A couple of weeks ago I took up the invitation from Aidan of Galway Hooker to visit the new brewery site in Oranmore with a group of fellow Beoir members. It's a hell of a set-up, all shiny and automated in a space that's more like an aircraft hangar than a typical Irish microbrewery, and certainly a long way from the cramped block-built shed where the brewery started in 2006. There's even a cosy tasting room on site where I got the chance to taste Galway Hooker Dark Lager for the first time.
This follows the Pale Ale and Stout to be the third permanent Galway Hooker beer and, for the moment at least, exists only in bottled form. I think I was expecting something black and schwarzbier-ish so was surprised to find it's much more on the Vienna or Alt side of the house: copper coloured -- not dissimilar to the Pale Ale, in fact -- and with a light, clean crunchy grain backbone overlayed with subtly green German hops adding notes of fresh rocket and raw spinach leaves. All very approachable, and sessionable too at just 4.3% ABV.
Another brewery on the grow is Beoir Chorca Duibhne in west Kerry who upgraded last autumn from their toytown half-hectolitre kit to a grown-up 5 barrel job. We've certainly been seeing the fruits of the expansion here in Dublin in recent months, with a sequence of bottled seasonals and beers on keg for the first time.
The latest of the latter was simply titled Dark Winter Ale and is a blend of Carraig Dubh porter and Cúl Dorcha dark ale with a finished strength of 5.7% ABV. Its appearance is true to its porter roots: brown-black with a creamy head. Yet the first thing I thought of on drinking it was pilsner and I suspect that's the German hops from Cúl Dorcha at work. Of course it's still malt-forward, but it's a particularly lagery crisp, wholegrain biscuit sort of malt. The hopping behind it shows lots of cut grass. Only when it warmed did I start getting hints of chocolate from the foundation porter but the sharp hop acidity still dominated. It's all just a bit too severe for my liking and I think I prefer drinking both beers separately.
This was in 57 The Headline which had another new western beer on tap just after New Year: Black Donkey's Belgian American Amber Ale, the first from the Roscommon brewery's pilot kit to hit the market. I won't sugarcoat my words here: I did not like this beer one little bit. It's massively musty, with the sort of dry rot stank you get in the less fancy charity furniture shops. Is it an oxidation effect? Might the grain have just been off? Is it something about the way the ingredients are combined? I don't know. But it didn't taste Belgian to me, and certainly not American. It's too dry for either and the only trace of fruitiness I could find was a tiny hint of red berry right on the finish. I'm all for playing with ingredients and styles but I wouldn't have been happy with a beer like this going out under my brand, though Richard the brewer tells me he got lots of positive feedback on it. Did anyone else out there try it?
Edited June 2015: This beer has since been relaunched under the name Buck-It. A change in the yeast seems to have fixed the perceived flavour issues.
A bit of a hop kick to go out on. Marcus from Reel Deel gave me this sample bottle of his second beer, Jack the Lad, at a do in 57 organised by his distributor, Vanguard. It's a 4.5% ABV IPA, a darkish clear gold colour and smelling pleasantly perfumed, with fabric softener and lemon cordial notes. The first sip delivered a big and pleasing dose of citrus hops but I think my palate adjusted almost immediately and subsequent mouthfuls were more muted. It's still hop-driven, showing sharp grapefruit and lime in particular, but there's a soft cake-and-candyfloss base behind it. Much like good ol' Galway Hooker Pale Ale, this is an easy drinker with plenty of hop complexity to hold your interest too. The suggested Irish cheese match on the label is a nice touch as well.
So that's some of what they're up to out west. The next post looks at a handful of new beers from points east of the Shannon.