17 February 2014

Close to home

The weekend before last saw the return of Alltech's beer and food extravaganza to the Convention Centre in Dublin. It was a two-strand operation: upstairs in the sessions for the trade, publicans were subjected to a sequence of tirades on how they need to be upping their collective games beerwise, and how to do that; while downstairs it was a fully fledged beer festival with a couple of dozen beer stands, largely staffed by the brewers themselves.

The most interesting part for me was the first opportunity to try some new beers from new Irish brewers. First point of call was N17, a massively ambitious project based out of Tuam, though the first pair of beers were brewed at Black's brewery in Kinsale. What makes the N17 business model different from everyone else is the intention to use as much of the brewery by-product as possible and create a sheltered employment operation next to the brewery. Sarah had the spent grain granola and dog biscuits on the stand, but that's just for starters. Two beers form the initial line-up: N17 Rye uses a modest amount of the eponymous grain, just 8%, and comes out at an approachable 5% ABV. It's very much malt forward, with the hops putting a mere citric twist on what's otherwise a decent but unexciting Irish red. N17 Oatmeal Stout is a different story: 6% ABV and beautifully dense, showing off coffee, chocolate and a marvellously complex floral rosewater effect. A dry and gently roasty finish brings it in. This was my favourite beer of the whole festival and I look forward to seeing more of it around.

Over at Hilden, Owen was pouring a brand new IPA, called Mill Street. It's an innocent looking pale gold but packs a serious 6.1% ABV. A pleasant sharp hop burn kicks things off and a resinous residue bookends that at the finish but in between it's nicely drinkable with some lovely tangerine and lime notes. Your mileage may vary, however, as I'm told this first-cut recipe is likely to be changed for future outings. I've just noticed, for instance, that the sign in the background describes it as an Irish red, which it most definitely isn't. If that's what it is by the time you get to drink it, don't blame my notes.

White Gypsy has two new ones on draught, both close relations of existing bottled beers. Puck is a doppelbock, 7.5% ABV but fantastically light on its feet for all that. Sure, you get bourbon biscuits and brown sugar, but it totally avoids any heaviness or overpowering sweetness. Instead it has a wonderful lager cleanness that makes it easy drinking. If it's weight and/or heat you're after, Obelix fits the bill better. This strong blonde is all about the Belgian yeast flavours, presenting a reliable amount of banana-ish esters and bittersweet meadow flora.

Finally for the Irish, Kinnegar had a Valentine's offering in the form of Maddyroe, a "burnt red IPA" of 5.7% ABV. This starts off nicely roasty and warming and then follows it with a long pine finish. The caramel malt sweetness sits side-by-side with the bitterness offering contrast without conflict. A nicely put-together combination of flavours here.

The UK was well represented at the festival, including an entire bar of Welsh offerings. I enjoyed the lightly porterish chocolate-and-hops of Llangollen Welsh Black Bitter, and found Brecon's Three Beacons to be incredibly good value, serving up bags of fresh orange flavours at just 3% ABV.

I missed out on Black Paw's cask beers but caught up with the bottled version of their Archbishop's Ale later on in the cosy surrounds of the festival press room. My fellow liggers legitimate members of the media found this mid-brown 4.1%-er to be peaty but I can't say I detected that myself. Instead it's all about smooth and mild milk chocolate to me. Pleasant, but fairly forgettable.

Elgood's had brought some interesting things over and set them up on stillage at their bar. Among them was Coolship, their new lambic (thanks to drumswan off of Boards.ie for pointing me in the direction of this). 6.7% ABV and a muddy brown colour, it's very nearly true to style -- certainly the mouthwatering sourness that kicks in at the start  leaves no doubt as to what kind of beer it's meant to be. But I could also detect a distinct residual sweetness, resembling what you'd get from a Belgian faro. The absence of any mature wood smoothness also left it lacking the refinement of the real thing, something I'm guessing comes from the art of maturing and blending. Served a little warm from the cask didn't help things either, but overall I think this has the power to be an excellent refresher if served a little bit colder. Next to it was Black Eagle, an imperial stout. Clear red-brown rather than black, and heavy with diacetyl, adding a buttery richness. Boozy warmth and dark fruit combine to create a kind of slivovitz or kirschwasser effect which I rather enjoyed and which suggested much more than its mere 8.7% ABV.

The last three English breweries were huddled together in one corner of the hall. Windsor & Eton flew the flag for cask down here, serving their famous Conqueror black IPA. There's some great use of Summit in here for a heavy dankness plus some more innocent sherbet notes, with the dark malts adding a mere touch of roast to the picture. Its big brother Conqueror 1075 was very different: all about the heavy liqueurishness, coffee upon port upon something sticky and chocolately for dessert. Luxurious. I was less convinced by Kohinoor a novelty IPA with extra India via the addition of jaggery, coriander and cardamom. The end result is a vaguely spicy marmalade effect which doesn't seem worth the effort that went into it.

Dave and Ann from Hardknott were back for a second year, bringing Dark Energy with them, an interestingly sour and fruity dark ale with blackcurrant elements against a light roast. Next to them were newcomers Redwell whose Pils was a shocking pale yellow and very thin. This allowed for some enjoyable crispness but there was a hint of vinegar about it too. I wouldn't be rushing back for it. Redwell IPA on keg was a much better proposition: screamingly fresh and oily Simcoe dank from a perfectly clear medium-orange body to add some semblance of balance. I'm on record as not the world's biggest fan of Simcoe, but when given free rein like this it really can be sublime.

Next up, what the continentals brought to the party.


  1. Lord Egbert Nobacon5:43 pm

    Shame about the plastic glasses.
    I know people say there's no difference in taste but somehow it's not the same without a proper glass.
    I assume there were sound cost/logistical problems ?

    1. Heh. Alltech does not do cost or logistical problems.

      I think there was an official festival receptacle made of strong plastic but I didn't get one. Since the measures were 200ml or so I didn't really miss having a glass.