Irish Craft Beer Week rumbles onwards, leading us to the final destination of the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival, kicking off in the RDS tomorrow afternoon and running through to Sunday. The beer list is exciting and intriguing in equal measure, with lots of new beers to tick so I've been doing my very best to get to as many as possible beforehand.
As usual, the Bull & Castle has been doing sterling work in this department of late and is still my routine destination for new stuff from Irish micros. Although that said it seems like a lot -- a hell of a lot -- of new Irish beer is coming from the one plant: 8 Degrees in Mitchelstown, Co. Cork. So with great fanfare last month we had the Dublin launch of Kinsale Pale Ale. Sam Black is in the process of setting up his own operation, with premises acquired and building under way. If you fancy getting involved in his project you can join in with his crowd funding effort on IndieGoGo. Meanwhile, he's brewing at 8 Degrees, though very much his own recipe.
It's safe to say Sam is comfortable around hops. Kinsale Pale Ale is a 5% ABV symphony in Citra. I wasn't all that impressed with the bottled version when I tried it at the Alltech Gathering -- and that's a bit of a theme with 8 Degrees beers for me: the bottles are very often duller versions of the draught, sometimes downright wonky -- but on keg it was powerfully flavoured, perhaps even a little too much for my taste. Masses of pine resin and freshly chopped mixed herbs form the vanguard; a little bit of the medicine cupboard and a little of the urinal cake. Once my palate adjusted -- which is why it really deserves to be served by the pint rather than the 33cl bottle -- it opened out into a more nuanced peach and pineapple experience, much more my sort of thing. I'm sure it'll change once production moves to Kinsale, but this first effort show that Sam knows what he's about and wants to keep the hopheads happy.
The Dublin-based 8 Degrees contractee is Five Lamps, who came out of the traps last year with a fairly plain but acceptable golden lager. The boat remains unrocked by their follow-up, Liberties Ale. In stark contrast to the super-sweet Sweetman's red reviewed on Monday, this is very dry, with an almost stoutlike roastiness going on. It reminded me quite a bit of the excellent Traditional Irish Red that Carlow brewing used to make for Aldi, though I've yet to find anyone who agrees with me on that observation. This swings a bit too far in the opposite direction from Kinsale Pale Ale for me; a few more hops would be appreciated, but I'm sure there's an audience out there for it. The rumour mill has it that Five Lamps have recently secured a premises in Dublin (embarrassingly on the other side of the city from the Five Lamps) and will be setting up a real live brewery in due course. (Late edit: In fact, the brewery was already up and running and Liberties is brewed there. The lager will continue to be brewed at Eight Degrees.)
With this lot going on it's hard to believe that 8 Degrees have time to brew anything with their own label on it, but the recent big news was the arrival of a competing pair of IPAs brewed to the same recipe only differing in the hops. The starting point for both recipes was the brewery's standard 5% ABV pale ale Howling Gale, so they have retained an anemological name for the new ones, though intensified to signify the higher 7% ABV. The northern hemisphere hops Simcoe, Citra and Mosaic went into Hurricane, while antipodean Motueka, Pacifica and Ella feature in Cyclone. I set them up blind to try them side-by-side.
The first thing that struck me in these supposed grist twins is that they're different colours from each other. What's going on there? The second is that for pretty strong brews they're both a little on the thin side. This does make for easy drinking, but it also leaves the hop flavours in both rather muted: I expected a much bigger punch on the first sip. The golden one to begin and it starts with a very floral perfumey nose, but turns sharply bitter on tasting, though not unpleasantly so. There's a lot of pithy zest here: orange rind and dried lemon. It was the one where I felt the understated flavour most acutely and I would have liked to savour it a bit longer than sharing a small bottle allowed.
Turning to the amber one, the hops were much more eager to please here, sending out keen aromas of mandarin peel and herbal dank. There's a little more to the mouthfeel here too: it's rounder and smoother and the flavour flashes a beautiful grapefruit and nectarine juiciness, but suddenly dies off leaving next to nothing in the finish. It tastes better than the first one, but not for long enough to make it a better beer. My vote went to the paler offering, which turned out to be the southern hemisphere Cyclone. A fun experiment, and two beers I'm really looking forward to trying in draught form.
And outside of 8 Degrees? Yes, there's plenty happening. The Porterhouse have bottled their stonking American style barley wine Louder and I suspect it'll be a great one to leave for a couple of years to age. Galway Bay have installed their new bottling machine and so far I've brought home their Full Sail pale ale -- my go-to when I'm in their tied pubs. It's quite a raw beer: cloudy and unrefined with lots of big citrus hops right in the middle of the flavour. A good return on one's hepatic investment too: all this hop power comes at a very reasonable 4.8% ABV. And Dungarvan's Comeragh Challenger bitter has re-emerged for another late summer run. It was showing a bit murky when I tried it on cask in the Bull & Castle. Does it ever drop bright?
We also have a new one from Metalman -- a rare full-brand beer rather than another Chameleon edition. It's a style-defying 6% ABV amber lager using (why not?) Sorachi Ace hops, called Sahara. On the strength and hop choice I really was expecting a clone of Kiuchi's Nipponia, but it's not that at all. It's a paleish red-gold and overwhelmingly dry (hence the name, I've only just realised): tannic and bitter like an old fashioned nut-brown bitter served in a dimpled glass by Bet Lynch. The signature lemon notes from the Sorachi Ace slowly unfold as the beer warms, and on that dry, almost astringent, base it acts as a grime-and-lime scrub for the palate. But even this bitterness gives way in the finish to those all-conquering tannins. It's an intriguing beer and one I'd be very willing to explore further if it were a more sessionable strength.
And with those cheery beery notes made it's head down for the big push and off to the RDS. I'm volunteering / getting in the way for all four days so give me a wave if you see me.