16 September 2013

Start-ups and upstarts

Once more, early September brought the biggest showcase of Irish craft beer and cider to Dublin, with the third annual festival at the RDS. For 2013 the gig expanded to four days and incorporated a number of new arrivals and returnees to the main floor.

One brewery was making its official début: Brú, from Trim in Co. Meath. So new are they that their lager recipe is still in development so instead of an officially badged version, they had two "experiments". Experiment X is the result of a cooling failure on a conditioning vessel. The end result isn't the clean crisp lager they wanted but, in true homebrew style, they reckoned there might be a market for it so slapped a badge on the tap and brought it along, with its superhero like origin story. They were right to do so by the sounds of things as it was quite popular among those who care little for brewing technicalities. Massive butterscotch flavours, of course, but the hop bite isn't completely lost and peeps out pleasantly from behind. Not the sort of 4% ABV lager you'd scull pints of, but far from undrinkable by the half pint.  Experiment Y, also 4% ABV is much more on the money: a big grassy aroma balanced by some properly Teutonic bready flavours and a decently full texture. It's unchallenging but balanced and quite drinkable.

From the more conventionally warm-fermented side of the house there was Brú Stout (later renamed "Dubh"), a sweet and creamy 4.2% ABV sessioner that's bigger on the chocolate than most Irish stouts, but the star of the show was Brú Rua: an evolved Irish red. It looks like a normal enough Irish red, and the nitro serve does little to dispel this, but while the backbone is conventional caramel and red berry it's overlaid with some much more progressive new world hop flavours: juicy peach and tangerine. In fact, if this was being passed off as an American-style amber ale I wouldn't have blinked. That this is being passed off as Irish red delights me. Please let it me the next phase of development for this tired style. Might be an idea to drop the nitro though, eh?

The second-youngest brand at the festival was Black's, still with just the Kinsale Pale Ale I mentioned the other week. To keep things interesting, the brewery had set up a randall and was getting through several different hop varieties each day. I stopped by when it was Galaxy's turn and found it added a lovely fruit softness to the aroma, though leaving the flavour largely as-was. Randalls look set to be the Next Big Thing in Irish beer, having been acquired by a number of specialist beer pubs. I can't help but feel that running already-hoppy beers through them is missing the point. Kinsale Pale Ale is not the sort of beer that needs punching-up. Attach it to the Smithwick's tap and we might be on to something.

Eight Degrees stablemate (for now) Mountain Man was using the festival to launch its second beer: a 4.5% ABV IPA called Hairy Goat. I liked it a lot, but that's largely because I found it incredibly similar to their first beer, Green Bullet. It has the same dry spiciness and the same light and sessionable lawnmower beer texture. To be honest I'm not sure whether this counts as a criticism or not.

Also launching its second permanent beer was Offaly's Bo Bristle brewery. Bo Bristle Amber Ale is 4.5% ABV and served bottled. It pours a lurid Lucozade orange and presents candy sugar up front followed by some strange spicy-sweetness complexities, like old fashioned confectionery: humbugs, clove rock and popping candy. I was quite taken with it and will be on the lookout to try this again. Bo Bristle's third beer was a festival special, dubbed an American Brown Ale by the pretty improvised signage. This is 6.2% ABV and starts with a brown-porter-like coffee effect. So far so brown, but then there's a sudden grapefruit pithyness showing off its American style credentials. I don't think it offers full value for the high strength but enjoyable nonetheless.

One of my festival highlights was catching up with Rick from Kinnegar Brewing. I had been following with great interest his brewery's expansion and am looking forward to seeing a lot more of it out on the market. The move from essentially commercial homebrewing to a near national brand in the space of a few years is nothing short of inspirational. I was long overdue a taste of his 4.7% ABV pale ale Lime Burner. Despite the style designation there are some serious German credentials here, the beer having been brewed with Hallertauer Mittelfrüh hops and fermented by a Kölsch yeast strain. It came from the tap a cloudy shade of blonde with a slight sourness on the nose and a touch of smoky phenols. The hops give it a mildly vegetal celery note. Above all, though, it's light simple and refreshing. It's bigger brother is Scraggy Bay IPA: 5.3% ABV and with much more front. Orange candy and sherbet start it off sweet but there's a significant bitter kick on the end, that greenness showing itself again, only more so.

Those were the brand new brewers. Next we'll take a look at some of the special beers produced for the festival.

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