03 September 2014

Hitting the bottle

That's enough bothering the bar staff for now. Irish Craft Beer Week continues with some new bottled beer brands.

Cloughmore is a label owned by Noreast, a veteran importer of fancy foreign beers, more recently turned to distributing the bottled output of Galway Bay Brewery and now with a marque of their own, brewed in Co. Down by Whitewater.

First up, Granite Lager. At 4.5%, this is suspiciously the same ABV as Whitewater's own Belfast Lager making me wonder if it's a straight re-badge. It's a while since I've tasted any Belfast Lager, never being much of a fan of it. Granite looks gorgeous, arriving  a perfect clear pale gold with fine bubbles forming an ice cream float of stiff foam on top. Both the aroma and flavour blend together the golden syrup of lager malt with the stern dry cut grass and crunchy celery of German hops, with the former taking the lead in the taste and the latter in the aroma. If this is Belfast Lager under a new name then I'm ready to take a second look because it's very well put together. I find it hard to believe anyone would put the effort in for a made-to-order commodity lager, but that's clearly what's happened here. It's smooth enough to throw down as a sunny day quaffer but also complex enough to take time over if you're a fan of full-flavoured pale lager.
[Edited to add: Whitewater has confirmed that Cloughmore beers are all different recipes to their own-brand beers]

Dark Water  is the Cloughmore stout and it got off to a bad start: a thin-looking red-brown with insane amounts of foam resulting in a glass that looked like an unholy hybrid of Don King and Marge Simpson. Again it shares an ABV with Whitewater's own Belfast Black stout. It has the crisp and dry aroma of German schwarzbier, or a bag of black patent malt, and this is the main feature of the flavour as well, rendered even drier by a big carbonic bite. There's more than a hint of dusty, husky malt floor sweepings about it, almost burning the back of the throat with its arid sandpaper quality. There's maybe a flash of milk chocolate or cappuccino in the centre, but blink and you'll miss it. If you value dry Irish stout for its dryness you'll get your money's worth here. Personally I found the time and effort of getting it poured with all that head not worth the return on investment.

I bought those two really for the sake of completeness. It's the third one in the series that really piqued my interest. No arty name here, it says what it is: Heather IPA. And a perfect pour too, a hazy amber with a modest respectable head. It smells only slightly herby but there's lots more action on tasting. What fascinates me is the concept: heather beer, typified by Fraoch, is generally hop-free. IPA, on the other hand, isn't. This mixes it all up, bringing in the herbal complexity of the heather and setting it on a toffee malt base that fits with a certain sort of IPA and adding a metallic bitter tang from some quite assertive hops. It's not quite as much fun as I expected, needing a bit more heather weirdness for that. But it is a pretty decent heavyish bitter-sweet amberish ale. Nothing fussy, just quality.

From the picturesque Mourne coast to the picturesque west Cork coast and Munster Brewery in Youghal. Bravely, perhaps, they've opted to launch with two lagers, both at 4.2% ABV. Blackguard is billed as golden but looks more of a kellerbier hazy orange. It smells wholesome, all rich maltsack and mild jaffa fruit, and that German microbrewery character continues on tasting: a smooth bready malt base barely troubled by the nettles and rocket of the hops. Yes it's odd drinking something that tastes like it came from a central Berlin brewpub but really just zipped up the M9.

The other one is Fir Bolg, billed as an amber lager and "hop strong" to boot. It's definitely bitterer than Blackguard, with a long tangy finish. Again it features a rich and rustic cereal quality, tasting as cloudy as it looks. In the midst of the malt biscuit there's more of the gentle orangey fruit, and then that tang on the end.

Munster Brewery have made an unusual decision with these two and I'm not sure that rustic German beer is something the Irish market has been crying out for. Me, I'm just glad to have the variety.

Two more new bottling breweries to bring us up to the festival tomorrow.

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