28 March 2013

Slap and tickle

In the pubs at the moment Ireland's spring seasonals are starting to poke their heads tentatively out, ahead of the full bloom heralded by the Franciscan Well Easter Beer Festival happening this Saturday and Sunday in Cork. Last week I was in The Black Sheep to catch two early risers.

Equinox is the new one from Metalman Brewing under their experimental Chameleon badge. My pint arrived ice cold, hazy and looking rather sad in the head department, but still a radiant bright yellow, for all that. There was no shortage of fizz, something which bothers me in most beers but this has a full enough body to carry it and the copious bubbles even help lift out the thirst-quenching lemon flavours while complementing the dry graininess.

It's refreshing and very drinkable (I had three pints) but I couldn't help feeling something was missing from it. All the way through I expected a wheat beer flavour spike: some cloves or pepperiness or even a ripe banana, but it never materialised. The brewery is calling it a "wheat lager" so is at least up front about its nature. While nicely bitter it lacks the cleanness of a good pils, and while full and fizzy it doesn't hit the weiss or wit buttons either. It's a challenging beer, but in a very sessionable sort of way.

The headline act on the night was the much-anticipated new IPA from Galway Bay Brewery, Voyager, and brewer Chris was in town especially, to formally introduce it to the drinking public and throw out a few freebies. Voyager is 6% ABV and the Pacifica and Pacific Jade are given centre stage, from first wort hopping, right through to the dry addition at the end, with the finished product left unfiltered and unfined, though pouring a perfectly clear gold.

The first taste delivers a powerful bitter shock: the sort of resinous acridity that scorches the tongue and wafts up the back of the palate, leaving a sticky residue on the lips. It's hard to detect anything else going on at first, but after a while some semblance of balance creeps in from a touch of underlying toffee malt. Then half way through the second glass I managed to pick out a little bit of the blackcurrant flavour I associate with another New Zealand hop, Pacific Gem, though it's very much on the puckering end of the taste spectrum, with none of the lighter, more succulent, tropical fruit.

If you're working towards a lupulin threshold shift, this is one to take you over the line.

Meanwhile, above at the Bull & Castle, the annual Irish Beer & Whiskey Festival is in full swing. The highlight for me so far has been Kinnegar's Rustbucket rye pale ale, served from a polypin. In a turnaround from the overly fizzy Devil's Backbone I tried recently, this is very lightly carbonated, almost to the point of flatness, and this in turn makes it difficult to discern any aroma. Only with my nose deep in the glass was the mild waft of citrus detectable. The murky orange-brown colour doesn't help with the visuals either, but on tasting it's a whole different experience. Very much hop forward, it begins with a burst of soft fruit: melon and pineapple, pursued by slightly more stern mandarin peel and grapefruit. Underneath this sits the dry grassiness of the rye and, not being a fan of rye beers in general, I'm not sure what the point of this is. But it behaves itself here, not interfering with the hop party.

The beer, soon to be available bottled, is 5.1% ABV and I could feel the weight of it building up as my pint warmed, but it's moreish enough that this shouldn't be a problem for too many drinkers.

Previously on the Bull & Castle's taps there was Franciscan Well's new Hopfenweisse. At a mere 5% ABV this is a more modest offering than Schneider's originator of the style and it lacks the flavour integration of the Bavarian. Instead you get two separate but delicious flavour profiles: one is the caramelised banana of good dunkelweisse, and then this smoothness is pricked with sharp and rather vegetal hops, resulting in a strange sort of contrast which works surprisingly well.

And that brings me back to the Franciscan Well and the Easter Festival, much like this Saturday's 11am train out of Heuston.

25 March 2013

Bumper amber nectar

Ever since I met Speakeasy Prohibition, American amber ale has been one of my favourite beer styles. And happily it's a fairly straightforward sort of beer to brew: a generous helping of dark crystal malt and lashings of lovely C-hops for a medium-strength beer that's big on flavour but well balanced too.

So it's always a welcome opportunity to try a new example of the style, as well as variations. Tröegs Nugget Nectar is one of the latter, being an "Imperial Amber": 7.5% ABV and hopped to 93 IBUs with a heady combination of Nugget, Warrior and Tomahawk.

I think I prefer my ambers a bit darker than this: it's a beautiful shade of polished copper but could pass as many an English bitter on the visuals. Surprisingly, and a wee bit disappointingly, it's rather a subtle beer: the aroma is fresh and soft, with elements of juicy peach and honeydew and perhaps a slightly more intense jasmine perfume undercurrent. Nothing striking jumps out on tasting -- the palate is served with several sensations at once: there's definitely an astringent, almost metallic, bitterness but it sits next to smooth creamy toffee and fruity mandarin zest. Written down it sounds more full-on than it is, but the flavours all work together creating an experience that isn't really suited to pulling apart into its constituent elements.

It's impossible to argue with the quality of Nugget Nectar, yet it leaves me hankering for something similar but more assertive in one direction or another. Balance isn't everything.

Glass tip to Richard for supplying the bottle.

21 March 2013

Admirable of the fleet

I first encountered Hook Norton's Flagship on keg in Against the Grain and was a little surprised that this oh-so-traditional English brewery would have any truck with such a dispense method. Still, it was highly enjoyable an