27 February 2014

Baying for more

With Beoir's Beer of the Year for 2014 and a gold medal at Alltech under their belt, Galway Bay Brewery is not exactly short on laurels, but they certainly haven't been resting on them. This last few weeks has seen a new pub, Alfie Byrne's next to the Conrad Hotel in Dublin, bringing the estate to nine. And there have been several new beers.

It was at the opening night in Alfie Byrne's that I met Galway Bay American Amber Ale -- as a child of the pilot brewery it doesn't appear to get a proper nautical name like its full siblings. It's a little on the pale side for the style, more a dark orange than properly red, and it smells of... swimming pools? One mouthful in and my pint was confiscated by the management. Incomplete line-cleaning, it seems. A replacement was immediately provided. This had significantly less chlorine and a lot more mango in the aroma. At its heart is the big illicit buzz of dank hops: funky, oily and all-pervading. It gradually fades to a pine bitterness with a spike of gunpowder spice. This is a serious beer for serious hopheads but its dark malts make it approachable for normal people too. The biggest surprise came some days later when I discovered it's 7.4% ABV. It really doesn't taste as strong as that. Highly enjoyable, but handle with care.

Before the Amber arrived, the Next Big Thing in Irish beer was Two Hundred Fathoms, a 10% ABV imperial stout aged in Yellow Spot whiskey barrels and released in a limited run of just 900 bottles. I'm not familiar with Yellow Spot though am a big fan of its Green brother so this, coupled with rave reviews from other drinkers, had me very keen to get the waxed cap off. (A word to brewers on waxed caps, though: don't). Gloopy is the first impression, pouring like some diabolical combination of Tia Maria topped by Baileys. When the foam subsided I got in for a sniff, finding dry cocoa powder and a non-specific spirituous vapour. The first pull was hard work, intense viscosity meant a beer which put up a fight leaving the glass. Once in the mouth it explodes in several directions at once: there's the definite burnt-toast dryness of classic Irish stout, then the harsh ball-of-malt burn from the whiskey. More comforting dark chocolate follows and is the lasting impression, simultaneously bitter and sweet. My preference would be for some softer floral or fruit notes, but perhaps these will develop with age. More than anything, I'm reminded of Brooklyn Brewery's Black Chocolate Stout. That's the sort of league we're in. For all the weight, heat and complexity, it's actually pretty easy drinking, another feature it shares with Brooklyn Black Chocolate. It lures the drinker in to its dark world, hence the name, I guess.

Alfie Byrne's has dedicated a tap for special edition beers, named "The Vernon", after the pub Alfie himself ran, down on Talbot Street. That'll be the first place I look on future visits.

24 February 2014

Divine uninspiration

This pair of Belgian abbey beers, brewed under licence at Brunehaut, sat in my fridge a few months longer than they should have, largely because the label is so dull. I reckon my eye just slid over them every time I opened the door.

Ramée Blonde is a 7.5% ABV tripel. It's a pale orange colour and quite clear, probably from sitting in the cold so long. Still, there's a honeydew freshness in the aroma which is encouraging. On tasting there's no trace of staleness, thankfully, and it leans very much towards the sweet rather than the spicy side. I get honey and brown sugar, golden syrup and fruit cocktail. The texture is nicely light and the fizz busy enough to prevent the sugar building up unpleasantly. Received wisdom is that tripels should be consumed young but I'm really not seeing how this one would be any different at an earlier stage in its life.

Now here's an odd thing: the sister beer, Ramée Ambrée, is also badged as a tripel. An amber tripel? Messing with the style purists' heads? Or not really caring about such things? This is rather murkier, perhaps because it's two months less out-of-date than the blonde, and definitely brown rather than amber. It smells like a dubbel, with prunes, figs and a touch of marker-pen high alcohols. These elements blend together quite nicely on tasting, the rougher edges softened by a dusting of muscovado and a subtle touch of ripe banana. The texture is nicely soft as well, the bubbles providing a gentle mouth massage rather than a full-on pummelling.

I enjoyed these much more than I thought I would. There's a lesson here about not judging a beer by its label, I guess.

21 February 2014

The Brewgrass State

To round off this week's posts on the Alltech Brews and Food 2014 event, we turn to the beers from Alltech's home country of the USA. In fact, the emphasis was on the company's home state of Kentucky and they'd brought along some Kentucky beers to put on a rotating tap.

Venerable Louisville brand Falls City is still finding its feet under new ownership and much of its beer is produced out of state. As far as I can tell, however, the Black IPA they were pouring in Dublin came from the pilot plant in Louisville itself. It's a lovely example of the hoppy-porter sub-genre, with a gorgeous contrast of bitter treacle and liquorice on one side and then light flowery hopping on the other. Sinner and saint in one glass.

Against the Grain, also in Louisville, produces a dizzying array of beers, most with silly names. I don't know which of the many was pouring (Rico Sauvin? Citra Ass Down?), only that it was a light and enjoyable pale ale with fresh and simple mandarin vibe. I'd be up for trying more from this operation, even if titles like "Noble Flops" and "Munichaulay Dunkulkin" are cringeworthy.

Lastly, a beer from Alltech's own brewery in Lexington. To give it its full and legally mandated name, Kentucky Kölsch Style is 4.3% ABV and definitely has the look of Cologne's signature beer: a perfectly limpid pale yellow. The flavour doesn't quiiite hang together: there's a decent crispness but the aley fruit is a smidge overdone and, like most kölsches, it's too fizzy. A pleasant change from mainstream lager is about the height of its charms.

And that's it for Alltech Brews and Food 2014, with the usual thanks to Maeve, Tracey, Aisling and the team for putting on a hell of a show and providing the opportunity to get up close and personal with quite a few beers I'd never get to meet otherwise.