Celebrity chefs and beer. Why do they do it? Has there ever been a convincing tie-in, one which makes the drinker think "Wow, this guy really put his finely-honed gastronomic abilities to work here and produced something that only an expert could have created"? No. It's always mediocre, lowest-common-denominator, beer for people who aren't especially interested in beer. Ferran Adrià, Richard Fox: j'accuse. And now here's toothsome Kevin Dundon off of RTÉ, setting up a brewery round the back of his posh country house hotel. What wonders will the inventor of tomato and poitín soup work upon humble malt and hops?
There are two beers in the range and, as it happens, the theme for this month's Session is compare two beers of the same style. I think there's value in looking at two celeb-chef beers back-to-back. They are presumably, after all, intended to pair with the entirety of food, something that, according to my count of the Dunbrody House menu, takes 77 different wines to do. These are the hardest-working beers in brewing history and they must be astounding.
Arthurstown Brewing Company is the name of the new brewery, and King's Bay is the name they've chosen for both the beers. Both are 4.7% ABV and come in half-litre bottles. King's Bay Irish Red Ale mixes a bit of Cascade in with its more orthodox Fuggles and crystal malt. There's a good layer of foam on top when poured but it's not overly carbonated, with a happily light sparkle on a full chewy body. It's certainly not bland, with a meaty, savory aroma and a flavour which has a big dry and bitter centrepiece, resembling a stout more than anything. Only as it fades is there an echo of sweet toffee and the pithiness of the English hops. I actually think this would work well with those dishes that Irish red suits best: roasts, stews, sausages and the like. The boldness of the taste matches that of any Belgian dubbel or English strong ale. I feel my cynicism beginning to waver.
So, that's your dark and heavy one. Has Arthurstown managed to produce a yang to its yin?
Sort of. King's Bay Irish Pale Ale is another big-bodied beer, including oats in the grist. It's a bright, clear amber-gold and smells rather gastric and acidic, unpleasantly so. Citra, Challenger and Cascade is the hop combo, in case you want to avoid something similar happening to your beer. The taste is quite simple, with light and lemony citrus over a dry biscuit grain and a sharp waxy finish. Maybe it's just the frame of mind I'm in, but I can actually imagine drinking this with lighter fish and salad dishes. Part of me thinks that under a perfectionist like Chef Dundon this should really be one of those fresh and zingy US-style pale ales, because that's how you know when a pale ale is excellent. But on the other hand, going back to the food thing, the malt weight and present but restrained hopping probably make it a better beer for matching, allowing the flavours in the meal (the bit you paid more for) have the greater impact. Perhaps, after all, these really are the two single best beers to put on a fancy restaurant menu.
Well, almost. What's missing from the King's Bay range is something sweeter and stronger in a small bottle for the cheese and dessert, and possibly something lighter and spritzier for the hors d'oeuvres as well. But this is not a bad showing for a brewery that's only a couple of months old.
I honestly expected the result of this compare-and-contrast exercise to be very similar, samey beers. They're not, though they work inside very similar parameters and do share characteristics in common: that chewy texture for one thing. But if we're assuming that these are primarily designed for restaurant consumption then I think the similarities can be justified.
I look forward to seeing what Arthurstown produces next.
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