Day two of catching up on Ireland's recent new and special release beers in honour of Irish Craft Beer Week 2014.
Usually ahead of the game for such things, The Norseman in Dublin was an early adopter of Smokey Bacon, a new special edition strong ale from Bo Bristle. This arrived a murky brown-amber colour and exhibits lots of Belgian-esque alcoholic warmth from its 6.8% ABV. The smoke makes its presence felt right from the start: a harsh and heavy acridity. Lots of caramel malt comes in behind it and the two elements battle it out for control of the palate, well into the long finish. While I'm sure it'll have its fans, it just didn't work for me, lacking in the balance and cleanness I enjoy in German rauchmalz-based lagers and also in the fun flavours found in peated dark beers. Reddish ales with a minority percentage of smoked malt just don't float my boat.
Beoir's 2014 AGM happened in Kilkenny a month ago and coincided with the first appearances of a new local beer brand, Costellos. Mr Costello himself invited us along to Billy Byrne's pub after the meeting to try it out. Diageo recently closed the landmark Smithwick's brewery in the city and this is an attempt to bring the local element back into Kilkenny beer, though for the moment it's brewed two counties over at Trouble. Still, a 3.8% ABV red ale can't but attract parallels with Smithwick's, and it does combine several of that beer's better elements, showing lots of lemon-tea-like tannins for superior thirst-quenching power. As it warms there's a sizeable amount of buttery diacetyl added to the mix, which wasn't to everyone's taste but which I thought sat quite comfortably with the cleaner parts of the flavour.
Thanks to Gerald and the team at Costello's for the hospitality, and check out Billy Byrne's if you're in Kilkenny: the Bula Bus kitchen parked out back does excellent street food.
"No new Galway Bay beer yet?" I hear you cry. Of course there is. Before the brewery packed up and shipped itself across town to a new standalone facility it produced a 6.6% ABV IPA called Goodbye Blue Monday, in collaboration with Begyle Brewing of Chicago. It's got oatmeal in it. I don't know why and I couldn't detect any effect it had, but I thought I should mention that it's in there. It is thickly textured, but so are lots of non-oatmeal IPAs so I doubt that's oatmeal alone. The colour is a bright copper and its flavour is immensely complex from just the hops: spicy and greenly bitter; weedy and dank, but also zesty and juicy. Basically it's a walking tour of new world hop flavours. Malt? Keep walking, stranger. If you want something with a bit more impact than Full Sail but smaller than Of Foam & Fury, here it is. But otherwise I don't really see the point of trading up or down from either of those perfectly enjoyable beers.
Last month there was much fooferaw around the launch plans of Sligo's first brewery, The White Hag, at the Fleadh Cheoil. What got lost in the kerfuffle about licensing and strongarm tactics and whether craft beer is a fad was any mention of the beer. White Hag's first release was a special edition created specifically for the event: Fleadh Ale. Fortunately a stray keg managed to roll as far as L. Mulligan Grocer where I got to try it. I'll admit I'm a little prejudiced when it comes to the beer from new rural Irish breweries. "Safe" is a word I may throw out from time to time, and no criticism is implied in it. But Fleadh Ale is not safe. Quite the opposite, I think. It's the clear dark red of an amber ale and starts with an innocent aroma of toffee and oranges. Mandarins flash past on the first sip, then stronger hop resins and incense spicing leading to thumping great dank earthy pine flavours set on a thick toffee stickiness. That hop-blasted chewiness is an effect I associate most with big US double IPAs and I'm not sure I entirely believe the Hag's claim that this is a mere 6.8% ABV. It is a stunning beer and though brewed for a summer music festival it would make a magnificent winter warmer. I hope we'll see it again.
A second new Connacht brewery to finish on: Black Donkey from Roscommon. They've daringly opted for a saison as the first release and the official east-coast launch took place in 57 The Headline recently. Sheep Stealer is the latest of a growing sub-genre of quite sweet Irish saisons, packed to the gills with mouth-watering orangey fruit. There's some level of dryness and spicing in here too, in both flavour and aroma, but they're more akin to the kind of thing you'd find in a witbier rather than a continental saison. I get a definite poke of coriander in the aroma especially, though as far as I know, no spices have been used in the recipe. The lack of sharp edges makes Sheep Stealer an insanely drinkable beer, as witnessed by the first keg being drained on the night in about 40 minutes.
Another round of new Irish beers tomorrow? Ah go on then...
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...
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