15 December 2014

The curtain descends

Old Father Time is oiling down his scythe, ready to take a swing at 2014 and bring the year to close. I'm left with a scattering of beer tasting notes gathered over the year that I've yet to commit to this blog and most of which will have to wait until 2015. For this post I'm pulling together an assortment of Irish ones, mostly to give posterity flavour of what was happening at this point in the big bang of modern Irish microbrewing.

Red is something of a theme, and rumours of the death of Irish red ale have been greatly exaggerated. The slightly hoppier amber ale twist is also highly fashionable and Mayo newcomer Reel Deel have launched with an amber ale as their first. Irish Blond is a sort-of in-joke, because it's not blonde, it's red. Ahahahaha. Um. What we have here is a pretty decent fist of an American style amber pouring a lovely shade of chestnut red. The aroma is lightly fruity, combining old school white lemonade and sherbet lemons. There's a lot of quality English bitter about the flavour, a crisp and thirst-quenching tannic element, some spices, but also the rounder exotic fruit of new world hops. It's maybe a bit too dry for first-rate American-style amber ale *cough*Amber-Ella*cough* but it's a very well made beer and one I would happily quaff lots more of.

Dublin's Stone Barrel brewing are coming to the end of their contract brewing phase and are hoping to have their own production brewery in the New Year. Red Mist is their second UK-brewed bottled beer and is an amber ale of a modest and sessionable 4.2% ABV. It packs a lot of complexity in there, being another sherbet-smelling one but showing bags of toffee in the flavour, in keeping with the dark copper body. The sweetness is balanced deftly by pockets of green bitterness, for that hop-studded candy effect I always enjoy in amber ale.

There's less of that sort of thing in Clanconnel McGrath's No. 6 which I chanced upon in The Waterloo in Dublin. Their Saturday night €4 bottle offer is great for some sociable exploring. This is another dark red amber ale but the malt is winning the aroma, showing in a rather musty burlap smell. There's crunchy grain in the flavour as well, though the hops are more assertive here. Rather than American citrus you get a genteel lavender and talcum which adds up to a sweet and slightly twee beer. Think granny's oatmeal cookies. That she eats in the bath.

I'm guessing West Mayo brewery were going for more of a traditional red style with Clew Bay Sunset which I found on tap in The Norseman back in October but this is a weird mutant variant. It's thin enough and fizzy enough, but is over-the-top sweet, with the fake fruit flavour of red lemonade. The aroma is pure butterscotch and the finish saccharine-sweet to the point of tasting metallic. It's the awful candy concoction of an especially vindictive Willy Wonka. Avoid.

More recently (yesterday) in The Norseman they were pouring Yule, a Christmas beer for White Hag's first Christmas. It's 7.2% ABV, mostly headless, and a murky red-amber colour. I'd say it's quite highly attenuated as the texture is thin even though the alcoholic weight is very apparent. There's a powerful red fruit flavour with all the sugar of ripe rasberries and strawberries plus the acidic sharpness of both. I'm definitely not of the opinion that a Christmas beer should taste Christmassy but this one has me wondering why a beer called Yule conjures up strawberries and cream in front of the tennis.

Meanwhile, at the supermarket, Solas is one of the brands Rye River brews for Tesco, the more traditional of the two. Solas Red is a classic dark Irish red: copper shading towards brown. The head is generous to begin with but collapses quickly, while the nose is a charming mix of warmth and red fruit, like fresh cherry pie, including the slight sourness. It's rather plainer to drink: lots of simple dry roast and a highly attenuated thinness. There's no hop character and not much malt either, not even the caramel that any reasonable human might expect from Irish red. It's 4.3% ABV but drinks like a cheapy supermarket own-brand half that strength.

So, apprehension going into Solas Stout. It certainly looks the part, pouring thickly and nearly opaque with a loose-bubbled ivory head. There's a rich and sweet aroma, though it's slightly phenolic, but not in a bad way -- sort of smoky. The flavour is at once classic Irish stout, but also quite unusual: there's lots of dry roast, more than a hint of caramel, burnt edges and a sour tang. It exists somewhere in the middle of a circle marked by bottled Guinness, Knockmealdown and O'Hara's Leann Folláin and is beautifully complex for something that's just 4.5% ABV. I really like it, and it's great to see this sort of interesting full-flavoured Irish stout hitting the mainstream via Tesco.

New lagers are a bit thin on the ground. Who wants to drink lager, after all? Cumberland Breweries from northern England do, and have set up a satellite brewery called Station Works just outside Newry where they're making Finn Irish Craft Lager. It's 4.5% ABV and comes in 33cl bottles decorated in hexagons, because giants and that. It's perfectly clear and very pale, with a suspicious but not unattractive burst of green apples in the aroma. It's very clean to taste, h