21 July 2014

The week that's in it

We had a couple of goings-on of beery significance in Dublin last week. Thursday saw 57 The Headline host the local launch of St. Mel's Brewing. St. Mel's in Longford Town may be a very new operation but it's helmed by Liam Hanlon, previously the head brewer at Carlow and the creator of the beers that went on to become O'Hara's IPA and Leann Folláin. He's operating on a 15hL Irish-built brewkit now, producing three bottle-conditioned beers to begin with.

Funny thing, bottle conditioning. Staff at The Headline were handing out the half-litre bottles with a 33cl glass -- perfectly normal practice in the Irish pub, but not ideal when you have beers that work best in a single careful pour. The samples at the event were in small tasters and after the first round I thought somebody might have to take the brewmaster aside for a talk about quality control. It seems just to have been an unlucky pour of concentrated dregs, however. Another taster later on was much better, and enough to convince me to trade up to drinking entire bottles. So what's in the range?

Interestingly, St. Mel's have opted for a Brown Ale over a red or stout, possibly the only one in permanent production in the country. It's a substantial 5.2% ABV though the texture is light and the taste crisp, prickled by quite a busy fizz. The centre is all chocolate, of the dry cocoa-powder variety. It's also dry-hopped, which lends it not so much a fruitiness as a green vegetal bitterness which lasts long into the finish. St. Mel's Brown one of those quite serious, solid beers, but very enjoyable for all that.

St. Mel's Pale Ale is a little lighter at 4.8% ABV and pours a clear shade of deep orange-gold. Cascade hops are doing the heavy lifting here, imparting a gentle flavour of ripe juicy peaches and some light herbal grassy spicing. Its best feature is the texture: a pillowy softness with a sherbet effervescence which leaves it exceedingly drinkable. Overall a well put-together and accessible pale ale.

Finally for the first round of releases there's St. Mel's Helles Lager. Not exactly Munich-grade, but there's a wholesome grainy flavour and some pleasant fruit ester sweetness. Plenty for lager drinkers to enjoy here.

Liam says that distribution of draught beer is likely to remain mostly local once that's up and running, but bottles should hopefully be easy enough to get hold of all around the country.

Also on Thursday, The Porterhouse kicked off a ten-day festival of pale ales across the chain. The line-up includes much to like from British and American luminaries Thornbridge, Camden, Founders, Sierra Nevada, and the promised first appearance of Magic Rock beer in this country. The centrepiece, however, is a new permanent addition to the Porterhouse range: Dublin Pale Ale, essentially a re-working of last year's Pale Face special edition brew. (I'm probably the only one sad enough to note that the name "Dublin Pale" has been used previously, being the cask bitter produced briefly by Messrs Maguire in the late '90s). Dublin Pale is on keg, at least for now, and is 4.2% ABV, hopped with Admiral and Styrian Goldings. The flavour is unsurprisingly very English: big thirst-quenching tannins at the front and a coppery tang in the finish. The crisp bitterness reminds me a lot of its cask sibling TSB. For those occasions when TSB is absent and Hop Head would be just a hop too far, this is a welcome addition.

Among the early guest beers in Porterhouse Temple Bar was the new black IPA from Eight Degrees. It's named after the single variety of Australian hop it uses, Vic Secret, and is 6% ABV. It arrived a dense black colour, showing hints of red at the edges, and density is a theme. It's very thick and extremely tarry, with lots of bitter roast coating the palate. Set against this is a gaudy galah of bright tropical flavours, starting with mango and pineapple in the aroma, bursting out into bitter grapefruit and concentrated peach nectar on tasting. It's an incredible experience and it's hard to believe that all that colour comes from just one hop variety. The finish is long and bitter, and I honestly couldn't say if that's a result of the big hops or the roasted grains, or both. Either way, it's another hoppy winner from the Mitchelstown brewery.

And there's yet more new Irish beer to come later in the week.

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