The year's Irish beers begin with Third Circle. I hadn't been impressed by this client brewer's first offering, a Red, but put that down as much to the style as anything else. They've stuck with Dublin's Craftworks brewery for production of the newer ones.
Third Circle Saison was the next beer out. So varied is this style that I've got into the habit of fastidiously checking the ABV of new saisons before attempting to drink them, to give me some idea of what to expect. This one is promisingly low at 5.2%. I was hoping for a crisp and clean thirst-quencher as I opened the bottle and poured, and it even sounds crisp: a distinct crackle coming from the busy foam as it forms a thick and lasting layer of head. I didn't get much more than half a pint into my glass on the first go and it looked lovely and clean so I decided to drink it before pouring the remainder. And it certainly delivered on the flavour: this is very pleasingly dry, without any acridity. The big fizz accentuates the high attenuation, adding a carbonic bite which complements it well. This then gets softened by a note of juicy stone fruit: white plums, nectarines and even a lacing of lychee. A kick of spicy gunpowder rounds it off with a flourish. This is exactly what I want from a saison, so of course I waited until my glass was nearly empty before adding in the dregs from the bottle. They didn't make much of a difference really, lending a slightly rustic wholesomeness to it, taking the edge of the dryness but not interfering with the lovely fruit. I can't think of another Irish saison I've enjoyed this much.
All of which sets a big task for the newest beer: Third Circle Rye Stout. Not much carbonation at all this time, and a very dark, burnt aroma. I got the immediate impression that this will be a severe beer. And yet it's not. If anything it's a little on the bland side: thinly textured despite being 5.5% ABV. The husky roasted quality is laid on thick, so dry as to suck moisture off the palate. Then there's a lovely luxuriously smooth dark chocolate finish, but that's about all you get. There's a little spice from the yeast but all that does here is add a homebrewish effect. Rye stouts aren't exactly ten a penny so I'd say a lot of love and attention went into designing this recipe. Which makes it unfortunate that it tastes like it was lashed together in a hurry.
We'll finish by switching breweries and the second edition of Wicklow Wolf's Locavore beers, re-invented as a pale ale and this time using solely hops grown on the brewery's farm. We're used to White Gypsy's all-Irish beer Emerald, which is tasty but safe, so I was interested to see how the concept would come out in a different brewer's hands. The first thing that struck me was the murk: I'd given the bottle a couple of days in the fridge but it still poured very cloudy. There's not much aroma, other than a hard savoury thing from the yeast, and that's also a feature in the taste. Peeking around it there's a mild jaffa juiciness and similar tangy citrus, but there's no escaping the dirty, earthy yeast. This beer needed more time to drop bright, I think. Freshness should never be confused with rawness and this very much displays the latter. If you have one in the fridge it could be worth letting it sit for a while: ironically you might get more hop value from it that way.
An early conclusion from 2016, then, is that Ireland makes better saison than stout or pale ale. That's weird.
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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