I first encountered Whitewater's new beer Hoppelhammer in The Purty Kitchen last month. It made its debut at the Belfast Beer Festival last November but sold out quickly -- draught and bottled -- long before I got to try it. The recently-refurbished and thoroughly craftified Purty was the Monkstown stop on a recent DART-based pub crawl and that's where I spotted the beer on the blackboard. A bottle was kindly donated by the management and shared around. It was tasty enough to warrant a proper review at a later stage.
The opportunity arrived, again unexpectedly, some weeks later on a visit to The Brewer's House in Donaghmore, Co. Tyrone. This village pub has been transformed into a foodie haven while still retaining its essential pubbiness. At the centre of the offer is the beer, and it's likely to stay that way as the on-site pilot brewery is expanded later this year into a full-size kit. There was some remarkably well kept Belfast Ale on cask and surprise Hoppelhammer on keg.
This stuff is 6% ABV and very well balanced between the big malt and big hops. Even from the very start the aroma mixes sweet 'n' sticky with a dusting of citrus and sherbet. Colourwise it's a rich dark Lucozade orange. The hops lay the first punch: bittersweet marmalade, followed quickly by a spreading warmth -- it could definitely pass for stronger than it is. I was expecting a layer of toasty malt, like you often get in English IPAs of a similar strength, but none of that is permitted. The hops continue to throw shapes, running through grassy, to tangy and metallic, and finishing on a mouth-watering bitter bite. For all of its power it's a very drinkable beer and I was well able to throw back two pints as an accompaniment to my lamb and in lieu of a dessert.
Whether big-and-hoppy is just a fad for 2013, or whether this really is part of a new wave in Irish brewing remains to be seen. I'm just happy to have the 'hammer while it's here and hope that it's worth Whitewater's time to keep it going. Buy it if you see it.
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