The European Beer Bloggers Conference came to Dublin a couple of weeks ago and I tagged along on the first night's pub crawl, an east-to-west trek from The Brew Dock to the far west end of Temple Bar. The route got edited a little on the way but there was no question of skipping The Norseman, probably the best bar for Irish craft beer in the city centre. I was determined to be sociable, casual: all pints and chat and no ticking. But The Norseman's blackboards got the better of me. There's a handful of new Irish beers I'd been meaning to try for ages and there they all were. Out with the notebook and down to business...
The long-anticipated second and third releases from Donegal Brewing were both on tap. Sea Sessions is a very pale ale and has a fair bit in common with older sibling Donegal Blonde, being very clean and crisp, with just enough of a pils-like hop buzz to make it worthwhile. Not a stand-out given what else it shared bar space with, but I'd be very happy with this if I were on its own turf in Ballyshannon. Atlantic Amber offers more understated quality, this time with light toffee malt and a dry roast barley bite. "Amber" is a little bit ambitious if taken as the purported style: what we have here is a solid, full-bodied, Irish red ale.
Continuing the summer theme, Eight Degrees's World Cup offering is Olé Olé, a 5% ABV witbier. Surprisingly, given the brewery's recent stellar form, there's not a whole to this. It's maybe a little bit pithier than your average witbier but is lacking in both spice and fruit. You can't argue with its refreshment power or drinkability, however. I guess it's designed to not distract from the football, in which case it works. Dublin brewery Five Lamps also has a summer seasonal out: Summer Steam Beer. The brewery, as far as I'm aware, isn't set up for lager and has its own produced at Eight Degrees. Part of me wondered if this steam beer (lager yeast with ale methodology) was an experiment to see if they could take the lager in house. And I have to say, I'm convinced. It's perfectly clear and possesses that beautiful crispness of well-made lager. The hopping is generous too, with all the waxy bitterness of a quality German pils.
Elsewhere in Dublin, I found the revamped Kill Lager by Trouble Brewing on tap in L. Mulligan Grocer. No longer a rebadged pils, this is now a proper Vienna lager. Very proper, in fact. Well... it's maybe a teeny bit pale in colour, more of a Lucozade orange than the traditional red-brown. But there's all of those lovely chewy melanoidin cake-and-biscuit malt notes with extra raisin and candy sweetness, all set on the sort of flawlessly clean base that cool fermenting provides. The finish is a very central-European grassy flavour, plus a carbonic bite from the high-ish carbonation. We don't get enough of the darker lager styles around here so it's nice to have this bit of variety, especially at the reasonable 4.9% ABV strength point.
Not one to be left out of a new Irish beer round-up, Galway Bay released a Table Beer (subsequently re-named Via Maris) last week: 3.5% ABV, produced from the second runnings of their stonking double IPA Of Foam & Fury and hopped with Amarillo, Citra and Wai-iti, in a big big way. It arrived an opaque pale orange, looking unattractively soupy with a very short-lived head. The aroma isn't massive, but there's a generous slug of grapefruit zest in there. The flavour is lots of dank followed by loads of pith: brick-subtle. Somewhere buried deep beneath the alpha acid action there's a tiny malt backbone propping the whole thing up, but it's struggling and certainly not making much of a contribution to the very thin texture. For all its palate-stripping burn, I rather liked it and had very little to complain about at €4 a pint -- over 20% cheaper than any other house beer -- but I imagine it will split the drinkers into the bargain-hunters and hop-heads on one side and the balance and subtlety fans on the other. I know which side I'm on.
Finally, a slightly off-kilter new cask ale from White Gypsy: King Cormac. I really can't fathom what existing style this is closest to, it being 5% ABV, dark brown-red and with a bizarre -- but entertaining -- spicy incense flavour. I suppose porter is the closest, though there's also a fair bit of brown-ale-style coffee and creaminess. In short, after two pints in The Brew Dock I still didn't know what it is, but I liked it. Lesser breweries describe their beer as iconoclastic but this is what iconoclastic tastes like.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
2 weeks ago