A final loop around the RDS at the Irish Craft Beer Festival, looking at new, and new-ish, breweries.
Only one brand was completely unknown to me: Hope. A brewery-restaurant is in the planning for north county Dublin but in the meantime the brand is all designed and the first three beers have been produced at Craftworks. They have a saison called Grunt (see website for story; they're big on story) and it's pleasingly light and crisp, and only 4.7% ABV. The IPA, Handsome Jack, is a beast of 7.4% ABV and offers an unusual, but not at all unpleasant, mix of flowers and citrus. At the centre is that off-kilter Japanese hop Sorachi Ace, but not so much of it that the Citra and Cascade flavours don't make a contribution too. And their work-in-progress is a blonde ale called Passifyoucan -- it didn't taste of anything much, but I'm sure that'll change in later versions.
While we're at Craftworks, in-house brand Postcard had a new one out, a "strong IPA" (6.7% ABV) called Silicon Docks - apparently that's a place in Dublin. News to me. Anyway, this is a dark reddish beer with a significant amount of the toasted caramel more typical of an amber ale, alongside the fruit candy hops. There's something quite English about its power and restraint.
Cork-based gypsy brewer Radik Ale, meanwhile, was also pouring a new beer made at Craftworks. Initially badged as "Curious Brew", I understand it has been subsequently been re-named Radical Brew, and the (fairly) radical thing about it is the use of gin botanicals in place of all hop additions after the initial bittering one. The base beer is an amber-coloured rye ale and the herbal blend is apparently exactly the same one used in Blackwater Distillery's fantastic gin. It smells like posh sausages and tastes savoury, not like gin, but the spices and herbs really do leap out of the flavour. I reckon there's a little too much going on to drink lots -- a bit like most neat gins, really -- but a tasty and fascinating experiment in small quantities.
The brewers of County Wicklow were certainly giving the public what they want: pale ales and plenty of them. Wicklow Wolf launched Freeranger at the festival, a 6.3% ABV IPA that takes unmistakable cues from the US, with its heavy and dense fresh-hop bitterness. Falconer's Flight is doing the heavy lifting here, I believe. And for the less hop-inclined there was Elevation (left), a lovely light and zesty thirst-quenching pale ale of 4.8% ABV. O Brother also had a new American-style pale ale, called The Sinner. This leans more towards the tropical fruit end of the fresh hop spectrum and, saving only the late great Bonita, is my favourite of their beers so far. I certainly preferred it to Bonita's new boyfriend, Brutus double IPA: a 9.1% ABV thug, far too thick and boozy for my liking.
Derry's Northbound Brewery made its festival début and definitely got the hang of things straight away by bringing two brand new beers. The IPA was Unnamed, which I find downright weird for a brewery which calls everything it makes by a two-digit number. How hard is it to think of a number? Anyway, it's a balanced and easy-drinking chappie, dry, with a kind of green-bean squeaky vegetable quality. Beside it was 33, a sticke alt, though a light one at just 5.5% ABV. It's appropriately brown and has all the classic bourbon biscuit sweetness of an alt, and a modest nettley noble hop bitterness. An elegantly put-together beer in an effortlessly classy style.
Also on board for the first time was YellowBelly, borrowing a bar from Rye River, and some of their daring as well. There was a Black Tea Porter made using lapsang souchong for a tasty and complex twist on all those other, straighter, smoked porters you've had. And they also did a Pale Stout (left): an attempt to recreate stout flavours in a pale beer. It was fun, and genuinely nice to drink, but ultimately unconvincing: the coffee they've added makes it taste of fresh coffee, not of dark roasted grains. For something a little bit more ordinary, there was the YellowBelly collaboration with Stone Barrel: Stone Belly IPA. It was just 13 days old so rather yeasty but the pale body and soft juicy hops suggest it'll be great when it's dropped a bit. I hope I'll see it again.
By midnight on Saturday my feet were screaming and my palate was crippled, but there was room for just one more beer, though not from a new brewery, nor even an Irish one. Lagunitas Fusion was pouring at Grand Cru's stand, near where I was pulling Northbound beers. Fusion is a juicy beast of a beer, packed with apricot and mango but, crucially, missing the syrupyness that has spoiled several other Lagunitas beers on me. Irish brewers may be making some amazing things at the moment but there's always more to learn.
Thanks as always to the festival organisers, brewers and attendees for what turned out to be a wonderful weekend, at least after I'd had a sit down.
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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