When you spend a lot of time watching the doings of small breweries, the behaviour of big breweries can seem a bit weird. Diageo, for instance, has two new beers out but looks to be treating them in very different ways even though they're quite similar to each other, on paper at least.
Smithwick's Blonde I learned about via my ancillary hobby of peering in pub windows at what they have on tap. The first place I noticed it was The Norseman, but the bold yellow font was also to be seen leering across the bar in The Boar's Head and neighbouring Slattery's on Capel Street. It was in the latter that I finally caught up with it. A simple substance, it's dry and crisp with lots of fizz, a watery heart and a rather stale malt husk finish. The gas and water makes it nicely palate cleansing, which is about the best I can say for it. Why they made it and who it's for is anyone's guess. I've seen no related PR and not even the Smithwick's website recognises its existence. As soft launches go, this one is downright soggy.
Compare it, then, with its almost-twin Hop House 13. This was launched with a thumping audiovisual fanfare at a media event in St James's Gate last month. Here's Nick Curtis-Davis, Diageo's Head of Innovation for Guinness, explaining the rationale behind the new beer, followed by the soundtrack of a short video they made to introduce it:
Sounds great, eh? The show-and-tell was followed by a taste down at the pilot plant with Peter Simpson, the young brewer fronting this release. It was cold in there and the little sample even colder so I didn't get much of a chance to assess it. I caught up with it again in the wild at Slattery's a few days later.
Diageo has branded it a lager even though it's made using standard Guinness ale yeast, and there's definitely an extra ale-like body to it rather than the clean blank slate of a pale lager. Hopwise they've employed a prestige combination of Mosaic, Galaxy and Topaz which creates an immediate fruity spicy buzz on entry with even a hint of naughty dank and some dry but fun pomegranate and cranberry. These are mere nuances, however, and the main thrust of the beer is a simple and sessionable English-style golden ale, putting me a little in mind of the likes of Hopback's Summer Lightning. At a piddling 16 IBUs and high-gravity brewed in huge quantities it's not going to displace any Irish micros, but like another of its siblings, the Amarillo-laced Smithwick's Pale Ale, it's the sort of beer I'd happily drink when it's the best available option.
The new brewhouse at St James's Gate has allowed Diageo to design and launch new beers faster than ever before: Hop House 13 was an unprecedented seven months from first draft to first draught. That makes four brand new recipes out the gate of the 'Gate in the last six months. At this rate, and with access to all those increasingly scarce hops, they're bound to hit on something really good at some point soon, right?