26 December 2013

The Four Pubs and One Offie of Christmas

The 2013 amateur drinking season has been somewhat ameliorated by the arrival of some new seasonal Irish beers. Only one of them has gone all-out Christmassy in its branding, and that's St Cuilan's Christmas Ale by White Gypsy. It is left to the drinker to decide whether this 8% ABV Belgian-style warmer is named after the 7th century founder of Glenkeen monastery, or its brewer the beatific Mr Loughnane. The name is recycled, having previously been used by White Gypsy Ruby at the family pub. Anyway: bananas. Big bananas, ripe bananas, sweet bananas are what characterise this beer. There's no mistaking the strength either: these are warm bananas too. Behind them you'll find some brown sugar and a little manadrin zest. Plain fare, all in all, but clean and not a spiced-up mess.

Recently arrived at JW Sweetman is the 4.6% ABV Sorachi Zuki. Aren't Sorachi Ace hops more of a summer thing? Not really, I was surprised to discover. This is a dark beer, for one thing: almost black. Its aroma is toasty and crisp, like a plain porter or dark ale and the generous addition of coconut means there's a kind of macaroon biscuit opening to the flavour. This is quickly followed by a wall of hops: a wave of pine bitterness first, settling to the signature orange and lemon taste from the Sorachi Ace. As with the St Cuilan, it manages to be festive without any cinnamon sickliness, calling to mind more old fashioned Christmas fare: nuts and satsumas. Err... and coconuts. Anyway, fans of Sorachi Ace will enjoy it; and there's enough other stuff happening for sceptics of the Japanese variety to like it too.

The wintery themes end here, in favour of good quality year-round beer that just happens to have been released recently. Like Farami, a strong coffee and vanilla oatmeal stout produced at the Brú Brewery by Otterbank, a new gypsy brewing operation. I found it on tap at 57 The Headline. The name comes from the type of coffee used, carefully chosen with the assistance of experts at Dublin's top coffee hole 3FE, and it's present in a big way, with the cherry complexity from the coffee actually coming out in the beer. There's even a hint of quality custard from the vanilla as well. 6% ABV and you get the full benefit of that: a massively rich and silky body and beautifully warming. It does a lot of the things that Carlow's excellent Leann Folláin does, but is that bit more complex. A magnificent début.

Sticking with the gypsies, Stone Barrel released their second beer -- the first to be brewed in Ireland -- at WJ Kavanagh's last weekend. C No Evil is a 5% ABV pale ale brewed with Cascade, Centennial and Citra. They had been disappointed with the aroma element in their first beer, but there are no such reservations here: you can smell the pine and eucalyptus from this a mile off. The bitterness is huge and grapefruity, set on a low carbonation for a puckering sherbet effect. Just a tiny hint of digestive biscuit peeks through to make an effort at balance, but really this beer belongs to the American hops and is strictly for their fans.

We finish at home, with a bottle of the new one from The Porterhouse, acquired at DrinkStore. The Devil's Half Acre (a nickname for Dublin Castle) started as an 11% ABV double IPA, boosted by time in a Kilbeggan whiskey barrel to 13.5%, making it possibly the strongest Irish beer in recent years. It pours dark garnet with a healthy ivory head and smells of the world's best cough mixture: bright and sweet, intense unctuous raspberry and cherry. There's a definite wood character in the flavour, dark chocolate, rosewater, and all those cherries again. The ghost bitterness from the double IPA base is still in there in the finish, but the transformation to barrel aged barley wine is pretty much complete. Too hot and heavy to drink in quantity but up there with Thomas Hardy's Ale and Rochefort 10 in the complex strong beer stakes.

Something for everyone in that lot, I think. Unless you like boring beers, obviously.

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