26 February 2016

Festival periphery

We're out of the Convention Centre at last, but the gravitational pull of the Alltech Craft Brews & Food Fair drew in a couple of other beer events in 57 the Headline either side of it. The day before, as I mentioned in passing on Monday, Wood Key and Independent Brewing took over a swathe of the taps to launch their collaborative Black IPA.

But also pouring was one from Wood Key that I'd never tasted before: The Ravens, a coppery-red rye ale at 5.2% ABV. Recent rye experiences have helped me get over my previous difficulty with the grain so I ordered a pint straight off the bat. And then got a sudden reminder of why rye was a problem before. This is very rye: crunchy and dry to the point of being astringent, with a lot of that ascetic crusty brown bread favoured in eastern Europe. I like the bread, but I don't want to drink a pint of it, and this left me hankering after more of a hop character to balance it, or at least add a different kind of sharpness. But if rye's something you like, here's all the rye that can possibly be fitted into a pint glass.

As it happened, that same night, there was also the first beer I'd seen from the elusive Ó Cléirigh Brewing in Co. Cavan. Ojustuff is in the Kölsch style but enigmatically "French hopped". Ooh là là. I didn't know what to expect. And after the first sip I didn't know what I'd got either. It's a strange beer: there's the crisp huskiness of Kölsch, even if it's a little overclocked at 5.1% ABV, and it's hazy yellow, but that's where the normality ends. The hop character bounces about all over the place, with bitter-sweet mandarin pith intensifying to the point of becoming resinous musky aftershave and then settling back to juicy tropical mango. This disquieting sensation is similar to the one you get with Sorachi Ace hops, though tasting of completely different things. The initial hit of hop acidity makes it just a bit too severe to be properly enjoyable. I'll chalk this one up as "interesting" and, perhaps, "brave". I'd definitely drink it again though, for the thrill.

A week later, with the festival receding into the distance, Tim from Waterford's Metalman Brewing was in town to launch the brewery's latest. Metalman made its name on a light and zesty pale ale but here was its first foray into proper IPA: Ironmonger. A no-nonsense 6.5% ABV, it's a serious dark amber colour. The malt is in charge of the flavour too and I heard some describing it as being in an English style. To me, however, it had a lot more in common with American amber and its brasher cousin red IPA: there's that rich and sweet marzipan centre but the hops are new-world assertive, led by cantankerous old-timer Nugget, followed by Willamette and Simcoe, some (imperceptible) Sorachi Ace and dry-hopped with Cascade. There's lots of green, and I get squeaky haricot vert and spinach in particular, but the bitterness is kept well in check by that aforementioned malt, making it nicely suppable, which is why I suppose that keg didn't make it to the weekend.

A varied bunch there, and proof that daring recipes don't necessarily have to involve adding fruits or sweets or lactic cultures.