30 March 2015

Out for a couple

Wet night. Push the heavy front door of Alfie Byrne's. Across the threshold and down the steps. The back-and-forth buzz of conversation. And ping-pong. The bar glows at the centre of the dim room, beckoning. A new beer from a well-respected English micro was touted earlier on Twitter. There it is, minimalist design on the tap badge. But due diligence first: a glance across the other options, over and then down to... the handpump. Chalked on the blackboard Gate Crasher Bitter by Trouble Brewing. Thought I'd missed it, and certainly didn't think I'd see it on cask. A pint, please.

Settling in the handled jug to a dark amber, though not quite brown. And not quite clear, either. First pull: yeast, gritty and bitter. Behind it, tannins and floral spices. All that jasmine. Classic English bucolics and the potential for greatness, let down by poor handling. For shame.

Still chasing rumours, out into the night again, across St Stephen's Green south, past Sir Benjamin's Palladian mansion and Joyce's alma mater. Skirting by Cuffe Street flats and around the corner to Against the Grain. Busier here. Crowded by the bar. A glance at the taps, a scan of the blackboard, and back to the taps. There. Dortmunder. Galway Bay aren't known for lagers. A brave step. A pint, please.

Husky and hazy. A wan orange hue and orange marmalade-flavoured. Biting bitterness sits atop the full grainy body, its texture the only nod to real Dortmund Export. Debate: does the assertive hopping take away from the style, or an improvement, a stage in its evolution? No matter. Good beer. Enjoyable drinking.

We're a long way from Dortmund. Is that a stout on cask? A pint, please.

28 March 2015

Grand tour

I mentioned the Alltech Dublin Craft Beer Cup in one of the earlier posts this week. Danish brewers Coisbo were outright winners for the second time in a row, with a barrel-aged version of the beer that won them top prize last year. Eleven is a 10% ABV imperial stout matured in sherry casks. It's not a subtle beast, smelling strongly of sweet oak, though dryer on tasting, but still very very woody. I think the barrel-aging may have left it a little overcooked for my liking.

Also waltzing off with a gold medal was the only Belgian beer I had all weekend. Bertinchamps Brune also has the distinction of being packaged in a half-litre bottle, the way Belgian beers generally aren't. And that's not the only unorthodox feature. In with the very typical rich Belgian chocolate flavour there's some lovely fresh roast coffee notes too. If it wasn't for the Belgian yeast esters this would almost be a first-rate porter. It certainly hits a lot of those notes.

Luxembourgian brewery Bofferding had a stand in the trade area just opposite Galway Hooker and Aidan dared me to try their lurid cherry beer Battin Fruitée. It's not all that bad, being one of those super sweet syrup concoctions commonly found in Belgium. It doesn't edge over into saccharine so it gets a pass from me.

There were some decent beers from the Spanish exhibitors Rosita and Lo Gambusi. Both had clean and refreshing blonde ales on offer. Rosita's Carmen has a chalky mineral element for extra quenching power, despite a hefty enough 5% ABV. Gambusi's Riu is simpler again but worked well as a mid-festival palate-cleanser.

The other Rosita beer I tried was a White IPA. The herbs in here gave it a strong sausagey smell, which wasn't at all unpleasant. Juniper has been employed, I'm told, but I didn't get much of that. Everything else from the herb garden is present, however. Lo Gambusi's second tap was pouring an amber ale called Cinteta. I liked this a lot: it's not too sweet though there's a proper dose of light caramel. To balance it there's lots of greasy hop oil and flavours of pine resin and white pepper. At 5.2% ABV it's a very nice complex sessioner.

Progressive Austrian operator Brew Age had some highly impressive offerings including a black IPA called Dunkle Materie, 6.9% ABV and hopped generously with Cascade, Amarillo and Columbus for a massive juicy orange effect plus just a slight echo of roast on the finish. Dangerously quaffable stuff. Their Hopfenauflauf pale ale was less of a powerhouse, but wasn't really trying to be one either. You get a sweet and spicy kick of bath salts and a light front-of-palate bitterness. No big hop impact, just perfect balance at 5.4% ABV.

Cologne's own Freigeist caused a bit of a buzz around the room all weekend. Gose was the name of the game and Geisterzug the beer of the moment, in its rhubarb infused incarnation. Between the yeast and the fruit it delivers two kinds of tartness at once. Coupled with the addition of spruce needles it's a jolting, invigorating beer, but enormous fun to drink. I also had a taste of Abraxxxas, Freigeist's smoked wheat beer with added pears. It really makes full use of every ingredient involved, with a huge smoky fug in the flavour, layered over with a fresh and tangy pear fruitiness. I've never tasted anything like this but amazingly it all works really well.

A fake Rhineside beer to bring us home. Hoppy Cologne is by Moa in New Zealand and claims Kölsch credentials. One of the other connotations of the word Cologne popped into my head on the first sip: this tastes strongly of perfume. Given a minute it settles out into something less severe, but no more Kölsch-like: you get a spritz of lemon and a faint whiff of cattiness. It's a pretty tasty effort overall and I could easily envisage a session on it.

But, at this stage, a session on anything was furthest from my mind. A big thanks to all the exhibitors and organisers for making Alltech 2015 a fantastic event. Here's to many more years of random beery wonder.

27 March 2015