Time for another Irish beer round-up, prompted in part by the arrival last week of a new beer and a new brewing company. Andrew Murphy and Feargal Chambers (one teacher, one pharmacist) have just established Four Provinces Brewing and the first beer was launched in L. Mulligan Grocer.
The Hurler, brewed at Trouble Brewing, is intriguingly styled a "copper ale" rather than a red. I can see why too: it's a fair bit paler than most Irish reds though stained in a way most pale ales aren't. It was pouring beautifully clear as well, despite not having been through Trouble's filter. I wasn't so keen on the aroma: there's a little bit of stale grain and old hop. On tasting there's a mouthwatering punchy grapefruit bitterness up front from the extensive use of Chinook and Cascade. The guys said they were looking for an Alt-like melanoidin effect, and I can sort-of taste that in there, but the hopping leaves little room for anything else. Joyously, The Hurler comes in a tidy 4.2% ABV package and is light enough to be properly sessionable. I'd happily drink several.
To keep matters dark 'n' hoppy, the next newest Irish beer is from Blackstairs, a Wexford-based brand. There are plans for a brewery in 2015 but for now the beer is in the capable hands of Brú Brewery. The first out is a Ruby Red IPA, though I'd go so far as to say the red is a darker, browner hue than that. The smell is very strange: heavily roasted and almost meaty. The burnt flavours of dark malts are to the fore on tasting but the sharp ashen dryness is accompanied by a strong vegetal bitterness leaving an acrid sensation in the back of the mouth. There's a resinous dank centre and a faint trace of tart red berries. Flawlessly brewed, this is a very grown-up beer and while I'm sure it will have its admirers it was just a bit too stern for me. Maybe it's the disapproving gaze of the wolf on the label but I never really felt I could relax with it.
One that eluded me on my last trip north was Farmageddon India Pale. Fortunately, Richard has my back. This is 5.5% ABV and a dark gold colour, with an slightly off-putting sweaty lemon biscuit aroma. On first sip it nails its colours to the mast with an astringent lip-curling bitterness followed by a rather harsh acid burn. Oddly for a microbrewed IPA, the ingredients list maize, for head retention I'm guessing (edited to add: this is a typo, apparently. Thanks to Steve for the update). There's no sign of it in the flavour, and very little by way of grains at all, in fact. I found this beer to be all sharp angles without any mellow warmth or fruity fun. A bit like the Blackstairs above, it's definitely well made, but just too severe for my liking. Given another bottle it's possibly one to settle into, once the palate adjusts, but as a one-off sipper it's hard work.
I was a little disconcerted when I saw there was a new pale ale from Carrig Brewing. Their Pipers Pale Ale has been around barely a wet week, and now here's another session beer: Poachers Pale Ale is 4.7% ABV, just a notch higher than Pipers' 4.3. It seems a little darker, pouring out a dark gold shade with lots of enthusiastic fizz. While Pipers is all soft and fruity, this is sterner stuff, with quite an astringent bitterness: lemon peel just shading towards washing-up liquid territory. The malt element shows up more in the aroma than the flavour, adding a spongecake effect to the waft of lemons. The bit of wheat they've thrown in adds nicely to the texture making it a full-bodied beer and I can see why the label recommends hearty food as an accompaniment. I enjoyed it as much as I did the Pipers, but for different reasons: that one is all soft luscious fruit while this is invigorating bitterness. No harm having both in one's portfolio.
Kinnegar's latest, in its handsome tall bottle with minimalist labelling, is Otway, a 4.3% ABV pale ale. It's a hazy, farmhousey, pale orange and nicely light on carbonation, with the big loose bubbles of the head subsiding quickly to a thin skim. There's a light waft of spiced mandarin from the aroma plus some sweeter cereal notes. The texture is very thin, even at this modest ABV, and the flavour is as minimalist as the label, offering just some light pine resin and frankincense spicing set against crisp grain husk and finishing with a pithy bitterness. As sunny day thirst-quenchers go, this offers a more interesting flavour combination than most, but the teasing hops have me immediately hankering for something bolder.
Finally we come to Eight Degrees, a brewery which is on something of an upswing at the moment. Amber-Ella, The Full Irish and Hurricane have landed punch after delicious hoppy punch lately. Their latest offering is a white IPA (hoppy witbier) created in collaboration with London's By The Horns brewery and called (wait for it) Horn8's Nest. I caught up with it at Beerhouse where it arrived a just-off-clear pale lemony yellow. There's what I'm beginning to think of as the signature Eight Degrees aroma of fresh and spicy herbal hops. There's a wheaty softness in the texture and a generous dose of coriander though not so much evidence of the orange peel. It's probably safe to guess that the fruit has been buried under an aggressive bitterness, lightened only by zesty lemon and deepened by oily dank. The thirst-quenching power is a good as any wit you can name but this is still yet another Eight Degrees beer for connoisseurs of big hops.
I don't know about you, but I'm not seeing much slowdown in Ireland's current boom in hop-forward beers.
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