02 January 2015

The gaze of Janus

Hidden Agenda joins Graffiti and Vietnow in Trouble Brewing's OMG All Teh Hopz family of pale ales, this one at the 4.5% ABV mark. Australian varieties Vic Secret and Summer are providing the show here but it's not really one of those soft tropical fruit jobs you often get from Aussie hops. Prepare yourself instead for a major blast of fresh, sharp citrus and pine resins. Only in the finish is there any more rounded fruit taste, a swift suck on a mandarin but nothing more. I assume some malt has gone in here from the orange colour but I couldn't taste its presence: it's actually a little watery at its heart, especially when arriving cold. Still, I welcome the clean zippy hop bang and hope they make more like it.

White Gypsy's cask winter seasonal is a big 5.7% ABV dark ale called, appropriately, Dark Night. There's lots of chocolate in here but it's not overly sweet and, while rich and warming, doesn't taste all of its strength. When acquired fresh in The Brew Dock there was an extra bitter bite in the background, for a sort of Wrasslers effect. I couldn't be sure if it was generous hopping, a yeast bite or even an immature greenness I was tasting, but it added an extra dimension to the flavour, one which was gone a few days later when the pub was clearing the cask for the Christmas break, leaving behind some unseasonable but tasty strawberry sweetness.

And across the Galway Bay pub estate we're starting to see the appearance of Heathen, a 3% ABV sour black wheat beer. I've got through a lot of this since it first appeared in The Black Sheep: it's light and clean and super quaffable. The puckering dark vinegar tang is shocking at first but once you've settled in to it the flavour and high carbonation make for a refreshing oxyclean scrub for the palate.

The last of the new breweries to send beer out in 2014 was O Brother in Wicklow. They made sure I got some exercise by keeping the two first-run beers on opposite sides of the Liffey in L. Mulligan Grocer and The Norseman. Believe it or not the two glasses of The Fixer here presented were both poured from the same keg within seconds of each other. It's described as an American Red and it's very bitter: green cabbage and metal, plus some chewy toffee. There's more of a strong English bitter feel to it, I thought, than anything stateside. The cloudy version was actually a little softer, though still rather acrid.

I much preferred their pale ale The Chancer. Startlingly pale and with every right to claim the "'n' hoppy" that goes with it. Bright fresh lemon zest is the principal flavour; malt sweetness steers it towards candied peel, though it does build, becoming a bit piney floor cleaner by pint's end. Overall, a very good quality effort and it will sit well alongside more established luminaries like Metalman and Black's of Kinsale pale ales.

Irish brewing is in fairly good nick, then, if this lot are anything to go by. The current renaissance in international beer styles, starting in 2006 with Galway Hooker, is well documented. But it's the story of Irish brewing before that that I'd love to see told, in answer to Alan's question for this month's session: What beer book yet to be written would you like to see published?

I remember, and drank, the Irish craft beers of the early 2000s, and have seen tantalising glimpses of the extinct breweries which dotted the country in the previous five centuries through the work of Barry, Martyn, Ron and others. But while I'm sure all the information is out there somewhere, and that there are plenty of wonderful stories to be told, nobody has yet taken the time to write a properly wide-reaching history of Ireland's beer. I'd even settle for Dublin's.

In general I'm quite happy with where we're going in this country. I'd just really like to know more about where we've been.


  1. Why don't you write it yourself?

  2. I don't have the time it would need to do properly.

  3. The bits of research I've done into Irish beer tell me that it's much less well documented than in Britain. It looks like a fair number of brewing records exist - if you can get to see them - but other sources are much thinner on the ground. Not sure why that is.

    1. Bog laziness, I suspect.

      If I were to whittle down the subjects mentioned above further, the topic of just Watkins, Jameson & Pim would be a great one. It was one of the first porter breweries in Dublin, it eventually amalgamated almost all of the great names of Dublin brewing, and it appears to still exist as a company. It's the sort of firm that might have had a glossy official history published some time around the early 20th century, but I can find no trace of one. I'm half tempted to pop down to Ardee Street some day and just knock on the front door.