21 December 2015

Tiny rebels

Work threw up a quick day's work in Cork last month and, emerging into the twilight afterwards, my first stop was at the Rising Sons brewpub to see if they had anything new for me. Turns out they did. In fairness it had been a whole half year since my last visit, though I wasn't quite expecting to see two summer seasonals still on tap.

I salute the bravery that went into the decision to make one of them a stout. A Shot in the Dark was brewed with coffee and strikes a wonderful balance between the two flavour sets. It opens as a creamy and warming Irish coffee substitute and finishes properly dry and roasty. In the middle there's a touch of red berries which I suspect is also the coffee at work. My only criticism is that it was served far too cold to get a proper chance at appreciating it by the half pint, but then at a highly impressive 3.7% ABV it's not really meant for half measures.

There was a more traditionally summer vibe to On the Razz, a wheat beer with, obviously, raspberries in it. Real raspberries too, brewer Shane assured me, which explains why it's not especially sweet and certainly not syrupy. There is plenty of proper raspberry flavour, though, making great use of the permissive wheat beer base. Not a subtle beer, but still fun and refreshing, even on a dark winter's evening.

Two more recent offerings had to be tried as well. Nightshift is a porter, one of the fruitier sort, with that lovely lavender and rosewater effect that I always associate with The Kernel but I've met in plenty of other breweries' dark beers since. But once that taste faded there really wasn't much behind it, just a plain and lightly chocolatey porter that comes across a little too heavy for a mere 4.8% ABV. On any other day I'd be happy with it, but it pales, figuratively speaking, next to the stout.

The newest addition to the line-up was Redemption, a red ale that presented on the pale side: more a rose-gold than actually red. It's possibly the closest thing to mass-market Irish red I've tasted from a micro, having that crisp lageryness about it. There is a proper hop bite at the front but one snap and it's gone. Every new Irish red has me expecting it'll be the one to revolutionise the style and convince me that it's worthwhile. Despite the name, Redemption isn't that beer.

After those few I nipped around the corner to Bradley's in search of a couple of train beers. I was particularly intrigued to learn that the off licence had its name on a new beer, brewed by and in collaboration with Cork's brewery-restaurant Elbow Lane. It's called Meeting House and is a Vienna lager, confident in itself at 5.4% ABV. Poured into the glass it looks like a wholesome cup of carrot juice and smells, as one might expect, like kellerbier: that blend of yeasty spice, warm bread and a lightly green, white-cabbage-and-celery, German hop vibe. For flavour it's more of the same: there's probably a solid and gently caramelled Vienna lager in here, but the murk is calling all the shots: an acrid edge on an otherwise fluffy malt-forward medium-dark lager. I was sceptical about the idea of this as a winter seasonal, but it does have a more comforting heft than many a weaker, darker winter beer so it gets a pass from me.

We move out of the Rebel County, but only just, to finish: the Smoked German Ale by Killarney's Torc Brewing. Experiments with smoked malt have never been my favourite aspect of Ireland's new beer diversity, but I'm always willing to give something new a go, especially if it's claiming proper German credentials. This is 6% ABV and is as black as, well, any black beer style you care to name. It smells smoky, but in a pleasant smoky way with a touch of roast which had me immediately whispering the hopeful word: porter? The texture is certainly appropriately smooth and there's plenty of comforting milk chocolate backed up by a light green bitterness. The smoke is little more than an afterthought and I think that's very much in this beer's favour: it has the smoke-as-seasoning quality you get from beers that aren't trying to be gimmicky and certainly don't think they can take on the rauchmeisters of Franconia at doing clean smokiness well. Considered on its own merits it's a sumptuous, silky, flavoursome dark beer and among the best winter seasonals Ireland has to offer. If you're looking for something to serve with the Christmas pudding, this could be your guy.

And there's more wintery Irish beer to come later in the week.