Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Why all the beer posts? Make with the wine, already...

A lot of readers (Ed. - really?) have been wondering why I've been doing so many beer posts of late  and so very few wine posts. There are a couple of reasons for this, the most obvious reason is that I am in the middle of the International Lager Challenge (tm). There are a total of 17 rounds and 20 lagers involved. The current status is below; we are now at the semi final stage of each country and I'm really enjoying the competition element.

The second reason is that I'm (mostly) bored with the wine that I'm drinking, I buy pretty much all of the wine that we drink at home and I don't accept samples, as I don't have it in me not be influenced such largesse, and secondly, one of my reasons for starting this blog was to attempt to identify value for money, harder to do if you get the goods for free. (Full disclosure: I haven't been offered that many freebies; for the last couple of years, what with working abroad and then redundancy, I haven't been putting myself about like I used to, at tastings and whatnot, so sample offers have been few and far between.)

Most of the wine that Herself and I drink is in the €8 - €13 range. 1 wine out of 10 is pants, 1 out of 10 is delicious and 8 out of 10 are "meh", and these are the problem. I don't know why but I'm not really enjoying these wines. It's not that they're bad, they are totally "drinkable" (I know, that's a loaded term these days) but they are forgettable. There are a couple of things that might be happening here.

One is I'm just bored with wine (most wine) or two, my tastes are getting more expensive/rarefied, it has happened before. I'm not sure which, maybe a little from column A and a little from column B. On the beer front, I think it's the whole craft beer thing (which is relatively new, in this country) that has me genuinely excited every time I walk into an off-licence and even mildly excited in supermarkets, even they are getting into the act, albeit slowly and in a limited fashion.

By the same token I should be excited whenever I walk into an off-licence, as there are always many many bottles that I have never heard of waiting to be sampled. Not so much in Supermarkets (Tesco and Dunnes anyway) as I pretty much know every bottle on the shelves.

It may be a function of cost. In offies the wines I want to try generally cost between €15 and €20, it's a not inconsiderable sum to wager on a bottle. However, most craft beers are between €2-50 and €3-50, even if it's piss, you are only out a couple of quid. Experimenting with craft beer is cheaper and less risky. And I'm nothing if not cheap.

There is also a surprising variety of flavours, not so much with lagers, but in spades with ales. I'll probably get shot for saying it (in a wine blog) but there is at least as much (if not more) variety in ales than there is with red wine. There's also the fact that there is an ever increasing number of Irish craft beers, it's gratifying to support Irish brewers and to be able to talk to them on Twitter.

I'm rambling. Long story short, beer is exciting me at the moment, wine, not so much. I'm sure I'll get my wine mojo back at some point. Until then, Beer me!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Intl. Lager Challenge - Czech Republic - Final 1 (of 4)

Final - Czech Republic
Budweiser Budvar 5.0% abv  €2.49 
Pilsner Urquell 4.4% abv  €2.99

So here we are, all the quarter finals and semi-finals are now done, time for the first national final, and it's coming live from the of the Czech republic. Anyhoo, this should be a close final, I'd say the Budvar is a warm-ish favourite but who knows.

BTW I am still debating the format of what happens after the four regional finals, I had originally planned to pit the winners of each country against each other in two semi-finals and then have those winners face off in a super grand final, but, I am now considering a four-way blind tasting, as a more equitable option.

Budweiser Budvar
Oh holy jeebus, that's good. Lots of hops and flavour and a super finish. Yep, hot favourite now.
Pilsner Urquell
Still good,  slightly sweet but well balanced and refreshing. Lovely but not a winner today.

Winner - Budvar

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Intl. Lager Challenge - Germany Semi Finals 1 & 2

Semi Final 1
Krombacher  4.8% €2.95
Veltins Pilsener 4.8% abv  €2.99

Germany Quarter Finals 1&2 are here, Germany Quarter Final 3&4 are here

Veltins is very much the underdog here, it was a surprise winner in the QF against the fancied Spaten but I think it will have its work cut out against the mighty Krombacher, which as I mentioned in the QF, I have loved for a long time. The Krom won fairly handy against the mid-table Warsteiner and if I were a betting man I wouldn't wager against it.

Still very good, smooth, creamy and delicious.

