07 August 2015

Give 'em the works

Session logo "The Landscape of Beer" is the topic of this month's Session, hosted by the Active Brewer blog. Allen wants us to look at the way beer is now and how it's likely to change over the coming years. With the rise of Big Craft, the regular acquisition of little guys by bigger guys and the audible puffing of the established megaliths trying to keep up, it's an apposite topic for the moment. But I'm not going to go bigger-picture on this one. I'm keeping things domestic because I think there's a local development which means big things for the landscape of Irish beer.

Dublin's first white-label brewery has finally emerged into daylight after years of planning and wandering. Craftworks utilises what was once the Emerald/Galway Hooker brewkit and is situated in the north-west of the city. It opened for business a couple of months ago, offering brewing services to those without the means of making their own beer. Stone Barrel was one of the first to get to work in the facility, but a number of other new beer brands have suddenly sprung up from nowhere, all using the Craftworks kit.

Postcard is the owner's personal marque. The first out is an India Pale Lager called The Spire and it made its début, as so many beers do around here, at 57 The Headline. It's 5.2% ABV and poured a hazy orange colour. The first sip brought to mind kellerbier: that unpolished grainy rawness you tend to get in German brewpub lager, all yeast fuzz and protein bits. The hop qualities are rather Germanic too, waxy and bitter rather than the New World fruit I was expecting. The hops' flavour contribution is actually fairly minimal: a bit of pith is about your lot. A pint of The Spire was hard work to get through and is in need of some serious cleaning up.

The Pilgrim is a strong red ale from a team of homebrewing friends working under the name Wood Key Brewery, taking this opportunity to bring their recipe commercial. It looks a bit murky in the glass but is actually perfectly clear, a bright cherry-juice red. The head had faded by the time I got my nose near it and the aroma is a fun mix of raspberry sherbet and chew sweets. Expecting a sugar bomb I was pleased to find it's much more subtle on tasting. There's a rather astringent, tannic quality, calling to mind English bitter with the spicy and metallic hop notes which go along with that. Then a lightly tart and sweet strawberry jam effect swings in. But none of it is loud and shouty, all is clean and well-mannered, and there's a lightness to the body which makes it very drinkable, even at 5.8% ABV. I'm not wowed by The Pilgrim, but it's a decent, well-made twist on Irish red ale. You could do a lot worse than this when choosing one.

Same brewery, same style, same bottle shape, different parentage: we finish (for now) with Third Circle Red. (To save you looking it up, the third circle is where Dante put the gluttons.) Marks in favour immediately for putting the brewery of origin on the label, something the Wood Key guys neglected to do. But points off for bottle conditioning. There's a lot of sediment in the bottom of the bottle and even pouring carefully I got a hazy glassful of orange-amber beer and quite a hefty savoury yeast bite smothering the flavour. Peeking around it as much as possible I got glimpses of jaffa pith and a light dusting of incense, but absolutely nothing that says Irish red, or any other style, particularly. At 5% ABV it should be robust enough to carry a bit of yeast interference but this really isn't. Like Postcard, Third Circle needs to clean up its act.

The potential of the Craftworks project is enormous, and I'm expecting lots of new beers and brands and recipes, with the possibility of entirely novel vistas being opened in the Irish beer landscape. The gap between wannabe-brewer and brewer has never been narrower. Keep them coming guys, but think clean.

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