I'm not given to amateur industry analysis but it's always pleasing to see signs of maturity in the Irish beer market: indicators that it's not all lowest-common-denominator recipes being thrown out for mass consumption, but that there are also enough interested drinkers to support a more diverse offer. And, of course, that there are brewers and breweries with the talent and resources to do such diversity well. Today's beers are both types that we haven't really seen here before and I'm delighted to have them breaking new ground.
Desperate Mile is by Galway Bay Brewery and makes much of its daring combination of hoppiness with sourness, in what seems like a reasonable 5.4% ABV half-litre package. It pours out a slightly hazy gold and smells at first just like a fresh pale ale, all juicy mandarins and pineapples to begin. But a second sniff revealed the signature nitre brickiness of top-notch Belgian lambic and suggests there's a tart treat to come. And sure enough, there on the first pull is a popping, puckering full-on sourness, but one which instantly gives way to the hop fruit. I don't know if it's the varieties chosen or if it's the extra acid loaned by the souring bugs, but the hop flavours are especially pithy here: lime and grapefruit are in the ascendant. Perhaps surprisingly the finish is quick, with neither hoppiness nor sourness sticking around for long on the thin body.
Desperate Mile launched as a limited bottle-only special, but like its predecessor Heathen, I reckoned it would work best as a down-the-hatch refreshment delivery system. I was able to put that to the test yesterday at The Beer Market, Galway Bay's newest Dublin outlet and one which takes the brave ethos to the city's on-trade. Desperate Mile may have lost a little on the hop front in the intervening weeks but still makes for a beautifully invigorating pint.
Meanwhile, Trouble Brewing has released what I think is Ireland's first triple IPA. Hop Priority is 11.1% ABV, which sounds about right to me. I caught up with it on keg in the Bull & Castle shortly after it was released.
The aroma isn't really up to much, just some light pine; I expected more from a beer that isn't shy about its all-round bigness. There's an immediate smack of hard liquor bitterness on the first sip and a waft of booze vapours up the nose. But, bizarrely, while it's heavily textured and clearly as high-octane as the ABV suggests, it's not hot as such. Instead of a warmth akin to sherry or brandy, it burns with the clean blue flame of an overclocked vodka. The knock-on effect is that it provides a perfect neutral base for bright and fresh hop flavours, so you get lots of mango, pineapple and even a dash of coconut. This sweet fruit far outweighs the bitter qualities and makes it a remarkably easy drinking beer. Served cold by the half pint it would be very easy to knock back, and that would not be a good idea. Overall a very impressive offering and a real testament to the brewers' skill.
So there, then, are a couple of new benchmarks for daring Irish beer. Beat that, everyone else.
Westmalle Dubbel - *Origin: Belgium | Date: 2008 | ABV: 7% | On The Beer Nut: October 2007* It's a longtime favourite today. Westmalle Dubbel goes back to the very beginnings...
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