10 August 2015

Scenes from an Irish summer

Time to draw another line under the last few month's of random new Irish beers and put together an anthology post on what I think of them.

To start we go way back to early June and the Killarney Beer Festival I wrote about here. Liam from St. Mel's gave me a handful of unlabelled bottles of his newest beer Neomexicanus, brewed as it is with Neomexicanus hops. This extremely rare variety is grown exclusively by a Benedictine monastery in the New Mexico desert. When asked what style of beer to use them in, the salesmonk replied "anything but a pale ale", so Liam made a brown one. It's a clear mahogany red and the head is thin but stays stable down the glass. The aroma offers the strangest mix of savoury fried onions, sharp limey citrus and candystore jellies. On tasting I encountered big tannins and found the onion effect becoming spicy, like an exotic tea, perhaps, though I don't know enough about exotic tea to say more. You can also throw raw moist pipe tobacco in the mix as well, ending on a beautifully mouthwatering dry finish. Neomexicanus is very very strange, but enjoyable too. It has since acquired a label and is available wherever St. Mel's beers are got.

And one more bottled beer before we head out: Northbound is a new outfit in Derry and has two beers on the market so far. I've only been able to find one of them, however, the pale ale which they've called 26. It looks handsome in the glass, a clear medium orange-gold with plenty of fizz and a comfy looking head. There's a promise of citrus in the aroma and that's delivered sharply in the flavour, along with a kind of alkaline mineral quality: lime in both senses of the word, I guess. Nelson Sauvin is mentioned on the label as a signature hop but I couldn't detect any of its calling cards. This beer is all about the bitterness and doesn't leave much room for flavour niceties, and that's despite the claim that its name is also the number of IBUs. There's some decent refreshment here at just 4.5% ABV but I think the recipe could do with a bit of livening up.

And so to the pub. New draught beers have been coming so rapidly of late that I resorted to something I almost never do: a tasting tray. The flight measures at 57 The Headline are sufficiently generous to make this worthwhile when there's lots of new stuff to try. One was a recent return of a beer they'd had brewed exclusively for the pub by Rye River: Old Grocers Brown. It's very brown indeed, a deep rich shade, turning to red at the edges. There's a suspicious sickliness in the aroma but the flavour is perfection: a gorgeous milk chocolate and soft toffee sweetness balanced against some light forest fruit tartness plus a pinch of dry roast. Fantastic complexity for something well under the 4% ABV mark. It's a recipe which could be a very interesting base for all sorts of different directions, and I suspect it would be a real stunner on cask, but it's a lot of fun just as it is and I hope we'll be seeing it again.

From the same flight, Born in a Day, a 4.8% ABV pale ale from new outfit Boyne Brewhouse, produced at White Gypsy. It's a clear pale yellow and smells mostly of brown sugar to me. I was expecting an absence of hops but they're there in the flavour as a huge blast of floral perfume. Luckily the malt weight manages to carry this along, doing a great job despite the modest strength. If anything, the density and blaring hops make it a little too hard going to be truly enjoyable for me but it's still well-made and certainly not bland.

Next to it is Yankee, the third beer in Rascal's international hop series. To showcase the American varieties they've taken the unusual step of making a white IPA. It's pale and not especially hazy, sharing the spicy lemon effect you get from good witbier. Like other examples of the style it does suffer from a slight bathwater soapiness but the fresh and clean citric pop with which the flavour opens lets me forgive that. It also drinks much lighter than its 5% ABV. This a magnificent refreshing summer beer.

We haven't had a seasonal from Leitrim brewery Carrig in a while so I was happy to see a new wheat beer from them, called Summer Daze, on tap in the Bull & Castle. I was less happy when I took the pint back to my table and took a drag from it. At 4.8% ABV it's lighter than a typical German weissbier but that's no excuse for the terrible watery thinness here. But the texture is just a sideshow. On top of any proper beer flavour there squats a nasty, smoky, burnt plastic taste which I'm pretty sure is not supposed to be there. Something has gone wrong with this and frankly I'm a little surprised the brewery let it out and the pub put it on sale, but there you are. I don't mind paying money to explore the awfulness of any beer, but I wouldn't recommend this one to anyone if my experience is what normally happens.

