23 December 2010

Not home for Christmas

I've not gone back to Northern Ireland for Christmas. Instead, the whole family has decamped to Hertfordshire for the next few days. While in exile, I have only the memory of Ulster's native beers to keep me company.

Like McGrath's Irish Black, the third outing from Waringstown's Clanconnel Brewery. I don't have a picture so you'll have take my word that this session stout poured beautifully from the bottle: pure black with a thick layer of loose tan bubbles. I was quite surprised to find bitterness in the ascendant, something rather unusual in an Irish stout. The middle has lots of dry roast plus a very interesting chocolate-marzipan character at the end. It's a very interesting take on your standard Irish stout and one of the better bottled ones. This took the top prize at CAMRA's Belfast festival last month and I bet it's absolutely amazing on cask, with all that lovely sweet chocolate to the fore.

2010 saw the arrival of a fourth Northern Irish brewery: Inishmacsaint is based in Co. Fermanagh though brewing happens at Loughry College in Tyrone, on the same kit that provided Clanconnel's training wheels. Distribution is still pretty thin, though I did manage to get hold of a bottle of Inishmacsaint Lager through some back channels (thanks Ed!).

Well, it's a lager all right. For all its microbrewed and bottle-conditioned credentials, it tastes a lot like mainstream fizz, with maybe just a bit of haze and yeast character from my cack-handed pouring. Such cleanliness of flavour is a technical achievement for the brewer, of course, but not really what I'm normally after in a beer, and not what you might expect a beer fan with his own pro kit to produce. But it is what it is, and if you're going to drink one of these sorts of beers wouldn't you be better drinking it from the local guy? There's a wheat beer in the range as well: I'm looking forward to trying that.

The past year has been a significant one for Irish beer: three new breweries arrived on the scene while several of the established ones have expanded their ranges. Dublin has three great new speciality beer bars, all coming with cask ale as standard, and we saw the launch of Ireland's first beer consumers' organisation. But I should do this properly, and in accordance with Mr Dredge's annual awards template (you'll find last year's round-up here, by the way).

The Golden Pint Awards 2010

Best Irish Draught Beer:

It's hard to believe Trouble Brewing have only been with us for eight months or so. Ór has replaced Galway Hooker as the beer I drink when I don't want to think
about which beer to drink. Full-bodied, lightly carbonated, simple and delicious.

Best Irish Bottled Beer: O'Hara's Irish Pale Ale
Last year's top beer was the cask special Goods Store IPA. That recipe has since been tweaked, twiddled and turned into a regular part of the O'Hara's range. It shows up on draught now and again, though the bottled version is superior in my estimation. Unapologetically heavy and bitter with just enough citric zest to keep it approachable and fun.

Best Overseas Draught Beer: Uerige Alt
Going way back to the top of the year for this one. Brewery hopping in Düsseldorf is a fine way to spend a day or two, an
d Uerige is the pick of the bunch, not only for the fantastic atmosphere of the premises -- a lively centre of activity, even at 11am on a Thursday morning -- but also for their gorgeous hopped-up altbier: probably the most moreish beer I had all year. That said, I also have to put in a word for De Molen's Turf & Veen, a peat monster that very few of my acquaintances are likely to enjoy but which I loved.

Best Overseas Bottled Beer: Midtfyns Chili Tripel
A perfect example of how to do innovation well. All the great things
about tripel coupled with all the great things about chilli beer to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. Let the purists weep into their Westmalle: this is tripel which rewards the adventurous.

Best Overall Beer: Uerige Alt
Three very different beers there, but if I had to pick one it would be the Uerige. Find me a quiet alcove with the paper and an attentive
Köbe and I'm in heaven.

Best Pumpclip or Label: Metalman
Yeah, I'm cheating on this one. Gráinne and Tim's Waterford operation is still under starter's orders and at the moment has little to show except a logo.