01 January 2016

Stainless and hoses

Session logo New York brewery Community Beer Works seems to be conducting a bit of market research via this month's Session. The somewhat needy theme is Are Breweries Your Friends? posing questions about whether we like breweries engaging with their customers on social media, and asking for examples of breweries who do it well. It's all very unbeery if I'm honest, and I suppose that's what I'll use this platform to say: if you're a brewery with a social media presence tell us about the beer. There's a huge difference in the way social media marketing works compared to other forms: you're not just throwing a message out there hoping it'll stick, like you might with a poster or TV spot. The people who see your social media content have made an active decision to follow it; we want the details. Tell us about the recipes, what's currently in the bright tanks, Vine the bottling line. The pictures on your feed should be full of stainless and hoses. If there's nothing but professionally taken product shots, hackneyed inspirational quotes or, worst of all, repetition of messages from people who've tagged you in to their comment about how great your beer is, rip up the strategy and start again because you're boring your audience.

I make no comment on the social media nous of the breweries whose beers I'm covering today. These draught specials are all stragglers from the festive preliminaries that got left out of my big Christmas Eve Irish beer round-up.

The first is JW Sweetman Belgian Blonde, the latest seasonal from the central Dublin brewpub. It was a served a clear pale gold colour, giving off a gentle aroma of lightly spiced mango concentrate. First sip reveals it to be quite heavy and warming but this is neatly offset by a sprightly fizz. The foretaste is full-on Belgian: hot esters and sticky honey putting me immediately in mind of Leffe Blonde, a beer I quite like in keg form. And like Leffe Blonde this is also 6.6% ABV and that was enough for me to check with the brewer that it isn't a cheeky rebadge. It isn't, he was friendly enough to confirm. An oatcake crunch finishes the flavour on a sweet grainy note. It's not terribly exiciting, but it is a well-made homage to the medium-strong Belgian blonde style, and as a variation on the winter warmer makes quite a refreshing change.

Galway Bay has a matching pair of winter seasonals on the go, available as a boxed set of 375ml bottles for an eye-watering €16. Fortunately it's rather cheaper on draught in the pubs and I caught up with both in Against The Grain.

Space Suit is a sour amber ale, mixing up Lactobacillus, Brettanomyces and Galaxy Hops for a nasty-and-nice combination of power moves, though the ABV is a modest 5.5%. The sourness and the citrus both arrive simultaneously in a big way, and the combination works incredibly well: you get a juicebox of refreshing tropical fruit and then an acetic scrub on your teeth afterwards. Unfortunately it has the same Achilles' heel as its predecessor The Eternalist: the murk. Its appearance is a muddy brown and there's massive savoury interference from the yeast over what deserve to be pin-bright sour and hop flavours.

The counterpart is Diving Bell, a "salted caramel" scotch ale at 9% ABV. It's surprisingly light-bodied for something so strong and malt-driven, which is very much in its favour. There's all the flavour of toffee with none of the density or cloying sweetness and then a cleansing tang at the front of the palate from the salt. This combination makes it extremely moreish in a way that beers of this type so rarely are. I managed to limit myself to one glass but I could see myself getting dangerously merry on this stuff.

And lastly to Wigwam, the latest bar in the Bodytonic chain, a refurbishment of the grotty-but-loved Twisted Pepper into a much more grown-up food, booze and coffee outlet. They've made the innovation of putting the taps on an underback behind the bar which is a great idea, opening up the counter space and banishing the barman-in-a-cage effect that Against the Grain suffers from in particular. Diageo and C&C dominate the content but there's Founder's All Day IPA and a selection from Rascal's, who act as surrogate brewery to Bodytonic's beermaking offshoot Brewtonic. And there was a new limited edition beer from them: Hoffmann's.

"Belgian Ale 5% ABV" is all I had to work with on being presented with a handled mug of murky amber beer -- it could be anything. On tasting... oh! Sour! I wasn't expecting that. It's not excessively tart but there's combination of funk and tang that acts as the centrepiece of the flavour. Behind it there's a sweet summer fruit quality for a kind of balsamic strawberry effect, with enough unattenuated body to give it a satisfying heft and smoothness. The finish is a rounded cereal chewiness, like a typical Belgian brown ale. I'm still no wiser as to what it's meant to be, except... wait a minute: isn't "Hoffmann's" the name that Waterford Brewery used to give to the beer composed of all their batches of other things that went wrong? Is that what we have here: something or somethings that didn't pass quality control and got rebadged as something else for sale? It is an accep