Several established Irish breweries brought beers I'd never had before to the 2015 Alltech festival at the Convention Centre. Galway Hooker, for instance, has just launched a new bottled IPA called 60 Knots. It's a serious dark gold colour and is all about the classic grapefruit aromas. As my first beer on the second day of proceedings it seemed sharply acidic to begin, and a little brassy. But there are mellower elements in the flavour too: a touch of that signature Hooker biscuit and a more fun gunpowder spicing. You know you're getting a full-on 6.5% ABV and 60 IBUs here. This is one for the Hooker Pale Ale fans who've spent the last nine years craving something bigger.
Hilden is also at the ABV-raising game. Their new one is a double IPA called Buck's Head and is dark gold once again. While the hops definitely make their presence felt -- bitter and waxy -- the malt is a major contributor to the overall flavour. You get a warming cake-and-caramel weightiness with this one. It's perhaps a little old-fashioned compared to the zingier sort of US-style DIPA, but it works perfectly well as a beer in its own right.
If it was zing you were after, Kinnegar was the bar to go to. The Donegal brewery has jumped on the white IPA (ish) bandwagon with one called White Rabbit, hopped entirely with Vic Secret and while allegedly brewed with the customary wheat, there's very little sign of it or any other malt in here. Bask instead in the glory of grapefruit and the roar of the resins. The rabbit beer from the rabbit (ish) brewery is unapologetically hoppy.
IPA fail of the weekend was a non-exhibit, but a bottle of Farmageddon Wet Hop IPA smuggled into the press room by Nigel. I can only assume a saboteur filled two thirds of this with TCP as it reeked and tasted of raw disinfectant and absolutely nothing else.
From ale to lager, briefly, and Remix India Pale Lager from the increasingly hyperactivie Trouble Brewing. It's 5% IPA and very dank, tasting akin to the air just outside the front door of Amsterdam Centraal. There's a fun peppery piquancy and a quick, clean exit from the palate like a proper lager ought to have. Big and complex while also being simple and quaffable. A taster really didn't do this justice.
Two more new Irish saisons made an appearace. Carlow's latest seasonal Spring Saison is the plainer of the two, No fruit, no esters, just very dry -- stale, even -- dusty burlap and grain sweepings. Wicklow Wolf, meanwhile, had the shortest-pitched seasonal I've ever encountered: Solar Eclipse was topical for about five minutes last Friday morning. It's a lovely dark copper colour and rather strong at 6.5% ABV. While it leans towards the fruit-forward type of saison -- green banana and lychee coming through in a big way for me -- it's all very deftly balanced with peppercorn and similar dry spices. There's great refreshment power here despite the strength.
I have to fit a couple of token stouts into these Irish posts, and Jack Cody's fits the bill first with their Paddy's Day seasonal Hail Glorious Saint Patrick. It's 5.4% ABV and absolutely bang-on for a slightly-bigger-than-usual Irish stout: chocolate looms large in the aroma and the flavour profile floats nicely between sweet dark malts and drier roasted elements. They've cheekily badged it as an imperial stout and I can kind-of see the basis for the claim -- it's pretty full-flavoured after all -- but it lacks the warmth to really pull off the illusion.
I finally got to catch up with the two 12th Abbey beers I hadn't tried, and to hear about the highly ambitious brewery development plans under way. In the meantime, Raven Stout is a very simple and straightforward Irish dry stout, throwing a bit of caramel into the mix as it warms, though also featuring a strange aspirin acidity. 12th Abbey Pale Ale also has this. Jaffa orange is the sum total of the hop fruit flavour, but it's more sharp than anything else. Like the Amber ale, all of these recipes could do with tweaking to smooth out their rougher edges.
Our last port of call before we head abroad is Station Works, up there by Newry railway station. They had a new pale ale on the go called The Foxes Rock. It doesn't really work, being all buttery diacetyl and nasty chalky mineral dryness. One of those beers that leaves you boggling at what the brewer could possibly have intended. Station Works also has grand plans to revitalise cask beer in Ireland and has been busily cloning the beers from its sister operation Cumberland Breweries. Station Works No. 1 was the first fruits of this, a 4.7% ABV cask brown ale. While there's more butter here, it works far better in this sort of beer. The overall effect is of milky coffee or chocolate ice cream. I'd love to say it hits the mild style spots but it's just too heavy and not refreshing enough for that. Still a decent beer: a regular sweet brown ale on cask could well be a winner.
That's the UK and Ireland covered. Where to next?
Black Damnation II: Mocha Bomb - *Origin: Belgium/Netherlands | Date: 2011 | ABV: 12% | On The Beer Nut: September 2011* This imperial stout had me thinking about the role of coffee in bee...
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