28 November 2013

Seems legit

I had the beer poured and was preparing to take the first sip when the question struck me. Spearhead Hawaiian Style Pale Ale is brewed in Toronto: some distance from Hawaii, I believe. But... what makes it "Hawaiian style"? I'm not aware of any particular local brewing practice that marks the pale ales of Hawaii as distinct from those of anywhere else. Maybe they're just going for a tropical fruit vibe from the hop profile, I thought. But lots of beers do that and no brewer describes them as "Hawaiian style". I had to go to the brewery website and look it up. Turns out, this beer is brewed with actual pineapple. You know, like they do in Hawaii. Or like Hawaiians tell Torontonians they do, because they think it's funny. Anyway, fruited pale ales are something of a rarity, so this should be interesting.

It's a medium orange-amber colour and starts with a wonderful heady aroma which mixes candied mangoes with a more astringent vegetal tang. The hops seem to be missing at first and it starts quite bready, with a viscous, sticky texture showing off every degree of that 6% ABV. It seems like there's no middle, just a pause before the acidic bitterness tramples the palate, but this subsides quickly and is followed by a soothing waft of mandarins and nectarines.

It's a pretty decent pale ale, though nowhere near as odd as the brewer's description makes it out to be. I think if I wanted to inject some Hawaiian sunshine into a beer I made on a cold Ontario morning, I'd do it with Galaxy and Nelson Sauvin.

25 November 2013

Keepy uppy

New Irish beers have been coming in so thick and fast lately that I think I'll just have to do occasional round-ups, of those that I actually manage to catch. Chief among the culprits is Galway Bay Brewery, with its talented brewer, chain of tied pubs and resultant love of experimentation.

For Halloween there was a pumpkin and chilli ale from the pilot plant (picture, right) which I don't think got any more elaborate name than Pilot 003 -- the handpump in Against The Grain just had a stock cartoon pumpkin clipped to it. It wasn't as out there as the description suggested, a murky brown with just the standard nutmeg and clove spices and no sign of the chilli. It was preceded by Pilot 002 (picture, left), a 7.8% ABV "imperial brown ale". A weird one this: immensely roasty to begin with and finishing with lighter café crème brown malt notes, but the hops were powerfully bitter in the waxy old-world way. A very oddly constructed flavour profile, I thought. I genuinely couldn't tell you if I liked it or not.

Talk of the town at the moment is Of Foam & Fury, Galway Bay's new 8.5% ABV double IPA. It arrives a bright hazy orange colour and gives off a chilly brewery floor aroma of intense oily hops. The flavour starts with pleasant toffee though avoids being overly sweet, and while the texture is a little sticky it complements rather than counteracts the hops, adding a napalm quality to their power. A rising pepperiness heralds their arrival, then sharp mouthwatering citrus, rolling into heavy, funky dank. It avoids being overpowering by being served very cool and with enough fizz to give the palate a good scrubbing even as it lays down more resins. By no means a subtle beer, it does have just enough burn, just enough warmth and just enough toffee to be an excellent example of strong and hoppy beer.

Trouble Brewing have just launched a session-strength Galaxy Pale Ale which I'm dying to get stuck into, but in the meantime had a special called Rising Tide on cask in the Bull & Castle. It's a murky orange brown colour and rather heavy and filling, making me wonder immediately if it's any relation to Trouble's permanent IPA Sabotage. As well as the texture, the flavour and aroma are similarly orangey, though it tastes more orange-cream biscuit than fresh jaffa, and with a background heat that puts me in mind of winter beers like Young's Special London Ale. There was a very slight sour buzz to it as well which actually helped offset the heaviness although, like the murkiness, I don't know whether that was down to the beer itself or how it was handled. It could stand to be cleaner-tasting, but was a fairly decent cuddly warmer as found.

Black's Brewery of Kinsale brought the first beer from their new brewkit to Dublin recently: Kinsale Black IPA, on tap in Brewery Lane and priced for the ticker connoisseur at €6.50 per pint. It looks like a stout: black body, creamy nitro head. It smells mostly like a stout: dry roast, light bitterness, with just a cheeky hint of spice and citrus to suggest something else is going on here. And it feels like a stout: the nitro giving it a familiar smoothness at a modest 5.5% ABV. There's lots of added hop fun in the flavour, however: lemon sherbet, in particular, and finishing on a very old fashioned bitterness of the sort found in Porterhouse Wrassler's XXXX. I'd definitely class this as a hybrid beer rather than a "proper" black IPA, but however you slice it stylistically it's delicious and very accessible.

To confuse matters, another Kinsale-branded beer arrived in Dublin around the same time. Williams Wheat Beer is from the people behind the former Kinsale Brewing Company, founded in the late 1990s but which shut up shop around six years ago. They're back on the scene and while I've not heard what their intentions are regarding re-establishment, the brand is alive again and their beer is being brewed on the original Kinsale brewkit which has been in operation at White Gypsy for some years. Williams, on tap at 57 The Headline, is a pale hazy yellow and though it kicks off with a blast of banana, this fades quickly to become a crisper, grainier beer with a thirst-quenching celery and clove complexity. Somewhat out of season, perhaps, but since draught White Gypsy beer is a rarity in the capital these days, I'm not complaining.

The next round of anticipated Irish beers include the aforementioned Galaxy Pale Ale, Eight Degrees's forthcoming black beer trilogy, the winter seasonal from JW Sweetman, a couple of new ones from Five Lamps. And all while keeping an eye out for Otterbank, Rascals and more besides. It's hard work.

22 November 2013