Onwards to a cheerier summer beer: Connemara Summer Ale by Independent Brewing, on tap at Beerhouse. It's a little unprepossessing, the cloudy dark gold colour doesn't exactly shout "summer!", but that fresh mandarin aroma definitely does, and the blend of juicy mango and bitterer papaya in the flavour is totally beach-ready. At 5.4% ABV it could perhaps stand to be a little lighter, but only if it doesn't compromise the sheer quantity of sunshine they've managed to pack in here.

Also on draught in Beerhouse was another disappointment: Lazy Eye, the first IPA from Jack Cody's, a brewery with a lot more hits than misses under its belt. It's a serious 6.2% ABV and a dark orange colour. There's not much aroma to speak of, and what's there is certainly not hop-derived. It smells vinegary and tastes of earthy brett funk. Definitely not what anyone wants from an IPA.

Eight Degrees Nomad, however, delivers magnificently on this front. The Mitchelstown brewery has form on super-hopped recipes, and has also produced several excellent lagers. Here, the two combine perfectly. Nomad starts with a bright and spicy aroma, full of the earthy greenness of Cascade hops. It's assertively bitter to begin, even a little metallic, following through with lots of grapefruit acidity. With an ale body there'd be the risk of this burning too long and turning acrid, but as lager the whole sensation finishes quickly: it's just a big smack of a grapefruit and then it leaves you alone just as suddenly. Quite sessionable at 5% ABV too.

Hoppy lagers are abundant at the moment, and Galway Bay has got in on the act too with their latest, No Sweat, on draught at The Black Sheep. It's no lightweight either, at 5.8% ABV. As usual from this brewery it's hazy, and yes there's a dirty yeast bite right in the middle of the flavour. But that doesn't interfere too much with the main acts: a funky marmalade aroma and a zesty, sherbetty orange flavour. This time there are no clean lager characteristics and in fact the finish is long and ale-like. I wonder how lagery it actually is. Passable drinking, but it lacks subtlety.

I've not yet mentioned Galway Bay's In Bloom witbier even though it's been out for a while. I caught up with it at The Beer Market where it was pouring on draught though a bottled version also exists. The twist here is the inclusion of gorseflower which does actually add the coconut effect it's supposed to. Otherwise it's a very wheaty wit with little by way of spices, and a tangy metallic aspirin finish.

Another lager before I wrap up, one from the brand spanking new Corrib Brewing Company in Oughterard Co. Galway. Although that's the official name, the beers are branded Wild Bat and this is Pilot 001, a California Common. It was pouring at The Jolly Monk on Abbey Street where they were having some difficulty with their gas set-up but I was perfectly happy with the level of carbonation: a decent amount of head and enough of a soft effervescence. It's chestnut red and perfectly clear, smelling properly lager-clean, with fresh golden syrup and a light toasting. On tasting it's more roast than toast and with enough mild toffee that it could even be mistaken for the drier sort of Irish red ale. At the end there's a nibble, rather than a bite, of noble hops. But above all that deceptively simple lager cleanness wins out, aided in its thirst-quenching mission by a tannic sidekick. Pintable yet complex and a great first outing by Corrib.

And a stout for dessert, the third offering from Reel Deel Brewery. Marcus has gone back to his Yorkshire roots with Say Nowt Stout. This was a freebie I got at a tasting in Probus a few weeks back. It's only 4.8% ABV but it has a lot of the features of much stronger stouts, and I'm thinking of Carlow Brewing's definitive Leann Folláin in particular here. There's big roast and lots of caramel set on a thick tarry body. After a second or two the nuances creep in and you can detect the blackcurrant notes from the Bramling Cross hops and a tangy metallic bitterness too, which I'm guessing is the Admiral at work. This is definitely a cut above your average Irish stout, and it's good to see another one out. As the above demonstrates, we're not exactly drowning in new stouts over here.

I'll end there. Congratulations if you've managed to read this far. In the months it took to compile this lot, even more new Irish beers have arrived. I'll try and get them blogged in more reasonably-sized chunks.

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