crispy pancake before you head out on the lash for the night. That’s what Dutch Gold is for. Enjoy this beer and treat the flavour with the respect it deserves because it wants for nothing in taste, colour, texture or aroma.

Ed Rating: 8/10

An excellent ale that rises above the current glut of craft beers on the market, some of which honestly are not very good. This one is. If you are a fan of a malty ale with subtle but solid flavours, you would be hard pressed to find a better one than this.