05 May 2014

Hoppy sessions and foreign lessons

One of the standard gripes of the Irish beer geek has long been the lack of decent sub-4% ABV beers produced in the country. Over our pints of Porterhouse TSB we've looked enviously at the British beer scene, with all its sessiony goodness, wondering why there isn't more of that kind of thing here.

Help is finally at hand, with two new low(ish) ABV pale ales from Irish micros. They're no twiggy brown bitters, however.

From Black's of Kinsale we have The Session: 3.5% ABV and a perfect clear gold colour. The aroma is a little odd, being unpleasantly stale and a bit sweaty, but that's just a minor blip in what is otherwise a superb beer. The body is properly full, without a trace of wateriness and the flavour starts with a sharp nip of bitter citrus, followed by softer mandarin and a balancing biscuit malt profile. And the acid test: would you know you were drinking a low-strength beer? No, definitely not. The Session stands on its own merits without compromising on anything.

A tough act to follow, but follow it Trouble Brewing have with their latest release Graffiti. This is all of 3.6% ABV, headless, and very murky with it, having almost a pinkish cast to the hazy orange. The filtration system's loss is our gain, however, as the massive fresh pine and juicy mango aroma indicates. On the palate there's a big hit of resinous dank complicated by bitter herbal spices. These are big 3D hops in large quantities, and yet the beer remains immensely sinkable, as something of this strength should be. The texture isn't quite as full bodied as The Session, but it's still not watery at all. Another full-flavoured hoppy pale ale where the low ABV is irrelevant.

Not quite in the same weight category, but I thought I'd mention it while I'm on Irish session ales: I finally got to try Carrig's Pipers Pale Ale on my last visit to Farrington's. This is 4.4% ABV, the normal strength for Irish pale ales, and doesn't try to lay on the hops in a major way. Instead there's a gentle, balanced flavour, full of round ripe soft fruit: peaches, clementines and the like. The low bitterness and soft carbonation means it just slips down, exactly as you'd want a session ale to do. Farrington's has a prodigious selection of Irish and foreign draught beers, but after finishing my Pipers all I wanted was another one.

Carrig's Lager and Red are still contract brewed at Bo Bristle and this is the first beer that I've tried from the new standalone Carrig brewery in Drumshanbo where Kiwi ex-pat Andrew is head brewer. It's a very promising start.

While I'm in catch-up mode, a couple more Irish beers, these ones based on foreign templates.

First up is Fulcrum, a 5% ABV weizen by Clearsky which brews at Hilden. It's on the pale side for the style but densely murky, topped by a much happier bright white foam. The aroma is bubblegum, candyfloss and a bit of clove rock, with a certain off-putting vinegary sourness too. It's all sweetness and wheat on the palate: I'm jolted back to my childhood and facing a big bowl of Sugar Puffs. The texture is rather thin and the carbonation very low which, for a change, is actually to the beer's detriment. Overall we have a slightly wonky weissbier of the sort you'd tolerate in a German brewpub but as the sole product of an Irish craft beer brand which shares fridge space with some of Bavaria's best it's a bit difficult to understand.

And so to another Irish take on a continental style: Westport Blond from Mescan Brewery in Co. Mayo. Most of the yeasty dregs stayed in the bottle when I poured, leaving me with a clear golden glassful. The aroma is crisp and grainy, and not remotely Belgian. That dry cereal quality is in the middle of the flavour too, and while there's no yeast bite or fruit esters, the hops contribute a very nice honey and mango background flavour, but just as I'm savouring that, the dry acidic bite rises up to take over. Would it pass as a Belgian blonde? Yes, probably. But not the sort I like, unfortunately. There's a Red Tripel also available from Mescan though Redmond's was out of stock when I called in. It sounds fascinating so hopefully I'll get to try it before long.

More new Irish beers to come in my round-up from this year's Franciscan Well Easter Beer Festival next week.


  1. Anonymous2:40 am

    Is it ever warm enough to drink sessions in Dublin? Or is this merely for the appreciation of beer without the intoxication? I always think of sessions as spring and summer palette nannies.

    1. Our culture is largely built around the pub: session drinking is the norm, and appreciation has unfortunately very little to do with it, for most beer drinkers.

  2. Another great post. Pity about Mescan, good yeast selection is essential for a Belgian.I wonder was it a dry yeast they went with ?

    1. Cheers! I'd say Belgian blondes are quite tricky to do well, and I know I've got very fussy about them lately.

  3. Perhaps it is my getting old (or becoming an old soak), but I find session beers just as pleasant in the depths of winter as in the delights of summer. Lingering for long hours in the boozer drinking a good sub 4.5% bitter, brown, or stout is infinitely better than being smashed out of your skull on barleywine coz 'that's a winter beer'.

    1. In Ireland I only drink session beer when it's cold and rainy.