15 February 2016

Passing sweeps

Dropping into bars and offies on spec in search of beers new and interesting is a fairly regular part of my drinking life, particularly when left to my own devices.

One such wandering into the beer section of SuperValu recently turned up a bottle of Redemption IPA, the first of the style from the generally quite safe Kildare-based brewery Kelly's Mountain. The ABV is certainly safe, a very approachable 4.8%. It poured beautiful: the flawless clear gold of fine Czech lager with a pure white head whose loose bubbles showed that the carbonation was at just the low level I like. Sure enough there's a lively sparkle to it but no more fizz than it strictly needs. According to the label it's dry-hopped with Chinook and Admiral, promising "magnificent hop aromas balanced with a high bitterness" but it had already started to unravel even before I looked for the brewer's description. The aroma is all malt and sweet almost to the point of sickliness, a golden syrup note bringing thoughts of pilsner to mind again. But definitely no hops to speak of. And it's sweet again to taste: cloying brown sugar and a dirty great smear of diacetyl, though finishing quickly and leaving just a lightly acidic bitterness in the back of the palate. Doubtless the brewer had good intentions but something has let them down: the kit, the recipe, the method. It's not a bad beer; it will have fans, but it doesn't deliver on the promise of the label. Redemption is very much pending.

Work sent me on a rare foray into the south-eastern quarter of Dublin recently and I stuck my head into The Square Ball on the way home. Brewtonic's new porter was on: 13 Seconds, another one brewed at Rascal's to Rossa's recipe and commemorating a recent victory of Dublin's top kicky-punchy man Conor McGregor. It's 5% ABV and foamed a lot as it poured, staying fizzy as I drank my pint, though that didn't take long. The first impression on tasting is a slightly ashen roasted grain quality, followed quickly by a balancing velvety milk chocolate effect and seasoned with gunpowder spices of the sort I normally find adding complexity to dark beers on cask, so it was nice to find them in this cold fizzy keg. Last week's Alltech beer festival, of which more anon, provided the opportunity to try the cask version and it's as sumptuously smooth and creamy as I was expecting. But back to the keg, which finishes dry with a more serious metallic hop edge. It doesn't taste 5% and is very sessionable. I'd have happily stayed for another but there was another pub I wanted to drop by.

It was a specific beer that lured me to Alfie Byrne's, having already drawn a blank at its big baby sister The Gasworks. Kompass is described by Galway Bay Brewery as a "hopfendunkel" -- the first I've come across. It's 8.2% ABV and colourwise is, well, purple when put in front of a candle, the pub's main and rather inadequate source of light. I assume it's a dark red colour where it's bright enough to see. A haze was visible too, which is fair enough because the aroma leaves no doubt that we're in weizen territory: there's a massive hit of boozy bananas in the aroma, like Aventinus with the volume up. The texture is appropriately smooth and there's lots more luxury bananas and a darkly decadent rum baba flavour with lighter notes of vanilla ice cream. But then the special effects kick in: a sharply acidic, palate-scrubbing, green hop bitterness that's completely out of place. On each mouthful it's not noticeable at first but then jumps in, loudly and unbidden. The end result is a beer which tastes like an ill-advised blend of a weizenbock and a harsh IPA. I'd like to try this dunkel without so much hopfen, thank you.

That was only a couple of weeks ago but the Kompass sign was already coming down from the blackboard in The Beer Market when I called in last Thursday, to be replaced by yet another new Galway Bay beer: 303. There's lots to conjure with in the description: a "tart pale ale with Azacca hops", but it's really quite a simple affair. It's pitched at a sessionable strength and sessionable price: 3.5% ABV and €4.50 a pint respectively, presenting a murky orange but happily not yeast-bitten (a second pint, in Alfie's on Saturday, was perfectly clear). There's not much by way of aroma: a lightly sour acidity and no more than a suggestion of hops, but the hops are front and centre in the flavour. It tastes bright and fresh with a gorgeous rounded, juicy tangerine foretaste, then a slightly sharper pineapple note in behind, but tropical through and through. While a salty sour tang is certainly present, it's not a defining feature and serves only to aid drinkability. Those who are "into sours" probably won't find much to engage them here. On the downside I think I got a flash of stale oxidation on the very edge of the flavour and, unsurprisingly, the texture is rather watery which starts to get a bit irritating towards the end, but these are teeny tiny quibbles. 303 is a nice sidestep from both Heathen and Via Maris, and like both of them it's a beer I will happily drink, in quantity, until it runs out. I hope it lasts long enough for al fresco consumption.