21 March 2008

Sneaky taste

Today is one of Ireland's national prohibition days, when no alcohol may be sold and all the pubs shut. Christmas is the other one. In general, the Thursday before Good Friday is one of the busiest drink-buying days of the year, with booze flying off the supermarket shelves like it was about to be banned permanently.

So I was expecting The Bull & Castle to be jam-packed yesterday evening, but it wasn't too crowded. What brought me there was the unveiling of the second beer from the Galway Hooker lads: a seasonal (I assume) brewed especially for the Franciscan Well Easter Beer Festival which kicks off tomorrow in Cork.

They've called it Irish Coffee Porter and it's a very odd creature. For who-knows-what reason, they've decided to serve it nitrogenated, but due to a gas snafu at the pub and the removal of the holey disc thing the beer is supposed to run through, it came out sort-of nitrogenated with a big foamy head that quickly shrank down to a thin skim. The mouthfeel was good, though. Properly prickly and none of that nitro smoothness. It was way too cold though, and I needed to sit with my hands around my pint to bring it to a temperature where any flavour could be detected.

I don't believe in quibbling over nomenclature or beer style semantics, but this isn't a porter. It's a remarkably pale shade of red, only just darker than your typical Irish red ale. The aroma is great, though promising chocolate more than coffee. The flavours are complex but understated, with nothing really bold or attention-grabbing. Again there's chocolate malt to begin with and a sweetness that reminds me of The Porterhouse's Chocolate Truffle Stout which was particularly sweet this year. The slight coffee notes arrive later and there's a hazelnutty finish.

At 5.5% ABV it's not a quaffer, but it does slip down very easily and pleasantly. However, after a couple of pints of understated chocolate and coffee notes my tastebuds welcomed the full-on flavour assault of a regular Galway Hooker.

I'm not a believer in the trite adage about doing one thing and doing it well, and I certainly welcome more Irish craft beer to the market, even if it's only a special edition. However, this recipe needs some beefing-up if it's to become a classic like its stablemate.

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