16 September 2015

Quick impressions

I'm finding it tough to impose any sort of order on the wide scattering of new beers I tasted (and occasionally more than tasted) at the Irish Craft Beer Festival at the RDS last month. For this post I'm picking out the beers from mostly the more established companies.

Oldest among them, I think, is White Gypsy and the new one here was a Cream Ale. I'm very much a cream ale sceptic: I don't think I've ever tasted one I liked and the whole style smacks of something made deliberately on the cheap rather than by any brewer's design. But this one was designed, and wears its thick, slightly porridgey, texture and crisp cereal flavours with pride, on a pale body. There's a little bit of red fruit complexity, building to a slight sickliness as it warms, but all perfectly drinkable if not terribly exciting. I'm not ready to start waving the flag for cream ale just yet.

Dungarvan October Ale
Dungarvan Brewing opted to play some loud notes on the stillage, with three big-hitters served from gravity cask. Having worked the bar for a bit I could see they were popular with people who can read high ABVs at a distance. The October Ale was my favourite, lightest of the set at 7% ABV. This had been aged since 2013 but still tasted clean and orangey with a jasmine spice complexity. The colour was a lovely mellow amber too, and it's possible to imagine how this style evolved into IPA. The Imperial Red next to it was heavy and jammy, all sugar and strawberries and tasting every bit of its 7.3% ABV. Too rich for my blood. But even it was no match for the insanity of Dungarvan Strong Ale, also 2013 vintage, 10.4% ABV and black as sin. Rather more prosaically, it tastes of gravy. I guess the autolytic process has been hard at work. I like gravy but, as all the best beer reviewers say, I couldn't drink a pint of it.

Eight Degrees was an early port of call on the Thursday afternoon. They had a sequel to the star of the 2012 show in Ochtoberfest Bock, an amber lager of 6.4% ABV. It opens with lots of melanoidin biscuit flavours -- all the classic richness of those Mitteleuropa malts -- but takes a sudden turn for the hoppy in the finish, ending on a huge vegetal noble hop bitterness. It definitely kicks harder than its Märzen predecessor, but is still very balanced and pintable. Sharing bar space with it was Millennium, a double IPA to celebrate the firm's 1,000th brew. There's lots of pithy zest in here but it's as hot and heavy as you might expect a 10% ABV beer to be. My instinct is to throw it back cold, and let the mandarin and grapefruit finish warm my palate, but I also know I shouldn't.

Trouble was pouring a new IPA more to my taste: Hardwired. 7.4% ABV, a dark orangey-amber, bursting with ultra-fresh pine and pineapple American hops (El Dorado, Simcoe and Citra), and given a gorgeous extra glutinous texture from the inclusion of oatmeal. I never got the point of the oatmeal in Galway Bay's Goodbye Blue Monday (much as I love that beer) but I can see it here. Trouble left space at the edge of their bar for one of their contracting brewers: Two Sisters and their Brigid's Ale. It's a fairly down-the-line Irish red, perhaps a little heavier than most at 5.2% ABV.

It's a while since I've seen something new from Carrig and I grabbed a half of Jammin' from their stall on my way past. This is a 4.4% ABV pale ale, red gold in colour. There's kind of a sweaty malt thing going on and the finish is all metallic, which doesn't work at all well on the thin fizzy body. They already have a couple of beers along these lines: I don't know why they needed another.

Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne had brought two new additions. Blue Rose was available on both keg and cask and is a 5% ABV pale ale, all dry and summery: perfect for a sunny day on the Dingle peninsula (they do happen) and wonderfully thirst quenching, even at the higher than expected ABV. I also loved Black Elder, a 4.2% ABV dark ale they made with added elderflower. It's a combination that probably shouldn't work, but does, rather beautifully. The warming, chocolate and roast flavours contrast with the bucolic springtime flower notes: all the seasons in a single glass.

Two beers from the ugly tree to finish on today. Black's had a Jester-hopped brown ale which I didn't get to try, but I did have the soured version, called simply Black's Sour Brown. It's a murky red-brown and I found it tangy rather than sour, with that tamarind HP Sauce savoury flavour up front and finishing thin and watery. Fine as an experiment, I suppose, but in need of polishing. Brown Paper  Bag Project's Peppercorn Rye Ale looked even worse: a horribly muddy ochre colour, pouring limp and headless from the cask engine. But much like the Summer Ale brewed on the same kit, its homely looks belie a heart of gold. Neither the peppercorn nor the rye are in control and both contribute their own brand of dry spiciness to the finished beer. I only had a sip -- and I'd say it's not a gulping beer -- but I was very impressed with how the recipe achieved its effect.

New breweries and fresh beers are coming up next.


  1. I'm still a fan of cream ale done well. Has to be thick with grain, smooth, yet dry in the finish. The one by Brew Wharf a few year's ago was stunning: http://www.eatingisntcheating.co.uk/2013/08/why-don-more-british-breweries-make.html

    1. Yeah, I keep hearing about great ones but never meeting them in real life.

  2. do BPBP now have their own kit or are they using craftworks?

    1. They have their own kit but it's housed within Craftworks and covered by that licence. I wouldn't count it as a separate brewery.

    2. ahh interesting, did they never selll it then or is this a new one they've bought? its under craftworks for ratebeer purposes!

    3. As far as I know this is a different one to the one they had before but never used.