The arrival of new Irish breweries is always exciting, so I made sure to stop by the Wicklow Brewery stand at Alltech Brews & Food. I say "new": the brewpub on the caravan site in Redcross has been in production since last summer, but so far hasn't got much beyond its very local market. Not that it has to, of course.
My grin of delight became a little fixed when I noticed that Wicklow Brewery Helles was front and centre. New Irish pale lagers can be something of a gamble. All doubt was swept away with the first taste. Yes, it's a bit hazy, and there's maybe rather more sulphur on the nose than you'd expect for this style of beer, but it has just the right amount of bready weight in the body and some lovely light green vegetal hop notes: celery and raw spinach. It's very drinkable and I wasn't remotely surprised to learn that Mathis the brewer is German born and trained.
There's a Weiss in the line-up too, a spicy one, with more of that crisp celery backed by fruity candy and a slight edge of pear. Again a very easy drinker and very much on the cleaner and drier side of the genre -- no big bananas or clove notes here.
The outlier of the range is WB-40, a 6.6% ABV amber ale. It's mostly quite bitter, turning a little metallic in the finish, but the malt adds a raisin and fruitcake complexity, as well as a generous helping of caramel. So, nearly an Irish red then, but with enough other stuff going on to differentiate it.
Rye River really pulled out the stops to impress, with a vast high-tech festival bar and a sequence of one-off geek-bait beers. Saison? Obviously. This one was an approachable 4.9% ABV, golden in colour with a heady nose of honey and meadows. A dry crispness is the centrepiece of the flavour, almost like burnt popcorn, with just a wisp of peach esters alongside. A simple refresher, and further evidence for me that lower strength is better where saison is concerned.
There was a very porterish Brown Ale, more roast and toast than caramel and toffee, and all the better for it; and a Double IPA. The latter was textbook stuff: peach and pineapple aromatics; a thick, almost greasy texture, and an explosively tangy flavour consisting mainly of mandarins but with a darker edge of dank. Very, very nicely done.
And last of the Rye River specials was their Berliner Weisse, claiming to be brewed to just 1.3% ABV. It hits all the usual style points within that, however: a grainy wheat quality, a crisp finish, and of course an electric buzz of super-refreshing lactic sourness.
Another German-style Wicklow beer to end on: Distinction Lager is from the newly-established Manor Brewing Company in Blessington. This trial batch is an all-Saaz job, 5.1% ABV and beautifully clean, allowing the hops to shine out. It was one of only two Irish gold medal winners in Alltech's Dublin Craft Cup (the other being barrel-aged Leann Folláin) and it was a deserving winner, I think. Hopefully nothing will change between now and full-scale production.
That's the new and surprising Irish stuff at the festival. More from the local breweries next.
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