The Veltins is also good, it's less smooth but it has a hint of hoppiness that I'm liking. This is a tough call; both are very tasty

Winner - Krombacher (by a nose)

Semi Final 2
Beck's 4.8% abv  €1.75
Grafenwalder 5% abv €1.09

The Grafenwalder has it all to do. It's the only "cheap" beer to win a round to date but it's up against a "premium" lager in Becks, which I know I like. I brought down a sixpack of The Graf on hols and had no complaints, but I also brought a slab of Finkbrau, so I don't know what to tell you.

Yep, still good. Crisp and clean, not earth shattering but solid. There's body to this lager and a tiny bit of malt.

Hmmm, there's some little hoppiness here but not much else, still it's quite drinkable.

Winner - Becks

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Intl. Lager Challenge - Netherlands Semi-Finals 1 & 2

Semi Final 1 
Bavaria 4.3% €1.39 (can, Tesco)
Heineken 5% abv (can)

I didn't realise it, but Bavaria isn't a cheap Heineken knock off. It was founded in 1719, apparently. Papa Willie used to buy this by the case when I was growing up, there were two varieties; the weaker Green can and the stronger Yellow can. We always assumed they were inexpensive but when we went to Amsterdam earlier this year , you couldn't escape the stuff.

Growing up in D4 I feel culturally conditioned to love the 'ol Vitamin H. I will admit I used to drink a lot of it, and still do occasionally on draft. mostly when I'm very thirsty, the selection of beers is poor and I don't fancy a Guinness. Having said that, I don't tend to drink the regular (4.3%) stuff from cans, but I do like the European (or 5%) version. Having tasted them back to back, accidentally, I can confirm there is a big difference. BTW Heineken is only around since 1873!

Not bad, it's smooth and perfectly drinkable and refreshing in a cold beer flavoured drink way.

There's a lovely zing to this beer. In the weaker version this can come across as unpleasant bitterness but as it is here, I quite like it.

Winner - Heineken

Semi Final 2
Grolsch 5% abv   €1.89 (can)
Dutch Gold  4% €?.?? (can)

I can't imagine this is going to be much of a competition but for form's sake we'll do it by the numbers. I've never sampled the pleasures of Dutch Gold, famous as it is with a certain crowd in Dublin. Grolsch is one of my "go to" lagers (along with Becks and 5% 'Ken), so let's start.

Dutch Gold
You know what, this isn't offensive, it's a bit bland but if I was handed a glass of this on a hot day, I'd probably drink it, and suffer the social opprobrium afterwards.

Better, it's crisper, cleaner with a light hoppy finish.

Winner - Grolsch

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Intl. Lager Challenge - Poland Semi-Finals 1 & 2

Semi Final 1
Lech 5.2% abv
Tyskie 5.6% abv €1.65 (Lidl)

I've done this before, although not for a while.        
Lech eh? Not much to say here. I've purchased it in occasion and it was...unremarkable. Nothing wrong with it but nothing lodged in my memory banks. Tyskie is a love/hate thing. Not a bunch of pretty Dublin gangsters but a memory of a legendary Tyskie induced hangover. I foolishly drank eight cans playing poker, along with lots of whiskey and a couple of stogies. At 6pm the next day I had to retreat to my bed with a crippling headache,  hoping to reboot.

Still nothing going on here. It's not watery piss like Bud/Coors etc. It has more body. But there's not much malt, no hops. Grassy, easy drinking but bland.

Better. There's a tiny bit of caramel sweetness and a little hoppy bite at the finish and maybe the extra alcohol helps.

Winner - Tyskie

Semi Final 2
Warka 5.7% abv €1.84 (can, Dunnes)
Zywiec 5.8% abv €1.65 (can, Lidl)

I like Zywiec, I like it a lot. It's quite strong but it's got lots of flavour. I'm not sure about the Warka. There wasn't a lot of other decent Polish beers around. Karpackie anyone? Although I did find some cans of Tatra (6% abv) somewhere and it was ok. Could have been a last minute replacement for the the Warka but eh, no.

Hmmm, not great. Quite like the Lech, not much going on here.

Much better, some nice maltiness, good balance and a nice finish.

Winner - Zywiec.