01 September 2014

No rest for the ticker

Irish Craft Beer Week is upon us once more as the nation girds its collective loins for the craftquake that is the Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival, now in its fourth year at the RDS Industries Hall, from Thursday.

To whet your appetite for that I thought I'd run through a few of the recent releases from Irish breweries. Bear with me: this may take a while.

The Porterhouse's Pale Ale Festival ended in late July but nobody seems to have told Eight Degrees who had yet another beautiful hop monster on tap at the Temple Bar branch -- and several other pubs besides -- shortly afterwards. Simcoe Rye Ale is the latest in their single-hop series, 6% ABV once again. It's a hazy dark amber colour and the aroma offers a heady cocktail of grassy rye and weedy, spicy hops for the overall effect of a summer meadow on steroids, or getting your head stuck in a pile of damp lawn cuttings. First in the queue on tasting is a dry and punchy bitterness, sharp at the front and then with a longer resin finish, plus just a modest burst of juicy mandarins coming into it as it warms slightly. Behind these is a dense crystal malt base, though the caramel sweetness is felt more than tasted, if that makes any sense. It's a sort of heavy smoothness and brings balance and drinkability to what's an unmistakeably intense hop-forward beer.

International booze behemoth C&C invited me to the launch of their first Irish beer, Clonmel 1650, brewed at the plant best known for turning out the world's supply of Magners. They rented the entirety of swish Dublin superpub The Church and packed it to capacity, adding insanely loud music for extra atmosphere. Still, two free pints is two free pints. First impression of the first pint was of a very dry lager, the flavour evolving into an earthy, mushroomy, dusty, musty unpleasantness. I guess that's why they gave us two. The second was better, with more of a fruity estery vibe, though still pretty dry. Already in C&C's portfolio there's Tennents, Staropramen, Heverlee, Stella Artois and Beck's Vier. Regular drinkers of any of those will find little to surprise them here.

Clonmel 1650 will not be available at the RDS this weekend.

Before the 1650 gig I dropped into the nearby Twisted Pepper to try a new house beer in their Brewtonic series. I missed the first one, brewed last year at 5 Lamps, and this new one came from Rascal's (here's the official making-of blog post). It's a golden ale utilising Magnum, Summit and Cascade, and they've called it Relax the Cacks, for summer and that. It arrived very cold, which I was glad of that particular July evening, showing a slight craft haze in the gold. There's a sweet nectarine aroma, powerful enough to almost pass for Belgian. You get a massive whack of tropical fruit on tasting: peaches mostly, some pineapple, a bit of mandarin. The body is full enough and there's sufficient alcohol heat to keep the Belgian thing in mind, with definite elements of the first-rate sort of Belgian blonde ales. I got the impression it might start to get a little sticky if allowed to warm but there was little chance of that on this occasion.

The Brewtonic guys also had a bar at the first Big Grill barbecue festival which happened in Herbert Park a couple of weeks ago. As well as imported beers, it was serving some welcome leftovers of another one-off that Rascal's did for them, for a different event earlier this summer. Brewtonic Belgian Wit, said Rascal Emma, is a close relation of their own Wit Woo but utilises a little extra Munich malt. Wit Woo is fairly big on the citrus orange notes and while there are definite echoes of that here, this one drops the bitterness levels and adds in masses of extra soft and fleshy tropical fruit, mangoes in particular. There's a small burn of sulphur and the coriander spice levels are low, but they're really not missed with all the juice action going on. An ideal outdoor summer beer, this, and the festival wasn't long in being cleaned out of it. Brewtonic's boss says they're planning a brown ale next. It has a tough act to follow.

Rascal's doesn't have the monopoly on house beers for yoof-oriented Dublin pub chains. The Cassidy's/P. Mac's/Blackbird group have commissioned their own from Trouble Brewing, a 5.5% ABV pale ale called Vietnow. I explored it sitting among the junkshop furniture on Blackbird's terrace. This hazy dark orange beer smells very dank with heavy sandalwood notes as well. Expecting a dense resinous affair I was very pleasantly surprised to get a burst of mandarin on the first pull followed by a dankness that only comes from fresh hops in quantity. There's a thick mouthfeel and lots of that incense-like spicing. While a certain amount of resin lingers late, most of its hop action happens right up front. It was created as a cheaper alternative to Punk IPA, though at €5.40 a pint in Rathmines it's not exactly going for a song. Much as I enjoyed it, I felt my fiver in the Twisted Pepper above was better spent.

Meanwhile, under their own brand, Trouble have released Oh Yeah!, badged as an "American Black Ale". It's an inky black-brown colour with a fairly sedate aroma of spiced oranges and crunchy green veg. It's lightly textured with lots of prickly fizz, something that complements the spicy bitterness which is the centrepiece of the flavour. There's little by way of fruit complexity, in marked contrast to Eight Degrees's recent Vic Secret, instead it's veg and spice all the way. The dark malt contributes a little bit of chocolate and a little bit of roast, but not huge amounts (in the keg version at least; on cask it's understandably smoother and richer). At 5.8% ABV my liver felt somewhat cheated by the lack of complexity, but it's still a very tasty beer, and at just €5.10 in Against the Grain, my wallet was of the opinion that my liver could shut the hell up.

More pint action tomorrow, including a couple of brand new breweries.


  1. Really enjoying these roundups mate. Seems the brewing scene your side of the water is going from strength to strength.

    Out of interest would you say the Porterhouse in Covent Garden is the only place in London I'd be able to try these Irish 'craft' beers? I've just never seen any of these make over to England, not even in places like Craft Beer Co that get stuff from all over the world.

    1. Cheers Neil. There's not a whole lot of exporting going on, to the UK at any rate, but The Porterhouse is probably a good bet. They usually have an Irish beer festival around March.

      These guys are new on the scene and I know nothing about them, but from their Twitter profile it looks like they're the people to talk to about Irish beers in Britain.