10 November 2014

Dark days

Winter is nearly upon us, so time to look at a few of the recent additions to the Irish beer scene, released to tide us over until the brightness returns.

Brú are newcomers to the seasonal circuit and I was pleased to find their Autumn Ale on cask in The Brew Dock last month. It's a dark red-brown colour and is all about the seasonal spices. Well, not all about them: at its heart this is a solid dark malt-forward ale, full-bodied with warming elements of toffee and caramel. The spicing is at level where it's still the main act, but not overdone. Nutmeg would be my best guess for the principal one, but it could easily be cinnamon, cloves or any combination thereof. You get the picture. It's heartening to see both a brewery resisting the urge to throw the whole spice rack at a beer, and a Dublin pub getting cask dispense absolutely spot-on -- the prickly fizz in this really livened it up in a way that's not often enough the case with this sort of dark heavy beer.

The latest in Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne's range of seasonals is Riasc Black, a 6.1% ABV dark ale with added blackberries. It pours densely black, topped by a thick layer of head, the colour of old ivory. Though no official style is given, the smell reminds me of porter: lightly chocolatey with traces of plummy dark fruit. The texture is one of its best features, being full and creamy with only a subtle effervescence. Flavourwise it has a lot in common with Irish dry stout. There's some roast and hints of mocha, but also a fascinating mild sourness which I'm guessing is the blackberries at work. It doesn't taste at all like a fruit beer, or at least it's a long way from the sticky syrupy nightmares they can sometimes be. Instead here is a beautiful balanced and subtly complex full-bodied dark beer. Perfect winter fare.

I don't know if it actually counts as a seasonal, but Carrig Brewing launched a new black IPA at the end of October: 5.5% ABV and named Coalface. My half pint at the Bull & Castle arrived looking very stoutish: proper black with a creamy white head on top. It smelled quite stouty too, having a lot of the vegetal bitter tang that makes Porterhouse Wrassler's such a classic. I was braced for another bitter Irish stout so was quite shocked to get a hit of sweet sherbet lemons on the first sip. The zingy hop fruit is matched with a smooth dry cocoa flavour and I'm really not sure whether this should be classed in the "hoppy porter" sub-sub-genre of black IPA, or as a proper "IPA-in-all-but-colour". The lasting bitterness on which the flavour finishes could be at home in either, but that juicy lemony centre is the sort of thing only really found in the new wave of American and American-style pale ales. Concerns about taxonomy aside, Coalface is a gorgeous smooth and quaffable beer, not massively full-flavoured, but it does what it does in a really interesting way.

Looks like we're all sorted for the winter then.

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