31 March 2010

Róisin; Dubh

The redoubtable Williams Brothers have lots of beers on the market here at the moment, and frankly I'm delighted. I love to see a brewery that isn't afraid to throw something weird into the fermenter and I've been working gradually through the range in recent months.

The bright pink modernist stylings of Róisin stand out from the other side of the off licence. It's made with tayberries and claims on the label to be pink, but in fact pours a dark reddish-gold, permeated by a very fine haze. No sickly fruits or syrups leap out in the aroma, just dry and carbonic notes with an echo of forest fruit, much like those lightly-flavoured mineral waters you get. The texture of the 4.2% ABV beer is light and lagery and the taste is crisp and understated: no hops, nothing identifiable as malt, just a mild raspberry (yeah, tayberry, I know, but I'm trying to be descriptive here) tartness. All-in-all there isn't much going on in this one and I'm not sure I'd buy it again. Though if I did it'd be for drinking al fresco some sunny evening just before dinner: that's its place in the world.

And for a post-prandial: Midnight Sun. At 5.6% ABV this is just inside the digestif category of strong stouts. Actually, it claims to be a porter, but it's very much a stout porter, to be all archaic about nomenclature. It's thick and viscous with a solid head and opaque body. Only a slight promise of roasted grains comes through on the nose, and classic stout dryness is the backbone of the flavour, accentuated by a very mild spice which the label tells me is from the addition of ginger: I doubt I'd have spotted it without knowing. Amongst all this rigid structure there's a soft chocolate heart which keeps the beer all smooth and accessible. The hops make themselves felt at the very end as a faint metallic note -- something I don't care for generally but it doesn't get in the way too much here. All these elements are blended together quite well and the result is a solid heavy stout designed for considered drinking.

Both beers feature in the new lavish breeze-block-sized tome about world beer 1001 Beers You Must Try Before You Die, edited by Adrian Tierney-Jones and featuring articles by many of the best beer writers around. Plus a few by me as well.

29 March 2010

Festival season

It's been a busy few days, beerwise, involving some thorough investigations into the new wave of Irish beers on the scene right now. It began with the kick-off of The Porterhouse Independent Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival on Thursday. This year, joyously, the range is too big to squeeze onto one bar so it took trips to both Central and Temple Bar branches to get a taste of all the newcomers.

Pale ales are something of a theme at the moment, and alongside Carlow's heavy O'Hara's IPA, Whitewater have produced Copperhead: a 3.7% ABV sessioner. It's the dark gold shade of Budvar and gives off a peachy fresh-hop aroma. After an initial strong and waxy bitter hit, it provides punchy citric notes, all on a smooth and very easy-to-drink body. I love this beer, and especially the way it crams so much flavour into a low level of alcohol, guaranteeing the first pint is followed by a second, no matter how many new and interesting beers are on the bar next to it.

At the opposite end of the scale there's Golden Otter, a new one from Franciscan Well. A distinctive, vaguely familar, aroma leapt out of the cloudy brown liquid and continued to dominate the flavour on tasting. It took me a few minutes to figure out what it was, but I eventually pinned it down as Marmite: that sharp, almost beefy, yeast flavour that tends to indicate beer which has been left fermenting too long. I couldn't help but think that this is more a beer for spreading on your toast than drinking. Additionally there's a barnyardy funk to the flavour as well, adding up to an ale perhaps most kindly described as "rustic". Not one I'll be ordering again.

White Gypsy have three newbies out and about at the moment. One, Bruinette, is described as an Irish red and as a Scottish export, depending where you read. It's definitely darker than the typical Irish red with next to no carbonation, leaving it feeling a bit thin. Yet the lack of fizz allows lots of malty flavours come through uninterrupted. I got chocolate, raisins, cherries and some dry roastiness too. Bruinette appears simple but actually packs in a lot if you take your time over it.

On the lighter end of the colour spectrum there's White Gypsy Emerald, a cask IPA. The Porterhouse had this on gravity at Temple Bar where it poured really quite lifeless and dull -- perhaps not yet ready for consumption. Across in Galway, however, The Salt House are serving it from their handpump with a super-tight sparkler ensuring the beer comes to life and performs for the drinker as the brewer intended. Its density means a long wait for it to settle, but when it does you're left with a beautifully clear pale amber ale topped by a firm and lasting blanket of foam. The hoppiness is quite subtle: it's bitter but not intensely so; fruity without being zingy per se. In short, Emerald is a solid, enjoyable sup of the sort that wouldn't elicit any special remarks in Northern England but is fantastic to encounter in an Irish pub.

Last of the Templemore three is Amber, a simple deep gold lager with the smooth body, bubblegum fruitiness and no-nonsense drinkability of a quality blonde ale. This won the Best Lager category in The Porterhouse's competition, and rightly so. I'm not generally a fan of Ireland's microbrewed pale lagers, but this is one I would keep coming back to. For the record, the bottled version of Porterhouse Oyster won best beer overall: not necessarily my choice, but a very fine beer indeed.

There was just one new black beer in the line-up: O'Hara's Easter Stout. It's not a radical departure from the flavours in O'Hara's usual stout, or their cask Druid's Brew: only the emphasis is different. Easter Stout, perhaps appropriately, is all about the chocolate. It's rich, dense and smooth: like concentrating two pints of regular O'Hara's into a single glass. Yum.

I mentioned above encountering Emerald in The Salt House. This was on Saturday in the run-up to the Irish Blog Awards. The Award Fairy passed me by on the night, but landed in the seat to my right when Nine Bean Row deservedly took the gong for best newcomer. Congratulations to 'Neen, and to the dedicated team of staff writers, photographers, researchers and editors whose tireless work makes her blog the success it is.

Meanwhile, back at the pub, James has dealt more blows to industrial swill since my first visit to The Salt House, ditching the last few bottles of Heineken from the fridge and removing the Carlsberg tap, leaving Guinness as the only remaining factory-produced Irish beer in his bar. For now. In addition to the hand-picked import lagers on draught, there's now Galway Hooker Pils. As it happened, Aidan the brewer was in The Salt House late on Saturday evening, and he said it's not an especially inspiring recipe -- more a workmanlike made-to-order job. I have to say I quite liked it. Its best feature is a lack of fizz which makes it smooth and very easy-going. Nothing in the flavour really jumps out, but one interesting feature is a lemony fruitiness before it fades to a dry grainess, just turning slightly unpleasantly to must at the end. Still, no harsh bitterness and no funk: as a pale lager it does actually work better than most brewed around these parts.

And that's the end of the Irish beer for the moment. Festival season reaches a crescendo next weekend with The Franciscan Well's annual shindig in Cork. This year it's not only debuting new Irish beers, but also two brand spanking new breweries helmed by regular commenters on this blog: Cormac and Co's Dungarvan Brewing, and Thom, Paul and Stephen's Trouble Brewing. I'm so excited I'll hardly be able to demand my free samples.